Since this is a sort of pilgrimage, we thought we would start with Tobermory Cat – whom you can find on Facebook any time. But a quick look at the daunting distances from Craignure – 21 miles to Tobermory and 37 in the other direction to Fionnphort – suggested that we didn’t have time. So this picture will have to make do.
So we are now in a nice warm B&B looking across at Iona and looking forward to the celebrations tomorrow
We are off to Iona this morning with Bishop Kevin and Elspeth for the 1450th Anniversary of the arrival of St Columba. Iona is one of my favourite places and I am fascinated by the reaction of people when it is mentioned. George MacLeod’s comment that it is a ‘thin place’ is obviously well understood – meaning, I think, a place where the veil which separates earth and heaven is particularly thin.
Which leads me to the article I read this week in the Alban Institute material about the SBNR group – Spiritual but not Religious. That’s very much of our [post-modern] times – people do not ‘do’ religion but they perceive themselves as being spiritual and interested in spirituality. That shapes into a challenge – which is how ‘organised and institutional’ religion can engage with such people. I think that much of Casting the Net is actually about that – the Mark of Mission which is ‘worship which renews and inspires’ is about the aspiration to produce worship which has a helpful ‘thinness’ about it.
And I can’t help make a comment about current thinking on Hospital Chaplaincy in the NHS – certainly in the unhelpfully radical form in which we experience it here. There seems to be spiritual care – which can be delivered by almost anybody – and there is religious care which is perceived as being what churches do. When I suggest that what churches do – and what my own long experience in hospital chaplaincy was about – is spiritual care for SBNR people with an absolute minimum of formal/organised/institutional content, there doesn’t seem to be an answer.
Another window – another view. This one is from Alnmouth Friary, which is a house of the Society of St Francis, on the Northumbrian Coast. It’s a gloriously beautiful place and I’m here with a group of our clergy who are on retreat together. As well as the spiritual exercises, I hope to unfurl the Brompton early tomorrow morning and do some exploring.
I’m glad to be here but I’m going to have to retreat sooner than I would like. The period between now and General Synod is particularly full for me. But I’m glad I came because, although I have never been here, this place is full of memories.
In the early days of ministry in Belfast – in the mid ’70′s – SSF were given two derelict houses on the Peaceline in North Belfast just round the corner from where we lived. They were stoned as they moved in – probably because the neighbours on the Protestant side of the line thought they were Catholics. They took refuge in our house and we had a cup of tea. It was probably on another occasion that Bro Hubert blessed our cats – a blessing which has cascaded through the generations all the way to Poppy.
I’ve been remembering – Bro Peter was part of the clergy team as I served my first curacy. He subsequently left the order and married. His ashes and those of his wife are buried in the garden here.
I don’t really ‘get’ school songs. But in the words of the Carmen Glenalmonense, we spent a cheerful evening in the company of the Alumni Montium at their dinner in Oriel. I once described Glenalmond as ‘Hogwarts meets Glyndebourne’. This was rather more ‘Hogwarts meets Brideshead Revisited.’
I ‘sang for my supper’ – unfortunately the script doesn’t bear much relationship, etc., etc. But I said a bit about my inability to go to ‘Old School’ reunions – I think it’s something to do with an inability to relate the person I was then to the person I am now! I visited my early school days and some of the things which connect me to Glenalmond – where I find myself President of the Council. Most interesting to me is the Gladstone connection – Glenalmond was founded in 1847 by Gladstone and others as a school and a Theological College for the Scottish Episcopal Church. It was of course to be English education in Scotland. And Gladstone is important to me because of his efforts to solve the Irish Question even though the Irish kept changing the question, etc.,etc
Which means that there are plenty of opportunities of exploring journeys of identity in the evolving Scotland in which we live.
It was a worthwhile 24 hours in other ways too. We visited my nephew Conor who is reading Physics in Balliol. And we had the chance of getting to know better some of the people whom I work with at Glenalmond and in the wider Anglican world. In Ireland, one always ‘knew even as one was fully known’ by most of the people with whom one was working. But in my life in Scotland and beyond, most of us know nothing of one another’s ‘back story’. Yes there are times when that is a blessing. But more often it means that we see each other in rather two-dimensional terms and that is an impoverishment.
Another of my series of ‘View from,the bedroom window’. This is the Front Quad at Oriel College, Oxford, where I came to read theology in 1973. I’m here to speak at the Oxbridge OG (Old Glenalmond) Dinner this evening.
Meanwhile I’m still thinking about the reaction of people to the feel of the Institution Service in Kirkcaldy earlier in the week – and I think they were reacting to some kind of balance of formality and friendliness which they hadn’t quite met before. Another visitor to my Office yesterday talked about the way in which the new confidence of the congregation communicated itself.
I had a related conversation on my way in to celebrate the Eucharist in our Cathedral on Wednesday morning. We talked about the formally Catholic and somewhat austere face of the SEC 50 years ago – the celebrant once vested would not engage in conversation of any kind. We aren’t like that now. And yet without some kind of formality it doesn’t work.
And finally we ended up at another of the wonderful series of Beethoven String Quartet Concerts in Perth Concert Hall given by the Michaelangelo Quartet. I slept soundly through almost the whole of Op 18 No 6 – which is a pity because it formed part of my musical youth – but was wide awake for the savagery of the Grosse Fugue. It is of course an activity closely related to worship – listening, sensitivity, discipline, pace, silence. The star for me was the Cellist – who I think has more notches on his bus pass than I have, He does that magic thing – which worship needs too – of being the rock solid rhythmic and tonal foundation of the Quartet while playing in a way which creates more space for everybody than really seems to be there.
Last night, we celebrated Revd Christine Fraser’s new ministry as Rector of St Peter’s, Kirkcaldy. It was a special moment for many reasons – special in the development of Christine’s ministry. It’s a remarkable congregation with strength in depth in its laity.
Several of the congregation described what happened last night as ‘impressive’. I’ve been at this long enough not to take that personally. I think what they probably meant was that something intensely personal and spiritual was given enough formality to ‘carry’ it. Of which more in a minute.
It felt like one of those moments when one felt hope and promise in the air …
I had a chat last night to an old friend in ministry. ‘I’m making a big effort for Rogation-tide’ and I heard about all sorts of creative ideas to stir the imagination of a rural congregation. ‘But when I set about getting them involved, they all had other things to do and said they wouldn’t be there. And then one of them said, ‘Do you think our congregation will be there in ten years time? To which I replied, ‘Not if we go on like this’
There is half a page in today’s Sunday Times about MOT’s for ministers and about getting rid of the hopeless ones. Which is a pity because I am pretty hopeless some days. And the days on which I think that I am Super-Rev are the days on which I am particularly hopeless.
One of the signs of stress in the church is the blaming. And you need to get behind that to find out what is going on.
I think that we haven’t done even half enough to provide in-service training, appraisal, accountability and support for clergy. And clergy, in my experience, remain a bit equivocal, probably because they fear that it is all a bit managerial. And I think that we haven’t worked out an agreed understanding of how the church has changed and must change if it is to minister effectively in today’s society. I constantly replay in my mind what I regard as the best Rector/Curate exchange of all time. Yes I’m afraid it’s Father Ted again – when he said, ‘It makes you think Dougal .. it makes you think.’ To which Dougal replied eventually, ‘About what, Ted?’
My father was a teacher in the days when nobody quite knew what a teacher did when he went into the classroom – it isn’t like that now. Nor are things the same for bank staff or for farmers or for doctors or nurses. Airline pilots are no longer glamorous figures – more glorified bus drivers who fly computers with wings attached.
And things have changed for clergy as well. The days when clergy output could be measured simply in doors knocked are long gone – replaced by the need to be missional and entrepreneurial and to radiate holiness of life in a context of indifference. No wonder we find it difficult.
Blaming clergy – or congregations for that matter – isn’t going to get us very far. We need some real openness about what we believe that we are called to do – and a shared understanding of the context in which we are called to do it.
I went to Lockerbie today in response to ‘an invitation to reflect and celebrate’ a Learning Agreement in South West Scotland – between the Galloway Region of our Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway and the Presbytery of Annandale and Eskdale. They have been working together on lay training in Pastoral Care and many more
Anything which carries inter-church sharing beyond the ‘smiling and waving’ level and actually develops some shared infrastructure is really important,
So what made the 250 mile round trip worthwhile?
I think we all need to be heading towards sharing mission in local areas. This initiative carries us one step closer to that goal
This kind of project needs people on each side who understand it and work well together. Anne Tomlinson and Tom Scott have that
Working together makes things viable and creates a ‘buzz’
One thing leads to another – I think people really want to learn about and talk about faith
Working together challenges denominational structures – which are designed for sustaining and not for sharing.
Back in Perth, our diocese is talking with Perth Presbytery. We need to learn from this
It’s more than a year since I have been in Dublin. So this is the view on the famous walk down Dun Laoghaire pier. Alison and I are here just to touch base with family and friends.
The economic crisis is still very evident in what people talk about – particularly the unemployment level. But in many ways life seems to continue …
I wasn’t much impressed to see a Church of Ireland church in South Dublin with a large notice outside saying, ‘Jesus is my rock – and I’m ready to roll’. I wonder what messages they rejected before they settled on that one.
I was more impressed by the operative on the tarmac at Prestwick where we were entrusting ourselves to Ryanair. He was wearing a highviz waistcoat which carried the legend ‘Turnaround Manager’. I thought I might order one for myself.
Home on Monday with a brief trip to London en route.
I spent the first half of today with an inter-faith group of leaders meeting at Broughton High School in Edinburgh – all with the help of Inter-Faith Scotland.
Meetings like this are always full of warmth and good will – but we are never quite sure what we are talking about or how to talk about it. And none the worse for that. But it really got interesting when a group of pupils came in ‘to ask us some questions’
I do have an underlying rule of life – which is that it is wise never to get trapped into competing in a Bible Quiz with the Girls’ Brigade. But this was really interesting. And if we had had more time before the bell rang, it would have been better still.
Starter for 10
‘What is the meaning of life?’
So we did our best. We talked about happiness … about values and the true riches. And when we got stuck, we turned the questions back on the pupils as a way of gaining time to think. I thought they were great – and the best thing about them was their obvious and infectious enthusiasm for the idea that it was good to sit around a table and struggle with life and faith questions.
Maybe if any of them drop in here, we might continue the conversation. It would be a bit like playing chess on the internet – you get a bit of time to think between moves!