Saturday, 12 December 2015


Roughly half way through our season of Advent 2015, and I am pausing for a day away from the charge and other time.

Some time to have a glance down the feeds of many other people's social media.  Social media can be a useful but sometimes harsh lens through which to view the season.

I love the blogs and series and posts that many of my colleagues are posting through Advent. Pictures, poems, reflections, words-of-the-day.  All looks great. I can mostly fight down the twinge that I should be doing a bit better at that sort of thing...

I love the sharing of the carol services (a healthy mixture of Advent & Christmas carols), the school nativities (traditional, modernised, surreal), the parties and social events (not many clergy at those, yet) and all the rest of the build up that this time, from the end of November to the 25th of December brings.

In my own charges the preparations follow a pretty familiar pattern - extra worship, a different eucharistic prayer with a slightly hard rhythm, particular choice of hymns, a special discipleship group...  For the sixth time in these charges (still early days) there is now a familiarity about the Advent journey.  A few things have changed - participants, staff, details - but broadly the Advent experience is familiar.

Is that a good thing?

Should Advent feel familiar, year on year?  How do we re-capture the freshness and excitement of what it is all rooted in, the realisation of the coming of the saviour? What new thing can we do, what new innovation can we find to re-capture the newness of Advent?

Or does the very familiarity of waiting (again) for a saviour, actually capture the centuries of waiting that had passed before the birth of Jesus?  The cycles of the Jewish calendar and festivals, the celebration of a long-lost-reality of a Passover. The cycles of conquest and despair, followed by hope and (partial) restoration.

And does the the very familiarity of waiting (again) for a saviour, actually capture the centuries of Christians waiting for it to happen again, puzzling about the words that Jesus said to them: 'Some of those here present will not have died before the end times come...'?

Waiting is a very human occupation. We wait, from the moment we are born.  We wait for our life on earth to end.  And we need to fill that waiting with something - life, love, relationships, cures for cancer, an end to wars, universal acceptance of all humanity.  It stops one getting bored, to have something to do while we wait.

A pause in the Advent waiting.  A time to reflect.  To wait for the Advent waiting to start again, tomorrow...

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Strangers in a strange land

The oblique reference to a passage in Exodus, and direct reference to the Robert Heinlein science fiction novel are rather relevant to aspects of church life here at the moment.

The island of Bute will receive some Syrian refugee families in the next little while, refugees fleeing unimaginable (for us) horrors of the conflict in their country. This part of their journey may have started from a camp like the one above (photo Al-Jazeera). Their destination is a smallish Scottish island with a smallish Scottish town on it.  The people of that town are working to produce a welcome for their new arrivals – in a carefully managed, subtle, aware style.  Some of the press are trying to make a rather more negative story of it, but the overall story is one of goodwill and a preparedness to welcome these strangers to our strange land. 

And it will be very strange – a cold and wet place, compared to Syria. A place where people speak English, often so quickly and with such a broad accent that even other Scots cannot understand them. A place where the customs, traditions, common ideas and conflicts are very particular and local.  So, many prayers and much hard work ahead to welcome and help them prepare to integrate into Rothesay society.  To allow these people to valued and loved and accepted is an enormous gift that we have to offer.

I have been here (Bute and Cowal, the neighbouring peninsula) as a minister for about 5 and one half years now – and I still have quite a feeling of being a stranger in this strange land.  I am a Scot, but with many more years of living on the east coast of the country and having a centre of gravity over there. The west coast can seem a strange and alien land. My wife is a west coaster – well, a south-west coaster – but it can still all seem a little strange. As a professional church minister, the hard line drawn between catholic and protestants seems to wiggle somewhat as it passes through the Episcopal Church – all rather strange for this strange land.  Even the strange land of ministry as one career – over ten years now, counting my full-time training at college, is a sometimes peculiar place in which to live.

So the Syrians? Will be welcomed as best as can be managed. Volunteers and others will rally round and support as appropriate, and leave well alone as appropriate. Their stories may unfold as we get to know them.  Their status as official refugees rather than asylum seekers means they arrive here with as stable and safe status.  There is a lot of misinformation and rumour about.  These are people who need our help. As Christians, this is clear from all we believe and try to live out. As human beings this must be done and will be done.

And we will welcome these strangers into this strange land.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


Being unwell is not something I have much experience with, partly due to (relative) youth and maybe a certain bloodymindedness about struggling on with colds. No days off.

Until last week.

After about two years of getting round to it, I finally arranged a minor nose op, to help me breathe, taste etc.  No problem, really. Except for the general anaesthetic and best part of a week off work. I was whacked out by it, much to my (male) surprise.

It was the first time I have ever (yes, ever) been to a hospital as a consumer, other than when I had an outpatient's appointment for verrucae as a 12 year old. Those went away by themselves.

But this time, feeling a bit ill, a bit tired, a bit vulnerable.

It has been rather a useful exercise in the vulnerability that we all much accept is being human. Even now, two weeks on, I am still a little bit more tired than usual, as I immerse myself in funerals, synod agenda, vacancy worship rotas.

But we are all human and we are all vulnerable...

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Blogging Holy Week: Easter Day

"Alleluia, Christ is Risen!"
Being Episcopalians, the reply comes back, "He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!"

Photo by Di Tennent
The journey through Holy Week is complete, in evening or dawn vigils, the lighting of fires, big and small (see above for our one in Dunoon!)  Alleluias are sung, bells ring out, chocolate is eaten.  Easter Day has arrived.

As a clergyperson, we must find the energy to lead the worship with excitement and enthusiasm, even after the marathon that is this week. I reflected on the feelings of the disciples, the women as they approached the Easter revelation - their week had been a churning, destroying week. We still talk about it now, about 2,000 years later, after all.

What does it all mean? Jesus Christ is Risen Today (sing the Alleluia from the hymn  response). But what does that mean?

Hope for all humanity? Relevance for the church? Human belief that we are not extinguished after our bodies cease to function? A loving God who created us and understands us (became us) and forgives us?  A mixture of all of that...?

The Easter Day message is one of new beginnings - those new beginnings are about the gospel, and the gospel is about all sorts of things, in this world and the next.  But we can begin again...

After Easter Day on Bute I am (pretty much) on holiday for a week. Some jobs to do, a little prosecco with the family, some time to start to unwind and get the rushing thoughts out of my head and relax.  But best of all:

"Alleluia, Christ is Risen!"

Blogging Holy Week: Holy Saturday

This blog post should be blank. The emptiness of the day between Good Friday and Easter Day should be empty. Jesus is in the tomb. It has ended.

The busyness of life kicks in, of course. The preparation of the church for the Easter celebrations, the cleaning, the flowers, the building of the bonfires. Paschal candles (two of them, one for each church) are prepared with transfers and holes for grains. Rosemary is cut for the renewal of baptismal vows.  The emptiness is there, but masked by the busyness.

And in one of the churches, as it becomes dark, the vigil starts. The readings from the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures, readings that talk about the promise of salvation across history - they are read in a nearly dark church.


I will leave it there - the blog for Easter Day starts in the middle of that darkness. But that is the next day...

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Blogging Holy Week: Good Friday

One of the Sunday school asked the right question last week: "Why is the Friday called "Good" when Jesus is killed? Shouldn't it be 'Bad Friday'?"

That is a good question indeed. A brief scour of sources (Wikipedia!) has a few views - it comes from "God" Friday, or "Holy" Friday, because of how important the death of Jesus is believed to be (this second one being the answer I gave the young scholar). In Germany it is (apparently) known as "Grief Friday". It can be known as "Black Friday" (again, apparently) although we had no major discounts on consumer electronics at church this week.

It is the deliberately low point of the week. The churches are bare and sparse, stripped out the night before. I took pity and did allow heating on. But there is little music, much silence. There was an unpreached-upon reading of John's passion. It says it all, without the need to say any more. Simple wooden crosses are on display.

I recall, as a child, the veneration of the crucifix on Good Friday - kissing the metal nail through the metal feet of the metal Jesus on the middle-sized cross. We wiped the feet between each person's kiss (I was a server). It was profound and strange and stays with me to this day. The little metal figure on the crucifix in Dunoon that I face for the eucharistic prayer draws me back to that memory. Good Friday every Sunday...

At the Good Friday liturgy in Dunoon there was silence before the service. Except for the contractor's yard next door. Where some ordinary chap was hammering at something, in a solitary, measured way. An ordinary person, going about their business, hammering nails into something. A bit like an ordinary Roman crucifixion soldier, going about his everyday business, nearly 2000 years ago.  Death as an ordinary thing, in Israel, in Kenya, in Scotland.

But something can make it extraordinary...

Friday, 3 April 2015

Blogging Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

Tne Triduum starts.

“Christ in Gethsemane” by Michael O’Brien.
Go to for more from the artist.
That sounds rather churchy and maybe just a little bit bewildering for those who don't really get that sort of thing. The Easter holiday for the schools started today, and traffic chaos is promised on the radio as the country seems to decide to travel to wherever the other bit of the country that is travelling comes from.  The promise of Bank Holiday entertainment looms large.

So what is this Triduum thing?

The days at the end of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and on to Easter Day itself - there is a certain intensity about stepping into a one-to-one scale model of the last week of Jesus' normal human life.  Others have discussed this in some detail, such as here. This does actually fit rather neatly into the Bank Holiday spirit - the Passover in Jerusalem 2000 years ago was just such a major holiday, and the excitement of what spectacles might be on offer (maybe even some crucifixions!) might have had the travelling crowds eager to gather for the weekend.

But today is Maundy Thursday. The Last Supper. Bread and Wine. Footwashing. Misunderstanding (as usual, poor disciples...). Tears like blood in Gethesemane. Betrayal. Finally, open hostility and attack from the threatened political and religious leaders.  A lot that would make a fine, dark drama. As it is.

The day that ran by? A funeral in the morning. Dark and light at that, and a dry spell as the coffin found its rest. Eucharist, stripping of the sanctuary and a time of vigil in a dark and cooling church.  And children off from school, ceilidhs and carry outs. Readings photocopied and allocated for the continuing Triduum.  Snags with some of those jobs that really could do with being done.  Even some odd impulses: new wheels on the nave altar to make pushing it away to its place smoother for the ritual stripping and clearing.

It has all started in earnest now.  The mixture of stepping into the narrative from two millenia ago clashes with the ordinary nature of our life. But that's what it's supposed to do...

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Blogging Holy Week: Wednesday

Another betwixt and between day. "Spy" Wednesday, I suppose, with Judas building up to his task of betrayal, is one option for today. The midweek eucharist on Bute had the account from John's gospel, Jesus dipping the bread and passing it to Judas to start him on his task of giving up Jesus.

In a more than one church charge (I only have two, so not an extreme at all) it is hard to keep a focus on Holy Week equally in all places. There is (for ecumenical and slightly complicated reasons) no Maundy Thursday service in our church on Bute, so we have elements of Maundy Thursday on the Wednesday. And I stripped the sanctuary, alone and quietly, after the congregation had departed to the rest of their middle of Holy Week day.

I had never noticed the gilt paint in the open aumbry, seen hazy in the background behind the displaced cross. Hidden treasures?

But still a day to go until the Triduum starts in earnest. A funeral in the morning, a town person, nothing to do with the church, other than having made connections in the past few years. As bustling and ordinary as Jerusalem at the Passover during Roman occupation. People being born, dying, doing everything else in between. No silence and stillness, just bustle and holiday busyness...

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Blogging Holy Week: Tuesday

I'm not the only blogger this holy week: thisfragiletent is giving it his particular view and perspective. But my Holy Week continues.

Tuesday is Holy Week is betwixt and between, taking a scriptural viewpoint. The many activities continue: today I am picking on the tourism of Jesus and his disciples. They wander the streets and look about. Mark's account is the typically tersest (NRSV):

"Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,  ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve."

They had a look around. There are fights, teaching and tension. But today they look around. Tourists, in at the big city. What do we make of that? The events still unfold, but there is something delightfully selfie-stick and status updating about that final line...

Today in my 2015 Holy Week, we told the Holy Week and Easter story to over one hundred 12 and 13 year olds in the local school.

What did they make of it? Were they religious tourists as we played out some of the events of that week? Or receptive young minds hearing the word of God? Or a bit of all of those sorts of things.

But we remain betwixt and between. Another day of this waiting before the Triduum starts to gain momentum, the events start to get out of control... But an important day of waiting!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Blogging Holy Week: Monday

The first part of this week is a waiting time, between Palm Sunday and the Triduum ahead of us. There are attempts at a structure to the biblical accounts, making what are not intended to be coherent events coherent.

What was Jesus doing? What did his followers make of this time? The gospels give us temple cleansing (not John, of course, where this is much earlier), teaching, some miracles. And threats. The steady growing of the threat to Jesus' life.

Today, as a modern day religious leader, we have photocopying, populating rotas for dramatized passions, encouraging other service leaders and musicians and pushing all for attendance at ecumenical services.  And a funeral. And all the usual pastoral niggles and delights.  It is a time of busyness, and waiting, and looking forward to the race through the end of the week. And to the golden day at the end.  And to the holiday after the end of that.

But today, on Monday of Holy Week, we photocopy, fold, phone and prepare...

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Palm Sunday evening...

Clocks went forward, but the people came anyway. The king on a donkey, greeted with the raucous 'Hosannas' of the crowd, is a draw now, just as he was 2000 years (or so) ago. We didn't process outside in the heavy showers - soggy ground underfoot, a church on a hill and no donkey all conspire to keep us indoors.

But we kept the start of the week. I reflected (morning and evening) on the scene after the event. Abandoned palm branches, a few ownerless cloaks. Some poor souls trying to tidy it all up a little, as the storm clouds start to gather on the horizon in Jerusalem. The ecumenical service on Bute, for the fifth time, is a start to a very different but very common journey.

And we managed to avoid spoilers about the destination...

Blogging Holy Week

This year, my plan is blog through Holy Week, with a reflection at the end of each day of the week. Starting today, let's see how that goes...

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Friends from afar...

A visit, in mid February, Bishop Michael of Zanzibar and his diocesan secretary the Revd Nuhu Sallanya. They travelled to England, to Scotland, to Edinburgh, to Oban and, finally, to Dunoon.

We pray daily for the Diocese of Zanzibar: it was wonderful to put faces to the names and rekindle the flame of friendship.

And Nuhu had a selfie-stick! Does it get any better?