Days are now darkening, and the weather is getting decidedly nippy. After 25 years of living in hot countries, I am trying to get my head round central heating and thermostats and where best to buy electric blankets. It is, however, wonderful to wrap up well and enjoy the night sky and the crisp frosty mornings.
I feel I have settled well into the manse and enjoy being part of the communities in our parish. I am very much looking forward to my first Christmas here. There will be a number of different services and activities taking place, starting on Advent Sunday (1st December) with Carols round the Tree in Morebattle Institute to the Christmas Eve services in Hownam (6.30pm) and Linton (11.30pm). These will capture something of the mystery and magic of Christmas, when families and friends come together. It will culminate in our short family service on Christmas Day at Morebattle Church at 11.15am. There is a more modern carol, ‘Come and join the celebration: it’s a very special day…Jesus Christ is born today!’, and Christmas is certainly a time when we celebrate the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Needless to say, everyone is very welcome to attend any of our services, the full list of which can be found on the What's On page.
However, there are always those who find Christmas a difficult time, perhaps because of bereavement or other reasons. As Cheviot churches we are invited to join our friends at St Andrew’s Kelso for their Blue Christmas service on Thursday 19th December.
But then the Christmas story is not the cosy, sentimental story we often think. It is a story of a long, hard journey of a heavily pregnant woman to Bethlehem and birth in a cold draughty stable. It is also the story of the massacre of the innocents by Herod’s troops, and the flight of the holy family to Egypt as refugees to escape Herod’s wrath. The aftermath of Christmas is really quite scary, but also speaks to us very much today. I spent almost 3 years in Egypt, where the Egyptian Church very much stressed Egypt’s role in providing a safe space for the holy family. There I became involved in a refugee project called StARS, which provided help, counselling, education and legal advice to over 26,000 refugees. The refugees were from Syria, Sudan and Yemen, from Ethiopia and Eritrea and many other places, but all ended up in Cairo and found in StARS a safe and welcoming place. StARS was based at St Andrew’s Church Cairo, but opened its doors to people of all faith communities and none. I was very proud of the work that took place there, especially among the unaccompanied youth, as it provided so much hope in difficult situations.
I wish you all a happy and blessed Christmas. But amid all the festivities and joy of the season, let us remember those who do not share our joy, from the homeless of our cities to refugees who have left everything familiar to make dangerous journeys to a foreign land and as we celebrate at this special time, let us not forget the reason for our festivity – the birth of the child in a manger!
This year Cheviot Churches had three separate harvest services - you can't have too much of a good thing! The final service was on the last Sunday of October, in Yetholm kirk, and was followed by a harvest lunch. Many thanks to all those who provided food on the festive occassion.
We were very pleased to welcome Berwick Male Voice Choir to Yetholm on the evening of Saturday 26th October. Thanks to choir for paying us a visit and performing so well - and also to Susan Stewart for organising this and other activities.
October has been a busy month with several harvest services - our new minister must be getting weary! However, there was a break on October 13th when Marion McIntyre the Guild National convener came all the way from Shetland and led a joint service in Yetholm on the current Guild theme 'Companions on the Way'.
Yetholm church was packed on the afternoon of 22nd September for the celebration of Margaret Smailes' 90th birthday - shown above, with the Rev Colin Johnston. Margaret has been a loyal and cheerful member of out community for many years and the kirk was filled with well-wishers. Margaret has found it difficult to get to church in recent years and it was great to see her with us again on Sunday.
Morebattlebattle church was packed on the evening of Friday when the Rev Colin Johnston was ordained as minister of Cheviot Churches. Having spent most of his life working abroad Colin is looking forward to getting reacquainted with his native country - hopefully he won't find us too weird!
There was a good turnout at Hownam on the evening of 18th August for a Songs of Praise service, which was led by Anne Brown. It was a lovely summer's evening - a reminder of what a privilege we have in living in this beautiful corner of Scotland, which Anne touched on in her message. After the service Anne presented Winnie Robson (our interim moderator, above left) and Liz Findlay (or locum minister, centre) with flowers as a token of thanks for all they have done for us during the minsterial interregnum. This will be the last occassion in which they will be with us at Hownam in an official capacity, though we hope we'll see them again frequently anyway. Thanks, too, to the folks from Hownam who provided tea and cakes in the old school-house after the service.
On Sunday 11th August we were delighted to welcome Struan Andrew McIntyre into our community here in Yetholm - and into the wider catholic church - through the sacrament of baptism. The service was led by the Rev Ian Clark and included a good deal of roaring (the OT lesson told the story of Daniel). The photo above shows Struan enjoying a post-baptism chocolate cake. It was also lovely to see so many cousins who had come to join in the celebration, some from as far away as Wales.
All of Cheviot Churches are open during daylight hours and a look at out visitors books shows a steady stream of folks calling in, many of whom are walking the St Cuthbert's Way. In July Yetholm, for example, had visitors from Denmark, Sweden, Paris, Belgium, Germany, New Zealand and Australia - as well as many from all over the UK. On August 3rd/4th we were visited by our friends from Sula Frikirke in Norway, who have been visiting us for the past few years. On Saturday evening the group of sixteen pilgrims joined us for a meal in Yetholm kirk, then on Sunday Yetholm hosted a joint service, with the sermon being given by Rev Jan Løkkeborg. The service was also attended by a lone pilgrim from Pennysylvannia USA, who found herself an honourary Norwegian for the day! We live in a relatively remote parish and these personal relationships with the wider church are much appreciated.
At a church meeting after the service on July 7th the congregation of Cheviot Churches voted to accept the Rev Colin Johnston as our new minister. Subject to ratification by Jedburgh Presbytery Colin will be inducted to the charge on Friday 30th August at a service at Morebattle church at 7pm - everyone is invited to come along and join the celebration. Colin has spent most of his ministerial life working in Africa, latterly in Egypt - as can be seen in the above photo. A flavour of his life in Egypt can be experienced by looking at the blog he wrote while in Egypt - HERE. Life in the Cheviots will be somewhat cooler, but we hope Colin will find us a warm-hearted community when he settles in to the new manse and begins leading us in worship.