MARY SUMNER DAY IN THE DIOCESE OF EDINBURGH
On 9 August last year I was invited by our dear friend and Mothers’ Union (MU) member, Patricia Gordon, to attend their service in Edinburgh to celebrate Mary Sumner and the Mothers’ Union. Pat is a very good friend of mine. She was a member of Holy Trinity, sang in the choir as well as a MU member when the family lived in Garvock.
This was held at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Murrayfield Avenue, Edinburgh. MU members had travelled from all parishes in the Diocese, some as far afield as Kelso, to attend this annual celebration. Also, as the Good Shepherd is in an Ecumenical partnership, they were joined by their United Reformed and Church of Scotland friends as well as Methodists and Baptist supporters. Unusually for August, the weather was sunny and warm. The service was conducted by the Rector, the Rev Dr Canon Dean Forteskew, assisted by the MU Diocesan Chaplain, the Rev Christine Barclay.
In his address, Canon Forteskew reminded us of the dedication and enormous contribution of MU members throughout the world. In an ever growing world where society has changed, Mothers Union has embraced those changes while remaining to its true vision – transforming the lives of half a million people each year. It continues to flourish from members’ energy, generosity and prayer. We put our faith into action, often quietly and humbly through the projects we run and the support we provide. Mary Sumner had a vision, led an ordinary life, yet touched the life of ordinary people. And the service wouldn’t be compete without that great hymn of Mary “Tell out my Soul”.
After the service we all assembled in the hall for a buffet lunch, a chance to catch up with friends old and new. It was nice to see Barbara Hand, who was equally delighted to see me!
We rounded off the day with a tour of the Garden of Contemplation reading the various stations of wisdom and poems. There is also a ‘Peace Pole’ at the entrance of the church. It is written with the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Danish, Swahili and Romanian. It represents the languages of those nationalities who worship at the Good Shepherd. But for me the wisdom that spoke to me is the ‘bit’ between the church and the hall, where it was aptly situated. I would like to share it with you…
God bless, Dorissia
Holy Trinity prides itself on having a vibrant and active Young Church. Towards the end of 2017 we were often presented with some wonderful models built as part of the program. Get in touch to find out more about the young Church and what they are currently building on!
On Sunday, 19th November Young Church was invited to share a story with the congregation at the 11am service This is their story.
In a land far away from Fife, a man and his
donkey were walking home after a long
day in the fields collecting olives. The sun
was low in the sky and the man and his
donkey were tired. The donkey plodded
along carrying his heavy load. His head
hung low as he tried to avoid the sun in his
eyes. Suddenly, the donkey tripped and
was falling, falling. Down, down he
tumbled, into an old, dry well. “Oh you
silly donkey!” cried the man, as he peered
down into the well. The donkey brayed loudly and gazed forlornly at the circle of light far above. Donkey scrabbled and scrapped but his hooves couldn’t grip the sides of the well. “I’m stuck” yelled Donkey. “I’ll be back” called the man.
As the sun set, the well became darker but the man had not returned. “He’ll be back soon” thought Donkey. The night wore on but still the man had not returned. “He’s bound to come” resolved Donkey.
As light slowly slid back over the edge of the well, Donkey heard voices. “I knew he would come back!” Donkey exclaimed. Donkey could hear the man talking to another. “I should have filled this old well in years ago” said the man. “It could have been a child who fell in” the other replied. “Let’s get to work then” stated Donkey’s master.
“Right”, thought Donkey, “I expect one of them will be lowered into the well and tie a rope around me to lift me up. I’ll be ready” decided Donkey. Then, splat, earth rained down on Donkey from the hole above. Thump! Another shovel of dirt fell on Donkey’s head. Donkey squinted at the circle of light, confused by what was happening. “That silly old donkey” he heard his master say. “it’s too risky for you or I to try to rescue him. Better we just fill the well in now. He won’t have survived the night anyway” stated the man.
Donkey could not believe his ears! He tried braying again but his voice was dry and cracked and the dirt kept clogging in his mouth. “How has it come to this?” thought Donkey, sadly. “I never thought my long life would end like this” he pondered. He remembered a time as a very young donkey when he had carried a heavily pregnant woman a long way to the town of her husband’s birth. They had arrived in the town just in time – the baby had come that night. And what a night that had been!
There were so many visitors and the brightest star Donkey had ever seen. And then more recently, had he not been treated like royalty? Carrying a very important man into the city. The crowds had gathered and threw their coats and palms in the road for him to walk on. “Oh how indeed I have fallen!” despaired the donkey, shaking his big, soft head sadly.
And as he shook his head miserably, some of the dirt fell from his back onto the bottom of the well. Donkey shuffled his hooves, tramping down the falling earth. He shook his head and neck a little harder and more earth fell to the floor which he stamped down. Suddenly Donkey realised that if he kept shaking the dirt off, stamping it down he could step up. Up towards the light, up towards freedom. So each time the dirt fell on Donkey he shook it off and stepped up, shook it off and stepped up. Shook it off and stepped up towards the light, keeping faith that things would be alright. Eventually, after many hours, donkey could see above the edge of the well and scrambled out into the evening light. “My word!” exclaimed the man. “I did not expect that!” he cried.
“The Donkey trotted off, chuckling to himself.
darkness and dirt did not overcome me after all. I shook it off and stepped up!” he mused. “Sometimes in life, what appear at first to be our biggest stumbling blocks can in fact become our greatest stepping stones” the wise, old donkey concluded.
For the winter edition of the Magazine having on previous occasions selected the obvious saints with Christmas connections I chose one whose sole connection to Christmas is that his feast day is the day following Christmas Day, and it is on his feast day that King Wenceslas looked out in the carol.
We actually do not know much about St Stephen save what is written in the Acts of the Apostles. In his time Christians were still a sect of the Jewish Faith. There was also in Jerusalem a faction of Greek speaking Jews of whom Stephen appears to have been one.
There seems to have been some arguments among the Christians about whether Christians with a Greek speaking Jewish background were being fairly treated in the sharing out of food with rest of the Christians. The Apostles therefore arranged for the Disciples to elect seven men to look after these matters leaving the Apostles to get on with their work of expanding the faith. The seven were blessed by the Apostles and commissioned to deal with the problems. (Acts 6. 1-6). They are now considered to be the first Deacons in the Church and Stephen, who is described as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit was their leader.
Stephen, who belonged to a synagogue used mainly by freedmen (i.e. former slaves and hence Greek speaking Jews from out with Jerusalem), gained a great reputation for inspired wisdom and was credited with working some miracles. In arguing with those Jews who sought to put down Christianity
St Stephen invariably won the argument. This enraged his opponents to such an extent that they brought witnesses before the Council of the synagogue to say that Steven was being blasphemous in repeating Our Lord’s prophecy of the destruction of the Temple. In reply Stephen cited instances in Jewish history of Moses and other Patriarchs also making prophecies and warnings of impending disasters to the Jewish nation which had come to pass. The prophecy was therefore in the traditions of Moses and the Jewish faith. Stephen, inspired by his own arguments, called out that he saw in the sky Jesus at God’s right hand. This enraged his adversaries so much that they brought Stephen before the Sanhedrin and by the use of false witnesses caused him to be found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death by stoning. He was taken outside the city and stoned to death. As he was being stoned he fell to knees and prayed aloud to the Lord to forgive his persecutors, his last words before his death. One of his persecutors was a young man
called Saul, who looked after the coats of those stoning Stephen.
This began a time of violent persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem, Saul being one of the main instigators. Saul of course is now better known to us as Saint Paul after his conversion.
Stephen being the first person to be killed for his Christian faith is the first of many that followed over the centuries. He is therefore venerated as the protomartyr.
The exact location of his martyrdom is uncertain. Tradition has it that it was outside the northern gate of the City, formerly until the crusades referred to as St Steven’s Gate. During the crusades, perhaps because the northern gate was difficult to approach the name was transferred to the eastern gate and it was said that that was the site.
Saint Steven is widely venerated through all Christian Churches. In the western church his day is 26 December in the eastern churches it is celebrated on 27 December, and in eastern orthodox churches 9th January.
Decorating the Church for Christmas Saturday 16th December at 10am. As in previous years Gill invites her band of volunteers, old and new, to join in and assist with the decorating of the church.
Many churches and cathedrals throughout the world are dedicated to St Stephen (or in French Etienne). Perhaps for us in the United Kingdom St Stephen’s Chapel was the first debating chamber for our Parliament and tower housing Big Ben was properly known as St Stephen’s Tower until it was renamed Queen Elizabeth Tower to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Visit by Mothers’ Union to Cornton Vale Prison
In November, three Mothers’ Union members plus the husband of one visited Cornton Vale prison, a women’s prison on the outskirts of Stirling.
We started our visit at the Family Hub where we met the Staff Training and Development Officer who would be our guide during our visit. Over tea and biscuits, we informed him of the donations of knickers and toiletries that Mothers’ Union members provide for the women and girls. We explained that we also give a signed Christmas Card, recognising that is possibly the only card that some women and girls get.
We were then introduced to the Social and Community Development Officer, who told us of his work within the communities and towns around the prison, seeking work experience for soon-to-be-released women, to acclimatise them to the routines of regular work and to help them develop appropriate work-related habits. He shared with us that around 36 local employers have been willing to give the women a work placement; a chance for these women to develop life skills and work-related abilities. He gave us examples of the types of work these women did, telling us, with considerable enthusiasm, that one woman had performed so well on her placement that she had been offered a permanent job as a shop assistant on release from prison.
We were then introduced to the Deputy Governor, and informed that, in practice, he is often the day-to-day governor of the prison. He told us of historical conditions in Cornton Vale and of the efforts made to improve conditions for the women and girls. He explained how these changes, in turn, improved conditions for staff. The Deputy Governor told us of his work in previous prisons, comparing those prison conditions with Cornton Vale. The Staff Training and Development Officer, having worked in similar and different institutions to the Deputy Governor, contributed to this discussion, helping us to understand how the current caring and nurturing ethos of Cornton Vale had come about. The Deputy Governor then told us of plans to further develop Cornton Vale, including plans for a new prison building, due by 2020.
The Staff Training and Development Officer then led us on a tour of the prison. We were taken into now-disused, old-style prison accommodation where the challenges the women and girls faced in the past with bathing/showering and toileting, were outlined. We were told that in such accommodation, where the cells were arranged in blocks of eight per set of toilet facilities, through the night when the women and girls were locked in their rooms, each was allowed only 7 minutes to use the facilities and then locked back in their rooms before anyone else could go. In consequence, some women and girls were forced to wait almost an hour to use the toilet, as only one person could be freed from their cell at any one time.
We entered the housing block where women and girls are taken immediately after sentencing by the court. During these first 48 hours, the women and girls normally have only the clothes they were wearing when sentenced. Now, thanks to the knickers and toiletries provided by Mothers’ Union members, during this period the women and girls can freshen-up and put on new underwear. The Staff Training and Development Officer explained to us that a male prisoner starting a prison sentence will usually have his needs for (say) clean clothes, appropriate footwear and toiletries met by the women in his life – typically his wife, mother and/or sister. In contrast, a female prisoner, even if she has a male partner, is unlikely to have her comparable needs met. Furthermore, as many of the women prisoners are mothers of young children, close female relatives of such women are likely to be focussed on child care and ongoing child support. So, for these newly-sentenced women and girls, discovering that a Mothers’ Union member cares about them is very empowering.
Finally, the Staff Training and Development Officer led us to the far end of the site. We stood on the steps of a now-disused building and were shown where other, now demolished, buildings had stood. We saw the land, adjacent to the river, on which the new prison building will be built. With considerable enthusiasm, the Staff Training and Development Officer painted for us word-pictures of how the various parts of this new prison will be arranged. He went on to explain that each cell window will overlook the river, giving the women and girls a peaceful, tranquil outlook, and that no bars will be needed at the windows; advances in technology have made it possible to install escape-proof cell windows.
On our way back to the Family Hub, and outwith the locked prison complex, we saw the home-like, accommodation units in which small groups of women live in the six months or so, prior to release, and where the women are taught how to cook, clean and care for a home. It was explained to us that those who had lived in care as girls, and had come directly into the prison system, had never had a chance to live independently. Consequently, these women need to be taught life skills, including the skills mentioned above, how to budget and how to use buses to get around.
Back at the Family Hub we had the chance to ask last-minute questions. Almost 3.5 hours after we arrived for our visit, it was time to depart. The prison staff had truly been generous in giving us their time and in sharing with us their knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm for working with the women and girls at Cornton Vale prison.