General Synod 2014

Here are two pieces of material from General Synod 2014.

First my Primus’ Charge which was delivered in the opening Eucharist

I offered this statement to Synod at the end of the session on Human Sexuality.

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Rekindling

Kindling gets a mention in the Prayer of Thanksgiving in our 1982 Eucharist – and not a bad thing in Pentecost as well.

So we had a morning with clergy colleagues in Perth Presbytery looking at how we experience ministry, stress and all the rest. I think that all this is really about what it takes to keep vocation alive, responsive and dynamic. It’s a rekindling operation. I’ve seen too much of what happens when the fires go out. There’s sadness and tiredness. Sometimes people just give up. And sometimes they become difficult.

But this was one of those events which was almost more important just because it happened. I’m afraid that my hopes for institutional ecumenism are not high. But this kind of thing – small scale and fairly flimsy bits of infrastructure designed to help us meet a common need – I think that’s where the future lies. Relationships with the Presbytery are warm and there is much mutual respect. I think we can find a way forward together ..

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Killin joins in

Killin cake

We had a good day today at our church in Killin. Beautiful doesn’t being to describe the place – with the Falls of Dochart in the middle of the village in one direction and the majesty of Loch Tay in the other.

But we were there on serious business today – to join in the Pentecost celebrations which linked the congregation with the Strathearn Group and its Ministry Team. So Killin now joins St Columba, Crieff, St Angus, Lochearnhead and St Serf, Comrie. Lots of interesting things are happening and it was great to see the beautiful little ‘tin tab’ at Killin well filled today.

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And this is what I said

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Launch of Mission Action Plan – All Saints St Andrews

All saints

We launched the Mission Action Plan at All Saints St Andrews today. It’s taken a while – these things do. But I think it’s been worth it.

The Mission Action Plans are all different – custom made in each congregation. All Saints is a congregation which is passionate about high-quality liturgy and which exudes prayerful holiness. It is also aware that it was established as a mission to the fishing community in St Andrews. It’s a special place. So they have chosen two Marks of Mission which complement and enhance their tradition – ‘Life Long Christian Nurture – deepening our knowledge of God’ and ‘Serving the Community in practical ways.’

The purpose of all this is simply to provide a tool which will enable the congregation to have a conversation about their future in mission. Even with the best of intentions, it isn’t always easy to engender that conversation. And here is the result!

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The Casting the Net Gathering 2014

Gathering singing

Gathering workshop1

Gathering worship1

We had our Casting the Net Gathering on Saturday. Bring together over a hundred people – provide workshops which explore our Mark of Mission for the year ‘Worship which renews and inspires’ – clear the chairs from the centre of the Cathedral.

It’s always a very important day for us. People meet and learn about one another’s congregations. People can try out new things which individual congregations couldn’t provide.

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Bishop School Reunion

Robert the Bruce-s

We’ve been hosting a reunion of my year group of the College for Bishops of The Episcopal Church in the US. In America, it’s commonly known as ‘Bishop School’. I spent a week in each of three years from 2009 with this group and we became firm friends. Not everyone could come – but here we are with Robert the Bruce in the ruins of the Cathedral in St Andrews

Reading from the left:

Dennis Drainville, Bishop of Quebec; Trevor Williams, Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe in the Church of Ireland; Brian Thom, Bishop of Idaho; Ron Cutler, Bishop of Nova Scotia; Eugene Sutton, Bishop of Maryland; Scott Mayer, Bishop of Northwest Texas.

We based ourselves in Edinburgh so that they could get full value from the Scottish-American links. We did a walking tour on Saturday, got involved with congregations on Sunday and had a day in St Andrews on Monday.

The highlight for many was a dinner in the New Club hosted by Bishop Brian and Lissa.

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Welcome to Christine

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We cast our net wide in this diocese. This is Revd Christine Scott, who is a priest of the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki in the Province of Aotearoa. She has been with us for the past few weeks – spending part of her sabbatical taking a look at how Casting the Net goes in our diocese.

How did that come about? Well, a range of contacts. Our own Karen and Philip Gaskell met Christine in New Zealand. I have contact with Archbishop Philip Richardson which goes back to our Bible Study Group at the last Lambeth Conference and to the ACC meeting in Auckland in 2012.

Christine has been spending time In our congregations – finding out what works and what doesn’t work. The challenge is the same whether e context is Perthshire or New Zealand. It’s about how to help small and faithful congregations to find new hope and confidence. She has been gracious enough to say that she thinks we aren’t doing too badly at that …

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Speaking at the General Assembly

The Church of Scotland is welcoming and hospitable to ecumenical guests at the Assembly. They are particularly keen to halve their guests taking part in debate.

Today saw the Report of the Theological Forum – introduced with much grace by Revd Prof. Iain Torrance. They are proposing a mixed economy model in responding to Human Sexuality issues. So this is what I said:

Moderator

Thank you for calling me to speak. I thank you all for your hospitality and for the privilege of being allowed to speak on this issue. You would need to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the stories of the pain and the ruptured friendships as congregations have chosen to leave the Church of Scotland.

Every church community is looking for a way forward on these issues. We have just had a successful conference in Pitlochry. The facilitation group was led by Hugh Donald of your Place for Hope organisation. So you are helping to resource us and we are grateful for that.

The Theological Forum proposes a mixed economy in the context of ‘constrained difference’. It seems to me that we are now recognising some important things:

We live in churches which have diversity of faith, life and practice. It is actually a principled position that we should as churches continue to express, affirming that diversity with civility and restraint.

We are reaching the point where we recognise that we should not attempt to unchurch one another in response to Human Sexuality issues

Moderator – in your sermon on Sunday in St Giles, you helped us to see that we need to learn to live with unresolved questions and with a degree of provisionality. In our tradition, we sometimes talk about the need for a space in which we can move into a deeper catholicity.

I have a life commitment to reconciliation. You can hear it in the Northern Irish strand of my accent. In the worldwide Anglican Communion I serve as Convenor of the Reference Group for Continuing Indaba. Indaba is a Zulu work which expresses the commitment to hold together in relationship while we discuss and resolve difficult issues. We talk about ‘honest conversation across difference in the cause of mission’

In the cause of mission. So much of the energy of the churches has been drained away in conflict – so much energy can be released if we model to the world to which we are sent in mission our ability to deal with these deep differences.

I have one concern. I learned in the past that that, when the conflict eases, so does the urgency about finding solutions. Mixed economy can easily become separate economy. We need to practice diversity with engagement.

I commend the steps you take today. We look forward to sharing this journey with all our ecumenical partners.

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Doing things ecumenically

Moderator John Chalmers has been saying all week at the General Assembly that the Kirk needs to have some of its ‘mother church’ feeling knocked out of it. There is a feeling you are entering a world – kind, warm and welcoming. But a distinct culture which is sufficient onto itself.

People here talk constantly about ‘doing things ecumenically’ and they genuinely want to do that. But too often – deep breath – that means inviting other churches to join in what they have already decided to do. When we in response are less than enchanted with that, the result is hurt and misunderstanding – which is much to be regretted.

‘Doing things ecumenically’ means to us meeting on equal terms and starting from the beginning to define what we hope to do and how to do it. The Kirk is the National Church – that means that we can hope and expect that it will take the initiative ecumenically. But it has to be on the basis that we start from the beginning together.

And communication between churches is dreadful. We need to have an instinct to share what we do all the time, all the time, constantly, instinctively

We are all small churches now in the context of Scottish society. We need to work together instinctively and wholeheartedly and constantly

There is one area of real ecumenical progress which we should celebrate. A while ago I attended the launch of a Learning Agreement in Galloway between the SEC and the Kirk. It is a local coming together in response to a shared understanding of need. Next month in Perth, the clergy of our diocese will come together with the ministers of Perth Presbytery to look at issues of ministry and the sustaining of vocation – a local coming together in response to a shared understanding of need.

In both we are well beyond ‘nodding and smiling’ ecumenism into a relationship where we help one another to tackle the difficult stuff. I rejoice in that and look forward to more

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At the Assembly again

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Still going …… I wish I had been able to give more time to it but other things kept intruding. Interesting to see the beginnings of a debate about whether the Assembly should meet every two years – certainly a full week every year is an extraordinary commitment. But you do need regular meeting to keep people in touch and to keep business moving.

Over the years, I’ve come to like and respect the Church of Scotland and its people. At their best, they have a sort of wholesome earnestness about them – something which Piskies couldn’t do no matter how hard they tried! The outgoing Moderator, Very Rev Lorna Hood, has been excellent – particularly in her ecumenical commitment. The new Moderator, Rt Revd John Chalmers, has become a friend. Life in leadership in churches is not easy these days and we have a warm and mutually supportive relationship.

The Assembly papers are in a book which is something of a door-stopper. Not exactly a page-turner. But brave. Things are difficult for the Kirk as for all of us. A critical shortage of ministers is matched by a serious decline in numbers. They are doing their best to address it but they don’t hide from any of it.

And then there is ecumenism ..

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