Online worship for Holy Week
There will be a number of special services broadcast by the Scottish Episcopal Church during Holy Week. These services will be broadcast on Facebook and Youtube as normal, with the Vigil of Maundy Thursday taking place via an open Zoom meeting.
All the service details will be available at this page on our website, as well as on the dedicated Online Worship page.
On Maundy Thursday, Thursday 1 April, the Rt Rev Andrew Swift, Bishop of Brechin will lead a Celebration of the Eucharist at 6.30pm. This will be followed by the Vigil which begins at 7pm and lasts until Midnight. On the hour, and on the half hour there will be a reading from scripture, finishing with the Gospel of the Watch at Midnight. The Vigil will be live streamed and will take place in a Zoom meeting. Those who wish to participate in the vigil are welcome to come and go from the Zoom meeting as they please. The Zoom details for the vigil will be published on the SEC website in advance of the service.
On Good Friday, 2 April, the Rt Rev Anne Dyer, Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney will lead reflections on the Stations of the Cross from 12 noon. At 2.30pm the passion narrative and Good Friday liturgy will be broadcast from a recording made in 2020. Between 2-3pm all who wish to are asked to find a cross in their own home, and to sit with the cross in reflection. These services will be broadcast via Youtube and Facebook.
On Easter Sunday there will be a Celebration of the Eucharist at the normal time of 11am. This service will be led by the Most Rev Mark Strange, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and will feature the Scottish Episcopal Virtual Choir. All who wish to sing with the choir are invited to click here for more information. This service will be broadcast via Youtube and Facebook.
In addition to the online resources, there is a telephone service to allow those who do not have internet access to listen to the service of worship by telephone. The facility is free of charge for anyone calling by landline or mobile phone from within the UK. It will be helpful if those who have online access to worship continue to use that method rather than using the telephone line, to avoid unnecessary additional cost incurred by the GSO, and we would also appreciate help in reaching non-internet users who are unable to see this information.
Anyone who would like full details of how to access the telephone line, in order to share them with someone who needs this service should email AidanS@scotland.anglican.org
Join the Scottish Episcopal Virtual Choir!
The deadline for submission to the SEC Virtual Choir for Easter Sunday is Friday 2 April at 12 noon.
Everything you need to get started, including backing tracks, music and instructions for recording is available at this page on the SEC website.
We are keen for as many people as possible to be involved in this project to celebrate Easter as a dispersed but still connected community during the pandemic, so if there are people in your circle who love to sing and might be interested in joining in, please share this information with them.
The choir returns after our successful Advent Lessons and Carols service in December 2020, which was enjoyed by all who took part and appreciated by many more. And once again – singing ability is welcome, but enthusiasm is essential!
Statement from College of Bishops on re-opening of churches
Ahead of the re-opening of places of worship ahead of Holy Week, and just after the outcome of a Judicial Review into the closure of churches, the College of Bishops made the following statement through the Primus, The Most Rev Mark Strange:
“This weekend we will re-open church buildings to welcome some of our congregations back to in-person worship for the first time in almost three months.
“Many of those in our congregations will be aware that legal ruling has been delivered this week on the closure of churches during lockdown under Scottish Government direction, and the College of Bishops has reflected on the outcome of a Judicial Review which has deemed that forced closure was unlawful.
“Clearly our hope and our prayer is that in the foreseeable future we will all be free to worship in church together, but we as a denomination we also recognise that the worship that has been offered during the lockdown has been real. There are elements of worship we have been unable to deliver and that has been a struggle for many, but our regular commitment to worship has not wavered.
“These are some positive outcomes from our period of lockdown: the number of people gathering for the daily prayer online, the growth in accessibility of worship for those who are housebound and those who may never be able to attend a church again, and the development of ways of participation in worship for people who struggle in large groups.
“We disagree with the claim made during Judicial Review that these commitments do not represent worship. Throughout lockdown, people have worshipped and continue to worship online. We cannot accept that this Sunday, those who can reach a church building are worshipping while those still unable to mix with others, but who join them online, are not worshipping.
“We closed our church buildings out of love and concern for those in our communities. We followed the advice of the health officials and we have regularly negotiated with the Scottish Government.
“We will continue to offer online worship as we slowly reopen our church buildings. We do this not as a second-best option but as a loving response which addresses and includes the well-being and safety of those we are called to serve, the people of our communities.”
Provost responds to Judicial Review
Writing in The Times earlier this month, the Provost of St Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow addressed misplaced anger over the closure of church buildings.
"Although those calling for places of worship to open have loud voices, they give a false impression of how most religious people are coping with lockdown," wrote the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth in the 'Thunderer' column. "Although it is painful, the decision to close churches is totally correct, and strongly backed by many religious leaders."
The full article can be read by those with a Times subscription, here.
Elsewhere, the Sunday National reported Bishop Andrew Swift's response to the re-opening of churches for public worship, as views were canvassed from different faith groups in Scotland.
“It will be very, very uplifting indeed for people to be able to return to church," said Bishop Andrew.
“For many people, gathering to worship in church might be their one time of social contact in the week, so it does bring a social as well as spiritual comfort.’’
The full Sunday National article can be read here.
One year of provincial online worship
On the anniversary of the first provincial worship broadcast, thanks was given to over 250 participants who have helped to provide the weekly service during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Scottish Episcopal Church was one of the first to heed the advice of the Scottish Government and on 17 March 2020 the College of Bishops took the difficult and painful decision to suspend church services.
By that stage, plans were already underway to provide online worship for the province, and the first broadcast went out on Sunday 22 March 2020, led by the Primus from the tiny Chapel of St Duthac at the Bishop’s House, Arpafeelie, in the Diocese of Moray, Ross & Caithness. This was followed in subsequent weeks by all other members of the College of Bishops leading worship from each diocese.
At that stage, it was envisaged that online worship would help to get us all through what was envisaged as several weeks of lockdown.
Fifty-two weeks later, provincial online worship remains just as important today as it was at the start, with many in the SEC remaining reliant on the provincial offering despite around one-third of our churches eventually offering their own online worship to congregations.
The communications team at the General Synod Office would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to the over 250 people who have contributed to online provincial worship in the last year.
Without that level of support, it would not have been possible to sustain and maintain the regular broadcasts which have helped us all to worship together even though we have been unable to meet for much of the past 12 months.
The communications team is also grateful to our ecumenical partners who have contributed, as well as contributors from the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, and The Episcopal Church in the United States.
Special mention also goes to Michael Bawtree, Director of Music at St Margaret’s in Newlands, Glasgow, who has faithfully provided organ music throughout the past year to help make these services possible, and to the group of digital communications staff who put the project in motion at very short notice and have edited the services and brought their valuable expertise to bear when it was most needed.
As well as the Provincial online worship, many churches across the SEC have been able to provide their own online worship. At one point as many as one third of all SEC congregations were offering some form of online worship, either via broadcast or video conferencing tools. The creativity and ingenuity displayed across the Province by clergy and laity who have worked hard to ensure the pattern of Scottish Episcopal worship continues looks likely to be a lasting legacy of these extraordinary times.
Provincial online worship was set up as a temporary measure and will be reviewed this year, but in the meantime it will continue to be provided every Sunday.
Reflection and prayer mark lockdown anniversary
The one-year anniversary of Britain going into the first coronavirus lockdown was marked by the Scottish Episcopal Church with a reflection from the Primus on a year of ‘thankfulness, generosity, perseverance and loss’ and a prayer offered by the Rev Canon Audrey O’Brien Stewart, Canon Missioner in the Diocese of Glasgow & Galloway and leader of the weekly Children’s Chapel broadcasts for the SEC.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 35
“One year ago, for the first time, I led an online service from the chapel in my garden,” recalled the Most Rev Mark Strange, Primus and Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness. “In the days leading up to this we had struggled with the growing understanding that we were going to have to stop gathering physically for worship. The coronavirus was beginning to rapidly spread and face to face contact was the way it seemed to be spreading.
“Reflecting on this peculiar anniversary I had a number of thoughts.
“Thankfulness – to all involved in keeping our worship and communities going, those who have leant new skills, those who have honed old gifts and those who were generous enough not to complain when things went wrong.
“Generosity – the many people who have given so much time to others, praying for them, shopping for them, giving them space while letting them know you were there. Being the good Samaritans.
“Perseverance – keeping on with the nursing, the teaching, the serving. Keeping on when it was tough and frightening, keeping strong for others.
“Loss – the loss of family and friends, the loss of familiar things, the loss of close contact and the loss of health. We remember those who have died and those who are struggling to face life.
“We proclaim that we are loved by God and that love brings us the hope of eternal life, we are also filled with hope by the love we share, we are people of hope, bringing that hope to the world through our worship, our prayers our care and our determination to love all of God’s creation.
“As this anniversary passes, we live with the hope of new joys to come and for fresh opportunities to be disciples, disciples known by our love.”
A video of the prayer for the anniversary of national lockdown can be watched here.
Nothing can stop the Provincial Youth Week!
Young Episcopalians from all over Scotland are booking their places at Glen 21.
The annual Provincial Youth Week will go ahead, no matter what! Whatever form it takes, Glen remains a place where young people can be themselves, explore their faith and encourage each other to take on leadership roles in the church.
A year of lockdowns has been especially hard on young people. Their education, exams and social lives have all been disrupted, and mental health problems are on the increase. Provincial Youth leaders have been running a programme of online support and worship over the past year, so they know how much our young people need hope right now. This has informed the choice of theme for Glen 21: ‘When it seemed most dark…’
Glen 21 will explore the Bible’s stories of people facing all kinds of challenges, sometimes in dark and lonely places. Some of them asked the question: ‘Where are you, God?’ But just when it seemed most dark, God’s light dawned. The Glen 21 team wants to lead young people towards deeper faith and stronger hope.
Last year, Provincial Youth Week took place entirely online and it was found that even in the middle of a pandemic, it was still possible to do many of the things that make Glen so special: chat, laugh, talk about God, have fun and worship together. The leadership team will decide by 1 May whether Glen 21 will be held online, or in person at Glenalmond College.
Young people of High School age are all welcome at Glen: if your church knows several teenagers or just one, encourage them to apply by the deadline of 11 April. Further information, FAQs and booking details can all be found here.
Around the Diocesan Synods
February and March saw the holding of six Diocesan Synods, which all took place online because of the restrictions in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Reports follow from five Synods. Argyll & The Isles had a brief online Synod at which they undertook elections, with other business carried over to a future date. The Synod in Glasgow & Galloway was postponed until a later date.
Aberdeen & Orkney (27 February)
‘The Body: Gift and Call’ was the theme of the Bishop’s Charge at the Aberdeen & Orkney Synod in February, from the way that the pandemic has affected the human body, to what the extraordinary past year means for the Body of Christ.
“God knows what the Body of Christ in the world needs,” said the Rt Rev Anne Dyer. “God knows what our part of the Body of Christ, our diocese, here in Aberdeen and Orkney, needs.
“Can we pay attention to this body – our diocesan body – to all of it? Can we help each other as we emerge from the pandemic?
“Can we, this Body of Christ, be prepared to participate in the new things that God will be doing to restore our churches, communities and the wider world?
“My prayer is that we will be eager to serve. That our Body will be ready.”
Appropriately, the Bishop’s charge was followed by a discussion session of ‘Recovery and Renewal: the needs of the churches as we emerge from the pandemic’ which recognised that while lockdown had brought new blessings for some, for others it has been a struggle. What has worked, what has not worked, and what could be improved?
Synod also broke into discussion groups for Canon 4 Revision (consultation on the election of Bishops), to consider the options that have been put forward buy the Review Group. An indicative vote was taken after debate, with the majority supporting an Electoral Synod over an Electoral Council.
In other business, an update was provided on the temporary closure of St Andrew’s Cathedral Church because of the condition of the building, a blow made all the more difficult by the circumstances of the pandemic. The continued prayers of the Diocese were asked for.
Sadly, Synod also had to endorse the Extinction of Charge at St Mary’s in Cove, where the faithful congregation had dwindled to an impracticable level.
Westhill Community Church, which voted in 2019 to leave the SEC, remains “very much part of the life, soul and prayer life of the Diocese” for the time being although is still expected to leave.
The Honorary Treasurer’s financial report stated that the Diocese successfully worked to a breakeven budget in 2019-20, although while it was noted that this a ‘good financial outcome’ it was also recognised that the exceptional circumstances of furlough and reduced travel costs had helped to achieve that position.
Moray, Ross & Caithness (6 March)
At the opening of the Moray, Ross & Caithness Synod, Bishop Mark Strange highlighted how important it would be once lockdown was over not to lose some of what we have learned about a proper balance in life; in the ‘new normal’ we must continue to ring-fence ‘time for God’.
The Primus thanked all who have kept worship and church life going in this past year. Last year he had spoken of the need for ‘generosity’ in his charge, and repeated that message this year: if we cannot model Christian living to each other, then we cannot be a reflection of Christ Himself. Similarly, on stewardship, the Primus urged the sharing of resources across the diocese, with the strong helping the weak.
As might be expected, the Canon 4 Review generated the most debate of the day, with twelve speakers taking part. John Smart introduced the debate with a summary of the history behind the proposals and the two options, with Graham Robertson adding comments about the projected timescale.
Some of the points made in the various contributions included: a need for more training in how to run the election process, the desirability of parity of process across dioceses, the benefit of a more pastoral approach to the post-interview process, greater encouragement for local clergy, anxiety about lack of knowledge regarding external candidates, the need to maintain the current level of diocesan engagement in the process, and concern about the length of time it is taking to bring about change.
Elsewhere on the agenda, the Protection Officer’s Report saw Dr Denise McFarlane urge that great care is taken moving forwards out of lockdown, as levels of vulnerability have increased; people’s attitude to personal space has altered. Attention should also be paid to safety on-line.
In the Treasurer’s Report, Louise Monaghan reported a 30 per cent increase in investments in the past year, and Bishop Mark commended use of Unit Trust investment, and spoke of the Diocese facing an ‘excellent financial future’.
And in the Mission and Ministry Board report, Robin Lingard said work will take place with charges shortly to identify what has been learned through Covid, and how that learning might inform future mission and ministry going forward. The need to focus on those who have reconnected with the church, and newcomers, was highlighted.
In conclusion, it was widely agreed the Synod had been a good day for the Diocese.
Brechin (6 March)
Signs of hope and a strong sense of encouragement dominated the Bishop’s Charge delivered by the Rt Rev Andrew Swift at the Diocese of Brechin Synod earlier this month.
Reflecting on a year like no other, when the pandemic could have derailed on-going work, Bishop Andrew was pleased to report that although life had been hard, very little had changed in terms of planning and development in the diocese. “The pandemic hasn’t changed any of that,” he said. “The need is still there.”
Bishop Andrew added: “I have always talked about encouragement and I don’t see any reason to change that. This is a year when it would be easy to be discouraged with all these challenges, but I continue to be encouraged by the faithful disciples I meet on screens and sometimes in church; the people who are still living out the call of Jesus to show God’s love for all around them.”
In the formal Synod business, a motion passed at General Synod 2020, to commit the SEC to working towards ‘net zero carbon’ by 2030 was discussed in small groups. The feedback included a feeling that nine years was not long to make fundamental changes, that methods for auditing where we are on ‘net zero carbon’ are needed, and concern about the cost of change e.g. to improve heating systems for old churches and rectories. But there was a sense that something does have to be done.
A consultation on possible changes to Canon 4, on the election of bishops, was reviewed. Dean Fay, part of the provincial review group, presented the options to be looked at. A ‘straw poll’ held in the Synod gave a majority (46%) for the option of refining the existing process under which a diocese can elect a bishop, with a significant minority (36%) backing change to an ‘electoral council’ system where a smaller group of people with greater expertise, still with a diocesan majority, would conduct the whole process through to election. Others (18%) were undecided.
Finance was reviewed, and last year’s small underspend was explored. Tight control of unrestricted stipend support and reduced staff costs due to pandemic restrictions were the main reason for this unplanned underspend. The budget and quota for the present year were tabled, with a reduction of quota requested across the board.
The Synod was blessed and logged off from Zoom.
St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane (6 March)
The novel experience of an online Synod was an enjoyable day of sharing and listening, and the gathered flock began proceedings with a beautiful Eucharistic service (complete with birdsong outside the Bishop’s window). The idea of an outward-looking altar was symbolic of the day – a sacramental rooting and sending out was experienced in so many ways.
Acutely aware of all the issues and changes which face us as a Church, a country, and a world, Synod was encouraged in the Bishop’s Charge to continue to look outwards and be:
Pilgrimage was explored as a natural part of what might be possible as churches evolve to embrace a differing world, yet maintain their distinctive nature which speaks to so many people. Nick Cooke and The Reverend Gennie Evans explored the concept of pilgrimage with the extended ‘Season of Pilgrimage’, and a particular focus on St Fillan’s, Killin, as it begins a new chapter in its life as a pilgrim chapel.
The Canon 4 (Election of Bishops) discussions showed a real love and care for the importance of the structures, the people who became subject to them, and the need for discernment throughout. This demonstrated a strong connection of Church and people which showed engagement on many levels.
Young people’s experience of an open and accepting Church which enabled them to grow as individuals in a collective faith was also a focus, and Synod was encouraged by them and The Reverend Canon Christine Fraser to consider how we might engage with young people in community as well as Church.
The outward-facing nature of the day was further evident in the Climate Change discussion which encouraged thought about how to address the 2030 commitment as individual charges, and a whole Church. The Reverend Elaine Garman compared this to climbing Ben Lawers – speaking of the passion and inspiration of our shared ambition. This was discussed in breakout rooms; with the request for a shared audit and hopes for plans of action which encouraged and inspired. The Reverend John Murdoch (Church of Scotland) was keen to pursue active links with the Diocese to make this as ecumenical, outward-looking and community-focussed as possible.
The sending out had real a sense of hope and possibility, reflecting the message of ‘looking forward’, and echoing the Bishop’s charge: “God is leading us….to something new and beautifully different, yet at its heart the same.”
Edinburgh (13 March)
After the opening Eucharist, streamed from St Mary's Cathedral, Bishop John Armes thanked everyone for the way which they had responded to the pandemic. No one was immune to the stresses of lockdown and he urged everyone to be kind both to themselves and to others. Whilst churches were to be able to reopen from Holy Week, there was no pressure to do so.
As Bishop, he had appointed the Rev Bob King to the Cathedral Chapter and the Synod then appointed the Rev Andrew Bain and the Rev Canon Malcolm Round as honorary canons.
Reports from the Diocesan Standing Committee and Finance and Management Committee were approved. The predominant concern of the latter had been to address the consequences of the pandemic. Communication with vestry treasurers had been increased and the early indication was that most charges had coped throughout 2020 albeit significant cash flow problems had arisen in two charges. All charges in 2021 were benefiting from a 10% overall reduction in quota made possible by a reduction in provincial quota and rigorous efforts to prune the diocesan budget.
The Cathedral accounts for the period to 30 June 2020 were presented. The overall picture was one of continuing shortfall.
Significant time was given to reports from Area Council meetings in relation to proposed revision of Canon 4 on the election of Bishops. Out of seven Area Councils, five indicated a broad preference for continuing the present pattern of election by Electoral Synod, with the other two preferring the option of an Electoral Council. Other points raised in discussion included the need to consider issues of unconscious bias.
The written report of the Mission and Ministry Committee report was supplemented by a lively and encouraging video around the theme of SEEDS (Serving our communities, Engaging generations, Enabling ministry, Developing disciples, Sharing of faith). It captured a range of local initiatives taken by congregations during lockdown. Several members also commented during debate on how the Diocese could respond to the climate crisis and support charges.
The Treasurer spoke to the finance report. The previous financial year had returned a surplus of £34,000. There had been some loss of income, but expenditure savings had been greater.
Other items during the day included presentation of the Safeguarding report, the usual elections and the Dean's report.
New law needed to protect women, says Bishop Anne
In her column in the Press & Journal newspaper, the Rt Rev Anne Dyer highlights the contrast between the celebration of International Women’s Day and then growing public anger over violence against women and sexual harassment on the streets.
For the Rt Rev Dyer, Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, said recent events after the death of Sarah Everard in London have brought back unhappy memories and a surge of emotions.
“The sight of women gathering together to ‘reclaim the streets’ that touched a deep memory within me,” writes Bishop Anne, addressing the problem that she speaks about more than any other.
“This public display of anger and upset resonated with one of the key formational events in my life. I was reminded of the ‘reclaim the night’ protests in West Yorkshire in the late 1970s. Many will remember the murders that took place there between 1975 and 1980.
“What followed were marches and protests. Woman wrote and carried placards, and raised their voices.
“We were told this was going to be a turning point. Things would change. This was not the case. Forty years on and women are protesting the same issues.
“Whatever happens next it cannot include telling women things will be better without making some significant changes. Making misogyny a hate crime would be a start.”
The article was also picked up by the Episcopal News Service in the United States.
The full column in the Press & Journal can be read here.
New edition of the Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal
The Spring issue of the Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal is now available and can be accessed here.
The new edition is a thematic one that addresses the theology of safeguarding from a number of perspectives.
“Its aim is to allow a second word on this topic which is neither the first nor the last,” says The Rev Dr Michael Hull, on behalf of the editorial board of the SEI Journal.
“Not everything said by one author will command the assent of all. This issue proffers a useful exchange of ideas from well-known theologians and church leaders across the UK: Oliver O’Donovan, Ann Loades, David Jasper, Jeremy Worthen, Nicola Price-Tebbutt and Mark W. Elliott.
“Their topics and discussions are but a sample of those that arise in a consideration of the theology of safeguarding and signal the need for further theological reflection in this vital area of the church’s ministry and mission.”
The Journal is a vehicle for debate on current issues in the Anglican Communion and beyond. It invites dialogue on what it means to think as an Episcopalian in Scotland in the twenty-first century, and its independent views do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the SEC or the SEI.
Professor Iain Torrance leads Independent Review
An Independent Review into difficulties within the Diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney in the Scottish Episcopal Church is to be led by Professor Iain Torrance, Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, president emeritus of Princeton Theological Seminary, and a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
The review will cover a four-year period up to the present day, and submissions will be accepted in confidence from respondents in the Diocese.
It is expected that the review will take several months to conduct and it is hoped that it will be complete by the end of the year. At its conclusion, Professor Torrance (pictured above) will submit a report to the College of Bishops. The report will also be made public to ensure transparency of the process.
The review, which was announced last month, is a fully independent process which will be conducted outside the formal structures of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It was commissioned by the College of Bishops after the Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, the Rt Rev Anne Dyer, was subject to unsubstantiated and anonymous allegations in the national media, and it will provide an opportunity for all relevant parties to make submissions about issues referred to within, leading up to, and arising from recent media coverage, as well as any other related issues.
It is hoped that the report will provide an opportunity for any findings to be considered for potential province-wide application.
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop Mark Strange, said: “I am very pleased that Professor Iain Torrance has agreed to lead the review of the Diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney. As a former Moderator of the General Assembly and Pro Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, Professor Torrance has a respected place in both Aberdeen and across Scotland. His thoughtful response on being asked to take on this review is a mark of someone who will listen and offer support for all involved.”
Professor Torrance said: “In any disagreement between people, recollections vary. I will do my best to listen to as many as choose to make their perspective known to me, and to produce a synoptic account reflecting those various dimensions.”
The review will start from Monday 5 April and written submissions can be made during a one-month period from that date, with a deadline of 5pm on Wednesday 5 May. Submissions should be sent directly to Professor Torrance, no earlier than from Monday 5 April, via the dedicated and confidential e-mail address email@example.com
The full remit of the Independent Review is available here.
A biography of Professor Torrance is available here.
God bearers in the world
March marks the celebration of the Annunciation of the Lord, writes The Rev Dr Michael Hull, Director of Studies at the Scottish Episcopal Institute (pictured above). The feast is fixed on 25 March in tandem with 25 December to link Mary’s ‘yes’ to the Nativity of the Lord nine months later (Luke 1.26–38). Early Christians spoke of Mary’s role in salvation history in many ways, one of which was to ascribe to her the title Theotokos at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431. Theotokos, a compound of the words Theos (God) and tokos (bearer), means ‘God-bearer’, that is the one who bore God (in the person of Jesus) in the world.
Yet Mary’s ‘yes’ to God at the Annunciation was hardly a one-off in terms of God-bearing. As Theotokos, she had much more to bear than her pregnancy and the birthing of Jesus during her time on earth. She had also to bear the consequences that a ‘yes’ to God entails, that is a yearning to follow God’s will without seeing precisely where one shall be led except, as Paul says, as ‘in a mirror dimly’ (1 Corinthians 3.12) because ‘we walk by faith and not by sight’ (2 Corinthians 5.7). In his recounting of the Nativity of the Lord, Luke goes on to say that after experiencing the signs and wonders of Jesus’ birth, ‘she treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart’ (2.19). But Mary’s God-bearing had only begun.
Recall John’s Gospel and a wedding at Cana (John 2.1–11) when Jesus had long come to his maturity. Mary, Jesus and some of his disciples were wedding guests. It must have been quite the party because the wine ran out. Mary, the first to say ‘yes’ to God in Jesus, is his disciple par excellence. It is fitting that Mary should present Jesus with the problem that day about the wine because she believes Jesus can help. Mary does not tell Jesus what to do. As she trusted God’s word in terms of Gabriel’s message, so too she trusts her Son. The best wine, John tells us, was served last, when the stewards had followed Mary’s order: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’
One can only imagine how hard it must have been for Mary to do the same thing a few years later, when as Luke’s Gospel reports, Jesus agonised over his earthly fate (22.42–44). A despondent Jesus prayed to God to let the cup of suffering on the Cross pass him by, but in the end, Jesus girt his loins: ‘not my will, but thine, be done’. How hard that must have been for Mary: to take the advice she had given to the stewards at Cana in accepting Jesus’ acquiescence to God’s will for him. How hard it must have been to look up at her holy Child on a gibbet, and to hear him say, ‘Behold thy son’. Mary is never more the Theotokos than when bearing the burden of her son’s Atonement in hope of his Resurrection.
We find her not long after at prayer in the Upper Room at Pentecost (Acts 1.12–2.4). Where else would we expect to find the God-bearer except at that moment in salvation history when the Holy Spirit would make theotokoi, that is God-bearers, of us all? For it is the Holy Spirit who inspires us to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1.8). It is our acquiescence to God in Baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to bear witness to Jesus in the world. We would do well to imitate Mary’s ‘yes’, but we cannot forget that though we bear witness to the Resurrection, we do so through to the experience of the Atonement. We accept God’s will, even if we do not understand it fully, even if it is difficult to comprehend, and we seek to do what he tells us because, like Mary, ours is ever a ‘yes’ to God.
Our purpose in recalling Mary’s Annunciation every March is not just to celebrate the generosity of God in the advent of the Christ, but to imitate the ‘yes’ of the Theotokos in bearing Christ to all the world, proclaiming signs and wonders, presenting needs to God in prayer and witnessing to him under the power of the Holy Spirit. It will rarely be easy, for ours is a call to the hopeless and forlorn, to those who long to see signs and wonders in the goodness and generosity of others. Disciples like you and me may see dimly, nevertheless, we follow after the Lord when we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, and visit the sick and the imprisoned. In so doing, we are God-bearers ourselves, theotokoi, whose ‘yes’ to God echoes Mary’s – and brings salvation history just a wee bit closer to fulfilment.
Provincial Youth Newsletter
The recent edition of the PYC newsletter, the quarterly magazine for young people in the Scottish Episcopal Church, features the Winter Wonderland online youth sleepover, young people leading Provincial worship, ongoing support for Provincial Youth, the introduction of Children’s Chapel, and Provincial Youth Week 2021.
The PYC newsletter also points to resources available for children and young people during Easter, as well as youth opportunities available in 2021.
The newsletter can be accessed here.
Church in Society Committee vacancies
The Church in Society Committee has several vacancies and is inviting applications from across the SEC from people who have interest and expertise in the issues facing our society today.
Pendent to the Mission board, the Church in Society Committee has responsibility for the promotion of the mission of the Church in relation to social, economic and environmental issues and for the oversight of the Church in Society Committee Fund and the Child Poverty Fund. Currently, the Committee has three priorities: the climate emergency, child poverty, and genome editing. Committee members are also discussing making gender justice a future priority, although there already exists a strong awareness of gender matters. Anyone with interest in any of these areas is encouraged to apply, although if you have a particular interest in another societal issue that you think the Church should be addressing, we would be happy to hear from you.
The Committee manages about 15-20 grants each year, from the very local, e.g. helping congregations purchase school uniforms for local primary schools to the national e.g. supporting our strategic partners such as the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office. The Committee is always keen to share the stories of our grant recipients, and would especially value applications from people who can assist with communications.
If you are interested in hearing more about the work of the Church in Society Committee, or wish to apply for membership, please contact Miriam Weibye for more information firstname.lastname@example.org
Trustee wanted for Faith in Community Scotland
The Church in Society Committee is looking to appoint a trustee to Faith in Community Scotland, one of our long-term strategic partners. FiCS is a charity which works
- To increase the capacity and resilience of faith groups serving Scotland’s poorest communities.
- To support faith groups’ engagement with the most vulnerable people in their communities.
- To support faith groups in tackling difference and reducing conflict in Scotland’s poorest communities.
- To equip people struggling against poverty to speak out with confidence and to encourage all of us to listen and respond.
Anyone with interest in this role is invited to contact Miriam Weibye for more information at email@example.com. More information about FiCS is available here.
Leading in Uncertain Times
In a time of ongoing uncertainty, how do we lead? Is it all that we can do to tread water or hold the fort? Is it possible to set a direction, to make decisions, and to take God's people forward, when we don't know where we're going or even what might be possible in an uncertain and ever-changing world?
This short course is being offered by the Scottish Episcopal Institute and is designed for anyone in a leadership or ministry role in the Scottish Episcopal Church. It will be led by SEI's Director of Mixed Mode Training, Rev Dr Richard Tiplady.
There will be 3 sessions, each running from 11am to 12.30pm:
- Thursday 22nd April: Start Making Sense (what is going on, and what can you do about it?)
- Thursday 6th May: Doing God by Doing Good (an introduction to Responsible Leadership)
- Thursday 20th May: Relational Leadership (developing leadership across the whole of your church)
There will be required pre-reading before each session (no more than 2-3 articles or papers per session), and there will be ample time allowed for discussion. As there is pre-reading involved, bookings will close on Thursday 8th April. Please note that you will be engaging with academic leadership texts and you will be expected to have read the papers before each session.
This course is being offered free of charge, with the number of participants limited to 12 to allow plenty of time for discussion and interaction. The course will run on Zoom (what else?).
Full details are available here.
SEI Newsletter packed full of news
The March 2021 edition of the Scottish Episcopal Institute Newsletter ran to a bumper ten pages.
Included in the contents are details of three new student-led initiatives, a day in the life account of an SEI member of staff, introductions to three guests who will be attending the March Residential Weekend, a focus on diversity and inclusion at the 2021 Staff Conference, and a feature on the resurgence of interest in the Ministry of the Diaconate within the Scottish Episcopal Church. And much more!
The March edition can be found here and the April edition is imminent.