Minister’s Letter September 2013

Dear friends,

“Come gather ’round people, Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters, Around you have grown…”

I am sure that most of you recognise these words from the Bob Dylan classic “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. Bob Dylan is still going strong and producing good music today. It seems that successful rock stars can go on into their 70s.

It would be fair to say that “the times they are a-changing” in the Presbytery of Europe too. For those of you who don’t know about the Presbytery, there are 18 congregations that make up the Presbytery, stretching from Bermuda and Trinidad & Tobago in the west to Sri Lanka in the east. Brussels is somewhere in the middle!

Twice a year, ministers and designated elders from these congregations meet to discuss the life and witness of the congregations within the Presbytery and provide pastoral oversight.  Our Presbytery Clerk, Rev John Cowie, will step down in October after 13 years as Clerk and over 23 years as Minster to the English Reformed Congregation in Amsterdam. John has done a great job developing the work of the Presbytery, particularly encouraging us to use new technology to do the work needed using teleconferencing facilities. He has also been a supportive colleague in my time as minister in Brussels. It will be quite a change for us to have a new Presbytery Clerk taking the minutes of our meetings, sending out agendas and generally keeping us up to date with what is happening with the Church of Scotland back home.

Not only is the Amsterdam congregation searching for a new minister to lead them, but also St Andrew’s Scots Kirk, Colombo. The Church of Scotland in Lisbon is also without a minister at present. This is what I mean when I write that “the times they are a-changing”, with so much change on the horizon within our Presbytery.

In my nine years as minster in Brussels, I have forged strong friendships with my colleagues and received much support. This year in particular, a number of fellow ministers have provided hospitality and shown me kindness – which I have appreciated greatly. Most of us know that establishing a strong support network with colleagues is vitally important. It is a great help to share ideas with other ministers and a tremendous comfort to share our burdens too. When John Calvin set up the principle of presbytery meetings – where ministers and elders would meet together regularly – part of the reason was to provide a forum for mutual encouragement and support.

When new ministers are appointed to fill vacant congregations, they are welcomed into a friendly and supportive Presbytery. Presently, Presbytery is giving consideration to how best we provide pastoral support for ministers. It will be interesting to see what is decided as a way forward.

The present state of flux within the Presbytery of Europe has got me thinking about our own situation in Brussels. I continue be challenged about our inward focus (how well do we look after one another?) and our outward focus in terms of our welcome of newcomers. It is easy to get into a habit of speaking only to the people we know in the congregation and paying less attention to the unfamiliar faces. Yet our raison d’être is to share the gospel message with the people we don’t know as much as with those with whom we are familiar. It can take quite a bit of courage for a newcomer to come down to the Church Hall for a cup of tea or coffee after the Church service. It takes effort to keep our eyes open to welcome them in Christ’s name and our ears open to the needs of everyone in our Church.

Your minister & friend,