From the middle outwards.      #pisky

i seem for some reason to have taken to reading books from the Middle outwards – or perhaps more accurately by opening them at random and taking pot luck.

For reasons too complicated to explain, I’m doing that with Thomas Pakenham’s history of the Boer War.  To be honest, it is so vast that I would never be able to read it in any other way.

Similarly, I’ve been dipping an anthology of 150 years of the Irish Times.  That is of interest because, until fairly recent times, the Irish Times was the paper of the Southern Irish Protestant community.  If I have a root community, it is that.

Strange then, in the light of the controversy about the young Princess Elizabeth being filmed giving Hitler salutes to find similar material in the Irish Times.   The paper reported a controversial essay which Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote in 1998 about the fascist leanings of the poet WB Yeats.  He claimed that ‘such feelings were quite usual in the Irish Protestant middle class to which Yeats belonged.’

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Nearly there

There is nothing particularly significant about going on holiday in July rather than August. But you get used to it. So I feel that I have been trudging steadily through July – doing at least some useful things but trudging nonetheless. Poppy has her bucket and spade packed and asks every day if it’s time …. and we’ll be off to Donegal for the first couple of weeks of August.

Meanwhile I’ve been doing some reading – some of it in preparation for the dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the World Communion of Reformed Churches which I’ll be part of in October. I’m also busy reading the ‘what I am going to read on holiday’ columns in the Guardian. I’m very impressed by the extent to which people at least claim that they are going above the level of the classic ‘beach read’ One of our clergy reminded me that it is time to read ‘Lanark’ and I’m going to have a go at that.

And while I am thinking about the reformed faith, a friend gave me a ‘Diary of Private Prayer’ by John Baillie. I hadn’t encountered his writing. He died in 1960 having been Moderator of the Church of Scotland in 1943 and a president of the World Council of Churches in 1954. More than a million copies of his ‘Diary’ have been printed and there is something about it ..

‘O heavenly Father, give me a heart like the heart of Jesus, a heart more ready to serve than to be served, a heart moved by compassion towards the weak and oppressed, a heart set upon the coming of your kingdom in the world of men and women … ‘

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mission is Centrifugal

I think I’m pretty well straightened out now after returning from the US. It seems to take a bit longer to get past the jet lag – not so much the sleeping as the eating. If you were following my Facebook, you will have seen that the flight from Salt Lake City to Amsterdam left six hours late. My straightforward hop back to Edinburgh turned into a triangular visit to London City with 30 minute transfers – after which I emerged miraculously with my bag.


So it was Kirriemuir – birthplace of JM Barrie – on Sunday. It’s one of our most beautiful churches and we are trying to gather money for restoration of the stonework at present. I borrowed stuff from here and there for the sermon That included some stuff from the major supplement on mission in this week’s Church Times – with the comment from Bishop Pete Broadbent suggesting that mission begins with decent coffee – I agree with that – and with an understanding that mission is centrifugal. We are still a littel MYCMI-prone to imagine that people are going to wash up to our doors. Maybe that was true once but I think that there is now no substitute for putting ourselves out there in the society in which we are set.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

New Presiding Bishop #pisky #GC78

The Episcopal Church has elected Bishop Michael Curry as the new Presiding Bishop – with typical American razzmatazz   This is one of those moments when a remarkable person with distinctive gifts steps onto the stage.  Such moments are potentially transformative …    Here is Bishop Michael today with Bishop Barbara Harris, first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion.

I’ve known Michael for about five years in his role as Bishop of North Carolina.  He is an African American with the oratorical preaching gifts which go with that culture.  He speaks passionately – and often quietly – about God and grace.  He has personal charisma and charm in abundance.  His sharp intelligence enables him to express our faith tradition and the story in ways that are fresh – often very funny – and which speak to the heart.

I watched people around me as his election – by an overwhelming vote – was announced.  Younger people in particular were deeply moved.  One young priest said to me that she ‘feels her vocation more strongly today’ because of this election.

This church is reflecting deeply on its place in the Anglican Communion.  Several people – and the Episcopal News Service – wanted to know what the wider impact would be.  It’s not for me to say.  But I expect and hope that the fact that the new Presiding Bishop is an African-American who carries the story of racial prejudice in America – and the story of slavery – and the history of colonialism in his very being will change all the relational dynamics.  And that’s because many of the most difficult issues of the Communion are rooted in the enduring impact of colonialism.

I’m looking forward very much to working with Presiding Bishop Michael.  This is a good day for the Episcopal Church, for the world church and for the Anglican Communion

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on New Presiding Bishop #pisky #GC78

What the Supreme Court said #pisky #GC78

I happened to be be in Ireland just after the Constitutional Referendum on Same-Sex Marriage.  So it has been interesting to be in America when the Supreme Court delivered its ruling on the same issue.  This was particularly important – in effect, it forces the hand of the minority of States which have not already made provision for Same-Sex Marriage.

The rulings are interesting.  The majority view was expressed by Justice Anthony M Kennedy:

“Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” Kennedy wrote. He was joined in the ruling by the court’s liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The judges who dissented from the majority view each wrote a separate opinion.  The common theme in their dissents was that judicial activism on the part of five members of the court had usurped a power that belongs to the people.

Justice Roberts wrote:

“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision.  Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.’

It seems to me that this fits into the pattern of profound and very rapid change which we have seen in Scotland, England and Wales and in Ireland.  Northern Ireland is the only part of the British Isles which has not made this change.  It seems to me entirely reasonable that, in a secular society, government should make these changes.  It is almost inevitable that this affects the thinking of churches and other faith communities.

But in our General Synod I said, ‘Because society changes, we don’t have to’

General Convention will address these issues next week.  The mood is calmer than it has been – partly because of the departure of many who disagree.  They are the poorer for that.  Legislative processes in the Episcopal Church don’t necessarily move all that quickly.   We’ll wait to see what happens next week

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on What the Supreme Court said #pisky #GC78

So what did you do today.  #pisky #GC78

I thought I might share what I did today.  Some of it is about making contacts on behalf of the SEC.  Eyes light up when Scotland is mentioned.   Some of it is about roles I occupy in the Anglican Communion – in Continuing Indaba and in the Standing Committee.   It’s networking and relationships – and it’s a great privilege.  I know enough people here to be able to function as slightly more than an outsider.

The day began with a Breakfast Briefing at 8.00 am – followed by the ‘bring your devices’ Eucharist.  Then I nipped upstairs to record a greeting – part of the farewell to Bishop Katharine, the outgoing Presiding Bishop.
Lunchtime I went to a lecture by Bishop Graham Kings who is the Anglican Communion’s Mission Theologian.  More about that another time

Then I went to the exhibition centre and met the people on the stand for Sewanee, where I received an honorary degree last year.  We recorded a video in which – you’ve guessed it – I said how important America is to the life of the Anglican Communion.  And I went on to record another video for Living Church in which we talked about how the SEC is responding to same-sex marriage issues.  And I said how important America is to the life of the Communion, etc.  And I carried on making contacts with American theological seminaries – possible partners and contacts for our own Scottish Episcopal Institute,

I had a quick meeting with the Rector of Holy Trinity, Wall Street – at his request.  Did I mention that it is the wealthiest parish in America?  Then the international guests went to the House of Bishops to be officially welcomed

On to the Dinner to mark the 125th Anniversary of the United Thank Offering.  We listened to a remarkable group of young people talking about what they had done with support from the fund.  We also listened to a virtuoso African-American preaching performance from Bishop Michael Curry who is one of the nominees for Presiding Bishop.  Readers from the Church of Ireland will understand when I say that he is the Tom Keightley of the Episcopal Church.  Best lines of the night – Jeremiah – why he was a Baptist.  But Isaiah was an Episcopalian doing well in his church career until God ….    And his comment on why Sarah laughed at the idea that she and Abraham might found a great nation at the age of 62.  She was laughing because she knew what Abraham could do!

And a nightcap with some of the staff of Virginia Theological Seminary – another possible link for us in our ministerial training

Oh – and it’s breakfast at 6am tomorrow with Bishop Dean Wolffe of Kansas.  Dean is the Deputy to the Presiding Bishop in the House of Bishops.   But of course what we are really going to talk about is how he found the experience of staying in Blogstead after the last General Convention

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on So what did you do today.  #pisky #GC78

Elephant in the Room.  #pisky #GC78

This article in Episcopal Herald is worth looking at

What preoccupies General Convention here in Salt Lake City.  I think the answers to that question are probably:

  • The election of a new Presiding Bishop
  • A review of their structural life and the processes of General Convention
  • Questions of Canonical change in the area of marriage

This article is closer to some of the questions which I raised about whether the Presiding Bishop candidates were given the opportunity to develop a real narrative for the future of this church – a narrative which arises out of Gospel and also out of history and context.

None of this is easy.  We face similar challenges in Scotland.   Most churches show some signs of institutional tiredness.  But somehow we have to find ways of setting out a vision which is fresh and authentic because it is gospel-rooted but which also arises from an intelligent and sympathetic understanding of and critique of the past

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Elephant in the Room.  #pisky #GC78

Come and bring your devices!    #pisky #GC78

General Convention is paper-less.  Since there will be anything up to 6000 people here, that’s a lot of trees.  So we headed for the Eucharist today with the rather intriguing request, ‘Bring your devices’. This is yet another of those ‘divided by a common language’ moments – devices being tablets and smartphones.

Of course they hadn’t made it easy.  Wifi in the Convention Center (sic) is very flakey so the congregation were trying to get signal to download the Order of Service before they went in.  

‘Bring your devices’  produces a rather ‘heads down’ worship experience.  
The Intercessions carried this instruction 


Throughout the General Convention, God’s people near and far are submitting prayer requests in words and images through social media. All of these prayers can be read and prayed online: on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and through Add your prayers using #prayersof and a hashtag for each day’s theme —for example, tomorrow’s theme will be #prayersof #thanksgiving.

And then there was the ‘do I bring my IPad when I go to receive the sacrament?  The consensus seemed to be ‘No’

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Electing the new Presiding Bishop    #pisky #GC78

Four candidates – I know two of them.  The new Presiding Bishop will be elected by the House of Bishops for a nine year term and the appointment is ratified by he House of Deputies.  So we got to sit in yesterday to listen to the candidates being put through their paces in front of the House of Deputies.

There is plenty here to keep those who like revising our Canon 4 occupied.  For example, the presentations began with a short video about themselves prepared by each candidate – the brief being to do it on an IPhone.  It all went on for a long time and people obviously wanted us to realise how important it was and how good it was as a process.

I think that the challenge in any process like this is to find a way in a candidate can set out a coherent vision for the future of their church.  That means understanding history and context.  It means sharing a vision which challenges but which also builds hope and confidence.  It means showing how the church as an institution can be aligned with that vision.  It means connecting all that back into a picture of Christ-centred faith which touches hearts.

It takes time to do that.  And the major problem yesterday was that this lengthy process didn’t give the candidates the time they needed.  There is a clear move for change here.  A period of sharp conflict is coming to an end.  The church is in decline and there is a missional challenge.  America is a troubled place – racially and economically – and  the church needs to respond to that.  We need to know how TEC can play a creative role in the reconciliation of the Anglican Communion.  Plenty to talk about

It’s going to take a special person to provide that kind of leadership.  They are going to lock the bishops in the Cathedral and not let them out until they have an answer which has been ratified by the House of Deputies

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Electing the new Presiding Bishop    #pisky #GC78

Presiding Bishop.  #pisky #GC78

General Convention gets under way tomorrow.  There’s much business to discuss – but a lot of interest will focus on the election of a new Presiding Bishop to follow Katharine Jefferts Schori.  Like us, they are a bit unenthusiastic about hierarchy – hence a Presiding Bishop like a Primus rather than an Archbishop.  However in this case the Presiding Bishop doesn’t have diocesan responsibilities.

I’m looking forward to hearing the four candidates – I know two of them – sharing with Convention their vision for the future of the Episcopal Church and their understanding of leadership in the church.

There is a growing debate about the role and what the church wants to see.  Katharine has been well known for being constantly ‘on the road’.  She has travelled throughout the church ceaselessly.   She has also had the misfortune to hold office and have to defend the church through a period of sharp conflict.  The mood seems to be for leadership which sees in new times opportunities for reconciliation – a more eirenic style.

We’ll see what happens and how much of that debate about the role may have resonance in Scotland

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Presiding Bishop.  #pisky #GC78