United Nations IE SOGI meeting

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (IE SOGI) conducted a formal country visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 24 April to 5 May 2023 to assess the human rights situation of LGBTIQ+ persons. 

Rev Elder Maxwell Reay was invited to a private, one to one meeting with Victor Madrigal-Borloz on 1st May 2023 in Edinburgh, to share his experiences and views on conversion practices and his recommendations to the Scottish and UK governments in relation to the protection of individual’s human rights.

Rev Elder Maxwell Reay said:

I was delighted to be offered this opportunity to meet with Victor Madrigal-Borloz and I very much valued the time that he took to explain his work in supporting the rights of all trans people globally. He took time to listen to my experience, opinions and recommendations. This was an incredibly supportive and productive meeting and as a queer trans man of faith, I knew my voice was being heard.

Rev Elder Maxwell Reay has also served on the Scottish Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Ending Conversion Practices.

Useful Links

Vigil: Transgender Day of Visibility – Friday 31st March 2023

Transgender Day of Visibility was started in 2009 by trans activist, Rachel Crandall from Michigan as a reaction to the lack of LGBTQI+ recognition of transgender people. It is observed on the 31 March every year.

Thankfully, transgender people are becoming more recognised as members of the LGBTQI+ community. This has been an important shift. The advent of Trans Pride events throughout the UK is a sign of the increasing visibility of the trans community.

This year, for the first time ‘Our Tribe’, the LGBTQI+ ministry at AUC that works in partnership with Metropolitan Community Church, decided to celebrate the day. So, last Friday we held a Vigil. We worked hard to invite as many people as possible – and it paid off, there were nearly 60 people who came to the event, including many trans young people.

We invited speakers from the cross-section of the trans community to tell us why trans visibility is important in the world today and to reflect on what inspired them about the trans community. Having visible role models and out trans people who can inspire is vital to enable people of all ages to recognise themselves and be able to come out. Solidarity in the trans community is important along with supporting one another. Listening to the speakers was very moving and hearing the lived experience of trans people and our allies was inspiring and encouraging.

We had the opportunity to take part several rituals:

  • We decorated hearts and stars to hang on light trees.
  • We dropped stones into a pool of water.
  • Rev Elder Maxwell Reay offered individual glitter and oil blessings.
  • We wrote our names on canvas, to mark our visibility.

All these rituals encouraged us to feel more visible as members of the trans community and as allies.

The Vigil ended with a prayer, written by Lewis.

A little goes a long way – a little love, a little hope, a little joy, and a little glitter!


A little goes along way!

Water, Oil, Glitter.

Anoint your heart saying: Blessed is my heart that can love and be loved unconditionally.

Anoint your body saying: Blessed is my body that travels each day with you.

Anoint your surroundings saying: Blessed is this space that it may be a safe haven for all

Anoint those who you love saying: Blessed are our connections.

Anoint your ministries and work for social justice saying: Blessed by the spirit through all that we do.

We are all anointed.

Water, oil, glitter

A little goes a long way.

Written by Maxwell Reay for Transgender Day of Visibility 2023

Prayer for Transgender Day of Visibility 2023

Liberating One, you know each one of us by our names.

Our gender identities are a gift from you, which we celebrate.

You called us out and have enabled us to live a true, whole life.

You made us and from our first moment

You knew who we are.

We know we are precious to You and that You care about our lives.

We know that there have been trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people throughout history.

Help us find these ancestors and learn from them.

Thank You for the trans people who are visible in our society.

Support us in our vulnerability.

Let us take Pride in our lives and in the lives of the trans and non-binary communities.

We thank you for the freedoms we have in Scotland, but we know there is still much to do.

Give us hope that we will see our efforts come to fruition.

We ask that the Gender Recognition Reform Bill will become Scottish law.

Give us strength to rebuff the transphobia that we experience all around us.

Give us courage to face the impact of transphobia in our daily lives.

We ask for safety for all trans and non-binary people.

For those who have been hurt or assaulted, we ask for healing of body and mind.

Bring us wholeness through Your Love.

For those who battle with discrimination and oppression, bring them endurance for the task ahead.

We have reflected and celebrated our lives and the life of the transgender community.

We ask for peace that is unshakable and hope that will not burn out.

In the name of Wonder, Liberation and Wisdom bring us peace.


Written by Lewis Reay for Transgender Day of Visibility 2023.

Building the kin-dom of God in Utale

By Kathleen Ziffo (From Seeds February – March 2023)

Prior to studying for ordained ministry in the URC, the Revd William Young was worshipping and doing some pastoral work with AUC during our 2008 vacancy.

William (currently ministering in Washington DC) became friendly with Nigel Harper while getting printing work done at Nigel’s business, and discovered that Nigel had travelled extensively in Africa, where he had become very conscious of Leprosy still blighting people’s lives in Malawi.

Nigel had become friendly with Father Francis Kachere, whose mission worked with leprosy sufferers in Utale village. He wished to bring Fr. Kachere to Scotland to seek support, a visit which AUC eventually hosted.

Fr. Kachere spoke to our AUC members, and was taken to our Synod meeting where the young folk were so enthused that sufficient funds were raised to build a new Maize Mill back in Utale. This gave employment to people who were stigmatized and deprived of making their own living. ‘Our’ Doris was initially involved in supporting the work of the charity.

Nigel also contacted various civic organisations within Scotland, around the time the Scotland/Malawi Partnership was being founded, acquiring more funding to eventually expand the work in that area of Malawi and into neighbouring countries of Tanzania and Zambia.

Thus, the LUV+ Charity was formed. It stands for Love in Utale Village.

In 2009, Nigel persuaded William to run the London Marathon on behalf of LUV+. William says: ‘Nigel was like my manager/ coach, calling me frequently, making sure I was training and eating right. He made me feel like I was in training for the Olympics!’ ‘Again, the people of God came through as we raised money for the charity—the United Reformed Church, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, and folks connected to LUV+ were all a source of inspiration and we surpassed our fundraising goal before running day.’

‘The day of the marathon, Elihud Kipchoge beat me by four hours! But Nigel met me at the finish line.’

Very sadly, Nigel, a man in middle-age but asthmatic from childhood, died last July following Covid hospitalisation and then a further chest illness.

William says: ‘From what was supposed to be a simple business transaction, Nigel and I built bridges. He was not devoutly religious, yet I always recall the encounters of Jesus with people of different culture but with whom he shared a mindset: “You are not far from the kin-dom of God.”’

‘Nigel was never far from the kin-dom. Rest in Power, good brother.’

Iona Calls

By Caro Penney (From Seeds February – March 2023)

Some, perhaps many, of you will have visited the inner Hebridean island of Iona. Especially if you were blessed with ‘good’ weather, you would doubtless have marvelled at the beauty of the shores, picked up a pebble or two, and perhaps have been lucky enough to hear the call of a corncrake.

Some of you may even have stayed in the Abbey as guests of the Iona Community, just as I did for the first time in summer 1984. After annual visits since – including one with a group from AUC in 1989 and another with Fiona a few years later – then becoming a Community Member 25 years ago. . . look where it’s taking me. . . back to the island! This time, for a four-year stint as Abbey Warden. Never did I imagine this, not even as I returned home last July after six weeks as a volunteer. What’s that about ‘God’s mysterious ways’?

Being warden is a real mix. It includes: responsibility for supporting staff and volunteers to maintain a vibrant and healthy community for all who live, work and visit the Abbey; ensuring the Abbey is a place of welcome, hospitality and challenge through the daily rhythm of worship, and creative, meaningful programmes; ensuring the work and concerns of the Iona Community are embedded within all the activities of the Abbey; leading by example, through the common life approach to work and worship, action and reflection; being part of the wider island community. Yes, it is a ‘demanding common task’ but, today, there’s a fantastic team of staff, most of whom I’ve worked and lived with, so we know each other well. That makes a huge difference as I start this new role, knowing too that there are challenges ahead, known and unknown.

Some of those challenges come from living on ‘an island off an island’: ferries delayed for 24 hours; power cuts which can last from a minute to several hours; dodgy WIFI; no doctor on the island. . . But what a privilege. Following in the footsteps of my predecessors, many of whom I know well.

Although I’m sorry not to be part of this year’s AUC group visiting Iona in the summer, I’m so looking forward to welcoming them! And over the next four years, I’d love to see more of you, whether you’re day visitors or staying elsewhere on the island, or Abbey guests.

For now, though, I give my huge thanks to you all – being part of the AUC community is another privilege in my life, not least this past year leading worship and covering for Fiona in the university’s multi-faith chaplaincy team. But, mostly, being with you. Thank you. The Iona Community’s ‘strap-line’ is ‘inspired by our faith we pursue justice and peace in community’. It could just as honestly be AUC’s!

Gathered and scattered, we go forward together:
Jesus calls us to leave the past – Jesus calls us to hope
Jesus calls us to travel lightly – Jesus calls us to faith
Jesus calls us to live fairly – Jesus calls us to justice
Jesus calls us to risky living – Jesus calls us to life

(anonymous: used in Iona Abbey service, Feb 2021)

Cleaning up our mess

By Laurence Wareing (From Seeds February – March 2023)

Recycling isn’t easy. It used to confuse my mum completely – though she was determined to ‘do it right’.

And my mother-in-law was so meticulous about the task, she put us to shame – but it took her a very long time to get everything precisely how she felt the bin men wanted it.

I guess I’ve been quite inconsistent about the whole thing. But then I saw some photos on the BBC website of a recycling plant – the kind that sorts around 25 tonnes of recycling per hour. It wasn’t the size of the place, and of the undertaking, that stopped me in my tracks. It was Phil Coombs’ photo of workers sorting rubbish on the conveyer belts.

It looks like an especially unpleasant job they are doing – but, clearly, it’s made worse because so much rubbish comes through that is unclean, might contaminate, or is sharp and dangerous. The protective gloves and sleeves being worn by the men and women speak volumes. So, I was grateful that Phil has given permission for us to share his photos in Seeds. Pictures, they say, are worth a thousand words!

Alongside Phil’s photos, the BBC’s Environment Correspondent, Helen Briggs, used a word that was new to me: ‘wishcycler’.

‘Ever paused with your hand over the recycling bin, wondering whether to drop in that cheese-splattered pizza box?’ she asks. Oh yes, I’m thinking! And don’t get me started on those barely visible numbered triangles that are meant to help my decision-making but don’t. ‘You could be a wishcycler’, suggests Helen, ‘ – keen to recycle more stuff and do your bit for the planet, but confused about the best way to go about it.’ In all honesty, that describes me to a tee.

Helen says: ‘Wishcycling . . . describes the well-intentioned, but often unfounded belief, that something is recyclable, even though it’s not.’ Moreover, while the packaging might say something is recyclable, that doesn’t mean my council will accept it. ‘One council’s recycling is another council’s general waste, so it’s important to always check your local rules.’ (Where? How? Help!)

Helen Briggs turned for help to waste reduction charity, Wrap. She wasn’t sure whether her plastic conditioner bottle could be recycled. She’s not alone. Many of us get it wrong with things like shampoo and conditioner bottles, cleaning and bleach bottles, foil and aerosols. But Wrap comes to our rescue: ‘If it’s plastic and bottle-shaped it can go in the recycling.’ Brilliant. Job done.

Ready meal packaging is trickier. Some recycling plants accept the plastic tubs, others don’t. Plastic film can’t be recycled, though. It must be peeled off and put in with the general rubbish. And any food (like that stringy cheese left in the pizza box) should be scraped off and removed.

It turns out that 88% of UK households regularly recycle. That’s good news. The not-so-good news is that 87% of UK households recycle one or more items that are not accepted in the kerbside recycling and 57% miss one or more items that could be recycled at the kerbside.

Food Waste Action Week is 6-12 March this year. Excitingly, there’s loads of background information on the Wrap website (wrap.org.uk). For more local information, www.mygov.scot/bins will point you to the right page on your council website – where you should find the do’s and don’ts of your local recycling. For more detailed information, try: wasteless.zerowastescotland.org.uk/

For the moment, I’m going to learn this graphic (below) by heart. I won’t get everything right, but I’m going to work at it, and in 2023 try to become a realistic recycler, not just a wishcycler.

Light in Karachi

By Jo Clifford (From Seeds February – March 2023)

Jo Clifford has been in Karachi, Pakistan, for a production in Urdu of her play Light in the Village. While there, she met Pastor Rafique.

There’s a garden at the entrance to Holy Trinity Cathedral, Karachi: one of the few peaceful and pleasant green places in this troubled and squalid city.

Armed guards stand at the compound entrance. Every building has its armed guard. But they’re particularly needed here because not so long ago someone threw a bomb over the cathedral gate.

Pastor Ghazala Rafique and her family live in a modest house just inside the compound; and just by her front door transgender women and men gather to worship on Fridays. They meet there because the pastor’s clerical superiors do not allow us to worship in the cathedral itself.

They are also planning to sell the patch of land on which her house, and our sanctuary, stands. Trying to stop the sale of the land is one of the many battles the pastor is fighting; along with rescuing young Christian girls when they are kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists and forced into marriage and conversion to Islam. She also very publicly speaks out for women’s rights.

All this, and above all her very public support for transgender people, lays her open to accusations of blasphemy and puts her life at risk.

When I meet her, I am struck both by the extraordinary pressure and danger that surrounds her; but more by her serenity and grace. There’s an extraordinary calm to her; no trace of hatred; the powerful energy of love.

We meet and we talk, and then she rushes inside to put on her vestments. She wants to be photographed wearing them: because they represent the sacredness of the work she is doing. ‘This is the work I am called to do’, she says, very simply, ‘and God protects me.’

Lent Treasure

By Rev Fiona Bennett (From Seeds February – March 2023)

This year, Lent begins on Wednesday 22 February. It is the season when we are invited to strip back to what is truly important.

Matthew 6: 19-21: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The giving up, or taking up, of activities for Lent are disciplines to help us focus in on that which is of eternal worth.

I have been reflecting this year that the strikes across the UK, the wars in Ukraine and elsewhere, the conflict over the Gender Recognition Bill*, and the climate crisis all cast particularly pertinent perspectives on Lent. They have drawn me to the passage in Matthew 6 (the lectionary reading for Ash Wednesday).

As I listen to the strike messages: yes, it is for better pay, but it is also for classroom budgets so teachers are not paying for food for their pupils; it is for minimum levels of staffing to be achieved in hospital wards; it is for safety on trains. As a society, what does this say about where our collective treasure and heart lies? I have followed the creation of the GRB* as it seeks to offer a measure of dignity to people who often experience stigma and hatred – and I wonder, where are our treasure and heart as a culture when the protection of vulnerable groups becomes a battlefield rather than a meeting point for collective strength to develop non-violence and dignity for all?

And using the same lens, as I look at my own life (or the life of the church locally and as a denomination) and how I (we) use time, money and energy, what does it say about where my (our) treasure and heart truly are? Lent is a season of stripping back to ask hard questions, but sometimes what it can reveal is surprising.

Several years ago, the city centre churches in Edinburgh did an audit of the hours they donated room space to support groups and gatherings (such as Alcoholics Anonymous, mental health drop-ins, food banks etc.) and the numbers were astoundingly high, revealing a significant and strong layer of care in Edinburgh city centre. Where our treasure is, there our heart is also.

As we think about what could be useful disciplines to give up or take up this Lent, I hope we can find ways to reveal to ourselves where our treasure and heart are, so that we may choose to continue or change our lives and habits to invest ourselves in God’s Dream or Realm, which is of eternal worth.

Doors Open Weekend a success for AUC

Visitors from across Scotland were welcomed into Augustine United Church this past weekend, as the congregation welcomed all-comers for Doors Open Day. With numbers of around 150 crossing the threshold from George IV Bridge, it was a great opportunity to share the story of both our building and our congregation. Many visitors said they’d passed our doors on many occasions but never had the opportunity to look inside. One visitor has travelled especially from Ayr for the day; another from Fife. There was a real sense of people venturing further afield again post-pandemic. Many people admired the Robert Burns stained glass windows; others were glad to share stories of their own churches and to experience a thriving community in Edinburgh’s city centre. This year, Doors Open in Edinburgh was organised by tenements support charity Under One Roof, who offered the theme Standing Strong. Our building has stood strong since 1861, and we added to our heritage resources with a brand-new display showing how the church sanctuary has been adapted over the years. We also demonstrated the ways we’ve tried to make our old building more sustainable and environmentally friendly – a vision we continue to pursue. Welcoming guests was an encouraging experience for volunteers, who found themselves in all sorts of interesting conversations. As one volunteer said afterwards – “It was so much fun!”

Centre, Property & Finance update

From Seeds September – October 2022

As reported in the May edition of Seeds, the Centre Property and Finance team have begun trialling six key indicators to illustrate how things are going across our remit and reporting in a more visual way. Recognising the impact of Covid, we use the most recent equivalent pre-Covid quarter (in this case Q2 2019) adjusted by CPI for comparison purposes.

We hope you find this style of reporting helpful, and would love to hear your feedback so that we can make these updates as informative and digestible as possible.


There were 270 bookings compared to 414 for the same period in 2019. In Q1 2022 we were still hosting the Grassmarket Community Project which masked an otherwise underlying change in church activity. In particular in-person ministry and mission activity has yet to return to pre-Covid levels.


Booking and rental gross income was £33,242 compared to £38,502 for the same period in 2019. It should be noted that our room booking charges increased by 7% in January. We believe we are still very competitively priced versus comparable city centre venues.


Offering income was £11,099 compared to £8,865 for the same period in 2019. We are very grateful for everyone’s contributions whether financial or otherwise, especially in these challenging times.


Building repair costs were £7,004 compared to £9,291 for the same period in 2019. The figures exclude the work to repair the Finials on the Church Tower, for which our insurers will only meet 50% of the cost. Other recent works include dealing with drainage issues in the Pend (the cause of THAT smell!), Filter flies in the Archive space at Pend level (still under investigation) and an ingress of water in the Sanctuary ceiling.


Utility costs were £4,524 compared to £5,458 for the same period in 2019. We are fortunate to be on a fixed price deal for electricity which will provide stability until March 2025.


Building running costs were £22,745 compared to £29,432 for the same period in 2019.

Sacred Spaces

By James Julian (From Seeds September – October 2022)

I do voluntary work at Redhall Gardens, which is a SAMH project (Scottish Association for Mental Health) intending to help people with mental health issues.

It is a sacred place to me. It is somewhere I find peace and tranquillity as part of God’s garden.

On the 1st of August, during my tea break, sitting quietly by myself on the bench, I was looking at a flower in a pot, which had a bright yellow centre and pink petals. A bee flew past and landed right in the middle of the flower. It was only a few inches from me. It was beautiful and wonderful to watch God’s little creation moving around at the centre of the flower.

I don’t know how long it was there, but eventually, it flew off. I was left with a sense of how fortunate I was to have had that connection with nature and the little bee. It made my afternoon special along with watering the tomato plants in the polytunnel and the hanging baskets that we had made.

When I received the AUC August News Sheet from Fiona, only a few days later, I realised that God is always with us. Fiona had included a postcard of eight British bees. There was also a little bee on the back of the postcard and a blessing:

May the Spirit bless you …
not with easy roads
but strong steps;
not with certainties and proofs
but with leaps of faith;
not with happiness for an hour,
but peace and joy forever.