A new chapter began in the life of Holy Trinity, Stirling, last night with the institution of Rev Christoph Wutscher as Rector. Christoph is a priest of deep faith and wide experience – with roots in church music. It was clear last night that this is one of those special moments – when the vocation of the priest and the vocation of the congregation are aligned.
I don’t often preach at Institution Services – but I did at this one and explored the nature of vocation. Which is where I found Rowan Williams’ comment that ‘vocation is what is left when all the games have stopped’.
This is the meeting of the International Reformed-Anglican Dialogue. We are meeting this week in Clare College, Cambridge. It’s very international – India, Malawi, South Africa, Japan. Those who hope to see a deep connection between the SEC and the Church of Scotland will be glad to see Rev Prof. Iain Torrance on my right. Those who gather up Irish connections will see Rev Helene Steed of the Church of Ireland, about to become Rector of St Mark’s, Dundela, in East Belfast. I’m serving as the Anglican Co-Chair in partnership with Rev Elizabeth Welch of the URC
Since we are a meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches with the Anglican Communion, we are inevitably and properly talking about what it means to be a Communion – exploring what it means to say that God forms us for relationship and looking at the practical realities like the limits of diversity and how they are managed.
I enjoy this stuff – and I am very stretched by it. But it lifts my thinking above the day to day realities of Anglican Communion life!
This is one of two books recommended for members of the Church of England General Synod as they approached their recent facilitated conversations.
It is a series of brief contributions, largely from members of the Evangelical community in the Church of England. It tells the story of their journeys towards a new level of acceptance of same-sex relationships. It’s people like Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, David Ison, Dean of St Pauls, and David Runcorn who has contributed greatly to our Clergy Conferences.
I was surprised to find how much this constituency is ‘on the move’. And it is many of the same people who have been tweeting their support for the Bishop of Grantham.
One worth reading …
Last Sunday we gathered for the Ordination of Nerys as a priest – in St John’s Perth where she and her Rector Graham are working with the congregation in the re-ordered building to build something new in the life of our church. Like me, Nerys is a Celtic migrant, this time from Wales. She has had a remarkable ministry in Dunblane as a lay person and lay reader – much of it among children and families. And it was always clear to me that some of the energy in that ministry arose from the sadness and loss of the Dunblane tragedy.
But vocation is about being prepared to move on. So here is Nerys on a new journey – convinced that this is how it should be but not knowing the destination. And the Celtic just crept back in – ‘without oars or destination’
The development of our clergy and all involved in ministry has been very important these last few years. We have study days and training sessions. We provide ‘buddies’ for new arrivals. We have Peer Supervision Groups where clergy and lay readers can support one another. We have Ministerial Review – sometimes called Appraisal. Today we have been enjoying the second of two days of Summer School which is arranged with St Mary’s College and the School of Divinity at St Andrews University.
So here we are listening to Ian Bradley, Tom Wright and William Hyland – all talking about aspects of worship
Anybody who lives rural Scotland has to get used to dreadful broadband speeds. Here at Blogstead, we have just over 1 Mbps. We are literally at the end of the copper wire line from the exchange at Kinrossie. It doesn’t matter too much for regular emails and the like. But it makes on line meetings impossible – and puts IPlayer out of reach as well
Our new neighbour decided that up with this he would not put. And he found the answer – not with BT – but with EE’s 4G mobile broadband. So suddenly we have between 15 and 30 Mbps and don’t quite know what to do with it.
I don’t know how good their coverage is in the rest of Scotland but it is worth checking!
Our little church in Ballintuim is one of the beauties of our diocese. Up to Bridge of Cally from Blairgowrie – carefully avoiding the weekend bikers who seem determined to risk life and limb on these beautiful roads which are lined with very solid trees – and then up the glen to Ballintuim. Today of course the wind was ripping the branches from the trees as we drove.
The congregation here is delightful. They think they are a small congregation but it is quite possible to go there and find fifty people in church. They have been gradually moving towards our ABC group but they still receive some of their ministry from visiting clergy who come and stay in the church cottage.
So when I went there this morning, I found Anne Marie and Isabel who are Anglican religious sisters who do a house for duty in Dorset. If I had known about them before I got there and had a chance of a chat, I could have scrapped the sermon and had a dialogue with them. They are on their own next Sunday!
I wrote this statement for the SEC website yesterday:
The heartfelt thoughts and prayers of people in Scotland and all over the world are with the people of Nice and France today. Once again it has been demonstrated that ruthless killers who care nothing for their own safety can in seconds kill, maim and destroy – and take away the well-being of those who find themselves witnesses to terrible events. Civilised societies invite us to come together, to enjoy and to celebrate. But we become hopelessly vulnerable as we do so.
It is also part of a civilised society that we should try to understand what gives rise to such barbarism – not to sympathise but to understand. Abhorrence numbs our minds. But unless we struggle to move beyond that abhorrence, we shall never grasp even the edges of what this means – and we shall never defeat it.
We hold in our prayers today those who have been bereaved and injured, members of the emergency services and medical staff. We also prayerfully hold in our hearts those who carry the responsibilities of political leadership. For they are responsible both for the safety of their citizens and for the protection of the values of our open societies
Always in these moments one struggles with an instinctive reaction which seeks to dehumanise those responsible. In effect, the horror is so great that it can only be contemplated and explained by saying that it is beyond explanation. Hence the tendency during the years of violence in Northern Ireland to refer to ‘mindless violence’ when it was nothing of the kind. ‘Mindless’ could not possibly mean that the people who committed it were not responsible. Moreover the roots of such violence were plain to see in a deeply troubled society.
In his Orwell Lecture in 2015, Archbishop Rowan Williams criticised sections of the media for ‘dehumanising’ Islamic State. Instead, journalists should ‘attempt to understand our enemies’.
‘Somehow the obstinate attempt to make sense of those who are determined to make no sense of me is one of the things that divides civilisation from barbarism, faith from emptiness. You have to try.’
It is one of the delightful ironies of Ireland that here on the northern edge of Donegal we are to the north of most of Northern Ireland – yet are in the Irish Republic. The reason for that is simple. When the line was drawn to delineate the partition of Ireland, three of the counties of the historic province of Ulster were left out of Northern Ireland – to make sure that Northern Ireland would have a permanent protestant/unionist majority. So when we head for Blogstead Na Mara at Dunfanaghy, we cross the Irish border just outside Derry/Londonderry – sometimes called ‘stroke city’. The casual visitor could easily miss it. There is a slight change in the road surface, speed limits are suddenly in kph. And the petrol prices continue to be expressed in sterling but the prices are Irish – so diesel is suddenly 99.9p per litre.
I’m old enough to have seen several phases of life on the Irish border. When I was a child growing up in Enniskillen in the west of Northern Ireland, I remember the IRA border campaign of the mid-1950’s. And there was the period when crossing the border meant a long queue to get a stamp in a book. During the Troubles, it often meant a long wait, some questioning and a search. My best memory is of travelling alone with cats to Donegal on Easter Sunday evening during a foot and mouth epidemic. The Irish Police politely asked if I would take the cats out and get them to walk across a disinfectant mat.
Since the Belfast Agreement, the border has been quietly becoming like other borders in mainland Europe between member countries of the EU – hardly visible at all. Derry has gradually been regaining its position as the main town for the whole north-west of Ireland including Donegal which is across the political border.
So it is not surprising that in the EU Referendum the Foyle constituency – which includes Derry – recorded the third highest vote in the UK for ‘remain’. Nobody knows – but that vote reflects a real concern that this softening border with its confusion of fuel prices will become a ‘hard’ border between the EU and a UK which has embraced Brexit.
‘There were four cottages over there. The telegraph boy came to every single one of them’
That was said to me in the course of an everyday pastoral call in my parish in Portadown. The Somme remains very real to me because it was very real to that community. Thousands of soldiers from every part of Ireland lost their lives – but the Northern Irish losses were concentrated in the Ulster Division.
Ireland has a way of holding history in such a way that it has power in the present. It’s where history and myth interact. The Somme has been like that – particularly in the way it lay at the heart of the Orange Order parading disputes around Drumcree. For some it was a Service which gave rise to an unwelcome parade. For others it was a very special thing – a commemoration of the loss of the ‘sons of Ulster’. To let it go would have been a betrayal of memory of past sacrifice and loss of present identity.
So much of this is about things which are of symbolic importance. And, while it is possible with great determination to negotiate the substance of things, it is difficult to negotiate symbolic issues.