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 – peeblesold.online – 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.