Rebuilding Ancient Ruins

‘And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them.’ Genesis 26:18

I love nothing more than the story of an ancient well, hidden and buried for centuries. It has an “Indiana Jones-like” quality to it. Does the water source still run underground? Can it be found and re-dug? Can that which once provided refreshment, comfort and even healing be made to flow again? These are the questions that have filled my mind since I was made known that the Church of Scotland was putting Whitekirk in East Lothian up for sale.

Whitekirk, despite its small size (and the fact that the church is not white but red!) has an amazing and outsized history. Begun in 1297, it was built by the Countess “Black Agnes” of Dunbar to give thanks for the healing she found in the waters of a holy well there. The well itself dates back at least to the 8th century AD and is legendarily connected to St. Baldred, a traveling missionary from Holy Island, Lindisfarne who spread the Gospel to East Lothian and became known as “the Apostle to the Lothians.” This holy well and its church became the focus of a medieval pilgrimage that attracted hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across Europe. They came for a drink of the healing waters and to worship and pray in Whitekirk’s sanctuary. Future popes and Scottish kings passed through its doors; pirates, thieves and English Roundheads raided its riches. It even served as a stop on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella on the axis from St. Andrews to Spain.

The Reformation in Scotland put a stop to the pilgrimages of the Middle Ages and the holy well was finally buried and lost in 1815. But the power and healing beauty of Whitekirk remained. In 2021, the Church of Scotland made the decision to sell the property after watching the local parish dwindle and decline to a point where it was no longer financially viable. This is where we may come in to see a new chapter of Whitekirk’s history written!

We, the missional community of East Mountain UK, Discovery Church Dunbar and 24-7 Prayer Scotland, are in discussions with a new charity called the Whitekirk New Life Trust to see the church purchased and renewed as a centre of prayer, worship, the arts and pilgrimage. The New Life Trust is currently in financial discussions with the Church of Scotland and has approached our three groups to help shape how this property will continue as a place of Christian worship in our day. Imagine the possibilities with us!

What would it look like to see the vibrant history of Whitekirk renewed? What kind of impact could a centre of 24/7 prayer in East Lothian have? What healing and refuge could 21st century wanderers, seekers and Gore-Tex clad pilgrims find again at Whitekirk? What if we could find and re-dig the ancient well and see its waters flow once more (both physically and spiritually)? Like Issac in Genesis 26, we are standing on ground that our father’s have found sacred and healing. The ancient name of Whitekirk was Hamer (hay-mur), which meant a place of safety, of refuge and of “home.” What if we and others can call dwell in this place once again and call it by this comforting and healing name? Dream with us! Pray with us!

Chris Furr leads a small missional community called East Mountain UK in East Lothian where he resides with his wife and 3 children. Originally from North Carolina, USA, the Furrs have spent years living in Germany, France and now Scotland. Their family motto is “Taking the Adventure that Aslan sends.” Chris considers himself an artist, a limping pilgrim and a lover of overgrown ruins, half-buried history and Celtic Christianity. With a hobbit-like appreciation of cosy armchair spaces and steaming cuppas, he has been deeply impacted by books like “Red Moon Rising” and “Dirty Glory.”

In Our Day

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
‘ Habbakkuk 3:2

I have been on a number of wee pilgrimages recently and it has been stirring my heart.
In simply visiting friends or taking a work retreat I have somewhat unwittingly ended up in places of ancient, rich spiritual history where the Church once flourished and helped the land and the people around to flourish as well.
From Sannox, Isle of Arran to Whitekirk in East Lothian to wee Pittenweem in Fife, there is a sense that God is uncovering, revealing this richness that has been somewhat hidden and largely forgotten for a very long time.
Reading the stories of what God did in the land and the people in these places through the faithful, courageous prayer and service of monastic communities and men and women completely abandoned to His purposes has caused me to “stand in awe”. And a cry is forming within my heart of “Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known.”

My church community here in Dunbar, Discovery, has been looking at Jeremiah 6:16 lately, exploring what it looks like in our lives to “stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and find rest for our souls“.
As part of this we have taken a couple of local pilgrimage walks, one of these being a day on Holy Island of Lindisfarne. We had some time on our own so I sat in one my most favourite spots on earth – the rocks on St Cuthbert’s Island where I can listen to the seals sing and speak to them as they bob gently in the sea, their silver faces filled with friendly curiosity.
I reflected on how pilgrims still flock to Holy Island though there is no longer a large, thriving monastic community to welcome them. There is still a deep peace on the island, something that prompts reflection, stirs a hunger in the soul and draws seekers.
For decades, faithful monks facilitated the presence of God and a meeting place between God and those seeking. The fruit of that faithful, sacrificial, loving cultivation can still be felt today, hundreds of years later.
My heart swelled with longing to be one who cultivates in the same way as these saints gone before, that the seeds of prayer, hospitality, justice and mercy, creativity, learning and mission that I plant would grow and still be providing a place of rest and nourishment for weary pilgrims hundreds of years later.

My prayer that morning was, “God, renew in me that heart for and faithfulness in prayer… Renew in me, restore in me, rebuild in me first.

Revival begins in us first.

The famous travelling evangelist Rodney (Gipsy) Smith was known for stopping just outside the town he was about to preach in, drawing a circle on the ground and kneeling within it. “Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle around yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle,” he said when asked how revival starts.

So as I find myself praying “Repeat them in our day,Lord,
in our time make them known
“, I am adding, “within this circle first.

Transitions

*You may have noticed we’ve been quiet for a while. We took a break over the summer but now we are back and our National Coordinator Crystal kicks us off with some reflections around times of transition.

Transitions.

We talk a lot about seasons, especially as Christians. Which makes sense. God created the seasons and He created us as humanity with connection to the natural world. So the natural world is often a visual reflection of what is happening in our lives.

However, I have not been reflecting on seasons so much as the transition between seasons. That in-between place.

No matter whether you are sad to leave the current season or are excited to enter the new season, the transition can be disorienting. Every season in the natural world requires an adjustment period. Anyone else notice how the first couple weeks of colder weather makes you late for everything because you have forgotten how to factor in the extra time needed to don all the required layers of clothing?

Yet so often we just sort of stumble through the transition, not really fully aware of all the changes and what they mean and how we are internally responding to them.

I have spent much of my life in this way – just stumbling through all the changes and transitions, trying to convince my heart that I’m fine with change. But I have been learning to no longer live in this way but to live awake, fully alive, which means being more aware of the discomfort of transition.

This latest transition comes off the back of a three month sabbatical. Towards the end of my sabbatical I began to pack up my lovely flat, my home of three years, the longest I have lived in a home since my teens.

I was preparing to move to Dunbar to be part of Discovery, a church plant about to become a 24-7 Prayer Community. I was excited because in many ways this move would be the culmination of many prayers, hopes and dreams. And the community, the surrounding wild beauty and slower pace of life would all be life-giving to me. But I was also uncomfortably aware of the other full range of emotions tumbling around within me.

I made the move and 10 days later came off sabbatical and dove back into work.
I am lodging with a family for a while and it has been an absolute joy. So much life. I love coffee break time, coming down from my room where I’ve been hard at work in front of a computer screen, to be greeted by a wee dog so happy to see me that her entire body wags, an adorable baby who always has a delighted smile for me, the imagination of a 4-year-old and good conversation with the lovely parents of this trio.

But all of this means new life rhythms. And finding and establishing new rhythms can be a bit like changing gears on a bicycle – a bit clunky at times.

So though I love everything about where I now live, I have found the clunkiness disorienting and even frustrating.
The disorientation in work propelled me to take a work retreat on the Isle of Arran at Sannox Christian Retreat Centre, giving some dedicated time to being with God and listening for His wisdom, vision and guidance.

It was exactly what I needed to help me find that centre in God again and begin to navigate the path ahead with greater confidence and peace.
I still haven’t fully found my new rhythms. But I no longer feel disoriented. And I have re-discovered my creativity – that ability to let go of what was before to more easily explore new possibilities for the now and the future. And in finding my centre in God again, I also found again his peace, the gentle reminder to be patient with myself and the assurance that there is grace not just for seasons, but for the transition between seasons.

I think many of us are in transition periods right now. If you are, or the church/community/team you lead is, then I want to encourage you to not just keep stumbling your way along, attempting to ignore the discomfort of this period. But make space for noticing the discomfort, learning from it and for listening to God. Maybe that’s a retreat – on your own or with others. Maybe it’s setting aside some weekly or daily time to simply listen and re-centre yourself in Him again, receiving His peace and accepting His grace as Holy Spirit takes the lead in the navigation of this time-between-seasons.

*If you would like to have someone facilitate a retreat for your group, be it a leadership team or a group of friends, 24-7 Prayer Scotland would be happy to talk with you around how we can help. Just drop us a line at scotland@24-7prayer.com .

Prayer that Opens Prison Doors

With a lawyer for a father, Claudia’s interest in the criminal justice system began at a young age. And a marker moment at 14 when prayed for by another teenager gave her a sense of something beyond interest – a sense of purpose, a call to be a voice for the voiceless.
Proverbs 3:27 – “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” – became a foundational verse for her life as she grew in age and the awareness of the affluence from which she came, giving her a sense of responsibility and shaping her life choices.

Spending a transformative year with Jackie Pullinger in Hong Kong, Claudia became introduced to those on the other side of the criminal justice system, whose lives had become caught up in it for varying reasons. She was overwhelmed by the amount of potential, talent and wisdom she saw within those who were viewed as “villains” yet who, in many ways, were actually victims of life circumstances stacked against them. She realised these were the “oppressed ” of whom Scripture speaks and she left Hong Kong with a yearning to serve the prison community.

At twenty years old while in uni, she heard her name called in the night, much like when God called to the young Samuel. She experienced a dream-like vision where she saw a huge prison in Scotland that had been cleared and replaced with a field where a farmer was plowing. The farmer spoke to her saying, “Pray, so that My seed might have fertile ground to grow in.

This confirmed the call on her life to serve the prison community and being an activist, she responded with action rather than prayer and began to do volunteer work in prisons.
Her first time walking up to HMP in Edinburgh, she experienced the odd sensation of familiarity, as if she had been there before, as it was the same prison from her vision. And this is where she began to really learn about intercessory prayer. She would pray as she walked the corridors, and feeling the spiritual atmosphere of deep despair and resistance, she often felt unable to pray except in the Spirit.
She remembers one day in particular, sitting in the cafe when the women prisoners came in and the atmosphere of trauma and despair was so thick she felt intimidated, doubting that even prayer in the Spirit could make a difference. But she pressed on. Then came the sound of a lovely, genuine laugh and a slow trickle of laughter began to spread across the room, conversations became more animated and life was reflected in the women’s faces. The atmosphere completely transformed. No one had publicly called on God, but it was like God had decided to turn up and bless these women with his presence, not taking any credit for it, simply out of his kindness towards them.

In spite of moments like this, because prayer didn’t fit her image of what “success” looked like, Claudia would lay prayer aside and put her energy into trying to build projects and teams. Nothing would happen so she would pick prayer up again. This was a pattern for a while. Because the experience of God’s call on her life to this work had been so profound, she struggled to understand why she wasn’t seeing amazing fruit or didn’t have incredible success stories. What Claudia couldn’t see at the time was the deeper work God was doing in her. A work of surrender and humility.

After three years of trying to start an Alpha Course in the prison but being met with resistance, she had all but given up. Challenged by a friend to pray again, she picked prayer back up, but it would be two years before those prayers were fully answered. After 5 years of frustration, discouragement, perseverance and on and off prayer, Claudia finally took part in the first Alpha course in HMP! But it was someone else who had started it and was leading it. Claudia simply assisted and prayed, yet with deep joy. And that was when she began to accept that the “Farmer” in her vision had not called her to be the one who plows, but to be the one who prays.

What amazes Claudia, 10 years on, is that the transformative work happening now in HMP and in the prison community around where she and her husband lead a church, is not because of her faithfulness in prayer. But rather God has been full of grace and faithful to her. She sees now that God was protecting her from becoming the centre of her own story and though that time of training was incredibly hard and painful, it was also amazing and is what has laid a healthy foundation for her leadership today.
And it has taught her something else. The prison community lives under a heavy covering of shame and rejection that has been placed on them by others. Human efforts can do little to lift it from them. Only the Spirit of God can break through that shame and rejection and bring freedom and a new identity. And that is the power Claudia is partnering with when she prays.

Claudia is married to Thomas and together they lead Stenhouse Baptist Church in Edinburgh, where they both now serve and befriend the prison community in different ways. They are excited to welcoming a new member to their family this summer!