Friday, 24 December 2010

Twas Christmas eve...

The preparations are nearly there, just a few final tweaks and we should be ready to ease from December the 24th to December the 25th.

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

We will now sing hymn number 366 in Ancient and Modern Revised Standard 1983

The new steel beams have been fitted into Holy Trinity's tower, after a wait of over a year! The new structures, with galvanised RSJs, bolted doubler plates on flanges and shear webs and cemented in support pads in the walls, should hold the weight of the bell frame, bells, pigeons and occasional climbing rector (or others!).

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

A prayer for deer-whistling II - just when you thought it was safe to drive to Bute...

I have lost the deer whistle from one of our cars. I am pretty sure it came off when I hit a (very suicidally stupid) pheasant the other day. Oh well, it didn't say 'Pheasant Whistle' on the packet...

While shepherds washed their socks by night...

Monday, 6 December 2010

...a warm welcome?

A snowy day in Cowal and Bute - the photograph was taken the Sunday before last (thanks Liz!) but nicely sums up the weather that has (finally) come to bite us in our little maritime mini-climate.
The children made it to school - just - and I dodged the speeding/skidding 4x4s that were being driven as if it were a dry summer's day. There is something about being wrapped in a couple of tons of car that makes people feel nice and safe. Nice and slowly, gentle braking and I got home. The drive was impossible - the car wouldn't even park at the foot of the hill - it just slid down with handbrake on from stationary.
A heavy afternoon clearing and treating it all, then a run for more salt for the morning, to keep it clear after the promised -9 degrees overnight. Plans are in disarray: a trip to Edinburgh later this week cancelled, time in Rothesay over the next two days in jeopardy, meetings having to be shifted and shuffled about.
But under all the snow, the church is still there - just as the pisky pubsign is still there. Congregation friends are looking out for each other, contact is being maintained with the frail ones, those short of food being supplied. Worship may be disrupted, but the body of Christ is still functioning well, in many tiny acts of kindness and concern.

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.

Friday, 29 October 2010

A prayer for deer-whistling?

Latest gadget acquired for living in the wild west of Scotland: deer whistles for the cars (£5 on ebay)

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

Autumn encounter of the furry kind...

I should be finishing thoughts for my talks in the services tomorrow (they are getting nicely distilled after plenty of reflection) but I will circle a little longer by blogging!
We met a red friend with tufty ears and a bushy tale on a walk through Bishop's Glen this afternoon. It's the first red squirrel we've seen for months. Now that the leaves are thinning out and the colours of the trees turning nice and rusty, it's a bit easier to see the wildlife around us, rather than just hearing the scuffling and scrabbling. One thing dies off, but a new insight is obtained on the world. Sounds suspiciously like the basis for a theological reflection!
It was very bold little fellow (I instinctively thought of it as a 'he', for no good reason whatsoever other than that he was showing off as he leapt from tree to tree). He stopped close enough for our rather basic little digitial camera to zoom in on him and get a quick shot. It actually gave him red-eye, which I photo-shopped out, which I think means he was looking straight at us as we were looking at him. Very confident!
A delightful encounter in Argyll. We must sort out some food for birds/squirrels now that it's getting colder.

Monday, 11 October 2010

A tale of two launches - part 2...

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

A new bishop for Argyll and The Isles

A very exciting day. I was celebrating the eucharist at St Paul's Rothesay as the college of bishops met at Cumbrae to elect a new bishop for our diocese. Once the eucharist was over, I checked my silenced mobile phone for new - several missed calls and texts were listed. The news:

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

Reflections of a single parent...

Mary has been abroad for a week now, with her mother. Today is the first anniversay of the death of John, her father, and it is very appropriate that she is with her mother in Jerusalem, where he died 12 months ago. It is hard to be far away when they are obviously in pain, but this is part of their process of coping with the uncopable.

Meanwhile, back in blighty, the Swifts are living as a single parent family. Mary did it enough times when I used to globe-trot for a living, but it's less usual for me. The rules all change: less stringent requirements on fruit and veg consumption, more flexibility on bedtimes (well, it is the October break), much higher likelihood that things will be forgotten about and have to be fixed later. The PE kit made it on the days it had to, but that's more to do with the children remembering it themselves. But it is hard, carrying the burden of the children & all their lives and activities (and relationships, parties, new wants) without someone to share it.

And the same period has had the first funeral to come in since I came to Scotland, as well as personal crisis for a new friend, not a church goer. Oh - and an old work colleague with a terminal diagnosis looking for a future funeral. Oh - and all the usual business of church, services, planning, (minor) conflict, anxieties.

I have had much discussion with single clergy friends about the pressures of life and ministry and having a partner. That partner can be a safety relief valve, a person who can share the strain. That's maybe a better way of being. But the downside is the pressure that sharing a relationship or a family with ministry brings. A single priest can be a committed (or as detached) as they wish to be - it's just about them, without school parent evenings or parallel careers.

We are called, all of us, to be what God would have us be. And we are called as we are: single, partnered, with or without family, psychologically wired as we are and become. The authentic ministry that we live and do is defined, in part, by this context. And when it all gets too much, and we break - is that when we fail to be authentic, we try and live up to too many other people's expectations?

Oh - and on the subject of sorting all this stuff out did I mention Frankie's new rabbit?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A tale of two launches - part 1...

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

... life in the matrix?

Getting Mary connected with her own netbook seemed like a really good idea. Partitioning the Outlook accounts so the 'family' one only goes to her machine (duly backed up when I get round to it on the external hard drive) seems logical. Making sure the shared folders work (give or take) across the mixed Vista/XP network seems OK. It's all part of the evolution of our family network (I didn't think I'd be typing that a few years ago), as the ancient (i.e. 5 year old) laptop won't even run with Ubuntu...

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

All roads lead to...

I must confess that the above image has been slightly Photoshopped for effect - it is 7 miles if you turn left and 8 if you turn right, but the gist of a signpost with no apparent distinguishing function was too hard to resist. Well, Bute is an island, and Kilchattan Bay is pretty much the bottom bit.

A good day today of getting to know people, scattered over a rather wide area of the Scottish countryside. Lives are filled wtih joy and pain, good experiences and bad experiences. We all look very hard for the signs of where we are supposed to go, what we are supposed to do. I would never be able to be Calvinist enough to accept that all is set, all the signposts point to our pre-determined Rothesay and the only question is how many miles and when we'll get there. But there is a little bit of me that feels that most signposts DO point to Rothesay, and as we make our freewilled choice to belong, believe and generally accept a life that God wishes for us, we have to make a pretty bad fist of it to accidentally take the road to Kilchattan Bay (which is the finger of the signpost that is pointing out of the picture - and which will now be dropped as a metaphor before the good residents of Kilchattan Bay decide that symbolism of damnation/etc./etc. is not appropriate for their beautiful village).

I went left, and was rewarded with amazing views of Arran, as well as reaching my chosen destination (which was, indeed, Rothesay).

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Glen 10 & authorised liturgy

I picked up Elly from her first provincial youth camp (in a denomination where 'provincial' is not a pejorative term, as it seems to be down south). The camp was at Glenalmond school in Perthshire, under the leadership of a bishop and with about 60 delegates and 20 leaders - how about those ratios!

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

East is east and west is west

Freshly returned from holidaying afloat on NB Dalriada (NB = narrowboat - official designation for a 6'9" wide canal craft!) with a good, relaxing time had by all.

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

Twa corbies? No, only one, but a significant one!

It can be quite unsettling, as one gets to know a new community and the awkward corners emerge. Not church related (although a fellow follower of the way here in Dunoon blogged about it as my first inkling of the issue)

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


Impressions galore.

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.

Good impressions.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The priest, the treasurer and the sparrow

The last day of school term, children now broken up and celebrating their freedom. A few of them lurking cheerfully on the steps of the church, down on the front. They smile hello as I step through them.

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

Cognitive dissonance and the tooth fairy...

Frances (8) has lost her tooth at last! Hurray! It has been hanging on in there for weeks!

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

Hidden not too far below the surface...

The stories hidden behind the apparently normal appearance of things...

Church life is a powerful mix of liturgical gathering, and relationship building and support between times! The gathered members worship together, and bring all that makes them unique to the table (quite literally in a sacramentally focused church like ours!)

A first glance and meeting with anyone looks straightforward enough - but the privilege of actually getting to know people, what God is doing in their lives, and their own personal history - that is so much part of priesthood in a congregation.

The photograph above captures some of the sense of this. I had seen it quite a few times in passing in our (very few) weeks here in Dunoon. The angel is a grave monument, tucked away by one of the large lime trees between the Rectory and the church. I can't say I knew it well, but I had spotted the laurel wreath - the victor's wreath, ready for one that had completed the race, I suppose - good old St Paul! But one of the previous rectors, chatting to our children, told them the angel's secret. Can you spot it?

Another hidden story - and a predictable little disappointment! We gained access to the cellar of the Rectory, to store some wet-resistant property. It is a gloriously dark and dank space, with non-lit areas moving off under the recesses of the house, filled with bedrock and bits of house! The cellar has a single bare bulb to illuminate the space, after a fashion. I, being environmentally and financially responsible, always remember to put the bulb off before I lock the door.

...but the bulb had been on the past few times I had gone down there! Very strange. Add to this the hidden story that someone told my wife at the licensing service: 'They had a lot of trouble with hauntings in the house, but I think it's fixed...'

Hmm. I met a bit of this in my curacy, and always approached with an open pastoral mind. Mental health issues, unresolved grief and other pastoral issues, and maybe, just maybe a tiny smidge of possibility - all wrapped together in the oddest way. I have blessed and celebrated in a house before, under guidelines etc. etc. ...

So here - the cellar is below the specific room the person was talking about. So - an experiment in the paranormal! I make sure the bulb is off (really, really sure). And leave it for ages (with a teenager in the house and all the rest of it.) And it stayed off. I am just bad at remembering to switch the bulb off. Disappointment, but only as expected.

But the delightful angel still has 11 fingers (or 9 fingers and 2 thumbs for any anatomical pedants out there...)

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A lot can happen in eight or nine days...

So much to reflect upon after the past few days. My first 'official' week in Cowal and Bute has been varied and full - yet also embryonic and not-yet-engaged! In nine days I've visited Rothesay four times, Tighnabruaich once and done all sorts in Dunoon. The General Synod has happened (which I don't (yet) go to) with representation from one of our congregations.

The Kyles of Bute - the weekly commute!

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 begins

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


It is fascinating when connections appear. We are in the process of saying many goodbyes in Gloucester as we prepare to finish in St Catharine's parish and also a chaplaincy ministry that I've done for nearly three years. Goodbyes are difficult, even knowing that friendships will continue as ministry moves on.

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

Cinema theologica...

Some of my colleagues at college (oxymoron? tautology...) were heavily into theology of the cinema, so today I find myself in a suitable position to engage with this powerful and vivid approach to culturally relevant insights into a living gospel.

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 long as you like!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A blog not about narrowboats...

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

Stop-press - Volcanic Ash Cloud Fails to Stop Narrowboat Movements

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

Dalriada on the cusp...

Two bright yellow packing crates, a pack of packing tissue and a roll of bubble wrap - enough for the movement of a nearly 60' narrowboat from the south-west of England to central Scotland? It seems slightly sparse packing materials, but all we are packing is china and glass inside Dalriada as she goes northwards.

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

Good Friday thoughts...

Such a mixture of things at this point in Holy Week.

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

Damascus road experiences...

Good acclimatisation for future west coast living today. Leadership/team-building exercises in the rain in the Forest of Dean. I'm sure someone has muddled up membership of the Church of England and the Parachute Regiment. Never mind, it was an entertaining if potentially pointless set of exercises.

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

Apply liberally for immediate relief...

A chat with 'Ron' who is actually called Tim - and a great relief. He is very happy to furnish with a (possibly monosyllabic) canal-type person who knows which of the arches of the Carron bridges to aim for and will have the correct vocabulary of grunts and mutters to communicate with the sea lock people and onwards. All that is dreadfully unfair, as they are all very nice, chatty people who will be very helpful.

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!

Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing

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


First secondary school assembly! Even now, that my leaving has been announced (date tbc) and I am going to leave curacy behind, firsts can still appear. Not that that should be a surprise, of course.

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

...a blog is born

It's been a couple of years since I blogged, but today seems a good day to start again.

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.