Category: Pastoral Letters 2020

June Pastoral Letter

June Pastoral Letter

Dear Friends
I need a barber! And a dentist! (Those who follow will have noticed that I have lost a crown.) And a chiropodist, and someone who can operate on my mobile phone). Such are the ongoing frustrations of the coronavirus. On the positive side. I’ve used hardy any petrol, and I haven’t been to an ATM in ages.

Of course, these things are utterly trivial compared to the heartbreak, suffering and loss that COVID-19 has wreaked on our lives. I was pondering this morning. I was born and brought up in Dumfries, a busy traditional Scottish county and market town. The UK death toll from the virus has now exceeded the population of Dumfries. A whole town wiped out and more!

Some of the deaths have affected us even more closely and deeply. And when we take into account the many who have been ill and recovered, the majority of us will know folk who have had to fight the virus.
Add to all that the worries about jobs, unemployment, schools, the economy generally it is a heavy burden our society is having to deal with. What surprises most is the speed with which our ways of life have been comprehensively changed. We all wonder, I think, will the old ways return? Perhaps not all of them will. Perhaps some of them should not.
Which of us wholeheartedly embraces change? Very few. It’s part of the human condition to be wary of disturbance around us. And yet our survival as specks on the panorama of the universe depends on gradual restoration and transformation.

Our Scriptural record shows it. Jeremiah stood at the Temple gate and said: “Look for the ancient paths”! Restoration! The same prophet also warned the people not to think that by chanting “This is the temple of the Lord…the temple of the Lord….the temple of the Lord” that they would be saved. Transformation! That’s where we are. Perhaps where we have always been.

Finlay Macdonald, elsewhere in the magazine, will be saying something about the current thinking of the Church of Scotland – which had begun a process of deep self-examination when Covid-19 came along.

Here in the Old Parish and in Eddleston we are following the rules carefully. We do not want to put anyone in any kind of danger. So many things in our corporate life have been put on hold. In worship terms, we produce a new set of worship resources every week. What we are doing is fairly unique. We are not streaming a church service. But ministers, organist, and church members (oh, not forgetting the bell ringers!) are coming together to provide tools to bring worship into your own homes.

We recognise that not everyone has access to the internet. So now
you can listen to the material, too, by dialling 0113 467 8156. Anytime, 24/7. If you have a calls package from your telephone provider, this should be free. Otherwise you just pay your standard rate. The call will last approximately 20 minutes.

The choir continues to meet on a Thursday evening, courtesy of Zoom. I popped in to say hello, (online of course), and I can assure you that they are all in exuberant mood.

Pastoral contact has to be by phone. I’ve been phoning round folk, basically to introduce myself and to enquire how things are going for them. Thank you for so many hearty, warm welcomes. And look forward to the day when we can meet face to face.
Rev Pamela Strachan has been able to join the ministry team again after an enforced overstay in New Zealand. We are delighted to see her back, and she will be contributing to worship from time to time. She is now serving as Locum Minister in Upper Tweeddale, where she lives, but is able to offer us a day each week as part of the new arrangement. The ministry team has identified the fact that after the sore loss of Lorraine Mulholland the Eddleston Kirk folk will need support and pastoral accompaniment in particular ways, and to begin with at least Pamela will make that healing process the focus of her work. This is not to say
that either Finlay or I will not be available to Eddleston in our respective roles, but we are very grateful that Pamela brings her sensitivity and pastoral kindness to the folk there in this time of need.

Grace and peace to each one of you


Revd John R Smith
Locum Minister

Peebles Old letter May 2020

Peebles Old letter May 2020

Dear Friends

This is my first pastoral letter for the Newsletter since taking over as Locum Minister on 1st April!  Now I don’t attach any importance whatsoever to the date myself, but you can arrive at your own judgement! In the three weeks since I started, I have been building pictures in my head of the congregations and how they work.

One of the tasks has been producing a new way of providing online resources for use in weekly worship. The aim is to do something which is very strongly our own. And so, to date, we have introduced the bells of the Old Parish welcoming Easter, and the Organ contributing music to the site. There is a lot of future development in mind for this resource, which is statistically very successful with regular viewers at home and abroad. But let me make no overblown claims. The production of the special site – – needs the patience and skill of Willie Nicoll, and I’m grateful to him in his role as webmaster. I would encourage you to visit. The worship is updated weekly and available fresh each Sunday morning and then remains there to return to as often as you wish.

My other main enterprise has also been made somewhat essential by the present pandemic restrictions. It is simply not allowed to meet people in the traditional way. As a substitute, I am making telephone calls to members to introduce myself, to find out a little about them and how they are coping. I’m enjoying many warm welcomes and starting relationships that I look forward to nourishing in person when the time comes for relaxation of the rules.

One pastoral relationship that is greatly changed is centred round bereavement and funerals. Sadly there have been four funerals of members in the last four weeks. Visits to homes by ministers and funeral directors are not allowed, numbers at crematorium or cemetery are strictly limited to immediate family, the churches may not be used for services, and all the work of preparation has to be done by telephone. This can only make the stress and pain of bereavement worse. We understand that, and look forward to the time when better support can be reintroduced.

It is the strangest of times. Well outside the experience of any one of us, I fear. The sad stories increase daily. Our own moods probably rise and fall with the news. And you don’t need me to rehearse all the troubles of separation from friends and family, health concerns, shopping concerns, and economic woes that now surround us. The Psalmist who wrote in Psalm 119 “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” was proclaiming a truth about our reliance on our God who supremely knows suffering in all its darkness and despair. Often we hear the question “where is God in all this”. At every bedside. At the side of every exhausted health and care worker. That is the strength for which we pray.

In this settling period, as you will not be surprised to read, the guidance and collegiality of Finlay Macdonald has been unfailing. He will still be appearing regularly in the Newsletter – especially on vacancy matters, but also providing the pastoral letter from time to time. When next I write to you – next month – I hope and pray that we will be seeing better times.

With every blessing

John R Smith

PS. I had just completed this letter when I heard the devastating news of the unexpected death of Mrs Lorraine Mulholland. This is a tremendous loss in our church community. Elsewhere in this Newsletter there will appear an appreciation by our friend Revd Calum Macdougall. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with Lorraine’s husband, Peter, and their son. 

April Newsletter

April Newsletter

Dear Friends
It is a privilege to be able to serve Peebles Old Parish and Eddleston as locum, taking over from the great work done by Jim Cutler. I hope that I will be able to contribute to the worship and pastoral work of the churches through the months to come.

Our Interim Moderator, Dr Macdonald, has asked me to provide a brief biography.

Born and brought up in Dumfries, I studied Arts and then Divinity at Edinburgh University, followed by a post-graduate year in Geneva on a World Council of Churches scholarship. In my time, I served as a local minister in Paisley and in Edinburgh, retiring from Morningside United Church seven years ago and moving to Peebles. Out of many enriching experiences I would mention that I became the first non-Church of Scotland minister ever to be called to serve as a Presbytery Moderator in the Church of Scotland, and went on from there to convene the Presbytery Plan Group for Edinburgh at a challenging time.
Latterly, I worked as an Examiner in Communication Skills for the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, examining all over the UK, South-East Asia, South Asia, and North Africa. I also served the four British surgical colleges on the Inter-Collegiate Committee for Basic Surgical Examinations, working in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin.
After six years in that role, I was delighted to work as Locum in two situations – firstly, in East Lothian (at Humbie linked with Yester, Bolton and Saltoun), and then in the Parishes of Upper
Tweeddale (Broughton, Tweedsmuir, Stobo, and Skirling.) Where I have just finished.

I am married to Jean, who is involved in a number of Peebles organisations, and we have three daughters – in Ilkley, Edinburgh and the youngest just relocating from New Zealand to the UK.
We have three lovely grandsons, aged 7, 4, and 6 months. Oh, and a six month old black Labrador puppy called Finbar.

I greatly welcome this new venture. And to getting to know you in church, in your homes, and in the street! (Just stop me!)

Every blessing,


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