Beach Communion

Communion on the beach is not a new thing. In John chapter 21 we find the first written record of communion on the beach, when the risen Lord Jesus shared breakfast with his disciples. For them it was as reinstatement of old friendships and trust, as well as a re-committement to each other in the face of what lay ahead. For us on Sunday, it was an affirmation of our shared faith in Jesus, and of our unity as part of the family of God.

For the past few years we have finished our Congregational picnic with an act of worship, and last Sunday, in response to popular demand, we included family communion.

We had no books, so everything had to be well-known. We began with a simple children’s chorus – ‘I’ve got a very big God-O’, with one of the teenagers leading the actions. Andy Chittick, our youth leader, then led us in prayer, and Ruth Davies, our Reader, then presented a dramatised version of the parable of the ten virgins, (Matthew 25), drawing on various people of all ages who had been roped into the parts with little warning.

What lessons can we learn from the parable of the ten virgins?

  •  Firstly, that God’s Kingdom is like a big wedding celebration – something not to be missed, and well worth waiting for.
  •   Secondly, that our faith needs to be current – we can’t just rely on moments from our past.
  •  Thirdly, that our faith needs to be our own – it can’t be borrowed from anyone else.

We sang ‘Give me oil in my lamp’, (including the verse ‘give me wax for my board, keep me surfing’), after which we sat down in groups and talked about things we were thankful to God for in the last year, and things we were looking forward to in the year to come.

Finally, after three simple questions which affirmed our faith, we shared communion together. We all stood in a big circle around a small make-shift table. I made it clear what we were doing and why, and that by sharing the bread and the wine we were affirming our belief that Jesus died for us, and our commitment to follow him.

All ages were welcome, but no one was forced to be there, so, while a number of kids went off to play on the nearby sand-dunes, most  stayed with their mums and dads. As the bread and then the wine were passed around the circle from hand to hand, there was a clear sense of our unity in the presence of God. As  we shared the peace afterwords, there was a clear sense of celebration.

Our closing hymn was ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’, and for me it summed up all that had just taken place. I have many memories of sharing the Last Supper with many different people in many different places all over the world, but this is one of the best.

Here is part of the prayer that we used.

Loving Father, as we have shared in the Lord’s supper, we remember those who won’t be having any supper tonight. As we have come together as a family, we remember those who have no family, or who are sad about someone they love. As we have celebrated our faith, we remember those who are missing out on that faith.

Send your Holy Spirit upon us now, and upon this bread and this wine so that, as we share it together, we may be filled afresh with your love and be able to serve you better, bringing your love into the lives of those who need to feel it most .

Good Company

As I sit and write this, the date is Saturday 19th May and the clock on the wall says 2.10pm, and I realise that, as a church minister, I am in a no-win situation. In less than an hour’s time, Hibs will be playing Hearts in the Scottish cup Final. All  morning there has been a steady exodus of cars heading west, containing either green and white or maroon clad football zealots of all ages. Whoever wins the cup, by tomorrow morning half of my congregation will be feeling dejected, and the other half delirious. The only thing that keeps me smiling is the knowledge that, in time, everyone who made that pilgrimage to Hampden Park , whichever side they supported, will have been glad that they were not alone.

This is something I’ve come to realise from supporting the Scottish national rugby team. Over the years, and especially since the beginning of the ‘professional’ era, we haven’t won many games. We joke about it. We say it means we’re much better at coping with losing, or, when we occasionally do win, that our joy is much greater. All this is true, but the thing I’ve noticed time and time again is that it’s much better to watch the game at Murrayfield than to watch it on the tele at home. Why? Because, win or lose, you know that you’re not going to be alone!

This summer, here at Liberton, we’re going to be looking at what it means to be a follower of Jesus. For the six weeks, beginning on the first Sunday in July, we are going to be looking at this through the eyes of Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Being a follower of Jesus also involves highs and lows, but whether its times of joy or whether it’s times of struggle, the same thing holds true – you’re not his only follower, and you don’t have to face them on your own. So, whether by joining us here on a Sunday, or by joining a local church on holiday, make sure that you find some good company. The love of God made known in Jesus is too big to enjoy on your own.

Much love


What on earth is a huddle?

In April I wrote that, if I were to go back and begin again at Liberton, the main thing I would have done differently would have been to focus much more of my time on training up leaders from within the church. Since September of last year I have been doing just this through the formation of our very first leadership huddle, and this huddle has now become one of the personal highlights of my ministry.

What is a leadership huddle? Firstly, it’s not a leadership team meeting, nor is it a house group fellowship. Rather, it’s a meeting of leaders in training. Roughly speaking, the leadership huddle follows the pattern used by Jesus himself.

When Jesus trained his disciples a number of things stand out:
o He chose them personally, according to character rather than their knowledge and experience
o He spent a set amount of time with them
o They journeyed with him, sharing in his experience
o They learned directly from his example
o They learned together, as a community
o He got them to put what they learned into practice
o He then commissioned them to go and train (disciple) others

This is the model we have been following here at Liberton. A group of us have been meeting together once every two weeks for an hour: exploring what our faith means in practice and what God might be calling us to be and do, and experiencing firsthand the benefits of being part of a supportive and trusting fellowship. This is our ‘Leadership Huddle’, and I am not alone in finding it a wholly worthwhile use of my time. Here are some of the comments its members made the last time we ‘huddled’:

“I feel more comfortable and confident in my ability to help others”
“I came along thinking I could maybe support another leader, but now I feel I may have something valuable to contribute myself”
“It’s a safe place to share dreams”
“It’s helping me to explore my own gifts”
“You know you are not alone in terms of your hopes and fears – something I don’t often experience”
“I have come to appreciate that everyone has different gifts, and there’s a place for each of us in the church”
“Our discussions are deeper and more intimate than I have experienced, and I go away to reflect more”
“I love the way, if you say something in the group, people will hold you to it”

As a direct result of our regular ‘huddles’ someone is now taking a turn at preaching, someone is starting up a house group, someone is taking the lead with our ‘late teens and 20s’, someone is taking a leading role with Libbi’s Cafe, and three people are going to help run our next Alpha course.

I am now hoping to start a new leadership huddle in the autumn. If you think you know someone who has the potential for being a leader at Liberton Kirk, please let me know.

Much love

What an Easter!

What an Easter! Palm Sunday set the tone and with every passing gathering the sense of God’s presence grew.

* On the Monday of Holy Week over 70 people from all the churches in the area gathered at the Tron Kirk for a special Passover Supper.

* Wednesday evening saw the now customary ‘Stations of the Cross’ service take place at St John Vianney’s church.

* Friday morning’s ‘Walk for Witness’ went ahead, despite the light drizzle, and the service at Morrisons was even larger than last year (every year it seems to grow in size), with powerful passionate worship and a powerful message.

* Well over three hundred people came along to the Good Friday afternoon’s service at Gracemount High School, some coming from churches well outside South East Edinburgh to attend. As we approached the Cross, we were encouraged to focus on what gifts we were offering in God’s service.

* Easter’s early morning service, which included breakfast (agape) was wonderfully joyful and relaxed, and the 11am service was packed with worshippers – ranging from familiar faces to complete strangers. The challenge at both services was to take up Jesus call to follow him.

* Easter’s ‘Evening Celebration’ was small and intimate, with a thought provoking drama, and a number of people coming forward to share how much God has been working in their lives over this last year. The service finished with everybody blessing each other with an Easter Blessing, and some surprise Easter home-baking supplied by the catering team.

My theme on the Sunday morning was how much our Christian faith is defined by the events of Easter. Looking back, it gladdens my heart to realise that the way we celebrate is also a demonstration of the love of God made real in our midst.

Much love


What are the makings of a good leader?

Jesus death and resurrection offers us all the hope of a new beginning. Herein lies both the joy and the power of Easter. Jesus’ death has dealt with the sins of our past, and his resurrection and his Holy Spirit’s presence offers us the hope of a much better future.

It’s very timely that someone who will be having the opportunity of experiencing beginning again this Easter is our very own Malcolm Jefferson, as he is welcomed as the new leader of St Andrew’s Leckie Church in Peebles. As you know, Malcolm has been serving with us here for the last 15 months, but the time has now come for him to move on.

I well remember what it felt like at the beginning of my own ministry here at Liberton. I’ve often described it as feeling as if I’d jumped aboard a stagecoach which was hurtling down the road, and someone had just handed me the reins. Looking back, I’m so thankful that I wasn’t alone. I soon discovered that God was still around to give me directions, and that there were lots of fellow passengers who were happy to offer encouragement and support.

One question which I have been pondering recently, however, has been, “If I were to begin again at Liberton, what would I have done differently?” The answer I would now give is, “Focus much more of my time and energy on training up leaders from within the church.” Over the last fifteen years I have found out the hard way that the main thing which stops us being the church God wants us to be is not a lack of money, or a lack of people (he always seems willing to provide them both). It is a lack of leaders – of people who are confident enough in their faith and in their ability to lead others.

This is a problem which Jesus too had to face, and when we look at what he did about it we discover some interesting things. None of his disciples, for example, were from ‘religious’ occupations, nor were they well known or prominent citizens. In fact, Jesus didn’t seem to choose them because of their background at all, or their knowledge for that matter, or their experience. He seems to have chosen them because of their character. He saw in them the potential to be leaders and that was good enough for him.*

Later on, in his letter to Timothy, Paul gives some good advice about choosing leaders. He suggests that they be “…temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” (1 Timothy 3.2b) As I sit writing this, what strikes me most is that the description Paul is giving here is one that, in my mind, seems to fit Malcolm to a tee. The Folks at St Andrew’s Leckie have certainly chosen well, and, as the fellow passengers on his stage coach, we wish them God’s blessing as they set off on this new stretch of their journey together.

Much love


*For a good book on the subject, see “Twelve Ordinary Men”, by John MacArthur

What would you say to the folks of Downton Abbey?

A lot can happen in a hundred years.

For Christmas, Lindsay and I treated ourselves to the box set of the first seven episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’ – the television series based on the fictional lives of those who lived and worked in a stately home in the early twentieth century. We took it with us on a short post-Christmas break escaping for a couple of days into culture, and engaging with the daily lives and loves of characters of 100 years ago.

It was also quite striking to see how much things have changed since then. Many of these changes have been for the good. Women now have the vote, and house-ownership is common-place. Electricity is taken for granted, whereas then it was a luxury, as was the owning of a car. Communication is now instant, and people can travel to the other end of the world for a two week holiday and still be back in time to start work on Monday morning. Our lives are a lot more secure. Health care and medicines are freely available and far more effective, and the keyhole surgery of today is very different from the hit and miss of the old operating theatres.

Not all the changes have been for the good, however. The last 100 years have seen two world wars, the nuclear bomb, the great depression, totalitarianism, genocide, and 9/11. Advances in science have made the world a smaller place, but for every problem solved, another seems to have been created. People are still dying of hunger and disease, and are still managing to come up with more efficient ways of killing one another as well as new reasons to justify it happening.

The gift of hindsight is a wonderful thing. If you were given the chance, what advice would you give to our forefathers who lived in the time of ‘Downton Abbey’? Which roads would you encourage them to go down, and which would you tell them to avoid?

A similar question, and one I often ponder, is what advice people might want to give our own generation in 100 years time? Would they warn us about getting ourselves trapped in a debt-based economy? Would they plead with us to take better care of our family life? Would they ask us what on earth we were doing to the environment?

A better question for us all might be ‘What advice might God want to give us?’ My feeling is that it would be best summed up in Jesus words in Matthew:
Do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?… But seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’.(Matthew 6.31,33)

The Kingdom of God is how Jesus describes his presence by our side, guiding our paths, protecting us, and enabling us to make a difference. In a world of constant change, here are some words of promise to hold on to:

The steadfast love of the Lord will never fail. His mercies will never come to an end, for they are new every morning.(Lamentations 3.22,23)

Much love,