Launch of Scottish Interfaith Week


This is Pat Morrissey of the Baha’I Community speaking about his Journey of Faith at the launch of Scottish Interfaith Week in Kilmarnock this afternoon.

I went to represent our church – and I went because this is important to our church. On any level, I think it is significant. As I drove westwards with the radio on, I was listening to the political tide south of the border turning against immigration and multiculturalism. I know that it’s different here – Scotland has not seen immigration on the scale of some parts of England. But attitudes here are warm and accepting – and the ability to celebrate religious and cultural diversity is one of the best things about Scotland today.

So I hope that the programme for this week will be well-supported and successful. Later in the week, I’ll be at a meeting of Religious Leaders of Scotland in Dunblane. It’s a meeting of that character which Archbishop Desmond Tutu attributed to Anglicans. ‘What do we do? We meet’. It’s important to meet and to keep meeting – to keep learning and learning to understand one another

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Casting the Net – Review Day


Today we gathered people involved in every aspect of Casting the Net – with members of our Diocesan Committees – for a Review Day. We constantly review our progress. I think it is important now and again to have the kind of meeting at which new ideas can float and future possibilities can become ‘things which we talk about’ before they acquire the status of formal agenda items anywhere.

Today was encouraging – encouraging because it was an opportunity for people to hear stories of what is happening in our congregations. We heard about work with children, about community involvement, about evangelism – and what was noticeable was the constant presence of support in prayer for the work being undertaken.

I was encouraged by another constant …. We seem now to have reached the point where people understand that Casting the Net isn’t a rigidly-defined and centrally-directed programme. It is open to being shaped for its context. Parts of it are resourced and encouraged by the diocese. But much of it arises from local initiative.

There was a lot of energy in the room today – and laughter too. We’re on the threshold of a new and exciting phase with the appointment of a full time Diocesan Missioner. New possibilities and plenty of hope

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In Prison

I continued my journey through Prisoners’ Week by spending an afternoon with the Chaplaincy team in Perth Prison.

It’s hard to miss Perth Prison – it’s a big complex just outside the centre of Perth. There are over 650 prisoners at present and much of the prison has been rebuilt in the last few years.

It’s hard not to be disturbed by a visit to a prison. And yet my visit seemed to be about the efforts of the prison community to sustain a sense of humanity in what is essentially a somewhat inhuman situation. I had a meeting with the Deputy Governor who talked with passion about the way in which prisons have become relational places over the last twenty years. I’ve seen that for myself – much of the almost deliberate inhumanity has gone.

So I spent some time on one of the landings. I visited the Education Department. I also had a look at the area where prisoners are prepared for release – learning the skills to sustain their lives on the outside. Everywhere staff and prisoners were prepared to talk to me. Many of them were articulate and interested.

Could I be a Prison Chaplain? I doubt it somehow. But I can see the attraction of developing relationships over a long period and of being with people at what is a crisis time in their lives. I was glad I went and I’ll try to go again before too long

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Prisoners’ Week

This is Prisoners Week – and I attended the National Launch Service last night in Dunblane Cathedral.

I listened to the list of Scottish Prisons being read out and wondered how this society could possibly need so many. Former Inspector of Prisons, Andrew McLellan commented that 27000 children in Scotland have a parent in prison. It’s an extraordinary statistic.

I’ll visit Perth Prison this week. In case you haven’t seen it, it is a huge building. Last time I was there, there were over 700 prisoners. I go because I think it should be a pastoral priority and because I want to support the Chaplains.

My involvement with Prisons goes back a while. In the mid ’80’s, I was a member of the Board of Visitors at Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast. At that time it was a remand prison. It was an extraordinary experience – I remember going into the Exercise Yard with other members of the Board of Visitors and simply waiting to see who would come to talk to us. That was of course wasn’t quite what it sounds like – because the paramilitary prisoners had their own command structure through which they dealt with the prison authorities and with us.

I also had the experience of visiting the Maze Prison – Long Kesh – shortly before the end of Internment. And I was a regular visitor there and at the neighbouring and modern Maghaberry Prison when my parishioners were ‘inside’

What do I remember? I remember greyness, barbed wire, interview rooms with no handle on the inside of the door through which I had just entered. I remember misery and desolation – but also optimism and hope. I remember prison staff who tried hard in near-impossible circumstances to create a humane environment and to go beyond the ‘turn key’ mentality. Prisoners Week is a way of reminding people about our prisons – about prisoners and their families, about prison staff and Chaplains. If you are fortunate enough not to be involved with any of that, it’s too easy to forget that it is there.

But in the end I wonder about it all. I know that there are obviously people from whom society needs to be protected. But our aim must surely be redemption and restoration …

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With 84 Margarets

St Margaret2

St Margaret's Chapel

I am an Honorary President of St Margaret’s Chapel Guild – along with the Moderator and the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. The Chapel is the oldest building in the complex of buildings at Edinburgh Castle – and probably the smallest. It’s used for weddings and other events – and cared for by the members of St Margaret’s Chapel Guild – all of whom are called Margaret.

I was glad to be with them on Monday. I’m still amazed that I managed to get there for the target time of 1150 when I only left Blogstead at 1020. It was a close run thing and it didn’t involve a helicopter. They were a delightful group of people – a wonderful cross-section of Scottish life – linked together by a remarkable building and the history of Margaret.

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Preaching Uphill

Is it my imagination – or are the readings getting more difficult for the preacher?

I certainly thought that last Sunday’s were particularly challenging – as will be obvious if you take a look at what I said in our Cathedral.

But if I was to be charitable to myself … I’d probably say that in earlier life I just wasn’t aware of just how demanding it is!

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Change does come #pisky


It is the fate of veterans to come home to a land changed – a land where they no longer belong. None more so than the Irish men and women who served in the British forces in the First World War and came home to Ireland after the 1916 Easter Rising. It is only in recent times that Ireland has found the political generosity to recognise their service and their sacrifice – and the Queen’s visit to Ireland was an important step along that journey.

So today for the first time an Irish wreath was laid at the Cenotaph. For the third time, Taoiseach Enda Kenny laid a wreath at the War Memorial in Enniskillen – where I grew up. It seems a long time since the horror of the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen.

If only we could see the same steady political progress within Northern Ireland ..

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St Paul’s, Kinross

We celebrated All Saints today at St Paul’s, Kinross

It was good to be there – music bright and brisk … children … and a feeling of a congregation shaping a style and a quality of worship.

I took the opportunity of talking about life, death and the life beyond – and about the day Mother Theresa sat down beside me on a plane. As I told the congregation, we had a conversation in some depth. But all attempts to get more were met with ‘If it is God’s will’ I must remember to do that with the next meeting I have with a Vestry.

The full text is here

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Breaking the habits of a lifetime

I’ve always been deeply committed to building ecumenical relationships. That’s partly because it seemed to be essential – I almost said ‘a matter of life and death’ – among the divisions of Northern Ireland. It’s also because denominationalism is profoundly unattractive – churches are better in relationship. My problem has always been that I don’t much like the institutional expressions of ecumenism. I have profound respect for those who cope better than I do with the long agendas …

So I find myself firmly trumped by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to be the Anglican Co-Chair of the forthcoming dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the World Communion of Reformed Churches. And I’ve just spent two days in London working with others to shape what will probably be a five year programme of talking and exploring.

It’s an honour for me – and for our church – that I should be asked to do this. And there are reasons why it makes sense. The Church of Scotland is an influential member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches – indeed the HQ of the former World Alliance of Reformed Churches was in Edinburgh until 1948. I’m encouraged to see our relationships with the Church of Scotland growing and deepening in all sorts of ways at the moment. So there will be interplay between what happens in the forthcoming dialogue and what happens in Scotland.

So it’s deep breath – and time to face up to the long Agendas

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Believing in God. #pisky

I recently found myself starting to complete one of these surveys. By the time I reached Q4, I stopped and binned it. There were two reasons for that.

Firstly the relatively small size of our church means that any set of responses risks not being representative of the whole

Secondly I think it is always unwise to deal with deep and personal issues by responding to a set of questions posed by others. The result is likely to be what we see in this article. In a very different context, we regularly respond to requests for responses on matters of policy from the Scottish Government. I am usually an advocate of a response in which we disregard the supplied Questionnaire and write a statement of our position. Only in that way can we hope to achieve clarity with balance.

I see no evidence that clergy of our church are sceptical about God. We are at present seeing an influx of people into our processes of discernment – people wanting to test an inner conviction that God is calling them to ministry in our church. As part of that discernment, we expect people to be able to articulate clearly their experience of God at work in their lives – and their deep conviction about God’s presence, power and love. Nobody would make the commitments – and the sacrifices – which are involved unless they had that faith present as a vibrant reality in their lives.

But of course there are other realities.

We minister and pursue our mission in a very secular society. That society is full of quiet voices which erode conviction and attenuate passion. When you are tired and disappointed, the inner voice which says, ‘This isn’t doing any good, you know’ can be a disturber.

I see clergy who have done their best – who have bravely pointed the way forward – but have been ‘knocked back’ one time more than their resilience can stand.

Yes this is difficult – difficult because we carry faith right at the very centre of our being. So when we are hurt in the cause of faith, we are deeply hurt.

People who read this may say, That’s what you would expect’. To them I say that they should look at the life of the Scottish Episcopal Church today – at our energy and growing confidence, at the quality of our clergy and our ordinands …

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