On Sunday, I found myself back in the Parish Church of St George as part of their 200th Anniversary celebrations. I don’t do much of going back to where I came from – even though those who know me are used to the fairly constant internal dialogue which goes on in my mind. I joined the choir here as a teenager in 1967 – my father was Secretary of the Vestry for a long time – and the parish lived through the bombing campaign in central Belfast. The church was constantly and seriously damaged and they just kept on going.
It’s an interesting and unusual place mainly because it is one of the very few churches of catholic churchmanship in the Church of Ireland in Northern Ireland. In 1967, I was there for the music and the music kept some kind of faith flickering. But in God’s greater economy, it was obviously a preparation for my future appearances at All Saints, St Andrews.
I find it quite difficult to make the various connections in these circumstances.But this is my attempt in the sermon
The last media contact in the midst of Friday’s meeting of General Synod came from BBC Radio Ulster looking for an interview for their Sunday Sequence programme. So I ended up in their studio in Belfast on Sunday morning attempting to explain what our General Synod had decided. That in itself was interesting because Northern Ireland is the only part of the British Isles where same-sex marriage is not legal. I watched Roisin Mcauley’s eyes widen as I explained what we had decided.
Last Sunday – Trinity Sunday – was the Patronal Festival for our congregation at Holy Trinity, Dunfermline. But more important than just the 125th Anniversary was the Confirmation Service and a church full … Lots of people, a great diversity of age groups and many children.
I read a comment recently to the effect that the current members of our College of Bishops are ‘positive about Confirmation’ or something similar. I certainly see it like that. Confirmation as a ‘rite of passage’ has been fading – although I think that there is real value in focusing the minds and hearts of young people on Christian faith at critical moments in their growth. So we have some of that – but also more of adults to come at all sorts of times in their lives to make a fresh commitment of faith.
Commitment is not as obvious today as it was formerly. All sorts of organisations find that – political parties and voluntary organisations all find it hard to get people to ‘sign up’. I used to say that it was a challenge of congregational life to help people to move from being ‘welcome visitors’ to being ‘members of the family’. Confirmation – which we sometimes call the ‘Affirmation of Baptismal Vows’ – provides an opportunity for people who have found themselves on a journey of faith to make a specific commitment. I think that is helpful to them and encouraging for the congregation – and it is a real pleasure and privilege for me to be part of it.
It was a great experience to go to the Lecture given by this year’s Templeton Prize Winner, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in St Andrews University.
‘Not in God’s Name’ is of course a subject which matters to me – since I spent much of my life living with degrees of religiously-motivated violence. The lecture was full of the almost throwaway lines which are entirely memorable – ‘wars are won with weapons – peace is won with ideas’ I’m working my way through the book at present. He has an extraordinary ability to encapsulate in a very few words the biggest changes in human society. And he provides the most comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism which you could imagine – that it is not so much about the Jews as a sign that a society is about to break apart.
I was glad to be there .. I should have put this up sooner!
Evensong today in our Cathedral in Perth with choirs from around the diocese gathered with the Cathedral Choir. So I said a bit about the connection – particularly for children – between singing and faith.
Festival of the Arts Evensong
I’m getting into Steve Aisthorpe’s book, ‘The Invisible Church – Learning from the experience of religionless Christians’
It is of course an alluring prospect – that many of those who may have quietly walked away from the churches or not walked into them in the first place may carry faith which they choose not to express in membership of a congregation; that decline is ‘apparent’. So we might see our challenges as being as much about belonging as about believing.
There is careful research here – rather than wishful thinking. But I’ll look forward to exploring the obvious questions such as: is membership of the visible community of faith essential to Christian belief and practice; and how should churches respond to churchless faith.
I always enjoy the Confirmation Service at Glenalmond. It’s partly the contact with a group of young people, of course. But it’s also the opportunity of trying to catch and hold the interest of the very diverse congregation – their parents and godparents, uncles and aunts, grandparents and friends. All of those people are there in support – so it’s an opportunity of trying to describe faith in an attractive way.
This kind of Confirmation Service is rare today. I think it was 26 – or was it 27 – young people. More often now, it’s small numbers and diverse ages. Some teenagers – but also adults of every agegroup. It’s people who have decided that this is their way of marking a fresh beginning in discipleship and sometimes a new start in a new community of faith. The stories which lie behind that are always both important and interesting. It seems to me that one of the most important things we can do is to give people the opportunity of marking that new start – or staging post in their journey of faith
So on Friday, we came together in the beautiful Chapel in Glenalmond College – and I hope it was a memorable moment for all of this.
And this is what I said
Photos: At the entrance to Samye Ling; the Temple; with Rt Revd John Chalmers, former Moderator and Principal Clerk of the Church of Scotland.
I spent yesterday with the Religious Leaders Forum at Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre. This was part of the work of Interfaith Scotland – the kind of meeting which you approach feeling that there are lots of other things you might be doing but go away glad that you went.
Scotland is a big country – so it was 110 miles due south on the twisty roads of the Borders and 140 miles home on the M74 and the A9. The monastery is extraordinary – a magnificent temple, a conference centre and lots more – all built to the very highest standards. I suppose it’s the kind of thing you could do if you were able to concentrate all your resources in one place and weren’t trying to sustain a ‘branch network’. Perhaps we should look for a site near the Ferrytoll or Stirling
The meeting was interesting too. In this particular interfaith gathering we seem to have reached the point where difficult conversations seem to happen – and what we share is articulate and incisive. So we talked of many things – particularly of radicalisation and of anti-semitism.
Then we welcomed a group of children from Lincluden Primary School. They were great and asked us killer questions like ‘How do people worship and why do they worship?’ and ‘Do all religions have religious leaders and why do they have them?’. A session with staff from the Scottish Government on ‘Getting it right for every child’ and a bit of business and we were done.
So an interesting and encouraging day – some very impressive leadership now in place in the faith communities and all sorts of interesting things are possible
With Archbishop Sir David Moxon, another remarkable ceiling in the Vatican Museum, the Holy Father greets Anna
I used to allow myself to say that the Scottish Episcopal Church is unruly – and the Anglican Communion is certainly unruly. We swing from crisis to crisis and make huge shifts of policy ‘on the wing’. The Vatican of course is different. It’s timescales are different. Tomorrow will almost certainly be the same as today. In some ways, it has the feel of a medieval court where nuance and symbol are everything.
So when Alison and Anna were unexpectedly beckoned forward to be greeted by Pope Francis, we wondered whether this was a way of giving symbolic effect to his recent exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, or maybe a sign of the strength of relationships between Catholic and Anglican Churches. I could see how Archbishop David Moxon patiently builds friendship and trust – the kind of trust without which everyone will go through the motions but nothing will happen.
Of course that measured face of the Vatican isn’t the whole story – because there are disconnects and dissonances all over the place. And then there is the extraordinary personal popularity of Pope Francis which simply bursts through the institutional frameworks of the church.
It’s also clear that the church is on the move – moving towards Synods, interested in exploring things which are commonplace in the Anglican world. They have the problem of all movements which want to bring in a period of intentional change – how to keep control of the movement as it happens.
I did have one question in my back pocket – the question of whether the Catholic Church is prepared to work in ecumenical dialogue with the full range of Anglicanism, including those who commit to canonical change on same sex marriage. Of course I was never going to get a clear answer to such a question. All I can say is that I was received with a warmth and graciousness which astonished me – and I learned much. I hope to return in October for the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the Anglican Centre
I don’t speak Italian – but I was given a script with which to greet Pope Francis on behalf of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It went like this:
So no molto honorato di essere qui a reppresentare la chiesa anglicana di scozia.
Questo e’ un regalo per lei
Le porto I saluti della mia provincia. Preghiamo per lei
To be greeted by the Pope was of course the highlight of our visit to Rome – but after the audience we slipped into the Basilica behind and had the chance of seeing it empty.
I got the impression that the Anglican Centre in Rome and its Director, Archbishop David Moxon, quite like having visits from Anglican Primates. They are endlessly hospitable. But a visit like this gives them the chance of setting up meetings with Vatican officials – and demonstrating the world wide ‘reach’ of the Anglican Communion. So I went off to meet Archbishop Paul Gallagher who is the equivalent of the Vatican’s Foreign Secretary – keeping contact with the worldwide network of Nuncios. That was a chance to talk about the Anglican Primates Meeting and the journey of Scotland towards Independence – or not. I also met Bishop Brian Farrell of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and Father Jim Puglisi of the Centro Pro Unione. We went to evening worship with the Sant’Egidio Community – it’s a lay movement which arises from the Second Vatican Council. It’s also the community which has received the refugees who come back from Lesbos with Pope Francis.
An unexpected treat was a performance of Hamlet by the Globe Theatre sponsored by the British Embassy to the Holy See.
We did a bit of tourism as well – not having been to Rome before. And the underlying connection was that I am a Patron of the Anglican Centre – and that Alison’s cousin, Canon Bruce Ruddock, is a former Director. I had the pleasure of getting to know Archbishop Sir David Moxon when he was one of the three Archbishops in New Zealand and the Anglican Consultative Council held its meeting there.
Still struggling with the cough and cold I have had for the last two weeks – and still digesting last week’s visit to Rome – we went today to St Andrews, St Andrews. There was time to admire the new open space at the west end of the church – stripping and varnishing a floor does wonders for the amount of light in the building. The building has what many of our churches lack – some sense of space. And that gives all kinds of options for flexibility in the way worship is set up.
But for now I tried to make sense of a very disparate set of readings against the background of the visit to Rome