Minister’s Letter December 2016

Dear friends,

From 1st December to Christmas Eve the Church of Scotland has been publishing a video Advent message online. I was asked to give a short message on the theme of ‘community’ at Christmas. The sort of Christian community that makes up our congregation in Brussels is varied in terms of age, origin and duration of stay in Belgium. Some people have been living in Belgium for decades while others are relatively new and might only be with us for a matter of years, months or even weeks. The increasingly transient nature of our worshipping community is nothing new to us; I have written about this before.

Many members of our Church will travel home for Christmas. This year, some of our congregation will visit loved ones in South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France. I am sure that other people will be leaving for destinations that I have not mentioned.

The consequence for us as a worshipping community is that our congregation changes significantly over Christmas time. The Christmas Day service is attended mostly by visitors. In my previous congregation in Scotland there was no Christmas Day service and generally if there is an act of worship on Christmas Day, it can often be a small gathering of people who come along. Until relatively recently, Christmas Day was not a public holiday in Scotland. During my time as minister of Flowerhill Parish Church, in Airdrie, it was the Christmas Eve Watchnight service that brought in the crowds of visitors. This is not the case in Brussels. The habits and make-up of the two congregations to which I have ministered are very different.

I continue to reflect on our Brussels congregation. The worshipping community that we have become over the decades reflects the different ebbs and flows of life within the city over those years. Within the past two decades the congregation has become much more international; there are fewer British people who make up the core of the congregation and more people from the far-flung places of the world. There was a critical point in the congregation’s past when there were as few as 20 worshippers on a Sunday morning, but after that the congregation grew significantly. Since then, St Andrew’s has been a dynamic international church that offers Anglophone worship in the Presbyterian style.

For me it is privilege to be lead such a varied congregation and over the years our family has made many special friends. This Christmas will be different for us as the girls will be coming home for 4 weeks. They have found their own churches in Bath and Exeter, but they come back over the coming weeks to the Christian community and church family that nurtured them through their formative years.

As we reflect upon the Christmas story, we can think of the different communities that are weaved into the narrative. The small town communities of Nazareth and Bethlehem become connected by the birth of the Saviour. The shepherds and the wise men come from two very contrasting communities; one is very poor while the other is wealthy. Herod’s evil slaughter of the new-born boys brings grief and sorrow into the very heart of a community. People responded in different ways to the birth of Christ; some with faith and others with hostility.

As we continue through the season of Advent we must ask ourselves the question ‘what difference does my Christian faith make to the community around me’? How does it touch the lives of family, friends, neighbours and those who live in close proximity to me, across the street or two doors down? Learning to be a gracious and generously kind witness for Christ is not always easy. Sometimes it means giving a quiet word of support, at other time it might be a small act of kindness to a friend or stranger alike. But it is what Christ expects from his disciples; to be salty Christians and bright shining lights for him. His grace and forgiveness can change even the hardest heart. That is why he came to save us.

Have a blessed Christmas and every blessing for the New Year.