Come and work at Greyfriars!

Greyfriars Kirk, in Edinburgh’s Old Town, has been at the heart of Christian worship and social outreach for many centuries. As well as providing Parish Ministry to a large and diverse city centre and inner city parish, Greyfriars has also overseen the development of the Grassmarket Community Project, an innovative approach to supporting vulnerable people. It has transformed its sanctuary into a multi-use space and is now one of Edinburgh leading arts venues and it offers a ministry of hospitality to pilgrims and visitors from around the world. Greyfriars is also a part of a strong local ecumenical partnership and is pioneering new forms of ministry, such as NiteKirk.


With the support of the Ministries Council of the Church of Scotland, Greyfriars is looking to expand its ministry team with the appointment of a full time associate minister. The person appointed will work with a strong existing team to provide the full range of Parish Ministry alongside the minister and the rest of the team and will be expected to take a full part in proposed community development work in the recently extended parish.


Details of the job description can be found on the link below and potential candidates are encouraged to contact the minister of Greyfriars for an informal conversation

0131 667 6610. The closing date for applications is Friday the 28th of March 2014.


A New National Covenant for Scotland?

About 8 or 9 years ago I was challenged by a friend to draft a new National Covenant for Scotland. He thought that as minister of the Kirk where the first covenant of 1638 was signed, I ought to have some idea about what sort of society we should be trying to build today.

I was reminded of this little project recently when I was asked to take part in a process at George Heriots School. They had applied to become a “Rights Respecting School”. In order to achieve this accreditation they had to be interviewed by representatives from the United Nations, as the UN had produced a Charter on the Rights of the Child. To become a Rights Respecting School, members of the whole school community had to demonstrate a knowledge of the nature of the charter and have implemented policies and practices that embrace the main thrust of it.

I realised that our Covenant of 1638 started a bit of a trend, though the National Covenant wasn’t the first document of this kind. Later, however, there were several Presbyterian ministers from Scotland who signed the Declaration of Independence in the United States, and over the years statements have been produced that describe the sort of society we want.

Whatever your view about the forthcoming referendum, it is a time to reflect on the society we want to build and I wonder what you think of my little stab at describing the sort of community we should be aiming at. I have reproduced it below just as I wrote it about 8 or 9 years ago. Please feel free to send in your comments suggested amendments and questions.

A New National Covenant for Scotland?

We and every one of us underwritten are resolved and believe in our hearts that the times in which we live demand of us that we affirm together our aspiration for the land we love and its people and our common humanity within the family of nations.

We covenant together to work for the good of all people in Scotland. We welcome particularly the homeless, the asylum seeker, refugees and all who feel they do not belong, for we believe that open-handed hospitality to outsiders is a noble and blessed tradition. In a world where divisions run deep we affirm our intent to build a fairer society in which those who are disadvantaged are lifted up and not swept aside. We call upon those in power to heed our nation’s story in its struggles for freedom and humanity, liberty and democracy and pledge our support to all who labour for a renewed, spirited and passionate energy in our life together.

We covenant together to work for reconciliation the world over. We are chiefly beneficiaries of globalisation but we know that its relentless march can hurt the most vulnerable. So we will seek to be sensitive to all who struggle for a better life whilst cherishing their own culture and we commit ourselves to the cause of fair trading, debt relief for the poorest and respect for International Law. We affirm our right to legitimate self defence but reject the use of military might as a tool of foreign policy. In an unequal world we affirm that the people of our land are prepared to make sacrifices that others might simply live.

We covenant together to work for the good of the land of Scotland and all the earth. We have squandered our riches and used the earth harshly at times but we commit ourselves to sustaining what is left of our wild places, to supporting local agriculture and to genuine land reform that will revitalise rural communities. We are committed to conserving energy, developing renewable energy resources and to working towards touching the earth more lightly. We acknowledge that those who shape our laws must be supported in working for long term good not short-term gain.

We covenant together, with the guiding light that we follow, to respect the faith traditions that are represented in Scotland. We affirm that whether people choose to live by faith or another path, all expressions of belief that bring people more fully to life, affirm tolerance and mutual respect for persons and respect for the earth contribute to the rich diversity we cherish. We remember that the wounds of our history run deep whilst the pace of change is fast and so we affirm our respect for the past and our commitment to nurture wholesome cultural identity. We deplore the culture of hedonism and selfishness that threatens to steal away the essential dignity of every individual and affirm that there is fulfilment to be found in rediscovering simple pleasures.

The Presentation in the Temple Luke 2: 22 – 40


The actor Alec Guinness, by his own account, was a lonely child. He was sent off to boarding school on the south coast of England as a young boy and spent many hours walking alone along the beaches near to his school. But he once wrote of these experiences that he never felt entirely alone. He wrote in his autobiography, “I always found the sea to be good and sufficient company”.

I wonder if you identify with that. It could be the sea, a mountain, any special place, or even a particular tree. Sometimes you can feel the presence and companionship of certain places, or objects. It is almost as though they call out to you, making their presence felt. There is a word for this, “numinous”. The root of the word means to nod or beckon. Have you ever felt a place or an object nodding to you, drawing your attention, beckoning to you?

In his autobiography, Edwin Muir, the poet wrote of an experience he had during a time when his wife was seriously ill and he was very anxious about her. He was standing outside the doctor’s surgery waiting for her and weighed down by his concern for her wellbeing. He happened to glance over at a tree not far away and on one of the twigs he caught sight of a little robin. It was sitting, “looking at me quite without fear, with its round eyes and its bright breast liquidly glowing in the light”. In the midst of his worry this little bird took on an “unearthly radiance”, pouring light into his darkness. He found it astonishingly reassuring. It seemed as though this tiny bird was carrying away some of his anxieties.

I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of walking by the sea, or through the hills and you have tried to “read” or interpret the landscape. People who know me well know that I am a disaster when it comes to identifying the names of trees or plants or birds. It is tempting to try to read the geology too, but again I can never trust myself with getting the difference between igneous and sedimentary rock right. And when it comes to reading the weather, my children regularly mock me for seeing a wee patch of blue sky and heading out optimistically without a coat, having failed to notice the giant lump of grey cloud that is looming in the background ready to deliver a massive downpour.    

But sometimes, out in the wild and the green a strange thing can happen. The landscape can begin to read you. As you walk or journey through a place and get into a meditative state, you can find the landscape interrogating you, holding you and asking things of you. The landscape is no longer an object it becomes a subject, a participant in a dialogue and you have a relationship to the land or the seashore or an animal. In other words, it can take on that numinous quality, calling out to us, beckoning and nodding. You feel a presence that demands a response.

I believe this to be the work of the Holy Spirit. I have long been of the view that God is not an “out there” sort of God, beyond the stars, inhabiting a distant realm and watching over us from a sapphire throne. Rather, he is in us, and through us and around us. I believe that the Holy Spirit has been seriously overlooked and is frequently misunderstood, for it is the Spirit that nods to us and summons us to awareness, if only we lift our eyes and open our hearts. As more than one of our poets have said, “cleave the wood and God is there, turn but a stone and an angel moves”.

There are moments, not confined to holy people, when we can be struck by the fact that we are! We can be overwhelmed by the “tree-ness” of the tree, or the mountainous quality of the mountain or the humanness of another human being. I believe that this is what happened when Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms. The identity of this child owes little to Simeon’s seeing, reflecting and analysing. Certainly, he was knowledgeable about the scriptures and was a devout man waiting for the consolation of Israel, but I believe that little could have prepared him for this encounter in the Temple. I reckon that seeing this child did not just endorse his former opinions, instead he has a transforming moment, an epiphany, a moment of fresh insight, where he begins to see the world with new eyes. He encounters the truth of Jesus, not just the truth about him. It is the same idea of the numinous quality of things that go from being objects to becoming subjects, interrogating us, relating to us, not just confirming our opinions. It was the great mystical writer George Macdonald who wrote about the truth of the flower, not being its botany that could be analysed on laboratory bench, but the gladdening glowing quality of the flower, the impeller of smile and tear.

Simeon’s response to the infant Jesus is one of joy and of being moved to the core of his being, he can depart in peace. Does that mean he can die content, I wonder? In this encounter he becomes aware of a presence, a child who manifests the presence of the living God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, take yourself in your imagination to a beach, to a mountain scene or to some place that you love dearly. Let me set the scene for you with a wee bit of poetry about a beach in Lewis from a wonderful Gaelic poet, Derick Thomson who wrote this:

The atmosphere clear and transparent as though the veil had been rent

And the creator were sitting in full view of his people

Eating potatoes and herring,

With no man to whom he can say grace.

Probably there is no other sky in the world

that makes it so easy for people to look in on eternity.

You don’t need philosophy when you can make do with binoculars”.

It is so easy to deploy our philosophy, our scholarship and learning and to analyse and strategize and imagine the way in which we have to go in order to find God. We often imagine that the way to find God is the great work for us to accomplish, and many of us go off in search of the divine failing to realise that we are actually found by the God’s Spirit who comes looking for us.

The problem is that we constantly run the risk of turning a divine initiative into a human enterprise. But reflect for a moment on Simeon’s words when he holds the infant Jesus in his arms and is quite disarmed by the presence of this child and what he will mean for the world.

“Now Lord lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.

To be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel”.

God nods and beckons to us through every stone and star. He is present, filling the universe as the waters cover the sea and is made manifest in this child that Mary and Joseph brought to the Temple at Jerusalem. Sometimes we have to wait, to be still and switch off so that the Spirit might begin to read us so that we can see the truth of things, not just articulate what we imagine ids the truth about them. God working silently in things and places and in people and in this little child Jesus, “the beyond in the midst”. So, the next time you are out in the green or are holding a little child in your arms, switch off your antennae, the background chatter of your inner analysing, and let the numinous quality of things, the wonder of the child in your arms, speak to you. And then you too might be able to depart in peace.

Richard Frazer – 2 February 2014