My goodness, doesn’t the time fly? …….. and the rest of that saying is, ‘when you are enjoying yourself’! It is already mid-November and I am certainly enjoying myself being with you lovely people.
We have just heard that Robin McHaffie, newly retired from Cheviot Churches, has taken over as Interim Moderator of Oxnam Kirk. The Presbytery of Jedburgh is struggling at the moment with so few ministers to service the charges that are vacant. Charles Finnie, who was our Interim Moderator, until recently, was having to look after two charges. Likewise, Kelso Old and Sprouston are having a change of Interim Moderator, from Rev Douglas Nicol to Helen Howden, one of his elders. Not so long ago, the Kelso area seemed to be bereft of ministers. Now, just a few months on, the situation is looking brighter all round.
Your Nominating Committee is working well with their colleagues in Kelso Country Churches and my old patch is being positive about being able to call a minister. Meanwhile, with another new vacancy – Jedburgh Old – there is good news along the road at Hawick, where a sole nominee is preaching at Old and St Mary’s linked with Teviot. They only had to wait for one year, pretty good in this day and age. Anna’s appointment must have clocked up a record, but we all know that that is because the people in Kelso knew right from the beginning that they wanted Anna as their minister. Now, four months into her ministry at Kelso North and Ednam, she is loving it, and doing wonderfully well.
Meanwhile, life in Oxnam Kirk is going well. The Worship Group is working on its next service, which will be the evening service at the end of January. Those of you who are concerned about coming up to Oxnam on these winter nights, need not worry, as we now have very strong lights to light the path and the subtle church lights, coupled with candles looks just magic.
The January service will focus on a well-known Pop Group. You might like to ask yourselves what you would have felt like, as a Priest, as a Levite, and as the Good Samaritan if you have been the one to come upon the man who was beaten up and left for dead. It has been in my mind to see if we could set up a Bible study group to meet up during the weeks before we have a service and talk about the readings that will be used on the following Sunday. We did it in Kelso for several years and had many people come – some regularly, others now and again. Our first one in Oxnam was a couple of weeks ago when 6 of us met at Morag’s house for one hour. Interesting. We went through the three readings and it was amazing, so interesting what things people came up with. Some of the group would recognise themselves in the sermon on the following Sunday! All enjoyed the experience, and are looking forward to the next one, which will be on Wednesday 30th November at Overwells from 5.30 – 6.30 p.m. The readings we will be studying will be Isaiah 11: 1-103, Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19, Romans 15: 4-13 and Matthew 3: 1-12, and together we will decide which of those readings to use on Sunday 4th December.
By then we will be into the season of Advent which starts on Sunday 27th November. With the world frenetically preparing for the big day, let us not lose sight of the kind of preparation we, as Christians, should be making. Making room for God in our lives so that the world around us may be a more peaceful, self-less place. With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, it makes the actual Christmas-tide busier than ever. This year we are hoping to have two Baptisms and the Oxnam Valley Voices at the service on Sunday 18th, that should be a bit of a party, then we have the usual happy family service on Christmas Eve, and as usual a night for surprises! Followed by a more meditative service on Christmas morning. It is the season of goodwill and great joy and it is my great joy to know that we have many different people come to all these services. Oxnam Kirk will certainly have the rafters raised!
With Christmas greetings, blessings and love to you all
I am writing this on the deadline day, but happy to have left it until now, because I am, as we all surely are, full of the joy and celebration of this last weekend, when in three action packed days, we all gave thanks for the amazing long life and service of Her Majesty the Queen and her Prince Consort, Prince Philip. The television coverage of the Thanksgiving Service in St Paul’s Cathedral, the Trooping of the Colour and the amazing street party and Patron’s lunch in The Mall have given us all much food for thought and discussion. The weekend has also given so many communities a great opportunity to get together and have their own celebrations, whether a street party, a festive meal or even a special thanksgiving service.
Last week I was out and about wearing my roving hound hat as I interviewed some key people for a special Cross Borders programme on TD1 Radio which went out on Sunday 12th June, and can be accessed for a month on www.td1radio.com > LISTEN AGAIN > CROSS BORDERS. Among my interviewees were the very new CVO, Sir Gerald Maitland-Carew of Thirlestane, who was the master-mind behind all the Border events and Major General Jeremy Phipps of Bonchester. Among other exciting things, like a birthday cake competition, they laid on a red London double-decker bus to come and pick up the elderly folk from Weens House and take them along to the festivities at Laidlaw Hall in the village. Not only that, the London bus was charged with going back and forwards along the country roads, picking up more people. How I would have loved to have been able to ride on a London Bus in the country roads outside Hawick! Lauder outshone everywhere else with an action-packed day, starting with a church service, then a football competition for girls (!), a major picnic in Thirlestane Castle grounds, with all sorts of activities and interest, a family concert and ending up with a ceilidh. All of these events were attended by 11-year old Evie Archenhold who was Queen for the Day!
My best quote of the day, however, came from an 11-year old boy in my own street in Melrose where we had our own right royal Garden Party. I had interviewed my neighbour, whose garden was the venue, and also Jamie and Lucy Whiting who live in the street. Lucy had been train-bearer to the Melrose Queen a couple of years ago and Jamie had been the lucky Melrose Primary Pupil to win a Golden Ticket for the first train ever on the new Borders Railway. They were both very responsive, but the best two quotes, which I am sure the Queen would have loved to hear were the following: I had asked the children who the Queen’s husband was and after a bit of doubt and unknowing, I ‘helped’ them by saying it was a Duke…… ‘The Duke of Wellington’ came the almost immediate reply. Even better was his little sister’s comment that at their school they had been encouraged to write an imaginary letter to the Queen inviting her to come to their special summer fayre in her honour. The invitation added that she should be fit and ready to join in the Beat the Goalie competition!!
Back at Oxnam, the Worship Group are creating their own fun in the planned service for Sunday 17th July. Focusing on the theme of the two sisters, Mary and Martha who were, with their brother, Lazarus, good friends of Jesus, they are including a mini-drama which involves some people who are new to the Worship Group. If you are free that Sunday, I would say ‘Don’t miss it!’
But more importantly, things are now happening on the vacancy front and after the 21st June, the service of Linking with Kelso Country Churches, Oxnam will be freed from any anxiety about its future. You will, when the Nominating Committee finishes its work, no longer need to fear a potential future without a minister. I have been assured that I can remain as your Locum Minister until such time as the Committee have presented you with a sole nominee and you as a congregation have voted in favour of that person as your minister. Yes, shared with the Country Churches, but that rota will not be too hard to work out and I believe none of the churches will lose out on services.
I look forward to seeing how it does work out.
My love and blessings to you all.
The service centred round a drama of the story of Jesus visiting the sisters. Mary (Val Hunter), was lying on her tummy on the floor reading an enormous tome. Bob Anderson was brother Lazarus, anxiously waiting for Jesus’ arrival. Margaret Clayton was the over-anxious Martha, busy in the kitchen, which, for the morning, was the organ cubicle, pots and pans on display. Then signs of someone arriving outside in the graveyard! – it was Jesus (Colin Hogg in an amazing white gown – see picture). Thus began a warm welcome from all three siblings, an intense discussion with Mary about the book she was reading, and other deep matters, while Martha kept interrupting with the ‘important’ matters of a cup of tea, biscuits, lunch etc! The rolling pin was a big feature, shaken in frustration – ‘She lives here too! Why doesn’t she do any work. I do everything!’
The significance of the story, coupled with what happened to Cain and Abel, was cleverly brought together by Geraldine Strickland in her address. ‘A few thoughts’ is how she described it, but all agreed that this was a masterly compilation of thinking about sibling relationships from someone who was an only child. Both stories were marked by misunderstandings of God’s position. Why on earth should God prefer Abel’s offering of lambs over Cain’s offering of grain? And why should Jesus say that Mary had chosen the better way to be? – i.e. sitting at his feet, rather than dealing with the traditional Jewish imperative of house fellowship (cups of tea, biscuits etc). Geraldine concluded that we need to see the bigger picture, and recognise that all of us are valued, whatever our gifts, skills and interests. God loves us all.
The prayers were beautifully contributed by Francis Armstrong, with Colin, Val and Margaret praying for the world today, a world which was reeling from Brexit, troubles in Turkey, terrorism in Nice, Paris and other places, not to mention the migrant situation. None of us should cease our prayers for all these things.
Hopefully we will have an opportunity soon to share worship skills with our friends in the Kelso Country Churches. They have long experience now in lay- led worship, although not, I think, the team-spirit that marks Oxnam’s offerings!
We had great plans for diary dates to fill our calendars, but, as they say in the best of circles, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’! However, looking ahead to autumn 2016, we have a Pet Service on Sunday 18th September, and hope a good number of folks will bring their pets, at least the ones that are transportable, and weather permitting, our worship that morning will be in the car park field.
Harvest Thanksgiving is on 16th October. We hope there will still be evidence of the meadow flowers which were sown by the Sunday School as part of the national church’s campaign to transform local spaces into beautiful, colourful wildlife havens in honour of the Queen’s 90th birthday.
On the musical front, and as part of our Fund-Raising campaign for the year ahead, we had planned to have a Vocal Workshop Day on a Saturday in October, but the Oxnam Valley Voices, whose plans must take precedence, have a date in their diary for a concert in Oxnam Kirk on is Friday 30th September. Having been asked a few months ago by some people in the Kelso Country Churches if I was planning a Messiah from Scratch, I put to the Kirk Session the possibility of having a ‘Come and Sing Messiah’ in Oxnam Kirk sometime in the New Year. This would essentially be a FUN day, and we would chose the best known items in the Messiah, and invite soloists to inspire us all. I feel sure we could attract enough choral singers with experience of the Messiah to come and be the backbone of the choir. But perhaps, as you read this, you are tempted to go up into the attic, find that old copy of the Messiah that you know was there, dust it off, switch on the CD, or Spotify, and listen over the next few months, so that you, too, could come and be part of a unique event for Oxnam.
I send you all my good wishes and many blessings for a happy summer and autumn.
The world around us, however, does not seem to have learned its lesson. Indeed, the nations seem to have discovered ever new and horrific ways of harming each other. Now, more than ever before, the world needs people of faith to be praying for the world, and using their influence around them for good, and not for evil. I heard someone say on the radio this week that we human beings all have within us the capacity both for enormous evil and enormous good. So which are you and I going to use?
Some of our Kirk Session, and indeed members, attended a recent Presbytery meeting, at which they witnessed an embarrassing and unnecessary display of petty behaviour. This was a meeting of Church leaders across our immediate Border area, which sadly demonstrated the worst kind of behaviour of human beings, one to another. It was all to do with what was on the agenda. As a minister, sadly, I have experienced this kind of thing in the church before, and of course am not proud of it. But just this last week, I attended another, secular, meeting at which I witnessed a more appalling outburst of venom, face to face. And I thought the church was bad!
As you and I can be inspired by godly people to better ourselves, so we must never be dragged down to a lower level of behaviour, especially in public, by people who ought to know better and be a good example. Our example must remain the finest – that of Jesus Christ, in whom there was no evil at all, but who forgave those who wronged him, and indeed who sacrificed himself in the face of all those who would harm him, in order to give us that greater hope, that we must live by, that beyond this life is a far greater reward. I have a fridge magnet that says: ‘Work for the Lord. The pay isn’t much, but his retirement package is out of this world!’
And one of the blessings of this new period in the life of Oxnam Kirk is the setting up of a Worship Group, and the amazing first service which they created and delivered for us on Sunday 19th of July. A lot of preparation had gone into that service which told the story of the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey one hundred years ago, and the effect on the Oxnam Valley of the loss of four young soldiers,* and other Borderers. We learned that the reason for the campaign was to win control over the Dardanelles, a narrow isthmus which flows into the Sea of Marmara, and thence to the Black Sea, where Russia, one of our allies, was under attack from Turkey, who had signed up with Germany.
Our warships were wary, however, of the mines under the water, and so a ground offensive had to take place, and while the Scots involved attacked with customary gusto, it all ended in failure. Nearly 700 Borderers were killed. In the service at Oxnam, we were also privileged to see a number of mementoes from war-time which people had brought – medals, a death mask, letters, photographs – and the congregation were able to pour over these after the service. But meanwhile, Val Hunter gave us a moving account of the duties of the padrés – arranging and taking services, especially Communion services early in the mornings when the men had to go to the front, helping the medics bring the wounded back from the front line, burying the dead, and finally helping the relevant Captain to retrieve personal items from the clothing of dead soldiers, and sending these, along with a letter of condolences, to the family back home.
It was all so informative, and worshipful as well. Congratulations to the team. It puzzled me, however, when I heard about the uncle of an elderly man, father of very good friends, whose funeral I took in Winchester, Hampshire, recently. The uncle in question. Lt J.H. Pritchard, had fought in France in the Great War, been wounded, but went back, then was killed in 1917 at Bullecourt, near Arras, and his body never found.
In 2009, a French farmer was clearing one of his fields, at Bullecourt, and his metal detector traced an identity bracelet and a signet ring on the remains of two bodies. Two other bodies were also found but without identifying marks. The question I asked was why was there still a ring on one body and a bracelet on the other, when the Padré would have checked the bodies. But of course in the shelling as the men went over the top, so much earth would cover them and so many thousands more, that these bodies had never been uncovered until recently. Imagine the pride and honour for Lt Pritchard’s family to attend a ceremony in April 2013, at which these men were given full military honours, in the presence of Prince Michael of Kent, the Colonel in Chief of the Honorary Artillery Company, the regiment the men had served with.
Prior to our Gallipoli service, on the 31st May, we held an evening service, it being the 5th Sunday of the month. It was also Trinity Sunday, and we focussed in a couple of different ways on the fact that we in the Church of Scotland are a Trinitarian Church, which understands our God as being in three persons, God the Creator, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We looked at a picture of an ancient Russian icon, painted by Anton Rublev. Entitled ‘The Trinity Icon’, it depicts the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis, when he was visited by 3 men of God at the Tree of Mamre. Their purpose was to tell Abraham and his wife Sarah that they WERE, even at their great age, going to have a child and through that child would father a great nation – the Jews. Of course the painting has a lot more meaning to it, and that was pointed out in the service.
Then we heard an amazing story of an American man trying to come to terms with the loss of his young daughter, and finding answers, not in reasoned argument, but in three astonishing people, living together in The Shack, which he discovered was exactly where his daughter was murdered. Each of these three people, in very unconventional form, depicted one of the persons of the Trinity. And in a very moving story, this man discovered that it was right in the place of his greatest pain that he would find God through these three fascinating, distinct and totally surprising characters, who, bound together by an amazing love and super-human understanding, finally healed his troubled soul.
Since my last blog, we in Oxnam have lost another dear friend in Frank Clayton. On one of my first Sundays at Oxnam, I was told there was someone who had a 90th birthday on that day. So what else but to sing ‘Happy Birthday, dear Frank’, which we did. Sadly the whole of the following year was a struggle for Frank, and he finally found his peace in June of this year. A beautiful service was conducted by Anna Rodwell, with Frank’s favourite music being played. The tribute is available to read in the most recent Oxnam Parish Page.
On a happier note, I conducted a wedding at Oxnam early in August. Tom Elliot and Lauren Hughes from Hindhope finally tied the knot. We are all delighted because Tom and Lauren’s two children, Lucy and Jack, were both christened in Oxnam Kirk – Anna did both of those. The wedding took place on Friday 7th August, amid great festivity. Congratulations to Tom and Laura.
And more recently, the Worship Group delivered another thought-provoking service on Sunday evening, 30th August. Focussing on three Bible stories about Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, the group offered thoughts from a ‘Thomasina’ (Morag McKeand), about the puzzling statements Jesus had made to his disciple. Known as ‘the Doubter’, Thomas has always been a sort of role model for those of us who have found belief in Jesus hard to take.
I hope and pray that you and I will be able to find that faith in Jesus really helps us when the difficult things come our way in life.
Blessings for a good autumn season,
* Thanks to Colin Hogg for organising the cleaning of the World War I memorial on the wall of the Church. In these memorial years, it is a very fitting memorial to the lads of the Oxnam Valley.
It’s the same with life, All our lives are so changeable – turbulent bits, calm bits, beautiful bits, sad bits. And in order to get us through the sad bits, we must consciously appreciate the beautiful bits. This was the strong reminder given to us all at the recent funeral of Diana Cairns, whose tragic death on 6th April shocked the valley. However, her funeral was a wonderful celebration of her life – all that she was and contributed in such a variety of ways to the community, and to her family and friends. People had been asked to wear a bright flower, and that added to the sense of celebration and peace. Our deepest sympathy goes to Jamie and Andrew and the whole family, together with her friend David.
Our Worship Group have been meeting over the last few weeks to plan the first of a new kind of service, which will be led for the most part by those in the team. We had hoped the service would be in May, but now we find we have to postpone until July (19th), which is probably more appropriate, as we are addressing the effect on the valley of losing so many young men at the Battle of Gallipoli a hundred years ago, and the first of our young men died in July. We hope to have a most interesting service, and are still open to hearing any stories, or receiving mementoes from people who had a relative in the Great War, or knew of soldiers who fought in it. If you have some information, do please let us know, and we would be happy to include mention of these.
I was delighted to be able to bring my Roxburgh Singers to Oxnam for a performance of Fauré’s Requiem on Good Friday. Despite the fact that there were several competing events on that evening, we had a great audience and raised £609 for Combat Stress, the charity that offers packages of care tailored to the diverse needs of war veterans. For any who might like to hear the Singers’ next performance, Saturday 16th May sees us perform ‘The Armed Man’ by Karl Jenkins and Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Chichester Psalms’ in Melrose Parish Church. 7.30pm. Tickets £8.
Then our next evening service will be on Sunday 31st May, and I hope to introduce a different kind of service, focussing on a Bible character with a different approach to worship – perhaps some drama, and peopleinvolvement. Watch this spot, or better, come on the 31st May at 6pm!
Set high on the hill, the path up to Oxnam Kirk has been chilly some of these Sunday mornings, but the warmth of the interior and the lovely people make it a joy to worship there. It is a building which seems to retain the excitement and buzz of the bigger services, even on what might be called ‘normal’ Sundays, for we’ve had several big services with a packed church and lots of children. Surely one of the favourite sights was at Emilia Cairns’ baptism in January, with big sister Imogen and all her pals, dancing in front of the Communion table as we all sang ‘The Lord of the Dance’. In December we had Alaina Whittaker’s baptism and in October it was Benjamin Proudfoot (of Shiel family fame!) Of course the Session Room is not big enough for all the children to pack into while adults get on with the rest of the service. after the baptisms. But pack in they do, and we know that they have a fun time. Get praying for a successful outcome to the Summer House project!
Christmas Eve was another pack out, with several Dads cajoled into taking part along with our three stalwart Sunday School girls, Amy, Charlie and Anna. Dads were impromptu shepherds, who were dressed up in the aisle and played their part admirably. We found kings from among the children in the church, and almost all the little girls present came up to put on a tinsel headdress and be an angel. I think everybody felt involved. And of course ‘Rumplestiltskin’ took the wicket – what a wonderful atmosphere with the church on that January afternoon, full of children enjoying the Northumberland Theatre Company’s fantastic performance.