Archive for the ‘A Letter from the Manse’ category


February 3rd, 2017

Dear Friends,

It is a more or less open secret that I am planning to retire in 2017. This letter is to give you more information about my plans.

At the end of January I informed the Presbytery Clerks of my intention to retire at the end of June 2017.  With that letter, a process has been initiated which will be worked through in the coming weeks and months.

I informed all the members of the Kirk Session and Congregational Board on 19th January of my intentions, and informed those at Sunday worship on 22nd January. Whilst I know that news travels quickly in Carnoustie (!), I wanted the rest of the congregation to know of my intention, as Elders began delivering their Communion Invitations.

While Presbytery will be the body to take forward the notification of retirement, I am anticipating that the demission will be processed at 27th June 2017 meeting, although it could be the meeting at the beginning of May. Whenever it happens, representatives of the Congregation will be invited to attend.

At that meeting, Presbytery will have a proposal put before it which will include details of the date of demission, permission to call, who is appointed to the Presbytery Advisory Committee and who will be appointed Interim Moderator.  It is the responsibility of the Kirk Session to appoint a Locum in the vacancy with the approval of Presbytery.

I am intending that I will cease to be your minister on Friday 30th June 2017.  My last Sunday service will be 25th June 2017. This would be 28 years to the day since my first service in 1989. Carlogie School are holding their end of term service on Thursday 29th June in Newton Church and as their School Chaplain for 28 years I wanted to be able to conduct that service. We plan to leave the Manse for our new home in Edinburgh on Saturday 1st July 2017.

More information will be given in the coming months and I will have the opportunity to say more in the June issue of UPDATE. For now, there is still plenty of work for all of us to do and I will continue to serve you in the months remaining.

Yours sincerely,


A Letter from the Manse

November 24th, 2016

Dear Friends,

Here’s a question for you. What do the following have in common? Pitlochry, Balfron, Monikie and Edinburgh? Yes, they are all in Scotland. But what connects them all is “Light”.

Pitlochry had the Enchanted Forest at Faskally, Balfron had the Woodland Light Experience, Monikie had the Dragon Matrix and Edinburgh had the Botanic Lights and by the time you read this the “Street of Light” in West George Street will have been switched on

We visited the Botanic Lights in Edinburgh at the end of October and on a lovely crisp dry evening, wandered around the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh watching some spectacular lighting effects. The projection of faces through water and “mist” in the Chinese Gardens, spectacular fountains in the Pond, trees highlighted by changing colours and towards the end of the trail, music representing various countries, the changing from country to the other indicated by the sound of an aircraft taking off, as the colours and music changed. A wonderful experience.

The Street of Light first appeared on the Royal Mile in 2015 and this year it is going to be on West George Street, in the area outside “121” the Church of Scotland Offices. There will be over 60,000 bulbs of light alongside synchronised music from local choirs and bands including the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Royal Scottish National Orchestra Junior Chorus, Blazin’ Fiddles, and Scotland’s very own bhangra group Tigerstyle.

Although at times we utter the words “Bah Humbug” when Christmas decorations start appearing in early October, Light has always been associated with Advent and Christmas. Last year we made all the decorations for the Chrismon Tree and, by popular request, we will be doing the same again this year. All the decorations will be either gold or white, and all the lights will be white.  The Advent Banner will feature a silver star, and of course we will be lighting the Advent candles each Sunday.

When we look at the Christmas Hymns this theme of “Light” is to the fore again. “Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings”, “It was on a starry night”, “Yet in your streets is shining the everlasting Light”, “the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay” – and so we could go on.

There is so much of our world at the present time which could do with some light shining in the dark places. We all know where they are. As we approach the culmination of this season on Christmas Day, we are reminded of the words in the Gospel of St John “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world”.

May you know this Light and Christ’s presence with you at Christmas time and throughout 2017.

Yours sincerely,


A Letter from the Manse

August 27th, 2016

Elsewhere in this issue of UPDATE, mention has been made about the request for someone to take over as Church Secretary and for someone to take over responsibility for the Church Website.  Both of these areas have developed over the years. When I arrived here in 1989, the newsletter was printed on a Gestetner – remember them? The Church roll was updated manually using index cards. Websites were not very common and certainly not to the extent they are now.

Nowadays, the church roll is updated fairly easily using Excel software and the Church website, developed by Allan Gibson with help from Richard Lee-Smith, is now accessible to members and people across the world. Members can now access the Newsletter through the website and the newsletter is sent out to a number of people via email. Over 95% of the members of the Board and Session receive the Minutes of meetings by email, cutting down the cost of paper.

Friends who know me well, are very aware that I cannot be called a technological wizard – in fact it takes our grandson to set up the X-Box for Grandpa when he (Alexander!) wants to watch a DVD of Fireman Sam on Monday afternoons! However, at the present time, the Church Facebook page is updated regularly by me (which will come as a BIG surprise to my friends!).

Although I am still on a learning curve, I can now upload photos and publish information on upcoming events on the Facebook page.  Each week, Facebook send me an email telling me how the Facebook page has performed in the previous week. Some of these make for interesting reading. There are a few surprises, too.

During one week in July, the “total reach” was 639 people – an increase of 1,083% on the previous week. The number of “people engaged” was 50, an increase of 733.3% on the previous week. The total “page likes” remains at 73.

To me, these first two figures are quite spectacular.  However, who these 639 people who were “reached” and who these 50 people “engaged” are, and where they are, I have no idea! Certainly some of the notifications which come through the Facebook pages indicate that some of these are overseas, and some of the names which appear are names I do not recognise, but are people who have “liked” our page.

There is obviously great interest out there. I was reflecting on what Sundays would be like if these figures were replicated – even a 733% increase would mean an overflowing church on a Sunday morning – a 1,083% would mean overflowing and standing room only inside and outside the church!  OK, let’s get realistic!  But reflect on this – even a 50% increase on a Sunday would make a great difference – and 100% (which means everyone who comes to worship bringing just one friend) would result in the church being almost full, and maybe even standing room only.

Realistic? I would like to think so.




Letter from the Manse

June 22nd, 2016

Dear Friends,

What a busy place Edinburgh was on the afternoon of Sunday 22nd May! We had headed off after the service in preparation for grand-parenting duties on the Monday, but stopped to visit the Heart and Soul event which takes place in Princes Street Gardens during the General Assembly.

However, our arrival was delayed as the Edinburgh Buses heading towards Princes Street were on diverted routes because of another event taking place at short notice – the open topped bus procession for the members of the Hibs FC who had won the Scottish Cup Final. The roads were populated by supporters wearing green strips, scarves and waving flags.

They were obviously very happy and exuberant – some of them could even be described as a little merry! There were children of all ages, some in buggies, and there were adults of all ages, delighted that after 114 years of trying their team had at last got their hands on the Scottish Cup.

In Princes Street Gardens too, there were children of all ages, some in buggies and there were adults of all ages, sharing in worship in the Ross Bandstand and visiting the various stands illustrating the work of various congregations across Scotland, Christian Aid, the Bible Society, and the Councils of the Church of Scotland and many more.

We met a number of people we knew and it was a good opportunity to catch up on news of friends whom we had not seen for a number of years.

It struck me that there were similarities in these two different gatherings. In both, people came together with a common purpose – one for worship; one to celebrate a sporting achievement.

It is always good to meet together, and that opportunity is always available to us each Sunday. Paul makes it clear that God has given us spiritual gifts. But he also states unmistakably that these abilities are not provided to make us feel good; they are abilities to minister that should be used for the common good! We are commanded to use spiritual gifts to help each other. He also makes it clear that we meet with others at worship so they can use their gifts to strengthen us.

We look forward to having you join with us.

Yours sincerely,


Letter from the Manse April 2016

April 14th, 2016

Dear Friends,

One of the questions which I am occasionally asked is “How do you relax?” A reasonable question, and one which is easily answered. Although every week is different, I do try to take one complete day off (a number of years ago Ministries Council suggested that ministers were entitled to two days off a week but that is, for most of us, a work in progress!)

In the years BG (Before Grandson!) I always aimed to take Mondays off, but if some urgent pastoral situation arose then that didn’t happen and it was sometimes difficult to take a day in lieu later in the week. I tried to fit in a visit to the gym, or go somewhere in the car, have a day in Edinburgh or Glasgow or occasionally lunch with a colleague.

In the years AG (After Grandson) Monday was the day we looked after him, exploring soft play areas in Edinburgh, and now in Haddington, playparks, the Library as well as Coffee Shops so that he could have his “Babycino” and marshmallow! In the days when we also looked after him on a Monday morning, the local café was where he enjoyed his buttered toast!

Nowadays the day off involves collecting him from pre-School at lunch time and then off to Jabberwocky Soft Play where Grandma and Grandpa relax while he plays with his friends.   However, once his friends leave, I hear a little voice beside me “Shoes off, please, Grandpa, come and play with me on the Soft Play”!  It is then I realise that I need to get to the gym more often!  However, it is great fun and there are other Grandpa’s doing exactly the same.

Another means of relaxation is through music. I still try to get 30 minutes piano playing each day, and enjoy listening to music too. Occasionally there is a live concert to go to, but it means travelling to Perth Concert Hall or occasionally to the Webster Theatre or the Gardyne Theatre. Reading for pleasure tends to be during holidays.

I have always been surprised at how many of my colleagues rarely take their holiday entitlement and have few interests outside their parish work. I don’t think I could do my parish work without the times to recharge the batteries – and, yes, they can still be re-charged at the top level of a soft play area!

In the Gospels we know that Jesus took “time out” on a regular basis – time to recharge the batteries – and to get away from it all. By my reckoning, if Jesus needed to do that, how much more do we.

So, on Mondays, think of me relaxing in Soft Play, pushing a swing, playing with Lego, or reading “Thomas the Tank Engine and friends” as a little boy drifts off to sleep!

Yours sincerely,


A Letter from the manse Nov 2015

December 7th, 2015

Dear Friends,

As I write this at the end of October, the sun is shining, and the leaves are falling off the trees outside the study window. Autumn is here! This is one of my favourite seasons of the year. I love the vibrancy of the colours on the trees – the trees beside the road leading to the Friarton Bridge and Perth are spectacular as the leaves change colour. It was a season I missed when I worked overseas as we moved from the Monsoon season into winter with none of the colour changes of a Scottish autumn.

But already the shops are steering us towards Christmas. There is already a newly set up Christmas shop in Edinburgh St James’ Centre, and window displays in High Street shops all across the country. We are encouraged to book early for Christmas Lunch. It was in August that I first saw an advert in a National newspaper inviting businesses to make a booking for office staff lunches. I do feel sorry for parents who have to cope with excitable youngsters looking forward to Christmas for about 3 months before the event!

Since this newsletter is issued a couple of weeks earlier than usual, it means that I have had to think a little bit more about Christmas earlier than I normally would, although there was a brief mention in the June newsletter!. You will read more about the Chrismon Tree Workshops on the next page and I hope there will be a good response to this new venture. There is a new Advent Carol set to the tune of “The road and the miles to Dundee” which will be introduced on Advent Sunday, 29th November. That is really the day when we will begin our build up to Christmas.

During this period of Advent there will be the Christingle Service, the FOG Squad Nativity Service, the Watchnight Service at Panbride, and on 6th December the Service of Quiet Reflection for those for whom Christmas might be tinged with sadness as a family member will not be sitting down with them as they had done previously.

During the forthcoming Advent Season, as we travel together following the Shepherds and the Kings from the East, may we all find time to reflect on the real meaning of this time of the year-that God came to earth in a stable in Bethlehem – and like the shepherds and kings, take the opportunity to worship Christ, the new born King.

Yours sincerely,


Letter from the manse

September 9th, 2015

Dear Friends,

“Hi Matthew, Are you the piano playing prefect at Kings Park Secondary School? Villa-Lobos might ring a bell.” The question came in an email. The answer to the question is “yes” and my response was “I assume you are the guitar playing section of the short lived duo?!”

And so after 45 years, a school friend got in touch. We lost contact when we left school and in those dim and distant days of the 1970s with no modern communication methods, and going our separate ways to further education and then me to Bangladesh we had not been in touch. He took early retirement 5 years ago and now has time to look up school friends. A Google search (other search engines are available!) of my name, brought him into contact again.

I did something I have never done before and “googled” my own name and there on the screen came Carnoustie Panbride Church, references to me which appeared in other Church newsletters and when I looked at images (I wish I hadn’t bothered!) there were many of me in Bangladesh (one doing a Bengali dance with a friend from 1977!) – there was even a YouTube download of the “Time for Reflection” I gave to the Scottish Parliament in June 2013!

When I look back to these halcyon days – I’m sure they weren’t – but from this distance I remember they were – there were a number of friends with whom I lost contact. One I know became a professional footballer, playing for Scotland and Manchester City and is now involved in coaching at a professional level; another went into teaching; occasionally people from my past do cross my path again – one was in church a couple of years ago when she was holidaying in Carnoustie with her husband and had seen my name on the church notice board and wondered if it could possibly be. It was and she was a Kings Park Secondary prefect too!

Former teachers also cross my path – when I preached for the Carnoustie Panbride vacancy committee in Arbroath – I recognised the organist as being my music teacher at school! It should be said that I was a very young pupil and she was a very young teacher (!) and she is now Session Clerk at Arbroath St Andrews.

Friends from Agricultural College days also cross my path – one with whom I shared digs (and gave him lifts in my little blue mini!) farms at Inverarity and has relatives in Carnoustie Panbride.

It is good to keep in touch, but as I have discovered, sometimes circumstances conspire to make this impossible, due to the different paths life’s journey takes us.

Our faith journey also can take us different ways, but we must always remember that the One who is the foundation of our faith, always keeps in touch with us. “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. “I am with you always to the end of the age”. That should be an encouragement to us all.

Yours sincerely,


A Letter from the manse June

July 1st, 2015

Dear Friends,

In the middle of May, the result of a number of years of hard work by some youngsters, ably supported by others in the Community, resulted in the opening of the new Skate Park facility in Carnoustie. Our own Youth Group gave a donation and the name of “Panbride Youth Group” appears on one of the “bricks”. It goes to show what can be achieved with a group of people working together in a common cause.

Earlier in May, about 100 folk from the Presbytery of Angus gathered in Arbroath for the “Big Day Out”. This was a great day, with the tone being set by an inspirational address by Lorna Hood, Moderator of the 2013 General Assembly. A number of people said that they had been inspired by what took place that day. The hard work put in by the planning committee certainly paid off, and the “footprints” helped to remind us about stepping out into the community and the world.

The theme of the General Assembly 2015, was “Living Stones”. The Moderator, Angus Morrison said it was not true that the church was in decline, as the “Heart and Soul” event on Assembly Sunday showed that the church was very much alive and doing some wonderful work in congregations throughout the land and overseas.

You will read elsewhere about the real possibility of the Youth Group finishing after 33 years, and although this is a disappointment we have much to be thankful for in the leaders over the years, and the youngsters who have come along, many with whom we are still in contact. If they have been helped along the road to adulthood, we are delighted.

We are fortunate in our congregation in that there are a significant number of people involved in the work which goes on. If you take into consideration the Office bearers, the cleaning teams, those who are involved in work with our young people in FOG Squad and Youth Group, the delivery of newsletters (and the production of the newsletter), the crèche, the teas and coffees after the service, the Soup and Sweet Lunches, the music making, those who read the Scripture lessons, the Banner group, those who donate flowers, those who look after the gardens, the other organisations of the congregation, and many others who do things quietly, we arrive at a significant number. Thank you to everyone who gives of their time and talents to our congregation.

Of course there are also those who support by their attendance at Sunday Worship and also the many who are unable to be at worship because of infirmity but who still support us by their giving and their prayers. One of the most moving things which was said to me by an elderly housebound member a number of years ago was this – “I would love to be able to come to church on a Sunday, but I can’t. However, just remember that you will be in my prayers each day”.

Churches are going through significant change, and more than ever the Church needs “Living Stones” to ensure that the work of the national Church and the local Church develops. Everyone is welcome to our services. Each of you has a part to play. Will you join us? Your commitment is needed, more than ever needed, to ensure that Carnoustie Panbride remains a vital part of this parish. The Church, your congregation of which you are members, needs you. You – are the living stones.

Yours Sincerely,


June 24th, 2015

Dear Friends,

Friends, even good ones, often can’t resist comments about a minister only working an hour on a Sunday. If I had a £5 note for every time someone has said that to me, I would be rich indeed! Mind you, there are some weeks when it would be wonderful if that was the case – but not really.

Whatever life in the ministry involves, it is never dull. One of my favourite programmes on television is “Rev” the fictional (almost) tale of Adam Smallbone, played by Tom Hollander and his wife Alex, the wonderful Olivia Colman. Adam’s small rundown London Parish has a great deal in the story lines with which many parish ministers would identify.

Recently I have been involved in supplying information about the church to those responsible for the Easthaven 800 celebrations. An information request about the War Memorial reminded me that there were some congregational “supplements” for Life and Work dating from the 1918 to 1938. They make for interesting reading about life in earlier times. Here are some excerpts.

April 1920 – ‘The children will never forget it’ said the father of one of the children who were at the Christmas-tree party in Panbride School on the evening of 10th January. Most of the children had never seen a Christmas tree before and were greatly excited and charmed by the tree, which was so wonderfully beautiful with its lighted candles and many coloured gifts’”

November 1936. “Four Easthaven men have received awards from the RNLI for their brave feat in rescuing the occupants of the distressed boat, Fisher Lass on 23rd August. Three of the men are brothers, the eldest being an octogenarian. They are James, William and Alexander Herd. The fourth member was Robert Ramsay, a railway employee. The event occurred on a wild day when a heavy sea was running. A motor boat, drifting towards the shore, appeared to be in imminent danger of being dashed to pieces against the jagged rocks. The Easthaven men did not need to see the signal of distress that was sent up, they had already seen that the sails were blown away and the engine was out of commission.

Hastily pushing off in a rowing boat, they pulled towards the rapidly approaching craft. They succeeded

in bringing it to anchor, and took the three occupants ashore in their own boat. We are proud to be able to claim these heroes as members of Panbride Church”

Even earlier, Rev David Trail wrote in 1833 in the Second Statistical Account of Scotland, about the Parish of Panbride. “The number of families is 300 – 88 are engaged in agriculture, 103 in trade manufactures and handicrafts, and 109 not comprised in either class. The people in general are sober and moral in their habits and regular in their attendance at public ordinances. They are also industrious and frugal and are altogether a very respectable portion of the community”

One of the junior members of the Sunday School wrote an essay in June 1923, entitled “What you should do on Sunday” ‘Sunday is the first day of the week, and it should be carefully observed by everyone because it was the day Jesus rose from the dead. Everyone who can, should go to Church on Sunday, and if he can’t he should read his Bible at home. On Sunday everybody should put away his weekly books and read better ones.’

90 years on, that junior member in 1923 would probably not recognize a Sunday in 2014, but I believe that the church still has an important place in the life of this community. I wonder what someone in another 90 years (2104) will make of us as viewed through recent issues of UPDATE? Hopefully, still “altogether a very respectable portion of the community”.

Yours sincerely,


A Letter from the Manse

April 28th, 2015

Dear Friends

Thursday 9th April 2015. Where were you at 2.00pm that day and what were you doing? Frances and I were sitting on a restaurant balcony overlooking the lake at Castel Gandolfo in the company of Father Mark Cassidy (one time parish priest at St Anne’s). Mark had picked us up at the airport a couple of hours before and driven us to this wonderful place for lunch. The sun was shining and the food was just magnificent..

Castel Gandolfo is where Popes had their summer palace, although Pope Francis does not use it, preferring to stay in Rome. It is beautiful town and after a walk around we headed for Frascati, a lovely place with a Scottish connection, as the brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Henry, Duke of York was a Cardinal, and had a large house there.

We stayed at the Scots Pontifical College for three nights, where Mark is the Spiritual Director. Mark has been in Rome for the last few years and knows many excellent restaurants (where he is very well known!!) Mark also took us to Orvieto in the mountains north of Rome before heading for Bagnoregio a small town built on a hilltop. There are now only about 12 families living there as each year, more of the mountain on which it is built is lost to the rains through landslides. There are still some small restaurants and souvenir shops as well as a lovely church. It is not clear how much longer the town will exist – it all depends on the severity of the weather and the number of landslides.

We also visited a monastery built into a hillside at Subiaco. Its various levels have some stunning frescos and the original monastery was built where St Benedict lived in a cave and founded the Benedictine Order.

After three days in the college we moved into B&B in Rome, 5 minutes’ walk from St Peter’s. We visited the tomb of St Peter deep under the Altar of the Basilica which was a fascinating tour before having the chance to wander through the Basilica itself, something we had done during previous visits.

Having seen most of the other main tourist attractions in Rome before, we opted for a visit to the Gardens at Tivoli with hundreds of fountains including one with a working organ which plays for 5 minutes every two hours. The gardens were part of the Villa D’Este and was a stunning place to visit. After lunch we walked down narrow streets to the mediaeval quarter and into the Cathedral Church of St Lorenzo where there were some amazing frescos and paintings from the 12th century and later.

Sunday 12th April 2015. Where were you at 12 noon that day and what were you doing? We were in St Peter’s Square listening to the words of the Pope as he appeared at the window high above the Square. What struck me was the hush which descended over the Square when he began to speak to the thousands who had come to hear his words. The newspapers the next day, and also the news bulletins were full of what the Pope had said at the main service in St Peter’s which had been attended by members, clergy and the Archbishop of the Armenian Church. The Pope had made reference to events of 100 years ago when Armenians had been killed during the Ottoman rule in Turkey. The Turkish Ambassador to the Vatican was withdrawn, and questions were raised about whether the church should be involved in politics.

Well, Jesus was involved in politics. He said things about what should be paid to Caesar, he challenged the authorities about all manner of things. In the political activity which is going on all over the country at the present time, it is up to people like you and me to exercise our right to vote in the General Election on May 7th.

Yours Sincerely,