We have been marking this Sunday as Vocations Sunday. I did my best in St Margaret’s, Rosyth, and Holy Trinity, Dunfermline this morning. Unfortunately this was one of those weeks where time squeezed the writing of a script if not the writing of a sermon – the two not necessarily being the same thing. The result? Too long and described by some as ‘moving’ – which sounds like sentimental to me.
Just as an excursion and diversion .. I did mention in Rosyth that they sing their hymns more briskly than anywhere else I go. Actually they sing with passion. And because of the ecumenical relationship with the Methodist congregation whose building they share, there is a Wesleyan bias in the choices. Whatever it is – maybe a relic of shipshape tendencies from the naval dockyard past – I like it. And it’s more than just ‘get on with it’ brisk. My former curate, Grace, used to say that the best worship was ‘brisk with spaces’ – by which I think she meant that you couldn’t have meaningful and usable silence in worship without good words and music to frame it. I think she was right. I created a silence or two in St Margaret’s today and they were all the better for the briskness which framed them
To go back to Vocation …. Our Vocations Strategy highlights our wish to see younger clergy – the kind of clergy who will give a lifetime of service and from whom the future leadership of our church will be drawn. To say that is not to think less of the vocation of the laity – nor of the great diversity of people who offer themselves for ministry at all stages of the life cycle. But too often … I have seen vacancies for Rectors advertised and there have been no applicants from within Scotland and sometimes no applicants at all. I’m not a believer in the Tartan curtain – and of course I am an import myself. But Scottish Episcopalianism is a joyously distinctive expression of Anglicanism – and home-grown Scottish clergy will nurture that distinctiveness and shape it for tomorrow.
The strange thing is that I believe that those younger vocations are there – actually I know that they are there because I have met some of them. But they are young people who have been sponsored by English dioceses and are training in English Colleges. We don’t have the resources to meet that need and we need to be creative about it.
And finally – this is not just about younger clergy for its own sake. This is a critical moment of challenge for our church. We are living in a very secular society – but we seem to be more hopeful, purposeful and confident than we have been for a while. If we are to ‘survive and thrive’, leadership of the highest quality is essential.
Our church in Newport-on-Tay is St Mary’s. It looks out over the Tay estuary and has a great view of the Tay Railway Bridge. Today we had a boat in the back of the church – and nets – and lots of paper fish as we launched the congregation’s Mission Action Plan.
People think …. well people think lots of things. They think that this is about ‘wearing the tee-shirt and singing the song’ Sometimes they think that it is about some great formula which is handed down from the Diocesan Office. If only … if only our congregations were as conformist as that!
St Mary’s is a remarkable place. The congregation has had all sorts of problems. But there is a persistent sense of the numinous about their church. I forget – but every time I go back there, it strikes me. They have concerns about the future – about the difficulty of finding clergy in the future – about ….. What is different now – and we are talking transformation – is that the congregation has worked out a statement of what its future in mission and ministry is. They were supported by Canon Val Nellist and Elaine Cromwell who acted as facilitators. They had a group which worked very hard alongside their Rector, Denise Herbert. This is all about discipleship and vocation – and everything else follows from that.
I hope they feel that they have reached a new stage. I was with them this morning for the launch and dedication – and this is what I said
We’re just back from a few days in Donegal – and very good it was. Wonderful, bright and clear weather – completely uncharacteristic of Donegal.
I’ve been thinking about this exchange ever since. The butcher in Dunfanaghy was cutting up the lamb for us. ‘How would you like it?’ he asked. Because we were on holiday, the answer was, ‘However it comes’. ‘I’m doing middling decent chunks,’ he replied.
Fantastic! It’s the answer to almost everything.
How should I read the Bible? MDC’s
How should I prioritise my working day? MDC’s
And then another treat. As we left, Alison said, ‘See you later’ and he replied, ‘See you later’ The emigration links between West Donegal and Lowland Scotland remain as strong as ever.
The Sunday Times last week published one of those pieces on secularisation which seem to me to go round in circles. Essentially the argument is as follows. Secularisation is an irresistible force. Because of secularisation, all churches are going down the tubes. Because the churches are going down the tubes, secularisation is an irresistible force.
To their credit, they gave me space for a response today And BBC Scotland are doing an interview tomorrow morning.
My version of the argument goes as follows.
I like living in a secular society. It is preferable to either a confessional or a theocratic state. It requires a respectful but non-deferential relationship between church and state.
Some churches are going down the tubes – mainly those which are based on patterns of traditional membership rather than active discipleship.
Secular society suits small churches like the SEC because there are more people for us to talk to. We are working hard at the new patterns of church life – we intend to survive and thrive in the secular society.
Much has been made this Easter – as every Easter – of the rolling away of the stone as symbolising our hopes for resurrection and renewal of the church.
I’ve been doing a bit of it myself. Regular readers will remember my suggestion that we tend to ‘overdose on friendliness and accessibility’. Nobody would ever suggest that the church should strive to be unfriendly. But I think it risks making us bland in an age where post-modern people seek spirituality, mystery and a cutting edge. At our Chrism Mass on Thursday, I suggested to our clergy that we need to practise disbelonging if we are to be effective leaders. Nobody would suggest that clergy should not strive to be warm and compassionate pastors who are close to their people. But we also need space from which it is possible to challenge the church to mission.
I was quietly reading the Irish Times today while enjoying a pint of the black stuff in Arnold’s Hotel. It was good to find that Irish church leaders are beginning to stake out the kind of debate which I yearn to see in Scotland.
I am sure that there are many brave voices in the Irish Catholic Church. But the one that I hear is Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin. He said that the Catholic Church ‘has to be restructured and de-structured to allow it to witness to the sense of meaning and purpose that Jesus brings to the lives of believers’
My friend, Archbishop Michael Jackson, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, said that the church ‘has become over anxious about its orthodoxy (correct teaching) as opposed to its orthopraxy (correct doing) in the face of those who be their best for God and to do their best for their neighbour within their strengths and their limitations’
Their is a common agenda here. I’ve done my bit in the past for a post-nationalist Ireland. I do my bit at present for a post-colonial Anglican Communion. We need to move towards a post-institutional church.
This is a time of year when I feel nostalgic about parish ministry. All right – I know that if I was doing it again my nostalgia would be short-lived. But there was a rhythm to it, particularly in Holy Week. You knew where you were going and how you were going to get there – just so long as you didn’t have anything else planned.
My Good Friday started in the BBC in Edinburgh
First of all there was Thought for the Day for BBC Scotland. Then a Radio 4 Act of Worship – complete with the usual panics about transmission which seem to go with live radio.
Anyway, here is the Thought for the Day. I was aware that Nelson Mandela was far from well at that point. So I wrote a a second Thought for the Day and we adapted and used it as the reflection in the middle of the Act of Worship.
I was glad to be home. And glad to have the Chrism Mass come round again. It’s my nineth – since it was one of the very first things after I came here. It reminds me …. that, having lost the ‘priest and people’ ministry that I had before, the heart of ministry for me is in the extraordinary nature of the bishop-priest relationship. It’s not always an easy relationship because it contains within it the internal tensions of the pastor/manager roles. But I think that before most things my job is to help clergy to have fulfilling and creative ministry.
We don’t do feet washing – I wish we did and an e mail from Rachel Mash in South Africa reminded me that pink basins are obligatoire for this. But we do washing and anointing and we bind ourselves again to the ministry to which we are called.
I’ve been much preoccupied this last year in thinking about how the priest can over-belong with his or her people. That sounds silly – but there has to be some space for leadership, challenge and all of that. I’m also ever more taken with St Benedict who reminds me that the abbot should strive to be loved and not feared – and tells us to ‘incline the ear of your heart’
You can read about it here
The Enthronement of Archbishop Justin was on Thursday – but I am still in London. Two days more of Anglican Communion Standing Committee to do and home on Tuesday evening.
Today we joined the congregation at St Martin in the Fields – beginning a Palm Sunday procession in Trafalgar Square with palms and donkey. It was freezing cold but good – particularly to hear Archbishop Thabo leading prayers outside South Africa House. It was a good morning – a remarkable and youthful congregation in a wonderful building.
It brought back all sorts of memories for me – of the ‘plunge’ in the Urban Ministry Project in 1975 when we were put out on the streets of London with £1 for 48 hours. It was unwise then and would be madness today. The other memory was of a placement in the Social Service Unit which was their ministry to the homeless. I learnt not very much about the homeless. But the late Norman Ingram Smith taught me how to preach without a script. I met a number of people who remembered him. People are always listing ‘useful things for ministry’. I would rate that skill as fundamental – along with touch typing.
And then we moved on to Evensong at Westminster Abbey and a tour with the Dean. I took a look at the phenomenon of hundreds of young-ish people turning up for Choral Evensong. The photo is of Bishop James Tengatenga of Southern Malawi at the memorial plaque for David Livingstone.
I stood today in the community of Anglican Primates – we were in a circle around St Augustine’s Chair when Archbishop Justin was seated. It’s an extraordinary moment, I watched. I held my breath. I said my prayers for him,
As I watched, I saw what I have seen at other moments and experienced myself. As the weight of office descended, you could see the burden of it. People do shrink. I think about difficult meetings, hard decisions, lonely travel …. But they grow as well. In his sermon, Archbishop Justin talked about how to acknowledge the authority of God brings courage, I believe that. And I believe in the grace of ordination – that somehow we become what it is that we are called to be and need to be to fulfil whatever our calling may be.
And with the eye of my heart, I saw all of that, And I think he did as well