“Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 

This is largely a copy of what was posted on the Tarbert Church of Scotland website https://tarbertchurchofscotland.org.uk on Saturday 18th August with a few tweaks and additions for this blog. Hopefully more to come than in the past. 

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12 (NIV)

Today is the last Sunday that Wilf and Pat Urquhart are going to be with us. As a congregation we have been blessed by their ministry in many different ways over the past few weeks, and they leave us with many good memories.  During the summer months the congregation  has been well served by the pulpit ministry and  faithful pastoral endeavours of two exemplary ministry couples, the Rev Donald Angus and Mrs Rachel Maclennan and Mr Wilf and Mrs Pat Urquhart. We thank them warmly for all that they have done whilst with us here in Tarbert, and  we pray that being in Harris during the summer will have been a blessing to themselves as well.

Over the course of the last year, I am sure that I am not the only one who has seen the Sovereign hand of God in so much of what has happened in the Congregation. When I was first made aware of the fact that I would require major surgery at the end of last year, one of the most pressing challenges faced by the Kirk Session was how pulpit and pastoral cover would be undertaken. One of the concerns that  both the Session and I had was to seek to avoid piecemeal and ad hoc preaching ministry during my absence, and so we took the decision early on for the good of the congregation, that locum cover would be much preferable to having different pulpit supply at each service. We felt that there was no substitute for having consistent pulpit supply and pastoral cover during these weeks, and so we were delighted to have been able to obtain the services of three excellent locum preachers during this lengthy absence. The term locum actually means “ holding the place” , and so I should like to also personally thank John Murdo, Donald Angus and Wilf who have so admirably taken my place during my times in hospital and  recovery.

In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel raised an Ebenezer or Stone of Help, as a constant reminder to the children of Israel of the goodness of God towards them by way of provision and protection amongst other things.  And certainly we have seen along the course of the past year several Ebenezer’s or significant markers that have shown that hitherto the Lord has helped us. Truly we as a congregation can do the same, and we give our thanks to the God who has provided for us all so wonderfully over the past year.  In the first instance God undertook for us last autumn in providing the Rev John Murdo Nicolson as locum in the congregation over the winter  months.  When John Murdo’s commitment here came to an end at the beginning of March,  I was partly recovered from the first operation, and able to undertake a phased return. By the time the second procedure came on the horizon, in God’s wonderful timing both Mr Maclennan and Mr Urquhart were free to undertake cover over the last seven weeks of the summer.   The Congregation have not only appreciated, but also  greatly benefitted from having consistent preaching and ministry from both these highly experienced  and popular men of God. 

I should also like to record my own gratitude to you as a congregation for your practical resolve to keep things as normal as possible during this time. To that end I should like to thank all those who sought to ensure that as far as possible the work and witness of the congregation  continued as before. I should like to thank especially the Rev Donald John who has once again borne the burden and heat of the day as Session Clerk in making the administrative arrangements for the locum’s to come and liaising with the central and local church agencies in this regard. In addition I should like to thank all the elders and Management Committee  for keeping the congregation running smoothly. I’d like to thank Campbell for running the prayer course over the Summer months, and we pray that this will bear fruit in the lives of those who came along.  We are  as a congregation particularly indebted to Pam and David for giving their home “ An Caladh” for the use of the locums during the summer., For this we are truly thankful to God, and pray that  Pam and David would be richly blessed for their sacrificial generosity to the congregation. 

I continue to be  humbled by your prayers and good wishes, but also humbled by the sheer grace of the God who does all things well. My time in hospital and recovery from surgery has shown me the wonderful asset we have in this nation in the NHS, and I am so thankful to God for all that has been done for me in both Inverness and Stornoway.  As I said at the beginning of this journey I was going into the unknown in a way, as I had never been sick or in hospital in my life before. I didn’t even feel sick the day I walked into Raigmore hospital last November! That soon changed !  However I have hopefully come out of hospital with a new awareness and appreciation of hospitals and the vital work they do.  This year has also  made me aware of the reality of being in hospital and hope that this experience will help me be more empathetic towards the sick whether in hospital or at home. Occupying a hospital bed  for the first time was an insightful experience, and gives one a clearer picture than anything that could be taught in college or through pastoral experience of what it means to be sick or suffering.

During the last few months I have thought much about the time ahead, and so I come back into the work with hopefully a fresh vision and new impetus and awareness of the urgency for the word of God to be preached and lived not only here in Tarbert but throughout the nation. 

Ian Murdo Macdonald