Youth Group In 2019

by Michael Newlands

The Youth Group, and for the church, the year as we mean to go on – Christmas and New Year may be long gone, but we’re gearing up for the next round of festivities.

We have the bicentenary around the corner where we will be celebrating 200 years of the church of St Rufus on its current site. It’s very much a chance to celebrate the past and also the future. We’ve been in a period of vacancy for some time now but we do have much to celebrate!

The Youth Group will be hosting a family ceilidh on the 22nd February to raise funds. That will be a time for us to come together as a church to celebrate the fellowship we share in a party atmosphere. It’s a chance for all of the generations of the church to come together to share food, the good mood and each other’s company. It’s been a while since we’ve had a ceilidh and I’ve had a lot of folk come to me and say how much they are looking forward to it. So please do come along and support us.

We also received some brilliant news at the start of this year. The Youth Group have been nominated in the National Youth Awards hosted by YouthLink Scotland. Not only have we been nominated, we have made it to the finals! How amazing is that? Now all thanks go to Sarah for nominating us. It’s not often that someone would go to all that effort but I think we can all be glad she did.

I’ve been involved with the Youth Group for a number of years now and I have seen first-hand the amazing work the young people do in the community. Over the years they have given countless hours to help out with various events, like coffee mornings and the Fun Week. They’ve raised thousands for various charities over the years. They get involved with church services. They display their talents through the shows we’ve put on, and will be taking part in the bicentenary services as well.

At this time of uncertainty in the church, it is a real boost to see the Youth Group gain this recognition for all of their hard work. It’s not often that we see this level of recognition for work in rural areas, and it is amazing that our Youth Group is being recognised nationally. The awards dinner will be hosted on the 13th of March down in Glasgow so watch this space!

I think you will all join me in wishing the Youth Group the best of luck with but also congratulating them on the honour of being nominated and making it to the finals.

I wish them all the best with this and I think they deserve a pat on the back for all of their hard work. Well done to them all!

Fun Week 2018

By Michael Newlands

This time of year is always a funny one for me. I work with young folk all year round, and it’s at this time that they all return to school after the long summer break. Whilst they’re all looking ahead, this is the time of year where I look back.

At the start of the Summer holidays, that’s when the Fun Week panic starts to kick in. Most other things are finished for the summer and so my attention goes solely to the Fun Week. It’s only after the Fun Week is finished, and everyone returns to normality that I can reflect back on the year. And the Fun Week, and realise, why was I panicking?

I suppose it’s natural to become anxious over a project you really care about. You hope and you hope that the young people will enjoy it. You hope you get enough helpers. You hope that the helpers enjoy themselves so that it’s not a chore, but something they’ll come to help at again. So why do I panic? It always takes care of itself and it’s always a “fun” week.

Interestingly, my reflection began early this year. It started on my way to Fun Week one morning. There was nothing different to the usual. I got up, left the house, and walked the same old walk I had done all week. But what struck me was that this wasn’t just the same old walk I had done all week. It was the same walk I had taken over twenty years ago to go to the Fun Week as a child.

There’s one big difference between those two walks though. Twenty years ago, I was led by the hand, by my granda, so that I could go to the Fun Week. Now it’s my turn to lead others to the Fun Week, whether they be the young or the young at heart.

This year our theme was Razzamatazz Robots. We had a great time building robots to decorate the church with for our Sunday service. We had our usual singing and dancing, which we got to show off in the church on the Sunday. We had our games. We were well fed and watered all week with juice and biscuits, home bakes and a BBQ on the Friday. We looked at the Creation story in Genesis, and like robots made by human hands, we also looked toward our Creator. And this was great. The children had a blast. The adults had a blast.

We all had a wonderful time and I was really touched by the comments parents had given us on how their kids were really enjoying the Fun Week. And by how many kids are looking forward to next year! I had one young lady, when hearing me I wasn’t sure what to do with my time now that Fun Week is over, remark, “Plan next year’s one!”

I had to laugh. The enthusiasm of our young folk truly is infectious and it’s wonderfully motivating. Here was me looking at the past but so many were looking to the future. Probably because they are our future.

As a little digression, I got to thinking about that subtle difference of me looking to the past and the young one looking toward the future, and to be honest I thought to myself that is just part of a wider problem. We do have a propensity to look toward the past, to think of things as they are and have been instead of thinking about how things could be.

I’m sure this train of thought is ringing bells with many and I won’t dwell on this much longer. I just thought that perhaps us older ones could learn this lesson from the youth; to look to the future and not the past.

So, I return to the Fun Week. As I said, we looked at the Creation story and usually the readings at the Fun Week service are the readings we’ve looked at during the week but something about this nostalgia I was feeling was drawing me to choose different readings, something a bit more general to do with the Fun Week itself, to do with the nature of the Fun Week itself.

Through coming to the Fun Week as a child, to helping at the Fun Week as an adult, I’ve seen many changes. As you would expect after twenty plus years. But the core of the Fun Week has remained. The nature of the Fun Week has never changed. Namely, to bring the children of the community together for an enjoyable time and also to learn something about Christianity. This would be the mission statement as it were, but no mission is complete without hard work.

This hard work comes in the form of all our helpers, whether they be out with the young folk or helping in the kitchen. It comes in the form of the people who donated to the Fun Week. And also, the parents for bringing the children and the children for coming.

So, my two readings that I though summed up the Fun Week were Mark 10:13-15, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. The first reading shows Jesus telling His disciples to let the children come to Him. A passage I think we should always keep in our minds to remind us that children are just as welcome in the church as anyone, and their contributions are just as valuable. Probably more so because they come with such an innocence and clarity we lose as we get older.

The second reading then speaks of how we are all one in the body of Christ, although we all have different functions. To me these two passages are the very heart of the Fun Week. The many come together as one, each with their own contributions, in order to bring the children to Christ. And it’s wonderful. And it’s probably why the Fun Week has lasted for as long as it has.

With the Spirit working through us, to bring the fellowship of Christ to others, we have lasted. We have endured. And I pray that we continue to endure.

I said it in the service, and I shall say it again here. As much as I was caught up in the nostalgia and dreamy reminiscence of the past, my heart looks to the future. It is my hope that in twenty years’ time, one of the young folk at the Fun Week will be walking down the street towards another Fun Week. Either to help or even to bring their own kids to it.

And so the legacy will continue. Not of the people who made this year’s Fun Week possible, or the people we are indebted to for making previous Fun Weeks possible. But the legacy of Christ’s words:

“Let all the little children come to me”.

Lessons learned from our young people

By Michael Newlands

I will admit I’ve struggled to get my head in to this blog writing. I’ve been aware of blogs, I’ve read blogs, folk have spoken to me about blogs, but I’ve never written actually written one. Sure I can talk on endlessly, as many of you know, but can I write?

Well I suppose we’re about to find out but fortunately I’ve been asked to write on a subject that I hold dear to my heart and I have a lot of enthusiasm about; the Youth Group.

This year has been, and will be, and eventful year for me. A couple of weeks ago I graduated, in less than a month I’m getting married, and in September I begin my Masters.

That’s a lot of big steps and I’ve been fondly reminiscing about just what has got me here today, and oddly enough, it was the Youth Group. It’s hard to be believe that it will be eight years this summer since I first got involved with the Youth Group as a Leader. Eight years.

And what have I seen in those eight years? I’ve seen fresh faced boys and girls who have just started the Grammar, grow into wonderful young adults. I’ve seen young people develop into mature young adults. I’ve seen them mature in character, strength and spirituality.

There have been tears and moments of sorrow, but there have also been times of great joy and happiness. Memories made through these times of joy, memories that will never fade because of the fellowship the Youth Group share with one another.

I’ve worked with many groups over the years but I have always said that this group, that our Youth Group, has something special. And I truly believe that it is the Spirit of God that works through this amazing group of young people. They’re always there for each other, always supporting one another and sharing together this journey.

So what is it we actually do up at the Youth Group? Do we all huddle around the Bible in a gloomy room? Or is it chaos as we let the youth run wild? Well it’s neither and it’s both. We have speakers who come regularly to give us talks on various subjects. This can be anything from local charities and groups who come to tell us what they’re doing, or it can speakers from various organisations who come to speak about relevant issues that affect young people nowadays.

We do also have our “God talk” where we look at something from the Bible, or we take a youth issue and frame it within a faith perspective. This is usually driven by the young people themselves. They tell me the sort of things they want to speak about and then I go find out what they want to know. This usually ends up more of a discussion than a talk. It’s good to encourage the young folk to speak up and form their own opinions.

Partly as personal growth for themselves, but also because they tend to make more sense than us older folk. We recently tackled quite a sensitive subject in the Youth Group, a topic that usually causes heated debate and the occasional insult to be hurled within the adult world, but I was amazed (and proud!) of how the Youth Group conducted themselves in this discussion.

They displayed a maturity and grace, and a sensible and sensitive approach that is sometimes lacking within the adult world. If the children are our future, both within and out with the church, then you know what? We might just be alright after all.

Of course we have our fun side as well, it’s not all deep theological discussion. We play a variety of games each night and we also have our own little outings from time to time. The Youth Group this year decided they wanted to resurrect our production and went for a talent show again.

Amazingly, and I have been bragging about this to anyone who will listen, the Youth Group managed to pull off a brilliant show that raised over £1000 in just seven rehearsals. Both show nights I was inundated by messages on Facebook and on my phone from folk that had seen the show and had thoroughly enjoyed it.

In this small group of ours we have so much talent and it was great to give them a chance to shine on stage for the town of Keith to see. We had a couple of group numbers to open and close the show with, a range of instruments that were played such as the baritone, flute, cello, some dance numbers and even some Rev I.M Jolly sketches. It was fantastic and the Youth Group deserved every round of applause they received.

So we’re coming to the end of our Youth Group year. We’ve had the show, we’ve taken part in church services, and next up we have the Fun Week for the primary school children of the area where the Youth Group come and help as well. Summer always feels like a bit of a lull.

Another year has passed and we reflect on the great things that have happened. But in this lull, there is joy also. The joy of anticipation to see what the new year will bring. This will be me heading into my ninth year with the Youth Group and if there’s one thing I know this next year will bring, and that is surprises.

The youth always have an amazing talent to surprise you, and we the leaders are looking forward to it.

An Afrikaner In Keith

by Eckhardt Bosch

Moving to ‘bonny’ Keith has been, and still is, a wonderful adventure. When I first came to North Scotland, I had a great sense of the unknown.  With the uncertainty, I could not help but reflect on my family history. Just as I moved to an unknown place, so too my forefathers explored new lands.

The Afrikaners have a history of travelling, or as we say in Afrikaans to ‘trek’. The first trek was a voyage way back in 1652, from Holland to the Cape of Good Hope. Jan van Riebeeck and his crew were the first Europeans to settle and to start the rich Afrikaner history. To commence a trek in Africa was no easy task, especially not in light of the distance they had to travel. Despite the hard conditions, they managed to settle in all the corners of Southern Africa rightfully giving them the designation ‘Trekkers’ – those who move and travel. The landing of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 was to initiate two further treks.

The first famous trek happened in 1835 and had its origin in the South and spread to the North. It is known as the ‘Groot Trek’ (the great trek) for two reasons: the sheer amount of people who decided to move, the massive distance (691.58 miles), and the dangerous, even life-threatening, nature of the landscape to be traversed. The second trek happened between the years 1874 and 1906 and is referred to as the ‘Dorsland Trek’ (Thirsty Country Trek). The name itself gives a good indication of how extreme the conditions were. The distance travelled was an astonishing 1591.33 miles through the dry Kalahari desert. Having enough water for all the animals and trekkers must have been a huge challenge. Both events were massive undertakings and definitely not for the faint-hearted, not to mention the fact that the means of transport was ‘Ossewa’ (wagons) pulled by oxen.

While keeping these events in mind, as an Afrikaner, it is easy to draw some correlations between my heritage and my trek to North Scotland. Just like the Trekkers, I had the drive to explore the world and to settle where God wanted me to be. There was a massive difference though! Even though I felt like a trekker, my conditions were everything but uncomfortable. For one, I was travelling comfortably on the fast-moving virgin train with its air-conditioned cabins to Keith. I was, of course, not in doubts as to my destination. I knew my destination, whereas my forefathers did not!  So, I do not resemble the typical Trekker exactly but I would still like to think that I harbour a similarly adventurous spirit as my forebears.

Traversing the 527 miles from Cambridge to Keith, I was delighted to discover kindness and friendliness – not that this meant smooth sailing all the time. I had a steep learning curve ahead of me. First, I had to come to grips with dialectics, next, I had to learn and appreciate the cultural differences. As expected, my cultural background and that of Keith is very different. The difference is not obvious and is often subtle.

To mention one or two humorous instances, when working for the church, it is expected of you to learn the names of all the people as fast as possible. This gives the impression that you care and you know every person personally. If this was not sufficiently difficult, I had to remember the names of all those in two parishes! In South Africa, our cultural heritage sidesteps this issue of remembering everyone’s names. In the Afrikaner tradition, there is an understanding that all people are friends and family and that, therefore, the general designation ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ is sufficient when addressing an individual. Or as we say in Afrikaans, ‘tannie’ for aunt and ‘oom’ for uncle. If you call someone tannie or oom it shows respect and honour to that person. If you greet an older person you say: ‘Good morning Oom John’. However, if you do not know the person’s name you can just address them as ‘oom’ or ‘tannie’, and this will be good enough. In the case of not knowing a younger individual’s name, you can just address him as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’, or in Afrikaans ‘meneer’ for sir and ‘dame’ for madam. This too can save you from embarrassment if you do not know that person’s name. The latter example, however, is falling out of use in present-day South Africa. With this cultural background in mind living in Keith and remembering names was challenging – just imagine if I were to call you uncle or aunt!

One of the consequences of Afrikaners feeling like a great big family is that you can give anyone hugs and kisses. To embrace and show affection is something that always happens in the Afrikaner culture. If you know one another you start and finish your conversion with a hug. If you meet a fellow Afrikaner for the first time, you will start with a formal handshake, after that you always enjoy greeting one another with a hug. In some occasions, you will be welcomed with a kiss as well – not the French way (on the cheek), but the Afrikaner way – on the lips! This reminds me of a ‘tannie’ back home who was still very traditional. She always greeted us with a kiss on the lips. The challenge for me as a boy was always to try to dodge her lips by giving my cheek on the last second. To my dismay, my tactics never worked to avoid those lips. I have to admit that I am glad that this custom is not that prevalent anymore. However, the hug is still very much a part of the Afrikaner package. You will get an Afrikaner hug sooner than later because we are all family!

When moving to Keith, I quickly realized that my cultural paradigm would not work. My observations of Keith people is that they are friendly but with an arm’s distance. They always make sure that there is a wee space between themselves and others. This includes having arms tucked in at the sides and not stretching out as our Afrikaners will do. This for me was very interesting to observe. Knowing this cultural difference, and realising that I should be appropriate with my hug giving, there were still many times that I could not help but hand out hugs. Still, I find it difficult to restrain the Afrikaner impulse! However, there were occasions that I gave hugs to a few in Keith that was totally blown away by me slapping my arms around them. On these occasions, I could feel how they absolutely did not know what to do with themselves. These experiences are extremely funny, knowing that the poor soul who received an Afrikaner hug will never be the same.

Well, living in Keith has also changed me, and I too will never be the same again. I have changed but not through hugs or kisses but due to the friendliness and kindness of the people of Keith who have made me feel at home. Just as my forefathers were shaped by the wilds of Africa, so too am I glad to say that bonny Scotland has shaped me for the better.

Eckhardt Bosch BTh, MTh

Parish Assistant

Keith North, Newmill, Boharm, Rothiemay, Keith St Rufus, Botriphnie and Grange


Business as usual with busy times ahead

By Esther Green

We may not have a minister, but we remain a busy and active parish here at Kirk of Keith: St Rufus, Botriphnie and Grange.

In fact, it is very much “business as usual” within our churches, as we continue to meet for regular worship, come together for meetings and group events and get involved in the life of our wider community too.

We appreciate the support, input and leadership we receive from Interim Moderator the Rev Alastair Gray and parish assistant Eckhardt Bosch and although our charge has been vacant for three years, time hasn’t stood still.

Our nominating committee, of which I am a member, has been creative in its outlook and thinking around how to attract a new minister. At a time when there are so many other vacant charges within the Church of Scotland – within our own Moray Presbytery we are one of seven churches looking for our next incumbent – we knew we would have to work hard at ‘selling ourselves’ in order to be noticed.

One of the more unusual actions we came up with was creating a catchy song and video to make a direct appeal to clergy to “Come See What’s Going On” in our corner of Scotland.

The video provides a snapshot of kirk life, having been filmed during the day of our biggest annual fundraiser, the Christmas Fayre. This event is months in the planning and sees the wider community get behind us in our efforts, assisting at the many stalls or in serving morning coffees or lunch, donating goods or coming along and spending their money at the sales tables.

The story behind making our film generated a great deal of media interest, and the clip was widely viewed on social media by thousands of people both at home and abroad, resulting in lots of kind messages of support and encouragement in our quest to find a minister. I like to hope the video also reminded our own church folk what a happy, hardworking bunch we all are!

The nominating committee has tried more conventional routes, like advertising in the recruitment pages of the Church of Scotland’s Life and Work magazine on several occasions. We created fliers about our vacancy and had these have been widely circulated, too.

The vacancy helped us move forward on long-talked about plans of setting up a church website and since becoming fully operational this has provided a useful channel to share information and news to help provide a reference and vehicle for news, views and goings on in our parish.

So while we may not have a full-time minister at the moment, it’s still very much business as usual – you simply need to look at our weekly intimations sheet to see the wide range of things that are coming up.

There’s no such thing as a typical week but looking at a seven day period this month – May – and you’ll find a Christian Aid Coffee Morning at St Rufus Hall and the Guild’s annual sponsored walk and silence raising funds for Guild projects that same afternoon, which will be followed by the ladies meeting for a meal at the Grampian Hotel.

On the Sunday there will be services of worship at St Rufus Church, Grange Church and Weston View Care Home. On the Tuesday night is a Bible Study Group on the Thursday afternoon the Fly and Friendship Group will meet.

That’s a typical window offering a view on our week; there’s always lots of different things going on.
2018 is Scotland’s year of young people and looking ahead to June, we will a firm focus on the kirk’s youth with the youth group and Sunday Club prizegivings, the youth group meal and the eagerly-awaited family picnic to Hopeman.

The summer holidays are no time to rest up either, as the annual fun week for primary children, supported by youth group and adult volunteers, takes place from August 7-10. The theme this year is “Razzamatazz Robots”.

Rest assured, our efforts to find the next minister of our charge are continuing and to that end our nominating committee continues to meet, brainstorm and look at ways of attracting the right candidate. We are still meeting and looking at what other mechanisms we can use to keep our parish to the fore.

We feel that our parish, district and wider Moray area has so much to offer, and sometimes we need to remind the community – and ourselves – that there’s always room for more people to come along and join our groups or get involved in what we do.

There’s lots of ways in which people can volunteer, even on an occasional basis, without feeling tied and committed.

Naturally, we’d love to see more people coming along to our Sunday services, too, as that’s a great way to enjoy fellowship, keep up with what’s going on and it’s a chance to pick up the weekly intimations sheet which lists all that’s going on.