I hope that this letter finds you and yours well during these strange days in which we find ourselves. This year is one that no-one living through it will forget, and will most likely be spoken of and taught in future history classes. These are unprecedented and challenging times for all of us.
My purpose in writing this letter is two-fold. In the first place, I write in a pastoral capacity, but secondly concerning practical matters in the congregation. The lockdown has taken a toll on every aspect of life irrespective of whether we live in the big city or here in Harris. Despite the challenges that the lockdown has brought, we have at the same time, many reasons to be thankful. We have as yet not had any positive cases of COVID-19 in Harris. That is largely due to the rapid and rigorous lockdown. The pandemic has, of course, had a negative impact on the economy of Harris, and our thoughts and prayers are very much with those whose livelihood has been adversely affected by the pandemic.
I am acutely aware of how difficult this time is for many of us, and that issues of mental, physical and spiritual health related to anxiety, stress and depression can be more prevalent and intense than before. Life was tough before COVID-19, and indeed, the current situation has not made life much easier. Yet God is still God, and in His Sovereign will and mercy, He is undoubtedly speaking to our world. As the world lurches from one crisis to another, that Governments seem unable to contain, the Word of God continues to strive with our world. Never has our world seemed to be in such a mess, never have we appeared so divided by politics, race, class, religion and many other factors. Psalm 46 immediately springs to my mind when thinking of the ferment that the world is in right now.
‘ Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.’
How should we respond? The obvious answer is to seek God more in prayer. That is the obvious answer that alone brings peace. However, it is so hard sometimes to do. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have had to switch off the news many times recently. Does your social media and newsfeeds make you feel happier or feeling more depressed? Answer honestly! In my experience, I find it necessary to switch off the news and for my sanity limit my engagement with the Main Stream Media and Social. Networks. None of these things is a substitute for getting into God’s word and being in fellowship (albeit virtually) with God’s people.
During the lockdown, normal congregational life has been affected greatly by the Coronavirus Pandemic, and sadly this has affected bereaved families as we have not been able to have funeral services in the church building. This has been an added source of pain and grief to mourning families. In this congregation, we were saddened at the passing of Alick Morrison Meavaig North and Sammy Macleod Ardhasaig as well as George MacDiarmid from the congregation of Manish Scarista, during the lockdown. Due to social distancing restrictions, the funeral services have had to take place at the graveside. We should like to assure the grieving families of our on-going prayerful remembrance of them at this time. In addition, we will offer if families feel it appropriate, an opportunity to hold a memorial service at a later date once restrictions have eased. As some of you may know, my mother Chrissie passed away at the end of May, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their condolences, support and sympathy during this time. It is much appreciated. Thank you too to everyone who remembered us in prayer, privately and at various prayer meetings. It is truly appreciated. Her passing is a time of sadness for us as a family, but also it is an occasion of thankfulness and gratitude for knowing her and believing that she has entered into the fullness of God’s presence.
The future During these past few weeks, it has been necessary for us as a congregation, in common with other churches to do Church differently. Due to the restrictions that have been put in place throughout the Spring, most of what we do as a congregation now has had to be done online. The church Website hosts most of our content of online sermons and Bible studies but also gives information as to what we are doing and what is happening. The Scottish Government are expected to make an announcement on 18th June with regard to entering Phase 2 of the route map out of this crisis, detailing the possible lifting restrictions as far as places of worship are concerned. These are still likely to be minor adjustments with only private prayer (i.e. one person and at most two ) permitted in church buildings and also small weddings to take place. Again the numbers permitted would be so small as to make weddings impractical. If all goes according to plan, Phase 3 of the route map will be announced on 9th July. To quote the Scottish Government Guidelines, “Places of worship can open to extended groups subject to physical distancing and hygiene safeguards. We will relax restrictions on funeral attendance, marriages, civil partnership and other services to beyond close family.” This will feel more like normal, but will still be far from what we would wish as a church. Dates for Phase 4 and 5 have yet to be announced by the Scottish Government.
Online Donations The Congregational Website has an online donations page which can be accessed by clicking on the donations tab on the home page and clicking on the DONATE button to make a donation via PAYPAL – also accepting most cards.
It is also possible to make online payments to the work of the congregation directly through the Church of Scotland Website. By clicking on this link https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/donate and by clicking on the donate button. All donations made to an individual congregation will be returned to that congregation, thus enabling members and adherents to continue to make their regular offering or to make a special donation to enable the Church’s work to continue at this difficult time.
Standing Orders Both the General Treasurer’s department at ‘121’ and we as a Kirk Session encourage those who can to take out a standing order to make regular payments to the congregation. This is the simplest way to make regular contributions to the congregation. The Congregation’s Bank details are as follows
Tarbert church of Scotland Sort Code 80-09-83 Account No. 00187201. Forms of Mandate can be obtained from the Congregation’s Treasurer Angus Macsween or by clicking here
Freewill Offering Envelopes As a Kirk Session we are aware that for many the preferred way of donating will continue to be by the Weekly Freewill Offering Envelopes. As Church Services have not been taking place, it has not been possible for WFO envelopes to be taken to the Church as before. As a solution to this, we are very thankful that Mrs Christine Macaskill at Tarbert Post Office has agreed to take in and hold onto any offering envelopes you may have until the Lockdown restrictions are lifted. Alternatively, you may if you wish to retain the envelopes yourselves until that time.
GIFT AID As some of you will know offerings that were made to the congregation under the Gift Aid Small Donation Scheme were not to exceed £30 to qualify for this scheme. In many cases where the donation is under £30, HMRC has now advised that if donations are made in a single envelope (i.e. a few weeks offerings together). These offerings will still be considered as separate small donations if marked as such on the envelope (i.e. with Dates). In that case, they will still be eligible for the Gift Aid Small Donation scheme.
ZOOM Meetings In the meantime, we continue to worship together on Sunday mornings using Zoom Video conferencing technology. This has proved to be a blessing to us as it allows us to meet and worship in our own homes. If anyone would like to join these meetings, please let us know, all that is needed is an email address, and we’ll add to you the distribution list. Two recent developments with our Zoom services are worth mentioning just now.
Zoom phone It is now possible for those who do not have the internet to connect to the meetings from their phones. The instructions for joining a meeting by phone can be sent out to anyone who requests it so please just let us know.
Breakout Rooms Recently, we started a feature called Breakout rooms where those at a Zoom meeting can stay behind for some time of informal fellowship after the meeting. We are currently using four or five breakout rooms, so if there is anyone in particular you would like to be put into a breakout room with ( ie friends , family , neighbours) please speak to myself or one of the co-hosts ( Kenny, Campbell & Karen) and we’ll try and move you into that particular room. No Guarantees – but we’ll try ! We are currently exploring how we can as a church facilitate a meet and chat event via Zoom during the week to connect people. This has proved to be very popular, and we hope it will encourage others to take part. Fellowship has never been more important than now when we are not able to see each other in other ways.
With every good wish and God’s blessings to you all
Ian Murdo Macdonald