Thursday, 29 December 2011

When the wind blows...

Frankie was playing with her monster dolls in the bay windows of the living room yesterday when she spotted, through the stormy gloom, that the trampoline was lifting off the ground by about two feet (how she knows imperial measurements at age ten I'm not sure...)

It was a rather stormy evening, so Mary and I rushed out into the night to discover that the large (16 feet) diameter trampoline had pulled free of its anchors and was starting to make a bid for freedom towards the sea. We wrestled it down, lashed new ropes to the still ground-bound anchors, tied a spare boat mooring rope from the frame to a cherry tree, stripped down the safety net and battened down our metaphorical hatches.

This morning, a little askew and looking slightly odd with a 3/4 inch rope sagging between it and the tree, it still safely there.

A lucky thing that Frankie spotted the beginning of the trouble brewing, otherwise it would probably now be about level with Stornoway, heading towards Iceland.

The church is still there too...

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

This Christmas...

...will be my second one as the Episcopalian priest in Bute and Cowal (or Cowal and Bute depending on your perspective). It has been a full year - packed with more than I thought one could pack in.

The slight disappointment that there are no ferries to Bute on Christmas Day remains with me: I am unable to share the feast with my church-folk on the island. They now have a tradition of a carols and readings service on that day, which I am sure will be a wonderful time of worship. But I would like to be spending it with them. It was good to share the Christmas quiz with members and friends last week. It will be good to share worship with them tomorrow (St Thomas, tweaked by a day).

Christmas in Dunoon is falling into what seems to be usual pattern, but with some rather significant differences. We will be using a new thurible at midnight mass, and sadly the donor will not be able to swing it himself due to family commitments. But a new thurible will be a pleasure to use, as our prayers rise like incense... And the church in Dunoon is different to last Christmas.

There is the most enormous Christmas tree in the church - getting on for twenty feet high!

The east end windows have started to be treated to prevent damp damage. The chancel arch has been stripped of peeling paint and only leaks water when it's very rainy outside. The tower is still soggy, but we getting a better understanding of why. And all these fabric things are not weighing down the REAL church in Dunoon: the enthusiastic and positive people who make up the lively worshipping community at Holy Trinity.

Oh - and we got a lottery and Historic Scotland grant for nearly £250,000 to fix all that lot. That should help...

Monday, 12 December 2011

Skeletal trees

Winter has stripped the leaves from the lime trees that surround the house, up on this hill, above the West Bay.

We can see other houses, and the sea (a bit better) - it all feels a bit less green-wrapped - it can almost feel a little claustrophobic in summertime, especially when the wind through the lime trees dominates the senses.

Winter stripping away the leaves, the cushioning barrier. Advent (thinking about John the Baptist last week) stripping away an old way of being.

The metaphor of our spiritual life and the seasonal shifts, here in an alien (to our Lord) northern Europe.

Works for me.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Deeply wa-a-a-iling...

We have an Advent Evensong in Holy Trinity Dunoon this weekend. Musical talent is being imported in to assist with the choral elements, a piece has been written especially and we (nearly) have the order of service ready to roll.

A reflection on my input to the process? I am sufficiently musically inept (and our organist more than sufficiently not so!) to not try and risk too strong an input there.

So the liturgy is mine.

Prayer Book evensong - as it done. The bits missed out that one misses out, the bits added in that one adds in. Download of the text to get it all started.

But a process is needed - which is a variant of one I still find myself doing regularly.

  • Starting point: liturgy that I know pretty well

  • Working point: modified, massaged and changed to work for the particular service in question.

  • Pause

  • Check for Scottish Episcopalian variations (e.g. how does 1929 vary from 1928/1662/CWO2trad).

  • Go for it!
So Catholick becomes Catholic. An extra 'Let us pray' appears. Do they matter?

Well, yes, they do. Otherwise why does any of it matter?

Friday, 18 November 2011

What do clergy do on their day off?

Hang gliding? Reading non-orthodox theology books? Lying in a sensory deprivation tank whilst whale-song is played through a set of noise cancelling earphones?

All sorts I suppose.

Today I took the guts out of eldest daughter's netbook, tried my best to solder the cracked power connection (I give a few days before it needs doing again - my soldering iron is getting on a bit, as am I) and checked the run of the screen feed cable for snags and cracks. It now seems to be working.

So what do clergy do on their day off? The same sorts of things that ordinary people do on their days off. Because we are just as ordinary as everyone.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

At the going down of the sun

This week many clergy will be involved in two remembrance services (or possibly more). Friday the 11th November (at 11am) is the increasingly popular 'literal' time of remembrance, the time of the armistice coming into effect at the end of the 'Great War' in 1918: the 'war to end all wars.'

Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, when similar acts of remembrance, parades, silences, services, wreath layings take place in towns, again at 11am.

I detect a considerable degree of ambivalence amongst clergy (and others) to remembrance. The wearing of white poppies flurried whilst I was at theological college. There is a heartfelt reluctance to engage with any romanticized image of war. It's all about peace, isn't it?

Where am I on it all? My short career as a regular serviceman was in the cold war. We trained for the end of the world, running about in suits and masks and pretending to plot the wind-blown course of mushroom clouds. We travelled about the world not being shot at, looking under our cars for Irish not Afghan bombs. It leaves you conscious of what has gone before, and what your successors (in a VERY different world) are doing now. I joined the armed forces, in part, through a fear of nuclear armageddon, and the thought-through response that maintaining detente would prevent that war. Others marched against nuclear weapons - fair enough. No-one knew that economic and political frailty in the east would close that stand-off down, and allow the world to boil up into what it is now.

The political context of participation in war is complex. I think that's a polite way of saying that it often stinks. Whether it's Blackadder's 'moving General Haig's drinks cabinet 6 inches closer to Berlin,' or regime change dressed up in UN Article 51 'anticipatory self defence' as in Iraq (and others?), the global political motivations for entering war can be rather murky.

But the personal experiences and sacrifices that individual men and women in these conflicts make are undoubtedly deeply moving and powerful testimony to much that is fine and noble in humanity. The irony of wasteful, destructive war and the broken beauty of humanity are a rich, intertwined theme in remembrance. Who really cares about European politics in the early 20th century? But we read Wilfred Owen and can be affected by distant memories of mechanical horror.

In a century, who will care about the 'War on Terror' or 'Al Qaeda' or the rest of it? But will they remember limbless young people rebuilding lives and coffins driven slowly through Wiltshire? Maybe.

So I will wear my poppy on my choir dress on the seafront at Bute as we say Binyon's Words and the Kohima epitaph. My fellow British Legion members will parade, some crying.

And we will remember them.

Monday, 31 October 2011

The danger of euphemism (as it were...)

A close shave was had this morning.

The rectory rabbits (domesticated rather than wild) have reached a stage in their physiological development where they are a little problematic to each other. They are both male, one rather passive, the other much more active. And the active one has matured physically to the point where he is behaving inappropriately towards his passive companion. This is causing much stress and anxiety to the passive one. So the vets were called this morning. The above story explained (maturity, aggression, unwanted attention etc. all mentioned). So I requested that the rabbits, being old enough, were ready to be 'done.' (I'm pretty sure that's what I said)

Those two preceding paragraphs can be de-euphemised to: the male rabbits are now sexually mature and one is try to have sex with the other. They both need to be castrated.

To my surprise they said they could see them a little later that morning. I said, 'I assume I just drop them off and leave them with you while you do it?' Reply: Pause. 'You could do that if you wanted.'

The rabbits were duly caught, caged up and taken down.

For their appointment for euthanasia.

Fortunately, this error in translating euphemism came to light pretty quickly, a proper appointment for a whole day, a couple of days hence was made, and the whole episode was turned from a potential disaster to what we actually wanted.

The moral of the story - just ask for what you want, rather than tiptoing around the perceived euphemistic sensitivities of whoever you are dealing with.

But that could become rather uncomfortable in church life...

'Nice sermon, Rector,' becomes, 'That wasn't as boring as I thought it would be.'

'The beautiful sense of the numinous,' becomes, 'What a cold, old, damp building.'

and the list goes on...

Friday, 21 October 2011

The boats go dry...

The seasons here in Argyll are marked by many things. The rains gets warmer or colder, and even eventually goes white and falls as snow. The leaves appear as buds, and grow (obliterating the sea views) and whistle with the wind. Then they go brown and fall (this year twice, with storms!) and have to be blown from the drive. The holidaymakers arrive in larger and lesser numbers. Caledonain MacBrayne change their timetables - the last ferry from Bute is suddenly an hour sooner.

But one seasonal barometer that I am rather drawn to is the sailing boats. They are in the water for the good weather, the spring and summer, but they come out every year for the autumn and winter. I believe yacht insurance requires this - but the sense of making a boat safe ashore before the autumn gales arrive and start tearing out moorings is a very practical aspect of seasonal life. I'm not a yachtsman at all - I am no expert on such things. My canal boat stays in the water for several years at a time. But she's made of thick steel, pitch coated, on inland water away from storms.

As the moorings in Port Bannatyne empty, you know that winter is finally on its way. Warmer clothes are needed, the heating needs a service, salt needs to be stockpiled. But the boats are just dry, not gone. Their owners will do all the jobs that the winter holds - fixing, painting, varnishing, preparing. Because come the spring the sea will beckon again.

There are many seasonal heartbeats - but the boats coming out is one of the best!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Most inconvenient...

Molly the rectory collie has decided to reach puberty this week - so we have something like three weeks of walking her on a lead, fighting off overly-interested dogs and generally not being able to do 'the usual' when it comes to dog ownership. She spent a bring-and-share lunch today cooped up in the rabbit run in the garden. It is a very big rabbit run!

But development, whether human or canine, is not designed for our convenience.

It's designed to make us grow, gain experience, achieve new levels and types of maturity.

So I suppose that's a good thing.

But it is all a bit inconvenient.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Holiday over...

A ragged end to a week's holiday, as we return and the answering machine and e-mails and lovely folk popping round seep back into life.
A week on a narrowboat, with a little sailing and a lot of just being, is a good holiday. Having no identity other than a person who's on a narrowboat. Or in the cinema. Or at the theatre. Or in the shops. All good things to be.
What did we do?
Sailing to Auchinstarry, to pump out and fill up, with a canalman who used to be broker in the city.
Sailing to Stockingfield Junction in Glasgow, through a pretty deprived area of the city (ah - I have story about that that I must re-tell here on day...).
Meeting eleven hired narrowboats with Swiss canal-buffs all 'doing' the Scottish canals.
Rekindling the children's dislike of clowns - and hopefully letting them glimpse what mime and performance art can actually do (ah - I must blog about minimalist performance art and liturgy sometime)
And coming back, ready for more - including tomorrow's baptism (ah - I must blog about baptism and witchcraft, when it feels right).
(and ah - I must change back the answering machine)
A good holiday!

Sunday, 2 October 2011


The view from a 20 minute walk up the hill - the Clyde Approaches past Cloch Point, looking up to Kilcreggan, Gourock and the Clyde itself.

A little minehunter is pootling down the river, dodging between the ferries and sailing boats.

...and the midges have started to go back to sleep for the autumn!

Friday, 30 September 2011

Standing up for yourself...

I turned away a funeral this week.

Well, I tried pretty hard to make it work - someone who was 'Church of England' (a thing maybe only admitted after death in the West of Scotland, or maybe very shortly before...) had shuffled off this mortal coil and wanted the 'right' funeral. So an Episcopalian priest was requested. We don't have a parochial system as such in our Anglican Province - canonical areas I suppose sum it up. The chap hadn't come to see us in life, but in death he was in 'my patch'...

The day was no good for me - not an unusual occurrence. My local retired colleague was away that day. My colleagues over the water in Greenock and Port Glasgow otherwise engaged. And at that point I ran out of Episcopalian ministers who were sensibly close.

Other days - no good for the family. Other options - church rather than crem - no good for the family.

Well, I hope the Church of Scotland funeral that the family get is OK for them - I'm sure it will be. The minister who has taken it on needs another funeral like a hole in the head, IMHO.

Questions for me - how important are funeral ministries for random people who decide they want something Anglican in a country where that's not the establishment?
Is it good to be importing into Scotland the English - the C of E will 'do' us when we die - that I lived with during my curacy, and I see my C of S colleagues doing for ordinary non-church going Scots?
Do we drop everything and mess up established community building activities (in my case a eucharist, and set of social & business meetings on 'my' island) to meet such a demand?

I very nearly started to cancel a regular service and shift meetings and plan complicated multiple ferry journeys, until I suddenly thought - no - this is not a priority.

But I am sorry for my C of S colleague who has to take on yet another funeral service. I wonder if ATBAB will be before or after Crimond...

Friday, 23 September 2011

The smell of yesteryear!

Smells can be so evocative – I’m sure I read somewhere or other that the parts of the memory that recall smells are about the most easily stimulated. The smell of tobacco that a parent smoked (a pipe tobacco in my case) or fresh flowers, or fragrant incense – they can all take us back instantly to a distant time and place, and leave the conscious mind fighting to understand why such a strong emotional response may have taken place.

I was taken aback today by just a smell-experience moment. The prosaic business of changing the handles on the doors of the cloakroom and cupboard in the rectory had finally reached the top of the ‘to-do’ list. The whole area has been very damp, so everything was in quite a sorry state. The handles were well and truly rusted on to the metal parts of the doors. So I cut them off, to let me put the new ones on.

The smell of the hot Bakelite as I sawed through the shafts of the door handles was an acrid, pungent smell, which transported me back thirty years or so – to when I was a keen young air cadet, eager to explore the exciting world of aviation, history, tradition and light blue uniforms. Climbing into the cockpits of Spitfires, or Vulcans, or Ansons. or Hunters or even Chipmunks – the propeller and jet planes of the 40s and 50s – one was engulfed in a world of battered leather seats, glove-polished control columns, white on black Smiths dials, inviting looking levels wrapped around each other to drive motors or raise wheels, black and yellow striped handles to eject or bale out, Perspex canopies with a view of the sky but none of the ground in front of you – and most of all, a smell of hot, electric Bakelite. The slightly rancid, ozone smell of that wonder material, the stuff of choice for everything before thermoplastics were developed, has remained lodged in a little corner of my brain.

The emotion of the memories? One of excitement, adventure, trepidation at the unknown. Now I live in a world where I have been a member of the RAF, and that is long, long past (twenty-one years, in a few weeks’ time) – and I have been many other things which are also past. But I loved that little thrill that was brought back, by the simple fluke of removing some ancient, rubbished relics of rectors past!

Monday, 15 August 2011



An inevitable way for a disempowered population to physically scream their rejection of the oppressive and unjust structures that are preventing them achieving happiness/productivity? The stuff of Marxist revolution in the 1970s, and of punk bands and civil disobedience?

Or (in 2011): dead-eyed, mob-like and opportunistic.

Liberation theology spilled out of the former - Christ as proto-Marxist, armed priests, Gutierrez, Moltmann getting a drubbing for being white and affluent. Exciting stuff, that has morphed into Christian Aid (Life before death), Tear Fund and all sorts of muscular amillenial Christian movements.

What will spill out of the latter? National Service returns (todays press)? What?? Really?? Other movements and initiatives to mend 'broken Britain'? Tough love and bigger batons?

What liberation theology might spill out of last week? I found myself preaching on Bute about God's love for ALL humanity - even rioters and politicians - but without an answer about how to make it work. God loves us all - but how can the lives be transformed, the caring, mutually supporting communities (dare one call them churches) be grown and nurtured to embrace and heal a broken society. Why should the vilified ones, whoever they are, even care?

One can see why the old 'end-times' - 'God will fix it' card is tempting.

How did I end, to my lovely small church on a riot-free Scottish island?

"That," I said, "is where WE come in."

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Urban catwalk vs Bute chic

In Glasgow, Wellington, and his horse whose name I forget (Copenhagen, Wikipedia tells me), are decorated with that item of urban style - a traffic cone! With some physical challenge, usually alcoholically propelled, this has become so much the norm that photos like the one below (from are more common than ones without a cone!

Carol Walker captures a similar fate for Lord Kelvin - is there any statue in Glasgow that avoids an orange fluorescent bunnet? She thinks not!

It even spreads to Perth - the mainland trend for statue decoration... picks this one out, but fails to name it! (It's David Annand's sculpture with Willie Soutar's poem Nae Day Sae Dark engraved inside the ring)

But Bute has a different style for one of its stalwart citizens: Alexander Bannatyne Stewart, owner of Ascog Hall and " the time of his death Convener of the County of Bute, and took great interest in all things affecting the island. He was Commodore of the Bute Aquatic Club, and Flag Officer of the Royal Northern Yacht Club, whose regattas in Rothesay Bay generally terminated with magnificent displays of fireworks from Mr. Stewart's steam yacht." Quite a gentleman!

Today, he is mostly wearing a seagull...

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Starter for ten...

We had the first St Paul's Rothesay quiz night yesterday, in the church hall round the corner from the church. I'm not sure that the vestry was convinced that it was a particularly good idea, but they unreservedly worked like Trojans (who I assume work hard) to cater and layout and support the event.

It went well.

The hall was packed out - the single window in the hall that hasn't been painted shut was open, and paper plates pressed into service as fans. The (newly-installed) stairlift in the hall was much admired but not used, even as few people teetered past it with their sticks and assistants in tow. The food was devoured, carry-outs of varying degrees of alcoholical content consumed, much buzz.

And the questions were posed, and answered, with varying degrees of hilarity, objection, studious engagement and so forth. I was the Bamber Gascoigne for the evening, which after nearly three hours of shouting down a microphone, presented challenges for a non-husky Eartha-Kitt-esque sermon delivery in the morning.

And was it all worth it? I guess some money was raised for church funds - a raffle and the modest entry-fee. But more importantly, we met with our community in our little hall, doing something that was enjoyable, non-serious, but definitely, most definitely a church event. One could almost stretch the point towards the sharing of fellowship and food, freely given, with the morning's pericope of the feeding of the five thousand.

There are many, many forms of evangelism. I believe last night was just another form.

(and a blessing of a civil marriage has appeared from the midst of the questions, answers, buzz and laughter...)

Friday, 22 July 2011

Offices? Occasionally...

I try and avoid blogging too much about specific ministry - all too personal and real - but this week had two wonderfully contrasting activities. The jargon 'occasional offices' doesn't do justice to baptisms, weddings or (as in this case) funerals. And as a clerge in England, where you do loads of funerals, mainly for people you've never met, I would try and not go on about them. Get a few C of E vicars together and they start swapping funeral stories...

But up here, in the SEC (my bit anyway) it's different.

So this week, with two funerals, is unusual for me now. But the contrasts are worth reflecting upon.

Both services for people I've known, both died from cancer, both a little on the young-ish side.

Funeral 1: Down south. A colleague and friend from a few years ago, with shared experience of ship designing. I last saw him maybe seven or eight years ago. The comedy moment! The hearse lost a tyre on the way to the crem, which (from what the widow said) then went on fire! (the tyre, not the crem) Moving on swiftly. Standing room only in the crem for the 30 minute slot (20 minute service) - standard timings for my curacy. A busy time at the crem, they said - 11 services in the place that day. The deceased lived about 15 minutes from the crem, the reception was a similar distance away (in his lodge). I used a Scottish liturgy (give or take) and we sang hymns and listened to poems and Enya.

Funeral 2: Up here. A member of the small, now dormant, dependent congregation. I last saw her two weeks before, just before I went on holiday, a week before she died. Family only - four adults and 2 children aged 6 and 8. Changed most of the words in my little book to ones that are easier to understand (and not just for the kids!). Also a busy time at the crem, they said - a funeral every day that week! The journey was about 90 minutes each way: up the 'Rest-and-be-Thankful' and down Loch Lomondside from Dunoon to the crem. I went in the hearse and had a good chat there and back with the undertakers. The hearse did not go on fire. No idea how long the crem slot was - all day, I suppose - but we were in and out in 15 minutes. No music at all - just as the family wanted it.

And overall - the same sense of loss, of hope, of saying goodbye as electrically-operated curtains whirred closed. The sense (for me) of knowing the faces that were lying still in the coffins, and wondering if the gospel had been adequately preached.

And now - the second wedding of the week tomorrow. I wonder what will happen there...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Crumbs, it's late and busy...

Where have the last few weeks gone?
Some holiday, some busy time.
Back to an incredibly busy time indeed - I thought the SEC didn't have so many funerals and weddings as we did south of the border.
But this week is the exception.
An incredibly rich week, a week with connections and contacts with many lives.
A week with God?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


It's now nearly one week PS - post-synod - and I am trying to grab a spot from the busyness to reflect.
The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church (my first one) was a most interesting experience. As a newcomer to the Synod (and as an ordained person, the province) there was much to observe.
Many people knew each other incredibly well - almost clubbily well. Is that a good thing? Yes and no, I suspect.
The issues discussed had a slight feel of being the continuing processing of well-established positions and inevitable unfolding of pre-assumed outcomes. What do I mean by that? A feeling of a church that is (or has been) rather homogeneous in ecclesiology and outlook - so has some rather foregone conclusions. The homogeneous features appear to be things like 'liberal' and 'catholic' and 'sacramental' and 'rational'.
I also sensed (largely based on a three minute conversation with one delegate at the very end) that this is changing, and some slightly broader perspectives are creeping in.
Overall, I sensed some confusion over being 'Anglican' (at a provincial synod this appears to be a self-defining feature), 'Episcopalian' (a brand that means different things to different people) and 'Scottish' (again, a brand that has many facets). I came to the personal conclusion that we are a church, in our own right, and that label is large enough to contain all of the above.
Did we change things for the better? I'm not sure. Did we change things for the worse? Probably not. Did we grapple with the real issues of survival and even flourishing as a church?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Plug pulling

What happens at the hydro station when someone pulls the plug on Loch Tarsan!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

One year on...

Blink - and two weeks has passed!

How does it feel to be at the actual anniversary of starting my ministry here?

I almost didn't notice that it had come, even having spotted it further away in May.

Ministry busyness, some extraordinary happenings, some awful things and wonderful people, and wonderful things too!

That's been the last year, too, now that I reflect upon it!

Saturday, 21 May 2011


A year today I pulled up outside the Rectory in Dunoon. I was in a people carrier loaded to the gunwhales, with a trailer loaded to its gunwhales. I had just driven from Gloucester to Dunoon via Arrochar and the Rest-and-be-thankful.

It was very early in the morning, on the 21st of May.

We had just moved from England to Scotland, from the Church of England to the Scottish Episcopal Church. It's still a few days more until the anniversary of my licensing up here, but it's good to have a few days to reflect on the first year of ministry in a new place.

And its still a new place, with people to learn about, new ways of doing and being and a different culture and context. And that's from me, born and brought up in Scotland, living here until I was 32. It's all very different. Religion is different to religion in England. Being an Episcopalian is not the same as being an Anglican (although to nail either of those is beyond the best minds in the land). And to make either of those grow and flourish and zing - well, there's a challenge for us all.

So a few reflections will follow over the next little while on being one year in.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

All at sea...

At last, after nearly a year on the west coast, I managed (with son) to get afloat in something not driven by a diesel engine (well, not all the time) - we went sailing!

Gordon (a serious, many decade experienced sailor) was the skipper, and Pete and I were, well, ballast.

Not so much wind about - a squall or two got us up to a little bit of speed between Cumbrae and Bute - but the sense of water fizzing below the hull and the angle of the world aboard Tantina II were exhilarating!

Do you think we will get hooked? Maybe not, but it was great to be one of those little white triangle flying up and down the approaches, rather than just looking out at them!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Coming up for air...

Quite a lively last couple of weeks - Holy Week and Easter, of course, which is rather an intense time, especially the first year in new churches. Mary was getting to the end of her duties as a team leader in the census - lots of miles, forms, admin. And our new business venture, a small self-catering flat, had (has, as I write) our first guests come to stay.

All very intense, and an interesting counter-balance with each one drawing attention away from the others. I'm never one to completely disappear below the surface during Holy Week (too many years in the real, uncaring world to let myself be quite so self-indulgent, maybe?), but it was an interesting experience to multi-task so strongly.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end...

The wisdom of offering a sung compline as the short ecumenical act of worship on Bute has been knitting my brows somewhat. But I offered it, at the ministers' meeting (once known as the fraternal) and some were keen. So we did it. With a short introduction to what compline actually is. And to how the four lined clefs with square blobs work as musical notation. And we did it. So I remain with brow slightly furrowed, wondering in which direction the boundaries of ecumenical understanding have been pushed. But it certainly flushed out the Anglicans who now go to the Church of Scotland but remember (fondly it seems) choral evensong. Not the same animal, but from a nearby stable. So we wait, brow a little tense, to see what feedback drifts over from the island...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Lent - but Easter Experienced!

The last two days (well, last few weeks) have been an odd mixture of the start of Lent and ramping up for a local schools project - Experience Easter!

People from local churches took a set of stations into Dunoon Grammar School for the first year to experience interactively the Holy Week and Easter story. I've done it quite a few times down south, generally in primary rather than secondary schools - so this was a challenge to get it running in a new context, in a secondary school and in much shorter, packaged periods.

I'm sure I'll blog or reflect more on the event itself, the press coverage, the start of an ecumenical flavour in pulling it together, the plans for repeats in the future (and other similar projects for other seasons). But for tonight, I want to record one of the most profound incidents.

When we came in just before 9 this morning to start the second day, the gym was in complete darkness, except for the light inside the empty tomb. I was surprised, as I thought we had switched it off the night before. But it was busy, things are easily overlooked.

In the mid morning break, one of the school cleaners popped in, and apologised for having switched the light on - when they came into the gym early in the morning they had felt the urge to switch the light on inside Jesus' empty tomb, and to spend a quite ten minutes or so, surrounded by the Holy Week stations, just quietly reflecting.

The flows of people around us and our churches, and the ways that ripples set out in ways that we can anticipate - these never cease to amaze me.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Priestly rest...

After a busy day of peripatetic priestliness...


It has been quite a distraction over the past few weeks, all the busyness, tweeting, buying a flat - all rather a lot. And while it was happening - spring arrived! The rhododendron in front of the rectory in Dunoon has burst into magenta bloom (briefly confused by some snow and ice) but now a spectacular display of vibrant colour (even matching the Lenten violet of the vestments). The little bunches of daffodils have emerged from the turf and and started to show their heads. The birdsong is so rich that you can almost feel it as you step outside the house. A few yards away, the church is even starting to dry out a little after the winter - the long weeks and months of chasing leaks and pushing contractors and trying to get things stable seem easier as it gets lighter and brighter. The late spring project? To start and sort the peeling paintwork inside the chancel - in a way that will last and make fabric sense. We have a plan, we have funding, we will (hopefully) soon have the necessary permissions. Over the Kyles, there is a similar sense of spring. The visitors have started to appear, and there is a shiny new board to greet them and tell them that we are here. Quotes are flowing in to solve the various problems around the buildings, people are in good spirits! I suppose the only thing to be done is to change the picture on this blog from a snowy one to a spring-like one!

Friday, 11 March 2011


I'm having another go on Twitter, having let it lie fallow for rather a long time.

Tweet tweet. Broadcast boring, if one's not careful.

andyswift39, if you are interested.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Synod 2011 for Argyll & The Isles

Just returned from my first diocesan synod in Argyll and The Isles. My impressions?

As a new arrival in the diocese, I tried to approach with no strong expectations one way or another. The new bishop, only a few weeks into his episcopate, was always going to bring a fascinating twist to the sense of the synod, but as for the rest of us?

A pre-Synod day on building a vision was hard work, but creatively done. Did we hear any new hopes or fears? Probably not too many - the challenges we face as a widely distributed church in the 21st century are well known. The opportunities that ministry offers in a breath-takingly beautiful place, a thin place, a rooted place are wide and varied.

+Kevin managed to remember to constitute synod at the eucharist that evening, and the dining and dancing flowed on smoothly from there.

The business of synod was brisk - finance, the progression of canonical change, diocesan review of provincial initiatives. The financial story was improving very greatly (although, as at the local level, still a way to go!). Canonical change seemed largely uneventful and largely not relevant to this diocese: no licenced posts held by over seventy-year olds. The provincial gender audit was of interest: more women than men worship, a universal truth it seems. More men than women lead - a statistic that I believe time will even for the clerical side of the balance: less than 20 years of female priests, several hundred (in the modern era) of male!

A good debate on the rural report: there is tangible and relevant hope for ministry in the rural swathes of Scotland. But how to embrace this opportunity? We had plenty of tales of successful initiatives and positive encounters.

Elections, reports, all the usual business of a synod. But all done in good spirits and with a positive, optimistic sense.

The post-synod day - a clergy day - was very interesting too. The clergy do not have the answers on where the diocese will go, but are the ordained 'specialists' in some areas (oh, the debates one can have on that title!). The conclusions from this morning? There are opportunities for mission and growth, and we all need trained and formed to seize these opportunities. And we all need trained and formed to grow a vision that will lead us there.

Tired but feeling positive, we departed for our far flung yet beautiful corners of the world!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A fresh, bright day at Holy Trinity Dunoon...

...and look who's coming to church!

A shiny red cherry picker, especially brought in to get a plumber up onto the church tower to patch holes in the leadwork around the roof. Hopefully that will stop the water cascading inside the bellchamber and down into the rest of the tower!

Later that day, the picker-driver returns to the car park, job done - and frozen solid by the stiff winds at the top of the tower, right up above the Clyde. Some photos of the tower top should follow, once the contractor e-mails them.

Now to wait for the next rain to test the repairs. Shouldn't have long to wait in Argyll!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Bishop Kevin, Argyll and The Isles


Today Dean Kevin Pearson was consecrated as the 10th modern (since 1847) Bishop of Argyll and The Isles. It was a day filled with much laughter, greeting of old friends, making of new friends (important for me, in only the beginning of the 9th month since my arrival as priest in this diocese) and the pomp and ceremony of a liturgical consecration and installation.

People dressed as abbots waved sticks about, bishops from here, there and everywhere waved their hands about. Incense wafted liberally. Elspeth (see above) smiled a lot. Processions processed and receptions received.

Was the Holy Spirit wrapped into it all? I believe so, very much so.

Exciting times ahead - in the short term another trip up to Oban tomorrow for Mary, kids and I for a diocesan eucharist-cum-'+Kevin's'-celebration-in-one-of-his-cathedrals. We can play 'spot-the-pot-hole' - first to one thousand wins the prize: to choose the make of the new tyres!

I may even wear my kilt - it is the Argyll and The Isles after all!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A busy day in Cowal and Bute - sampled

Words & phrases to sum up today...

Wet weather - very wet weather - chance to spot leaks in the tower roof - lots of leaks, easily spotted. Easily fixed? Hmm.

Deliberate (little) holes in the chancel wall - better news than hoped for on redecoration.

Busy (relatively) eucharist on Bute.

Possible ecumenical wedding in the summer - hmm.

Smoky (literally) eucharist in Dunoon.

Worrying about hospices being closed - and agreeing to do something (small) about it.

Sermon on looking for God in the ordinary at Candlemas. Keeping our eyes open.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Burns vs Paul...?

25th January - the conflation of Burns' Night with the feast of the conversion of St Paul.

I idly ponder who would be the dominant force?

Burns is a strong character, with his hatred of religious hypocrisy (Holy Willie's Prayer), his love of women that brought him to the penitent's 'cutty stool' in Tarbolton Kirk, and his potent mixture of socialism, nationalism and penchant for begging letters. His eyes glowed when he was excited, according to the encounter with a youthful Walter Scott (I was paying attention to the 'Immortal Memory' at Innellan Burns' Supper last week!). Burns is regarded as a leading light in the new Scottish establishment that grew out of the post-Culloden Hanoverian ravages, culminating in Scott's re-manufactured vision of a tartan Scotland that even captured the sartorial delight and support of later Hanoverians. The birthday of Rabbie Burns, celebrated today, started something significant and lasting.

Paul is just as strong, with his fervour and zeal to eradicate the unorthodox new movement that was contaminating his Pharisaic Judaism - he stood and held the coats as Stephen was stoned to death after giving a powerful sermon. And Paul was just as fervent and zealous after his conversion (on the road to Damascus, we hear, in Acts) to spread the word that this new movement was the new covenant, the grace-filled, faith-dependent means to be renewed with God. His writings (authentic, disputed and under his name) give the feeling that it would be a bit of pain to be stuck with him in a lift for terribly long. He would rather make his point known - and the answer, regardless of the question, would be Jesus (not a squirrel). His conversion, celebrated today, was a hard one.

So, who would be better...?

In homage to that radical commentator on matters of media and culture, Harry Hill: there is only one way to decide this sort of thing...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Hole + Ice = made it (just)

There is a beautiful scientific principle by why the presence of pot holes on country roads makes it easier to get a grip on them whilst driving on black ice!

A good morning in Tighnabruaich, coffee sharing and raising funds for Macmillan Cancer Care! But nearly didn't make it, skating rink and all!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

(Yet) another post about the King James Bible...

There has been a lot of varied blog traffic on the KJV 400th anniversary, most of it guardedly hostile to the language of the translation, or the sexuality of King James IV/I, or the associated fundamentalism (the King James was good enough for Jesus so it's good enough for me) etc.

I am rather taken with the KJV, personally, and that's coming from someone who grew up in the post Vatican II catholic tradition, with never a glimpse of the KJV, other than the possible appropriation of elements (e.g. the doxology-free 'Our Father' in the English translated mass). Why am I taken with it? Someone lent me Nicholson's 'Power and Glory', an account of the process and context by which this bible was created.

It was created as a sort of settlement between the evangelicals (who wanted the Calvinist Geneva bible) and the more traditional-catholic-friendly wing of the English church (who had the not very good Bishops' Bible as an anti-Geneva prop). The scholarship applied to the KJV was seen as the leading work of its time (although it was basically a Church of England inside job).

When I was living near Bristol there was a big tower on a nearby hill - the Tyndale monument. William Tyndale was a 16th century Enlgish reformer who translated the New and Old Testaments into English and was executed, near Brussels, for heresy in 1536. Four years later Henry VIII authorised the publication of bibles in English, all based on Tyndale's work. The Bishop's Bible (the English base for the KJV) was developed from the Great Bible, which was developed from Tyndale's work. All a bit tortuous, maybe, but the fact remains that people were willing to die to hear the bible translated into their own language - in the 16th/17th century, Jacobean English. By the time of the KJV the worst of the religious persecution was passing (but it was not entirely gone...) but the memories of burnings were fresh.

The KJV is a wonderful example of scripture engaging with the culture of its time, to allow it to come alive and speak directly, of God, to the people. We continue to do this today - whether one prefers the REB, the RSV (my personal favourite for sermon preparation), the NIV, TNIV, NRSV, Message, Word on the Street - the list goes on and on, paraphrases and translations, each with its own particular style and context.

The KJV is a wonderful piece of prose - the iambic pentameters flow beautifully to attuned ears - but for me it matters because of what it represents. It represents humanity's desire to refresh and rediscover what the scriptures have to say to each new generation, at any cost. We forget the price that people of faith have paid over the centuries to hear and understand those inspired words.