I don’t get out ‘on the ground’ in our congregations often enough. So it was good to spend the morning of Ash Wednesday in Lochgelly with our Lay Reader there, Margaret Dineley. Lochgelly is post-industrial, mining Fife. It used to have the lowest house prices in Britain. So it’s a place of challenge and it’s very important that our church there, St Finnian’s, is open and now beginning to grow again. It’s part of our Central Fife Group and the congregations are working hard under the leadership of Revd Thomas Brauer.
First sign of church growth is that it is often random when it appears. Margaret and I were sorting ourselves out at the church when a former member of the congregation turned up. ‘Is this church still open?’ – and he told us about being an altar boy/server long ago. He’ll be back
And then we set off – to a Mother and Toddler Group run by the Salvation Army, to a Community Shop, to the Senior Citizen’s Day Centre run by Fife Council. I don’t miss the sheer hard work of congregational ministry – but I miss the buzz and the fun of it. So Margaret and I, having had our tea and toast with the Senior Citizens, had some worship with a group of them. We talked a bit about the ash which we had brought with us – then one of the elderly ladies began to talk about being a Catholic and having ash on Ash Wednesday. ‘And what did the priest say when he marked your forehead?’ I asked. And instantly she said, ‘Remember O man …. ‘
Those are great moments
We met today in our Diocesan Synod.
If you read my address from the Synod Eucharist, you will see that we have had a difficult year – yet also a year which has seen considerable progress.
The Presidential Address deals with the same themes
We are doing a lot of thinking at the moment about the future training of our clergy and lay readers. It’s about placing the formation of clergy and lay readers in the context of the formation of the whole people of God. That’s easy to say – no not all that easy really – but turning it into a new kind of training institution is a challenge to which we are addressing ourselves.
Yesterday was special and it’s taken a long time to get there – a Consultation involving as many churches as we could gather with representatives of the theology faculties in our Scottish universities and other bodies which provide training.
The result was a surprising degree of commonality. We can all see that ministry is under pressure. We are all experiencing some level of breakdown – with all the sadness, damage and distress which that causes to all parties. We can see that we need to explore whether we can find ways if sharing and co-operating. But it’s going to take a while!
At our General Synod of 2012, the Scottish Episcopal Church decided by a large majority not to adopt the Anglican Covenant. I don’t think that there was a single reason for that decision. I suspect that many felt that this particular proposal for a means of bringing cohesion to the fractured life of the Anglican Communion was un-Anglican. And the Anglican Communion matters profoundly to Scottish Episcopalians.
My own feelings included some frustration that discussion of the Covenant had postponed discussion of Human Sexuality issues. It had been a displacement activity. More seriously, the Covenant had misread its context. The reality of Communion life is that all provinces have a greater or lesser degree of diversity around these issues. If that is true of Scotland, it is also true of Nigeria, Uganda and the United States. The Covenant process unhelpfully suggested that the primary divisions were between Provinces rather than within Provinces.
As I wrote recently, the decision to legislate for Same-Sex Marriage in Scotland is a significant one for all churches and faith communities in Scotland. I also suggested that the rapid change in social attitudes around these issues – particularly among young people – mean that there is a serious missional issue.
We at present have a church wide process for ‘measured discussion’ on issues of Human Sexuality. When that comes to an end later this year, we shall have to enter into careful consultation about how we should respond to the new context in which we find ourselves.
In thinking about that, we shall have to honour and respect two diversities.
The first and primary diversity is that of the Scottish Episcopal Church itself. We have catholic, evangelical, traditionalist and liberal strands in our life. We know ourselves to be enriched by that diversity. It is expressed in warm relationships of mutual respect. We have to carry that diversity with us on whatever journey we decide to undertake.
The second diversity is that of the Anglican Communion. Unhelpful patterns have been modelled for us. Strident voices in the Communion seek to prevent even discussion of the issues. Others have acted unilaterally without sensitivity to the strong feelings elsewhere in the Communion. Neither is acceptable. We are a Communion but we cannot be a Uniformity. What the Communion needs at this point is serious discussion about the nature of our belonging together and about the limits of diversity – given that we live in such different social contexts.
We had a lunchtime meeting today with General Srilal Weerasooriya and his wife Dilhani.
The General and his wife are in Scotland as part of their work for Military Ministries International – supporting Christians in the military of countries throughout Asia. He was Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, retiring in 2000. He then served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Pakistan until 2006. They share a remarkable international ministry focused on the spiritual needs of soldiers and their families
On our way to Oxford, we called in at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, to see the remarkable new Bishop Edward King Chapel.
I spent a year here in 1975-6. Alison and I were newly married – the Principal, Canon Professor Martyn Percy, took us round to see our first home at 6 The Lane and just behind the Bat and Ball Pub. It was the first year of the difficult merger between Ripon Hall and Cuddesdon College. I made friends for life but it was an uncomfortable time.
The College today is a remarkable place and provides training in various modes for over 200 students. With the present review of TISEC, training is much in our minds so it was good to catch up.
The Chapel is a remarkable building. For more photographs, take a look at the architect’s website. Irish of course, Niall McLaughlin found the concept for the design in the poetry of Seamus Heaney. It’s in the connection between the word ‘nave’ and ‘navis’ meaning ship
Time for a brief visit to Oriel College, Oxford – where I read theology from 1973-5. As you will see if you take a look at the sermon I enjoyed my time there but had slightly mixed feelings about it. But I know that the reality is that I could never have moved to Scotland if I had not had the experience of moving away from Ireland for a while at that point in my life.
The Chaplain, Rev Robert Tobin showed me the restored Oratory of John Henry Newman which is behind the window on the right hand side of the photo. So I joined him there for Morning Prayer before we took our leave. Very evocative in the light of the Pisky connections with the Oxford Movement
I went along to the opening of the new exhibition in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday evening. Beautifully evocative black and white photographs tell the story of the Jewish Community in Scotland. You’ll find more about it here