Friday, 24 December 2010
It has been interesting to reflect upon thinking about two churches and three congregations at this time. It can be all to easy to focus upon the church building that I see outside the windows every day, the one that is only 100 yards away.
The church that is nearly 30 miles away by road and sea has also been preparing, putting up trees, decorating the pew-ends, adjusting the (non-eucharistic) service for Christmas morning. I will be with them at St Paul's on Boxing/St Stephen's Day, once the Calmac ferries start up again after the Christmas break.
The church community that is 25 miles away by road are doing their own individual thing - next year will be a time of extra events and developed services, pastoral visiting and future planning. The snow had largely cut them off for quite a while. St Martin's will be in my prayers this Christmas.
But the church building next door? Servers (all four of them for midnight) are rehearsed, thurible technique brushed up, lighting sequence and subtleties thought about, gospel acclamations dug out and practised, hot beverage production offered and accepted. Decorations, the real tree, the crib, the stands - all have been beautifully arranged, and preserved in the deep freeze that is Holy Trinity. The frontals have been changed (which may change itself next year).
It's nearly ready to go.
Now something is still to be done. What is it again? I'm sure there is something...
Oh yes - a sermon might be appropriate!
Friday, 10 December 2010
This should be the first stage of the project that will restore the tower's gutters, remove the end of the wood rot, replace the linings, frames etc. and generally make the space back into one that we can actually use.
Given the arctic conditions we have had this week, it is a fantastic milestone for the fabric project. Well done to all!
Thursday, 9 December 2010
Monday, 6 December 2010
Saturday, 27 November 2010
There are two perspectives on this tableau.
1) One could be negative - it's only the 27th of November, not even into Advent. The infant Jesus and the wise men are already there (getting a bit particular now). The hoover, ramp and cleaning signs are an interesting complement to the nativity.
2) One could be positive - this is a visual retelling of the Christmas story in a secular, public place. It has been squeezed in where it could be all too easy to have nothing. It has been placed in a busy, living, untidy context where all is not neat and sterile and aesthetically pleasing. Someone has cared enough to do it.
How can we be anything but positive? The God-child has appeared in a modern stable - a place where respectable church-goers might tut a little, and people would not expect anything profound to occur. The God-child has appeared where and when not expected. The God-child has appeared where people can see him, respond to him, wonder about him.
I dread to think how many free child crossings between Dunoon and Gourock that Jesus will have had by the time Epiphany comes.
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Friday, 19 November 2010
This particular saint's day has set me thinking about the nature of Scottish spirituality, as opposed to British, celtic, western or other forms of spirituality. Trying to define spirituality per se is a risky business, as it becomes very, very hard to define boundaries between spiritual, cultural, contextual (if that is different to cultural), traditional etc. etc.
But it is an interesting subject, for an Anglican priest, trained in England, brought up in Scotland and now returned home to an episcopal church, pejoratively referred to as 'The English Church' by many. And it IS an 'English' church*, compared to the Church of Scotland or the Irish-rooted catholic church. The history of the episcopal church is wrapped together with English government and church politics. Our liturgy is recognisably Anglican, while peculiarly Scottish.
Where to go with all this? I have spotted some work by Ian Bradley at St Andrew's (I await a book or two via Amazon) and some activity in the Scottish Baptist College, which looks a wee bit like nationalistic spirituality rather than Scottish, but that's from a cursory glance. There are yards of books on celtic spirituality, Iona and so forth. Future posts about what all that stuff looks like. I also note with great interest the primus of my own denomination blogging about an interest in the Scottish Episcopal spirituality that preceded the English dominated Oxford movement (well, really Cambridge Camden Society driven) revival in Scotland. The Oxford movement was really about authority in the English/Irish state churches, Cambridge drove the liturgical changes that are associated with the revival. I digress.
But what about ordinary, everyday, SNP-government lead, supermarket-shopping, soap-opera-watching Scottish spirituality? The nation that produced Hume must have some defining sense of the spiritual. Following Hume's empirical lead, I can share my own observations from my short time back north of the border. St Margaret is a useful aide memoire.
She was eminently practical, working for the well-being of the subjects of her nation, establishing education, charitable support, even a ferry to let people get to the capital city, Dunfermline. She is regarded as a philanthropist in a time when royal power was absolute and often self-serving. But she was also prayerful and pious, founding churches and monasteries. She reformed the church of her time. She exemplified a balance of the practical and the pious, a balance of maintaining tradition and reforming for the good of all.
That seems a good starting point for a contemporary Scottish spirituality. It must be practically rooted, because as a nation we stand for little or no nonsense (with the possible exception of the design of the Scottish Parliament). Words without actions will not impress a Scot or an incomer hardy enough to settle here. We are also inclined to change that which needs changing - hence why Scots led most of the technological and philosophical innovations that created the modern world (challenge that!). But we are also a people who can connect to God in a profound and deep way, finding divinity in the beauty of the landscape, the wonder of natural life, the excitement of the arts, the sacramental encounter of God in everyday things. Like bread and wine.
I'll leave it there - and I'm sure people of other ethnic/national roots might argue that the above applies to their own characteristics. To be honest, the real search here may be to discern what it is to be Scottish in the first place.
*I am ever conscious of the very large proportion of folk from south of the border that form part of our congregations, as well as the 18th century settlements with the English establishment that allowed this Scottish protestant church to be free. As well as the English driven worship innovation in the 19th century. And so on. Added 23 Nov 2010.
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
November 1981 is the first year that I can remember taking part in a Remembrance Sunday parade of some nature. We obviously didn't do much in the Church of the Holy Family in Dunblane, or maybe I didn't notice if something was done. 1981, newly uniformed as a member of the ATC, shiny black shoes with slippery soles, a new short haircut and a parade over the cobbles of Stirling's old town.
I remember the cold, the pain in the ears, the marching, the bugles, some talking at various bits.
The years passed, more Remembrance Sundays, ATC, RAF, a war or two (without much personal involvement). Lots of marching, carrying flags, lots of hearing 'They shall not grow old...' Then civilian life.
Now I am back into processing, rather than marching, but participating in the acts of remembrance in their religious context. I have mixed feelings about my own military service: mainly because I left it early, at my own volition, to pursue other life directions. Was that the right thing to do? At 18 years old I signed up to serve until I was 38! A change of heart at 22 and a move to the Admiralty - at the time it seemed like a cataclysmic change of direction, with hindsight a subtle change of emphasis within the departments of the Ministry of Defence. But I have regrets about having left my military career so early. Was it honourable to have done so?
So when I stand and listen to Binyon's Words and the last post, as I watch the old soldiers march past with their berets and memories, I am unsure whether I am one of them or not. I still know my service number off by heart (that never goes). I have no medals. I studied the ethics of war with fascination, how they have evolved over the centuries. I imagine the hardships of the trenches and the motivation that makes young men and women stand up and take part in such things.
The world has come quite full circle in the regard for those who serve - we quite non-critically laud those who are killed or wounded in the conflicts of today (fought in an asymmetric concept under an 'anticipatory' self-defence within Article 51 of the United Nations charter). And it is right to empathise with the pain and suffering that war brings to all. A media war may gloss over the political context, but the human cost remains visible and real. Just as a human dying on the cross is visible and real.
We will remember them.
Friday, 12 November 2010
Friday, 29 October 2010
The item in question is a small plastic whistle (well, a pair of whistles) which you stick onto the front grille of the car. The idea is that once you go above about 30 or 40 miles per hour, it emits a whistle pitched to annoy deer (and other furry road-kill-in-waiting) and they dodge off the road before you drive into them. It was recommended by a lady clippie on the Colintraive-Rhubodach ferry who wrote off a car recently driving into a stag. So, a heart-felt recommendation.
When the whistles came, I tried blowing through them and they - wait for it - emitted a whistle! I was a little worried how irritating this might be whilst driving, and what if you had a cat or a dog in the car? Would they be driven into a frenzy by the sound?
I installed them onto the cars' grilles (as shown above) and duly set off to Bute, speed varying from 20mph to (a wee bit over) 60 mph (allegedly). No whistling sound to be heard above the engine/road/wind noise. That was fine - no annoyance from the whistles.
But wait! Are they working at all? Blowing them with your mouth is a concentrated wind, directed straight into the whistle. Hoping that general air flow on the front of the car will cause the same or a similar effect? I started watching birds and animals to see if they behaved oddly as I drove past. The pheasants (collective IQ minus 30) dodged away - but they always do. I started to wonder if these things work at all, had I fitted them properly, what was it all about.
So I found myself reflecting on other things like that. Like prayer. Does it work? When we do it, as we ask for something for ourselves or others, do we look and see if it happens. If a desired outcome happens (the deer dodges away) is it the prayer, or was it going to happen anyway? Putting a deer whistle on a car can give a sense of security through having taken action - one feels better. Is prayer just as subjective - it makes us feel better? Or does it objectively change things around us/with us and God?
Of course, prayer is a dialogue with God, a way of growing our mutual relationship and encounter with our creator - and there is so much more to prayer than asking for things. But it is still good to just DO it, rather than to analyse in minute detail what it is we think we are doing.
As Ali said to me, 'After I fitted the deer whistle, I started seeing fewer and fewer deer by the road.' We can take the advice of those who have walked before us and walk alongside us. A praying way of life is a Christian way of life that works - just ask anyone who is living that way of life.
And I will continue to assume that it is better to have a deer whistle on your car than to not have one!
Saturday, 16 October 2010
Monday, 11 October 2010
The second blogged launch on waters around Glasgow - the launching into the Clyde of the sixth and last of the Type 45 destroyers, Duncan. She'll become HMS Duncan in a couple of years once she goes into service.
It was only the second launch I've been to - the last was St Albans in 1999 (I reckon), the last of the Type 23 frigates. I didn't work on the design of those - I was still at school when they did the Type 23 Duke Class.
It was a beautiful day, clear blue skies and warm sunshine - always a bonus in a Scottish October! The date was the anniversay of Admiral Duncan's naval victory over the Dutch at Camperdown. Fair enough. The ship looked rather stark, I felt, a feature of this new design-style for warships.
There was a short service, lead by the chaplain of the fleet in his preaching bands and choir dress, the singing of 'For those in peril on the sea', some prayers. The crowd joined in slightly self-consciously and erratically with both the hymn and the Lord's Prayer. The prayer-book language naval prayer didn't get a look in with the ordinary punters!
The 'God-bit' over, lady something or other (apparently Mrs Marie Ibbotson, wife of the first Sea Lord!) crashed the champagne, pretended to push the bow, and off she (the ship) slid into the Clyde. Balloons flew and fireworks fountained - unfortunately the two crossed over and many of the balloons were shredded by the roman candles! I'm sure the symbolism was unintended: the fireworks were mounted around the missile silos, a system designed to shoot down large numbers of incoming aircraft and hostile missiles.
They have even made the Type 45 logo politically correct since I left - it used to be the ship with a missile blowing up a target - a subtle change and now it's a lovely round sun!
I met a few ex-colleagues at the shipyard, which I wasn't expecting, to be honest. They've all moved on to other things, but still in naval circles. They all knew that I am now 'a vicar', but not that we are up in Dunoon. It was rather unsettling, going back so vigorously into one's past. One of them even said they'd had some mail for me the other week, down in the HQ in Bristol.
Moving on, and in quite such a radical way, from shipbuilding executive to Anglican priest, has been quite a rollercoaster ride. The ethics of the industry in which I spent nearly 15 years are fascinating, and they are complex ethics, knitting together defence, weapons, foreign policy, national and international economics and social engineering in shipbuilding and other industrial regions. I can hardly claim a pacifist platform, with military service followed by a naval engineering career, but I can claim a nuanced take on the issues involved. Must all Christians be pacifists? I would suggest that Jesus was a pacifist, in the sense that we use today, but it doesn't follow that we all should be the same. Jesus was lots of things...
The Scottish Episcopal church has taken a stance against all nuclear weapons. That's not an area that I have ever encountered, other than some time in RAF Germany in the later cold war, before submarines had taken it all over. There are some interesting debates to be had about that war - the cold one - and how it was not fought and won.
But today was almost all about the future - the Type 45s were designed to be able to do nice gentle humanitarian errands, as well as shredding incoming missiles or aircraft. And the politics rumbles on - in the sheds behind us were looming blocks of aircraft carrier structure, well advanced in construction. Loss of jobs? Economic prudence? Unilateral reduction of armed forces? Who knows what the next few months and years may hold for my former colleagues?
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
The Very Rev'd Kevin Pearson, rector of St Michael and All Saints, Edinburgh, Dean od Edinburgh, Provincial Director of Ordinands - was named as the new bishop-elect.
I have never met Kevin, being relatively new to the SEC, but I have heard of him.
We will be praying for him and Elspeth in the weeks and months to come, along with the members of his church in Edinburgh. Change is always painful.
But we will be looking forward to a new chapter in our beautiful diocese on the western fringes of this land. It has been a strange time for me, arriving in a very small diocese without even a bishop. But you can easily get used to operating in isolation, which is not how churches work best and flourish. I wonder which way he will wish to take us...?
But I remain excited!
The news today
Monday, 4 October 2010
Sunday, 19 September 2010
The first launch, on Friday, was the return of NB Dalriada to the clear-ish waters of the Forth and Clyde Canal. The shot above is the 'before' one - before she was pressure-washed, scraped, sanded and blacked with four coats of Intertuf 16 bitumastic hull paint! Living on her for three days or so in the week, at an angle of 16 degrees from the horizontal, was interesting. You fall faster as you walk towards the stern, and climb as you walk forwards! The engine would overheat after two hours running with radiator immersed in air rather than canal water, but that's long enough to top up the batteries so the basic systems will work.
Four coats on, looking rather neat and tidy, three days for the whole thing to fully cure, and she was ready to go back in on Friday. Mary came and crewed for me, once the kids were dropped off at school. Tommy (from the Forth and Clyde Canal Society - stars all!) winched us back into the cut, we dropped a line around the upwind bollard and Mary part held, part paid-out as we turned her against the wind so we were pointing back up the cut towards Kirkintilloch and the marina. The wind was a little interesting getting back into the marina, but we slid gently back in beside NB Twizzle and tied up with barely a scuff on the new blacked paintwork.
All in all, a satisfactory process. The frustration (or enjoyment if you like that sort of thing) is repeating the whole blacking process again in two or three years' time. Dalriada has been out of the water twice in 2010 - this time, to be blacked, and when she came out to come north (see further down this blog). Boats don't much like being out of the water. Land is not the true environment for them!
The second launch - in about 3 weeks' time - we will be popping along to Govan to see Duncan, the sixth (and probably last) Type 45 destroyer be launched. A slightly different scale of event - and she will have needed a little more then 20 litres of hull paint to black her boot topping! But I'm sure she's ready to take to her natural environment too!
Duncan at Govan
Friday, 3 September 2010
But is it so good when we are sat together on my day off, putting off the jobs we should be doing, tapping at our keyboards within a couple of feet of each other? We are not e-communicating with each other, or Skyping across the same room (must get Skype fully set up!), but the image to the beholder would be one that is alarmingly technologically separated!
But is it so separated? With a network of friends scattered thinly over the world and thickly over the United Kingdom, real human relationships can be maintained or even intensified through the lens of technological relationship. I have met others who have found (and I have personally experienced) the intensity of virtual-only friendship, the blurring of the boundary of posted knowledge and face-to-face encounters. And (as I feel duty bound to do) I must reflect on the presence of God in these 'non-places.' Wherever people meet, share their lives, feel pain, ask the big questions - God is there to be encountered. Sacred places easily include internet-based space.
...and I still smile at an online debate on sacramentalism online - does the bread and wine get consecrated on a table in Australia if the president says the words in a study in Oxford, but both worshippers are present in a chat room hosted in ... who knows where?
Wednesday, 25 August 2010
Saturday, 14 August 2010
This is early days for us in the Scottish Episcopal Church, but 'Glen 10', from the final worship and slide show I saw, plus conversation with Elly in the three hours it took to get home, fill me with interest and hope!
The whole youth thing was done brilliantly - how many events have a day time sign-up activity for the youth to choose that is 'sleeping'? Cooked breakfasts and iPod fests abounded. But there was also unashamed engagement with the daily office, with eucharistic theology and liturgy. The essence seems to be meeting people where they are, but maintaining the distinctiveness of SEC worship. That flies in the face of much of the 'Fresh Expressions' work down down south, where form is a flexible as context.
But it makes it a realistic (if you are a pisky this is what you get) and integrity-laden approach. I wonder how this will evolve as the years go by? I wonder how engaged and missional we are in non-episcopalian contexts (and where we lose the essence of what we are)? I wonder how easily one can remain eucharistic and sacramental without letting go of the controls of authorised liturgy? I wonder why I'm asking so many rhetorical questions?
Thursday, 12 August 2010
The journey started at Kirkintilloch, Dalriada's home base, nicely situated at the mid-pointish of the top pound of the Forth and Clyde canal (pound is the bit between locks - top pound is the flat on the top!) The top pound goes as far as Spiers Wharf and Maryhill Locks in Glasgow, so we basically started a few miles from Glasgow.
Destination: Falkirk Wheel - which is a spectacular feat of engineering, and, on a windy day, a fantastic opportunity to get your boat blown embarrassingly off course in a busy basin with hundreds of Japanese tourists photographing it. We avoided the embarrassment this time - not too windy, and wriggled into the wheel!
The view from the top!
We then journeyed the 32 miles to Edinburgh - right into the heart of the city. Plenty of braid weed (which ties up your propeller and stops the boat going or steering), and fun and games having diesel pumped into the boat and certain waste fluid products pumped out of the boat - these things can never be done quite when and where you want. Plenty of interest in Dalriada - she still says that she comes from Gloucester, which is quite a haul at 3mph from the Union Canal.
Now Edinburgh - where do we start...? Mary and I met here as students nearly 25 years ago. We know the place pretty well. Even some of the more 'interesting' bits that we sailed through have strong memories (Wester Hailes...)
asically, we love Edinburgh a lot, and it was wonderful to be there. But after the boat passes through and we disturb the water, or we visit the castle, or have a pizza at Mamma's in the Grassmarket, a little later there's no trace of our visit. We are all transient visitors.
So I loved this permanent footprint that the Union Canal builders left behind them in 1821, on the sides of bridge 61, just before you go back into the Falkirk Tunnel.
The left hand face is looking towards Edinburgh - smiling! The right hand face is looking towards Glasgow - grimace. Or is it that you pass the grimace as you go towards Edinburgh, but are greeted by a smile as you return to Glasgow. Hmmm. Take your pick of the preference for east and west.
But I still tend to read the Scotsman rather than the Herald. A dangerous admission for a clergyman in Argyll???
Saturday, 17 July 2010
The 'Jim Crow' rock on the shore at Kirn, just north of Dunoon, seems to be both a harmless and well known attraction (as 96% of local people apparently said in an online poll at the local paper) and a sinister call to a bygone age of racism and segregation, the 'Jim Crow' laws of racial segregation in the USA. 'This Fragile Tent's blog post on the subject gives plenty of context and background, and I don't think I have a lot to add to his insightful piece, but I can add a newcomer's perspective. When I drove past the rock on Thursday (four days after someone had greyed out the offensive racist paint), this is the sight one can now see.
As reported in the Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard, the caricature (if that is what it is) has reappeared, just as it was before. The sense of local pride in a landmark, which is all that I had assumed it was until the blog and press coverage this week, has restored the image, over the KLF inspired grey.
How should a Christian respond? If it is rooted in the US history, it feels not too different to historical scars one can find everywhere. Black Boy Hill in Bristol, a city built on slaves, tobacco and such, is an example. Robertson's jam logos are another. But the rock has been like that since the early 1900s, long before US sailors, with their own history and context, were present in the Holy Loch (and we are now long after they've gone). There is another rock, a few miles down the A77 coast road on the other side of the water, down past Ayr, that has 'Jesus Died for You' painted on it, and has for several decades. That gets painted out and repainted on a fairly regular basis. One person's offensive statement...
It is part of the narrative of this place - and a slightly confusing one. I continue to explore the many narratives, inside and outside of the church buildings.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
An indolent seal lolling on a rock on the beach at Innellan, gawping lazily at folk stopping to take his picture. Some more circumspect colleagues on rocks a little further offshore, silhouettes rather than photogenic tourist traps.
Deer sniffing around the trailers and bins. Toads sneaking into the porch while Jenny has her late-night hobble around the grounds before she settles to bed. A particularly puffed-up toad that I scooped up in a shoe and returned to the rain outside. I don't think two toads constitutes a plague, so the Mosaic plague-log for our time in Dunoon remains at midges (biting gnats, I would suggest) and rain (not quite full biblical grade hail, but not a bad substitute). The Kyles at Colintraive have yet to run red with blood, even if the northerly-ish wind on Sunday threatened the safe transit of Dunoon travellers to Rothesay!
More people to get to know! Lots of cups of tea and bits of cake. Lots of walks around Bishop's Glen to try and wear off the cups of tea and bits of cake.
A rather empty echo where a 'central diocese' would usually be, down south at any rate. It's summertime, we are in a vacancy and I have a feeling we're not in Kansas, Toto! Still, much time to get to know the people further afield.
Saturday, 10 July 2010
I'm waiting in the church to have a business-like meeting with the treasurer, about the treasure I suppose. I'm fiddling with the amp that gave us an a cappella eucharist the other week (mass setting and all!)
The doors are wide open (I always like to leave church doors wide open) and I love the snippets of conversation and comment that float in. "Where are you, Kenny?" from a mobile conversation. "What's in there?" and "Is there anybody living in there?" the comments on the usually closed doors. No time for debate on the real presence and the slightly dodgy reserving practice.
But the highlight, and lowlight, is the sparrow. He or she has got in somehow. S/He would quite like to get out. He is flying up and down the nave, resting on the sanctuary light chain, then back to the windows above the cracked gallery (some treasure needed there.) She seems to be able to see out of the coloured glass windows, and wants back out. I stand like a slightly foolish Francis impersonator, with my hand out, making encouraging noises. He looks like he might. But she doesn't. For a while it's me, the sparrow and God. None of us seems too upset about it.
The treasurer joins me, with scones. We both try to encourage the reluctant worshipper out. But decide that leaving scones is more likely to succeed. But he, or she (the sparrow that is, not the treasurer), vanishes, probably back through the hole that she, or he, came in (more treasure there, no doubt).
We have a useful meeting. But I can remember more about the snatches of conversation from Victoria Street and the worry and enjoyment of getting to know our little sparrow. It seems obvious: treasure and business matters. The people passing and an accidental bird matter more.
Sunday, 4 July 2010
Peter (11) is annoyed, as F has now lost more than him. But he will avoid the orthodontics (is that a word?) that F will have to undergo in the next 10 years. He has a big mouth, hers is far too small. Never mind, she will probably have the most perfect white smile as an adult.
But the real source of P's annoyance? The lack of funded tooth-fairy-income. Now I am pretty much 100% sure that they both know the deal. You lose a tooth, it goes under the pillow. You get some money (if the parents remember...) But F's demands have become more complex. She wrote a note, properly spelled and everything. She wanted the money. And to keep the tooth (so just what is in this for the 'fairy'?).
And the latest sting, announced by my wife as she went to bed? F wants fairy dust, like her friends in Gloucester. This is apparently glitter of some kind. Which we don't have. 'Bless' those Gloucester parents. You know who you are. 'Fairy dust'!! I ask you!
'Say there's been a strike in the fairy-dust mine,' says wife, as she goes to bed, leaving me to compose a note of dubious integrity before the whole fairy dust issue was even raised.
Solution? Dash the 8 year-old fantasy? Ignore the issue? Buy some glitter (at midnight in Dunoon?)
No - a spattering of a rather cedar-ish incense from my personal stash of liturgical combustibles. A note (in registrar's ink) accepting the no-tooth-keep-the-cash-here's-some-nice-smelly-dust narrative, and the deed is done.
Oh, happy sociology of rituals!
Sunday, 20 June 2010
Sunday, 13 June 2010
I've presided/celebrated four times, all blue book (1982) liturgy. Which of course is all new to me, having trained and ministered south of the border! It is familiar, from Clarkston days, but still requires attention for the differences (spot the missing filoque clause, etc.!)
Being where I am, there is not a particularly strong Episcopalian presence close to me. I think Roy, in Lochgilphead, is probably my nearest diocesan neighbour. Drew in Greenock (who I have still to meet in the flesh) may be the closest geographically, over the water! The local Church of Scotland ministers and Roman priests seem to be a friendly bunch, both on Bute and in Dunoon. There seems to be comfortable blurring around the edges of where some of the brothers and sisters of this part of the world socialise and attend.
Vestry meetings are looming, and the changed priorities of the churches from waiting for a new priest to whatever their new priorities will be. Money and people, I suspect, will be an area of interest.
The family are settling in - Peter with a date for the leavers' dance, Elly with her first sleepover and 'hang-about' down the town. Jack the cat has probably made the biggest impact on the neighbours, establishing his turf with a nearby tom-cat (current score Jack 1 - Tomcat 0) and with some of the smaller residents. He is a hunter by nature, and clearly believes in the 'catch-it, skin-it, eat-it' school of relationships. Except for the skinning bit of it. And the tails. Which he leaves. Anyway, the current score there is Jack 2 - rabbits 0. Not quite sure I approve of that, but a creature's nature is what God gave it (the gist of my sermon this morning).
Monday, 7 June 2010
It is a privileged feeling, to be at the start of something. I was present at the birth of all three of my children (although I nearly missed Peter as I was parking the car at the hospital and he wasn't for hanging about), and to see them growing up into the strong individuals that they are becoming is wonderful. There are times it seems a real challenge, and they don’t want to know, and they seem to be a million miles away from us. But it remains a wonderful privilege to be their parents, to care for them, to give them a safe place to grow and become themselves.
The metaphor of raising children is not a particularly good one for church congregations. Members of a church are not little helpless bundles of humanity, wriggling about with no ability to make decisions or look after themselves. Members of a church also cannot be sent to their rooms in disgrace if they throw their weight about. No, the metaphor of child-rearing is not very good for the people of a church.
But the day before yesterday my ministry in Cowal and Bute was born, as Bishop Mark of Moray, Ross and Caithness licensed me to the charges of Holy Trinity Dunoon, with St Martin’s Tighnabruaich and St Paul’s Rothesay. The metaphor works for this new charge. My ministry here is like a new child! It is new, unformed, not really able to do much yet, but is full of potential. The privilege that I feel today is to be present at the birth of something that will grow, develop, change and eventually become something (hopefully) full, rich and, always, for the glory of God!
So, as I sit at my desk, looking out at the marvellous trees of Holy Trinity Dunoon’s site (which block the view of the sea!), and I glance over the still-cluttered, just-moved-in desk (Bible, brand-new 1982 blue book with propers and RCL, packaged headphones for Skype, congregation lists, phone message pad, paten I found in a cupboard and a set of Jesus pencil toppers), I am excited at the future. The congregations and I will form this ministry (helped by the boss, of course), but I am quite overwhelmed by the privilege of what is beginning here!
Thursday, 13 May 2010
But the connection? The staff for whom I was chaplain made a lovely presentation of various bits and bobs - including a book of images of Dunoon and Cowal (but not Bute - which is equally part of the future!). The book is super, even as I reflected on the fact that I will have those images live in front of me in just over a week. It is also a very useful local history book, a good way of reading into Cowal and that element of where we are going.
In the section on Kirn, there are photographs of some Clyde shipping. These include a tall ship and cruise liner, both seen off the coast at Kirn. The third image, to show something a bit stranger, was a ship's bow on a barge, being towed by a tug up the Clyde. This last one was, of course, a Type 45 'Daring' class destroyer bow. I can't say that I designed it - that was done by one of my junior naval architect colleagues, along with VT hydrodynamicists on the T45 PCO in 2000-01 or so, but I worked on so many aspects of the form, the layout, the content, the detailed integration of the internal and external systems that I can honestly say that I know it very, very well indeed. Even seven or eight years on, I feel that I invested a lot of myself in this lump of metal (and the other bits that weld together to form the finished product). And it finds its way into a book of images that define Cowal.
There can often be a tension between our personal histories and futures. The story of a warship-designer turned Anglican priest is an interesting one (I think, anyway), and one that demands some rigour in the ethical sub-texts. I plan to go and see Duncan, ship 06, when she is launched in October 2010, and explore some of those tensions of pride, history and ethics in more detail.
Saturday, 8 May 2010
As part of our process of moving, we took the children to see a gritty and biting expose of post-modern consumer excess and environmentally incompetent human over-development. The makers of this film pulled no punches in their attempts to demonstrate that the delicate balance of the eco-system, God's beloved creation (my sub-text, not theirs), is all too easily disrupted by the shallow, inward-looking nature of human greed. The nature of humanity, as Paul constantly draws us towards, is driven by self-love and arrogance. The sinful nature of human dealings with the natural order, as we might find in Thomas' Summa Theologica, is played out in a series of venal transactions. The film-makers drew the line at human exploitation of intimacy (I think that's what Americans call it), but that was to maintain the PG certificate.
How did the children relate to such a profound and challenging exploration of the broken, sinful nature of humanity? They liked the bits with the skunks...
Would I recommend 'Furry Vengeance' for a general screening of theological scholars? Put it this way - I hope the children will have forgotten how much they liked it before the DVD comes out, so they don't want to buy it...
Friday, 30 April 2010
It's been a week or so of renewal rather than refuse (in the civic amenity site sense!) Things have required to be renewed - in order of severity, a rocking horse, a television, two pairs of black oxford shoes and my work briefcase. The rocking horse was a long-term project, put off for nearly a decade but needing work after 40 years. The shoes, not quite so long - they have only been gracing my feet for about seven years, and had just got worn out. The bag - about four years, and a simple split seam. The television? About three years old and no picture!
At this point a good consumer pops them in their car and takes them off to the rubbish dump (aka civic amenity site) to dispose of them, then goes and buys replacement models to maintain the profit margins of the companies that depend on continual growth for an economy to be considered successful. Oh dear, I'm sure there's a Christmas sermon somewhere there...
So, my response (in part fuelled by a slightly parsimonious attitude to life)? The rocking horse has been restored to its former glory for a couple of hundred pounds. The TV has been re-pictured by a man with a soldering iron for a bit less than that. Dean at the shoe bar has soled and heeled both pairs of shoes for less than a new pair, and he threw in stitching up the bag for a couple of quid! So, all has been restored, is usuable, it has cost a lot less than new, but the corporate might of Britain must weep for their lost sales of new products! All has been restored to new from old!
Sidetrack to that: two meetings this week on what churches need to do to be healthy. One was about money, the other mission. The two are very closely linked. The words that came up again and again: vision, confidence, renewal. Taking the old, which is probably quite wonderful, like all my broken things, and making it into something new, something filled with new life. That newly restored, renewed, relivened thing must have vision, and must be confident in itself. The flavour of this process can vary massively - from evangelical to catholic, from small to large, from traditional to utterly contemporary. But the answer: confidence in the gospel and a bold vision for what church should be. The result is an attractive, lively, joyful group of people. And a by-product of this is often growth, money, projects...
So, a week or two of renewal rather than refuse: thinking about renewal. And my vision? Those shoes still doing me in another seven years, the bag in another four, the television in three, Dobbin the rocking horse in 40 years. And the church...as long as you like!
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
To avoid the risk of this blog getting a bit monochromatic about 58' long metal boats, I offer a reflection on last Sunday's worship.
The rota excluded me from services (the delights of a parish with non-stip and retired clergy, plus regular lay-lead services) - we had returned from Scotland the night before so Peter could play football on Sunday against Swindon Village Bowmen (the challenge seeming to be to score as many goals as possible, bless the poor lads of SVB), so I could choose where to worship.
In this occasional situation I have often popped the ten minute bicycle ride down to Gloucester Cathedral for the 8am BCP - but I felt frisky this week - and opted for the short run up to Tewkesbury Abbey, for the 11am Sung Eucharist!
Wonderful bells, smells, dalmatics and the rest! My pal Steve, a contemporary from college, was the deacon, and the incumbent and his wife the president and sub-deacon/preacher. To sum it up? It was unselfconsciously good anglo-catholic worship - even the slightly contentious phrasing after the offertory and the Hail Mary in the intercessions felt gentle and actually there for worshipful reasons.
My hidden agenda - to see some really polished eastwards-facing eucharistic presidency - was well addressed. They had microphones, so no real issues with sound projection, but the elevations, the pace, the delivery was all very smooth and elegant. It was good to chat with a couple from Thornbury who are regulars, and with the clergy team who I know well (except for the pres). A good day out...
I was puzzled by those hardened souls who had come especially for this service, but held handkerchiefs over their noses for the gospel to stop the incense from attacking them. To borrow from Coppola - I love the smell of incense in the morning.
Final negative thought - i would personally draw the line at chanting the entire gospel. Steve has a lovely tenor voice, but that didn't do it for me!
So, as a mock mystery worshipper - an excellent 9/10 for Tewkesbury!
Monday, 19 April 2010
By Our Scottish Correspondant. The journey of NB Dalriada from Gloucestershire to Kirkintilloch has been successfully completed despite the threat of volcanic ash in the diesel air intakes of the 17.8m long inland waterways vessel. The skipper, Andrew Swift, said, 'We were rather concerned that the Icelandic ash cloud might disrupt the diesel's performance on the tidal River Carron, a critical part of the journey if a trip out to sea via the Forth Estuary was to be avoided. We ignored all specialist advice and went for it, and suffered no permanent damage other than to the whisky supplies on board.'
The journey of this six-year old Pinder-built barge required a fully-integrated transportation strategy, with water, crane, lorry, car, bicycle & train all being used for different phases of the movements. Whilst swinging the 16 tonne vessel in the air near a yacht on blocks, crane operator Barry was heard to say, '@#%X me, that was close! I'm glad my insurance is paid up.'
NB Dalriada will now remain in newly completed Southbank Marina in the up-and-coming area of Kirkintilloch. This base is in close proximity to Glasgow, the Clyde coast, Falkirk and the Union Canal to Edinburgh. Crew and visitors alike can enjoy the local flora and fauna and rides on the extraordinary Falkirk Wheel.
Monday, 12 April 2010
Plans maturing - two boats (I hear this morning) and coming out of the water on Wednesday morning first thing, at Sharpness Marine (that would be Paul). Nice and early, so Tuckey's have a good day to drive (that would be Barry). The next morning, assuming all has gone well on the way up the road, weeds and greenery waving in the M6 slipstream, Dalriada will arrive at Forth & Clyde services at Grangemouth, to be craned onto blocks (that would be Stevie).
When the tide is right (and what that might be remains a bit of an arcane mystery, best known to the local British Waterways RIB drivers and licence issuers (that would be Donald and Sandy)), we will go in off the blocks and be ready to head up the Carron.
Now, doing that is a little exciting - the Carron is less scary than the Severn, but the Severn can be very scary! A running river with the tide running too, a shallow bit with a low bridge, and turn into some pontoons at the mouth of the sea lock with wind and water playing with the rather underpowered narrowboat (that has no bowthruster, of course). Now the experienced if slight mad chap from the previous post (that would be Tim) and his sidekick (that would be Ron) aren't able to help us, so we will be a bit on our own and in the hands of the standby BW chap that day (that would be Iain).
Oh - and the whole thing has been arranged by the nice lady from Tuckey's (that would be Monica).
We seem to be in a lot of other people's hands on this one...
Friday, 2 April 2010
Lots of trying to pull things together, trying to work out if the services and activities are working for other people, if the visiting archdeacon and bishop will be happy with their visits, whether the congregations will be happy with their visits, what people will turn up that we haven't seen before, running off the service sheets, the children suddenly being on holiday, the funeral suddenly coming in over the Easter weekend, the other funeral going a little high maintenance.
In the middle of it all - a still, small space to reflect on the cross, on the death of the God-made-man. On the willing sacrifice - 'hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered' - an echo from the Maunday Thursday eucharist in Gloucester cathedral. Is it hard to find time to be a follower when leading a church? Not really - that feels too precious a place to take, a place that makes it all about 'me', not all about 'us'.
To keep Holy Week holy? I've enjoyed one or two blogposts about the difficulty of 'doing Holy Week' when all about us don't care that anything is different. The empty space of forlorn church buildings after the Maunday Thursday stripping, the sparse, minor key starkness of Good Friday worship. The deadness of Holy Saturday (or Easter Eve, or the Saturday of Holy Week - whatever urge you feel to call it!). That stays with me from childhood - Roman Catholic crocodiles through Dunblane, to and from the church, dusty streets, God being dead, for that little while.
It is Holy - even though I felt a little qualm at putting up the slightly cheesy banner (both text and yellow colour) after the Good Friday congregation had departed in silence - the banner inviting people to church on Easter Day - come and hunt your Easter Eggs! It is all muddled - life goes on. But surely it went on below the empty, bloodstained crosses? The disciples were empty and bereft - but not Jerusalem. The process goes around and around, every year, every two thousand years.
Saturday, 20 March 2010
I did get that single blinding insight, of course, as one always does at these sorts of things. I am, by nature, a person who leaps into action full of ideas and directions for how the team should achieve the goals. Over the years, this has been tempered a little into facilitation, gathering other views, enabling team members to participate etc. etc. etc., but essentially I still like to jump in and say, 'So based on all that stuff - this is what we are doing - RUN - JUMP - GO THIS WAY...' etc.
However: Putting a set of blacked-out goggles on me during an exercise and I was as quiet as... well something that is really quiet. Very docile, lead around by the lovely lady who was my partner in the exercise - very obedient. Now, if they could bottle and sell that effect on mouthy people like me, they would make an absolute fortune.
The insight? I still love telling people what to do (in a very affirming, collaborative sort of way) - and you would probably have to poke my eyes out to change that... Ho hum.
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Tim did then go on to talk about taking narrowboats up the Forth to Stirling (mooring at the boating club on Riverside) and even the future possibility of a link to Loch Lomond from the Forth & Clyde Canal. Better half (BH) blanched at hearing my end of this conversation, and expressed a desire for Tim to accompany me on such ventures whilst she sipped gin on the side of the canal/raging river/stormy loch. And to think I spent £80 on a life jacket for her!
Generally, much relief that knowledge is available and willing to get us into the system up at the Scottish end of Dalriada's journey to her nominal home!
Some discussion on the dates for Dalriada's transportation to Scotland. Plan A - May 4th out the water - feels a bit close to the moving date proper. Plan B (under development) - the week after Easter week - would work better.
Plans are very fluid - reflects the state of life at the moment as the Gloucester end begins to be melted down and the Cowal & Bute end remains hypothetical.
For the boat, the key (we hope) is someone called 'Ron' who knows all about getting boats into the tidal Carron and up to the Falkirk Wheel basin. 'Ron's are worth their weight in gold!
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
The place: Christ College, West Cheltenham
The cast: Year 9 (just after lunch)
The subject: Talking with God
Majority show of hands and heckles that one cannot have a conversation with God. No response to their own views on where to pray.
Their response to 6 minute potted This-Is-Andrew-Swift-and-his-journey-from-there-to-here-involving-conversations-God. Not too much - as far as one could see. The seeds are scattered, the bungee-minister twangs back out of the context, probably never to return.
The staff liked the panoramic view of Dunoon and the Clyde...
Sunday, 7 March 2010
Announcement made in Gloucester, Cowal and Bute that I will be the next priest for the charges of Holy Trinity, Dunoon, St Martin's, Tighnabruaich and St Paul's Rothesay.
We will be travelling northwards in the early summer (detailed date to be confirmed). An exciting new life awaits, with many challenges and many delights, no doubt.