Lost Idyll

Here at Blogstead na Mara in Donegal we have seven volumes of Arthur Ransome on the bookshelf – Swallows and Amazons of course but also some of the others like Peter Duck and Winter Holiday.  The obvious absentee is the great ‘We didn’t mean to go to sea’ and I’ll pick up a copy of that somewhere or other.  

I don’t read them all the way through.  I just pick one up as I pass and open it at random.  And I enter a world which takes me back to childhood – back to childhood reading and also back to the time when I too was a child in a sailing boat on a lake.  That was Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh where I learned to sail.

It’s a timeless world but very much of its time.  John the eldest is a chap – a big brother who is responsible to the point of dullness.  Mate Susan seems untroubled by gender stereotypes.  And then there is Able Seaman Titty aged nine and a half.  She draws maps in Indian ink and names everywhere with names like Rio and Darien.  Last of all is the lookout Roger.  Father is perpetually on his ship in the South China Sea.  Mother rows the whaler across to the children’s camp on Wildcat Island.  As mothers do, she rows with long steady strokes.

Time to watch the Swallows and Amazons DVD.  Disaster.  My childhood idyll was obviously far too tame for the film makers.  Spies are everywhere and mainly out to get Uncle Jim, aka Captain Flint.  Four children messing about in a boat on a lake are suddenly in imminent and constant danger of death.  For reasons where are beyond me, Titty is now Tatty.  Children having adventures of the imagination are now having real and dangerous adventures.

You are right.  I HATED it.

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Talking about Brexit. #pisky

I went today to a ’round table’ on Brexit hosted by the Church of England at Lambeth Palace.  They had gathered up a significant group of church leaders from all over the UK for a conversation with Lord Bridges of Headley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEXEU – the Department for Exiting the European Union.

On the flight this morning, I fortified myself by reading the 39 pages of the Scottish Government’s document, Scotland’s Place in Europe.  This has a sort of internal discussion of the link between Brexit and a possible second Independence Referendum.  But what is between the lines and almost everything else I have read lately about the lack of ‘Brexit bounce’ suggests that the answer to that is ‘Not now’

But the document is well worth a read because of what it says about the post-Brexit options.  In setting out options for the whole of the UK other than the seemingly inevitable ‘hard Brexit’, it offers a far fuller discussion than anything which has come from the government at Westminster.  In looking at possible options for Scotland, whether independent or not, it explores and pushes to what feels like the limit the concept of differentiation – that different parts of the UK might have different Brexit outcomes.  And Theresa May has promised to listen.

Of today’s conversation – which was very worthwhile – I came away with a feeling that the government’s thinking has not caught up with the idea that a UK with devolved institutions is now a diversity of nations – and that things look a bit different from Perth, or Bala or Bleary.  I can see the awesome complexity of all this and respect those who are trying to find their way through it.  Maybe they are keeping their cards close to their chest.  Or maybe the still febrile political atmosphere down south means that any speculation about policy options other than the most radical will instantly be condemned as betrayal.  Or maybe they just don’t know.  Or maybe it’s a bit of all three.

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A Thought for the Day on the Berlin tragedy #pisky

GOOD MORNING night’s tragic events in Berlin – whether the action of a single individual or the work of a terrorist group – certainly cause terror. It’s the currency of these horrific events that they happen with complete unpredictability – dominating the headlines as they choose. What those who carry them out want us to believe is that nowhere is safe – any crowd anywhere is a risk – concert, football ground, railway station, airport, shopping mall, seaside promenade.

Some say that the violence of terrorists is ‘mindless’. I don’t agree. Heartless maybe. But not mindless. There are causes and ideologies. Toxic memory from political failures of past and present. And no limits to action.

For those of us who, whether believers or not, are rooted in a tradition which affirms the sacredness of human life, this is really difficult. At one moment we are the deeply loved spouse, parent, friend. And the next we are simply victims, conscripts in somebody else’s savage pursuit of their cause. I hear reverberating in my mind the words from the old funeral service, ‘in the midst of life we are in death’

So what is to be done – what do the person of faith and people of goodwill everywhere think or do?. Well I think there are two responses and strangely they are mutually contradictory. First we have to maintain a sort of indifference to terrorism. In the years when I lived and worked in Northern Ireland, we did that. Never took unnecessary risks – but never allowed terrorism to affect our lives and our freedom. But we must also do what distinguishes civilisation from barbarism – we attempt to ‘imagine the other’ – to try and work out why human beings can act in this way. The terrorist sees the person simply as another number in the tally of death. People of all faiths see every person as being of infinite value, unique because expressive of the creator who gave them life.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who suffer today – in Berlin and in Aleppo and elsewhere,

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Choosing the Bishop

We began the process of electing a new bishop for the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney in succession to Bishop Robert Gillies yesterday. Canon 4 offers a carefully worked-out road map of how this is to be done. So it has an ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ kind of clarity about it. I’m an admirer of Canon 4. It gives careful and detailed consideration to those who are nominated. It seeks information. It allows the candidates to speak for themselves. It takes time and it expects that time to be used for prayer. I’m bound to be an admirer since this was the process which brought me to Scotland.

But of course what it doesn’t do is to tell the electors how to do vocational discernment. But at the opening Eucharist. So fortunately I was on hand yesterday to conduct this discussion with myself about the nature of vocational discernment and its application to episcopal ministry. So here is the Sermon from the Eucharist

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What might one say in Wokingham #pisky


I like Advent – like the themes and like the music.

So I enjoyed being with Fr Richard Lamey and his congregation this morning in St Paul’s, Wokingham.  There was a family reason for being there as well.  The  Second Sunday in Advent is Prophets – so this is what I said:

It’s a great pleasure to be here – thank you to Fr Richard for his generous invitation and warm welcome.  
I’m here with two purposes.  
One is that I represent and bring greetings from the Scottish Episcopal Church. My strange title of Primus is because I am a ‘Primus inter Pares’ – the first among equals of our seven bishops. So I am a collegial leader and not an Archbishop. Some of you will know that the National Church in Scotland is Presbyterian – the Church of Scotland – and the Queen is Presbyterian when she crosses the border. As an episcopal/Anglican church we are unusual – not historically rooted in Canterbury; never an established church. We are sometimes known as the ‘second Kirk of the Scottish Reformation’. We have very close links with American Episcopalians because our bishops consecrated their first bishop, Samuel Seabury, in 1784 after the American Revolution. We are a small church. We tend to be edgy and we are quite buoyant at present,
I’m also here because of family links. David is my wife Alison’s cousin. The threads of those relationships go back to the Church of Ireland community of Southern Ireland – and the story of what happened to them after Irish Partition in 1922. As happens in Ireland families are generationally interwoven. We discovered that my grandfather baptised Alison’s late father who was also David’s Uncle Jack. That’s Ireland.

Two weeks ago we were in the US. After a busy programme, we had a day of tourism in Washington. In the new African American Museum we moved slowly with African Americans who were quietly absorbing the story of the suffering of their forefathers – and with white people like ourselves who were overwhelmed by it. In the end I found myself in front of a screen on which was playing Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech – a speech which he made just outside the door. 
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
And it was too much for me. I was deeply moved and I wept for the pain of it and the lost hopes

Today in the sequence of the four hope-filled Sundays of the Advent season we come to Prophets. The prophet doesn’t simply tell us the future. Rather the prophet speaks forth God’s word into the challenges of the times. The prophet says ‘Thus says the Lord’ regardless of the consequences. It’s the voice which can not and will not be silenced. Sometimes it is like Isaiah, John the Baptist and Martin Luther King – it is prophecy as proclamation. At other times is it quiet yet persistent. As a parish priest I was always waiting for the prophetic moment. The group would pray and talk – and occasionally I would hear myself saying, ‘did you hear what she just said – do you know why that is important’
Isaiah speaks of the green shoot to come from the stump – the burgeoning of new life from what appears to be dead – the new ruler on whom God’s spirit will rest – the vision of a reordered creation, predators lying down with their prey – a new Shalom
The reading from Romans is a testament to hope – anticipating a particular kind of future because of what has been said in the past. It’s about how we should live in harmony with one another – filled with all joy and peace in believing
And of course the Gospel Reading told us of John the Baptist – prophetically proclaiming a path for the coming of the Saviour. He too spoke out the truth of God – clarity to the point of harshness – to an unbelieving generation who had lost their roots in goodness, truth and integrity and needed to repent.
What is wonderful about prophecy is that it collapses the space between past and future and thereby gives us the hope which is the heart of Advent.

So what does prophecy speak forth now – in these edgy and transitional times – in times when we seem to have lost the ability to be at ease with one another – when we want to set up new boundaries on our acceptance of one another around issues of poverty, colour, sexuality, race. These are easy targets and you may be uncomfortable that I should mention them. Yet prophecy speaks of the dream, of God’s vision of a world which embraces peace, justice, love and above all hope.
That’s why Martin Luther King unwound me – a statement of faith-filled hope and hope-filled faith which defied evidence, probability and possibility. May that gift of hope be yours this Advent and beyond. 

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The other view #pisky


I visited CATH (Churches Action for the Homeless) in Perth today to meet Ron Hogg and get a copy of their Calendar 2017.

This is special – Ron sent a group of their service users out to photograph Perth and the world as they see it.  The results make a remarkable collection of evocative photos.  And the photographers weren’t content to hide behind the lens either – each photographer is named and appears with a personal photograph and a comment about their photograph.

That sounds to me like a very worthwhile exercise in building dignity

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First Confirmation Selfie #pisky

I’ve been going through a period when there haven’t been many Confirmation Services – so I was glad to be able to take part in this baptism and confirmation at St Paul’s, Kinross.

The selfie tells the story of something which is a big event in the lives of young people and of their families.  It’s an important moment too in the life of the congregation – important that the movements which nurture faith in young people and affirm their place at the heart of congregational life should be seen to be working well.  That takes hard work and conscious effort on the part of families, members of the congregation and clergy.

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Washington #pisky

It’s been a very concentrated trip.  We are just about over the jet lag – and it’s time to do it all again in the other direction.

So we took a day in Washington.  It turned into a sort of pilgrimage which began with a slight sinking of the heart at the sight of the dais being prepared in front of the Capitol for the swearing in of the new President.  So we started with the tour of the Capitol.  It was very impressive and an introduction to American democracy at its best.  Just before President Obama’s first inauguration, I read his books, Dreams from my Father and the Audacity of Hope.  At his best, Obama writes in elegiac – if slightly professorial – phrases about the American constitution and his profound respect for its checks and balances.  The tour was, as you would expect, somewhat uncritical but none the worse for that.  We had to stand in the shadows while Mike Pence, Vice-President Elect, was escorted in to meet Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives.  I’m sure they had an interesting meeting and that the checks and balances were in play.

We then moved on to the National Museum of African American Culture and History.  This was recently opened by President Obama.  We were lucky to get in at all because of the crowds.  It was a remarkable experience.

Three floors – all below ground level – tell the story of slavery, emancipation and of the Civil Rights Movement.  It is a magnificent and very moving exhibition.  It was full of African Americans visiting and revisiting their story.  Their approach was reverential and those of us from other nations and cultures could only tread very softly indeed.  For me there were echoes of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland.  In the end, I found myself overcome in front of the video of Martin Luther King’s, ‘I have a dream’ speech – not least because it had happened just outside the door.

Put those two experiences together – and think about the building of that dais in front of the Capitol – and one can only wonder about the future direction of American democracy.  I have a great affection for the USA.  That admiration is rooted in the times when I worked in a context of almost total depression.  Visits to the US were for me an opportunity to immerse myself in their ‘can do’ attitude to life.
But then and now it remains a deeply divided nation and the nature and complexity of those divisions seem to increase rather than the opposite.  But the people are amazingly kind and gracious.  There is hope …

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Virginia Theological Seminary. #pisky #anglican


The third element in this visit to the US has been a brief stay at Virginia Theological College which is just to the south of Washington.  The purpose of the visit was to follow up on some preliminary work done by Revd Dr Anne Thomlinson, Principal of our Scottish Episcopal Institute to put together the beginnings of a partnership relationship between SEI and VTS.   This will give students from SEI the opportunity of visiting VTS and some return visits, particularly by members of faculty, to SEI.

So I met Revd Dr Melody Knowles, Vice-President for Academic Affairs, and Revd Dr Robert Heaney, Director of the Centre for Anglican Communion Studies and Associate Professor of Christian Mission.  Under Robert Heaney’s leadership, CACS has become a major centre for Anglican Communion Studies.

In recent times, I have become a strong believer in partnerships – as being of benefit particularly for smaller churches.  We should be encouraged that groups like VTS, St Mellitus College and Church Army are keen to partner with us.  Their involvement helps us to ‘rise to the next level’ and keeps us outward facing 

I’m looking forward to seeing how this emerging partnership develops 

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More from Ohio – about the Anglican Communion #pisky #Anglican


In the Diocesan Convention, we had a session on the Anglican Communion in which I shared with Bishop Mark Hollingsworth and Revd Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies of the General Convention of The Episcopal  Church.  When I got to New York, I had a meeting with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Archbishop Fred Hiltz of the Church of Canada

This is a version of what I said in the Convention session:

The Anglican Communion is not broken.  

Far from it – it is a vibrant attempt to shape the life of a global communion without having a single central authority. I’ve been in Rome twice during this year and I have had the opportunity of learning about a very different church. To them, we are a remarkable experiment in building a global Communion of churches across boundaries of race, culture, economics and just about everything else. They can see the value of our patterns of synodical government. But e do our disagreements very publicly. We are in some sense a ‘work in progress’ loosely held together by the Four Instruments of Communion – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting.
How can I say it is not broken?
Look at the network of Companionship Relationships – the relationship of your Diocese of Ohio with Belize and Tanzania and the relationship of our Diocese of St Andrews with the Diocese of Calcutta in the Church of North India. Those relationships don’t arise as part of some great Anglican Communion programme. They are formed and they grow because dioceses on different continents and in different contexts feel the need to connect, to support and pray for one another and to be part of a larger whole .
Then there are the Anglican Networks – Family, Peace and Justice, Environment, Women and many more. Once again, there is very flimsy organisation but plenty of energy. The Anglican Alliance co-ordinates the response of the Communion to situations of great need. And there is Continuing Indaba – honest conversation across difference in the cause of mission

But of course to the casual observer and to the media, the Anglican Communion often looks as if it is breaking – heading towards that final sundering. And yet it doesn’t happen and somehow we muddle through.

As you know, I grew up in Ireland and spent much of my adult life there. In ministry, I was a priest and pastor with a particular commitment to reconciliation and peace-making. In Ireland, the sources of conflict were often starkly clear – they were political and religious. The fault lines ran in parallel and they reinforced each other. In Scotland and in Ireland, we call that sectarianism.  
In the Anglican Communion, we face many challenges. Human sexuality in general and same sex marriage in particular are difficult for us to deal with – living as we do in such radically different contexts. Here too our fault lines run in parallel and our differences can reinforce each other. There are issues about how we read scripture and understand its authority. There is the hidden legacy of colonialism which affects the way in which we ‘read’ and respond to one another. There are acute differences about the way in which we exercise authority and leadership. Some exercise authority in a very collegial context. Others exercise authority in a context in which authority is more personally held. Bishops and Primates are not the same everywhere and this causes constant misunderstanding and disappointment.
At the heart of the life of the Anglican Communion is a single crucial challenge – it is the tension between the desire of provinces to exercise autonomy and our need to practise interdependence – to be communion-minded and to express a deeper catholicity.
Over the years, we have made many attempts to square this circle. The Virginia Report of 1997 and more recently the proposed Anglican Covenant have addressed this issue.
The Primates Meeting of 2016 took a strong move towards emphasising the interdependence of provinces rather than their autonomy and imposing ‘consequences’ on the Episcopal Church. We in Scotland may experience the same if our General Synod approves our proposals for canonical change in the area of marriage when it meets next June. But the issue is not resolved. It is challenging to resolve because ultimately it is a spiritual issue. It is the tension between ‘what we want to do and feel we must’ and ‘how God calls us to live faithfully together’. One suggestion about how this could be possible is that, as in a marriage, the partners must learn to practise some degree of mutual submission.

I do not that that our problems will ever all be resolved. That’s not because I am pessimistic. It’s because I can see that the issues here are about how we are disciples with one another in very different places and very different cultures of church life. And that is the challenge which we must address

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