The baptism of Esme Rose


Today was a special moment for our growing extended family in Scotland. This was the baptism of Esme Rose in our church in Hamilton. Here are the proud grandparents with big sister Eve – and here is the Sermon

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Preaching in Holy Week #pisky

To people who ask if I am particularly busy at Christmas and Easter, I tend to say – not. I’m not on the treadmill of congregational ministry as I was for so many years. And nobody wants to talk to me about mission strategy or anything else at these moments.

But this year my Holy Week got very busy. I ended up plugging some gaps – which is only right and proper. And I began to feel that I was about two sermons behind.

However I did arrive on two occasions with an ‘every word’ script and I preached them as well.

I always find the Chrism Mass on Maunday Thursday very moving. Our clergy, Lay Readers and I share a real sense of ‘being in it together’ So here in the sermon

And Easter Sunday in our Cathedral was great. Lots of people, wonderful music, clouds of incense …. And this was the sermon

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The Rising   #pisky

Alison has been doing some sorting out of the family archives – and came across this contemporary postcard of the 1916 Easter Rising,

It happened a mere 35 years before we were born – both of us remember the 50th Anniversary.  My grandfather, Ernest Batemen records his memories of it in one of his sermons.

The commemorations seem to have taken a more rounded view of the significance of the Rising – national pride of course.  But the other stories have had an airing as well.  Those include the fate of the WW1 veterans who came home – as veterans often do – to a world utterly changed.  And the Civil War – and Partition.  I’ve been reading about the hopes of some – particularly James Connolly – who hoped for a new state built on values of equality between men and women.  What they got was a Catholic confessional state which was mirrored in Northern Ireland by a ‘Protestant state for a Protestant people’.  And they also got generations of conflict.

Those who contemplate partition – India/Pakistan or Sudan – should learn the lessons of Ireland.   It’s about what happens to the people who are on the ‘wrong’ side of the line.  The Northern Catholics struggled against discrimination in housing and jobs – but increased in number.  The Southern Protestants – the root community for Alison and me – were in many cases prosperous and influential in business.  But they were drastically reduced in numbers. 

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A wonderful country #pisky

St Patrick’s Day – and that means the Reception in Edinburgh given by the Irish Consul.  A wonderful gathering of people -slightly flummoxed by being asked to sing the National Anthem.   It’s people who don’t know each other but think they might – and then give themselves to the serious business of finding out about one another in the way that Irish people do everywhere.

Best bit of the evening for me was the receiving line.  We were introduced to the Junior Minister, Sean Sherlock, from the Irish Government – what they used to call a ‘half car’.   This of course was different.  His greeting was ‘Sure didn’t I see you outside having a ‘conversation’ with your wife about why you weren’t answering your phone’. 

A wonderful country indeed!

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Farewell to Juliet #pisky

Today we said our farewells to Juliet O’Connor with a Eucharist in our church in Cupar and then in Kilconquhar.

Juliet O’Connor was special and the story was special. She and her husband Revd Dan O’Connor served in India, in Scotland and then at Selly Oak College where Dan was the Principal. Between them they seem to have tutored many of the people who are now in leadership as bishops and archbishops in Anglican Provinces in the developing world. In that sense, they were instrumental in bringing to birth the present patterns of partnership which are embedded in the Anglican Communion. As I have blogged my way around the Anglican Communion, I have found that Juliet and Dan have been there before me and know and are known by so many …

It’s an inspiring story of faith, mission and post-colonialism. I did my best to tell it here

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With the Mormon Church #pisky

I found myself dealing with a force of nature on the phone. She was called Evelyn and she wanted me to come to the Mormon Church in Dundee to speak in their meeting for International Women’s Day. In vain did I suggest that I had one obvious disqualification – and probably more than one.

So I went and shared this with them

I’ve found myself gradually coming into contact with the Mormon community since I went to Salt Lake City last summer for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I spent most of my time there sneezing because of the desert dust. But I did visit the complex of buildings which is ‘the centre’ of the world Mormon community – and I got myself connected to
Some things are very obvious when you meet them. They are a bit younger than us – not a lot but a bit. Their leadership is all non-stipendiary. And they all want to tell you about their journey into this new faith. It reminded me of my failure to have an answer to a question which I was asked on my very first visit to the US – ‘where do most of your converts come from?’

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Blairgowrie and Alyth #pisky

Time for a Sunday close to home. It’s about 15 minutes from Blogstead to St Catherine’s in Blairgowrie. So we went there and to the lovely church at St Ninian’s, Alyth. These are part of a the ABC Group with St Anne’s, Coupar Angus – even closer to home – and our church up the glen at Ballintuim.

Just another Sunday? Well, I had a sharp-minded conversation with one person about the Columba Agreement which was interesting. And I heard some of the most effective reading of the bible in church that I have heard in a while. I began listening to check that I had the right sermon on the right day – and then found that I was really listening

So here is what turned out to be the right sermon on the right day

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Dunblane #pisky

I’ve been following what the parents who lost their children twenty years ago have been saying. It has been extraordinarily moving and impressive. An absence of anger. Almost nothing said about Thomas Hamilton. Just ordinary people who have somehow learned how to move on – to live the next day and the one after that – carrying their loss with them. They deserve our respect, our support and our prayers.

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Another Diocesan Synod #pisky


We had another Diocesan Synod today – my twelfth – and there was a buzz about it. Here we are in our beautiful cathedral in Perth.

Here’s the Sermon from the Eucharist
I’m afraid that I couldn’t resist the text, ‘Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.’ It speaks to me of those situations where I am ‘just about hanging in there.

And then there was the Bishop’s Address

In the afternoon, we had some workshops on the theme ‘Growing Congregations – Changing Communities’
This was the introduction

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More about Sectarianism #pisky

We are still working through the outcomes of the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism.  So today I was in Edinburgh for a meeting about one of the outcomes of the Report – to help ‘Religious leaders develop increased commitment to modelling how to respond to/overcome sectarianism’

It was a lively and interesting meeting.   Chair of the Advisory Group, Dr Duncan Morrow, spoke about sectarianism as a plant – roots, leaves, branches, flowers.  Others have described it as a systemic phenomenon.  I’ve spent much of my life in a toxic sectarian environment so I’ve had a lot of time to think about it.
We talked about how we might do some things which might combat sectarianism – sharing aspects of the training of clergy for example.  And we hovered a bit on the edge of seeing it as a religious phenomenon which churches need to solve.

So here are two things which I think about:

Firstly sectarianism is not primarily religious.  Churches may be the markers of division – but they are not the division itself.  I think that is true so far as it goes.  But my experience in Northern Ireland was that there was a complex relationship between churches and sectarianism.  Churches were part of a society in which sectarianism was a systemic phenomenon – so churches were to some extent artificially strengthened by the ‘headcount’ element of sectarianism.  In that sense, churches can be complicit.  But we used to say that, if they were strengthened numerically, they were also hollowed-out spiritually.

Secondly, it seems to me that sectarianism isn’t just about Protestants and Catholics, about the football terraces of Scotland or polarised communities.  There are situations which are akin to sectarianism – when churches become the bearers of identity for groups and communities because there is no obvious alternative.  To some extent, that is what happened to my community of origin – the Protestant community of Southern Ireland.  After the Partition of Ireland, they were a minority without an obvious expression of their political or cultural identity.  Throughout the history of the Irish Republic, the number of TD’s from the Protestant community has been vanishingly small.  So to some extent they invested their identity in the Church of Ireland.

In the very different context of Scotland – also a context in which their are interwoven minorities – I can see how churches in general and the Scottish Episcopal Church in particular – can become the bearers of at least part of people’s identity.  It’s entirely understandable.  But it has a significant impact on the character of any church. And that’s part of what we work with.

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