Dear Friends,
Autumn, the season of mellow fruitfulness, is well and truly here: chilly mornings, wet and windy days, interspersed with times of warmth and sun. It is a season of contrasts, and also the time of year when we give thanks for the harvest: usually for food, but of course much else is harvested for us too. There are the resources of the earth: coal and oil, as well as the energy of the sun and the wind that are harvested to give us power. How about the metals and stone that are harvested to make objects, machines and buildings for us? So, we have much to give thanks for, but how often are we really thankful?

Dear Friends,


As I write these words, I've just come back from General Assembly, which this year was held in a sweltering Nottingham between 6 and 9 July. And I have high and low points to share with you.

I have good memories of Assembly. I was proud, as we welcomed representatives from churches in this country and overseas, from Christian Aid and from other faith communities, that the URC is known and admired elsewhere. I particularly remember our Muslim and our Jewish guest telling us, with one voice: 'Speak up for your faith! Be proud of who you are!' I remember excellent points of debate made by our young people, their scurrilous daily report on Assembly proceedings, and the service they led in which the whole of Assembly vigorously threw away their sins in the shape of paper aeroplanes. I remember journeys in the Hebrew Bible being brought to life for our own walk together through inspired Bible study. I remember a whole conference hall singing with one voice. And I remember conversations with old friends and with people I'd never met before, sharing joys and sorrows across the church.

Dear Friends,

                      Usually in these letters I reflect on a theme that applies equally to each of our churches. But this time I'd like to home in on a project hosted by Avenue St Andrew's: the Avenue Centre, helping troubled families with young children, which celebrates its 30th birthday this May. Not that Avenue St Andrew's can claim sole rights in the Avenue Centre! Each of our Group churches has supported it generously, and that's hugely appreciated. But not all of you will know the story of how the Avenue Centre began, and how it has developed over three decades.

Dear Friends,
In 1 Samuel chapter 8, Samuel has a problem: the people are revolting! Or more correctly they are near to revolt. They want to be like other nations and have a king to lead them, and Samuel is in a dilemma. All his life he has tried to do what is right, and been a faithful and wise judge for the people, and they repay him with this, a rejection of his authority and the established way of doing things! The trouble is he can forsee the troubles that will come. A king will not solve all their problems: he might be able to bring people together for a time, and even defeat the Philistines who are threatening to overwhelm the people of Israel. He might be able to unite the disparate tribes into a nation, but in the end kings are unreliable: they may lack the skills necessary to lead the country. Worse still they will take the best of the nation’s resources for themselves and even become tyrannical in their behaviour.

Dear Friends,
It is a day in March, in what is usually considered to be the season of Spring, however there is snow on the ground, the skies are leaden and the scene in my garden is decidedly monochrome! A few daffodils had the temerity to flower recently and they are bent over by the cold and the snow, their colour barely visible. Somehow, Spring (which seemed to have started a few days ago) is now a long distance away, and the promise of light, warmth and renewal seems a hollow one at a moment such as this.