So I’m walking the Camino with two friends – the last bit from Sarria to Compostela. It’s clear from the comments on Twitter and Facebook that this is something which people think about doing.

Practicalities first – my feet are sore and so are my knees. I’ve walked over 20k on each of the last two days and will do more tomorrow. And it’s hot.

But the other bit of pilgrimage is the people. There are dozens if of it hundreds doing the same thing. And you can talk to anyone and everyone. It took me a while to work out why they all seemed to be Irish – then somebody told me that the Aer Lingus flight arrives on Thursday. So we are moving down the Camino with that plane-load of Irish people.

Which of course is completely fascinating for any student of secularisation in Ireland and Scotland. The stories are often of people with deep spirituality who have parted company with institutional religion. That’s why pilgrimage is important – the journey is more important than the destination; relationships are more important than dogma. I’m learning a lot!

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Ian Paisley

He gave good tips

I guess not many people in my position could say that. I spent the summer of 1972 working as a porter in a hotel in the centre of Belfast. Ian Paisley and his political colleagues were regulars. He was personally charming and generous as well

But of course there were many other Paisleys.

He opposed attempts to bring necessary change to Northern Ireland and denigrated the efforts of those who did. Yet he became a remarkably effective parliamentarian. For those of us in churches which wanted to move in the direction of reconciliation and peacemaking, he made leadership into a perilously difficult task.

Yet in the end, he decided to claim his place in history by entering a partnership Executive. That move made it possible for the Belfast Agreement to begin to work – halting and fragile though it remains to this day. The tragedy is that he didn’t understand the need to do as Gerry Adams and Martin Maguinness did. For they spent the best part of ten years moving their supporters away from violence and towards politics. It was flawed and messy – but it was what needed to be done. Paisley’s tragedy was that he didn’t see the need – and maybe he wouldn’t have had the skills. And so his move into partnership came at what must have been a painful cost in personal and political relationships.

So a huge figure leaves the stage. And gradually Northern Ireland begins to enter a new phase where the politicians who carry the marks and the history of the conflict are no longer there. That is a necessary part of the journey towards a new and better society.

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Two or three or even more

St Peter’s, Kirkcaldy today – a congregation which has a wonderful group of lay leaders working with their new Rector, Christine Fraser. We were marking the third anniversary of the launch of their Mission Action Plan. They have kept at what they committed themselves to. Not everything has worked – far from it. But some things have moved forward. And, in the mix of thinks that worked and things that didn’t, you can see a steady movement and a growth in confidence.

I visited and had a meal with the Vestry during the week – we had one of those meetings which is actually enjoyable and encouraging.

I tend to stick to the readings of the day. That means that you end up looking at a passage of scripture and wondering what it might say to the situation. The Gospel reading today was about dealing with conflict and disagreement – and this is what I said about it:

It’s about how the church manages relationships and conflict – for every community that has people will have conflict. And every community that has passionately-committed people will have conflict. What matters is how the conflicts are resolved. That’s because – as Jesus says – ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’ It’s in the meeting of people at the deepest level that the presence of the risen Christ is discerned and experienced.

You can read it all here

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Animated Clergy!

I was in Glasgow yesterday for an lunchtime event run by Faith in Community Scotland and Place for Hope – invited to join them with Moderator John Chalmers and Bishop Joe Toal of Paisley.

The purpose was to hear stories of co-operation between Catholic Parishes and the Kirk, ourselves and others – part of the Scottish Government’s initiative on sectarianism.

So whence the animation? Well what we heard was stories of growing co-operation shaped by warm personal friendships between the clergy. And it seemed that the sharing was enabling them to begin to address the challenges of social and economic deprivation which are all around them – and that also produces a spring in the step.

We were allowed a brief word in response to what we heard. And part of what I said was something like this:

Churches can all too easily become tired – institutionally exhausted. The struggle to keep going becomes about as much as we can do. So the horizon and the aspiration shrink to dealing just with our own stuff. Anything else becomes an extra which we might like to do without.

But you are obviously energised by friendship. You are energised by the discovery that working together seems to give you the aspiration, the and the energy to tackle things which you have always wanted to do and which are the essence of what we are called to do.

This is not an extra. This could be our salvation.

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150 years at Kinloch Rannoch


I was glad to be able to go to our church at All Saints, Kinloch Rannoch, yesterday for their 150th Anniversary celebration. The congregation may be small – but their faithfulness is in inverse proportion to their size.

I was particularly glad to be there for the announcement of the appointment of Rev Liz Baker as Rector of the enlarged Highland Perthshire Group – which will include Holy Trinity, Pitlochry, St Adamnan’s, Kilmaveonaig, St Andrew’s, Strathtay and All Saints, Kinloch Rannoch. We don’t in general ‘do’ large groupings – Pisky churches are far too independent-minded for that. But the recent reorganisation of our congregations along the A9 means that we have been able to move to two full time posts – the second is with the new Birnam-Stanley Grouping.

I took the opportunity of saying something about General MacDonald, whose Mausoleum awaits the raising of £20000 for its restoration. He build the church and his family went back to Jacobite times and were therefore intertwined with that period of the life of the Episcopal Church.

I kept an eye out for any signs of the wreckage of the Gitana – a boat built by Major-General Alastair MacDonald

You can read about it here

It lay in the bottom of the Loch for the best part of a century. It was then raised only to be dashed to pieces in a gale

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Talking with the Church of Norway. #pisky



I’ve spent the day in conversation with Presiding Bishop Helga and other representatives from the Church of Norway – a three-way encounter with the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church

The day included the obligatory visit to the Scottish Parliament and a chance to see the Great Tapestry of Scotland – this is the panel which depicts Cuthbert at Melrose.

The Church of Norway is of course now disestablished although it receives levels of state funding which would keep us awake just thinking about them. I think that both the Church of Norway and the Church of Scotland understood what I meant when I said that it was easier to be a small church which is interested in growing bigger than a big church which is inexorably growing smaller.

It was interesting also to have this conversation as the Referendum gets closer. Did they understand that there is a strand of Scottish life which is interested in being more Scandinavian and Communitarian? Yes they did.

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Suspiciously like the church

We reached the end of the Eucharist in St John’s, Alloa, last Sunday. But it took a while before I could say ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’

People – lots of them – kept standing up and reminding the congregation about things – there were some pastoral concerns for people .. and the Healing Rooms … and the Quiz … and the Prayer Group

The building looks magnificent after a second (this time successful) renovation of the stonework. There is a mosaic of the Last Supper by Salvatori behind the altar. There is a small list of churches which have pieces of this work – as well as St John’s Alloa it includes Westminster Abbey and Holy Trinity, Brompton.

Did I mention that there is no Rector – no priest regularly in pastoral leadership until Rev Swarup Bar from our companion diocese in Calcutta returns next year?

Congregations like St John’s can’t afford Stipendiary ministry – not more than a small proportion of a stipend anyway. They have indigenous ministry resources – lots of them. It would be great if we could find a NSM priest or a Lay Reader or a Deacon – congregations also need leadership to help them to address medium and longer term issues and to ensure that they are well linked to the diocese

That’s a pattern which we are seeing more and more. It looks suspiciously like the church

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Commemorating World War I



I spent much of yesterday at the Commemoration of the Centenary of the start of World War I. The Service in Glasgow Cathedral was remarkable. No flags or marching or any of that. Instead we had a series of readings – much of it material written by serving soldiers at the time. What made it more poignant was that it was read in the accents which fitted the material.

My great-uncles Reggie and Cyril served in the Canadian forces and both died in the conflict. Cyril was a Medical Orderly and was awarded the Military Cross. He died in the last week of the war bringing bodies back from No Man’s Land.

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Loaves and Fishes

So back to work today. Four weeks off was wonderful – the problem is that we could have perfectly happily carried on for another four.

But St John’s, Forfar, called – a visit in advance of the retirement of Revd Andy McCafferty at the end of this month. The congregation is aware that Andy’s ministry has been special in many ways – the congregation want to know if I can produce another priest just like him.

One of the things which I have done in recent years is to learn to appreciate miracles of grace. The Scottish Episcopal Church teaches you that – one of the things which is a ‘make or break’ in the ministry of many of our clergy is whether they learn to do much with little. So today’s Gospel Reading – the Feeding of the Five Thousand – is special for us. This is some of what I said:

The gospel reading today offers us a pattern for the life of the Christian community and for its ministry which is very important. Jesus and the disciples are faced with 5000 hungry people and almost no food to give them. He takes the bread, gives thanks and breaks it – and they share it and share it and share it. That story belongs in what we sometimes call the miracles of grace. The Casting the Net/miraculous catch of fish is another of them. It is about the way in which by God’s grace ministry, faith and service grow as they are shared.

That becomes a pattern for us – for the life of the church. Resources are always slender. There will never be enough. The future will always look uncertain. The needs and the challenges will always look limitless. So we are called to miracles of grace – that we set out prayerfully and faithfully to do God’s will, to minister to his people, to gather people in – and the miracle is that there will aways be enough grace and love to go round. Indeed there will be more than enough.

If you want to read the whole of it and to find out what I think about how clergy are chosen and appointed ….. it’s here

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Signing Off

When I say that I am taking a blogbreak, I usually don’t
Like when I say ‘more tomorrow’, there usually isn’t

But my real ‘end of term’ was the Royal Garden Party today. And it’s now four weeks in Donegal and back at the beginning of August

I’ve been keeping very well but probably doing more than is wise. So I’m just going to stop for a while.

If you are going away on holiday, have a wonderful time and travel safely.

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