From The Rector
From The Rector
Rector’s Letter, August, 2022
It has been an odd few weeks in the Rectory. First a horrible chest infection, then four days away – hooray! – then back for a week, then the dreaded Covid-19 hit. I am not back to normal just yet. I can’t remember when I last did so much sitting around doing not a lot.
The negatives – well, the lack of energy, the lingering cough, etc. – I won’t bore you with that. I have missed visiting you. I have grumbled about the fact that now I have time, but I don’t have energy to do all those things I want to do – finish revarnishing and upholstering the dining chairs, for example. The emails have continued to come in, and the phone continued to ring.
The positives of this are plentiful. I have wonderful congregations who have delivered various goodies (chocolate, strawberry tarts,
dessert pots…), offered to do my shopping, and guarded my time and space. Thank you. I have spent time in my summer house, just being, watching the path of the sun across the lawn, and pondering weeding the garden. I have caught up on various radio programmes – The Museum of Curiosities and the Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry to name a couple. I have rediscovered the joy of a nap. I would say an afternoon nap, but at the moment it’s an ‘after any exertion nap’. My walks have of necessity been slower and gentler, which means I have seen more wildlife. From a stoat darting across the path in front of me, to a small vole scurrying ahead, to a buzzard taking off and flying over my head, so close I could feel the down-draft from it’s wings. While my holiday was of necessity a little more leisurely than planned, that meant I stopped more often and for longer, sat in the back of my car, eating oatcakes and cheese and just watching the world go by. From dolphins in the Moray Firth, to sparrows hopping ever closer, hoping for a crumb of oatcake. I have quite literally sat and smelt the roses.
I would love to say I had used my time in deep prayer and reflection, but the fact is, I haven’t. Not in the way a lot of people would describe prayer. Prayer is often seen as active – when we say ‘let us pray’ in church, we all bow our heads, close our eyes. We use words – or struggle to find the right words. We pray for things or people– world peace, climate change, healing, government. We strive to connect, to feel. We plead or implore, interceding on behalf of others. We search for guidance and direction. Sometimes prayer feels like a battle-ground. And to be honest, I haven’t had the energy for that type of prayer.
But prayer can equally be just spending time with God.
Although this is not how I would have chosen to use this time and space, there has been a gentle awareness that God is with me, walking alongside, sitting in the summer house, in the scent of the roses and the sound of the sea. I have noted his presence with me. And this acknowledgement that he shares this time and space with us is prayer. A knowledge that he is with us, and we are with him. In this ‘being prayer’, being present, there is a source of peace, of comfort, of tranquillity, of strength. Sometimes we need to be quiet – both
physically and mentally – be still, and just be. There is no need to strive to meet with God, for he is there already. Stop. Rest. Breathe. And be in the presence of God who loves us.
With every blessing,
Rector’s Letter, June and July, 2022
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee is fast approaching and plans for many a party are afoot. There are plans to plant a tree for the Jubilee in both St Kentigern’s and St Thomas’. I don’t know what your views are on the monarchy. Some of you may see it as an outdated and redundant institution; others may see it as a vital element of our constitution. The Bible itself is rather equivocal on the idea of a monarchy – in the book of Samuel, God is not particularly in favour of the idea, but in the end he appoints Saul and then David to the position of king. He does however have certain stipulations as to what kind of leader the king has to be. The king of Israel was to be subservient to God and his law. They were there to serve the people. This is the type of kingship that we later see modelled in Christ the King.
Whatever your views on monarchy, the Queen has been the ruler of this country for 70 years. She has dealt with a world war, various other conflicts, recessions, decolonization, the diversification of British society. She has managed a number of difficulties within the royal family itself. Through ups and downs, she has been a point of stability. However you view her role, she has been steadfast, faithful, discreet. She has demonstrated that she sees her primary calling as to serve the people of her land. There are things we can all learn from her.)
In a changing world, she has adapted her way of being and her way of thinking. This is a radically different world to the world in which she came to the throne. She has moved with the changes and grown with them. She has recognised that views held previously may no longer be valid today- and has been prepared to adapt and apologise. When we are faced with change – as we all are – we have a choice to turn our backs on it, or to grow with it. To stay in our own small world, or to explore outwards.
From her first tour to Australia, to her programme of personal visits, to royal garden parties, she has demonstrated the power of personal touch and communication. Even in the recent pandemic, she has continued to do so, adapting to the use of online meetings such as Zoom. She has reached out to people, spoken to people, listened to people. There is power in relationships. Only through building them can we seek to understand each other, can we live alongside each other.
The Queen has entertained rulers and leaders of different views and different morals to her own. At times she has been condemned for this. Too often when we are faced with those whose views or actions we disagree with, we ignore them, or rebuke them. But change, tolerance, relationship, does not begin by blocking those you disagree with, but by meeting them, listening to them, speaking to them.
Her Majesty is known for her faith. Not that she shouts about it from the rooftops, but that it underpins her life. She has not always got things right – she is not perfect. But her faith has provided her with structures for how she deals with people, how she speaks to people, how she serves people.
What is the framework upon which your life is built? What are the structures which underpin it? Is it based on love of others, service of community, care for creation? Do you object to change, or adapt to change? Do you isolate and ignore those with different views, or do you listen to them? Are you a relationship seeker, a community builder? For these are the structures which make the world a better place.
As churches we seek to love others, we attempt to serve our communities, we try to care for creation. We are not always successful, but we try. We do this because we are seeking to follow the commandment we were given ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. This would seem to be a good motto for all, for those of any faith and those of none.
With every blessing,
Rector’s Letter, April and May, 2022
I wonder what season you like best? Sometimes I think it is autumn, sometimes summer. But it varies with my mood. Spring has arrived at the Rectory, and Easter is fast approaching. Although with the wind we have had recently, it feels more like winter than spring. A decidedly lazy wind – it goes straight through instead of around. The crocii in the garden seem to spend most of their time laying bowed over, faces to the ground. Which means, when the sun does shine, beaming down warmth, I value it more than ever. The crocin stand erect and turn their faces to the warmth, the snowdrops seem to glow from within, and the little yellow flowers (I can never remember their name) open up wide. Like a cat, I follow the sun around my house, basking in the warmth streaming through the windows. It’s interesting what difference the weather makes.
I delight in bright spring mornings, with blue skies and sunshine. What I don’t like about spring is those days when it is damp and cold, and the weather seems to hang around rather like a wet tea-towel, limply draped over the landscape. When I came here 8 years ago, I began two things. The first was an Easter Vigil and bonfire at St Thomas’,and the second was a Sunrise Service by the river in Ballater. I think over the years, we have experienced all the weather spring can bring – often experiencing all seasons over the Easter weekend.
It is good that we sometimes celebrate Easter with snow and ice, and sometimes with glorious warm sunshine. Easter is a time of celebration in the Christian church – a time when we remember that Christ rose from the dead. A time which helped to further the kingdom of God here on earth. A time of peace, of hope, of love.
Yet living as we do in this world, we are aware that although God’s kingdom is here, it is not yet here. While we have the model of peace, hope and love, people still suffer under the burden of oppression, injustice, violence, and war. While there is plenty to go around, for others there is little. We do not live in a just, equal world. The work that Jesus died for is still ongoing – the battle is won, but the war continues.
What we know is this – God will triumph. There is hope. We are called to be Easter people. To live in the faith of Christ. To live in the love of Christ. To live with hope for the future. To bring about peace on earth. To work with God to bring about his kingdom. We do this by our words, our actions, to demonstrate love, not hate, peace, not war. To welcome the stranger. To soothe the broken-hearted. To proclaim justice and mercy.
This means that we are called to speak out when we see injustice or inequality. We are called to reach out when we see people in need. We are called to think about how we vote, how we shop, how we live the nitty gritty of every day life. Called to look at what we read, what we listen to. How we spend our leisure time and our time at work. We are the hands and feet of God in this world.
The climate in the world at present is stormy. Turbulent and full of unrest. So we look towards the spring, the light, the Son. We have the joy of the resurrection with us. We have the courage of the risen Christ with us. We proclaim peace, joy, love, hope for the future. Let us, in word and deed, help to bring forth the kingdom of God.
With every blessing,
Rector’s Letter, January 2022
‘I have come that you may have life – life in all its fullness.’
I went to the isle of Mull with friends for my post-Christmas break. The cottage we booked is perched on a hill, overlooking the bay and the surrounding countryside. It has a picture window which runs the length of the house. You can watch the shifts and changes of the weather as it heads towards you. It was a week of little things that lit up the world. Golden eagles. Herons aplenty. Snow and hail. Rain. Sunshine. Fog rolling in from the sea. Rainbows. Oyster catchers, mallards, and eider ducks. Great northern divers. Peregrine falcon, buzzard, and hen harriers hunting over the moorland. Northern lights. An otter catching breakfast in the bay. We managed a walk each day, pottered along beaches, watched wildlife, and sat and crafted while watching the weather go past and the tide ebb and flow in the bay. It was mostly a tranquil week.
I did do one nerve-wracking thing. Sketching and drawing. This is not my forte. As my secondary school teacher told me ‘ you will never be an artist’. I have never spent time on art. On this holiday I decided to have a go. The first obstacle to overcome was – and is – fear. I am not sure what I am afraid of – perhaps it is the memory of that art teacher. But there is a little trepidation in the act of putting pencil to paper. The voice in the back of my mind telling me this is something I can’t do. That I am wasting my time and I should stick to something I know I can do. My fear of not being good at something, of being ridiculed, was outweighing the knowledge that this was something I used to enjoy. I took my courage in my hands, and each day at the cottage, I sketched or drew something. I am still not the world’s greatest artist, and never will be. My perspective is a bit skew-wiff, and my proportions are off. The pictures are vaguely identifiable- if you know the place I have drawn. But I enjoyed it. I have conquered some of the fear.
The echoes of the past can hold us back from exploring what we are able to do. We can restrict ourselves and our lives, following the same paths and the same ways. We are sometimes the ones limiting ourselves. ‘oh, I could never do that’; ‘That’s not me’. It is far easier to stick to the tried and trusted than to risk stretching out and falling flat. That way, there is less chance to make a fool of yourself. This is something we do not just as individuals, but as a church and as a society. We tend to stick to the old and familiar. There is some comfort in that. But there is fear of trying new things, of being different, of going against the flow. We conform and restrict ourselves to the expectations of those around us, and in doing so, the sparks that bring life get quenched.
This is not God’s plan for our lives. God made us to live life, and to live it in all its fullness. Through Christ, through faith and trust, and love, and hope, God makes our lives anew. He can do more with them than we could ever hope or expect. As we approach the new season of Lent, let us strive to live the life God calls us to – released from the past, looking to the future – life in all its fullness.
With every blessing,
Rector’s Letter, December 2021 and January 2022
I wonder if you have a special Christmas film, or book, or piece of music? Depending what mood I am in, I will either watch Love Actually or the Muppet Christmas Carol. For Christmas reading, for some reason the Canterville Ghost is my go to. I have several CD’s of Christmas music and carols. I am most definitely a Christmas person. Not in terms of piles of presents or huge family gatherings. But I like the scents, the sounds, the feel of Christmas. Even better than Christmas for me is Advent. I like the slow gradual build-up, the feeling of expectation, the rituals and traditions.
My mother is likewise a fan of this season. My father, on the other hand, dislikes all the fuss, doesn’t like all the people, and can’t stand proper Christmas trees. For the sake of the children, when we were growing up, he tolerated all the trappings, and for love of my Mother (and fruit-cake) he copes with Christmas cake making and Stir-up Sunday. But it’s not really his thing, and if the decorations go up too early or stay up too late, he tends to get a bit grumpy.
Part of the problem for my father is that he struggles with the dark and the cold, as he suffers from seasonal affective disorder. When you are struggling mentally, for whatever reason, others being bright and cheery can make you even more gloomy. Our moods can be affected not only by what happens inside our homes, but what happens outside. Like my father, for some, this season of year is the worst of times. It is cold, damp, and dark, and it can be extremely lonely. It is a time full of bittersweet memories. It is easy to hibernate away from the worst of the winter, burying ourselves inside under the blankets.
For others, the festivities of Advent and Christmas, the lights, the presents, can pull us up into a better place. This season is a season of celebration and joy. Crisp cold air brings rosy cheeks, and the darkness is a reason to light candles and fires, spreading the light further. The approach to winter brings back memories of families and friends, of laughter. Where are you at this time of year? Do you like it or loathe it?
In our churches, December marks the start of Advent, a time of preparation for the feast of Christmas. It’s a time when we look to the past, to the lessons that can be learnt. When we look at the present, examining where we are in our lives, and if we are going in the right direction. When we look to the promise of the future. For people of faith, that promise is found contained in the story of Jesus, and the fulfilment of that story at Christmas. This is a story that tells of the help, hospitality and generosity of neighbours and strangers reaching out in the darkest of times. Wherever you are in your journey of faith, or even if you are unsure about faith, this is a message which still has value – that we do not stand alone in this world, no matter how alone we might feel. That we only have to reach out a hand, to speak out, and help is there. That no matter how dark the time might feel, there is still promise for the future.
It is no coincidence that the early Christians chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus at the time of the winter solstice. For them, the birth of Jesus was the turning point, when light turned to darkness, much as the winter solstice marks the point where the darkest day and longest night are over, and looks towards the lengthening of days.
There is light in the darkness, if we look for it. There is light in the darkness, if we choose to share it. There is light in the darkness, if we stretch out a hand to find it. This winter time, search for the light in those around you. Seek the good in the world. Cast out the darkness of the world by acts of love, joy, peace, mercy and justice.
The peace of this tide to you.
With every blessing,
Rector’s Letter, October and November 2021
In Bridge Square in Ballater, and in the grounds of Aboyne Castle stand two trees which symbolise best to me this times of year. The one in Ballater is many years old, and stands spreading out it’s branches over the grass where in the spring the crocuses grow. The one in Aboyne is a younger version, still finding its feet in the pastureland. These are horse chestnut trees or conker trees – not too common in this area. We are reaching conker season. This is a period when nature seems to be slowing down for its winter rest, blanketing the ground with thick layers of leaves, rather like changing from the summer to the winter duvet. There are various touchstones in my year which I delight in. Conkers are one of those points of contact with nature and the cycles of the world. If a year passes without me acknowledging them, it means I have become too busy or distracted. It reminds that the world is bigger than just me, and to take a step backwards and refocus.
If you explore the pockets of my jacket you will often find conkers rolling around, glistening chestnut red, polished to a smooth finish. I have a bowl of nuts and cones at home which sits on the side, waiting for the entry from the new autumn. Conkers to you may bring back memories of your school-days, having conker competitions in the yard. To me, the conkers bring back memories of other trees, from an enormous spreading tree at Bodelwyddan in North Wales, where I used to take a picnic on days off, and sit and watch the view, to the conker tree which balances on the cliff edge down at Lee Abbey. There is a bench there under the branches, and across the valley you can see the sea, and hear it crashing on the rocks.
We all have touchstones, parts of the year upon which our memories lie, which serve to mark the passing of time. For some that may be birthdays or anniversaries. For others it may be events such as Midsummers Eve. Others may look for the first crocus or daffodil, or for the first opening of the buds on the trees. All too often we rush madly through life, possibly pausing briefly to acknowledge an event, but then heading onwards to the next thing. Yet the world is ours to glory in and revel in. It will go no faster if we are impatient. So this is my encouragement to you. Go out. Enjoy the autumn, even the damp days. Savour cups of tea with friends. Make your own touch points in the year, which keep you grounded amidst the uncertainty of life.
One of my favourite passages is from Ecclesiastes 3 – for everything there is a season. Remember that the seasons of life are myriad, but that in the end, the One who is in control is God, if we choose to hand that control to him. Without God all else is, as the writer says, only vanity.
Rector’s Letter, August and September 2021
To mask or not to mask, that is the question – or it seems to be in the press as I write this. Some of my friends are determined to continue wearing masks, no matter what – others are delighting in the prospect of throwing off what they seem as a redundancy. I will continue to wear mine indoors and in crowded places, out of consideration for others, and for peace of mind for myself. Peace of mind is something that, at present, I am finding difficult to grasp. My mind feels a little like walking through sludge, or rather butterfly like, flitting from one thing to another. I am finding it difficult to concentrate for any length of time on one thing. I’m told I am not alone. The effects of successive lock-downs, dealing with the stress of Covid-19 and trying to keep life going as normally as possible in such a context is draining. I had assumed as lock-downs started to draw to a close I would find it easier. But instead I am increasingly uneasy. Opening up seems a little dangerous somehow, and retreating back to the time of shielding – restrictive though it was – seems safer. The ‘are we or aren’t we’ situation regarding opening up and Covid-19 levels is a little prickly to live with. So what can we do about it?
There is a prayer I use for times when I am feeling restless or disturbed. I think it was written by David Adam. ‘Calm me, Lord, as you calm the storm. Still me, Lord, keep me from harm. Let up the tumult within me cease. Enfold me, Lord, in your peace.’. It is not some magical mantra, but it reminds me that no matter how uneasy or bumpy the ride, God is with me. That he is in control, he has the power to calm storms, both meteorological and metaphorical. I remind myself, however, that he does not step in where he is not invited. When things are unsteady, unpredictable or frightening, I must remember to call upon God, to spend tome with him, to invite him to be in the situation with me.
Too often, when I am uneasy, I try to work things out by myself. I thrash around in my mind, trying to find a solution. I have learnt to try to calm myself, still myself, call out to God, be in the presence of God. One of my ways of doing that is to pick up my knitting needles, or my embroidery. I find in the repetitive motion of knitting or stitching my mind and body are stilled, and become more open to hearing the whispers of God. For some, this stilling will happen when walking, or gardening, or playing a musical instrument. Some may use the rosary, or meditate on an image. It is almost as though in some kind of bodily activity, our minds are free to slowly unwind and open up.
I do not know what you are experiencing in this half-time, balanced between lock-downs and normality. You may be longing for all measures to be disposed of. You may be afraid of going back to normal. You may be hesitant. You may be joyful. All of these emotions are valid. But wherever you find yourself, mentally and physically, I encourage you to invite God into that place, to walk with you, to encourage you, to be alongside you.
With every blessing,
Rector’s Letter April and May 2021
Writing this in the second week of March, the light of spring is finally appearing. The snowdrops and crocuses are out in my garden, and the first shoots are visible on the raspberry canes. It seems to have been a long winter this year. Snow, lockdown, the effects of Brexit, the continuing saga of politics and so on. All of these have dragged my mood downwards a little, and I have felt myself discouraged at times.
I have spent some time recently slowing down. Watching the birds on my feeders. Blue-tits, great tits, coal tits, chaffinch, sparrows, bramblings, a solitary red poll. A whole flock of long tailed tits visited when the snow was thickest on the ground. The greenfinch look like miniature parrots in their bright spring plumage. And the robin is most insistent at letting me know when the feeders are empty. I’ve had a visiting weasel, who has been doing his – or her- best to reduce the mouse population for me. The pigeons are strutting around on the ground, the blackbird – beak bright orange – is turning over the leaves, and a collared dove occasionally visits. All of this is at the feeders outside my kitchen window.
At the start of this Lent, I sat back and had a look around me. I realised I had caught the problem of so many of us – a guilt in not being busy, in not occupying ourselves usefully. There are always things which can be done, things waiting on my desk to be sorted, or answered, or arranged. The expectation to be always doing comes from both inside and without. Part of it is a desire to prove myself. When other parts of my job are reduced because of Covid restrictions, shielding and so on, it is easy to feel I am not doing as much as I should be doing.
But this second lockdown has also brought more pressure from outside. With the increased use of zoom and other tools, more meetings are being held online. The amount of notice given is often much less than for a physical meeting, it tends to be harder to say no – I’m not going out anywhere, am I? – and we often fail to appreciate that an online meeting can take far more energy than a meeting in person. The digital world can make life better – but it can also place more pressure on people to get things done, and get them done now. Sometimes we fail to realise in the present moment that we are trying to work, from home, in a different way to usual, during a pandemic, with restrictions on the way we live our lives, and coping with whatever personal matters might also be on top. For most part, we are doing a good job.
These last few weeks I have stepped back a little, for the sake of my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. It has taken a small change in my routine, and my world has become wider, more thoughtful, a little steadier. All I have done is decided to take my time drinking my cup of tea instead of taking it back to my desk. To sit at the kitchen table, or to stroll around the garden, mug in hand. It is getting warm enough that I will soon be able to sit, wrapped up, in the summer house. I stop for my tea break and watch the birds. I go for a walk. I admire the crocuses, the new buds on the trees. I am spending time in the presence of God, not doing but just being. I am enjoying the small delights of life. There is a phrase which I came across a few years ago – God created us to be human beings, not human doings. How are you being at the moment? Have you paused enough to take stock? Have you asked the question – not what does God want me to do – but who does God want me to be? As I step back, as I look and evaluate and assess my life, what and who it contains, what God is calling me to do, the most important question I can ask is ‘who does God want me to be?’.
As we approach Holy Week and Easter, this is a question that should be at the core of our ponderings. Not so much what we should do in response to the love, the sacrifice, the death and the resurrection of Christ. Instead more who we should be in response to his love and life. We should be children of God; we should be passionate advocates of truth, and mercy. We should be people who respond to injustice with action; people who work for an equitable world. We should be people who are not afraid to stand up and speak of miracles, to dream dreams, to see visions. We should be people of love, who have enough love to give for the whole of our worlds. This is part of what and who God is calling us to be; is calling me to be. Who is God calling you to be?
With every blessing,
Rector’s Letter, February and March 2021
2021 and the Covid-19 pandemic drags on. I had plans to write a positive, optimistic letter, but that doesn’t seem honest, somehow. It seems to have been a dark start to this new year, with the snow and ice on the ground only seeking to add to the general gloom. There is light at the end of the tunnel, with the vaccines on the horizon – indeed, some of you may have already had your first vaccine. But the reality is that life is unlikely to return to ‘usual’ for a while yet. There is a hesitation within me in these times to watch or listen to the news.
The figures behind the headlines are at times mind-numbing, reflecting the health and financial crisis we face. It is important to remember that these numbers are not mere statistics, they reflect real people, real suffering, and it can all seem overwhelming. It would be easy to switch off the news and stay content in my own burrow. Yet I know that if I am to live my life as a Christian, I must somehow listen, or read, or watch the news. If I don’t know what is going on in the world, it is difficult to know what to pray about. This does not mean I watch the news on repeat. That would not be positive for my mental health – it’s not going to be positive for anyone’s mental health, to be frank. It means once a day I look at the headlines, read the stories. That’s part one.
Part two is the prayer bit, and that is the part which is more difficult. What do we pray in times like this? We can pray for those key-workers, those in the NHS. For those in positions of leadership whom we have tasked with making decisions on our behalf. We can pray for all those who are ill. We can pray for those who we know and love, that they remain protected in all ways. All of this is important. These are prayers of intercession.
There are prayers of hope. Hope that this really is the light at the end of the tunnel. Hope that the lessons we have learnt over the last year about the importance and value of community will not be lost. Hope that the appreciation built for those who often work in low paid, undervalued jobs will not dwindle away with the dwindling of the virus.
But perhaps more important is to acknowledge. Acknowledge that in these days and times, many of us are experiencing various types of loss and sorrow, small and large. Whether it be loss of friends or family, an inability to see others, a confining of life to four walls. The loss of the freedom we are used to. A struggle for mental and emotional stability in the swirling turmoil. How do we pray when we acknowledge that? The Bible has within it prayers for such times, prayers of lament – there is a whole book of Lamentations. A lament is a cry of sorrow or grief, a way of coming honestly before God, instead of frantically praying for things or people. I don’t understand the why of the pandemic. But I see its effects on friends, family, community, self, and I sorrow and I grieve. This I bring before God in prayers of lament.
This year, Lent starts on the 17th February. It is usually a time to take stock of our lives, to confess, to redirect ourselves. It’s a time of preparation, of examination. A time of lamentation, leading to a time of hope and resurrection. We have a God who listens to our prayers, and despite what we may think and feel, he brings comfort in the dark times. He speaks light into darkness. I don’t know how you are feeling, emotionally, physically, spiritually at this time. But speak to others about it. Speak to God about it. Place it in his hands, not for a solution, but to share your inmost hearts and desires with him. In this will come – in due time – joy, and hope, and peace in believing.
With every blessing,