Trinity 11: Sunday August 23rd, 2020 by Rev Ellie

Readings: Exodus 1:8 – 2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12:1–8, Matthew 16:13–20

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’

I wonder how many of you at some point can say to yourselves that something was revealed to you by God and not by humans. Perhaps it was a feeling, or a dawning realisation, or a point that you can identify in your life where you suddenly knew God, or something of God in a way that you didn’t know before. 

Sometimes, I feel, we are too shy to talk about these moments. But in fact, these moments are the points in our lives that help us to build and move in faith. God is alive, he is lives in us and we in him. If we choose to, we can allow God to reveal Scriptures or situations to us where the first activity we are expected to do is to pray. Much of what God reveals is to us, personally, and to pray into that revelation. That is our faith. Our spirituality is bound up in our decision to follow Christ. 

During one of my holidays in a remote part of Scotland with no mobile reception, a friend of mine suddenly popped into my mind. I knew in that instance that another friend had asked her to marry him. When I returned home a few days later, I sought my friend and that engagement was confirmed. Sometimes we might have what we call ‘gut-instinct’. These, I believe, are part of the spiritual connection we have with others. Sometimes of course, we can go so far off in the other direction that there is no spiritual connection, but instead, what we are experiencing is all in the mind.

The mind and knowledge can be a mixed blessing when it comes to choosing to follow Christ. If we’re not careful, the mind leads the way. We aim to garner knowledge about God while choosing to be in utter control of our lives, thinking that is the way of Christ. Yet, Paul in his letter to the Romans – one of the last letters he wrote, incidentally – requests we should not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In order that we might discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The mind, in control, seeks those things that the world expects – dominance, rule, importance, success. Fear can often accompany these, as losing control or importance downgrades us in the eyes of the world. But we are not of this world. We are in it, but not of it. Paul writes of grace:

‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.’

Paul never met Jesus. Paul wasn’t taught by him – he wasn’t one of the disciples. Having learned the rabbinical teachings of the Law, he knew off by heart what we know as the Old Testament – the Hebraic Scriptures. These Scriptures were what he was using to persecute new followers of The Way – the new movement that gathered pace after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, before it was known as Christianity. Where therefore did Paul gather his knowledge, his theology?

It was grace that brought Paul to Christ. His single point of conversion on the road, followed by three years of unlearning and relearning the Scriptures. That shows us some of Paul’s character. He was so single minded and focused that it took a visual showdown to wake Paul up to the reality of a God who is loving, kind and compassionate. We will never know if there were several ‘coincidental’ encounters before Paul was blinded where God was trying to get his attention. Certainly, I always find with hindsight that there are a number of incidences where God has nudged me in one direction or another. But he gives me the choice whether to follow up on that nudge. 

Moments of epiphany like that aren’t always experienced. Some of us take years, if not decades, to realise who God is. Some people retain the mind as being the focal point of their worship of God, and some go with their heart. Often though I suspect that it is a mix of the two. We cannot simply make the difference of heart and mind a dualistic comparison. But it is something I think we need to be aware of. Knowledge of God is not the same as knowing God.

If we return to the Gospel passage, knowledge of God is quite clear in the first response Jesus receives. A hedging of the bets. “And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Knowing God comes in the next sentence. We will never know when that moment occurred for Peter. He might have been carrying around that understanding for some time before voicing it.

Then comes the revelation of that meaning. “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 

Reread my last paragraph again. And if necessary, again. So often we don’t think about our actions having consequences. Our words reverberating through space and time. 

Knowing God comes through prayer, through our lives and our devotions. Through the way we use our gifts according to the grace given to us. We are not limited by the list that Paul provides. These are examples of what is good and kind. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection. Be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 

Please pray with me…

Reflection for 16th August 2020

by Alan Finch

Readings: Genesis 45:1- 15; Romans 11:1 -2a,29-32; Matthew 15:10-28

Theme – To gain a new insight about the God-given preciousness of all people

In the second part of today’s gospel reading we find Jesus confronted by a Canaanite woman who was obviously distraught because her daughter was being tormented by a demon, and I guess that she had heard about this Jesus person and his powers of healing.  Likelihood is that she truly believed that what she had heard was true and whilst not necessarily understanding him to be more than a Rabbi and healer would I think have known about the Jewish search for a Messiah.  So, let us imagine that at the beginning of this encounter, Jesus was stuck in such a mind-set that his mission was towards the Jewish nation ‘the children of Abraham’. But she certainly would not go away when requested nor even when Jesus tells her that as a Gentile he was not there for them.  Nonetheless here he was at a place where Gentiles lived. 

There, he encounters this persistent woman and even if he had not had time to think much about Gentiles before then’ this may well have been his first chance to re-think commonly accepted views about Gentiles.   And as he thought it through, he kept silent to think how exactly he was going to respond to this persistent person confronting him. 

Perhaps he would have prayed about what he should do – about what God intended for him in this emotion-filled moment and thinking of him wondering how he could deny her request for healing her daughter. But, at the time, how could he fail to follow the traditional teachings? How could he even begin to concentrate on the needs of the Gentile world and still have time to complete his primary ministry among the Jews and reach Jerusalem – where his destiny lay? So, he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But when she persisted all the more, he makes the statement “It is not fair to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.”

But can you think of his surprise when she responded “At least give me a crumb, like a dog under the dinner table.” I would think his heart must have been truly touched and his love poured out.  Her words would have been flying right into the common understanding, almost as if to challenge this view and look at it from the opposite direction.   I am sure the woman’s words and imploring passion for her daughter would have reached right into Jesus’ heart and filled him with compassion and touched his very faith. It is then that he realises that standing before him was a Gentile whose faith and desire for God’s healing exceeded that of so many others.

So, he was changed. Putting his greater mission aside for the moment, he realised, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed.

What then if we can follow this interpretation?  We will see Jesus the man wrestling with his understanding of how to be the human face of God; see that he experienced growth in faith and understanding, that he gained a new insight about the God-given preciousness of all people – Jews and Gentile alike.

Though he had to continue his work among the Jews, the door was now open for ministry to and acceptance of Gentiles, as well. This was a major, fundamental change; in fact a revolution in the accustomed way of religious thinking of his day and all because of his internal struggle presented by the challenging power of a truth-telling foreigner. Surely this interpretation will give us the opportunity to come to much more inclusive understanding of the Christian Faith and we will then be able to see that today’s Gospel story as the foundation for the spreading of the Gospel way beyond the Jewish roots from whence it began. 

This interpretation and subsequent widening of the truth of Jesus’ mission through the Gospels is handed down the centuries to us to continue the work of the early church to spread the Good News of God in Christ throughout the world to everybody.

This is a transformational change that we are asked to face up to sometimes challenging our commonly held beliefs and ways of worship along with the very challenging actions that we see all around us in today’s society.  It is then important for us to use the Jesus experience to grow our own spiritual health in face of the current Pandemic. 

So how will this growth in our spirituality and faith in God help us get through each day?

Not an easy question and certainly I have yet to find easy answers, not glib ones but solid answers to a these seemingly straight forward questions but when I reflect on them and begin to feel the Lord’s presence in that challenge, I am filled with hope and energy to jump right back up and try my utmost to rethink what Jesus’ view of any given situation might be..  

But we cannot expect that even if we could find some kind of answer that life’s difficulties would disappear; Jesus was quite clear about this; being a Christian is not going to be easy but it will be fulfilling and set examples to those we interact with; that our God is one who forgives, one who wants us to be His own and that for each of us He has a purpose.  Sometimes we find that incredibly hard to accept, we are too small or do not consider ourselves to be leaders or how can my life make any difference in the big bad world of ours where war and human suffering exist and peace seems so far away.   It is though through every life, every person who interacts with another that the difference is made.  For some that is difficult to grasp or we think that no one is going to listen to what I have to say or think our suggestions are not worth voicing …..  BUT …. and this is a big BUT;  you and your belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as saviour and that it is through Him we can reach out to others with the support of the Holy Spirit, that is what makes you what you are, makes what you do; an integral (that is without your part the whole cannot be achieved) an integral component of another’s bringing to Faith.  

There is nothing more powerful for the Lord than to be a living example of what being a Christian means in practical terms.  No matter how intelligent, or educationally clever you might be if the practical outpouring of the Christ like life style is not obvious when you go into a place of work, a person’s home, a meeting on the street, doing the weekly shop at one of the supermarkets or local corner shop, or when visiting the sick or those in hospital then maybe you need to look carefully at what you are and question your yourself and ask; are you really a Christian or just thinking that you are.

We can learn, as always, from Jesus. In his encounter with the Gentile woman, he remained silent at first, letting her talk.  That surely is the model for listening to people who are not like us? Can we not learn from the encounter related in today’s Gospel reading that listening to the stories of others unlike us, engaging in courageous conversations, adopting open-mindedness, practicing tolerance, and living in mutual respect can lead to a better sense of loving community?   We know that no one should be counted as the underdog and that everyone – everyone – is a beloved child of God, deserving of God’s grace found in Jesus. 

We also know that God does not ask us to do what He knows we are not capable off, nor does He ask us to do or give beyond our means, but most of us have a notion of what is possible for us and I would say that as a rule of thumb for us all, is that we should push ourselves one step beyond where we think our limit is, and I am sure even then, that will still be less than what God knows we are capable of – but for us at that moment it will be a challenge and we will need to strive hard to get even to that point;  once there though, we will know that for next time, we can move even further on; this after all is a journey we are on; one that will lead to the Kingdom…

Reflection for Sunday 9th August 2020 by Barrie Cran

Readings: 1 Kings 19:9-18, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33

As I sit writing this there is a summer storm going through, the wind is howling, the rain hitting the windows hard and the family have lit the fire and settled down in front of the TV.  But if anyone has been out at sea in a storm, they will realise just how uncomfortable and frightening it can be, especially in an open boat.  There is nothing like a storm in the open ocean to make you realise the latent power of creation – indeed we used to say that “happiness is 500 feet (submerged!) in a Force 9”.  But the storms of life can be just as frightening and disconcerting.  Sometimes we bring them on ourselves by our choices, our actions, our words.  Sometimes life’s storms come from nowhere, taking us completely by surprise and, quite literally, blowing us off course.

I suspect that Elijah felt a little blown off course by the events leading up to todays reading.  He had stood up for the Lord and the result was rejection, violence and flight from his homeland.  This was not the treatment expected for the righteous.  The power of the Lord was needed; the power to show who was God, who was in charge.  There are many times in Hebrew literature where the power of the Lord comes in some major physical way, floods, droughts, fire and so on.  It is always tempting to think of God in terms of power and strength, of being an “impactful” God – and what can be more impactful than a wind that breaks rock!  But God actually appears in the calm, the “sheer silence” according to the NRSV.

We do find silence difficult, don’t we?  Have we ever sat in a silent period in worship feeling uncomfortable, wishing the minister would get on with it?  Have we ever blurted out something completely inappropriate or stupid (maybe even rude) to avoid the embarrassment of a silence in a conversation?  I know I have, and I know that my words have been far worse than any silence could be. 

For there is power in silence.  It requires strength and resilience, confidence and love to stand silently alongside.  To listen and hear.  To calm the inner turmoil.  It is so tempting to rush in an fix, impose our own views and solutions.  After all we are in the moment, we can see clearly, we understand, of course we do! But often we don’t really.  Often, we only partly listen.  We only see part of the picture, and rarely what me theatre loving family call “the back story”.  In our busy, turbulent lives silence is powerful but also threatening.  

How many of us actually seek out and revel in silence?  Do we have the radio or TV on?  Do we seek to speak to people (or hope they will speak to us)?

But sometimes we have to consciously turn away from the tumult, no matter how fun and productive it can be.  No matter how much we feel we are achieving.  Irrespective of the “good” we are doing.  We need to have the confidence to reach out through the storm and seek the silence and peace.  We need to know when to let the hustle and bustle, noise and violence pass us by and when to step out and listen to the silence, to let the silence fill us and not to try to fill it.

And that’s always our temptation, to try to fill it with our works, our voice, our will.  But actually, it’s not about what we do for God, its about what God has done, and continues to do for us. It is about salvation through faith in the true God who reaches out to us, who sent his Son to us, whose Spirit is with us still.  Our relationship with God is at His request. It may be our wish, but it is His doing.

So what should we do about it?

Well firstly we must take comfort in the silence.  So often when we pray, we want and instant and powerful response.  Elijah got it in the section before today’s reading but the effect was to turn the authority of the day, Queen Jezebel, to anger and violence and so he finds himself in a cleft in the rock surrounded by powerful forces of nature – but God wasn’t in them.  So, when we pray and seem to have sheer silence in return, we mustn’t give up or despair as God is in the silence and we must wait for Him there.

And we must have faith that God will be there for us.  Peter may have expected Jesus to somehow make him immune from the storm and walk across the water as though it were dry land.  But he doesn’t get that, the storm still rages, and Peter loses confidence, loses faith that Jesus will protect him.  So, we mustn’t lose faith.  There will be lots of times when it all seems like the storm is still raging, we know Jesus is there, but we can’t see Him, we can’t feel him.  And so, we try to calm the waters ourselves – and guess what?  It often fails.

And we will fail too if we think that we can calm the storms of our hearts.  We will fail if we think we can hide away, whether in a submarine or just behind a shell of our own making.  So, we must find time and space for silence.  We must work our way into it and cherish it.  We must allow the God of silence to work through and in us.  God is a god of power, but we find that power in quietness, we just need to look there!

Reflection for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost: Thankfulness

By Sue Berry

Readings: Matthew 14:13-22, Romans 9:1-5, Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 17:1-7,15

The gospel reading today is a very familiar story which appears in all four gospels. If we dig deeper into the story various elements become apparent.

It begins where Jesus withdraws to a wilderness place having received the news of John the Baptist’s death at the hands of Herod the Tetrarch. John was well known to Jesus. He was a member of his family and one who had heralded the arrival of Jesus. John had baptised Jesus at the Jordan river. 

Jesus needed the time to grieve pray and seek his next steps. He was seeking rest for his body and strength for his soul in the quiet place. If this is your need today take time to come into His presence to be and hear His voice and rest.

However this time was interrupted by the crowds who had followed Jesus from the cities, seeking him. A multitude of around twenty thousand people, (a sizeable number of the population of Galilee) came out of the cities and towns into the wilderness. 

Jesus has compassion on the people. He takes time to heal all their sicknesses over the course of the day. As evening draws near the people would be hungry and needed a meal. The disciples suggested to Jesus that the crowds needed to return to the towns and villages to buy food for themselves. Jesus flips this idea on its head and tell them to feed the crowds. 

All they have are five loaves and two fish. Certainly a simple meal for a small family but not for large crowds. Jesus takes what they have. He blesses it and the miracle of multiplication begins. All the crowds were fed and there is enough to fill 12 large baskets with left overs!

Jesus changes their perspectives. He needs them to work with him to feed the people. When he wants to do something He needs people to work with him to be willing and obedient to follow his directions, not leaning on their own understanding. 

He asks us to bring what little we have so He can use it in service to others. In so doing,  His love and truth can be demonstrated to a world in need of him. God gives generously as there was food left over for the journey ahead. 

In the story, Jesus gives thanks for the gifts of bread and fish and blesses them. A Blessing said at a family Shabbat meal over the bread is:

“ Blessed are you Lord our God ruler of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth.” 

It is a reminder of the blessing said at a Eucharist service too.

This is a miracle which reminds us that Jesus gave us spiritual food through His sacrifice which creates a way to provide for us. This miracle speaks to us on so many levels. It tells us about who Jesus is. He is the one who knows our needs and compassionately meets them.

The crowds were fed and then sent on their way. The story is one of a miracle of changed people where selfishness is exchanged for generosity. We too can be fed by Jesus who gave himself to change hard hearts. 

When Jesus is there the weary find rest and the hungry soul is fed.


As we have meditated on the story take a moment to reflect what the Holy Spirit has spoken to you through it.

Thankfulness is an act of the will, for some things it maybe difficult but as in the story when thanksgiving was made, the bread was blessed and a miracle began to take place. 

What or who would you like to give thanks for today? Thankfulness opens the door to God’s presence. Reading Psalm 100 is a great place to start. 

Try finding something to give thanks for each day for over this next month. Change will happen. I am challenging myself too!


Thank you God for your amazing power at work in our lives,

Thank you for your goodness and blessings over us, 

Thank you for your great love and care.  

Thank you for your mercy and grace

Thank you that you are always with us and will never leave us

Thank you for your incredible sacrifice so that we might have freedom and life.

Help us Lord to set our eyes upon you.

Renew us with your peace and joy.

Help us to have thankful hearts this day and everyday.

We give you praise and thanks for you alone are worthy.

In Jesus Name 


Food for Thought

14 August: The Sound of Silence

I wonder if you remember ‘The Sound of Silence,’ written by Paul Simon. The lyrics, if you look them up on the internet are profound and, as ever, are applicable to this current time as they were in 1964.

The lyrics can be summed up as relating to various states of dejection, with people walking in continual silence thinking their voices will never be heard. In my other articles for Food for Thought, I stated that there are ways and means through which you can talk, be listened to and that your experiences are valid.

There is another way, however, of listening to this track. One where the silence is positive. There are not many people in this world who might delight in silence, or would happily embrace it. However, silence or stillness is an aspect of the contemplative spirituality of many different religions. Certainly, in Christianity we are invited by the Church to reflect at different stages of our lives.

As a priest I am expected to take a retreat at least once a year to refocus on my inner spirituality. That time has just passed. The only difference this year is that I had to make space at home to have that retreat. Silence for me is about switching off the computer, the radio and being intentional in not talking to others. Stillness on the other hand is found when I sit on the beach, listening to the waves or birds.

Silence can be profound in its ability to recharge one’s mind and soul. One does not need to combine the two, though one may lead to the other. Recharging one’s soul can take place through different activities. The caveat is that your choice of activity should be uplifting, mindful and restorative. And remember: what you are doing at any one time is the most important thing in your life at that moment. 

07 August: Gardens

Throughout Lockdown I have found spiritual comfort in growing plants. Particularly those that I might enjoy eating later in the year. There have been frustrations at the weather – too cold, too windy, and at times too hot (though there hasn’t been enough of the latter)! I wonder how many gardens throughout Caithness have responded to the nurture given to them this year.

I turn to the garden when I am stressed. I am fortunate that I have a place where I can grow plants without the blast of the Caithness wind. Despite this, there is a deep-seated appreciation that the world still turns on its axis, and wildlife and the plants in my garden continue in their life cycles dependent only on the seasons.

I wonder how many of us are feeling stretched or stressed? Where are we emotionally? Whether we feel frustrated that our lives do not have that same sense of normality that we once had. If you can identify with that, you are not on your own. Situational stress is a reality as we cope with adjusting to this new normal. It really is a concern.

The extension of stress over a long time is not helpful for anyone, and the period of Lockdown has not helped. I wonder if you have a way of addressing that stress or anxiety? It might be as simple as walking the dog, or perhaps you enjoy crafts, or playing a musical instrument, or running or cycling?

While the easing of Lockdown gathers pace, we need to ensure that our own needs are met – spiritually and emotionally. One of the books in the Bible tells us: “Before you fall ill, take care of yourself.” Self-care is important as without looking after your own needs, looking after others’ needs is much harder. Therefore I suggest that we take some time out for ourselves. If we do, we become stronger in body and mind – more ready to cope with the demands of the changing world that will be the new norm as we emerge from Lockdown.

31st July: It is ok to not be ok

I wonder how many of you have come across the wonderful Japanese art of Kintsugi? The most basic idea of this art is to take a piece of pottery that has broken and put it back together using gold. The gold accentuates the cracks within the pottery and does not just mend it but restores it and altogether makes into a unique piece of art.

But there is an in-depth contemplative and spiritual side to this art that is  frequently glossed over. The artist takes each piece of broken pottery and examines it. He or she ascertains the history of the piece, and the parts that need more care before piecing the pieces back together. By using gold, the cracks are highlighted as scars of worth. 

And so it is with us. Our experiences define us; our encounters with each other have an effect on who we are and our behaviour. When we struggle with our lives, as many of us have done during Lockdown, we may experience some sort of breakdown. This is natural, particularly under such stresses as may have been placed upon us over the past few months. If you can identify with this, please reach out. This state of brokenness is experienced by most of us at some point of our lives.

The art of building lives back together, carefully, restoratively, is both at the heart of mental health charities and the Church. By acknowledging our needs we can reach out for help. We can rebuild our lives, and we do so in a way that incorporates our scars. Our experiences are important and can help us form a closer knit society and Church that listens, nurtures and is inclusive. 

I believe that God’s grace is generous in its abundance. That God’s love is for every human regardless of sexuality, nationality, colour and so on. This is unconditional love and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is at the heart of restoration, the contemplative life and Christian spirituality.

24th July:

One of the things I remember reading near the start of this lockdown was a conversation from a mother to her daughter. Her daughter was bored, soon after the lockdown began. The mother urged her daughter to keep a journal because she said that in decades to come, the daughter would recall the events around the pandemic and relay them to her grandchildren. Into that journal would go the best and the worst, because that is what happens when you write a journal. Emotions and facts are poured into the pages, that as soon as the page is turned, are kept hidden, until years later.

The period of lockdown has been quite divisive in some ways. Opinions have become polarised, and issues that appeared to be buried have risen to the fore where they have been, quite rightly, addressed to a greater or lesser degree.

This includes the yearning to go back to ‘normal.’ But what is normal? Personally, I don’t want to go back to what was perceived as normal as I found it exclusive, sometimes elitist. Various sectors of society were not included in the activities I found myself associated with due to existing prejudices. This is not the ‘normal’ I want or would wish others to grow up in.

As the easing of lockdown gathers pace, now is the time we should ask ourselves what prejudices we can discard? Secondly, how do we wish to go forward? Lastly, what can we do to ensure that no-one is left behind?

Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks of love, grace and compassion and being abundantly generous in our approach to others. Might I suggest that by including these in all we do and say, our actions will help each other adjust to the new ‘normal’ post lockdown.

Curate’s Letter, August: Land Ahoy!

I wonder… have you come across the wonderful art of Kintsugi? This is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. It embraces the idea in embracing flaws and imperfections, one can create an incredibly beautiful and unique work of art. By highlighting the scars, they become important parts of the design. Metaphors that perhaps would help us.

I wonder how much my rocking of the boat in last month’s letter caused anger or dismay? I wonder how far you read before questioning my right to ask such things? Or perhaps in it were the statements you felt the Church should have addressed a long time ago.

Certainly, the feedback I have had is polarised. A good number of people wrote and said they were pleased that I had put into words some of what they had experienced over the years. That saddens me because it appears that the church is no better than the world. Of course the church is full of broken people because that is what draws us in. The love of Christ for every human regardless of sexuality, nationality, colour and so on. The grace of our Lord bestowed in generous abundance on the people he unconditionally loves. The way He can rebuild lives, taking the unique aspects and skills of people’s experiences and building up the resilience of the church.

As disciples of Christ we are asked to love unconditionally too. As I said in my last letter, this does not make allowances for ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ and certainly not self-justification. Unconditional grace and love should make the church better than the world. In the world, but not of it. The loss in translation includes the nuances and inflections I would make if I were reading this out in Church – of course, that never happens for a letter for a magazine, but it does beg the question of how a letter is read. Both Bishop Anne and Bishop Kevin alluded to this in their sermons – this Sunday and the last. Firstly, the soil on which the seed falls must be receptive. Secondly, whatever mask we hide behind will distort the way in which we engage. 

I remember reading aloud a reflection out to a group of people and immediately afterwards one of them came up, and thanked me. That person then said I had said something that was not in what I had voiced. We hear what we want to hear. Similarly, in our reading of other people’s writings, we pick out those bits that fit with our way of thinking, and we read into other things that weren’t even written. And when something as stark as what I wrote about in my last Curate’s Letter is there in black and white on a page, published, and sent out to a wide range of people and also made available on the internet, there is little wriggle room.

Why did I bother to rock the boat? The one that we all seem to be in, wondering which way the wind blows and seemingly at the mercy of the storm. A wise person once invited us to walk on the water, to put our trust in Him, to hold His hand as we walk with Him. If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. The boat represents all that we find ‘safe.’ In our human made world, the boat keeps us from drowning. It is kept afloat and powered by those who know they have to keep going (until burnout). Where it goes is partly due to the person steering the rudder – but that person can’t see the way forward – that’s the job of the person in the rafters scanning the horizon. The person steering has to depend on a compass, while the person in the rafters is looking for land. The team comes together to chart their course using landmarks or the heavens. Each person in that boat is heavily dependent on their team members and noone can tell others what to do without there being consequences. The boat only stays afloat because everyone works together. You may wonder why I describe this in detail, but the similarities to the Church are there. Though, of course you need to add in God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus into the team.

The polarity created by my last Curate’s Letter showed me many things. It tells me rather important information about the people in the churches here. It tells me who cares. It tells me who wants change, and who doesn’t. It tells me who is willing to speak out and voice their opinions – something I continually ask for. There is a saying that no news is good news. Except that, no news may also mean that people have just given up, or think that once the Curate’s gone, everything can go back to normal. 

What is normal? Who is at the centre of the new normal that the Church finds itself in? As we find our land legs once again, having been all at sea, what is really important about the Church that we need to keep? What traditions can we lay aside to make others feel welcome? 

At the end of the day, what is it about God and the Church that calls to us? Is it the liturgy and the liturgical year? Is it the abundance of inclusive, generous love that we display towards each other every day? Is it the caring, listening and nurturing ear? It is the spirituality of the church that helps our faith to deepen. It is the acceptance of Jesus’ invite that helps us to grow. 

In this new normal that we are entering into, as we prepare to disembark, let us remember that we are God’s. Let us remember that in our brokenness we are loved. Unconditionally, but also with discipline. Discipleship that says to one another, I see my brokenness and I see yours. Let us help each other and allow God to create within us a new, more resilient and beautiful personality. Where we acknowledge the flaws and imperfections and allow God to work through us, rather than covering it up. 

Life as God wants it is full of grace, it listens and is compassionate. Love is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the being of God, and the meaning of humanity. With hearts full of care and compassion, the church (the people) begins to grow. This, then, is where we need to begin. Prayer should be at the heart of all we do and say – it is only by submitting ourselves to God as individuals that what we do and the way we see others will begin to change. Prayer will help our way out of lockdown, and prayer will enable the Church in Caithness to grow. Please pray with me…

Reflection for Sunday 26th July. Acceptance and trust, by Alan Finch

Genesis 29:15-28; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

I was really intrigued by the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel so I went searching about for inspiration for this reflection and found some very interesting views on how to look at this story, and specifically a lady named Mandy Smith (on a website ‘, who is an ordinary woman but who had an out of the ordinary take on the story which inspired this reflection.

So I begin by looking at the story in Genesis 29:15-28 where we see that Jacob was working for his uncle Laban who said that family or not you should not work for nothing; what payment do you want.  Jacob (who fancied Rachel) said to Laban that if I work for you for 7 years will you let me marry your daughter Rachel and Laban said – Deal.  When the 7 years were up Jacob asked for Rachel’s hand and a big party was held to celebrate the marriage.  Laban though had other ideas for he had an older daughter Leah and tradition in their country was that the eldest should marry first so Laban got Leah to go to Jacobs’s tent in the evening and sleep with him thus consummating the marriage.  In the morning when Jacob arose he discovered the switch and was more than just a bit hurt at being deceived and after some words with Laban agreed that he could marry Rachel but only after spending the marriage week with Leah AND work for another 7 years by way of payment.  

Jacob was angry about the deceit, and I reckon that must have been tough on Leah being classed as second best which would put a barrier between Leah and Rachel as they had to ‘fight’ for Jacob.  Indeed such was the rivalry that at one stage Leah bartered some mandrake root as a price to pay for Rachel to allow Leah to sleep with Jacob.   If that was not a complicated triangle enough both women had hand maids (servants) who they in turn got Jacob to sleep with (marry) and between the four women the 12 tribes of Judah were born.

Sometimes I forget that the bible has some ‘raunchy’ parts even by our standards today; love triangle(s) since there were 4 woman and 1 man involved together; Jealousy, deceit and throughout it all is the hand of God.  

Now I realise that times have changed (thank goodness I do not think I could cope with 4 wives!!) 

It must be remembered though that Jacob was no stranger to deceit, because he was the person who managed the process of deceiving his twin (but older brother) Esau out of his birth right. Now it is his turn to have the tables turned against him and it was Laban, the father of his beloved Rachel who does this by switching out one daughter for the other on the night Jacob expects to consummate a marriage with Rachel.  Maybe this was God’s way of reminding Jacob of his prior life when he schemed to displace Esau’s birth right? 

Well I suppose we might have little or no sympathy for Jacob given his previous behaviour but it becomes quiet clear as we read through this story that Laban and Jacob’s own mother were just as manipulative in getting Jacob deceived.  This is then a family of people who are deceitful even if they did not think they were being bad.  However it is very interesting that even if the family was ‘bad’ God can and does (thank God) still work through people’s imperfections and bring about good; important because it affirms that even when we disappoint God, the promises that God has made will still be kept.

And that’s not all – over time, Jacob also marries Leah’s servant Zilpah, and Rachel’s servant Bilhah, and as we all know, among these four wives he fathers twelve sons who become the heads of the tribes of Israel – Jacob’s new name, given to him by the stranger with whom he wrestles all night beside the river Jabbok (Israel means “he who wrestles with God”).

So Jacob was drawn to Rachel because of her beauty unlike God who looks inside and sees as greater worth to the kingdom, not the outward beauty but what lies in the heart within. We as humans do like to make our appearance as good as we possibly can because we know that what matters to another person is our outwards appearance, although as we all get older that will fade. Maybe we should be taking a leaf out of God’s book and look deeper into another person before judging them solely based on appearances next time. 

But be rest assured that God is in this story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel because we see how God worked through this family to bring about His will; by the sons born from all four women who eventually make up the twelve tribes of Israel. So for sure this story says that things aren’t always as they seem.

In the case of Leah, she was rejected, dealt with the emotions of jealousy, and her deep desire to be pursued and came to the realisation that although her own sister Rachel was wanted and pursued, Rachel herself had her own problems and feelings of jealousy and anger to deal with; and Jacob had not made those go away.  On the contrary he had in effect made them worse.  What Leah found was that putting her trust in her Lord meant that no one could take that trust away and that God (her Lord) was always true and would never stop loving her.

So we are then reminded that God’s plan for our lives doesn’t always end up with us being the most ‘fancied’ one or the main attraction or most popular, or the most beautiful.  Neither are we promised a pain free life but what we are promised to receive is much, much more.  We are promised in return for our trust in God, the security of God’s love.  We are assured that He will always put us first in His pursuit of us, and has a burning desire to use our lives for His glory; and in that we can be certain.

Reflections for Trinity 5, Sunday July 12th , 2020

Readings: Genesis 25:19–34, Psalm 119:105–112, Romans 8:1–11, Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23

The Parable of the Sower. Or is it?

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”                                                                                                    Matt 13:1-9

Considering the titles inserted into the Bible for particular passages were not added in until centuries after the Greek New Testament was compiled into a Canon, the title for the Gospel passage is one incredible misnomer. It is so misleading. So much so, that I challenge anyone  to read the Bible not taking the passage titles into consideration. Because this passage is not about the sower. It is not even a parable about the sower. It is about the soil, or lack of, that the seed falls on. So perhaps the Gospel passage should be renamed as the Parable of the Soil?

Wait. What? But it’s the sower who wastes the seed – throws it on rock, and on the path, and so on. So surely the parable is about a wasteful sower, so why would it be about Jesus? Well, this parable, like any other takes something that should be obvious and mixes it up a little, or lot.

Suddenly, a metaphor that should be straight forward is not. Of course someone sowing seed would ensure that it all falls in the field, rather than in the brambles, or on rocks. But that wouldn’t paint a fair portrait of human life, would it? Are we then saying that all human life should be thoroughly receptive to the Word of God and should grow up with strong foundations, eagerly listening and feeding on the Scriptures? Perhaps, in an ideal world, where the teachers come with an objective, all loving, all-inclusive way of being, with no emotional baggage. Do you know anyone like that? I certainly don’t.

We are actually given three points of view to consider. The parable of the sower, the parable of the soils and the parable of the phenomenal harvest. 

The sower wishes to spread the Good News, and is willing to go wherever to spread that news. He or she is not limited to the field. He or she is not limited to the church building. The sower can go anywhere. A fact, I think, many people wish to ignore. Note, too, htat eth soil is not cultivated before sowing seed. The ground has not been prepared. This idea does not fit with any of our ideologies for mission – where is our preparation? Would any of this actually enable us to understand or have any prior knowledge about the openness of people’s hearts and minds to receive God’s Word? No, none. 

So, we come to the parable of the soils. Sowing results in some disciples. The four types of soil remind the church of what is necessary to help seeds flourish. What is required for fruitful discipleship. In order for growth, people must understand, they must attend services, and they must persevere with this discipline.

Seeds can be snatched up by birds – the potential of faith can be taken away so easily. Anything that distracts, or dissuades the new ember of faith in someone. A nasty word, or action, or even an unthinking word could snuff that faith. Understanding opens the ground, but please, I beg you… do not equate understanding with a mere acknowledgement. Understanding is tied to insight. Understanding leads to a change in lifestyle as you are drawn nearer to God. Understanding is necessary for discipleship but it is not sufficient on its own.

Attentiveness and discipline are also required. Disciples must ensure they can stand up to injustices and temptations (anxiety and the lure of wealth). 

The soils upon which the seeds fall do not have to remain that way – it is up to the person who hears the Word to decide if they want to nourish that seed or not. The onus is on the people. As Gary Peluso-Verden wriets: “the factor the the disciples are not able to control, however, is whether or not the path is hard, whether or not there is understanding. Understanding, like faith, is a gift.” God gives that gift, freely. It is up to each of us as humans whether we wish to respond. No-one can tell us otherwise.

It is therefore a miracle that any disciples come forward and grow. It is quite simply put, a miracle from God. The remaining seeds produce abundantly – provided that they are nurtured. The abundance is truly astonishing – beyond that which we see. 

It is only by coming together, supporting one another and praying together that we can encourage each other. This is what God asks of us – to believe and trust. To lay our differences aside and come to him in humility. But we need to have hope, and be diligent in our prayers that God continues to work mightily. Pray with me…

Reflection for Sunday 19th July, 2020

The Kingdom of God and the end of the age’, by Sue Berry.

Readings: Genesis 28:10-19a Psalm 139:1-12,23-24, Romans  8:12-25 Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Following on from last week’s story of the sower and the seed. This week’s gospel reading continues the agricultural theme in the parable of the wheat and the tares. A farmer sows seed in his field looking to reap a good harvest. Under the cover of darkness his enemy, intent on ruining that harvest, sows weeds in amongst the wheat.

His servants, upon discovering this wicked act, want to pull up the weeds before the harvest. However, the farmer cautions them to wait until the time of reaping. Then, both will be gathered and separated; the tares to be burnt, the wheat to be placed in his store house.

Jesus was giving more details about the Kingdom of God and the end of the age events, as he shares the meaning of this parable.The farmer is the Son of Man who is sowing the seed. The field is the world. The good seed represents the sons of the kingdom, the weeds or tares are the sons of the evil one. The harvest is the end of the age, the reapers are the angels who gather the tares and cast them into the fire. The wheat is gathered into the barn.

It’s a sobering picture. Jesus explains the events that will come and he is the one that will judge the whole of humanity. The parable appears to describe an ‘us and them’ situation and it is tempting for people to judge and label one another into one camp or the other. But when we take a closer look, we see a call to action to reach those, represented by the tares, who do not yet know Christ.

The one who sows the weeds among the wheat is called the enemy. The term ‘enemy’ is used in three other places in Matthew’s gospel. The first is in the Beatitudes Matthew 5:43-44 where we are called to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. If such people are destined for the furnace of fire we need to pray for them since God doesn’t want anyone to perish and nor should we.

The second reference to ‘the enemy’ is in Matthew 10:36 where the disciples are sent as sheep amongst wolves and told that enemies could even be of their own household. The final reference is in Matthew 22:24 were Jesus speaks of the prophetic words of David about himself: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’ Meaning ultimately the enemies who sow weeds will be defeated.

Looking at this parable again we see a complex picture and even though defeat of the enemy is assured human beings caught in this scenario could end up in a lost eternity without God, known simply as Hell.

The servants noticed what was going on, raising the alarm, so why the delay? Were they too hasty in their judgement? Is the time given as a grace for change. Although justice will come, we are in an age of grace, the window is open to make choices which mean life or death to the soul.

It should be an opportunity for Christians to pray for family, friends and the wider community, for all to meet Jesus while he may be found. This happened to Jacob in our Genesis reading. A revelation of God at Bethel changed his life profoundly.

God was reminding Jacob that his life should not be governed by self-interest but that he needed to become a channel of God’s blessing to others. Jacob has a new vocation given in an encounter with the Living God as angels are dispatched to bring encouragement and blessings.

God working in us and through us gives the ability to break into a world of fear, terror and loneliness, it begins with self and in turn touches others, as we are prepared to share what Jesus can and has done in our lives.

The redeeming elements of all the readings today remind us of a God who wants to produce a good harvest in each of us so that we in turn become agents of change allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through us to bring the light and life of Jesus to those around us. 


God who sows and God who reaps,

God who allows growth even in the hard places,

God who waits patiently for the right time,

send us out now into the fields of your world

to plant hope amidst the weeds and seeds of life. 

And may we learn to scatter love wisely

till you gather us in once more. Amen

Prayers in the midst of a pandemic

May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake. May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable. May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent. May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options. May we who have to cancel our trips remember those that have no place to go. May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all. May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home. During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbours. As fear grips so many around us, let us always choose love. Amen.

Jesus Christ, you travelled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love. Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care. Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbours from helping one another. Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders. Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow. Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace. Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace. Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace. Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long- term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth. Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace. Jesus Christ, heal us. Amen

God our Father, Creator of the world, almighty and merciful, out of love for us
You sent your Son into the world as the doctor of our souls and our bodies, look upon your children who, in this difficult time of confusion and dismay in many regions of Europe and the world, turn to you seeking strength, salvation and relief, deliver us from illness and fear, heal our sick, comfort their families, give wisdom to our rulers, energy and reward to our doctors, nurses and volunteers, eternal life to the dead. Do not abandon us in the moment of trial but deliver us from all evil. We ask this of Thee, who with the Son and the Holy Spirit, live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

God of Love, we turn to you with prayerful hearts and with confidence in your loving presence among us now and in every moment of our lives. We stand before you as a people of hope, trusting in your care and protection. May we be comforted by your love in these anxious times.

Generous and Merciful God, fill us with compassion and concern for others, young and old; that we may look after each other in these challenging times, especially those among us who are vulnerable. May your example give us the courage we need to go to the margins, wherever they may be. Heal us of our fear. Healing God, bring healing to those who are sick with the Coronavirus and be with their families and neighbours. We pray especially who those who are isolated, that they may know your love. Stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.

God of Strength, accompany all those who serve us with such love and generosity in the medical profession and in all our healthcare facilities… NHS workers, emergency services, shop workers, bus & train drivers. All the folk keeping our infrastructure together. We give thanks for their continued work in the service of people. We ask you to bless them, strengthen them and guide them with your abundant goodness.

God of Wisdom, we ask you to guide the leaders in healthcare and governance; that they may make the right decisions for the wellbeing of people.
O God of creation and God of life, we, your people here in Caithness, the Highlands, Scotland, the UK and the world, place ourselves in your protection and love. May your peace be with us and enfold us today, tomorrow and during the time ahead. We make our prayer through the intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.