This year’s Christmas message from the Primus was filmed at St John’s Church in Arpafeelie, where the Most Rev.Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness, recorded a number of messages during lockdown earlier this year.
The Primus chose the location to reflect the experience of the past year, and to speak directly to the Scottish Episcopal Church community, who have shared challenging circumstances as people did their best to keep in touch by whatever means possible without being able to meet in person.
A joyful Christmas to you.
We’re here in St John’s, Arpafeelie because I wanted to tell you something of this church, because in a way it mirrors our own Church. Having broadcast in so many places and written so many words for the Press, I wanted to have an opportunity to talk to us, to the Scottish Episcopal Church. To offer Christmas greetings to you who have worked so hard, and have done so much, to enable the life and witness of the church to continue during this most peculiar year; to remind you that we are here to celebrate Christmas in whichever way we can.
This isn’t a time for angst over whether we did it the right way or the wrong way, this is a day of giving thanks for the birth of Christ.
This church was built shortly after the last Jacobite rising and has seen so many changes. It was closed in the 1960s because following the two world wars, the number of people in this community just reduced and reduced. The church itself only survived because local people wanted it to survive. It continues to worship week by week. Sometimes there are small numbers, sometimes there are greater numbers but there is faithfulness in its worship. And yet it too has struggled this year, being unable to open, being unable to worship face to face, but actually sharing with everyone else across our Church, the possibility that we can worship in ways that keep us together even when we can’t be together.
Here in this church there is a depiction of the birth of Jesus, a depiction you will see across so many of our churches. It is the centre and heart of what we are about, that God, through the incarnation came among us, and ultimately through sacrifice offered us the possibility of eternal life.
That’s what this message is about. It’s not about how we get through the next two or three days. It’s not about how we worship in the next two or three months. It’s not about whether we are in face to face with each other or doing it digitally. These are all means of communicating the love of God in the world, and we must use it as an opportunity to compete about who’s better at doing which, and who should be doing what.
Because what I pick up from across Scotland is people just rejoicing that we have said anything, that we have remained there, that we have rung our bells when we can, that we have proclaimed the word of God in so many different ways. There’s not a right and a wrong way of doing this. There is a way which is there to touch the hearts of those who are listening.
I have had do many letters, so many emails, and thankfully the majority of them are letters of thanks.
So on this joyful Christmas Day, as we give thanks for the birth of Jesus, as we remember what those promises are, then help us to be the family of faith; not judging people by their results but judging them by how much they love, how much they have done, how concerned they are about the people they have helped, about all that has happened, new and old, traditional and modern, and let us do it all by genuinely seeking to love one another.
When I sit down for my Christmas dinner, there will be empty spaces at the table as there will be in so many places. But as I sit there, I will remember church after church, Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, people gathering for a time and then not being able to, but still in contact, still sharing, still loving, still proclaiming Christ. So please, this wonderful Church, let’s not allow ourselves to become argumentative about the right and wrong way of doing things, but to rejoice together.
For unto us, a child is born. Unto us, a son is given, and the path of righteousness is open before us. A very holy and happy Christmas, and I hope, God willing, to meet, to share, and to be with you all in the New Year.
- The Primus is one of 10 church leaders who each recited a line of a heartfelt joint message for Christmas. The members of the Scottish Church Leaders Forum offer their video message in recognition that many individuals and families are grappling with difficulties and uncertainties due to the impact of Covid-19. It is hoped that sharing the Good News about the birth of Jesus Christ will bring some comfort, hope and peace to those who are struggling.
You can watch the leaders’ short video message here and the text as narrated in the video has been translated into Gaelic here.
The Scottish Church Leaders Forum was formed in March this year and is the body responsible for the ecumenical prayers published for use every Sunday at 7pm. Please note that the weekly prayer will not be published on 27 December or 3 January, but is scheduled to return on 10 January.
- In addition to the above messages, The Primus also wrote a message for the Christmas Eve edition of The Herald newspaper which can be read here.