When I began writing this, there was no sign of the cold snap slowing down. The street outside the Rectory was just pure ice and the snow lay deep on the pavements. We should be very thankful that gritter trucks had been out and about and I am grateful that this type of service continues to operate despite the weather conditions.
We are also indebted to our emergency services who provide 24-hour coverage, 365 days a year, whatever the conditions.
In fact, behind the scenes, there are many other groups of workers who ‘carry on’ regardless, working unsociable hours, bank holidays and religious feast days, and it is to them that my thoughts and prayers are directed whilst a huge chunk of society can stop and enjoy the break.
This season of Advent, and ultimately Christmas, is always a challenge from my perspective because it can be very easy to recycle material from previous celebrations. Sometimes, however, that option is more practical than it appears. The secret is in delivery and focus. Advent is a powerful period in our Christian calendar that asks us to be penitent and excited at the same time. These two emotional states don’t really ‘hook up’ naturally and it is certainly a source of frustration for some to achieve what might be a sufficient amount of both.
But you needn’t worry. We all tend to do this naturally, we are programmed to understand the need for the deeper meaning of the season of Advent, and we know that we can exhale when we celebrate the birth of the Christ-Child on Christmas Day. And this always impacts us so subjectively. Many of us will then stop and think ‘it’s here, at last, now we can celebrate’. Some of us will fail to see the separation between Advent and Christmas and just continue as if that’s the way it should be. However, when we have Church events like Carol services and Christingle services, the lighting of Advent candles, special prayers and equally special hymns, it all begins to build that excitement and it helps us to decide how each of us will choose to celebrate in our own lives.
As a Priest, much of my life is defined by the liturgical seasons, therefore I need to be as strategic as I possibly can. However, like everyone else, I have an ever-changing list of priorities that dictate when, where and ultimately, how, I perform and provide my Priestly ministry. At St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, we tend to drift into High Church territory in our worship, sometimes more intense, sometimes less so. It all depends on various factors such as the occasion, historical significance, the need for grand gestures and equally grand responses. This will, of course, be evident in our music, our mode of dress and most certainly in our liturgy. Every aspect of how we worship and the reasoning behind that, helps us adjust our focus throughout the year. Advent and Christmas are no different. Two very different events are deeply connected but at the same time, separated in time.
The past few months at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral have been extremely busy. So much has been going on, both overtly and behind the scenes. The most recent event was the ‘Jacket Potato’ appeal, which went way above our expectations. It was a stressful time for those of us involved in the preparations for the day in question, but as always, everyone involved, and there were many, worked so hard to make the day an overwhelming success. As is always the case, there remains a small cadre of people who never seem to stop working to help maintain our church life. They know who they are and I will not embarrass them by adding names. However, I am always at pains to express how deeply grateful for the time and effort they constantly give, and this year has been no exception.
There have been great physical, mental and emotional challenges for our Church in this diocese. We have been deeply blessed by the dedication of Fr Roger, who has introduced us all to ‘new wine’, and I know that many of you are extremely grateful to him for his ministry, not just to us here at Carden Place, but to the many other churches near and far that he provides pastoral guidance to. We now know that as of 1 January 2023, Fr Roger will take over as Interim Priest at St John’s after the Rev’d Dr Jenny Holden changes roles, whilst the search begins for a new full-time priest. We know that the congregation there will benefit as we have done during the past 12 months.
I will not ignore the elephant in the room. It has been a very stressful time for Bishop Anne, who is currently suspended from her role as our Diocesan Bishop. The legal intricacies involved in this matter have gone way over my head, and personally, I feel that a great element of control was lost when the decision to suspend Bishop Anne was made. She is effectively ‘cut off’ from her flock and the impact of this is palpable. The concerted efforts of detractors continue, much of which is deeply unsavoury and unnecessary. I have no doubt that this is an intense challenge for all involved, being an unknown territory for the SEC. We now see Bishop John Armes, the Bishop of Edinburgh Diocese, stepping in as interim Bishop whilst this matter is subject to legal oversight. I have liaised with Bishop John on several occasions, assuring him of our support when he needs it, both in my role as Rector of the Pro-Cathedral and Synod Clerk. We have also offered prayer for Bishop John as he oversees two dioceses, which is without doubt a monumental task for anyone. I am ever hopeful of an early resolution in order that everyone can look forward to repairing and acknowledging our weaknesses with humility and acceptance.
There have been challenges for all of us over the past 12 months, both personally and as a Church, yet here we are, waiting outside the door of the stable in Bethlehem. Are we excited? You bet we are. Are we ready? I think so. Will it be wonderful? Yes, it will be. Despite all the negativity that sometimes can pervade our lives, we are lifted by the ultimate gift of new life. The birth of our Lord in those deeply humble circumstances, the challenges faced by a young couple who knew what gift they had to care for, the attention that would ultimately follow Jesus as he stepped from the River Jordan that day after his meeting with John the Baptist. All of this, including his journey to sacrifice on the cross for our own sin, tells us that each and every day, we should try to be the best Christians we can possibly be, not just during Advent, but throughout our lives.
Sam and I wish each and every one of you a most wonderful and peaceful Christmas and that you are able to appreciate, that as the years pass, we can and will, grow to love God and our world with a deeper resonance than ever before
Canon Terry and Sam Taggart