The Beechers Brook of faith

Great Easter celebration in St Ninian’s Cathedral today

Here is the sermon

I hope to get it right one day

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Maundy Thursday today. So we gathered clergy and Lay Readers in the Cathedral for our annual Chrism Mass. It’s an important – and a moving – moment. And this is what I said

I decided not to trouble myself with the recent reports that Clergy are at the top of the job satisfaction statistics – and publicans are at the bottom. For a start, I don’t quite understand the dichotomy. I thought that clergy and publicans were related occupation – both spending a lot of time listening to unhappy people. But then what clergy do seems to have connections to many other professions – actors, barristers, politicians, counsellors ….

But more important is whether or not clergy are happy in their work. To which the answer is a guarded ‘yes’. Clergy have a reasonable degree of autonomy in their work – they have a reasonable level of job security – they often feel that what they are doing is worthwhile and makes a difference. But I am cautious about it because I think that the task of clergy is much more challenging than it was when I was ordained 38 years ago. The march of the secular society and the decline of institutional churches have proceeded inexorably. There has been a decline in respect. I’m not nostalgic about the days of deference. But clergy life – well certainly my life – is full of difficult correspondence and robust exchanges. At the extreme end is abuse and bullying – as described by Revd Malcolm Round, Rector of Balerno in his blog at

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Accelerated State Visit

Idle reading suggested that I should try the BT Broadband Accelerator in the hope that it might speed up our snail-like broadband. An investment of £5.99 seemed worth a try. The result has been a welcome and significant increase in speed from 0.5 to 0.7. Perhaps it’s the moment to mention that the corresponding speed in rural Crete was 5.

This is a really serious issue for all of us who live in rural Scotland. It matters to anybody who wants to develop business and create employment. It matters to us as a church – if we want to meet on line rather than spending time and money travelling – and if we want to develop on line delivery of training programmes.

Anyway, the first benefit of even this meagre increase in broadband speed was that we were able to watch this delightful take on the State Visit of Irish President Michael D Higgins … without it stopping in the middle

Ireland has now produced three outstanding Presidents in a row. Michael D – as he is universally known in Ireland – gave a display of raw political courage in his pre-visit interviews. Deputy First Minister Martin Maguinness was congratulating himself on his decision to accept the invitation to lunch with the Queen at Windsor Castle – not as bad as it sounds because he was performing the vital political task of explaining to his constituency why he was making this significant move at this time. But Michael D weighed in with a bit of reality-speak:

Asked if he believed the victims of violence deserved an apology, he replied: “Oh yes, of course I do, on all sides.”

The president said that many involved in violence had sought to establish a distance between “versions of themselves and actions they deemed necessary at the time,” but they could show a “great deal more” humility.

He was asked if it was possible to have a lasting and meaningful peace without addressing the past.

He said: “No, I think you have to address the past… You can’t allow yourself to be crippled by the past. You have to be able to address the past in a way that doesn’t cripple you, in the present, or damage you into the future.”

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Time out



A week in Crete slips by very easily. And of course it’s easy to get there now that there is a direct flight from Edinburgh to Heraklion – just four and a half hours on Easyjet.

We drifted around doing nothing in particular but doing it very well. As you can see, we found a Casting the Net picture – this one in a deserted church on top of the hill above a little village called Pyrrhenia.

My last visit to Crete was in 1970. The Colonels were in power. Most of the roads were unmetalled. I lived on £80 for four weeks.

Today … the people are astonishingly friendly and ready to talk. Some of the remote rural areas are very depressed – the only people left are the elderly who can’t work the land and are desperately poor. But there is hope as well. It was the start of the season. So we met – across several glasses of raki – people who are building businesses and creating employment.

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On The Ramblas

Regular readers will know that I like making connections and playing with juxtapositions

There was a remarkable jazz group in the centre of Perth this morning. I stopped for ten minutes to listen – the drummer was magical. They saw my interest – there was a cry of ‘Yo Padre’ and a salute as they went round again with ‘Hello Dolly’. I went over for a chat when they finished – they were from Barcelona, Portugal and, I suspect, anywhere else between there and North Africa.

John Knox would not have approved of such frivolity close to St John’s Kirk, heart of the Scottish Reformation. His heart might have been with the accordian band further up the street which was giving a rather sedate rendition of some hymns. But people are wonderful. Ten minutes later and the jazz group had infiltrated the accordian band – and High Street had become the Ramblas in the sunshine,

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Celebrating the Anniversary of the Election of Pope Francis


This picture comes from the Reception last night at the home of Archbishop Leo Cushley. Alison and I were glad to be there and to share the moment with Church of Scotland Moderator, Rt Rev Lorna Hood and her husband, Peter

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On Retreat




It seems a bit strange to write about going on retreat. But it’s important – important to say that it’s important to me to make it part of routine and discipline – important because what you gain is a sort of gift …

This is Holy Cross Monastery, home of the community of Benedictine Monks at Rostrevor in Northern Ireland. It’s become my regular place of retreat. It connects me back into one of the best experiences of faith community in Northern Ireland. I’ve learnt a great deal from them and particularly from the way in which they worship.

So I go and step into the rhythm of community life for a while. And I ramble in their library. And I sit and think. And I try to pray. There is a bit of taking stock – in the journey back to health I describe it as trying to find the space between resilience and denial.

Photos: Holy Cross Monastery; Silent Valley Reservoir in the Mourne Mountains which supplies much of Belfast’s water; the revived tradition of dry stone walling in the Mournes

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Savour Life – Live Humbly – Thought for the Day this morning

Which is worse – knowing or not knowing? Our hearts and our prayers this morning are with the families of the passengers and crew of Flight 370. Wistful hoping that somewhere their loved ones might have survived are beginning to fade.

It seems to me that modern life in all its wonder and technical sophistication depends on the suspending of disbelief. We get on and off planes as if they were buses. Complicated surgery is described as routine. The internet makes it seem as if geography doesn’t exist.

But of course all that skill, wonder and sophistication also make us vulnerable – vulnerable to technology going wrong and human error. And of course – in the interconnectedness of international transport – vulnerable to terrorism as well

In the days after 9/11 I spent a lot of time on the phone to people in New York. I was due to bring a party of people there in the following week. What I heard in those conversations was shock and deep distress – a sort of lost innocence that what had seemed safe could be so shockingly destroyed by ruthless terrorism.

We don’t know what has happened to Flight 370. Indeed we may never know. Life will go on. We’ll continue to enjoy access to international travel, reminding ourselves that statistically it is extraordinarily safe,

But what does faith say? Well I’ve been carrying in my mind this memory of Ash Wednesday. I was in a Senior Citizens’ Lunch Club in Fife and with a small group of elderly people for some worship. We got out the ash to mark one another’s foreheads. I saw the light of memory in the old lady’s eyes. ‘What are the words that go with the ash?’ I asked her. Instantly she said, ‘Remember O man that thou art dust and onto dust shalt thou return’

Faith says ‘Enjoy the wonders of modern life.’ But it also says, ‘Don’t forget how fragile life is. Savour life and live it humbly

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On to the 4.00 pm


Strange this – indeed somewhat unewesual – to find this random sheep having a graze in our fuschia hedge this morning. But it wasn’t a random sheep. This one had a red collar and seemed to think that it was an Irish Collie dog – so it was happy to pose for a photo with Alison.

And then back to the horse racing. I have to say that, until we got involved in the 1.50 at Towcester yesterday in Molly’s Bar, I hadn’t given it a second thought. But then we found that Jamie, who is Alison’s cousin’s eldest, was actually riding in the 4.00 at Cheltenham. So then we found ourselves getting very involved in that – and in the rather remarkable fact that any Irish people who aren’t in Paris this weekend seem to be in Cheltenham.

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Post-retreat Retreat

I’ve been on retreat with my good friends the Benedictine Monks in Rostrevor, Co Down. So time for a couple of days in Donegal with Alison.

It is, as Michelin Guide would say, hors saison. Which means that Dunfanaghy is very much more like itself than it is when the visitors are here. First up are the surging endorphins. I drove up a dark country lane on my way back from the shop and found about thirty people running and walking – apparently most of the younger members of the population have become fanatical about running, walking and weigh-ins.

Today we retreated (again) for a quiet pint in Molly’s Bar and discovered that it was the local centre for the betting community. One punter was wearing two pairs of glasses simultaneously – the better to watch the 1.50 at Towcester. Bets placed with the barman and phoned through.

So I committed myself to a pint-long perusal of the Irish Times. As always, it majors on low standards in high places. No problem filling the paper with that – Anglo-Irish Bank and the administration of the Fixed Penalty Scheme in which the word ‘fixed’ seemed to have acquired a certain elasticity. Then there is the future of U2 …

Two pieces did catch my eye ..

One was a piece by Diarmuid Martin, who is the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and always worth listening to. He was writing about the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. Two quotes from the 500 words which the future Francis shared with the meetings of Cardinals before the Conclave. ‘The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries’. ‘If the church does not reach out to evangelise, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick. A self-referential church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out’

The other was the extraordinary story of Eddie O’Hare. Appropriately enough, Eddie acquired the patent for the electric hare, on which greyhound racing depends, in 1927 from its inventor Smith. In those exciting times, he ended up running a series of dog tracks for Al Capone. Rashly, he decided to assist the Justice Department with an investigation into Capone’s tax affairs which landed Capone in jail. O’Hare was murdered in retaliation in 1939. His son went on to become a legendary pilot hero of the US Navy – after whom O’Hare International Airport in Chicago is named. I missed a flight there once. I wish I’d known

I’ve also forgotten what won the 1.50

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