In Dunfermline and Rosyth #pisky

I visited our congregations at Holy Trinity, Dunfermline, and St Margaret’s, Rosyth, last Sunday. Last Sunday was all about John the Baptist – one of my favourites.

And this is what I said

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A moment of hope. #pisky

You may have noticed that I haven’t been visible here for a little while. Sometimes stuff crowds the diary and makes me lose the rhythm. Four days of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion in London – mainly focused on the appointment of a new Secretary General – immediately followed by a trip to Ireland to conduct the wedding of a friend’s daughter – left me struggling to cope with the everyday

But in the midst of trivial round and common task there were some really significant moments of hope. One was a my meeting with the Vestries of our Central Fife Group in Glenrothes in Fife.

Two and a half years ago, these three congregations received Revd Thomas Brauer as Priest in Charge after a period of three years in which it was impossible to find a priest to go there in ministry. At that point, there was very little hope. These are challenging places for our church – post-industrial Fife – but it is very important that we sustain a presence here.

My visit last week arose because Thomas is about to become our Diocesan Missioner – and yet news of his departure didn’t plunge them into renewed despair. The reason is to do with a pattern of ministry which is becoming common across our church.

We don’t endlessly extend groupings of congregations – our culture is too independent for that. Instead we attempt to establish or recognise some ministry in each of the congregations and then to link them together – partly through the ministry of a priest who exercise oversight, encourages, trains and supports. So each of the congregations – in Lochgelly. Leven and Glenrothes – has a person around whom ministry can grow. That includes a stipendiary priest, a licensed Lay Reader, one or two retired clergy and a Lay Reader in training,

I ask myself how this differs from the patterns of Local Collaborative Ministry which were being promoted when I came to Scotland ten years ago. Well it’s probably more opportunistic than doctrinaire. We make the most of the talents and skills which are available but don’t have a fixed pattern. We have a clear understanding of the complementary of ministries of clergy and laity – not seeming to promote one at the expense of the other.

I went back up the M90 in foul weather but with a metaphorical spring in my step.

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Leadership. #pisky

I take a look at the Church of Ireland Gazette most weeks. I was interested this week to see Canon Ian Poulton – who is Rector of a group of parishes in the rural South – questioning the wisdom of the Church of Ireland’s current review of dioceses and episcopal ministry.

We’ve had one or two abortive attempts to do this in the past. I’ve never had much enthusiasm for it in Scotland. That’s partly because experience tells me that this is an area in which one can invest much time and effort in all sorts of plans only to see them taken apart on the floor of General Synod. I also haven’t worked out how one can embark on something which seems to look sensible and in the interests of good governance without it beginning to feel in practice like the management of decline.

But there is another reason – which is to do with the way in which we think about and practice episcopal ministry at present in our church. There are many traditional pictures of what a bishop is for – pastor to the clergy; leader of mission; focus of unity; teacher and guardian of the faith. There are some internal conflicts about the role – most obviously the well-known pastor-manager bind.

In Scotland, we’ve been moving towards a greater emphasis on the bishop as Leader of Mission. That understanding has been reflected in our Whole Church Mission and Ministry Policy which sees the missional energy of the church as located in the diocese under the leadership of the bishop.

It seems to me that the understanding of the role and ministry of the bishop makes us more growth orientated and less likely to want to prioritise what looks like a move to efficiency and rationalisation. The bishop is the encourager of clergy and congregations .. attempts to develop a sense of strategic direction … ensures that there is training and resourcing for ministry.

I think it also means that the bishop has a role in the interface between the church and the world If you look around our church you can see that role being worked out in terms of media profile. As larger churches decline, we are becoming more ‘mainstream’ in terms of our visibility in local communities. In some places, our bishops are being seen as leaders of the Christian community which ways which are almost post-denominational.

I have a feeling that it is this kind of episcopal ministry which Canon Ian Poulton is asking for. It’s hard to plan. It grows in response to the gifts of individuals and the opportunities which context provides.

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Rector to walk on water #pisky


We had one of those good evenings yesterday at Birnam.

The congregations at St Mary’s, Birnam, and St Columba’s, Stanley, gathered to welcome their new Rector, Revd Shona Boardman. I don’t often preach at Institutions – but I did at this one. This is part of what I said

In our church, we’ve been giving a great deal of thought to the way in which we select people for ministry – and we are encouraged by the number of people who are coming forward. What matters is vocation – the ability of a person to articulate the call of God in their life. But beyond that come character and temperament – for it is character and temperament which are the vessel which holds the gift of calling. Peter exhibits that wonderful tension between success and failure – between faith and doubt. And I think that’s probably what we look for in those who are ordained – a determination to try something which is difficult, trusting in the power of God; a very human willingness to recognise that what we are undertaking is difficult; a readiness to be caught and upheld by the love of a God who recognises our weakness and yet yearns to lift us up to do his well and build his kingdom.

And you can read it all here

Shona’s appointment to this new grouping marks the first stage in the reorganisation of our congregations to the north of Perth – along the length of the A9. The new Birnam and Stanley group looks south – towards Perth – and into the cluster of villages which are seeing growth of population. The second stage of the reorganisation takes effect when Revd Liz Baker is instituted as Rector of the Highland Perthshire Group – Pitlochry, Kilmaveonaig, Strathtay and Kinloch Rannoch – in January. It’s taken a while but it’s about deploying our resources to best effect – and we’ve been able to move to two full-time clergy.

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Future of Scotland – the Smith Commission #pisky #Anglican


I’ve just been to the launch of the Report of the Smith Commission – setting out the agreement reached by Scotland’s political parties and politicians at Westminster on further devolution for the Scottish Parliament,

Why was I there? We were given the opportunity of making a submission to the Commission – which we did. It’s part of our commitment to being part of public discourse in Scotland. I was interested to find many representatives of the voluntary, social and community sectors also in attendance. So I was able to make some useful contacts.

And the outcome? It’s impressive that this agreement has been reached in five weeks. Where I come from they would still be arguing about the shape of the table. It’s a substantial agreement which will greatly enhance the status and authority of the Scottish Parliament.

Most impressive was the way the Scottish politicians spoke – warm tributes to Lord Smith of Kelvin and strong endorsement of the agreement reached. Yet they were not afraid also to say what they would have liked to see in the agreement and didn’t get.

That’s mature politics and to be celebrated.

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With Archbishop Justin. #pisky


We really enjoyed having the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs Caroline Welby with us on Monday and Tuesday. They stayed with us at Blogstead – noting the quietness and lack of light pollution compared with normal life in Lambeth.

More follows – this was taken at St Andrews, St Andrews

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Launch of Scottish Interfaith Week


This is Pat Morrissey of the Baha’I Community speaking about his Journey of Faith at the launch of Scottish Interfaith Week in Kilmarnock this afternoon.

I went to represent our church – and I went because this is important to our church. On any level, I think it is significant. As I drove westwards with the radio on, I was listening to the political tide south of the border turning against immigration and multiculturalism. I know that it’s different here – Scotland has not seen immigration on the scale of some parts of England. But attitudes here are warm and accepting – and the ability to celebrate religious and cultural diversity is one of the best things about Scotland today.

So I hope that the programme for this week will be well-supported and successful. Later in the week, I’ll be at a meeting of Religious Leaders of Scotland in Dunblane. It’s a meeting of that character which Archbishop Desmond Tutu attributed to Anglicans. ‘What do we do? We meet’. It’s important to meet and to keep meeting – to keep learning and learning to understand one another

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Casting the Net – Review Day


Today we gathered people involved in every aspect of Casting the Net – with members of our Diocesan Committees – for a Review Day. We constantly review our progress. I think it is important now and again to have the kind of meeting at which new ideas can float and future possibilities can become ‘things which we talk about’ before they acquire the status of formal agenda items anywhere.

Today was encouraging – encouraging because it was an opportunity for people to hear stories of what is happening in our congregations. We heard about work with children, about community involvement, about evangelism – and what was noticeable was the constant presence of support in prayer for the work being undertaken.

I was encouraged by another constant …. We seem now to have reached the point where people understand that Casting the Net isn’t a rigidly-defined and centrally-directed programme. It is open to being shaped for its context. Parts of it are resourced and encouraged by the diocese. But much of it arises from local initiative.

There was a lot of energy in the room today – and laughter too. We’re on the threshold of a new and exciting phase with the appointment of a full time Diocesan Missioner. New possibilities and plenty of hope

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In Prison

I continued my journey through Prisoners’ Week by spending an afternoon with the Chaplaincy team in Perth Prison.

It’s hard to miss Perth Prison – it’s a big complex just outside the centre of Perth. There are over 650 prisoners at present and much of the prison has been rebuilt in the last few years.

It’s hard not to be disturbed by a visit to a prison. And yet my visit seemed to be about the efforts of the prison community to sustain a sense of humanity in what is essentially a somewhat inhuman situation. I had a meeting with the Deputy Governor who talked with passion about the way in which prisons have become relational places over the last twenty years. I’ve seen that for myself – much of the almost deliberate inhumanity has gone.

So I spent some time on one of the landings. I visited the Education Department. I also had a look at the area where prisoners are prepared for release – learning the skills to sustain their lives on the outside. Everywhere staff and prisoners were prepared to talk to me. Many of them were articulate and interested.

Could I be a Prison Chaplain? I doubt it somehow. But I can see the attraction of developing relationships over a long period and of being with people at what is a crisis time in their lives. I was glad I went and I’ll try to go again before too long

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Prisoners’ Week

This is Prisoners Week – and I attended the National Launch Service last night in Dunblane Cathedral.

I listened to the list of Scottish Prisons being read out and wondered how this society could possibly need so many. Former Inspector of Prisons, Andrew McLellan commented that 27000 children in Scotland have a parent in prison. It’s an extraordinary statistic.

I’ll visit Perth Prison this week. In case you haven’t seen it, it is a huge building. Last time I was there, there were over 700 prisoners. I go because I think it should be a pastoral priority and because I want to support the Chaplains.

My involvement with Prisons goes back a while. In the mid ’80’s, I was a member of the Board of Visitors at Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast. At that time it was a remand prison. It was an extraordinary experience – I remember going into the Exercise Yard with other members of the Board of Visitors and simply waiting to see who would come to talk to us. That was of course wasn’t quite what it sounds like – because the paramilitary prisoners had their own command structure through which they dealt with the prison authorities and with us.

I also had the experience of visiting the Maze Prison – Long Kesh – shortly before the end of Internment. And I was a regular visitor there and at the neighbouring and modern Maghaberry Prison when my parishioners were ‘inside’

What do I remember? I remember greyness, barbed wire, interview rooms with no handle on the inside of the door through which I had just entered. I remember misery and desolation – but also optimism and hope. I remember prison staff who tried hard in near-impossible circumstances to create a humane environment and to go beyond the ‘turn key’ mentality. Prisoners Week is a way of reminding people about our prisons – about prisoners and their families, about prison staff and Chaplains. If you are fortunate enough not to be involved with any of that, it’s too easy to forget that it is there.

But in the end I wonder about it all. I know that there are obviously people from whom society needs to be protected. But our aim must surely be redemption and restoration …

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