GENERAL ASSEMBLY REPORTS

Two of our Elders attended the “Virtual” General Assembly of The Church of Scotland this year. An extract of their reports follows:

From Louise Finch:

At the General Assembly this year the Faith and Nurture Forum Called on Kirk Sessions to use the resources provided in order to respond to the clear two part call of discipleship, to follow Christ and enable others to follow Christ . These are “ Conversations in Discipleship” and “Exploring Discipleship”. For those who are inspired to take a lead in the development of a discipleship culture in their own congregation, a face to face training “ Encourager Training” is being provided.

The most debated part of the Faith and Nurture Forum’s report was the changes to presbyteries. Several presbytery amalgamations were approved this year including our own. Presbytery planning has to be completed by December 2022. As part of this process the vacant charges who have presently been given permission to call a minister will have to complete the process by the 31st December 2021. If they cannot call a minister by that time then the calling of a minister will be put on hold until the presbytery plan is complete or the forum are content that the charge is one that will continue into the new plan.

There are currently 987 charges with 800 ministers in parishes and chaplaincies across the church and over 330,000 members, with more regularly involved in local congregations and our work. Most of these ministries are in Scotland but also included are the presbyteries of England, Europe and farther afield.

The allocation of ministers which the church can now afford is 600 with 60 vacant charges at any one time, giving 660 altogether. The allocation of ministries to each presbytery has been worked out according to the population of the presbytery with weightings given for rural need and priority areas. Any weighting given to a presbytery for Priority areas must be used in the priority areas within its bounds but weighting’s given for rural need can be used as the presbytery sees fit.

From Thelma Hart:

The General Assembly was conducted on line again this year. It was an intense and challenging experience. Many subjects were discussed but the proposals around climate change was of interest to me and has relevance to our Church especially as we are planning to make changes to our Church building.

The Faith Impact Forum:

Looking towards the COP26 UN Climate Summit due to take place in Glasgow in November 2021 the General Assembly was of the view that Christian understanding is that we are the caretakers of God's creation and we are standing in trust as guardians of God's creation. We face challenges of this stewardship but as was quoted:

“There is no power greater in front of us than the power behind us.” The Faith Impact Forum recognised and gave thanks for the critical role of the voices, concerns and passions of young people involved in the life of the Church of Scotland who have campaigned for the disinvestment from fossil fuels and urge congregations to provide an opportunity to listen to young people in the congregation, or in the local community, to hear about their concerns.

The Forum urged congregations to prepare for the COP26 UN Climate Summit due to take place in Glasgow in November 2021 by using the Climate Sunday prayer and worship resources (http://www.climatesunday.org); and consider how they can respond in prayer and action.

There is a wealth of information on this site. Below is a short extraction.

“Climate and nature have long been treated as completely separate issues yet there is a clear link between the changing climate and the huge loss of biodiversity and species. Churches have a call-ing to be concerned with both people and the wider environment - wild nature, habitats, ‘natural systems’ which sustain us. First, because Christians have a mandate to protect Creation, and environmental degradation flies in the face of that responsibility. Second, because human-caused climate disruption affects the most poor and vulnerable globally - it’s a justice issue.”

The Forum urged all congregations and Presbyteries to consider the implications of Net Zero by 2030 for their own buildings, activities, procurement and finances and to start long term planning for the changes that will be required.

There were further suggestions:

To invite Kirk Sessions to arrange a public meeting to consider themes and ideas for a just and green future following the Covid-19 pandemic and identify implications for their parish, and the wider community. There was an instruction for the Forum to support Kirk sessions in this.

The Forum also urged congregations and Presbyteries to join Eco-Congregation Scotland, and other ecumenical environment networks, so they may experience the benefits of expert advice and support, as well as the opportunity to join local and regional ecumenical networks to share information and ideas about how to reach Net Zero goals.
There was an instruction to the Forum to work with the General Trustees to negotiate a much improved Electricity Supply offer, given that many churches will need to move to electrical heating to meet the "Net Zero by 2030" requirement.
 

ECO WALKING AND CONTEMPLATION

On the June 11- 13 the UK plays host to the G7 nations for a summit on climate change in Cornwall. The 7 largest economies in the world are coming together along with some of the most polluting countries in the world to discuss how they can play a strong role in tackling climate change. Tearfund is calling for prayer across the land for this summit. They are sending out prayer resources each week to help us focus. If you want to join them the Google Tearfund and subscribe for their One Voice prayer letter.
From my daily meditations from Richard Rohr I received this suggestion for a walking meditation which you may wish to do over the summer months.

Christine Valters Paintner describes the ancient and accessible contemplative practice of walking or moving slowly through the natural world as a way of connecting with God.

In the contemplative path we cultivate intimacy with Earth and her creatures, and we allow ourselves to fall in love with nature. It is one of my deepest beliefs that we will not be able to address the environmental crisis we currently face without this intimacy, without learning how to cherish nature, without love.

Contemplative walking does not necessarily mean walking slowly, although at its heart it is not a rushed activity. When we walk contemplatively, we give ourselves over to the experience. This is not walking for fitness. It is walking to immerse ourselves in an encounter with whatever is calling us in the moment.

As you begin a contemplative walk, allow a few moments simply to breathe and connect to your heart. Set an intention for this time to be as present as you can to what is happening both within and without. Begin walking, but see if you can release any expectations or destination. As you walk, imagine that with each step your feet are both blessing the ground and being blessed by it. Let your breath be long and slow. Bring your awareness to the earth monastery all around you.

Notice what draws your attention. Pause to listen for the sounds of life around you. Breathe them in and give them space in your heart, then walk on until something else draws you. Practice being present to cultivate your ability to really hear the voice all God has created speaking to you.

Keep praying and enjoy the walk!

Louise Finch
 

OUR MISSIONARY PARTNERS ARE BACK IN MALAWI

It is good to be writing to you from Mzuzu again.  When we last wrote we were completing our self-isolation after travelling from the UK.  At that time, Malawi also experienced a second wave of Covid-19 cases that was much larger than the first.  Hospitals began to fill up and oxygen supplies started to run out.

It appears that the second wave is behind us now.  However, Covid-19 restrictions were minimal, mask-wearing is increasingly rare and vaccine supplies are limited.  So we treat this more like a break in the storm.

There was further controversy around public finances when it was revealed as much as 50% of government funding made available to fight coronavirus might have been misused by officials.  This is not dissimilar from the headlines in the UK about government contracts being awarded without proper scrutiny.  Malawi's President has been quick to condemn this abuse of funds and make efforts to address the issue permanently.

Vaccines have arrived as part of the global COVAX programme but numbers are limited.  However, convincing people that it is safe and necessary to receive the vaccine may prove a more significant challenge than the short supplies.  Mistrust is deep-rooted for many, but fake news and sensational headlines from around the world are shared without context and add to people's fears.

My work is primarily desk-based for now but it looks like we may be able to return to more community work soon.   At the office we rotate our schedules and work from home when possible to reduce congestion.  The knock-on effect of Covid-19 has increased the demand for some of our work.  We are returning to our research of child sexual assault in collaboration with the police, courts and social welfare office.  Sadly, with schools closed for a prolonged period and the economic impact of Covid-19, the country is seeing increased cases of early marriage, teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence.

At the same time, however, governments and agencies who champion development are focused on the more direct impact of Covid-19 and as such, funding sources are dwindling.  We will have to be more creative if we are to safeguard vital services to vulnerable communities.  We are piloting consultancy services to local organisations and to outside organisations that are currently unable to travel as one means of generating funds.  I'd appreciate your prayers for these efforts!

After the disappointment of yet more home learning with mum and dad, Eilidh and Morven were delighted to return to school and nursery.  We're grateful for the continued resilience and relatively smooth transition back into Mzuzu life.  They both seem to be thriving despite the upheaval of nine months away and are enjoying being able to see some friends again.

Jacqueline and I have taken it in turns to attend church over the last couple of weeks.  Numbers are limited by Covid-19 restrictions, Sunday School isn't running, and we've been in the pattern of joining our home church online, so we didn't want to take up limited spaces.  After a year away from Katawa, our local church, and gathered worship in general, it was nice to be back!

We've been familiarising ourselves with Mzuzu life again.  While a lot has changed in our time away, it's still the familiar city we've come to call home.  During a recent public holiday, Eilidh and I took some time to explore the central market with its warren of shops and stalls.  While we knew how to get to some of our essentials, with the help of a local friend, Frank, we are able to work out how it all fits together and where to buy the items we need.

As lockdown begins to ease and vaccines are widely available in the UK, it captures the idea of the new life of the spring season.  Such a contrast to twelve months ago!.  While the route out might take much longer for Malawi, there is still hope.  If this is our experience here on earth, how much more remarkable is the eternal hope we have in Jesus Christ?  What a stark reminder to take into our Easter celebrations.

Every blessing,

Gary, Jacqueline, Eilidh and Morven Brough                                                           April 2021
                                      

 

 

THE DAY FINALLY ARRIVES! VOICE FROM THE PULPIT

Having been welcomed to the Church on the previous Sunday, Rev. James Gatherer returned on Sunday 11th. April to begin regular pulpit duties. Lockdown restrictions limited numbers attending to fifty - a limit which was swiftly reached! The theme of the sermon was “The Restoration of Israel”, and time flew by as the congregation were treated to a masterful exposition of Israel’s Old Testament history and God’s covenants from Abraham’s time until the time of Jesus Christ - following whose death & resurrection, The New Covenant was established.

Lockdown, not to mention having to overcome a year of treatment for a life-threatening illness, all conspired to delay the arrival of “The New Minister” to the pulpit of Kirkcudbright Parish Church —- until now! However at the service led by Rev. Marian Dixon on 4th. April, Lesley Purdy was finally able to present Rev. James Gatherer with the illuminated scroll signed by members of the congregation, and welcomed him to his new charge. Following a short “Thank-You” speech, there were smiles all round and a heartfelt spontaneous round of applause from all present.
 

WALKING 100 MILES IN APRIL FOR THE TRAIDCRAFT EXCHANGE REGENERATOR PROGRAMME

We are supporting the Regeneration Programme for Traidcraft Exchange by walking 100 miles in April (in addition to our nomrla to-ing and fro-ing.

http://www.traidcraftexchange.org/regenerators

Many many thanks to all who have already so generously donated, enabling us to reach the amazing sum of £1,390 by mid-April.  (We have each also clocked up well over half the miles.)

We would be most grateful for any further contributions to this important project which is equipping vulnerable communities to fight back against the climate crisis. Our donation page is open until September or if you prefer you could give directly to either of us.  The UK government will DOUBLE all donations made to the appeal by 7th June 2021.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/barbara-sykes1

Thank you most warmly for your support!

Barbara Sykes and Mary van Zwanenberg