Pastoral Letter from Nick

June 2024
Dear Friends
Nine years ago, I was preparing to move to a foreign country! At the time I didn’t really appreciate it was a ‘foreign’ country but as I began to learn “Scotland is different!” Whether it be health and social care, education, bank holidays, language(s), PVGs, or Church, I was a stranger in a strange land – and you welcomed me (a foreigner)! You were “willint tae gíe the fremmit brither up-pittin.” (Romans 12.13b) Roughly translated you were willing to put-up (with) the foreign brother.
Paul recognised that this hospitality was written into the DNA of what it meant to be followers of Jesus Christ. Welcoming with gracious love in the Spirit of Christ. This is still our calling – to be a compassionate Christ centred community willing to serve which does mean shaking off the things that would hold us back – whether that be buildings, structures or whatever.
From 1st September 2025 you will be one Scottish circuit with all the challenges and opportunities that will bring. As this circuit comes to an end, for one year, you will have a part-time Superintendent (please pray for Andrew
Baker). In addition to two refurbished buildings, you will be offering work in Dundee alongside some of the most vulnerable (pray for Marian Taylor, the team and Dundee), the beginning of something new in the oldest Methodist church building in Scotland today, (pray for the Local Lay Pastor and Arbroath), a unique ecumenical model sharing resources (pray for Montrose), a small group effecting change in the world through their work on behalf of All We Can and MHA (pray for Blairgowrie and Rattray), and the ecumenical work offering welcome and inclusion where ‘its ok not to be ok’ and the welcoming space with a café and meeting spaces (pray for Renew and Perth).
We are not (and never have been) called to save or preserve churches but rather to be faithful, gracious communities where our (foreign) differences and identities get moulded into belonging in Christ. Nine years is the longest I have lived anywhere in my entire lifetime (does that make me Scottish and therefore a foreigner again when I move?) It has been variously challenging, joyous, and sheer hard work but always a privilege to minister alongside you.

Peace be with you.
With love
Nick

Pastoral letter December 2023

December 2023
Dear Friends
Last month it was good to gather together in worship at Perth and welcome Rob Mackay as a recognised Local Preacher in the Circuit. Week by week the preachers lead us in our worship – the local preachers are a gift and proud tradition within the Methodist Church. Last week many of the preachers joined myself and church stewards to share in a day of continuing development regarding ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’. Whilst those words might feel as though they come out of a management handbook, in reality, they reflect a deep concern amongst the people called Methodists.

We like to say “All are Welcome” but how we live that out can be a different matter. We can belittle, disregard, or otherwise ignore people (often unwittingly). On the development day, the preachers and stewards began a journey together, recognising how much we don’t know and there is always more to learn. Part of our calling as Methodists is committing ourselves to keep on learning (and the preachers and stewards generally reflect the age of the congregations so I would hope no-one thinks they are too old!)

I know another strength of Methodism is the warm welcome people often receive and we want to celebrate that. On the development day we did learn that there were people within the Methodist Church who, for a variety of reasons, have felt excluded from that welcome. I know the congregations in this circuit would not want that – we want to break down the barriers that would divide us. This breaking down of barriers is what we celebrate at Christmas – the divine breaking through into the human and created order – the birth of Jesus. God’s gift to the world. We honour that gift when we respond with gratitude and try to follow breaking down the barriers of division in ways that are safe and just.

As we make our Advent journey I do encourage us to take some time to give thanks for the ministry of the preachers and stewards amongst us, to pray for them and to support them as they lead us working out afresh how we are to be congregations of welcome. That can mean challenge and change but, in the Spirit of Christmas, let us show an abundance of love and humility.

With love,

Nick

Who Cares?

Session details (it is strongly recommended that participants attend all 4 sessions)

Session 1 (13th November): Introduction to Pastoral care

Session 2 (20th November): Discipleship and Hospitality

Session 3 (27th November): Listening and Prayer

Session 4 (4th December): Pastoral Care in Difficult Times

All sessions will take place on Zoom, from 7-9pm

Who should come to this Learning Network event?

The event is created with Methodist Churches in mind, but anyone passionate about the ministry of pastoral care is very welcome to attend!

How much does this event cost?

This event is free and offered as part of the Learning Network support across the Connexion – just register and you’ll receive joining instructions for the event.

About the Connexional Learning Network

Learning and development across the Connexion is supported by the Methodist Church’s Learning Network. This work has four aims:

  • nurturing and equipping Christ-like disciples
  • challenging and equipping mission-shaped communities
  • forming and equipping those who share in lay and ordained ministry
  • enabling and encouraging creative thinkers in an environment of scholarship, research and innovation

Registration

Pastoral Letter from Nick

Dear Friends
Pointillism drove me dotty! I am always learning and recently was privileged
to see original works by Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet. I knew
Monet was a famous painter but didnt really appreciate why. He was part of a
movement of painters that sought to paint using small blobs of thickly applied
paint to build up an impression of what the artist was looking at. The
pointillists took this a stage further using brightly coloured dots to build up a
picture. I was looking at a painting by Paul Signac and when you got up close
all you could see was some brightly coloured dots! They look like random
blobs of paint. Only on standing back can you see the picture with the eye
making the connections.
As we travel into the new Methodist year, it may feel at times we are looking
at blobs and going a bit dotty! A lot of change is underway and sometimes we
can only see small parts of it and can seem to be a bit random. At such times it
is good to remember the bigger picture of who we are (followers of Jesus
Christ) seeking to live out our lives as disciples (with a Methodist perspective).
At times the painting can get messy especially when it is incomplete, but
God is at work, painting the church anew and we are part of that.
The impressionists were not received well by the conventional art community
in France (perhaps a bit like the early Methodists were not received well with
the established religious communities). Change can be difficult, but the
impressionists left a lasting legacy which is stunning. Then, as I moved on, I
encountered the post impressionists such as ToulouseLautrec. He stuck
together random bits of cardboard on which he painted. I was amazed, and
again reminded of how creative beauty is brought forth from a random mess of
life. Change comes and we go on together trusting in our faithful God and
remembering we encounter Christ in the unlikely, the random & the neglected.

With love,

Nick

Pastoral Letter from Rev Nick Baker

Dear Friends
During the Easter season we rightly celebrate with joy.

The sense of new life bursting out and the hope and excitement that gave to the friends of Jesus. They were just beginning to learn that the whole world, indeed the whole of creation is now to be seen in a new light. Their lives were being turned upside  down (again!) by Jesus.

In the church year, the celebration of Pentecost follows 50 days after the celebration of Easter. In Pentecost, we celebrate thSpirit bursting through the lives of people and the beginnings of the communities of those who wanted to follow in the way of Jesus (Church). In movie it would be a good place to end with the words and they all lived happily ever after scrolling across (and sets it up for that all important
sequel!).

Of course they didnt all live happily ever after as the New Testament Epistletestify. Indeed they found themselves in very challenging situations and when new people came along (Paul) there were very strong disagreements (eg with Peter) about the way forward. But in all things they kept finding themselves driven back to the grace of God revealed in the resurrected Christ.

In the ADP circuit, as in the other Scottish circuits, we are facing significant challenge and change and some things coming to an end. It may well feel as though our lives are being turned upside down and so much that was familiar is changing. At such times we remember to open our hearts to the Spirit and learn afresh/again to depend on the abundant grace of God. The early followers of Jesus may not have lived happily ever after but they did live in a new light, with a passion for the good news and today we are the witnesses to all these things. Together let us take time to pray depending on the grace of God in all things.

With love,

Nick

Pastoral letter Lent 2023

Dear Friends

“Overdose at Christmas and give it up at Lent” sang Robbie Williams in his hit “Millennium” released in 1998.  In my memory it still seems a relatively recent song, but it is 25 years old – time flies!  For children and young people, it is ancient history.

The lyric captures a sense of feasting in the Christmas period and giving up something in the period of Lent, but to view Lent simply through this lens (of giving something up) is to miss the richness of the season.  The idea of giving something up comes from the notion of self-denial.  The purpose of self-denial is to help us recall our relationship with the Creator through Jesus Christ.  Lent is an opportunity to deliberately spend time in the presence of God.  When we are busy consumers, Lent challenges us to make the time to think again.

During this period of Lent, let us take time to remember who we are in the presence of God.  Some questions we might reflect upon:

  • How did we end up in church?
  • Why do we want to be part of a church?
  • What does Jesus mean to me?
  • Do we see ourselves as disciples of Jesus?
  • What does that even mean!?
  • How do we talk to each other about these things?

Change happens quickly in our communities and such questions can help us navigate the way and may even bring some revelation.  Actually, May will bring Revelation in the form of Bible Month and by way of preparation we are invited to share in the District online Lent groups.

With love

Nick

Safeguarding Training – what is your status?

It is important that everyone’s Safeguarding status has not expired and is as up-dated as possible. Why?

  • most importantly, taking the well-being of others, especially vulnerable persons, with the utmost seriousness
  • with that, recognition of our own tendencies to pre-judge and make assumptions
  • the overall position of the Methodist Church – connexionally and locally – if (when) issues do arise
  • our qualification to hold office, exercise responsibility, & undertake tasks within the Church.

For most of us, this means undertaking updated Foundation Training; for some, advanced modules also.

If you are not clear about your current ‘status’ (level of training last undertaken & when), please check with Sue M-J.

There are still plenty places available on the Foundation training taking place online on Saturday 20th August from 10 am-1 pm.  Anyone required to complete or refresh with the Foundation Module should  sign up here https://foundation-module-aug2022.eventbrite.co.uk.

If online training is not possible or useful for you, please contact Sue M-J so other methods can be arranged.

Pastoral letter from Nick

September 2021

 

Dear Friends

 

At the beginning of a new connexional year we remain in uncertain times.  Thinking back to this time last year, in terms of the pandemic there is more optimism but there is still cause for concern and fear and anxiety.  How do we address such things?  How can we be both anxious and optimistic?  I encourage your prayers for the church at Dundee who have taken the decision to close their building but at the same time have decided to continue worshipping once a fortnight and meet once a month for fellowship and exploring Methodist identity.  Here there is both sadness and hope about what the future might hold.  Through Jesus Christ we are invited to belong to a community in which Christ is fully present and yet still to come.  Life and faith contain contrasting and contradictory notions which somehow all hold together.  How can we share our doubts at the same time as the joy and peace we find in our faith?

Perhaps we can find time and opportunity to share honestly something of our faith and questions with one another – after all that is part of what it is to be part of a community.  Or if somebody asks you, why do you go to church or watch a service online, what is our response?  In a recent conversation the District Chair has encouraged us to think in terms of church not being a place where we ‘go’ but rather as somewhere we are sent ‘from’.

How does church relate to the here and now and issues such as Climate Change?  By the time the plan for the next quarter comes COP26 will have happened in Glasgow.  Please do pray and, if you are able, check what the Strathclyde circuit are doing to support Scottish Methodists engaging with COP26.

I would also invite your prayers for our neighbours in the North of Scotland Mission circuit following the death of their Superintendent, Revd Colin Plenderleith.  In the midst of deep grief and uncertainty we also hold on to the hope of resurrection. Christ in the midst of death and life, a constant companion through the power of the Holy Spirit.

May the risen Christ be our comforter and guide in the days to come.

With love

Nick

Pastoral letter from Nick Baker

May 18th 2021

Dear Friends

Are we coming or going?  I don’t know!  A bit like sitting at the top of a roller coaster there is that moment of excitement and nervousness (if you like roller coasters – if you don’t then maybe it’s just terror).

By the time you read this letter, things will have changed from the time I am writing and, over the next months (the plan covers June – August) things will have changed again – here endeth my prophetic skills!  None of us know what the landscape will look like in the coming months but in that we put our hand in the hand of God and hold tight.  Unlike any quarterly plan I have ever created (and I had early training sitting with my dad using the large ‘plan’ paper and boards to help him check names and churches before I was even in my teens), this is by far the most challenging.  This includes the time, when as a student minister in Weardale I was responsible for making the plan for 9 chapels with me as a student minister, a total of 4 local preachers and a reel-to-reel tape recorder.  We are living in uncertain times having spent a lot of the past 12-18 months locked down and socially distant.

Research carried out on the impact of the pandemic on the whole Church in Scotland reflects something of our own experience revealing the importance of online church and worship.  It was something we had begun to explore already (with services in the circuit led from Bulgaria) and it was one of those things ‘we should really think more about and act upon’ but got crowded out by all the other things we felt needed doing.  There is now an opportunity.  Both the research (which took place across a range of denominations) and our own Scottish Methodist District urges us to take time and not simply revert to old patterns.  I know from my own experience in this past year that recovery takes longer than I might wish, and time and space have to be allowed for that.

Making the Plan prior to the pandemic was becoming an increasing challenge as witnessed by the creeping number of ‘Own Arrangements’.  Rather than trying to work harder and faster to bail out the water of the sinking boat, perhaps this is the time to get out of the boat and try seeking Jesus on the water.  As we do so, we might find ourselves feeling a bit like Peter (Matthew 14:29-31):

[Jesus] said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I have a huge amount of respect for Peter (for getting out of the boat in the first place) and sympathy for when he became frightened, suddenly realising what he was doing.  It reminds me a bit of one of those roadrunner cartoons where Wile E. Coyote runs off the edge of the cliff and then suddenly realises there is no solid ground underneath him and plunges down (he always survives!).

The Plan is a huge shift for all of us, but I believe Christ is calling to us.  We have made new connections online in these past months that we would not have done in our church buildings.  For the vast majority (though not all) we have been thankful for the technology that has allowed us to connect with one another and carry on being the church regardless of the building – a lesson that the congregations in Montrose and Blairgowrie & Rattray have already shared with us.  One of the things that has been reinforced for me is that whilst I am something of a tourist in the digital world (I don’t spend most of my life there), many people do live there – ask almost any teenager about their smartphone!  We need to ask ourselves what they might want on a Sunday morning, and ask what we, as Christians, have got to share?  And of course, it is not just teenagers but many people of all ages can spend a lot of time there (my mum is very grateful for her tablet not only for keeping in touch with the family but watching the cricket, listening to music etc).

This is certainly not to suggest we should all spend our time online – I for one am very keen to sing some hymns alongside others when we are allowed and share in the Lord’s Supper gathered physically.  Alongside that I recognise physical gathering may also cause nervousness or fear:

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

If you are feeling nervous or fearful, get in touch with someone else from church and chat with them.  As physical places of worship open, they do so, under law and guidelines from government and church (and following government advice encouraging people to get tested, I am also starting to use the free self-test kits which can be ordered online or picked up in local pharmacies).  Measures are in place and will remain so until we are advised differently.  I am truly looking forward to seeing you all in person (in the online worship the preachers and leaders cannot see the congregation and the preachers are missing that connection as well).

In making the Plan I have tried to take account of the different currents that are flowing and allow some flexibility using the resources we have.  Where D appears on the plan for ‘digital’, each church will need to decide if it wants to meet physically that week and use the online material or worship at home as we have been doing for so much of this past year. I have also put a note on the Plan – don’t forget to Pray!  It can be so easy to be swept along that, like Peter, we get overwhelmed and forget to seek the presence of Christ.  Time and time again, God says to the people in the Bible ‘Fear not’ (why not see if you can find a verse that says this or, ‘do not be afraid’).  Whether we are coming or going Christ is present and prayer helps us to put our hand into the hand of God.

Please pray for the circuit, the churches and the preachers at this time.  May the Spirit breathe through us to be a blessing of love and peace in our homes and our communities.

With love

Nick

Fellowship Group meetings

All are welcome to a gathering for coffee (or tea or even hot chocolate) and chat on the last Monday of each month downstairs in Marketgait at 7pm.  Future dates are Mondays 30th March, 27th  April, 25th May, and 29th June.

More information from Fiona Thomas.