Friday, 31 October 2008

Halloween - dontcha just hate it?

I was never a fan of Halloween as a kid. Out in stupid clothes on a cold night (which is what the clergy end up doing sometimes, but that's by the by!), turnip lanterns stank, we ended up eating neeps (a veg I can live without unless well creamed and served with spuds to kill the taste) for days afterwards. Nope, it's not my favourite festival. I'd much rather have had Diwali, personally. Nice Indian grub at least. But now the Americanisation of it all leaves me utterly cold about it all. Pumpkins? Trick or Treat? Bah!

Off to visit the sick this afternoon. If I can find her, that is. Yesterday was spent hunting through 6 wards in 2 different hospitals and still the admission dept couldn't tell me where Sadie was. Eventually a helpful Ward Sister spent the best part of 15 minutes tracking down for me. With modern computer technology, you'd think this wouldn't be a problem these days wouldn't you?

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Covenant week approaching.

Now the diocese is getting serious about discussing the proposed Anglican Covenant. The post this morning had all the bumf for the clergy conference - which means we will spend Monday - Wednesday next week talking about it (groan!). That's all very well, but it will only work if there is a turn out from all the different viewpoints. We will do little good if only the liberals turn out: we need the evangelicals to make this discussion worthwhile. Luckily they aren't bad at that in Edinburgh diocese. There is little sense of anyone wanting to split off or hold back - which is positive.

Then on the 10th we gather in St Peter's Lutton Place for an open discussion for anyone who is interested. Again the variety of viewpoints is vital. As is an irenic spirit of willingness to listen. Not the same thing as hearing the words and then catapulting your own point of view at the other side. That's no nearer to dialogue than a meeting of the Zimbabwean parliament!

So my bed time reading will be very Lambeth-ish for the next few days! Ora pro nobis!


Today, the world seems a little less grim. An enjoyable confirmation class yesterday helped. I actually find it is the teaching side of ministry, rather than the pastoral granny farming which stimulates and inspires me. Not that it's unimportant, but it's not where my gifts seem to lie. I also get a kick out of doing the odd RMPS class at the High School. Maybe I need to think about going more into that sort of post than doing parish? A worthwhile thought as I hit the middle of my time. Time's winged chariot does seem to be goosing me of late.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Down in the dumps.

I never like the dentist, but it's particularly annoying when one of the 2 fillings goes AWOL after less than 24 hours. Plus the dog is on herbal medicine because of the fireworks and it just feels like a grotty sort of day in the making. I'm late with an article for a magazine and annoyed with myself for a variety of little niggly things. A bad case of the grumps methinks!

Saturday, 25 October 2008


Back from Walsingham again. We had a really good week with decent weather, good food, a trip to the seaside, lunch on my birthday at Sandringham (in the teashop only, sadly!) and a good drive back until we got to the border where the A66 turned into the Road from Hell and then the M73 was just ridiculous. And I avoided diocesan synod! Yaay!
So now I'm 41 - better than the alternative I imagine! and back to the usual routine!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Busy little bee!

Friday was the over-80's trip - now renamed the Seniors to make it more inclusive - and we were off to South Queensferry to look at the nice bridges, before crossing the river and driving to a garden centre near Stirling via Alloa for tea. Oh well, they enjoyed the chattering if nothing else. Saturday was the Coffee Morning (£700 + for church funds) and a mad dash to Millport to drop off stuff for Cursillo. Then the holy mysteries today and off tomorrow to Walsingham with a group from the parish. This sadly means I'll have to miss Diocesan Synod (boo!)and spend my birthday in Norfolk - such a shame! Never a dull moment here.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Heretical opinions!

On Gaelic, I hasten to add. I enjoyed last night's clarsach bash but it was a bit like Wagner - great moments, but the quarter hours were a bit of a trial! It all seemed to take a while to say "It was awfy nice Morag" or "Wasn't that tragic Fergus". Still, several of the kids were very talented - a wee McPherson from Lewis (must be the clerical input centuries ago!) could fair sing and there were a couple of talented Campbell's from Edinburgh. Just a pity their clan got in my mother's clan's way at Culloden!

Tonight it's the Stations of the Cross for Cursillo, so I'd better go and find the ruddy things!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Not quite organised chaos.

Which is my life history in a sentence. Having met, fed and generally socialised with the Ugandan visitors from the Diocese of Kinkezi (who brought marvellous footage of the the new School hall we helped to build - the largest in Western Uganda - which has attracted Govt support and 6 new classroom blocks are in the process of being built by the Chinese Govt), I had to forgo a team ministry meeting and rearrange a supervision session this morning to transport them to a provincial Overseas Committee meeting. I rearranged the latter but not the former, which means I got rather in the bad books - I was supposed to chair it!
Tonight I go to a clarsach concert in Camelon as part of the Mhod. I'll enjoy it I'm sure!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Awash in a sea of tartan.

Yes, the Mod (or Mhod) is here. The toon centre is hoachin' with kilted types, the air rent asunder with the skirl of the pipes and lissom young ladies are giving highland dancing exhibitions outside the Body Shop. Well, it seems an appropriate enough location! All very nice, but I think I'll stick to the italian nosh I planned for tonight: I'm really not in the mood for haggis and skirlie gies me the boak!

Friday, 10 October 2008


is better than Thursday. I had an early night to beat off the German germs and it seems to have worked. I certainly feel cheerier today. The nose is clear, the eyes bright and I'm not coughing as much.

The Mod is in town, so you can scarely move for wailing Teuchters of an evening (or so my spies in local hostelries inform me). Although Falkirk was never part of the Gaeltach, it was a major stop on the cattle droves so might be thought of as a sort of Tartan Abilene of the 18th century. Might try and pop along to some of the folk music type bits.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Thursday, bloody Thursday.

Ever had one of those days which is just plain annoying from the start? I got off to a grumpy one today with an e-mail from a colleague suggesting we scrap and re-do an ecumenically agreed liturgy because he didn't like it. A very sharp reply zipped off from moi. Then, the blinking dog caught a rabbit. The dim bunny didn't move as he approached and paid the price. There seems to be some myxomatosis type bug going around, so maybe the late Bugs was diseased and it was a merciful release. Still, it left me feeling yukky.
Add to that wet feet and a key to the outside door of the office which jammed - I don't feel too chuffed with today.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Skool rools!

School chaplaincy has its moments. Being asked if I belong to the same church as the Vicar of Dibley is a first though - thanks 1C! I do!

Last night was a really good session with our CCD guru. We're better than we were 2 years ago at communications and stewardship - which is good to hear. He also felt we (as a vestry) are working better together than we were. I put it down to pre-vestry fish and chips before each meeting, plus an away day twice a year to do a bit of strategic thinking and planning. That and the grace of God. A big change from my last vestry. This lot are friends, not potential enemies.

And tonight I go to Old St Paul's to chair the Edinburgh Servers Priors meeting as Priest Director. Only drawback is the trains, so I'll drive to the Park and Ride and take the bus in.

Time for a coffee methinks!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

What a week-end!

On Saturday I got to the Dusty Springfield tribute act and it was very, very good. Then on the Sabbath had to soothe the grumbling oldies at 9am because the Church was Baltic... and it was, as my breath turned into pretty little puffs of vapour. At 10.30 nobody noticed the vapour, because of all the incense for Dedication festival. Excellent stuff it was too; really cleared my sinuses, which are still plagued by German germs. On Sunday evening I did a talk to our ecumenical God Talk group on how to be a heretic. Next month is how music and art from non Christians speak to us of spirituality - led by another one of the group. Monday was the barber and the dentist and I have a batch of fillings to get. Ouch!

Today I had a school class, and then the MU, then a vestry meeting with our CMD advisor. No rest for the wicked, eh?

Friday, 3 October 2008

High Dunsinane, Birnam Wood and all that.

Last night was a wee trip to Falkirk Town Hall to see the Mull Little Theatre doing Macbeth by Wullie Shakespeare. With 6 actors. It may be over 25 years since I did the Scotch play at school but even I can recall that there were more than 6 roles in it! Very inventive, minimal set decoration, clever use of mirrors which made the 3 witches possible and the actress doing the witches did all sorts of other bits, like the porter, so was onstage virtually all the time - an amazing feat of memory if nothing else. Very gifted woman indeed. The witches were portrayed as a truly screwy schizoid young woman who in this day and age would be parked safely in the Royal Ed under heavy medication. Excellent production.

And my next cultural outing? Saturday night, same place to watch a Dusty Springfield impersonator!

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Thoughts on ministering to the older generation.

I came across this poetic reflection by the priest-poet RS Thomas. It says something quite profound about ministry to the auld yins which makes up a fair chunk of the clerical task in the SEC these days. Thought it was worth sharing with the world.

The Echoes Return Slow” by RS Thomas

The cure of souls! Congregations tend to get older. There is no cure for old age. And the old tend to be sick. When one should be leading them on to peer into the future, one is drawn back by them into the past. The Visitation of the Sick! A ministry more credible because more noticeable than the cure of souls.

They keep me sober,
The old ladies
Stiff in their beds,
Mostly with pale eyes
Wintering me.
Some are like blonde dolls
Their joints twisted;
Life in its brief play
Was a bit rough.
Some fumble
With thick tongue for words’
And are deaf;
Shouting their faint names.
I listen;
They are far off,
the echoes return slow.

But without them,
Without the subdued light
Their smiles kindle,
I would have gone wild,
Drinking earth’s huge draughts
Of joy and woe.

The German Sermon.

This I hope speaks for itself.


Mark 2:2: “While he was proclaiming the message to them...”

He was Jesus. What message was Jesus proclaiming to them? And who were they? They were a crowd from Capernaum – a mixed group of the deeply devout, the churchy but curious, the faintly religious, the positively pious, the holy, the half hearted and those who filled a pew in body, but not in spirit. Plus those who had turned out to see the show of the famous radical rabbi irritating the local gang of the godly – our predecessors in these pews, if you like.

The message was painfully simple and blunt – “The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you. Repent and believe the Gospel.” (Mk. 1:19). That gospel was being preached in the 1st instance in Galilee – “Galilee of the Gentiles” – a mixed and multi-cultural, multi-faith and mixed language society. That is a society that is not unlike our own society today. The gospel – the Good News – was a message that all who chose to align themselves with God were welcomed into the kingdom of God. This, of course, is the classic message of the revivalist preacher, simple, passionate and easy to understand. The message is easy enough to accept, if it is simply a call for the individual to amend their life in accordance with an accepted pattern and lifestyle: a “Christian” lifestyle. But when it challenges and calls us as individuals, as a group, as congregations, as Church and as a society to radically change and transform our lives and lifestyles, then it is anything but easy to accept and then it is usually met with anger, apathy, lip service or anguish.

Whilst preaching this simple religious message to this very mixed group of hearers, Jesus was faced with a challenge from the crowd. A group of 4 men brought a friend with a practical problem to him. It was a practical problem that totally overshadowed his life and pushed the religious dimension of the Gospel message to one side. He was paralysed. His physical disability and practical needs dominated his existence. His friends believed that somehow Jesus could help him, so they made tremendous efforts to bring him in contact with the one who declared that he was God’s messenger – Jesus the Christ. His response was not what anyone might have expected. He didn’t say a prayer or preach a sermon telling the paralysed man it was all his own fault or the fault of his parents, grandparents or great great grandparents. Nor did he give him money or a wheelchair. Instead he told him “My son, your sins are forgiven”.

This wasn’t what anyone expected. The man and his friends probably were hoping for a healing miracle, for this radical rabbi Jesus from Nazareth was also famous for his gift of healing: in Mark chapter 1 he had healed a man with convulsions, Simon’s fever ridden mother in law and a leper. And the learned theologians who were listening to Jesus were scandalised. Only God could forgive sins. This Jesus was a blasphemer, a heretic. They were all surprised. And they all missed the point. Because what Jesus was doing was simple and significant – he was empowering the paralysed man and giving him the freedom to take charge of his own life and destiny. That man had been told for years that his misfortune and disability were the result either of his own lifestyle and choices or of the choices made by his ancestors. The theology of that period very strongly believed that God was good and generous to the righteous and that misfortune was the fate of the sinful. This rather ignores the wisdom and insight of many of the Psalms and the book of Job. The other side of that coin was to believe that if you were unfortunate then you logically were or had been sinful. It was a theology that Job’s friends and so-called comforters would have recognised instantly. When he declared that the paralysed man’s sins were forgiven, Jesus was freeing him from the burdens and chains of his own history and experience and from the attitudes and expectations of the society around about him.

That liberation and freedom which Christ brought was, at one level, not a new thing. It was exactly the freedom and liberation promised by God to his people in the Sinai covenant declared by Moses in Exodus chapters 19-40. The people of God were invited to enter into a relationship with God that brought both blessing and responsibility. The Covenant also impacted on the whole of Israelite society, defining both the prosperity they could expect if they maintained their side of the bargain and their responsibility to structure their personal and their corporate life in ways that ensured justice and holiness, not only for the Chosen people, but also for the stranger who dwelt in the land, for the widow and for the orphan. In the person of Jesus Christ, this Old Covenant was being renewed, but in a radically different way that extended its membership far beyond the descendents of a small Semitic tribe who had settled in the land of Canaan and offered its benefits to the whole human race if they wished to accept it as a way of life.

Offering that freedom and liberation to the wounded people of God is, of course, the evangelical task that we as Christians today are still charged with and committed to. It may lead us to proclaim freedom and liberation to individuals from the results and consequences of personal behaviour that is contrary to the will of God; it may require us to challenge the structures both of the Churches and of society in a prophetic role, to enable the freedom and justice which is God’s desire for all his children to prevail. But it always requires us to enable women and men to take responsibility for their own destiny and future, so that they may know and enjoy the fully free and restored humanity and life that we inherit through baptism into membership of the Body of the risen, ascended and glorified Christ. Enabling others to take charge of their destiny is a profoundly Christian and evangelical action. It expresses itself in many ways: in spiritual counselling, in proclaiming the Gospel of salvation and in acting practically and politically to empower men and women who are marginalised and disadvantaged.

I have personally been lucky enough to observe the Church doing this in many different ways and places over the years. A friend of mine worked for several years as a priest in the East End of Glasgow in Scotland. It is one of the most socially disadvantaged and deprived areas in the European Union - worse even that parts of the former Communist Bloc. He established a Credit Union in the parish in which he served to provide low cost financial loans to help people to improve their quality of life and avoid debt. It made a great difference to the lives of many families. My congregation in Falkirk has a link with a congregation in Nyakinoni in south western Uganda and 2 1/2 years ago we visited Uganda. There we saw the real difference our financial support of a medical clinic made (we supply the salaries for a nurse and a midwife), saving lives from malaria to an entire community. We also saw the difference that Fair-trade can make in helping communities to help themselves. Money from fairly traded tea was used locally to start brick factories which have transformed the local economy and improved the situation of hundreds of local people. From being dependant on one crop, with all the dangers that come when a local economy is built on a narrow base, the local economy has expanded and diversified, ensuring greater prosperity and economic stability and a higher standard of life for the future. We also saw the huge difference a local micro credit bank made in providing low cost loans for local development in the neighbouring town of Kihihi. These actions, organised by local Christians who realised that the Gospel calls them to enable freedom for all God’s people, have led to real and concrete metanoia – transformation – in the lives both of individuals and of societies.

You recall that Jesus forgave the paralysed man: he enabled him to accept and experience freedom. That in turn, through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, empowered him to take up his bed and go home. He returned to his family healed and transformed, no longer marginalised and despised but restored and able to take a full and active part in the life of his society as a worker and as a worshipper. No longer was his disability – the sign of God’s disfavour – able to separate him from the vital life of the congregation of Israel. He was fully able to participate in and contribute to the life of God’s kingdom. May the Christ who gave each one of us freedom through his saving life, death and resurrection inspire and enable us to proclaim and work for that freedom and to share it with others, that his kingdom may come and God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Rhur view Dougal!.

It seems aeon's since I blogged last. The computer in the hotel in Dortmund sadly only spoke German - which I don't (Well, "Vo ist die toiletten, bitte?" is about as far as I go - but it's awfully useful!)

Superb hospitality and real openness were my abiding impression of the Evangelical Church in Westphalia. (BTW, Evangelical means Protestant (e.g. Lutheran /Reformed), not Fundy type Evangelical). It faces much of the same problems we do: declining numbers financial constraints, aging active membership. Ecumenically, it seems all rather good at the Institutional level (joint representations to the Govt.), but less of a reality on the ground. Massive Social Service programmes funded by a 9% Church Tax. Big emphasis on justice issues (ecology, developing world etc). Churches well maintained due to the tax. I felt quite at home with the worship and theology: Lutheranism is not so very far from Anglicanism. Sunday morning was a bit like Mattins rather than CofS morning service. Candles and colours are in use. I even managed to preach a sermon (in English) which was translated and will appear on the Shuren parish web-site.

What hit me at personal level though was looking at the cities of Dortmund and Munster where we went on the Saturday as tourists. Lovely medieval Churches - only they weren't. All rebuilt in the 40's and 50's because the RAF and USAF had utterly flattened 90% of the cities in the Rhur. We go on about the Blitz, Coventry and Clydebank, which were horrible events. But it was as nothing compared to the retaliation we gave in 1943/44. Seeing WW2 from the other side of the water was a revelation. Also in the Catholic Cathedral in Munster there was a display about the Catholic martyrs and heroes and heroines of the faith who resisted Hitler: Edith Stein (Carmelite convert from Judaism killed in Auschwitz), Karl Lessing (ordained in Dachau concentration camp) and Cardinal Graf von Galen who preached against Hitler's racial policies and is now beatified. Up there with Bonhoeffer and Niemoller for courage and faithful witness. We don't here about them at school. There was also a very powerful set of Stations of the Cross. The 5th where Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus with the Cross had, not a black man, but a prisoner in concentration camp uniform helping Christ. That struck me deeply.

All in all, a fascinating and very worthwhile trip. Now to persuade the peeps to go with the link.