Time for a Sunday close to home. It’s about 15 minutes from Blogstead to St Catherine’s in Blairgowrie. So we went there and to the lovely church at St Ninian’s, Alyth. These are part of a the ABC Group with St Anne’s, Coupar Angus – even closer to home – and our church up the glen at Ballintuim.
Just another Sunday? Well, I had a sharp-minded conversation with one person about the Columba Agreement which was interesting. And I heard some of the most effective reading of the bible in church that I have heard in a while. I began listening to check that I had the right sermon on the right day – and then found that I was really listening
So here is what turned out to be the right sermon on the right day
I’ve been following what the parents who lost their children twenty years ago have been saying. It has been extraordinarily moving and impressive. An absence of anger. Almost nothing said about Thomas Hamilton. Just ordinary people who have somehow learned how to move on – to live the next day and the one after that – carrying their loss with them. They deserve our respect, our support and our prayers.
We had another Diocesan Synod today – my twelfth – and there was a buzz about it. Here we are in our beautiful cathedral in Perth.
Here’s the Sermon from the Eucharist
I’m afraid that I couldn’t resist the text, ‘Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.’ It speaks to me of those situations where I am ‘just about hanging in there.
And then there was the Bishop’s Address
In the afternoon, we had some workshops on the theme ‘Growing Congregations – Changing Communities’
This was the introduction
We are still working through the outcomes of the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism. So today I was in Edinburgh for a meeting about one of the outcomes of the Report – to help ‘Religious leaders develop increased commitment to modelling how to respond to/overcome sectarianism’
It was a lively and interesting meeting. Chair of the Advisory Group, Dr Duncan Morrow, spoke about sectarianism as a plant – roots, leaves, branches, flowers. Others have described it as a systemic phenomenon. I’ve spent much of my life in a toxic sectarian environment so I’ve had a lot of time to think about it.
We talked about how we might do some things which might combat sectarianism – sharing aspects of the training of clergy for example. And we hovered a bit on the edge of seeing it as a religious phenomenon which churches need to solve.
So here are two things which I think about:
Firstly sectarianism is not primarily religious. Churches may be the markers of division – but they are not the division itself. I think that is true so far as it goes. But my experience in Northern Ireland was that there was a complex relationship between churches and sectarianism. Churches were part of a society in which sectarianism was a systemic phenomenon – so churches were to some extent artificially strengthened by the ‘headcount’ element of sectarianism. In that sense, churches can be complicit. But we used to say that, if they were strengthened numerically, they were also hollowed-out spiritually.
Secondly, it seems to me that sectarianism isn’t just about Protestants and Catholics, about the football terraces of Scotland or polarised communities. There are situations which are akin to sectarianism – when churches become the bearers of identity for groups and communities because there is no obvious alternative. To some extent, that is what happened to my community of origin – the Protestant community of Southern Ireland. After the Partition of Ireland, they were a minority without an obvious expression of their political or cultural identity. Throughout the history of the Irish Republic, the number of TD’s from the Protestant community has been vanishingly small. So to some extent they invested their identity in the Church of Ireland.
In the very different context of Scotland – also a context in which their are interwoven minorities – I can see how churches in general and the Scottish Episcopal Church in particular – can become the bearers of at least part of people’s identity. It’s entirely understandable. But it has a significant impact on the character of any church. And that’s part of what we work with.
Last night I was part of a large group who were invited by the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society to a Reception in the Scottish Parliament. It was an extraordinarily diverse gathering – churches and other faith communities, politicians, community leaders. The First Minister came and gave an address.
In the best sense, this is the new Scotland – delighted to affirm its diversity. It was clear that the Shia Muslim community is feeling a new confidence about its place in Scotland. They feel accepted and valued. And that is something that we should all take pleasure in
I couldn’t help reflecting to myself that the position of a minority Christian church is slightly different. We are deeply rooted in the history of Scotland. Nobody can take that away. But maybe the very fact that we are woven into the fabric means that nobody is going to queue up to make a fuss of us!
There were some brave things said last night – about extremism and religiously-motivated violence. But there were some things we need to talk some more about. For example, we could be exploring what a multi-cultural society will look like.
But for now …… ,it was an important and very welcome moment and I was glad to be there.
I had a pleasant surprise this morning on our visit to St Paul’s, Kinross. There were more children in church than I think I have seen in a month or two. In fact there seemed to be a new congregation comfortably lodged within the old one.
Unusually for me, I went to sleep thinking about Kinross – and woke up thinking about it. So I rewrote the sermon when I got up. I was thinking about vision and narrative – which leads to Dr Beeching and the failure of vision which left Kinross without trains. So when I go to Edinburgh by train – more often I go by bus because it is quicker – it trundles off down the single track to Ladybank.
Here is the Sermon
We are talking more about ‘the narrative’ these days. For example, we are preparing to develop a vocational narrative as a way of helping those in training for ministry to have a deep understanding of the church in which they will serve.
And I’ve been doing my bit on this for a while. Most recently I set out my current version at our Welcome Day for those who are beginning in authorised ministry in our church. There were 22 of them – and there is real encouragement in connecting with their energy and enthusiasm.
The narrative basically is a version of the story of where we have come from – where we think we are heading for and how we think we are going to get there. Put God in the narrative and it becomes a faith story.
It’s always been important for me. When I came to Scotland – eleven years ago now – I spent the first couple of years looking at what I saw in front of me. I would then say to somebody, ‘This is what I see and this is how I think I understand it. Is that correct?’ People were never less than patient and helpful. But of course sometimes what I was asking about was what they took for granted. So they didn’t quite know how to help me
I’m still doing that and still learning the story of this remarkable church ..
The Columba Declaration was approved yesterday by the Church of England Synod. I’ve been doing quite a bit of commenting in the media – and here is a comment which I wrote for our own Inspires:
People expect churches to work together. In the Scottish Episcopal Church, we are keen to work whole-heartedly with the Church of Scotland. Our histories are intertwined with one another and with the history of Scotland. Much of that history has been painful and difficult. So it is important that the new chapters which we write together are positive and creative.
The tasks which we need to address together are very clear to me. We are living through a time of change in Scotland. Nobody knows where Scotland’s journey will end – but Scotland is on a journey. Faith communities need to focus on Scotland and the way in which faith is represented and shared in this changing context. We also need to work together on new understandings of how we can share in local mission across the whole of Scotland. We need to support one another and work together. None of us can do this on our own.
I watched the debate in which the Columba Declaration was approved by the Church of England with a sense of unreality. The Scottish Episcopal Church was like a ghost at the party – often referred to and talked about but not present. Concerns which have been voiced within the Scottish Episcopal Church about the Columba Declaration focus significantly on the Church of England. The Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church are partner-Provinces in the Anglican Communion. We are the presence of the Anglican Communion in Scotland and we expect the Church of England to respect that. The concerns are that the Columba Declaration places the Church of England in a compromised position in relation to the Scottish Episcopal Church.
The Church of England approved the Columba Declaration. But it was clear that many people in the General Synod were uneasy – aware that something about this is not quite right but not quite sure what. Ecumenical matters are usually carried through by churches without significant debate. Yet here 50 people voted against and 49 abstained.
This tells us that we all have work to do. The desire of the two churches to get approval for the Columba Declaration has inhibited their ability to have real dialogue with us about its implications for our future relationships. Now that it has been approved, the time for that has arrived. We welcome the opportunity for a real dialogue with both partners and pray that out that will come a healing and renewal both of our relationships and of our shared mission.
I was in our congregations in St Mary’s, Birnam, and St Columba’s, Stanley today. It was time to rekindle vision. And the transfiguration readings were a good opportunity for doing that.
This is what I said
Unfortunately as I listened to the readings a first time … and then a second time … particularly the bit where the disciples who were with Jesus on the mountain top search around for something which they can usefully do, I found my mind drawn back as so often to my favourite bits from Father Ted. In this case, it was the episode where there is a crisis because Father Dougal is on a milk float which has a bomb on board. ‘What shall we do? What shall we do?’ they say. ‘Let’s say Mass …. ‘
Islamic Centres across Britain have been open to visitors today. So I went this afternoon to the Central Mosque in Kirkcaldy. This is the new Mosque which will be finished in a year or two. For now they meet in much more modest buildings – but the place was full of visitors. I was there with our Rector at St Peter’s in Kirkaldy, Revd Christine Fraser, and I was glad to find a good representation of her congregation there as well. These visits are important. It’s a time for building friendship. The tragedy of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland was that lack of contact allowed a space to develop – and in that space grew ignorance and then fear.
So here I am with the Chairman of the Mosque and their two youthful and energetic Imans. They are full of suggestions for contact with the local faith communities – so I’m hopeful!