On the second day of Christmas… we give thanks for Stephen.

Now after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and did obeisance to the king; then the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord; they testified against them, but they would not listen. Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada; he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has also forsaken you.” But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord. King Joash did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son. As he was dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!” 2 Chronicles 24:17-22

We celebrate Stephen on the 26thDecember. He was both a deacon and a martyr, having been stoned to death for his part in accusing the authorities of being stiff-necked and opposing the Holy Spirit. He was one of seven deacons who were responsible for the widows of the early church in Jerusalem. As shown in the reading above though, having rocks hurled by perpetrators was not a rare occurrence during Biblical times and happened for a variety of reasons. A couple of hard blows to the head and death would follow on.

Both the stoning of Zecharaiah in the passage above and the stoning of Stephen were executed by people who thought they were acting in the best interests of the authorities. In particular, in Stephen’s case, the authorities being the Sanhedrin whose interests lay in having a very particular focus on God and how one should interact with Him.

Through the short biography of Stephen in the book of Acts we learn more about deacons and their role in the fledgling church. Being able to allow God to guide and direct and then to allow God to speak through the Scriptures (in Stephen’s case, the Hebrew Bible) as well as prophetically is part of what deacons are required to do.

I wonder if you know of people who could be identified as being a deacon (apart from the two who are carrying this title)? I wonder if you might like to learn more in allowing God to speak through yourself to others?

Father God, I ask for us to made aware of your healing presence and your touch on our lives. I ask for more of you to pour out on our lives so that we each have an abundance of your presence in our lives so that we may experience the joy that you have for each of us, knowing that there isn’t just ‘one’ way to experience God.

On the first day of Christmas….

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” 1 John 4:7-16.

Most people expect the first day of Christmas to be the day after Christmas. But Christmas Day itself is the first day of Christmas. The readings therefore, all point to the Lord and how he will dwell in midst of his people. Of course, this is a great part of Hebraic history and throughout the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament, you will find this recurring theme. For us as Christians, we too are invited to share in the mystery of God dwelling both within us and us in Him.

The popular carol of the ‘twelve days of Christmas’ apparently innocuous and seemingly about farm animals and a range of people is also about focussing on Christ. “On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me a partridge in a pear tree.” Christ is represented by the partridge and the ‘true love’ is God Himself. Used at a time when the Catholic Church had to disguise their teachings due to the threat of persecution, it follows that people had to be creative in order to pass on their teachings and keep their faith alive.

I wonder how many people, persecuted for their faith, are able to keep their spirits up with songs of a similar ilk? In this Christmas season I invite you to take some time out from the festivities and pray for those people groups across the world who face persecution and ask God for that life-giving creativity to enable those people to keep their faith alive.

Curate’s letter

Copyright, BBC.

October 16thwas World Food Day. A day where the World Food Programme invited people to both acknowledge the extent of the problem of hunger and to join them in calling for a better world. One in which individuals and their communities are empowered to fight poverty, to be educated that they may help themselves and create better resilience to food poverty.

Food poverty is an issue that does not just extend across war torn zones or in regions adversely affected by natural disasters but can also be found much nearer home. A crisis where food, for whatever reason, is now in very short supply in the homes of those around us. But I have been learning that it’s not just food that is in short supply. Over the past few months, more of us have been made aware of period poverty, and I do not think that the young women of Caithness will be exempt from the effects of this in their lives.

Thankfully, we have in Caithness a food bank which serves all of the region, with a centre in Wick and one in Thurso. Having a team of dedicated volunteers willing to spend time with the Caithness Food Bank (CFB), and keep their profile on social media active helps to promote the food bank not only across different generations within Thurso and Wick but also extends their geographic involvement.

When I began my curacy here in Caithness, a little over a month ago,  I wished to find out more about the community involvement of the people of both St. John’s and St. Peter’s. This is a task that will be ongoing as I get to know all of the people who come to both churches, and also those who cannot. I was glad to learn about our involvement with the CFB and wondered how we could help in the lead up to Christmas.

The CFB will be running a reverse Advent Calendar throughout Decmber to ensure that they have enough supplies to give out during December and especially over the Christmas period. How does it work? For each day in December, put aside one item of food into a box and at the end of the month bring those boxes to church. I will then liaise with the CFB in both Thurso and Wick.

This is one way of helping to make a difference in our communities but as I have been discovering, supplying different foods does not always help those in food poverty as much as we think it would. One of the many issues surrounding food banks is that people do not always know how to use the foods they are given, and unless someone is prepared to help them prepare and cook with them, then there is an apparent mystery over some of the foods given to them.

This is where people like the Bootstrap Cook come in. Jack Monroe has written a cookbook (Cooking on a Bootstrap) that explains how to cook using tinned supplies, and a few other ingredients. This cookbook can be ordered and sent to a foodbank, and then photocopied (with her permission) and given out to those who need both food from a food bank and help in preparing the food. Alternatively, it could one of the items in the food box.

If, like me, you’re inspired to create a reverse advent food bank calendar, the following items are an example of what you could put into your box:

·     Biscuits ·    Shower gel ·    Tinned Chickpeas / kidney beans
·     Breakfast cereals ·    Squash ·    Tinned vegetables
·     Custard ·    Soap ·    Tinned fish
·     Coffee / tea / hot chocolate ·    Shampoo ·    Tinned potatoes / dried mash
·     Jam / Honey / Peanut butter ·    Sugar ·     Tinned spaghetti
·     Ham / Corned beef ·    Soup ·     Tinned hot meals (curries, stews, mince, hot dogs)
·     Long-life milk ·    Spices / salt / pepper ·     Tinned fruit
·     Pasta sauce ·    Toothpaste ·    Toilet rolls
·     Rice pudding ·    Toothbrushes ·    Washing up liquid
·     Sanitary products ·    Tinned tomatoes

Unless it’s stated otherwise, I’m going to hazard a guess that the CFB will have enough stocks of pasta to give out, so it’s all the foods that might go with pasta or rice that will be required.

I’m very grateful for the work that the CFB is doing here in Caithness and I’m grateful too to the many volunteers who help the CFB to function, thereby allowing those who are less able to provide meals for their families. I’ve highlighted the work of the Caithness Food Bank this month because I was alerted to the reverse advent calendar that will run through December, but I am equally keen to find out what else the congregations of St. John’s and St. Peter’s are involved in and how we can be more effective in our wider communities. I can only do this with your help. If you have an idea or knowledge of a venture that is happening and you would like to discuss it further, email me at revelliecharman@gmail.com.


Ellie Charman