From the Rector

Dear friends,

As I put together the Kalendar for this issue of the magazine I realised that I should add on Thursday 18th February, the feast of St Colmán of Lindisfarne, the words ‘First anniversary of the institution of Stephen Holmes as Rector of Holy Cross’.

What a year it has been! Izzy and I have been confirmed in the sense that God called us here and we have enjoyed getting to know you, but we are now back in a lockdown which looks set to be at least two or three months long. For many of us this lockdown is more difficult than the first but we do, at least, have the hope provided by the vaccine which I know some of us have already received.

One question I have wrestled with since arriving is ‘what is Holy Cross?’.

This is a question that the Rector is in a unique position to answer as he has contact with every aspect of the life of the congregation in a way that even those who have been here for a very long time don’t have. There is a danger of thinking a congregation is still what it was in the past. The advantage of appointing ministers from outside the congregation is that they bring a fresh pair of eyes, and one of the hidden advantages of the pandemic is that things can’t go on as before so we are forced to notice what we miss and what we don’t. In the regular e-news sent out by email I speak about what we are facing and what is happening at the moment, but I thought it might be interesting to share with you here in the magazine something of what Holy Cross looks like to me at the end of my first year.

The first thing comes from how we have held together in lockdown: there is a real sense of community and people have been looking out for each other and keeping in touch by phone when we can’t meet.

The second thing comes from the task I set myself when I arrived, to see who belonged to our community. I inherited a card index and, as we needed to keep in touch online, I collected email addresses and built up a database. We are a community of about 60–70 regular worshippers, not all of whom in normal times attend each week, and about 100 people in total if you include those who feel part of Holy Cross in other ways. About ten people have joined our congregation in the last year, and I noticed how, when we were meeting in person, people made an effort to make them feel welcome. I have also discovered people not on our books and not worshipping with us who still feel a strong link to Holy Cross.

Looking at our membership roll, one thing that is clear, unlike the big city centre churches, is that most of us live relatively near the church in the EH4 postcode area. By my desk as I write is a map of the Holy Cross ‘pastoral area’ which covers Cammo, Cramond, Barnton, Silverknowes, Davidson’s Mains, Drylaw and Blackhall, and the fact that most of us live here gives us the feel of a parish rather than a gathered congregation. That some of us do travel from farther afield means that we are not merely parochial! The Episcopal Church doesn’t have a strict idea of membership; you become a member of the Church, the Body of Christ, by Baptism and Holy Communion, and that is our main way of belonging. Everyone is welcome at our services and you become part of a congregation by coming along and identifying with it. This means that, as Holy Cross transcends its pastoral area, it is also much more than the group that gathers (when we can) on a given Sunday.

We saw this with the successful heating appeal – the congregation were very generous but so were many of our neighbours who just like it that a Christian community is here in a beautiful church by the roundabout. We also saw it in making the Holy Cross Community Nativity video where community groups were keen to join in and which was watched by over 500 people (it had 555 views; a video on YouTube gives you the number of ‘views’ but this could be two people watching together or one person looking at it more than once). Our Sunday worship videos have about 100 or more views in lockdown, which suggests that they are reaching more than are usually in church on a Sunday and well beyond those who one might think of as ‘Holy Cross people’. I saw this just after the last lockdown when a local man came into the church and said he’d never been in before but loved watching our videos.

One thing that struck me when I read about Holy Cross before I came here was the international connections of the congregation which go back to its foundation, and also how it has had strong connections to its local community. These continue and we saw them in action in the charity collections at our popular Advent and Christmas services with the professional singers Barbara Cole Walton and Hannah Rarity (whom you may have seen singing Auld Lang Syne on the STV Hogmanay programme). We raised £380 for the Pilton Youth & Children’s Project in a place of major deprivation near our church, and £250, which UK Government match funding will double to £500, for Mary’s Meals which feeds children in schools in developing countries – £500 enables them to feed 31 pupils for a whole school year.

There is much more I could write, for example about the deep tradition of prayer at Holy Cross and our links with Anglican monastic communities, but that can wait till a later time. My conclusion from all these thoughts about ‘what is Holy Cross?’ is that we are bigger than we think and that, although like most churches we have declined in numbers over recent decades, we have all the resources needed to grow in the future when we return to something like normality. Meanwhile we have to survive the current crisis and grow in love and prayer.

With love in Christ,


Photograph, the Oratory at the Rectory.

Read Stephen’s ‘thoughts on liturgy, history and religion’ in his blog

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