Vestry Letter Dec 2014



In this year of anniversary, links and associations to the First World War continue to be prevalent. As I write, the sound of a twelve year old bagpiper, playing a Lament, fills the church, at the Remembrance assembly for Hill House School. It is an echo of the pipes played by the London Scottish Regiment on their recent visit to St Columba’s for their own service of Remembrance. Today the amazing display of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London is being dismantled. My guess is that this Christmastime we will be much reminded of the famous Christmas Truce on the Western Front; the moment of unscripted fraternisation between enemies in No Man’s Land in December 1914 – shared cigarettes, the singing of carols and the pursuit of the football. It remains a powerful image, if ultimately a sorrowful one – the vision of peace unable to out-trump the forces of war.


In the writings of combatants and chaplains in that war, the celebration, or not, of Christmas is often described. Barclay Baron left an extensive correspondence and diary for the period 1915-19. He worked with the YMCA in support of the troops. In December 1917 he described the appalling conditions of mud and cold, with the difficulty of supplying provisions to the forward canteens on Christmas Eve, then commented: “And yet we wished each other a happy Christmas – and somehow kept it. And yet we laughed and talked of home. And yet we sang the Christmas hymns – how men sang them! And yet in this misery and stupidity and pitifulness and terror, amid sickness of body and mind, never far from sudden death – Jesus was born again in the hearts of men.” Standing outside his billet in the snow as midnight chimed, aware of a single church, “still whole enough to be of use” with a few Belgian worshippers gathered, Barclay Baron concluded. “In our yard also I felt the Presence near.” (Extract from The Back Parts of War.)


I wonder whether we will be blessed this Christmas season with that same profound sense of God being near us. Such moments cannot be coerced or predicted – they may come in worship or quiet or encounter with another, loved one or stranger; they may come in supermarket, surrounding street or at the Night Shelter. Perhaps all we can do is try to be still enough, unhurried enough, amidst the seasonal hustle and bustle, to be open to such things.


Jesus promised that when we gather in his name, his Presence will be there. In Advent we gather for a variety of significant moments – the visit of this year’s Moderator, Revd John Chalmers, who has represented the Church of Scotland so significantly in the year of the Independence Referendum; the quiet evening service of Advent Readings & Hymns (both 30 Dec 14); the moving annual Bereavement Service (07 Dec 14); the Sunday School nativity (14 Dec 14) and our own Carols by Candlelight, the Service of Lessons & Carols (21 Dec 14), which for many signals the real start to their Christmas. This year that service, with its wonderful music, is followed by a Reception on behalf of Borderline. We look forward to welcoming the charity’s supporters to our service, as we in turn seek to support their efforts to care for homeless Scots in London.


I hope that you will be able to join us at St Columba’s over this special season of anticipation and arrival. If that is not possible I hope you will continue to keep the life and work of St Columba’s in your prayers and affections. And when it arrives may you have a profound, peaceful and happy Christmas.