Sunday, 27 April 2008

Dopugal's sermons vol 3

The final episode! (You know, the one after "Luke, I am your father"!)


What on earth does it mean to be an embedded Church? What does that peculiar phrase mean? The phrase itself is actually to not my own. Bishop Brian used it in one of his sessions at the Haddington conferences in the run up to the Lambeth Conference. By it, I think he meant that the Church is embedded in a particular location, society, culture and context. I think if that is true of the diocese as a whole, then it is interesting and valuable to apply that analysis to this particular charge and try to see what light it throws on our understanding of our “essence”.

Location, location, location – we are set in a very particular part of Scotland and physically right on the edge of the Town Centre. We are part of what was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and we face all the challenges that face the society of which we are part in the 21st century. Economics and employment in a Britain which is no longer the major industrial producer it was. The physical challenges of our location and accessibility to an aging congregation, but one with lots of cars. Our location as part of an ecumenical town centre grouping of Churches. All shape our nature and our essence as a congregation. It is a factor which we have to take into account.

We are embedded in another powerful way too. We are historically embedded in the SEC. Falkirk is a town with a great history. I often walk Max along the Antonine Wall dating back to the 2nd century CE. Falkirk was the scene of two major battles in Scottish history. One where the Wallace didn’t overcome proud Edward’s army (mainly because it wasn’t his, but his Dad’s – the far more formidable Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots), the other being the last Jacobite victory prior to the disaster at Drummosie Moor – Culloden. As I said earlier, Carron was one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. Its best selling product, the Carronade (a gun, not an 18th century prototype of Irn Bru) shaped European history by playing a major role in the naval defeat of Napoleon. And Irn Bru itself has been a major cultural icon in modern Scottish popular culture.

Our own history, founded during the great Victorian period of mission and expansion of the SEC and strongly influenced by the liturgical and spiritual ethos of the Oxford Movement, is a major factor in our essence. It’s why the building is the shape and layout it is and why the Eucharist is both our principal act of worship and why it is celebrated the way it is here, with vestments, bells and occasional incense. We are also, in no small degree, the product of my predecessors and their outlook. Certainly, their catholic persuasion as Anglican clergy has been a huge influence on our worship. And it potentially could have had a seriously detrimental effect on both our ecumenical relationships and our internal development with regard to women’s ministry. But the ecumenical openness of Canon Ballard and his ministers concert party in the 1920’s and Ivor Ramsey’s leadership of Church Unity groups in the 30’s and 40’s has been of major importance. More recently, Duncan McCosh’s advocacy of Cursillo, with its focus on developing both personal holiness and lay leadership and the focus on relationships with the Church in Uganda which David Bruno introduced and Duncan developed, have played a major role in shaping the nature and outlook of this congregation and its role, both locally in the town and in the life of the diocese, the province and the world wide Church.

Embeddedness may be a clumsy way of describing it, but it is actually of profound importance in explaining why we are what we are today and what we can be and will be in the future. To give it a rather more conventional theological title, it reflects something profound in our ethos which you could call “Incarnational theology”. Basically, we see our task as being the body of Christ in this place and at this time. We are called to reveal the presence of Christ to the world through our common life and collective witness as a congregation and, springing from that, our individual and personal discipleship. We do not see our mission as primarily one of proclamation (preaching and sermons are not our raison d’ĂȘtre); nor do we see it as essentially one of social service. Both are part of our outlook, but are held within an overall attitude of a focus on worship as a powerful expression both of our outreach and our witness. As I tried to say in these sermons, the liturgy in a very deep way is the defining feature of this Church, making us what we are for good and ill. It both creates and reflects our particular style of being the Church. It is itself the product of our local and denominational history. It also strongly and subtly influences our appeal and our influence. The way we are both attracts and repels people. Those who seek a Church which allows you to participate, reflect and engage in the way we do, will be drawn to us. But in a culture where the expectation of Church is defined so strongly (as it is in Scotland) by a preaching based model of worship and involvement, that very style which appeals to those who do not feel at home in that ethos, will be a major turn off for and barrier to the majority of the population, simply because it is quite alien to their expectation of what Church is like.

Dougal's sermons - vol 2

Second installment!


Why describe the SEC as a theologically tolerant Church? Why not call it broad or liberal? Either would describe the variety of viewpoints expressed by its members and its openness surely? Well, both terms have honourable places in 19th & 20th century Church History, but to use either might tinge our perception of what it is like today. Also, historically the SEC wasn’t terribly broad or particularly liberal. In some ways it still isn’t. But in the last 40 years or so it has become markedly tolerant in a way it never was before.

Historically, the SEC was neither Broad nor Low: it was generally High Church. Reacting in part to the general dominance of the Presbyterian Establishment, it stood for a ‘catholic’ 3 fold ministry, preferred Patristic Theology to that of Calvin and avoided both the Evangelical and Moderate theologies that vied for supremacy in the Scottish churches in the 18th century. When the Oxford Movement burst onto the scene, the SEC was widely seen as having held that theology long before Newman, Keble and Pusey came along. Indeed, when Newman was debating his future in the Anglican fold after the publication of Tract 90, Pusey tried to persuade him to join the SEC if the Oxford college heads condemned it, rather than become a Roman Catholic. The only Church honour John Keble ever received was an honorary Canonry of the Cathedral of the Isles, Millport. Whilst there were congregations which were evangelical, they often preferred to seek the care of an English (Low Church) bishop rather than align themselves with the High Church SEC. In an essay on the History of Christian Worship in Scotland, Professor Duncan Forrester notes that until recently the Piskies were seen as “narrow and spiky”. Breadth and tolerance were not our most instantly visible characteristics to other denominations. Heck, we couldn’t even give communion to Presbyterians who hadn’t been confirmed by a Bishop until the 1970’s.

Two little examples from my own experience may help to show this. When I was training at Coates Hall, there was a student who came from St Paul & St Georges and who had grown up in the Brethren. She and I were on the same Worship Team in our 1st year. One week, we were assigned to do sacristy duty together and she asked me “Why do we wear all those different coloured robes?” This led to a bit of a teaching session by me on vestments, ritual and the significance thereof. I expressed some surprise that she hadn’t been told about this as part of her confirmation classes. The congregation of P & G’s I discovered were not the sort of Anglicans who did that sort of thing! But our conversations revealed that she certainly didn’t feel part of the SEC ethos at Coates Hall. I said that it wasn’t a High Church College like St Stephen’s House Oxford or Mirfield: it was “non party”. She replied that it unconsciously assumed unstated norms which were from the High end of the spectrum: daily office, Eucharist, vestments and a generally catholic version of Anglicanism. There was little understanding of, never mind sympathy for, the Evangelical approach. And on reflection, she was right: the College reflected the general practice and ethos most SEC congregations. You were OK if you shared that and could be as radical or conservative as you liked. But you were liable to feel excluded if you didn’t. Not quite as broad a Church as you might fondly imagine.

The other example of the historic lack of liberality in the SEC concerns an elderly woman in the Church where I was curate. She was lovely, but terribly against many changes in the Church, like the Blue Book and Women Priests. She could be quite vituperative on those subjects. She had been divorced in the 1950’s. She had been told by her Bishop that she could only continue to receive communion if she did not remarry. She never had. She was terribly hurt and angry that today people were “allowed to do what they want” and still be part of the Church. She found it difficult to accept that the SEC had become more humane and tolerant of human weakness in her lifetime – but too late for her to benefit. The SEC was not exactly an “anything goes” sort of Church 50 years ago.

The SEC today is a very different beast. Perhaps the growth of Evangelical congregations has meant we have had to be, but there has also been recognition that you can be faithful to God and hold radically different views from what was acceptable when it was that “narrow, spiky” wee Church. Some quite traditional views are still around but they co-exist with those who grew up with the “Honest to God” debate. Fans of Bishop Spong are able to take communion and adherents of Feminist Theology are not excluded from the table. Priests who do not agree with the idea of women bishops can be and are appointed to posts in this diocese, as are divorced clergy. And gays. And Evangelicals.

What is the glue here? What holds us together in at least reasonable amity and fellowship? And are there any boundaries? Partly, it has been a learnt tolerance. Traumas, both at national and local levels, have taught us that it is a good way to be. The advent of new liturgies, the ordination of women and the re-ordering of much loved local buildings in line with modern liturgical practice meant that we have had to learn how to disagree and still live together. Observing other parts of the Anglican family coping (or not) with similar questions has led us to deal with them very differently. We have discovered that toleration, rather than legislation works and that an essentially pastoral rather than a judicial or political approach preserves unity and enables diversity.

Underpinning this, is an understanding that whatever our differences, we are still “members together of the body of Christ”. That understanding has arguably been partly created by our strong Eucharistic life and, whilst there is something to be regretted in the demise of Matins as a Sunday service, we can be profoundly thankful that the experience of the Eucharist which we share together at least weekly has created a corporate understanding of congregational life as opposed to thinking of the congregation as a gathering of individual worshippers. There has also been a very subtle change in the make up of the membership of the SEC as a whole. We have a larger proportion of members than in years past who were not brought up in the SEC. Many, of course, moved up from England and, whilst not being evangelicals in theology, they certainly have broadened the variety of viewpoints held by members than once was the case. That diversity in itself has gently edged us away from the old ‘hardcore Pisky’ mindset.

More interesting, in many ways, is the number of Episcopalians who have joined the Church from other denominations. There is now a significant proportion of our membership which has chosen us over and against their “cradle church”. Some have come from the Reformed Churches because they have found our participative style of worship more fulfilling or because they are not comfortable with the growth of a more conservative approach to Scripture often found in Kirk pulpits today. Others have come in from the RC church, drawn by a style of worship which is similar and familiar but not tinged with sectarian tribalism over “mixed marriages” or because they are divorced or married to a divorcee and can receive communion with us which they cannot do in the Church of their baptism. This has had a significant influence on our openness to different outlooks and viewpoints.

There has also been a growth in what you could call theological awareness within the SEC. Theology is no longer (if it ever was) the exclusive preserve of the clergy. Courses and teaching have extended out into the congregations and ordinary members are now more aware of theological change and debate than they were prior to 1960. A bishop having slightly radical views on scripture and God today doesn’t get the front page publicity that John Robinson got when he published “Honest to God” in 1963. Post Richard Holloway, we’re rather used to that! We are better informed and therefore better equipped to discuss and disagree about theological issues as a Church than we once were. Whilst some have found this disquieting, many have found this freedom liberating and indeed it is one of our strengths when it comes to drawing in new members. It appeals to people out there.

All this doesn’t mean that we are an “anything goes” Church. There are boundaries and they are defined, rather imprecisely, by liturgy, formularies and scripture in part and by a sense that the Anglican theological tradition of a balance between scripture, tradition and reason requires a tolerance of those who place different emphases on the weighting of that balance. Individualism in theological perspective is restrained by the liturgy’s continual positioning of the breadth of the canonical Scriptures before us to inform our thinking. The regular emphasis on the Creed as a statement of the Faith we profess publically and share collectively holds the individuals theological interpretation up to the mirror of the agreed and ecumenically recognised historic standard of the world wide Church. Our sense of being a historically rooted community of faith and a witness to and proclamation of the incarnate love of God in Jesus Christ means that any attempt to tie us exclusively to the latest fad or fashion in belief will be met with informed critique pointing us back to our roots and sources in Faith history.

Conversely, this sense of history means that we also seek to draw out from tradition and scripture an applied faith that meets the challenges of the age in which we live. We are less hidebound by tradition than might be thought, because we seek often to rediscover forgotten elements of tradition which can offer fresh insight to the Church of today. And, whilst we value the impact of reasoned thinking, it is done invariably within the context of a praying and worshipping community of diverse believers. The fact that our thinking is generally done by the Church within the context of prayer and worship shapes our theology in a way that doesn’t particularly lend itself to the disembodied and essentially theoretical radicalism which marks a lot of radical theology as the product of individual reflection in a study surrounded by books on the failings of the institutional church in a post-modern and anti-authoritarian age. Its content may be radical, but it is couched in terms which connect with the worship experience of a diverse community of believers. It may sound very traditional, but its implications are profoundly modern. It is a ‘stealth radicalism’ which, by retaining its scriptural and worship earthed connections, can be inclusive of traditional and evangelical Anglicans, thus making it a more tolerant theology and the Church itself more theologically tolerant and less divided.

Dougals sermons vol 1

This series of thoughts I thought I'd put on the blog to let people see what I think. It was a course of 3 sermons on what it is to an Episcopalian today. This also means my congregation can read what said as part of an exercise in working out where we're going. Volume 1 this is.


If you use the word ‘liturgy’, there will be quite a degree of different understandings of what exactly it is you are talking about. For some this means, the Prayer Book, for others the particular booklet the sides’ person gives you at the church door, for others it is the concept of a structured and formal style of worshipping, for others still it refers to the Eucharist.

What do we mean when we speak of the SEC being a liturgical church? I ask the question because, as part of our Continuing Congregational Development programme, the Vestry has been looking at the topic of “What is the purpose of this Church?” and it begged the basic question: “What is distinctive about the SEC?” Or what is to us here at Christ Church Falkirk the essence of being an Episcopalian? What makes us different or special? What makes our way of being disciples unique and different from the ways followed at Erskine or Falkirk Old or St Francis Xavier’s? Once we have an idea of that, then we can perhaps engage more effectively and intelligently with the topic of how we can do it better in today’s context. And how can we do it with integrity in an ecumenical setting without losing our identity in a mixed group. We thought there were 3 distinctive aspects to being Episcopalian: we are a liturgical Church; we are theologically tolerant and we are an embedded Church. So, for the next 3 Sundays, the sermons will reflect on each of these in turn, they will be published so people can take them away and think about them and then there will be a chance to discuss them.

What do we mean when we say we are a liturgical Church? And why are we a liturgical Church? We don’t just mean that we have a set service and a printed order of service: being liturgical has a much deeper and richer significance than that. A liturgical church has adopted a system of worshipping which gives structure to both its days and its years. Liturgy provides a discipline to enable discipleship both personal and corporate. Liturgy begins not with the Eucharist, but with the Daily Office. The offices of Matins and Evening Prayer provide a day to day discipline which means that the psalms and the scriptures are made familiar in a systematic context to the disciple. And through the Lectionary, they are explored both systematically (one book of the Bible at a time) and contextually. The prophets are linked to the coming of Christ in Advent, the final weeks of Christ’s life in the Gospels to Lent, the Resurrection appearances and the life of the Early Church in Acts to Easter and the life and ministry of Jesus to Ordinary Time.

The liturgical year set out in the Calendar and Lectionary gives us a reading pattern that allows a themed study of Scripture and delivers us from the temptation to look only at those bits of the Bible we find congenial or comforting. Moreover, they enable us to reflect on the history of notable disciples (the saints) and encourage us to draw inspiration from their experiences. The lives of the Apostolic age, (Evangelists like Mark and Apostles like Paul) and thinkers such as Augustine of Hippo provide rich material for meditation. Martyrs who gave their lives for Christ at different times (aged Polycarp and Janani Lwum), plus teachers (Dominic), missionaries (James Hannington), bishops (Ambrose), priests (Maximillian Kolbe) and holy men and women (Francis of Assisi and Theresa of Avila) who exercised their vocation to follow and serve Christ in different contexts, help us to see the variety of what it means to follow Christ each using their gifts in different situations. The Calendar also connects to our own location and age by remembering both local and near contemporary disciples (Columba, John XIII and John Comper) and frees us from the narrowness and exclusiveness of denominationalism. It also provides for a change of tempo and emphasis which gives both rhythm and emphasis to the year – it’s not just the same service all the time.

The purple of Advent and the “O come, o come Emmanuel” give a sense of waiting and expectation; the Lenten season with the omission of the Gloria and the Summary of the Law speak of solemnity. The Paschal season of Easter, with its triumphant Anthems and the joyful return of the Gloria, lifts our hearts and minds towards the Risen Christ. Great themes are also addressed. The Trinity, the Eucharist, Transfiguration, Unity, Dedication and re-dedication – each has their Feast and their place. Liturgy enables us to reflect on the breadth of the Christian experience from death to life. From Creation to Baptism, through life here on this fragile earth “our island home” to the life to come when we remember the departed at All Saints tide: all are encompassed by the sweep of “liturgy”.

But a liturgical Church also has a Eucharistic emphasis and properly so. The remembrance of Christ and his saving work, the sharing of koinonia or fellowship in bread and wine and the gathering of the faithful on the Lord’s day to be his body symbolically in many places expresses with supreme power the unity and the diversity of the Church which is Christ’s body. The unity is expressed in the common lectionary and calendar and in the use of uniting texts such as the confession, the Creed and above all in the Eucharistic prayers. The diversity is apparent in difference of ritual, vesture or practice. Incense or not, chasuble or surplice, bread or wafers express the essence of the particular and unique local congregation. Perhaps most significantly, the preaching, intercessions and hymns indicate and express the inner character and vision of the local Church (particularly when they are not the exclusive preserve of the clergy). The fixed parts of the liturgy – especially the Creed and the Eucharistic Prayers – express solidarity with both the historic and the global Church and unite us both with other denominations and other Episcopalian churches here in Scotland and Anglican provinces throughout the world. Personally, whilst rejoicing in the freedom to adapt and tailor liturgy to meet local needs and express our congregational essence, there are certain bits of the liturgy with which I will not tinker. As soon as you start to monkey about with the Creed or Eucharistic Prayer, you move away from a liturgical and ‘catholic’ understanding of worship towards an individualistic and ‘congregationalist’ ethos. It ceases to be ‘essentially Episcopalian’ worship and becomes the worship of St Bigot’s on the Brink or St Trendy Wendy’s – or worse reflects the individual emphasis, concerns and needs of Fr Spike and his fan club or Mother Inclusiva and her Feminist Friends.

A Liturgical Church is one where ordered worship connected with a world wide community of faith expresses a vision of what it means to be the Body of Christ that is greater than the local, small congregation. It not only expresses this, it actually creates it by connecting the church in this place with the Church Universal. It also connects the Christians of today with the Christians of ages past and of days to come. Through the Scriptures and historic creeds, we are united in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. In the Early Church there was great (and I do mean great) diversity of liturgical style and content. The Liturgy of Addai and Mara in Syria was very different from the Liturgy of St James in Jerusalem and the differences between the Roman Rite and ritual and the Mozarabic Rite in Spain and even the Ambrosian Rite in Milan were considerable. Even here in the UK, there were significant differences between the rites of Salisbury, Bangor and York. In the 7th century, the differences between the Celtic Liturgies of Scotland and Northumbria drawn from the Irish tradition of Columba, Iona and Lindisfarne and the Western Liturgies of Canterbury derived from Rome and France via Augustine were very distinct indeed. Yet in the midst of all this diversity, all recognised that this was still the same Church and we were still members together of the body of Christ. Liturgy both allowed freedom and enabled distinctiveness whilst creating catholicity and preserving unity. The Liturgical nature of the SEC properly understood does not create a bland uniformity; it allows both flexibility and common experience and makes the Episcopal Church essentially a vibrant, diverse, connected and historically grounded Church. And this is one of the great gifts we bring to the local Church scene and Ecumenical endeavour.

What did you do with my paschal candle?

This is not a question I often ask. Picture the scene. It's 10 to 9 and I am nipping up the aisle to locate a pew sheet so I can make all the announcements correctly at the 9am Mass when Shirley asks the fatal question: "Where's the paschal candle Rector?"

I turn to point at it. I mean, it is the best part of 6ft tall. Bleeding obvious where it is, innit? And... it's. Not. There. It was there last night. What have I done with it? Can I remember what I was doing last night. Yup, I can. Haven't had a drink since Ash Wednesday, so my memory is crystal clear. It wisnae me. I panic slightly, then reassure myself. It's not that serious. I mean, not like the time I lost the baby we were supposed to be baptising. Still haven't found the little blighter. I think the family just forgot to turn up. Or the time I blew up the baby Jesus at Midnight Mass in Kirkcaldy. Wasn't my fault the connection to the crib light was damp. Honest.

We start to look. It's not in the Lady Chapel or up by the font. Wee John might have put it there, not realising it's supposed to stay out front until Pentecost. Nope. No sign of it. Finally, we find it in the depths of the servers vestry. And the candle is snapped in two pieces. Broke.

How the heck did that happen? Good grief, they're pretty solid things Paschal Candles. Then, a light breaks in on Dougal's mind. "Where's wee John?"

He's up front, doing something obscure with a votive candle. "John, what did you do with my paschal candle?" I ask suspiciously. Not a question often asked in polite liturgical circles. Last time they asked that at St Stephen's House Oxford, several students were suspended. "Oh, yes, I was going to tell you. I bumped into it." It all makes sense now. Wee John is blind in one eye and has a knack of colliding with things on his blind side. Like Paschal Candles, Rectors and tea urns. The supposedly immovable object of 2ft 6ins of Hayes and Finches best Easter beeswax has met the irresistable force of Wee John. Never mind, we can sort it out later. I consider getting him to stand in its place, holding the lightable half of the candle like the Statue of Liberty, but decide against it. He is nearly 80 and the Children and Vulnerable Adults Protection Officer would give me hell. Probably.

So I disappear and vest, go into Church and sit prayerfully composing myself to lead the faithful in the Eucharistic mysteries. I open my eyes...and there's a paschal candlestick coming down the aisle. It has legs. What the??? Wee John passes my stall, puts the candlestick down, finds a taper and lights the bottom half of the busted candle, which he's managed to scrape out a wick from. The faithful look bemused and gaze wondering to me for an explanation of this new and strange ritual observance. Something I picked up at Mirfield last week? Who knows? Composing myself, I explain what's happened and start the service. All is well, despite the first lesson from the NRSV version of Acts having St Paul leading the Athenians in "groping for God". You can get defrocked for that these days.

Thank God for Wee John. Every Church should have one. In Lent, he prayed for deliverence from "Charismatic Psychopaths"during the intercessions. I think he meant the likes of Robert Mugabe and Stalin. Fr Alsadair, who was visiting from SF, nearly had hysterics. Besides, there is something very symbolic and profound about the light of the Risen Christ coming from something that is broken and not whole or perfect. The picture I took really can be an icon for today.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Over the sea to...Polmont!

Well, this afternoons work was taking a group of our over 80's out on a barge trip. I was sadly disappointed. Wee John didn't carry out his threat to bring eyepatches with skulls and crossbones on them, so we could all pretend we were pirates. I've never really got over them taking Captain Pugwash off the Beeb! I so wanted to be Jack the cabin boy!

That said, it was all good gentle fun, munching tiffin as we cruised (we were on a boat, honest!). The great thing about having a female Assistant Priest is not only does she remember to bring things like tiffin, she even brings a choice of chocolate tiffin or toffee tiffin! Being rather a traditionalist, I stuck to the choccy version. A wee family of baby ducks with mum sauntered past and a rather magnificent heron patrolled the canal banks. He was a bit camera shy, but I did capture him for posterity with my camera phone. A nice way to spend an afternoon.

O God! I'm not a liberal!

Our little course using "Living the Questions" DVD material is ongoing in the hall on Thursday nights. Stimulating stuff, that gets the happy half dozen talking and ye Rector (that's me folks)shows off his hibernating scholarship. Last night we got to lives of Jesus. After the 1st bit, I was debating strongly with one of the faithful (and he genuinely is) in defence of biblical criticism as a useful, nay essential tool. Then we got to Marcus Borg on what he believes about Jesus. It was when we got to the Resurrection that the rubber hit the road and my voice came out saying: "Well, to be honest, I really part company with this lot here."

I am not really terribly liberal in theology. I actually do believe he rose again, is alive and I have a relationship with him. It isn't "an eschatolgical manifestation of the ground of our being" (whatever that is) or a culturally conditioned response by the religious bit of my id, ego or super ego. Incarnation is a reality, as is resurrection. Otherwise, I really was wasting my time and got 50 quid under false pretences from the family whose 93 year old ma I planted with prayer in the local cemetery yesterday afternoon.

Then I read this and think: "dogmatic little bugger!" Try again. For me, incarnation and resurrection are real and matter. I say the creed without a qualm and am grateful that I can. If others have difficulty with that, but feel they can say the creed by doing some (what I regard as) intellectual gymnastics and travel with people like me in the mad ecclesiastical organisation I work for, then great, I'm happy and welcome aboard, let's journey together. Let me say the creed ex animo and I'll let you say it cum grano salis. And we'll still meet at the altar rail together and break bread together on our knees.

Hey! Maybe I am really a liberal after all. Just doctrinally a wee bit conservative. I think I can live with that.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Hanging with the penguins.

Spent today on an away day at the local Carmelite Monastery with the rest of the local clergy. It's always amazing to encounter the peace of these places in midst of a busy urban sprawl. The buzz of the buses and traffic is never really audible. Little oases of calm in the desert of urban noise. And the nuns so welcoming.

I like nuns. Nuns are fun. Unlike my namesake and hero in the priesthood, Fr Dougal of Craggy Island. There is that great bit in one of the episodes when Bp Brennan is bawling the guys out:

"And that retreat in Co Mayo!"
"They was only nuns."
"Nuns are people too!"

Perhaps it's a tad flippant to refer to the good sisters as penguins. (Certainly incorrect for brown habited Carmelites - are they really auks?) But when I was wee, my schoolmates couldn't pronounce my second name very well and called me "Penguin" rather than "Penman". So it's very affectionately meant.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Poems, Puffins and Piskies

A nice Presbyterian friend gave me a copy of a poem she thought might appeal to me.

"St Kildan Congregation" by Derick Thomson

The fulmars are on Stac an Armainn,
living in comradeship,
their eggs keep their hold on the rock,
dancers on tip-toe,
and eternity wells up
at the foot of the rock cliffs.

The solan on Soay
fondles the gannet's throat
the eye stares straight into space,
its beak teaches the Parables,
each one on its own nest.

And the puffins are at the edge of the rock-ledge
in their white surplices,
with their coloured beaks;
I've heard, but don't know whether to believe it,
they're Episcopalians. Well, take it or leave it.

I love the image of puffins as wee, plump Piskie clergy in cassocks and surplices! They do look so like portly cathedral canons, patrolling the cloisters after Evensong. As I might well look in a decade or two!