Beware of Eeyore
Why is that we are so fond of Eeyore, the onomatopoeically named old grey stuffed donkey, who is a friend of the titular hero in A. A. Milne’s, Winnie-the-Pooh? He is compassionate but pessimistic, constantly depressed, always seeing what might go wrong in any situation. Students in the West of Scotland love him, perhaps ironically identifying with his love of ‘thistles’ – his favourite food – and his natural habitat in the Hundred Acre Wood, described as ‘Eeyore’s Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy and Sad’. Yet so many of us can, without the students‘ ironic perspective, unwittingly take on some of the negative characteristics of Milne’s creation. This is no less true in our attitudes to what is happening in the church and in the world. Now we cannot deny that there are major problems to be faced. Natural disasters, wars, tyranny and oppression, poverty and suffering, do not seem to have diminished. On an individual level, some of our congregation have encountered considerable trials. And within the national church there has been evidence of continued decline and of a departure from the historic faith. Yet, there are so many reasons for a more positive outlook. This is particularly apposite to our looking back over 2011, which we did on Tuesday 20th March at our Stated Annual Meeting. While in previous years a spiritual balance sheet, which has set out both the positive and negative aspects of the work, has matched the financial accountancy from the treasurer, it seemed this year more appropriate to concentrate on some of the blessings which we had received from January to December. How easy it is for us to recall the struggles rather than the victories, the pain and the hurt rather than the joy of Lord and the serenity of forgiveness. While we could not approximate to the Psalmist’s encouragement to ’Bless the Lord […] and forget not all his benefits' (Psalm 103:1), it is good to celebrate God’s mercies to us, and to counter the Eeyore spirit within us which can so easily undermine our faith in God’s ability to help us in the days to come.
It is very difficult to select highlights from a year in which we as a congregation have proved God’s kindness and generous provision at so many levels. The year began on a sad note (for us) with the announcement of the retirement of our much loved minister, Peter White. However, the first four months which marked the end of a very productive fourteen-year ministry, which had seen, among so many achievements, the refurbishment of the building, were not a period of marking time, but of preparation for the future. Peter’s ministry ended on a high note in a memorable Easter service, at which 4 people joined Sandyford, giving moving testimonies with regard to their coming to faith in Christ.
At the outset of the vacancy a twin epigraph prefaced our meetings: ‘Ebenezer’ (1 Samuel 7:12), the large ‘stone of help’, which Samuel placed between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah to commemorate God’s gracious intervention and leading, became internalized in our hearts as a reminder of all that the Lord had done in rebuilding the congregation since 1956. At the same time, the words of Jesus: ‘Without me you can do nothing’ (John, 15: 5), were the inscription on every prayer bulletin, customized to underline the need for Sandyford to sustain a culture of dependency on God for the future.
How privileged we have been, first with Peter, then with what has amounted to a team of some 40 ministers to whom we have been greatly indebted, who have helped us sustain our emphasis on consecutive biblical ministry. The fact that we have found such willing support from evangelical ministers is an indication of a changed situation within the national church from that which faced those in the 1950s and 1960s. The bonds of fellowship with those who have visited us have been strengthened and it has been refreshing to add new ministries to our prayer diary.
Our Wednesday prayer meeting and bible study, led by Patrick Smith, small group prayer meetings organized by Elspeth Jones, and the prayers of so many other congregations and individuals who receive the Congregational Record, have, as in previous years, underpinned the ministry and fellowship. Particular encouragements have been in the attendance on Wednesdays, and also in the engagement in prayer by so many at these meetings.
We have been so well served by all who have contributed, in particular, our organist Alastair Graham and his wife Sandra, the Praise Group, led by Kat Watts, and the AV team, led by Neal Reid. At a recent joint meeting at which we conducted a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), it was so gratifying to realize that, while we recognized some concerns, there were so many strengths.
We have seen a good return from many of the initiatives in 2011, most of which have been set out in the Congregational Record over the last few months by our Outreach Coordinator, Douglas Humphris. The appointment of Louise Murray as International Student Worker has led to an increase in the number of Chinese students coming to church, some of whom have professed faith in Christ. Attendances at services have increased; in fact, at some of the morning services there have not been many spare seats in the sanctuary. Visiting preachers have commented on the buzz and the sense of expectancy in our gatherings. We have also been encouraged by our missionaries, whose partnership in the gospel has been such a privilege and stimulus to prayer.
The team of visitors, led by Garry Osbourne and Mary Bonham, have sought to ensure that nobody falls through the pastoral net. Many in the congregation have unobtrusively taken on visits to those in particular need of support. In this sense, we have been so privileged to have so many ‘non-stipendary workers’ (as Neil Glover said recently in his preaching on Ephesians 4, Sandyford has ‘150 ministers’). We have also been very grateful for the willingness of our Interim Moderator, Alex Green, to undertake visits to the sick in hospital and at home, which have brought additional comfort and encouragement.
At a time of uncertainty, in terms both of the vacancy and the national church situation following the May General Assembly, the 10% increase in membership (30 joined during the year, 5 members were ‘promoted to glory’, and 5 transferred to other congregations as a result of retirement or a change in employment) is, we pray, an encouraging token for the future.
The financial balance sheet never ceases to amaze the trustees. At a time of recession, and with possibly some redirection of income on the part of some in the light of decisions taken nationally, the congregation has still been able to make a major contribution to ministry in Scotland and to world mission. And how blessed we are to have in Gordon Penman a treasurer who is so willing to give sacrificially of his time to make such annual business meetings an occasion for thanksgiving.
What of the problems? What of the ongoing General Assembly debate? What of the Presbytery Plan, now that the first iteration of it has been suspended, and the committee which formulated it disbanded? These issues have not gone away, nor will they. And we shall not cease to engage in appropriate (and we hope courteous) debate. However, it is good to look back and to trace the hand of our God who has guided us and provided for us in 2011, and with that optic to look with confidence at the challenges and opportunities in the days ahead. The most imposing threats are not so much external but within us. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon said:
Fear to fear. Be afraid to be afraid. Your worst enemy is within your own bosom. Get to your knees and cry for help, and then rise up saying, ‘I will trust, and not be afraid’.
That’s the way to deal with the Eeyore within us! Moreover, if we can all have a firmer trust in God and a deeper commitment to prayer with thanksgiving, the report at the Stated Annual Meeting next year will be even more positive.
With very best wishes
Noel Peacock, Session Clerk.View All Letters