A case for tradition

By Denis Mallon (From Seeds October 2021)

Since the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, Western society has dreamt of unfettered libertarianism.

But with a mental health crisis, increasing inequality, and over-consumption – that drives debt and fuels the climate emergency – is a focus on individual freedom a blessing or a curse?

The Unbroken Thread sees Sohrab Ahmiri, opinions editor for the New York Post, making the case that our search for meaning should come from traditional ideals. An Iranian-American and recent convert from atheism to Catholicism, Ahmiri certainly has a unique perspective.

Ahmiri starts by focusing on his young son, and pictures the kind of world that he might grow into, complete with fears for him and his generation.

Taking 12 big questions, from ‘Can you be spiritual without being religious?’ to ‘Is sex a private matter?’, The Unbroken Thread explores areas where seekers from non-faith backgrounds are often looking for answers.

Each chapter features a deep dive into the life of a historical figure, and discusses the question in the context of that person’s life and work. As an example of ‘How do you justify your life?’, we hear the story of writer CS Lewis. ‘Does God need politics?’ is explored through a certain Augustine of Hippo (who our own church is named after).

Ahmiri has a flair for bringing these stories to life, and they are an effective way to frame the topics of discussion. The chapter ‘Is God reasonable?’, introducing us to the Italian philosopher Thomas Aquinas, made me examine my opinion of faith and reason in a whole new way.

Although the author offers a multicultural and metropolitan outlook, there are some areas where his traditional views will not connect with many liberal thinkers. To pick just one example, in the chapter ‘What do you owe your body?’, Ahmari takes aim at gender ideology in a way that reads as out-and-out transphobia.

This book is a well written, engaging read, helping to fill in gaps I have with theological heavyweights, as well as introducing me to new thinkers from history. A shame, then, that the author’s particular worldview will feel a little too traditional to many.

Fiona as Moderator

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds October 2021)

Much to my surprise, I have been elected to serve as the Moderator of the URC General Assembly, 2022 to 2023, beginning in July next year.

This will involve moderating the meetings of the General Assembly and Assembly Executive, visiting local churches across Wales, England and Scotland, representing the URC on some occasions and being available to committees and people within the URC to offer support where it is useful.

I feel very privileged to be offered the opportunity to meet such a broad range of people across the URC and beyond, and to hear their stories of joy and challenge as disciples and pilgrims in our time. I hope to particularly meet communities who celebrate the experience of people who are LGBTQI+, black and people of colour, and those who are adventuring into the new world of being church digitally.

This year (July 2021—2022) I am Moderator Elect, which means I have a year to try and get up to speed on the URC and work out what I will be doing next year. And from July 2023, I will be the immediate past General Assembly Moderator for a year, and so available to support the new Moderator for that year.

This means that to varying extents, for the next three years my calling is to serve our broad URC community in a new way alongside serving the communities of AUC and the Synod of Scotland. A significant part of the planning which I am involved with now is to work out with AUC what support needs to be in place so that the next three years are enriching for the whole AUC community.

There will undoubtedly be change, but life is always a constant process of change. The gift we have to face change in the church and in life is the knowledge that we are surrounded and supported by a living God of love who can turn each change into an experience of new and abundant life. All we have to do is open our minds and hearts to perceive it and trust in our very creative God.

Journeys with God

By Tamsin Kilgour (From Seeds October 2021)

Since the start of the school year, Junior Church and Crèche have been mirroring the congregation’s gradual return to the church building for Sunday worship.

On weeks where the congregation are gathering in AUC, we are providing Junior Church activities in the building; when the service is online, we will provide materials for the children to use at home. In response to parent preference, Junior Church leaders will be doing a lateral flow test before leading the group.

As another step back towards our previous pattern, we have an overarching theme for the year, alongside monthly topics. For the first few months, we’re choosing activities that will give the children (and leaders) time to reconnect after 18 months spent mainly apart.

Our theme for this year is ‘Journeying with God’. In September we focussed on Creation. The children designed and made a panel for the ‘Art for the Planet’ banner, which will be displayed on the front of New College on the Mound during COP26. Everything used was gathered from homes, not bought.

After celebrating Harvest on 3 October, our theme for the rest of October will be ‘Leaders/people in the Old Testament’.

Holiness is all around us

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds October 2021)

 The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything, wrote Julian of Norwich.

The periodic table is a wondrous thing; a picture of all the elements from which everything is made. The tree by the road and the bike leaned up against it are made up of elements in the periodic table.

The pigeon on the wall and the stones which make up the wall, the air and the stars, my computer and my body are all made up of elements named in the periodic table. All of matter is connected, a type of kin, sharing the same broad range of elements.

When St Francis of Assisi talked about ‘Sister Moon and Brother Sun’, he was not aware of the periodic table and yet he was expressing something he sensed: that everything which exists is all part of the creation and kin of God.

Julian of Norwich expressed this in a similar but different way; she understood that all things exist and are held in existence by God’s love. She lived in hard and challenging times and yet she came to understand that: ‘The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. God is the ground, the substance, the teaching, the teacher, the purpose, and the reward for which every soul labours.’

To know the fullness of joy is not to live in luxury, nor to escape the challenges of life; it is to discipline ourselves to perceive and appreciate the intimate, infinite, accepting, loving Holy One in every moment and everything.

“The pigeon on the wall and the stones which make up the wall are all made up of elements named in the periodic table”

Learning to open our minds and hearts to this transforms our perception. The everyday reveals holiness. The hard things (conflicts, challenges, pain, loss, fear) do not become less hard, but opportunities to know more deeply God’s creative Spirit and the kinship of all life.

As we move in our worship from the Season of Creationtide (September) to the Season of Wholeness (October), may our experience of the fullness of joy deepen as we perceive and appreciate God in everything.

Through the barred windows

By Alex Peden (From Seeds October 2021)

Prisons are a blind spot for many churches: a window that’s just too difficult to look into.

On the one hand, being a Christian is all about forgiveness and fresh starts. On the other, we can all think of terrible crimes which we ourselves may feel demand punishment. We wouldn’t want to be vengeful, nor fall into the trap of being over-sentimental and naïve. However, by ignoring the issue, might we be tacitly accepting the ‘who cares, just lock ‘em up’ overtures of some sections of our society? It seems to me that we have a responsibility to know more about our prisons.

Very recently at a Zoom social, I learnt that my assumption, that our own church had nothing to do with prisons, is wrong. Members of our church, not long ago, had volunteered to serve refreshments to prisoners and to be visitors at Saughton prison (HMP Edinburgh). Others have served as prison chaplains.

I wanted to bust other assumptions I may have made about prisons. That’s why I was glad to speak to John Nonhebel, the newly appointed Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Scotland. PF Scotland is a non-denominational charity that works alongside prison chaplains to provide opportunities for prisoners to discover the Christian faith, as well as reflecting on the impacts of their crimes on individuals and communities, through a process of ‘restorative justice’. ‘It involves Bible study and exploring faith with the prisoners… it’s good fun,’ John told me.

A little to my dismay, soon into our conversation John was confirming some things I had feared were true: Firstly, Scottish prisons are ‘bursting’, currently with around 7,000 people. ‘We lock up more people than any other country in Western Europe,’ John said. I checked this fact and indeed Scotland appears to have a higher rate of incarceration per capita than any other Western European country.

He also confirmed that serious mental health issues are rife amongst prisoners. Prison chaplains are having to work hard on suicide prevention, with an increasing number of deaths in custody. The problem is compounded by drugs: large numbers of inmates are there for drug-related offences, and the infiltration of drugs into prisons is an increasing problem.

Although all this was difficult to hear, I was at least very glad to be speaking to someone with first-hand knowledge of the system. John has devoted his life to working in the charitable sector, being strongly motivated by Jesus’ example of bringing good news to the poor and exploited, something he did for 20 years in India.

Frustratingly for him, he came into his current role at PF Scotland just three months before the first Covid lockdown, which severely limited contact with prisoners (as well as cutting off inmates from a raft of support services). However, he is greatly looking forward to getting back ‘behind the walls’ very soon.

Why is our imprisonment rate so high, I wanted to know? Is it tougher sentencing? His belief was that the Scottish Government is not properly looking at alternative solutions which he believes are ‘way more successful’. According to him, other European countries are achieving more by treating crime as a public health issue, with low crime and decreasing rates of imprisonment in Portugal being just one example.

The vast majority of prisoner are men, but something I learnt from John was how much harder prison life can be for women. ‘They are very isolated, and they have very few visits. The mental health issues are worse for women.’ For one thing, the pain of separation from their children and families can be more acute.

Many have spent their lives against a backdrop of physical and mental abuse. A recent study showed that 80 per cent of female prisoners had a history of serious head injury. ‘There are too many women in the prison system at the moment. It’s about 400 whereas it should be 40,’ John said.

John is hopeful about an initiative of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) for Custodial Care Units in which groups of no more than around 30 women are housed together in a supportive open prison environment.

“some prisoners have done horrendous things, but the majority are people who have maybe made just one mistake”

I wanted to know what ordinary people can do to help. ‘Educate yourself, find out more,’ he said. Also ask your MSPs ‘why they aren’t looking at alternative solutions’. However, John’s own focus is to get back working with prisoners and running courses. That’s where he feels he can do his best work.

PF Scotland recruits new volunteers every year, who often come from churches in the local areas of many of Scotland’s 15 prisons. PF Scotland provides volunteers with opportunities for exploring faith with small groups of prisoners or helping to run a course called ‘Sycamore Tree’ on restorative justice (named for the tree Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus coming), where prisoners reflect on the suffering their crimes have caused others. This is a scheme the SPS is keen to expand. Full training is provided for all programmes by PF Scotland, even for letter writing to prisoners, where a balance is needed between safety, anonymity, and keeping the communication meaningful for the prisoners.

John was upbeat in his message that ‘God is at work’ in Scottish prisons, and lives are genuinely ‘being transformed’. And as we finished our interview, John said something to make me think: ‘They’re just like us you know.’ Yes, some prisoners have done horrendous things, but the majority are people ‘who have maybe made just one mistake’.

Focussing on prisons might be more like looking into a mirror than a window – but having started to look, I want to find out more.

New ways of worshipping

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds October 2021)

Throughout October, we continue to offer Sunday worship online every week, and in-building on the first and third Sundays (when there is also communion).

In-building worship no longer requires advanced booking, but Track & Trace is taken on the door, seats are still distanced and masks are required to be worn throughout the service. Junior Church is also in-building on the 1st and 3rd Sundays. [Note slightly different arrangements on Sunday 10th.]

SUNDAY 3RD OCTOBER

We are celebrating Harvest. During the service we will join with churches across the world as we support the work of Christian Aid (in particular their campaign to support Afghan Refugees www.christianaid.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/stand-afghanistan) through financial giving, campaigning and praying.

As part of the service, we will also join with the Young Christian Climate Network in making paper prayer boats to join their collection being carried from St Ives to Glasgow, and strengthen the voice calling for action from those meeting at COP 26 (www.christianaid.org.uk/pray/prayer-chain). As a first Sunday in the month, people are invited to share in worship online and in the building. There will be Junior Church activities in the building and communion.

SUNDAY 10TH OCTOBER

How will this work? For those who are worshipping online and in the building, we will share the same worship activities from the start of the service at 11am (including the christening) until the Bible reading and sermon.

Those online will then hear the reading and sermon while those in the building will share round tables in theme-related craft activities suitable for all ages. After the sermon, the craft activities will end and everyone online and in the building will share together for the rest of the service.

Seats in the building will be around tables to enable the crafts. The seats are open to all but are limited by capacity, so for this service advanced booking in advance is essential. (Rachel will send out an Eventbrite link the week before.)

SUNDAY 17 OCTOBER

We are marking Mental Health Sunday with Maxwell Reay preaching. This will also be a service with in-building worship and communion.

Mike Holroyd is preaching on Sunday 24th and Laurence Wareing on Sunday 31st.

SINGERS

For the next few months, we are experimenting with having pairs of singers lead our hymn singing in the building on the 3rd Sunday. This is to address the challenge of having live singing as part of worship that streams well online (people in the building singing with masks on is not very clear for people at home).

Getting the right blends of voices to sound good online may take a bit of time but, fortunately, Katrina Hadland has offered to do the coordinating.

If you are a confident singer and interested to be part of a singing pair, please drop her an email (katrina.hadland@augustine.org.uk) and she will try to work out good blends of voices and dates!

Protecting our planet against plastic

By Katrina Tweedie (From Seeds July/August 2021)

Katrina Tweedie offers ideas for the first five days of AUC’s Plastic-Free July. Other ideas will follow in AUC mailings.

Nick Fewings on Unsplash

1 July
Plastic assessment: make a quick note of any plastic in your ordinary bin and in your plastic recycling bin. Empty your plastic recycling bin. The aim is to keep it empty! Put your note somewhere visible so you can look back on it at the end of the month

2 July
Disentangling ourselves from the web of plastic waste is very challenging so let’s help each other. If you have any ideas or questions, email me at katrina.tweedie@augustine.org.uk. I will put them into Not Notices and other people could respond. For example, I can’t think of a way to get round the plastic bin liner we use, especially as we have an outside bin shared with the other three flats in the stair. Any suggestions?


3 July
The obvious (but easily forgotten):

  • take your own shopping bag
  • take your own coffee cup
  • take your own refillable water bottle

Put a reminder on the inside of your door/by your purse.
Watch the short video “Plastic-Free July – It’s as easy as this!” at www.plasticfreejuly.org/resources/videos/

4 July
Only 9% of plastics from recycling bins are recycled. The remaining 91%:

  • is sent to poorer countries without proper regulated means of recycling it (but all plastic sent by the UK is certified as ‘recycled’)
  • is put into landfill where it leaches out causing environmental degradation, releasing methane and synthetic oestrogen
  • becomes litter, which kills animals, for example by strangulation or ingestion
  • disintegrates into microplastics, which are ingested by living creatures that are part of our food chain
  • is incinerated, a process which is carbon intensive, releasing toxins

AND plastic can only be recycled a limited number of times (most plastic between once and three times). So, my virtuous fleece made from recycled plastic solves nothing! Plastic will ALWAYS end up as waste.

Recycling plastic is not sustainable.

Watch “UK plastic waste being dumped and burned in Turkey” – a BBC video at www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-57139474

5 July
Psalm 104: 24 – 30

How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro,
and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

By 2050, we could have more plastic than fish (by weight) in the sea.

The unconditional love that surrounds us

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds July/August 2021)

Ancient Greek had a number of different words which we translate into English today as “love”, but they all had slightly different meanings.

One of those words was “Agape”. (It’s pronounced “a-ga-pay”.) This is the love God has for us and which God desires we have for each other – or so it suggests in 1 John 4:7 (“let us love (agape) one another for love (agape) is of God”).

This agape love is an unconditional love; it persists regardless of all circumstance, and is more than a feeling – it is an utter commitment to seek the best for another. No matter what we do or feel, God’s agape love for us and for each and all life is unshakable, beyond breakable.

Agape love is also more than a benign affirmation; it is an active state in which the Spirit moves and works. Sometimes, truly seeking the best for ourselves or another in the sense of agape love, can be pretty tough, but it is the foundation of being and building God’s Realm on earth.

Coming out of lockdown is hitting many people hard. We battled through the pandemic, but the new normal is still shifting.

 We are all changed people, and many are weary. Just as people who travel in countries with great poverty often find their biggest culture shock is coming home (to wasted clean water and supermarkets full of food), so our arrival back into the new normal may well be trickier and more traumatic than girding ourselves to cope with the crisis.

Whatever is going on in our lives and world, it is helpful to remember and trust that whatever we feel and worry about, God’s unshakable and unconditional agape love surrounds and fills all things; it is for us, and is longing to be released through us towards ourselves, others and all life on earth.

“agape love is an invitation to find hope and resilience even in the most difficult times”

In the same passage in 1 John 4, the writer also says: “Perfect love casts out fear.” I think choosing to focus and trust God’s agape love is an invitation to find hope and resilience even in the most difficult times, which help to overcome our deepest fear.

Junior Church Gathers

By Tamsin Kilgour (From Seeds June 2021)

Great excitement this month as, on 9th May, several Junior Church families gathered in AUC for the Sunday service. This was the first chance we’d had to all be together since Advent (albeit in socially distanced, face-masked family groups). The theme of that week’s reading was Love. Here’s a selection of our children’s creations.

During June we will continue to provide weekly activity sheets linked to the lectionary readings. As we move towards the school holidays we will be having some activities for families to do outside, as well as those at home.

AUC Celebrates Pride Virtually

OUR TRIBE – THURSDAY 3RD JUNE

Our Tribe will be celebrating Pride Season during our next session on Thursday 3rd June. The session will open at 7.20pm and start at 7.30pm. We’d love if you want to join us in painting your face or wearing bright colours.

We’ll hear from Revd Dr. Ana Ester, who is an ordained clergy of the Metropolitan Community Church of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She is a member of the Global Interfaith Network Latin America and of the American Academy of Religion.

AUC PRIDE SERVICE – SUNDAY 20TH JUNE

We are delighted to have Revd Elder Pat Bumgardner as our guest preacher on Sunday 20th June.

Pat is the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, where she has served in multiple capacities for the past 40 years. She is the founder of the Sylvia Rivera Memorial Food Pantry and Sylvia’s Place, both housed at MCCNY. Named for the late civil rights leader and Mother of the Queer Rights Movement in the US, Sylvia Rivera’s Place serves as an emergency shelter and drop-in site dedicated to providing safe space and food for homeless LGBTQI youth.

Rev Elder Pat also serves as the Executive Director of the Global Justice Institute, coordinating and overseeing the global justice efforts of MCC. Her current focus involves not only local church efforts, but projects with activists in Kenya and Uganda, Romania and Russia, Honduras, Brazil, Jamaica, and Mexico.

FURTHER INFORMATION

All are very welcome at both Pride events. If you don’t usually receive emails with the details for services and Our Tribe please contact centre.manager@augustine.org.uk

Find out more about MCCNY at www.mccny.org

If you would like to donate to the Global Justice Institute, visit donatenow.networkforgood. org/1435416