Do not be afraid, God is with you

St Salvador\'s, Stenhouse
An old photograph of St Salvador’s. The church hall is no longer there, replaced now by residential flats. As have the trees on the other side of the road.

Yesterday, at St Salvador’s, Stenhouse (one of the two congregations that I serve) we had a visit from The Dean of the Diocese of Edinburgh, who is also a former Rector of St Salvador’s. Seemingly because I have a blog I made him nervous: what would appear on the blog today about his visit? Ahhh … the power of blogging! I don’t wish to disappoint …

The purpose of the visit was to discuss with the congregation the diocese’s plans for the continuing ministry at St Salvador’s. My appointment here will rapidly be coming to an end (April 2006) after which time there is no money to renew my ‘contract’. That’s just how things are in the church just now: money is tight.

But before the congregational meeting: worship. Fr Kevin preached and presided at the Eucharist; I was deacon. What I enjoyed most about Fr Kevin being there was being enabled to and allowed to worship, something that is sometimes hard to do when you’re presiding and co-ordinating the worship.

Fr Kevin’s sermon focused around Jesus’ words “Do not be afraid” was just what the congregation needed to hear at a time when their major fear was that the church would be closed. And just what I needed to hear too, as I consider my own future. Do not be afraid, God is with you.

There’s a member of St Salvador’s who frequently says to me that she loves coming because it’s like a family. And like a family sometimes things don’t go quite as planned. And like a family it doesn’t matter, we just get on with it, and love one another though it. Yesterday, for only the second time in six years my phone went off during the service. During the sermon. It was a text message. The message tone was the CTU phone tone used in the TV series 24.

And then … I forgot the introductory words to the Peace. My mind went blank. I had the words from the older Scottish Liturgy 1970 going around my head. In the end I turned to Fr Kevin and said, “I’ve completely forgotten the words!”

“We meet in Christ’s name!” he exclaimed. And then, “My moment of glory,” after the congregational response, “Let us share his peace.”

Mind you, one of the reasons I didn’t have the words in front of me was because someone, who’ll remain nameless, took my copy of the Scottish Liturgy 1982 service book off the lectern at the end of their sermon!

These things happen. The last time my mind went blank during a service I ended up singing four verses of a three verse Gloria! And before that I forgot the Lord’s Prayer — how can you forget the Lord’s Prayer?!

But apart from these there was a real sense of prayer and worship. It felt like a special event. And the congregational meeting afterwards went well too. There was an audible sigh of relief when people learned that the church wouldn’t close, and some appeared surprised to learn that I would be leaving the team in the next six months or so. When I locked up yesterday morning after the service and the meeting there was a buzz of excitement and hope.

It feels good that everything is out in the open: about the immediate future of the congregation, and of the team’s continued commitment to St Salvador’s, and about my future. We can never really know what is up ahead in our lives, and in the lives of our congregations. It’s good to be reminded every now and then, that no matter what happens “do not be afraid, God is with you”.

Virtually

This afternoon, around a quarter to three my new graphics card was delivered. I asked the Parcel Force delivery man why it wasn’t delivered on Saturday — it had a large “Saturday” sticker on the top of the package.

“We don’t do Saturday deliveries in Edinburgh,” he replied.

Fair enough, I suppose. It’s just a shame that I spent an extra £5 or so for next day delivery, for it to arrive the next-next-next day.

I’ve been amazed (and slighly frightened) about how dependent I am on my PC. For everything: news, communications, my calendar and to-do list, my addresses, writing letters, organising the holiday home, entertainment, … everything. I have had my trusty Psion 7 which has allowed me to access my email, the web and chat with friends on MSN Messenger. But to be back on my PC is a relief, not least because my PC desktop space is 8.5 times larger than the Series 7 (2560 x 1024 pixels, 32-bit colour, on the PC compared with 640 x 480 pixels, 256 colours, on the Psion).

Virtual Christianity

While waiting I’ve been reading around the subject of my presentation later this month at the Murrayfield Churches Together’s Sundays at Seven evening: “Where is God on the internet”. Having purchased a number of cheap books on Amazon I’m reading one of the first ones that arrived, called Virtual Christianity: Potential and Challenge for the Churches by Jean-Nicolas Bazin and Jérome Côttin, published by the World Council of Churches.

Being both a fervent user of computers and the internet and a committed (and professional) Christian it is refreshing and challenging to be given the opportunity to think more specificially about how these two spheres relate to one another. I’ve just finished reading chapter about how both faith and the internet focus on the immaterial.

[Cyberspace allows human beings to acquire] powers and knowledge that until now have only been attributed to God: omnipresence and omniscience; crossing over boundaries of time and space; immateriality, and so on (op cit. p.34)

One writer, Philippe Breton, compares internet users to members of “New Age” religions:

Internet users have simliar attitudes, dreams and mental constructs to those of new religions: detachment from the body, devaluing the material in favour of the immaterial, holistic thinking, disdain for reason, ideals of transparency, the application of the metaphor of light, the quest for ecstasy, the search for universal harmony between human beings, and so on. (op cit., p.38)

I find western Christianity, on the whole, to be a very head- and mind-oriented religion; particularly the closer towards Protestantism you draw. The focus is on the Word, on reason, on the mind, on knowing what you believe, and why, and sharing that with others. There is still an emphasis towards a dualistic worldview: good vs evil, sacred vs secular, mind vs body; in computer terms: virtual reality vs reality. Take our theological education for ordination, for example. It is focused almost exclusively on academic achievement (the mind) with only a little training given in practical things that you do (the body).

It is no wonder that I feel more at home in my head than in my body. It is no wonder that I struggle to know what to do when my PC goes offline for extended periods. It is no wonder that I want to focus more on the parts of the job that involve thinking (sermon writing, SEC website, etc.). It is no wonder too that I’m finding pleasure in cycling and playing my guitar more. I feel like I’m rediscovering that I have a body — and that can only be a good thing.