Saturday, 27 November 2010

Two perspectives

The evening of the day before the First Sunday of Advent is an 'official' title for this evening. Advent is almost upon us... How is the world preparing?

Above is (part) of the decoration on MV Saturn, the Calmac ferry that plies between Dunoon and Gourock whilst MV Jupiter, the summer boat, has its annual maintenance period.

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

Practical progress...

Scaffolding has appeared in the tower at Holy Trinity Dunoon, the first stage of the process to replace the rotten steel beams that hold up the bell chamber and to allow safe access and repair to gutters, damp and internals.

It will be a big job, and the work on the beams has been over a year in coming, whilst the damp etc. has always been there.

It is exciting that things will start to move, and we are grateful for the grants, donations and fantastic fundraising that has allowed us to proceed. We still have a long way to go, but every journey starts with a first step (if that isn't too much of a cliché).

Oh - did I mention that the new sign at the bottom of the drive in Dunoon has appeared too? It's just a refresh of the old one, with the midweek service times, website and phone number added and a contemporary rather than gothic font. Not a big deal, but another forward step in church profile terms. The new sign for St Paul's in Rothesay is in the pipeline, along with some heating developments. It feels good to be progressing in these practical areas!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Scottish Spirituality

This week we celebrated St Margaret of Scotland's day (a home communion on the day, eucharist on Bute the day after, eucharist in Dunoon the day after that - rural dispersed ministry!)

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


A slightly late post on remembrance.

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

That's what freeing ports are for...

The weather is getting more exciting now that the autumn equinox is past and winter is approaching. Calmac ferries were off for most of yesterday, but the Western Ferries kept going through the south-westerlies.

The ferries go backwards (from the cars' perspective) while they head into the waves, then spin around half-way across the Clyde to go with the waves up to Hunters' Quay and in.
It was even rather exciting getting on and off the ferry. It was a very high tide, with the waves rolling across the front in Dunoon, and the boats and pontoons on and off the ferry were shifting a great deal as you drove on and off. Front wheels ashore and aft wheels aboard was very interesting for the moment it happened. It makes it all seem much less routine than usual! Between that and a black-icy commute to Bute earlier this week, this part of Scotland has some excitement to normal living that one doesn't get down south or in the big city.
And the freeing ports (the little holes in the gunwhales and strakes on the ferries) nicely let the Clyde back out of the ship to where it belongs. Glad to see they still work.