A Lenten Letter from Forbes
23 February 2021
I grew up in Scotland at a time when there was a deep unsavoury and mutual suspicion between Protestants and Catholics. It was all pervasive; from what school you attended, which football team you supported, your circle of friends, even the name you were given by your parents.
I used to find it odd that around February time, some people (including children) had a smudge of dirt on their forehead. It was a mystery to me. Of course, the “dirt” was in fact ashes. I had really never heard of “Ash Wednesday”- protestants did not pay any attention to such things. All I knew was that it was something “Catholic” and rather odd.
I am glad to say things are quite different now. Christians of all denominations now appreciate the richness of the liturgical year and its special services and rituals. We are now in the season of Lent, a period of forty days - (we do not count the Sundays) - before Easter. It began on Ash Wednesday 17 February.
Lent’s purpose is to get us ready for Easter. Before we celebrate Easter, we ponder the human condition, acknowledge our mortality (“from dust we came and to dust we shall return”), and the reality that Easter can only happen after very real suffering and death. In Lent, we identify with and travel with Jesus Christ on the way to his death, sometimes attempting to make small personal sacrifices - giving up something for Lent, although experiencing the suffering of Jesus is impossible to do. Giving up crunchie nut cornflakes is trivial to be blunt.
The Lenten journey starts with Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by his cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus is empowered in hearing the voice of God, assuring him that he is loved completely, unconditionally as a beloved child of God. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark Ch 1) After that, he is driven into the wilderness: 40 days, (hence the 40 days of Lent) alone in the desert.
The idea of wilderness/desert is common concept in the Bible. In the early Biblical book of Exodus, we find Moses looking after his flock of sheep “beyond the wilderness of Midian”. Then God speaks to Moses in a burning bush and tells him to go back to Egypt to lead his people out of slavery into freedom and the promised land- but that took decades. Leading the Israelites through the wilderness of Sinai was not an easy job. At times it was rough, scary, and fractious to say the least.
From wilderness into the promise of a new brighter future; the truth is, wilderness and the promised land are never far from each other.
Looking back with longing in our hearts to before last March 2020, it seems we were inhabiting the promised land of parties, hugs, holidays, concerts, family meals, shopping, Friday evenings in the pub with friends, football matches, Church services, school lessons not to forget proper non-embarrassing haircuts. For all the problems which still ran deep in our country and society, we were not locked down and we were living in a “promised land.”
This past year from Lent 2020 to Lent 2021, Covid-19 has been our wilderness or desert place. I need not describe or list the features of desert living or dying. We know them all too well.
We are all looking so forward to the pandemic restrictions being lifted bit by bit. Yesterday’s announcement of a possible road map out and news of the successful vaccination programme lifted our spirits and raised our hopes.
The last year has been our wilderness, a place none of us wanted to inhabit.
And yet there is still that promise and assurance that when Jesus was in the wilderness, angels came to minister to him, to care for him and strengthen him for the rough days ahead. And here in Corby and elsewhere, angels do come and remind us to be grateful for the ordinary blessings - the everyday stuff of or lives together - the hugs which will return, the simple joy of meeting friends, a lively (NON-ZOOM!) conversation: for music and books, life with a new direction, a renewed spirit and hope for a new united Church of Scotland congregation in Corby.
God comes into our COVID-19 wilderness, into all our wildernesses. That is the eternal promise. In the lonesome desert, angels visit and friends are there to reach out and comfort: reminders that God, the One who loves us, is with us, holding us tightly. In the same way as angels came to Jesus in the wilderness, to remind him of the voice he heard at his baptism - “You are my beloved Son: with you I am well pleased”, so we too hear that same message of good news today. We are all beloved daughters and sons of God in whatever wilderness we find ourselves right now.
And Lent - Lent will be over and the Easter dawn will come.
My very best wishes
Rev Forbes Walker
23 December 2020
It is such a strange, unprecedented time. We are semi or near fully locked down here in UK. Corby is in Tier 2 for now but that may change soon. We cannot entertain or visit friends as we would normally do at Christmas. My own plans for a Glasgow Christmas were scuppered. I am sure many of your plans have gone up in a puff of smoke too. Most of us have not been in our beloved St Andrew’s church for going on for the best part of a year.
The sense of isolation, separation from family and friends and communities that give our lives a firm grounding and contribute hugely to our identity as human beings is hard to bear, especially for those who live alone or who are trapped at home in difficult circumstances.
In these difficult times, my mind wanders to various stories from the Old Testament and the story of the people of God going through many troubles. And not just from the pages of the Bible, but the continuing story of the Jewish people.
In all these stories, I am reminded of the very basis of the faith we claim and hopefully embrace. Even in the darkest circumstances which the ancient people of God found themselves in: famine, Egyptian slavery, military defeat, exile and Babylonian captivity, political oppression, slaughter, persecution and the Holocaust brought upon them in the 20th Century, God is present not only to comfort but also give and inspire an enduring flame of hope which cannot and will not be extinguished.
God is present, even in the midst of calamity. God does not abandon us. God never forgets and because of His constant steadfast love, God promises that there will be restoration, redemption, renewal even in the darkest tragedy, even during this Pandemic.
The prophet Jeremiah is often accused of being over gloomy in the face of tragedy and calamity- perhaps he was a closet Presbyterian - but even old misery-guts Jeremiah could look forward to brighter days - “the sound of festival will again be heard. For the Lord is good: his steadfast love endures forever.” (see Jeremiah Ch 30 and 33)
I admit that I am having a hard time generating much of a Christmas mood as I write this to you. Most of what I like and love about Christmas is simply not going to happen...but perhaps that is exactly why the story of the birth of a baby in a Bethlehem stable could become more powerful this year than ever.
After all, Jesus came into this world during a time of cruel political oppression and brutal military occupation. Mary his young mother had become pregnant before she had properly tied the knot. And then she and Joseph were instructed by the Roman bigwigs to go to Bethlehem, 90 miles from away from home in Nazareth to be counted in a Roman jobsworth project.
That journey would have been lonely and difficult- hellish in fact.
I am thinking about that lonely journey a lot this year. Where did they sleep? What did they eat? She was heavily pregnant- what a nightmare of an experience getting to Bethlehem. And when they finally got there the only thing available was a stable, no doubt draughty and smelly and isolated from friends and family and just round the corner, the tyranny of a mad jealous king was about to force them to run for their lives to a strange land.
The Christian story starts in dark, harsh, difficult, lonely circumstances. The first to hear about it and celebrate it were from society’s bottom ladder, poor shepherds.
It is a stunning story and in this year of pandemic and despair it shines as perhaps never before.
God has not forgotten us. God has not abandoned us. God is with us. God comes to be with us again.
I wish you a happy Christmas and a new year filled with hope and joy.
Thanks be to God
Let me introduce myself I am a Reader at St Andrew’s Church of Scotland in Corby. At this time we are closed and we are currently in a time of vacancy since our Minister retired at the end of May 2020. Any time a church is without a Minister is a time of uncertainty for everyone which is made worse by the situation we all find ourselves in due to the Covid 19 pandemic and lockdown. Therefore as part of the joint Corby Ministry Team between St Andrew’s and St Ninian’s, our sister church, I am taking up the new role as acting Locum for St Andrew’s. As acting Locum my day to day responsibilities will be, alongside working with the congregation, worship, outreach and pastoral care. This will give St Andrew’s the same Ministry structure as St Ninian’s with an Interim Moderator and a Locum. I will continue to work together within the Ministry Team at St Ninian’s to produce the weekly, Sunday Service, on Zoom and You tube, until we can once again join together in worship within the walls of our Church.
God Bless and warm wishes
Dear members and friends of Corby St Andrew’s
Let me introduce myself: my name is Forbes Walker and no prizes for guessing I am from Scotland- but I now live in London. St Andrew’s church has a rich Scottish heritage and I admire that so much. After studying Biochemistry, then Divinity at Glasgow University I served as Assistant Minister in Bearsden before being ordained by the Presbytery of Dumbarton. After almost two years of post-graduate study in USA, I returned to Scotland and parish ministry in Strathaven, (pronounced Stra-ven), famous for its toffee and Harry Lauder!
Since 2000 I have lived in the London area and served as full time school chaplain and teacher (mainly Chemistry but also RS) in three large but quite different schools, all the time being a member of the Church of Scotland’s Presbytery of England which brings me on to my role here in St Andrew’s Corby.
For the time being, I am the Interim Moderator which simply means that I offer the gifts of ministry to you in this time of transition and discernment as we embrace the future of the church. Please do feel free to email me on email@example.com if I can be of any help.
It is an honour for me to be associated with the life and witness of St Andrew’s even as we experience the upheaval, even turmoil which the pandemic has created. This has made the “normal” routine of church life unrecognisable for the time being, but the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit and in the name of Christ, marches on. I look forward in faith, that “all time is in God’s hands”.
Thank you for your openness in welcoming me as your brother and friend In Christ. Let God’s mission be our mission, and together, let us do our very best to be part of that mission, working closely with our friends in St Ninian’s, building up God’s Kingdom here in Corby.
When recollecting the famous Bible story of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, the prophet Isaiah wrote “This is what the Lord says- he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters- do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wilderness.”
Hearing this, points us to the future. The past is what it is, the past. The future is here. In the midst of all our challenges here in St Andrew’s, God provides a stream to be refreshed. Now that is a good reason for hopefulness.
My warmest wishes,
(Rev Forbes Walker, Interim Moderator)