Dear Friends,

It is times like this we need to remember “what a friend we have in Jesus”. Last Sunday morning, Merle White, a long-term member of our church and a good and loving friend to many of you, passed away. Don and their children, Elizabeth and Peter, and the rest of the family are grieving deeply and appreciate your prayers for them. There will be a small service, for family and some friends, at the crematorium next Monday to give thanks for Merle’s life.

“Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.”

As I was preparing Sunday’s service, it was interesting to read about the Irish poet, Joseph Medicott Scriven, who wrote this hymn. His life sounds like it belongs in the book, A Series of Unfortunate Events, but, sadly, it was not fiction.

He was born in 1819 to prosperous parents in Banbridge , County Down, Ireland, and graduated with a degree from Trinity College, Dublin. On the night before he was to be married, however, his fiancée fell from her horse while crossing a bridge over the River Bann and drowned. Joseph was deeply affected by her death and began to travel. Today I think he would have been diagnosed with severe depression. He became very committed to the Plymouth Brethren, but this estranged him from his family and he moved to Canada.

There Joseph taught school in Ontario and was well regarded. In time he was engaged to another young woman, Elisa Roche, but she, tragically, caught pneumonia and died. After this he seldom had a regular income, and was forced to live in the homes of others. He continued to dedicate himself to Christian work, giving and sharing what he had, and working for no wages for the poor and sick.

This hymn was written shortly after the death of his second fiancée, to comfort his mother who was sick in Dublin. It seems that, from the little that I’ve read, that despite being regarded by many as an eccentric, and despite his struggle with depression that lasted up until his death, Joseph was not abandoned by his friends. Friends continued to visit him and care for him and visit him. It seems strange then that he writes in verse three, “Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!” I wonder if he sent this to his mother to reassure her that, despite the difficulties of their past relationship, he had found peace and comfort in his relationship with God and that she could rest in that knowledge. “In his arms he’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.”

This Sunday, 24th October, at 6pm will be our fourth Sundays at 6 session focusing on Mental Health Month. It has been a privilege to hear the stories of those who have shared so far; to understand more about mental illness and its impact, how we can support people better and practice better self-care ourselves.

The following Sunday, 31st October, we will be welcoming half of the congregation back to church! We are using our alphabetical system again, A to H on the 31st October and I to Z on the 7th November, but this time we are going by street names – not surnames. It will be wonderful to have more faces – even faces wearing masks  – back in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning.

Joseph Scriven was very unassuming about the hymn he had written. He did not intend for anyone to read it – apart from his mother, but a friend, visiting him when he was sick, saw it by his bedside and asked who had written it. “The Lord and I did it between us,” Joseph said.

“The Lord and I did it between us.” This is what having a friend in Jesus means, we are not doing life alone; and that even the difficulties we face, the suffering we experience, can be the catalyst for something beautiful and life-giving, something that ministers to others. This is where we ended up last Sunday – in Hebrews 5:7, “Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered, and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal life for all who obey him…”

We do not do life alone. We do this – the hard and the beautiful aspects of life – the Lord and us between us.

Grace and peace,