Wednesday, 19 February 2014

To the Bishops of the Church of England: thanks for nothing guys!

The Church of England badge is copyright  The Archbishops' Council, 2000.

The English Bishop's have got themselves in a fine old mess haven't they?  Having (just about) recovered their reputation after the fiasco over women bishop's legislation and their resounding defeat in the House of Lords over same sex marriage, they seemed to doing OK with Archbishop Welby pointing out that their attitude to LGBT people is being seen as morally equivalent to racism and the Pilling Report suggesting very gently that some form of service to celebrate a Same Sex Marriage might be a half-decent idea.  Then they lost it.

It is never a good idea to issue a press release at 2am in the morning.  It looks as if you're trying to bury bad news or sneak something in "under the radar.  You look shifty and duplicitous.  The restating of pretty much the line of "Issues in Human Sexuality" (1991) was a disaster.  It was widely critiqued at the time as a sop to vocal  Conservative Evangelicals, especially following the suppression of the Osborne Report (I remember it well, I was at Theological College at the time).  20 years on and social and public attitudes have moved on massively, so recycling "The Laity can have partners, but the clergy can't" is deeply stupid as more people then than now see it as inconsistent, cruel and unfair.  Which it is.  It is pure stupidity to tell your clergy that the laws says they can marry but they can't unless you have a long establish tradition of compulsory clerical celibacy like the Roman Catholic Church.  It has boomeranged badly, especially as 1 Conservative Evangelical Bishop has already called in his civilly partnered clergy for "a chat", sparking fears of witch hunts in dioceses with Evangelical leadership.

I'm glad I'm in Scotland.  But also hope we don't get too much of a flood of refugee clergy job hunting up here.  We already have a fairly high proportion of imports who don't know the province or it's unique style.  Too many is not good for our identity.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Free at Last?

Getty Images

Now that the funeral's done (and all went well TBTG), I can muse a wee bit on the recent passing of an Act in Scotland to permit Same Sex Marriage.  I'm glad it's happened and particularly so as it more or less completes the Agenda a wee group of us drew up in 1990 as a White paper for YSLD (Young Scottish Liberal Democrats) whose Vice Convenor I then was.  Equal Age of Consent? Check.  Anti-discrimination legislation? Check.  Legal recognition of relationships? Check in two stages.  Recommendation that the State not compel religious bodies to act against their conscience? Check.  So that's it all done and dusted? 

No, not really.  Now the Church has to start thinking about how it intends to respond to the legal changes. And by Church I mean the Scottish Episcopal Church.  What the rest do is their business, not mine.  Our submission to the Parliament during the consultation process was something of a "cop out".  It more or less said that as Canon Law currently stands we define marriage as being between a man and a woman and consequently we would not be able to conduct weddings for Same Sex Couples.  It really didn't point out that we can, following due Synodical process, change Canon Law and would be able to be in a position to conduct Same Sex marriages 3 years from when we started the ball rolling.  We did no ball rolling before the Bill went through, so we'll be at least 3 years behind the rest of Scottish Society were we to start at this years General Synod.  Which is actually pretty speedy for the Church, which any well taught sociologist will tell you is an essentially conservative social institution in function and operation.  I'd rather we'd been proactive in getting ready for this but am not at all surprised that we haven't been.

Currently, as Canon Law stands, I won't be able to do a Same Sex Wedding like I can a mixed sex one.  I'm perfectly happy so to do but the Law requires that Churches as bodies opt in and not just individual clergy.  I tend to agree that that's right and certainly for us Pisky clergy, who claim to be part of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, that's how it ought to be.  We are a college of Bishops, Priests and Deacons and not a Cocktail of Congregationalists (if that's the right collective noun - and if it's not, it should be!).  As far as I am concerned the next step for us is to amend Canon law, opt in as a Church and then allow those clergy who in all conscience cannot conduct such marriages to opt out, as is their legal right enshrined in the new legislation.  So, having changed the World, let us now change the Church!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Not in sole control.

I went to a meeting last night as this upcoming funeral has been weighing on my mind a bit.  What a good thing it was that I did.  Somebody spoke about their experience of going to see an elderly friend who is dying of cancer but who has the most marvellous acceptance and serenity in the face of their approaching death.  Far from being a negative experience, the visit proved to be a very inspiring one for our group member.  Equally, another member shared their recent unsettledness and realised it was because they were probably going to be promoted into a people managing job.  They'd done something like it before but had not been very good at it.  The difference was then they were on the booze and now they're sober.  It was their sense of being back in an uncomfortable place and the loss of power and control over their situation that was disturbing them.  That made sense to me, as I think it's the lack of being sole person in charge that in some ways is unsettling me.  I'm not the one pulling it all together but am part of a team.  This actually seems to be producing a very sensitively constructed service and ritual which is far better that what I could have done alone, but it's quite uncomfortable for me in the sense that I am not the "Actor/manager" running the production.

What I am re-learning is that  I am not all powerful in my own life but powerless in some respects and that I need to hand over my powerlessness and fear to the Higher Power that I experience as God.  When I do that, it all works out and works out well.  Back to Ignatius of Loyola methinks:

Suscipe (St. Ignatius of Loyola)

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Funeral Stresses.

File:9691 - Milano - S. Ambrogio - San Vittore in Ciel d'oro - Foto Giovanni Dall'Orto 25-Apr-2007.jpg

I'm back to an old place at the moment.  As we are in the middle of a vacancy at St Michael and All Saints, I am part of a team sorting out a funeral - which is proving  more stressful than a wedding or a baptism.  Why so?

Partly it's the sense that the pastoral damage created by a badly done funeral is greater and more long lasting than a muffed wedding or baptism.  Literally, a bad funeral can put people off church for life. The stakes are higher if you like.  also you are balancing a more diverse set of expectations/requirements.  What makes this one tricky is that it's being organised by friends of the deceased but there is biological family input as well and the added sensitivity of there being the deceased's 5 year old son and his needs to be carefully considered.  Add to that the fact that this being done in a vacancy, the co-coordinating between 3 non Stipendiary clergy, choir and music team, servers, and service sheet producers means there is always a greater chance of a mistake creeping in due to so many inputs needing to be reconciled.  It's always easier if there is one person pulling the show together and not a committee.  Luckily, communication between all the parties is good and it's proving to be a 1st class example of team work and collaborative ministry.

Ora pro nobis as we work towards a good result on Thursday!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Broadcast memories.

A radiogram like my granny had.

My Sunday mornings are inextricably linked these days to Radio 2.  The alarm clock blasts us awake to the Sunday House presented by a perfectly nice ex-Blue Peter presenter who tends to put in rather more "worship songs" than is to my personal taste and then proceeds on to Clare Balding who generally manages to combine quite interesting spiritual conversations with essentially non religious music.  I prefer the latter, myself.

It struck me today that this represent a major change in religious broadcasting from the days of my youth.  Then it was "Stars on Sunday" with Jess Yates (later drummed out of the religious broadcasting Brownies for an extra marital affair - viewers, then as now, disliked "hypocrisy", which kinda missed the fact that his wife had fathered their daughter by Hughie Green, so he was at least as much sinned against as sinning) or Highway with Harry Secombe whose brother was a Vicar in darkest Hanwell just up the road from where  did my 2nd curacy.  Thora Hird also appeared later on with "Praise Be!"  It was all slightly "hymn sandwich" with comforting piety, although Harry Secombe had a sense of humour and did the human interest stuff very well.  Today however, the presentation has got younger (despite congregations getting older) and more predominantly female - gender balance and all that but perfectly sensible given that most churchgoers these day are women.  What struck today most strongly is that the presenting has moved from white family favourites types to a much more mixed bag.  More women, the 1st black Blue Peter presenter (all after my time when it was John Noakes and Shep) and a lesbian in a civil partnership.  And it's on the BBC - the State Broadcasting agency.  

No doubt those whose read the Daily Heil and sic like publications lament this ("left wing metropolitan elite influence", "political correctness", yada, yada, yada).  I can't say I do.  Diversity is a good thing and variety the spice of life.  I'm delighted on the whole that the world has moved on since my youth.  No more NHS heavy framed specs, cooking has advanced beyond boiled spuds, 2 veg (overcooked) and some well done meat (child of the 70's I am - mind you the sausages did taste better as they came from the butchers, not a factory in Ireland).  Generally, the world has improved. Or more correctly, my bit has improved.  There always were and always will be tragedies both personal and global and perhaps we hear more of them now due to rolling news, the Internet and social media.  God may be unchanging but his world isn't and was never meant to be and nor were his people or his Church.  Faith may be the constant but how it is expressed changes according to context and situation and rightly so.  A simple illustration - my granny listed to the radio on her radiogram, I as a kid had a tranny (a transistor radio not a transexual in my young days!).  Now I use a DAB digital radio.  Same stations, different technology, better reception.  Simple isn't it?

Monday, 6 January 2014

Keep calm and carry on.

Isn't it funny how things can resolve themselves with a little purposeful calm?  Before Christmas things were a bit fraught, what with medical worries, Rachel's mum having a funny turn (which may or may not have been a stroke) and a complaint raised against me at work by a member of the public.  All quite stressful.  But by not panicking, following procedures and keeping calm and getting on with the job, all has passed.  The doctor has given me a tablet, the mother in law has belatedly gone to see the GP and said what actually happened and work have just sent a letter to the complainant saying that, after due investigation, I was simply following guidelines and there was no grounds to the complaint.  Once upon a time I'd have been in a total tizz over this and probably as drunk as a skunk in the meantime.  Now I've come through with dignity and reputation intact.  And still sober and in employment.
Some words from Matthew Henry 's Commentary on Psalm 31 seem apposite: "God will be sure to order and dispose all for the best, to all those who commit their spirits also into his hand. The time of life is in God's hands, to lengthen or shorten, make bitter or sweet, according to the counsel of his will. The way of man is not in himself, nor in our friend's hands, nor in our enemies' hands, but in God's. In this faith and confidence he prays that the Lord would save him for his mercies's sake, and not for any merit of his own. He prophesies the silencing of those that reproach and speak evil of the people of God."  The Psalm itself is a source of comfort:
Psalm 31
1In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.
2Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me.
3For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me.
4Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength.
5Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.
6I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the Lord.
7I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities;
8And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.
9Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.
10For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed.
11I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me.
12I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.
13For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.
14But I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God.
15My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.
16Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies’ sake.
17Let me not be ashamed, O Lord; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.
18Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.
19Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!
20Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.
21Blessed be the Lord: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city.
22For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.
23O love the Lord, all ye his saints: for the Lord preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.
24Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

New year - Back again!

(Edinburgh Castle just after midnight at New Year!)

After a bit of a break (2 months) it's time to start blogging again.  It has been busy with Church stuff (we're in the middle of an interregnum) and fairly hectic with a new boss at work. We've also had a few wee health scares.  Luckily, they came to nothing (I'm just middle aged, male and need to take a tablet to stop me going to the loo as often).  I am looking forward to a wee break later in the month as we will head off to York.  We did think of Aberdeen, but the hotel costs were rather prohibitive.

A new year can be an interesting experience.  We went to a Watch night service on Auld Year's Night which was part reflection and part looking forward.  That is something we can all do with from time to time.  I have recently restarted my use of a Spiritual director, which involves both those things. Reflecting on what has been and looking towards how things may develop with God.  Partly this was prompted by my need to review my Rule of Life having joined  Rachel in the ranks of the OHP Tertiaries and partly by the nagging sense that I'd allowed myself to drift in terms of  my organised spiritual life.  I've been slotting things in here and there and need to focus a bit.  I'd say my reflection has been profoundly influenced by my ongoing experience of AA.  There I have learnt radical honesty and a willingness to be me and accepted as such.  Ideally this should be our experience of God in  prayer and in the Church.  It isn't always and when it goes sour people can be deeply scarred and wounded. And even driven away from any form of religious observance.  Luckily I was never totally destroyed by my negative experiences in life.  My core of belief and faith remained.  How I expressed it and worked it out in the rest of my life adapted and changed.

The Season of the Epiphany reflects a little of this.  The Magi changed their world view through the process of their journey towards Christ.  So do we if we let Christ direct and mould us and remain open to the possibility that God truly will enter into our lives and make a difference.