This was the final service led by the Rev Peter W Nimmo as minister of Old High St Stephen’s. It was an online Communion service, broadcast live via Zoom.
You can watch the service on our You Tube channel below.
At the end of this page, you can read the speech given by our Session Clerk, Christine Mackenzie, to mark the end of Peter’s time as our Minister.
Unfortunately, there is some sound distortion in the recording, during the sermon. You can read the sermon below. There is also a sound recording with the missing section replaced electronically on our SoundCloud page.
Bible reading: Matthew 9:35-10.10
When you throw a stone into water, the water is disturbed, and ripples appear. You can’t see the stone any more, but you can still see the effect it has had, as the ripples spread across the surface.
There is a ripple effect in today’s Gospel text. It begins with Jesus, his ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom and healing the sick, and his compassion for the ‘worried and helpless’. He then commissions his disciples to carry on that ministry. And the implication is that we, too, are commissioned to the same work as the first disciples- to bring healing to the sick, to bring peace to those battling their demons, and to tell the good news that the Kingdom of heaven, the reign of God, is near. Jesus made the splash, and we are the ripples.
The incarnation of God in Christ made a big splash on the calm surface of our world. Over these last few months, over these lockdown months, our Gospel readings have been about that stone and its ripples:
- the ministry of Jesus, climaxing in his death of a cross;
- his resurrection, and the joy and hope which it brings;
- the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, enabling the church to flourish even as Christ was hid from sight at the Ascension.
We can’t see the stone, but the ripples remain!
So where are ripples today, in a world of Coronavirus, of economic uncertainty, of racial injustice? For our world, the future is more uncertain that ever. Yet those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ, are clearly called to bring the good news to people that a God of Love reigns, and make that reign seem closer and more real to people.
Christ on the cross brought about the reconciliation of God and humanity. And now we are also called to be part of God’s reconciling work. We have wounds of hatred to bind up, between individuals, within societies, between nations, between races.
‘For the healing of the nations, Lord, we pray with one accord’, as we have often sung in church. And we pray, because there is so much do to, and we know we can’t do it on our own, and it frankly seems a bit much.
Near the start of our passage, Jesus is perhaps tempted to despair: all these crowds of worried and helpless folk. But as he looks at the crowds, he does so with compassion: ‘his heart was filled with pity for them’.
This congregation has been trying to look outwards, recently. But we should not do so just because we want to seem relevant, or because are looking for something to do. When we look at the people around us, at the needs of our city, at the sheep without a shepherd, we should look, let us look as Jesus did, with ‘his heart… filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless’.
Jesus says to his friends ‘The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in’- he sounds a bit like farmer who voted for Brexit, and is now wondering where he’s going to find his seasonal labourers he needs to get the harvest in!
But Jesus does not despair. Instead, he issues a call to prayer
Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.
And then he starts to put his prayer into action. He gets organised, chooses the people we hear named as his inner twelve disciples, and asks them to join him in the work he is doing. Work they will carry on after him- the ripple effect begins. Work that we have inherited from them- we’re the ripples for today’s generation.
For the ministry of the Church- the ministry to which we Christians are called to take part in- is a continuation of the ministry of Christ and his earliest Apostles. And there are two aspects of that I’d like to hold up from this passage, which I think will helps us as we continue in ministry going forward.
Firstly- note that the Gospel of Matthew passes on to us the names of the twelve disciples. The text tell that Simon had a nickname (Peter) and had a brother named Andrew; that there was another pair of brothers, James and John; that Matthew was a tax collector, and that Simon was a Patriot.
Perhaps the point of this passage is to remind us that God knows each of us by name, that God knows all about us; and that, I think, should be a comfort and hope to us. When we go out to share the news of the Kingdom, when we go out help heal the world, we go as those who are known and loved by God.
And the second aspect of discipleship which this passage holds up comes right at the end of the passage. Jesus includes these words in his charge to the disciples:
You have received without paying, so give without being paid. Do not carry any gold, silver, or copper money in your pockets; do not carry a beggar’s bag for the journey or an extra shirt or shoes or a stick. Workers should be given what they need.
God in Christ has given so much to us: ‘You have received without paying’. As St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we ‘were bought with a price’[i]; Amazing Grace, which has cost us nothing.
And as God has been generous to us in Christ, so we are called to be generous in our discipleship: ‘You have received without paying, so give without being paid’. We are to serve without thought of return. We are go as we are. We’re not to burden ourselves with stuff we won’t need.
And yet, this is hard for us to hear. Recently so much of what we have taken for granted has been cut away from under us. Coronavirus means that none of us can take our health, or the health of those we love, for granted. There is a psychological cost to so many people having to be cooped up at home for such a long period of time. People are losing jobs and income, and for some people who were already in poverty, life will become almost impossible. And yet here is Jesus calling on us to be generous, to make do with even less than we already had- don’t take money, or even an extra shirt. We have little enough- are we do with even less?
And for the church as a whole- shut out of our buildings, facing steep falls in income, with many of our folk unable to participate in church activities- aren’t we already cut to the bone?
And yet Jesus says to us, ‘Workers should be given what they need’.
I think that’s both a challenge, and a promise, to the church today.
The challenge is that we ensure we pay for the proclaiming of the Kingdom. We have to make sure the resources go where they needed, not just to places that can afford them. Clergy and full time workers, volunteers, buildings and the wealth which we have too often hoarded, must be put to use so that
- those who suffer most from poverty and discrimination,
- those who cry out for healing,
- those who are worried and the helpless
- hear and see the Kingdom at work among them.
Will we look with pity on the crowds, make sure we match the workers to the harvest, and ensure they are paid what they need? if we rise to the challenge, this will be how we fulfil Christ’s challenge, that the ‘Workers should be given what they need’.
Because as well as a challenge, that’s also a promise: that the workers will be given what they need. For if the Kingdom is preached by the disciples of Christ, in word and action,
- if wounds are bound and the sick are made well
- and the demons are spoken against
- and life comes where there was only death before-
well, if this is the work of the Kingdom of God, who wouldn’t want to be part of that, who wouldn’t want to contribute to it in any way they can? The workers, and the resources, will be found!
Brothers and sisters, when we gather at the Table of the Lord we share bread and wine. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the unbounded generosity of God in giving his Son to live and die and rise again for us. Sharing the bread and wine is at the centre of the church’s life, because out of God’s sharing of Christ, and our sharing around the Table, comes a church of disciples, sharing the good news that the Kingdom is near, sharing the healing that God offers to individuals and communities.
So, whatever lies ahead, let us all continue to be ripples for the Kingdom- sharing, compassionate, loving- for this is what Christ commissions his disciples to be. Amen.
[i] 1 Corinthians 6:20 NRSV
Speech by Christine Mackenzie, Session Clerk
As we have been so used to daily briefings with statistics from both the Westminster and Scottish Governments I thought I should start with some statistics as well.
Peter was inducted by Inverness Presbytery on 20 August 2004 in the Old High Church. OHSS is the first charge of the Presbytery and the only congregation who has a Class 1 Listed Building. Since then there has been three Presbytery Clerks. Peter always took an interest in all aspects of the Presbytery and participated in all debates. He has been Business Convener and Ministry Committee Convener.
Being the City Church brings other work – Opening the High Court when it was in the Inverness Castle. However horrific the cases dealt with by the Court it was good to see that they still adhered to prayers before the proceedings started. I think there was a free lunch as well!
Then we have work with Highland Council’s Inverness City Committee. When a new Provost is appointed the Minister of OHSS is invited to welcome them to their post on behalf of the Church. During Peter’s time here there have been 5 Provosts – Bill Smith, Bob Wynd, Jimmy Gray, Alex Graham and Helen Carmichael. Kirking of the Council, which has happened for hundreds of years almost came to halt in 2007. Peter was off ill and Douglas Clyne was our Interim Moderator and Locum. The service took place and the congregation were invited back to the Town House where Bob Wynd announced – see you in 4 years. I can still picture Douglas’s face and the two thumbs going under the lapels of his jacket and the words – we will see about that. Needless to say there was outrage even from Bob’s own colleagues. Douglas did sort him out and what we have now is a great opportunity every year to thank the Council and the many voluntary organisations who attend for their work throughout the year. Peter has been very involved with making this a major event in the city calendar.
There have other notable civic events, a candle lit in 2014 to mark 100 years since the start of the 1st World War and taken to the Cathedral. This candle was returned in 2018 to mark 100 years from the end of World War I. Money was raised to provide a Cameron Memorial area in the Old High as they have always had a close association with the Church. Colours have been laid up in the Old High with the most recent being from the Parachute Regiment.
A new service was started by Peter a number of years ago Ding Dong Merrily Old High when Christmas celebrations started after the switching on of the city lights and Santa was followed down Church Street for a short carol service. This has always been well attended and is an event we all look forward to as well as raising money for local children’s’ charities.
On office-bearers at Old High St Stephen’s there has been five Session Clerks, Sandy Cumming, Ken Cantlay, Margaret Sutherland, Linda Philip and myself. We have had four Treasurers – Cliff Sim, Alan Nelson, Sandy Cumming and Ken Cantlay.
We have had five Pastoral Assistants: Derek Sutcliffe, Douglas Clyne, Jim Christie, Ian Todd and Arthur Sinclair who have all assisted Peter visiting the housebound, those in hospital and nursing homes.
We have an active Kirk Session and Leadership Group who meet on a regular basis together with action groups – Worship and Education, Pastoral Care, Finance and Stewardship, Property, Outreach and Communication. You have rarely missed meetings and encouraged our office-bearers to be supportive to our congregation and bold in our outlook. All our groups have people with different talents. We were pleased to welcome Dot Getliffe in November as Mission Development Worker. Dot has got to know our office-bearers and members quickly and as a result we are pleased to note that she has agreed to be our Locum during the vacancy.
During your time with us you have participated in the wider work of the Church of Scotland being a member of the former Church and Society Council and your recent appointment to the new Faith Impact Forum. I know you enjoyed attending the General Assembly and like Presbytery you always made sure that you participated in debate.
You have a great interest in training for the Ministry and during your time with us we had at least 16 people, mostly enquirers but three others at different times in their training, Heidi Jones Hercus, Dougie Wolf and David Sim provided a lot of support to us as well. Hopefully each and every one of them enjoyed their placement with us and benefitted from your support and wide knowledge of the church as well.
Music has always played an important part of our services. One former member did not like John Bell hymns so every time we had one he would complain! We are fortunate to have such talented musicians within the congregation and choirs led by Pam McCulloch, Rena Beaton and Robin Versteeg. The Community Choir has raised the profile of the Church and their concerts have been enjoyed by all as well as raising valuable funds for local charities. So popular are the concerts that it has to be over two nights at Christmas and they went to Eden Court in 2019 for the summer concert. Last year we also had Carols round the Christmas tree at St Stephen’s. I know that Katharina has helped with the administration of the choir until recently and we are grateful for this.
Our harvest service is always a highlight of the year when the church is so beautifully decorated by our ‘flower ladies’ together with the very generous donations for the Foodbank. Donations for the foodbank are collected throughout the year at the churches as well. Last year we had a superb Family Day at St Stephen’s to celebrate the harvest festival and encourage children and members of the local community to come along.
We now have an active Friends of Old High Group who donate book marks with views of the church to be handed out at the church opening in the summer. Summer opening raises the profile of the church to visitors throughout the world. Last year we welcomed around 6500 visitors.
OHSS have a huge parish from the city centre to Lochardil. There are two schools within the parish, Lochardil and Inverness Royal Academy and you have supported them during your time here in a chaplaincy capacity.
When not at work I know you have enjoyed assisting at the Strathspey Railway and you are a regular visitor to them.
In 2012 you went on study leave to the United States and we all enjoyed hearing about the visit and the work you were able to carry out when you were there including a tour of the House of Representatives and a family holiday in Canada the USA.
I know, for you, one of the highlights of your time here has been the invitation given to you to address the Proud Ness Festival in Inverness in 2018. You were able to highlight the importance of challenging hatred, discrimination and exclusion in this gesture of solidarity and support for people who have felt they have been discriminated against and misunderstood by the Church. Despite criticisms from other faiths this was an opportunity to spread God’s word to over 1,000 people.
Katharina has given sterling service to us as a member of St Stephen’s Choir, the Community Choir and endless photocopying of orders of service and newsletters. You also did great work as a Girls’ Brigade Leader at Ness Bank Church. For this we are extremely grateful. You are both enthusiastic supporters of Christian Aid. Coincidentally there is a photo of the start of a Christian Aid week sponsored walk outside the paper shop I go to every day and Peter you are at the front of the photo so I can see you every day!
On behalf of the Kirk Session could I thank Shirley Gold for designing a card, Gordon Harvey for inscribing the cards, Jaye Rankine for the lovely cake, Deborah and Malcolm MacRae for the flower and Annette Stoker for making the lovely arrangement.
When you came to Inverness Daniel was primary school age and Hanna nursery age and we have enjoyed watching them grow up and find their way in life. Daniel is now settled in Glasgow and I am sure he is looking forward to having his family nearby. Hannah leaves for Manchester in September and we wish them both well in their future careers.
Peter – you have supported each and every member of the Congregation, in good times and not so good times for them. You, Katharina and your family will be missed from our congregation and we look forward to hearing more about Cambuslang Church in the future. Thank you so much for all you have done for us and we wish you all every success and happiness in the future.