ThScottish Episcopal Church in the North West Highlands

Serving the Scottish Episcopal Anglican Communities in the North West Highlands of Scotland

St Mary-by-the-Cross and Fir Chlis House of Prayer,  Tongue, Sutherland

St-Mary-by-the-Cross Scottish Episcopal church,  Tongue, Sutherland,


 Are held  on the First Friday of the month at 12 noon,  in Fir Chlis House of Prayer which is located on Old Kyle Road, about a mile from the center of Tongue village 

      Facilities;  Toilet, Steps to  Front door with hand rail.

Quiet Day – Saturday 8th April: 

There will be a Quiet Day on the eve of the beginning of Holy Week, hosted at Fir Chlis on Saturday 8th April (that’s the day after our monthly Eucharist this coming Friday).  The idea of a Quiet Day is to set aside some space and time to prayerfully and quietly still ourselves in preparation for the most important time and celebration of the Church year – Holy Week and Easter.  The day will be punctuated with 3 addresses.  You might find it helpful to bring some reading with you.

  Arrangements for the Quite Day: The day will begin with coffee and refreshments at 10am, with the silence beginning at 10.30am, finishing at 3.30pm.  A simple lunch will be provided.  We will have the use of the entire premises, including the garden and prayer-labyrinth (weather permitting).  Please come if you can – especially if you have never been to anything like this before.  If you could let me or Kathleen know if you are coming by Thursday, that would help for catering purposes.

The Altar Cloth and White Stole were embroidered by the Late Helen Le Mar for St Mary-by-the-Cross, Tongue

Father Nicholas Court, Minister Stewart Goudie of Melness and Tongue and Bishop Mark

The monthly Eucharist service at Fir Chlis, Tongue

Tongue – Christmas Mass – 30th December 2016

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court, Rector)

All of  the Sermons Preached are  published on the "Sermons" page of this website and usually removed a couple of months later as newer ones are added.  Kathleen was so impressed by this particular Sermon, which seems to be travelling the World, that she asked if it could be added  to the site and left on it.   As it was preached at St Marys/Fir Chlis this seems to be the most suitable place for it to remain.

  An acquaintance of mine is a parish priest in a part of North London.  Like most parishes, his is full of what you might call “characters”.  One such – we’ll call her Maisie (not her real name) – is particularly eccentric, caused – to an extent - by her addictive personality.  She’s a big West Indian lady, and she will often turn up to Mass so drunk as to be incoherent, and although this can cause a considerable amount of disruption to the services, people make allowance for her and try to love her.  Disowned by what family she has, she lives alone with two sets of companions – her cats and her empty bottles.

  On the afternoon of Christmas Eve last year, Maisie turned up at Church whilst the children and ladies of the parish were decorating the Church in preparation for Midnight Mass.  She was very drunk and her language would have made a sailor blush, but eventually, after a cup of coffee, she was persuaded that the best thing might be for her to go home and sleep it off.  It wasn’t until some time after she’d left and the finishing touches were being put to the Crib that they noticed the figure of the baby Jesus was missing.  A telephone call was made to the Vicarage, and the story of Maisie’s visit and the missing baby was relayed to the Vicar.  

  It didn’t take Hercule Poirot to figure out what had happened; so my friend headed for Maisie’s flat to pay her a visit.   When the doorbell failed to rouse her, the Vicar opened the unlocked door and called her name.  No answer.  The place Maisie called home was barely fit for human habitation.  The place was filthy, and the stench of decaying food, cats and the rubbish that lay in heaps in the corridor and corners was over-powering and made it hard to breathe.  Picking his way round rows of empty vodka and cheap cider bottles, he found Maisie asleep on what had once been a sofa.  And on the floor beside her, in amongst all the squalor, on a cushion and a clean, white towel, lay the baby from the Church Crib.  The Vicar went and woke Maisie gently so as not to alarm her and to check that she was alright.  Maisie opened her eyes and said: “O Father, how lovely to see you”.  “Maisie”, he said, looking down at the figure beside her on the floor - “have you something to tell me”.  “Yes, Father, but I knew you’d understand”, she replied, and as they walked back to Church together, the baby from the Crib clasped tightly to her, Maisie turned to the Vicar and said: “I knew you’d understand.  You see, I had to take Jesus from Church today – he’s all I’ve got left in the world”.

  Maisie’s world is an apparently empty one, with few real friends and no family.  Her flat is a mess, her life is a mess and her world only makes sense to her if there’s a full bottle of something strong to get her through her day.  In amongst all this mess, her faith still has some shape to it.  It may not be a shape that fits neatly into what we might think of as normal, but for her it is, because the other parts of her life are so extreme.  And yet, her story fits so well with what we’re celebrating here today.  That ancient story shares that sense of mess which pervades Maisie’s existence.  God’s choice was to be born into a situation that combined dubious parentage, shattered reputations, political oppression, the squalor and stench of a stable, and the imminent threat of genocide.  Take away the Christmas card image, and there’s little in the Christmas story that’s romantic, heroic or even comfy.

  When did you last see a cowpat on a Christmas card?  For some unfathomable reason, it’s alright to have a picture of the family pet or a stage-coach on a Christmas card – neither of which have anything to do with Christmas - but no cowpats.  They must have been an unmissable feature of the scene in the Bethlehem stable, but no – that’s too messy.  And yet the reality is that it’s into such a mess that God chooses to enter our existence – not a million miles from the scene in Maisie’s flat.  And when they got home to Nazareth – the Holy Family in the Holy House – do we really think they didn’t have the rows, stormings-out and slamming of doors that are a feature of families with children growing up and testing their borders?  Perhaps the driving force behind the Incarnation – God becoming one of us – is that He sees the messy nature of family life as the best possible environment in which to become a fully human person.  Family life, as we know, isn’t all kisses and cuddles.

  The Church of St John in Clevedon, near Bristol, is a beautifully cared-for and architecturally pleasing building both inside and out, complimented by some lovely banners, statues and icons that adorn the pillars and walls of the nave.  At the back of Church, near the Sunday School corner, there is a lovely embroidered banner, made by the people of the parish.  It shows Mary with her back to the viewer, pegging out a long line of nappies on a washing-line.  There, in amongst the beauty and order of the neatness of that Church, Mary is found doing what all mothers do.  It serves as a stark and moving reminder that some 2,000 years ago, the great almighty God – the One who created the universe out of nothing and who ordered some 100 million galaxies to spangle our skies and those of other worlds - made Himself so totally vulnerable that He even needed someone else to change His nappy!

  Why should He choose to do this?  Let’s ask Maisie.  Maisie’s is the sort of life that understands and makes sense of this apparently senselessness.  The mess in which she lives – and I’m not just thinking of the flat she calls home – is precious and made the more precious by what Christmas really means.  When she came to Church that afternoon and stole the Child from the Crib, she succeeded in expressing – in a way so powerful that we’d be hard-pressed to match it – just what it is about this Baby that is so compelling.  If we are happy to pass off the Man this Baby turned into as only a great teacher, or a prophet or a healer and miracle-worker, and remain content with that, then we’re missing the whole point of what is going on at Christmas.  The Child born in Bethlehem all those years ago challenges us.  No baby remains a baby.  They all have the persistent and annoying habit of growing up.   What lies in the manger of Bethlehem is all gift – not something we in some sense deserve – but pure gift.  And when we come to really understand that, how could we not want to possess and be possessed by the God He is, was and always will be.

  And then, or course, we will know what Maisie knows and we might understand what was going on that Christmas Eve in North London.  How she expressed this desire and compulsion may have been a bit on the clumsy side; but wouldn’t it be marvellous if, because of this Christmas, we allowed this Baby – in turn - to possess us too?  We all know that wonderful moment when a child looks up with arms outstretched to us, how it’s our natural impulse to move towards them, pick them up and cuddle them close.  The Child in the manger reaches out to each one of too.  What’s our response to be?   To back slowly out of the stable in the hope we’ve not been spotted, or to reach into the manger, take Him and hold Him close and welcome Him into our messy lives – because that’s where He longs to be, like any baby, held very close and secure.  And when He’s that close, even our own messes become holy.  

  So, thank you, Maisie, for helping us understand what lies at the heart of our celebration today; and when you come to receive Holy Communion in a few moments, cup your hands to form His cradle – His manger – welcome and possess the God who knows and loves you like no-one else does.  Make the decision to take the Baby home with you this afternoon – not to nurse the Child but to come to know and follow the Man and the God who comes to live and die for you.  Then, maybe, we’ll all know what Maisie knows – that in this Child the life of the perfect God finds a touching-place with our fallen, messy lives, so that He can share and bear our sorrows, our temptations and hardships; and that to do this, instead of being everywhere, God chose to be radically somewhere in particular, in a helpless Baby in Bethlehem, so that we can look to Him at those low points we all hit in life, and know if He’s all we’ve got left, we’ll have not less than everything we’ll ever need.


The monthly Eucharist service is held at Fir Chlis House of Prayer, in an upstairs chapel which gives a cosy and welcoming feel to all who attend.  Following the Eucharist service a shared lunch and fellowship is had and enjoyed by those attended.

 Fir Chlis also operated as a Retreat house and also offers occasional "time out" quiet days in a remote and idyllic setting.  

Very recently a labyrinth has been added, as shown in the picture above for walking whilst taking time out for quiet contemplative prayer.

The Labyrinth, 


For walking in peaceful meditation and contemplation.

Bishop Mark gives the Blessing at Father Nicholas's Silver Jubilee celebration, July 2014

Fir Chlis House of Prayer, after Eucharist Fellowship

St Mary-by-the-Cross/Fir Chlis House of Prayer

Old Kyle Road,




IV27 4XJ

Local Contact; Mrs Kathleen Pannell, 01847 611788 or 07961 274086

The Rev'd Canon Nicholas Court    01854 612506 or 07518 026641

Fir Chlis House of Prayer, Old Kyle Road, Rhian, Tongue, Sutherland, IV27 4XJ