Monday, 30 June 2008

My response to GAFCON.

Is to write a review of the restaurant we went to for dinner tonight. Well, Sydney Smith, Canon, wit and Whig would have done. All my recent blogs have been rather religion fixated and that is never good.
We went to the Wheelhouse. Which is up by the Falkirk Wheel. Logically enough. I've been there a few times for lunch, inspired by a good review in the Daily Record (I don't buy it honest - it's my mum!) by Tam Cowan, football pundit, Motherwell supporter (St Jude, pray for them), wit and gourmand (or fat bees, as they are known in Motherwell). I've always enjoyed the food there, but to be honest, I've always found the service has let them down. I thought it was a case of more of the same tonight when the waitress took us the long way round to our table. But it turned out my initial impression was wrong, as she had simply realised that our table was a bit near a family of 8 with a wee one in a high chair and we might not enjoy being bombarded with spag bol during the main course. Well spotted and full marks!

The starters were excellent. The haggis tower with goats cheese I am told was very nice, but the scallops with black pud and minted pea puree was excellent. Nicely seared juicy scallops and not over powered by the peas (if that is possible) Personally I'd leave out the balsamic drizzle, but it did look lovely on the plate. The mains were equally enjoyable. Tom's braised lamb shank looked very tender and tasty, Margaret's Haggis, Neepsn and Tatties were delicious and the small portion was fairly generous. I toyed with idea of the seared Tuna steak, but opted instead for the pork Salambucca. Now, the last time I ate this dish was in Rome and it was made with veal. Yes, I know they don't farm it terribly ethically on the Continent, but it tastes gorgeous! I wasn't expecting it to quite match that standard when I ordered it and it didn't. The pork was a tad dry in comparison to the veal, but it was nicely seasoned and the dressing was very light. It was also nicely balanced, just like the scallop starter. Just the right amount of delicious new potatoes and roasted veggies. if the Italian version got 11 out of 10, then this got a very creditable 8.5.
No sweets, but a very decent espresso and all for less than £20 a skull. 4 stars out of 5 in my book.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

"Apostolic Diversity" - A sermon for the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul.

Zechariah 4:14: "These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth." (NJB)

I have to start by telling you that the OT reading today actually has nothing at all to do with Peter and Paul! It refers to the High Priest and the Governor appointed to run Palestine after the return from exile of the Hebrew nation in 520BC and we can date this vision pretty accurately to circa February 519. And of those two anointed ones, by chapter 6 of Zechariah, they were down to one, as the Governor Zerubbael had proved to be a bit of a busted flush!

But in the context of celebrating the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, our two anointed ones are the two apostles who most significantly shaped the history of the Christian Church as we experience it today. Peter and Paul proved to be the decisive double act who freed the young Church from its potential imprisonment as a Palestinian, mainly Jewish, sect and set it free to become the diverse, multi-cultural, global body we know it as today. And a more unlikely pair of multi-cultural liberators than Peter and Paul you would be hard pressed to find in human history.

Peter was your original "hick from the sticks". A small town Galilean fisherman, the farthest he'd every been from home was down to Jerusalem for the Passover. He spoke a bit of Greek, no doubt, but was very likely illiterate. Paul was a Roman citizen, born in what is now modern Turkey. He would certainly have had Greek, Latin and Hebrew as his languages and would probably have been literate. But he was a hardcore Pharisee and anti-Gentile and pagan culture. I suspect that cultural liberator was a role neither had in mind when they began to preach and lead in the early Christian Church. But Paul, driven by his experience en route to Damascus, was to become the great advocate of preaching the Gospel over cultural boundaries and was to be surprisingly sensitive to the need to accommodate local cultural practice when deciding what was and wasn't acceptable as a Christian lifestyle. peter, unsurprisingly, was more resistant to this endeavour, but his baptism of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10 and his strong support of the Pauline approach at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 show him to have been open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in this area. Perhaps he was never quite as committed to this vision of inclusiveness as Paul was - Paul was to be very critical of Peter in Galatians chapter 2 for giving in to Judaisers in the Church there.

Our twin pillars of the Church represent the diversity of the Christian Community in its early days. From different cultural backgrounds and with different levels of education, sophistication and experience of other cultures, they came to share a broad level of agreement on policy when they opened themselves to sharing their experiences and insights with one another in the context of prayer and dialogue. Both knew where they came from and what they deeply believed but both were willing to sit down and talk because they knew each other and recognised each other as fellow disciples, human and flawed, striving to be faithful to the same Risen Christ they acknowledged as Saviour and Lord.

Here this morning in Christ Church we have something of a living example of this diversity and unity in our sacred ministers. Our celebrant, in historic robes, is Ann, English, married mother and priest. The Liturgy of the Word is led by Tim, Kenyan, widowed parent, former Principal of a Kenyan theological college and Priest in Charge of a congregation in the Diocese of California and hospital chaplain. The sermon is being preached by John, Scot, bachelor, pushing 41 and dressed up as one of the Pope's 2nd XI! Apostolic diversity incarnate!

Next months Lambeth Conference is meeting in part to resolve not dissimilar tensions in the Anglican Fellowship of Churches. Disciples witnessing in different cultures and with different backgrounds are trying to find common ground and agreement on how to reach out effectively and with integrity into their different cultures. The tragedy is that not all the differing parties will be there to listen to each other and to God and to learn.

The Bishops of Uganda and Nigeria will largely be absent, as will some American Bishops from both ends of the spectrum. This will naturally and inevitably limit Lambeth's ability to discern common ground and find a via media - a middle way that is not a compromise or a fudge but a mutually agreed way ahead. This is tragic, in the proper sense of the word, for it will diminish rather than strengthen the world wide communion of saints and weaken rather than strengthen our common witness. Yet we should not yield too easily to the demon despair.

Peter and Paul were eventually drawn together again through adversity in Rome. Both shared imprisonment and martyrdom in the reign of the Emperor Nero and today their earthly remains rest together in a splendid tomb in the Lateran Basilica of St John in Rome. When I visited the Lateran on holiday in 2006, I found the site of their shared resting place a profoundly moving spot with a strong atmosphere of God's presence drawing us into unity in spite of disagreement. Whatever separates us as disagreeing Anglicans or separated denominations will ultimately be defeated by the power and will of God. For that which unites us - the blood of Christ shed that we might be reconciled to one another and to God and declared co-heirs together of the Divine Glory - is far stronger than our current unhappy divisions or than any power or principality of this world.

So as we celebrate this festival of S's Peter and Paul, let us commend the Lambeth Conference, those who attend it and those who are not attending it, to the prayers of Peter and Paul, co-workers for the Gospel and brothers in Christ, that through their intercession and through the reconciling love of God in Christ Jesus, God's Church may be one in spirit and in truth as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one. Amen.

Our diverse and apostolic sacred minsters - spot the Dougal!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Akela, we'll do our best!

For the first time in years I fufilled my Cub Scout promise. I did the great British Public a good deed! Walking Max, I came across a small conflagration near the skate park. Obviously one started by teens as it was nicely designed and constructed, ideal for warming the tootsies whilst hingin' with da massif and consuming the Buckfast and smoking the illicit Woodbines. It was unattended, so I doused the flames with a) half a can of Stella b) some Irn Bru and c) the left overs of a bottle of Pepsi Max all recovered from the bin nearby. That's the sort of initiative that got me my Patrol Leader's bars and a Silver Arrow! The kids of today! When I were a lad, we built these fires well up the hill away from adult discovery and found them very useful for disposing of the evidence of our nefarious doings (fag packets, cider bottles and skuddy books!). Maybe we Fifers are just most sneaky, devious and cunning than the yoof of the Central Belt! Which is why we now rule the Country. Heil Gordon!

I spent most of the day at a Servers Guild Mass and BBQ in Haddington. Lovely Georgian Church, massive Rectory and grounds. Vacant as of August. If you fancy a Marian Shrine in East Lothian for your next Incumbency... Turnout was a wee bit dissappointing, but the Obergruppenfurher der Servers from OSP was on the sick list, so they didn't show.

Wee Jessie (see last blog entry) passed away this morning, so I nipped into the Parish Church in Haddington to pray for her in the Lauderdale Aisle (aka the Shrine of Our Lady of Haddington). Was slightly appalled to discover when I looked at the service register that until the present Rector arrived you were lucky if there was a celebration of the Eucharist there more than once a year in recent years. What has happened to the much vaunted Marian devotion of Piskys in Southern Scotland? Not even an annual jolly from any of the Embra spike shops. And it's nicer than Carfin. Something must be done!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Things in perspective.

I had intended to muse on something theological today (am I a theolgical Liberal, critical orthodoxy etc) but events overtook me. Jessie, who is our MU Gaulieter (Presiding member to the uninitated) is in hospital with terminal lung cancer. I got a phone call to head up the hospital with an oil stock earlier tonight and spent about an hour there, talking with her son and then praying and anointing her. This is one the bits of priestly ministry which I both find terribly difficult and wouldn't miss for all the tea in China. I feel utterly helpless and useless at one level - nothing I can do or say will alter the outcome. All I have are words of comfort (I hope) and commendation, plus a wee bit of archaic ritual, which may make me and the family feel a bit better at a difficult time.

But I also get the inestimable privilege of sharing in and being part of God's story in her and her family's life. That is the privilege of ministry in a parish which I wouldn't get in the cloister or the College. Other privileges there would no doubt be, but not this one. Walking with very ordinary men and women on their journey with God. Ministry to the dying takes the focus firmly away from me, myself, I and onto the other - both the person ministered to and the God who is beyond time and space and our finite comprehension. So much of the Church's visible life is focused on our needs and demands that we forget to lift our vision to the transcendent and infinite Glory that calls us into eternal being. The prayer I used with Jessie tonight challenges that:
"He who died for you and rose again from death,
is calling you to enjoy the peace of the heavenly city
in which there is neither sorrow or pain,
and where weakness is transformed into strength.
He is calling you to see him face to face
that you may be made like him forever.
He comes to welcome you with angels and archangels
and all his faithful people that you may know in its fullness
the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Enter into the joy of your Lord and give glory to him,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

Go well with God, Jessie.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Fun in the Wild West.

Yesterday I went off to Dumbarton to join in Fr Kenny's 30th anniversary bash. As soon as I left the M9 and headed for Balloch, it started to drizzle - by the time I had got to Kippen, I was semi-aquatic! Yes, I was in the Diocese of Glasgow again. If they ever lose their link with Rwanda, they should think about a link with a bit of Brazil that has rain forests.

St Augustine's (not sure if it's of Canterbury or the Hippie who went conservative after having the kid with the bide in) is a rather impressive piece of Victorian ecclesiastical plant. Big. Very big. By the same architect as Falkirk. He must have had more money to spend then, as Christ Church is titchy by comparison. My official role was that of thurifer. Which I haven't done for at least 3 years. I ended up doubling up as MC, as Kenny and I were the only two in the sanctuary party who had done an eastward facing High Mass in living memory! Curacy's' @ St Trinian's have their uses!

Actually, it went rather well. Good sermon, good singing, Country and Western muzak with the Communion hymns (I wished I had been wearing chaps under my cassock!!) and a really superb buffet. Congrats Fr K.

And today it's off to yet another Robert Rowland Anderson Church to take the MU to the roadshow at Holy Trinity Stirling. And me a Comper fan.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Back in the Old Country!

The Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, Norfolk.

Statue of King Charles the Martyr

founder of the Diocese of Edinburgh

near the Orthodox Chapel in the Shrine.

Madonna in the garden of the RC Pilgrim accommodation.

Oh well, that's another pilgrimage to Walsingham over and done with. And it was good. Starting 6 years ago with 4 of us in a car, the Scottish Ecumenical has grown to 2 minibus loads and 30 pilgrims. Our 2nd youngest pilgrim Elizabeth (5 in September) has actually been on 5 out of 6 trips - she was in the womb on her 1st one! There is a lay by on the M1 forever associated in my mind with an emergency comfort stop caused by that babe pressing on the maternal bladder!

It's a nice mix of RC and Episcopal and doing our own thing and joining in. Our own thing is daily Morning Prayer with up to 20 saying it together, a daily Mass, trips to the RC shrine for a renewal of Baptismal vows and the Stations of the Cross and Intercessions in the Anglican Shrine using the Rosary as a structure. Joining in is the Shrine's Evening Prayer, the Pilgrimage Mass & Processions and the healing Liturgy with Sprinkling from the Well, laying on of hands and Anointing.

As ever, it's not the Lacey Cotta bits that move me to the core. It's the silence and the healing. After the Image of Our Lady has been processed on Saturday evening and Benediction given, the Sacrament is left exposed on the altar for an hour of adoration and silent prayer. The quality of the prayerful silence in the darkened shrine with hundreds of pilgrims is rare and precious. and this year for the first time in ages it moved me do do something I haven't done for a long time. I went to confession.

Now, I gave this particular spiritual discipline up several years ago. Partly, I was in a place where my self image and sense of worth was very battered and it just wasn't healthy to do the "we are miserable offenders and there is no health in us" trip and partly it had become not just a discipline but a burden. Cranmer has a point when he describes the burden of sin as "intolerable" - it can be. But when you are trying to tell yourself you're loved and valued by God as you are, it isn't a useful way of thinking. But on this pilgrimage it came to me this isn't the way I wanted to approach confession. I wanted to make a formal act at one level, consciously surrendering my will to that of God and putting myself in the path of his merciful loving kindness. But I also saw it in the wider context of healing. It went with the healing liturgy and the sense I went to Walsingham with this time of having experienced some healing myself. God's forgiveness is in and of itself an intrinsic part of the healing of the body, mind and soul of the Christian. And for me, at this stage, that was a gift I was able to accept in and through the sacrament of reconciliation.

I wasn't disappointed. I was received graciously and thankfully by the priest and left with the prickle of thankful tears in my eyes, knowing I was back in good place with God. By which I do not mean I have relapsed into conservative Anglo-Catholicism! I still accept women's ordination and gay rights! No Damascus U-turns for Dougal!

I also found a fabulous wee orthodox Chapel upstairs in the Shrine for saying my own prayers and kissing ikon's etc! Near the statue of another who was born in Dunfermline, King Charles the Martyr, founder of the Diocese in which I currently serve. It was a very good trip and I can recommend the place strongly. And the intercession of OLW seems to work. Well, I'm still on the straight and narrow. Heavenly Ma, Ta!

"And tonight, Matthew, I'll be...a thurifer in Dumbarton!". No rest for the forgiven!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

We're on our way to Wembley..or is that Walsingham?

The latter actually. But with the packing, taking Max to the vet (on the mend collar, off in few days), paperwork to sort before going, dropping mutt off at mums and a Cursillo meeting later on in Bathgate, I am frazzled!

Normal service to be resumed when I return. Unless I can find Our Lady's Internet Cafe!

Monday, 16 June 2008

For once in my life I agree with a Bishop!

Yeah, you read it right the first time!

The Bishop of Edinburgh gave an absolutely superb talk on how he's approaching the Lambeth Conference at St John's Princes Street tonight (Monday). It was the best bit of theology I've heard from a Bishop since I heard David Jenkins give the Charles Gore Lecture in Westminster Abbey in 1991. And it was the best reflection on the Trinity I've heard since the late, great James Bruce Torrance taught me at Aberdeen University in the 1980's.

His analysis of the current crisis was original, acute and incisive. He highlighted the difference between Provinces like the SEC where theological diversity is both a necessity and a virtue and the Provinces of the Global South which tend to be the product of missionary organisations. They imparted a monochrome Anglican theology from one part of the ecclesiastical spectrum to their converts and stressed the necessity of singing from the same hymn sheet as the norm to enable effective evangelism in an often and even still hostile context. Philosophically he challenged the idea that the debate is a clash between right and wrong world views, because if you hold God to be transcendent, then he is beyond our powers of ethical description and the current debates are a clash between different Goods, equally valid but different. He used a rather neat line from Isaiah Berlin to challenge both the conservative and radical groupings: "Happy are they who rest secure in unchallenged dogma - they are comfortable in their self-inflicted myopia". Brilliant!

I wasn't so taken with his analysis of different legal systems, but his reflection that the economy of the Trinity is not just an interchange of perfect love, but also a wrestling in intercession between the 3 persons as shown in the Garden of Gethsemane was simply superb. Disagreement, conflict and painful struggle is part of the Trinitarian nature of the Church and to opt out of that into a conservative holy huddle or a liberal glee club is to turn your back on God and fail to follow the Commandment not to take the Lord's name in vain - that was a stunning challenge to all engaged in debate at this time.

I was so impressed that I told him so - publicly - which is so not my usual style. I urged him to put the lecture on the Diocesan website because this challenge needs to be heard by more than the 60 or old Piskies in St John's tonight. 600 bishops need to hear it too! He agreed to do something with the website. It should be online in the next few days. Read it when it appears -it is seriously good, thought provoking stuff.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

In Quires and places where they sing.

Off tonight to the diocesan Festal Evensong in St Mary's. It was supposed to be an event for choirs from all over the diocese to come together, practice and sing Stanford in B together. I think there were reps from 2 choirs other than the Cathedral. The clergy were no better. 3 Cathedral staff (1 acting as thurifer), the Bishop, the Dean and me, plus one priest singing as a tenor with their choir and acting as a superannuated choirboy, rather than a clerk in Holy Orders! So we were put into copes and the non-Cathedral clergy read the lessons. It sounded stunning and all credit to the choirs - the Stanford Te Deum sung as an anthem being a particular treat. I was sat next to the Vice-Provost and got a glorious view of the Palozzi stained glass window over the Resurrection Chapel. In the evening sunlight it is truly stunning.

I giggled rather at the diversity of choir habit worn by the clergy. The Dean and Cathedral priest wore cassock, lace cotta and stole + cope in the Dean's case - very Fortecuse O'Connell! The Bishop and Provost were in cassock-alb and cope - tres Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite. The Vice Provost and I were in cassock, Old English surplice and Cope - Parson's Handbook personified! It's odd for me to be part of the least Roman and most Anglican looking section of the clergy collective. I'll be after a Canterbury Cap next!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Some thoughts from the jacuzzi!

After a longish Synod (which finished early and again I wonder why the heck they bother with a Saturday morning session), there is no better way of unwinding than a leisurely sauna and jacuzzi. While I was hitting the bubbles and they me, I mused on what the week ahead holds. I'm off on Wednesday with a mixed group of Anglicans and RC's on Pilgrimage to Walsingham. I've been going since 1992 and have been at least once a year since then. Part of me wonders why. It was perfectly explicable when I was a full metal jacket "nae wifie priests" Anglo-Catholic - it was "our" place and did "our" kind of liturgy. But now that I accept the ordination of women, why do I keep on returning?

Well, much as I enjoy smells and bells, it's not that. Two things do it for me. The healing and the place. Walsingham and its holy well has always been associated with healing and the Sunday afternoon liturgy with sprinkling, laying on of hands and anointing gets me every time at a level and in a way that processions of the statue (aka taking mother for a walk!) and even Benediction doesn't. And this year there will be a lot of things for me to take there for healing and prayer. Losing dad, Mum and my depression/booze problems - tomorrow is Father's Day and the 1st time I haven't had to remember not to forget to buy a present, as all those damn posters keep reminding me - the Anglican Communion, a friend of a friend who has just lost the twins she was carrying, Jessie in Palliative care, Burma. There's also the thanks to offer. I've stayed off the sauce since Ash Wednesday. The odd coincidence is I went to Walsingham that very weekend and asked OL for help. And I'm still sober. "Inspired by her example and aided by her prayers".

And there is the place. Like Iona and Taize it is, as George MacLeod described it, a thin place. I do love it and its atmosphere. I took these pics in February which might help to explain it a bit.

The Abbey ruins.

Snowdrops in spring

The River Stiffkey (pronounced "Stewkey")

It has been one of my touching places for nearly 20 years. That's why I go back.

The Longest Day.

Friday is always the longest day at GS because of the Synod dinner. Missed the 9.22 to Edinburgh, but met Msgr Kerr from St Francis on the platform, so chatted about local issues on the way in, (my trip to Walsingham, their pilgrimage to Compostella, how we can do the ecumenical Stations of the Cross better next year, the possiblity of a walk of witness on Good Friday). The days business was fairly dull, but worth noting were the booting out of the 1st reading of Canon 41 on membership (Yaay! We stopped it last time too!)-it fell in the House of Bishops. The last time they split 4-3 on a Canon was on the 1st attempt to pass legislation to aloow the ordination of Women to ther priesthood - 20 years ago! So the "Oooh!" from Synod members was deserved.

I was pleased that we simplified the acquisition of LEP (Local Ecumenical Partnership) staus by remitting it from Synod to the National Sponsoring Body at ACTS - NOW I MIGHT THINK ABOUT APPLYING FOR IT!!! Allowing CofS clergy to celebrate the Blue Book in "my" church! Never saw me thinking about that 15 years ago. And the stuff on Meissen (relations with the Evangelical Church in Germany) has taken on an local interest for me as we are looking to build links as a Council of Churches with our equivalent in Dortmund which includes EKD members and possibly Old Catholics with whom we are in full Communion. We fly to Germany in September to have an exploration.

The dinner was ok. Food good, company excellent, coffee lukewarm. Off to the final session now.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Hi ho, Hi ho, it's off to Synod I go!.

Up nice and early to take Max and his silly collar to the vet for a check up (she's very pleased with the healing of the paw this week- she didn't even charge me for the consult!), then the 10 am votive mass of St Coffee and All Biscuits (Setting: Penman - Missa Geriatrica). After that, a quick change from clericals into my "God, save me from your followers" T-shirt (which got me a very funny look from one of the clerical Men in Black when I got there) and off to the General Synod.

Arrived in time for lunch and went to the bloggers workshop. Kimberly said very nice things about this blog and used it as an example! I feel highly flattered, if somewhat gob-smacked. Then into the meat of the day - talking about the Anglican Covenant - which was a surprisingly bloodless debate. I did speak, praising the Covenant Design Group for taking on board what had been said last year about turning the Primates meeting into a Curia, but noting my concern that this draft was trying to turn the ABC into a judge and giving him more power. Don't want a Curia, don't want a Pope, I want to stay Anglican! A thought struck me. If Tony Blair wanted a bloke with a beard to run the Anglican Communion, instead of promoting ++Rowan, why didn't he just co-opt Billy Connolly? At least he dyes his beard purple! And just think of the Lambeth Conference - Peter Akinola vs The Big Yin! Now there's a fight I'd pay Rupert Murdoch's Sky to watch.

The rest of the afternoon was fairly sedate. The Canon on Joint Incumbencies went through, amended as we of the West Forth Area Council had suggested. Evening Prayer was fairly well sung and the Liturgical formation event afterwards for the Edinburgh delegates was quite interesting. By no means the worst day at Synod I've ever experienced.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

"It was 15 years ago today, when the band began to play!" (with apologies to Sgt. Pepper)

15 years to the day today that I entered Holy Orders. Coo! So I went off on a mini pilgrimage to the dear Green Place to reminisce and be thankful.

Well, I started as I did 15 years ago with a ride on the Clockwork Orange. This time it was from Buchanan St to Kelvinbridge, then I started out from West Street in my shiny new tonsure neck dog collar shirt, Grandads gold cuff links and the good suit from Marks & Sparks bought for going to Uni back in 85. Pure dead gallus High Church, by the way! I met a UF minister on the train I'd been at Uni in Aberdeen with and when he asked what I was doing these days, I said I was on my way to the Cathedral to be ordained.

The Crime Scene - St Mary's Cathedral

Next stop was the scene of the crime - St Mary's Cathedral. It was shut. Well, 15 years ago they forgot to organise a post service bun fight, so it was kinda appropriate. I wandered around the outside, thinking of the service, my knuckles going white on the rail as we sang the Veni Creator, the sermon which likened the ceremony to something in Largs called the Crowning of the Brisbane Queen! Two friends collapsing with giggles in the clergy seating when they heard that! My fellow deacon's suntan which made him look like Tommy Sheridan. Vivid pictures.

Party Palace

Then I crossed the road, passed the cafe where we'd gone for tea with the Bishop before the service and stopped to view the Usque Beatha in Woodlands Road. The lack of official bun fight meant we decamped there after the ordination. It was a brilliant summer evening, gloriously warm. I was stood outside with a pint of Caley 80 when I observed this wee guy swaying up the road towards the pub. He looked in the bottom door: zillions of dog collars. He came up and looked in the main door: even more zillions of dog collars. He came over to me and uttered the immortal words: "Scuse me pal, is it a Tarts and Vicars party the night?" Priceless! You simply could not have made that one up.

I walked across the Park to the Kelvingrove Museum and thought about the faces that aren't around any more who been there that night. Dad, mums pal Nettie, Donald Nicholson, big Douglas my training Rector. I remembered the times I'd got it right and been so good I thought I was God's gift to the Church. And the times I'd got it so wrong and knew that I wasn't. Tears and joys, tantrums and tiaras. A hell of a ride. Still glad I did it though.

An aide memoire

When I got to the Museum, I hunted out the Salvador Dali Crucifixion. Why the Cooncil have stuck it in that poky corner next to that duct, when it looked so good in St Mungo's Museum up by the Cathedral, I simply do not know. It's lost there. A copy of it was on the altar card at St Ninian's when I was a curate. It just reminds me of what I learned to do and love there. Celebrate God's love with God's people in the beauty of worship that lifts the heart and mind heavenward. And that was my wee pilgrimage.

For these and all his countless mercies may God's holy name be praised. And I can still say that after 15 years in the ministry.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Looking back, looking forward.

Came across this little ditty from that well known home of un-PC High Church humour, St Stephen's House Oxford. If you're easily offended, skip reading it. It's sung to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys "Go West". Which I heard them perform live after the Pride march in London on Clapham Common when I was a curate. ("Them" in this context means the Pet Shop Boys, not St Stephen's House Oxford!)

Face East! When you sing the Mass!
Face East!, wear retro tat!
Face East! Latin Chasuble!
Face East! Swing that Thurible!
Face East! Use the Roman rite!
Face East! Common Worship's s**te!
Face East! with your acolytes!
Face East! like the Archimandrites!
Proposition 5 I do not agree with - I suggest "Face East! Use the Scottish Rite!". Other than that, it's roughly where I was in my own mind 15 years ago tomorrow when I was ordained deacon. And have I changed in the intervening period? Well, I'm still the same me, with the same sense of humour and things that hack me off. I'm a bit older, slightly greyer, a stone heavier and a wee bit more tolerant - I'm happy to face west and I now quite like the Blue Book! I've visited the USA and Uganda - not bad for a wee boy from Gutenberg. I'm actually celibate as opposed to officially celibate, I'm honest about myself with both my parents and the Vestry (unthinkable 15 years ago). I've been in love and seen it not work out. I've lost a parent - my 1st really close bereavement and I've admitted to myself I have some rather traditional working class male weaknesses which I'm working on. So yes, I've changed and no I haven't.

And the future? God knows and she ain't telling! But it's been a heck of a ride so far and I'll just keep on with it.

Monday, 9 June 2008

St Columba's Day.

Today is the Feast of St Columba of Iona ... and it's Johnny Depp's 44th birthday! Rejoice according to taste. Here's a precis of the sermon I preached yesterday.

"St Columba, I would argue, was one of the most significant figures in world history. A native of Donegal and a prince of the then royal house of Ulster, he turned his back on a secular career and devoted his life to the service of God. After entering the religious life and training with St Finnian, he used his influence to found a number of monasteries in his native Ireland. A man of prodigious talents, it was his very giftedness that got him into trouble. He was a skilled copyist of illuminated manuscripts and he copied a set of the gospels belonging to his mentor Finnian without first asking permission. A court decision awarded the copy to Finnian, but Columba's clan got involved in the dispute and it all ended in a battle with the loss of 3,000 lives. Columba was so appalled at the result of his pride that he swore never to set foot in his native Ireland until he had converted 3000 new souls to Christ to atone for the 3000 who had died. Thus he left Ireland and settled on Iona and began to reach out to the pagan Picts. He successors reached out further to Northumbria and founded the great mission station on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It was their efforts that began the conversion of Britain to the Christian faith, which led into due course to the Christian ethos of the British Empire and the USA. Truly, Columba shaped the path of world history.

The idea of a monk as missionary may seem strange to us today. After all ,mission = Billy Graham or the Alpha Course, doesn't it? Perhaps in our minds we think monks are those who have withdrawn from the normal world, drawn up the barriers and concentrated on their own salvation and spiritual journey. In Columba's day, that wasn't quite the case. Yes they sought solitude and went to out of the way places to commune with God. But they were also farmers who had to work the land to survive, builders who constructed their own homes and worship centres, teachers who instructed the children in reading and writing, as well as prayer and scripture and mediciners who healed the sick. They were men of prayer who were fully and actively engaged in the life of the community, as well as in their own faith journey and the proclamation of the Gospel and the building of the Kingdom.

The monastic model of mission and outreach may have much to teach us as we think about how we in Christ Church reach out as a community of faith in our society today. I have personal experience of two very different types of religious community. Firstly, I spent 3 months as a student living as part of the community at Iona Abbey,where Columba was based 1400 years ago. The resident group was made up of men and women, married and single from a variety of backgrounds and ages. No one took vows, we volunteered to work at the Abbey for a set period. We shared tasks, washing up, cooking, waiting on tables, gardening, repairs etc. We ate and worshipped together daily. We provided hospitality to day trippers and groups of pilgrims. Some worked with deprived children from the inner city. The Community's outreach probably reached people and places where the yuppie targeted Alpha would never think of going.

I also know something of the life of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in Yorkshire. It's a much more "traditional" monastic community. Men only, big church, habits, sung office and silence. It helps to run a theological college and offers a ministry of hospitality to visitors. Not much to say to us then. Except that on a typical Saturday, there can be 200+ using the monastery, from retreats to training courses for clergy and laity and even local kids football teams using the monks two pitches! Ecumenically, they host a Romanian Orthodox congregation every Sunday in the lower Church. Their hospitality powerfully touches all sorts of people. And it makes a difference because that monastery is in Dewsbury, where the BNP have a large share of the vote, where Sharon Matthews was abducted and where an Asian teenager was murdered a few weeks ago.

We've spent time recently at Christ Church defining amongst ourselves what the essence is of being Episcopalian. What is the good news we want to share and the way of being with God we find attractive? If that's all we do, then we've missed the point. The gospel calls us to share our faith. Columba and his followers did so by being of service to others, by engaging with the real world in the context of having an active faith expressed in worship. Being honest, we need to reach out to our community, but we lack the numbers to do it well on our own. For us, reaching out with others in Falkirk Churches Together is probably the way forward. There are a number of suggestions that have come from FCT and I'd like you to think about your playing a part in them. Because if you don't, then they will fall flat on their face. FCT can piously dream up all sorts of great schemes, but if you, the people of God, don't support them, then nothing will happen.

May St Columba pray for us and with us today that we may like him and his followers reach out to our generation, not just with sermons and slogans but in the way described in words which St Paul wrote in our epistle this morning:

"So deeply do we care for you, that we are determined to share with you, not only the Gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us." (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Sauna insights.

After the busy bit of Sunday, I like to go for a Sauna. I like saunas. I've often found them to be good places for unexpected revelations (BTW, for those of you whose knowledge of saunas is derived exclusively from reading 'Tales of the City' I'd just like to say: no, not that kind of sauna - I 'm talking about the respectable ones at your health club!). For example, it was in a sauna in Glasgow that I got talking to a Sikh and realised I had been a bit unconsciously racist for years. I first saw the planes going into the Twin Towers on 9/11 when I was in the sauna in Burntisland. And you never quite look at your fellow clergy or your Bishop in quite the same way once you've seen them in their swimming trunks at 90C! Tho' it probably was a mistake to say to the Moderator of Presbytery "Oh hello, Jim. I didn't recognise you with your trousers off". Maybe that isn't the best way to advance Christian Unity.

Tonight, I ran into one of the Vestry in the sauna. Neither of us recognised the other at first, due to strange garb and a mutual lack of spectacles. But we then fell to discussing business for Tuesday's vestry meeting. That's a first for me. But we do tend, don't we, to compartmentalise people and stereotype them? When we see them in a different setting, our view of them can change. Like the ideas I used to have about Sikhs. Coloured, dress funny, not like me :. not quite "right". But when the turban's off and you just chat normally in the sauna, you find we're all basically human. We're all pretty similar with our clothes off, really!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Summer saturday clergy style.

Well, as can be seen, I survived an enjoyable enough over 80's trip to lovely Dunblane. They spent about 3 minutes the historic Cathedral before finding a teashop - a parish record! If you are ever wandering in the Trossachs, I commend to youthe ace delicatessen at Dobbies Garden Centre near Stirling - the chocolate, orange and cinammon vinegar is yummy!

A wedding today, preceeded by a session weeding the grounds. So I'm off to shower, shave and don my prettiest cotta!

Oh and this is just the sunset over the Forth last night - thought it looked good

Friday, 6 June 2008

It's a new dawn, it's a new day..and I sound nothing like Nina Simone in the shower!

"We're really gonna miss Yves St Laurent in the Fashion world, darlings!"
Well, the sore thumb ain't too bad, so nothing broken. Max seems to be coping with his funky headgear - as you can see. He did get his own back though. Yesterday, I took the car to get him back from the vets. He looked as if he was having difficulty climbing in the back seat, so I bent down to lift up my poorly puppy...who promptly worked out how to jump into the car with his lampshade and bopped me on the nose with the top of the plastic collar. When propelled by a 16.6kg Jack Russell cross, this hurts!

Off to Dunblane today with the over 80's in a minibus. Ora pro nobis!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Paw news.

Well, the vet says no surgery needed, but we are looking at a month to 6 weeks of antibiotics for the wee guy, plus an embarassing lampshade collar. And I slipped and banged my thumb this morning - had to put a pack of frozen peas on it to reduce the swelling. Today is not a great one! Still, I'll have to smile tonight at the wedding practice! The show must go on!

Max's paw - again.

Max the mutt (the other dog-collared male in my life) is at the vet again. The sore paw hasn't cleared up, so he is off to be sedated, shaved and medically investigated to remove what we think is a foreign body in his paw pad. I am currently very anti-teenage neds who smash bottles on paths and grassy areas. Hingin's too good for them - they need their a***s kicked! Bring back the birch!
And other grumpy old man type sentiments.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Praying against...

Something has been niggling at the back of my mind for the last day or two. At the Area Council Eucharist on Monday night, the intercessor prayed "against the Mugabe regime". I didn't feel that was right somehow. It just sounded wrong. And then it came to me. I had heard something similar once before:
From John Betjeman's "A Lady's prayer in Westminster Abbey"

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,
Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate'er shall be,
Don't let anyone bomb me.

Keep our Empire undismembered
Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And, even more, protect the whites.

JB was gently satirising the dominant cultural assumptions and the less pleasant unexamined ones of the upper/middle classes, even whilst agreeing with the rightness of their prayer that the evil Nazi regime be defeated. Now, I agree with the lady in Grangemouth's prayer that Comrade Ebagum and his gangster minions should be got out and that God might well lend a hand. I just wonder what other assumptions underlie the prayer. Are Africans unfit to govern themselves? Is Western democracy the only right way to run a country? Do we still hanker unconsciously for the return of Empire where we call the shots and impose our rules, virtues and sins on other parts of the globe?
Just musing!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Uganda and all that.

Well, I dutifully observed the said commemoration today and here's why. 2 years ago, I was lucky enough to go to Uganda with a group from Falkirk to visit our linked parish near the Rwandan-Congolese-Ugandan border. The people there are lovely and very warmly Christian. It was one of those life transforming experiences which deepened my commitment to issues like fair trade and trade justice and left me with an abiding love of Africa. I now understand why the old missionaries spent their lives there. The contentious issue of same sex relationships was discussed with the Parish Council. Our group made it clear that it wasn't an issue which exactly dominated the thoughts of ordinary Episcopalians on the ground and that even the most evangelical of us did not want to leave the SEC even if it was a bit liberal on this particular issue. I added my tuppence worth, which was to say that even if you thought it was a sinful activity, surely the response to it ought to be pastoral 1st and foremost and not about bashing folks over the head with a Bible or worse. We were listened to and respected and it was mutual.

Here are some photos which might explain why it made such an impact.

An African version of Church bells

Mad Dogs and Scottish men!

A wee bit of Scotland on the Equator.

Dougal in Africa.

Uganda is a wonderful country which has come on leaps and bounds. And the Church there is one which needs help. Dialogue is difficult because of the huge cultural and theological differences, but it is better surely to talk (and I mean talk, not chuck slogans at each other) than to separate and divide. I want to keep the conversation going with the rest of the Anglican world and will vote accordingly at General Synod. I said that to the Edinburgh Synod a while ago and the late and lovely Nigel Pounde (RIP) said "Yes, keep on saying that to the Church". He had done inter-faith dialogue in Malaysia and great work in reconciling the Church to the HIV +ve community. No one says dialogue and reconciliation is easy - but we shouldn't be the ones to cease to strive to make it happen.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Random thoughts

Thanks to Chris for making me think my life was terribly sedate and dull! Just to prove different, I went to the gym today and looked faintly athletic in my M&S swimming trunks! No pics available, so here's one of me in vestments instead!

Strange things I've noticed recently & random thoughts:

On the SEC page on Scottish Christian there's an advert for a firm of Private Eyes. Is this the latest cunning wheeze from Mission and Ministry to help us hunt down lapsed members?

Why do Presbyterians think typing 'Pentecost 2' on the Sunday sheet makes them Liturgical?

Why do some people remember Sung Mattins with affection?

Why do we exist?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

A Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The usual 2 services this morning, interspersed with prayers for healing, it being the 1st of the month. I took the rare chance to sit in a pew at 10.30, as I had an NSM celebrating and a lay officiant leading the Liturgy of the Word. I simply surfaced from a pew after the Gospel in dog collar (OK, I was wearing trousers as well), did the address for the youngsters (having moved them to the front so I could ensure I was being notionally listened to - even our lot will leave their copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" at the back when I haul 'em up front. If they hadn't, I'd have told them how it ends - I'm evil that way! Quite interesting to see how the service handles from that perspective. I must do something about the Offertory!

Yesterdays visit to St Francis Xavier's reminded me that, for all the number of times I have been inside it, I have never really taken time to look at it properly. Accordingly, I dropped in this afternoon to look at leisure. They have some rather good modern stained glass and an impressive set of painted Stations of the Cross. Not to my personal taste to be honest, but that's life. Then I popped up the hill to the Carmelite Convent where we went for a quiet day some time back for Evening Prayer and Benediction. Very nice actually. Prayerful, despite the sisters singing the Psalms at a pitch suitable only for devout bats, rather than tenors, as is the wont (in my experience) of female religious everywhere and of every denomination. Although they usually pitch the Magnificat at a singable level. It's a little haven worth remembering on a Sunday Evening. Half an hour of peace, and they even have silence after the reading and the reflection to let God in. Not your usual RC gabble. Could almost have been Anglican.

Then I went for a steak at the pub and off to blog. Life of Reilly really.