Rev. David Clarkson shares his first pastoral letter, written for the June 2020 magazine.
This is perhaps the most unusual letter I have ever written. I am the minister of Barclay Viewforth Parish Church, but I’ve only been in the building twice: once for interview and once to preach as nominee. My induction was carried out online and has been viewed over 2000 times, but I could only see a handful of people from Presbytery. I’ve met regularly with the staff on Zoom and caught up with a few folk at the prayer meeting and bible study, but it’s just not possible to do the kind of things that would help me get to know other people. Some of you will not even have seen a picture of me yet! We’re still living in Prestwick, but hoping work in the manse can be finished off and we can finally move across in the next few weeks. It has been an unsettling time for us, but we know that we’re not alone.
The last few months have resulted in unprecedented changes for our country and the church. None of us would have imagined a time when all of our buildings would be closed and we would not be able to meet. Many people have had to cancel weddings. Other celebrations are postponed. Families have had the extra pain of not being able to attend the funerals of loved ones.
We know that many people have found the lockdown hard ‒ and as I write this it is Mental Health Week where we’re encouraged to recognise those who struggle in this area and offer support and encouragement. One of the things I have seen online and in the press is talk of a loss of hope and that brought this passage to mind:
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
or his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
I don’t want to minimise the difficulties people have, or suggest that there is any easy answer to mental health issues, or even to loneliness. Nor I am suggesting that God’s people never suffer from such issues – there are many examples in the Bible and they are not all resolved. That’s not the point of the reading. It is, though, good to be reminded that as God’s children we can have hope, and the way to get it is to remind ourselves of who God is and what he’s done. Although we don’t always ‘feel’ it, God gives us new blessings each day. He is faithful to his promises and when we trust God we will find that hope rises in us.
We need to be careful though. This doesn’t just happen. In the midst of real trial the writer didn’t just get up one day and suddenly find everything was fantastic. He had to actively decide to focus on God – and it was only then that hope came. We don’t know if his other circumstances had changed, but I suspect not. What had changed was his perspective. He decided to ‘wait’ on God: to choose to focus on God, to talk to God, to listen to God, to think of God’s promises and faithfulness.
If we’re honest, the situation for the Church of Scotland as an institution looks difficult. Too few ministers, too many buildings, a huge deficit and falling membership. If ever there was a time to wait for God and have hope renewed this is it. Actually, more people are viewing online services than attended services (I know many of us are watching more than one, but many of those who usually attend aren’t watching any!) and congregations have shown incredible creativity during the lockdown. There is hope. There are good things still to come. God hasn’t changed. His faithfulness endures.