There are some wonderful moments – and Derrick’s Confirmation in Ladybank on Sunday afternoon was one of them
Derrick is 90 years young. He and his wife became involved in the congregation during her illness – and now he is very much part of everything there. The Rector, Revd Anne Haselhurst, prepared him for Confirmation using the Compass Course. We celebrated with Derrick and had a cup of tea!
Sorry – you were wondering where Ladybank is. Middle of Fife. It’s where the single track line from Perth meets the main line from Edinburgh towards Dundee and Aberdeen. Centre of the world for the railway buffs among you. I pass through regularly.
That sounds about as exciting as a sponsored reading from the Telephone Directory. But it’s really important.
We had a second ‘go’ at it on Saturday – Vestries from St Paul’s, Kinross, and St Andrews, St Andrews with their clergy. It wouldn’t be the same to have just a few members from a number of Vestries. We have been trying to get Rector with the entire Vestry. And two together because they learn more from each other than from us.
What’s the point?
We are trying to move as a church – so that means leadership and decisions which probably wouldn’t have arisen in previous generations. So we work on relationships – take a look at Canon 60 which describes the relationship between Rector and Vestry – and explore how decisions are made and how it all works. And then we do a bit on governance
It gives me constant flashbacks to the 19 years when I chaired Seagoe Vestry. But everything moves on!
St John’s, Alloa, is a church with spirit. They had their stonework repointed and then found that it hadn’t been done properly so there was water ingress … So they set to and raised over £300000 to have it done again – and we gathered for the rededication on Friday evening,
They are a small congregation. They have no stipendiary priest. But they keep going – and more than that. Of our congregations, they are probably the one most obviously committed to working in the community. They were a leading partner in the founding of the Community House. And they are determined ecumenists. In fact they are pretty determined everything.
I enjoy being with them. They remind me of other places and other times and I feel at home!
Same-sex marriage is now legal in Scotland with the passing of the Marriage and Civil Partnership [Scotland] Act. Many members of the Scottish Episcopal Church will welcome that – and many will not. And some who don’t welcome it will recognise that our society needs to make provision for same-sex marriage.
But it produces an interesting situation for churches and faith groups who, like the Scottish Episcopal Church, have a historic position expressed in our Canons – or church law – that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. That is our position. We expect our clergy and our members to acknowledge and respect it – even if in some cases they do not agree with it and aspire to change it. To change it would need a significant process over two years in our General Synod and would require two thirds majorities.
I think that there are two main consequences of this new situation.
Firstly, many churches and faith groups now find themselves out of step with the direction which our lawmakers and civic society have been taking. That does not make our position illegitimate or untenable. It certainly does not make it homophobic – as some would suggest. The new legislation respects and protects that historic position. Nevertheless it represents a significant change in the relationship between many faith communities and the state.
Secondly, we are increasingly aware that major shifts in public opinion have taken place. Recent research shows that the views of many church members are indistinguishable from those of members of the population at large. It is also clear that many younger people are almost entirely out of sympathy with the historic position of faith groups and churches. This is therefore a missional issue – it stands between us and the possibility of relationship with many people in our society.
Churches like the Scottish Episcopal Church are on a journey. We need to examine time-hallowed positions in the context of our understanding of scripture. To change simply because society is changing would lack integrity. But neither can we be unmindful of the reality of what is happening around us. We are open and compassionate people who believe that we are called to serve the world in our time.
We are establishing a dialogue about these issues at every level of our church. We are a very diverse community. We celebrate that diversity and we are enriched by it. Yet that same diversity means that it is not easy to discuss these issues or to arrive at a consensus about our future direction. We are also aware that we are part of a world-wide church – in our case we are members of the global Anglican Communion. What we do in Scotland is part of a much wider dialogue which stretches everywhere from the more liberal parts of America to the conservatism of sub-Saharan Africa.
I think that some of the criticism directed at churches is less than fair. We carry forward time-hallowed teaching about marriage and relationships. That is part of what has provided cohesion in our society for generations. The present situation challenges us to ask what today’s teaching should be. My view is that the shape of that teaching should be formed not by public opinion but by our understanding of what the gospel and the teaching of Jesus Christ means in our times.
Time for a little exploring. Down to Newcastle to visit Theresa for some new tat – and on to Durham and York to visit old friends.
I hadn’t been to Durham before – though one of my two clergy grandfathers trained for ministry here. My twitter comment after Evensong that the Cathedral is ENORMOUS drew and immediate flutter of tweeting activity from the Dean and his opposite number in the even more enormous Liverpool. Size matters – but there is enormous, huge, majestic and noble. They definitely do noble.
When we went back yesterday morning, it was very impressive. The guides are friendly – helpful enough to know how to walk up and engage with you. They know a lot but they give a real sense of the Cathedral as a community and a place of worship and ministry.
More debate today about ‘religious observance’ in schools. ..
I get the point – which is that it is difficult to sustain a practice which assumes that children and their families are members of religious and faith communities when many of them aren’t. ‘Pause for Thought’ and ‘Time for Reflection’ are certainly open but they are also somewhat anodyne.
The idea that religion is bad and spirituality is good is overworked. But it seems to me that there is some validity in it – and the recent Census returns support that. Those who wish to make Scotland into a place free of spirituality and religion are not actually in tune with where this society is and where it is going.
I think that there are two important things to hang onto.
The first is diversity. One of the keys to building a society of real quality is an acceptance of diversity. Universal denominational adherence is gone – but a rich diversity of faith and culture is part of what happens when people move around the world. Our children should learn to respect and celebrate that – rather than being encouraged to see all faith expression as dangerous
The second is transcendence. People read books, climb mountains, go to concerts – and are part of faith communities – because they want to engage with that part of the human psyche which rejoices in transcendence. Pauses for thought and times for reflection are an understandable and appropriate way of meeting the needs of where we are now – but they don’t invite us into transcendence.
I was glad to have the opportunity of attending the Holocaust Memorial Day event in Stirling this evening. You need to be reminded and, as one of the speakers said, you need to learn the lessons.
I thought about our visit to Auschwitz a couple of years ago. I found that very difficult – the very enormity of it made any response seem inadequate. In the end it was the railway lines which were most evocative for me. I sat down on them and had a think.
This evening carried our thinking further down the lines – to the experience of the Roma people, the survivors of the Rwandan genocide and the killing fields of Cambodia.
If I was to draw the thinnest and most tentative dotted line back to things in my own experience – it would be to remember how respectably easy it is for patterns of speech to grow which dehumanise the ‘other’. Holocaust is of course the extreme end of that spectrum – but it’s present in the ‘we all know what we mean so we don’t have to say it’ discourse at the respectable end of sectarianism.
Thanks to everybody who organised this evening’s event.
Some things do seem to come round more and more quickly – and this is my ninth Clergy Conference
Several years ago now, we decided that this is an investment in the collegiality of our clergy. So we are in a comfortable hotel in Kinross. And we are taking a break from the directness of what we do. The theme is ‘Ministry in the Market Place’ and we are into ‘Encountering the Holy Other In film, photography, painting and music’. I am constantly amazed by how much people know about how many things
Clergy Conference is also a moment at which we are particularly aware of changes among our clergy group. These last few years we have been having gaps due to retirement, illness and difficulties in ministry. It’s serious – this year it is about 25% of the total but I am very hopeful that it will look much better by this time next year.
It’s a long time since I read Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’. So it was interesting to go to the film this evening. It was dramatic and effective – but there were so many stories which weren’t told. Archbishop Tutu was reduced to a passing newsreel clip. And there was really nothing about Mandela’s remarkable ability to build the respect of his jailers on Robbin Island.
But it remains a remarkable piece of history – remarkable because of the way in which Mandela tested the power of forgiveness as a core value of political progress. My two visits to South Africa left an indelible impression on me. There was a sort of grace in the air – people making space for one another across old enmities – which was utterly unlike Northern Ireland
It was good to go with our Bishop Nigel to the installation of the new Catholic Bishop of Dunkeld, Bishop Stephen Robson. It’s three years since the greatly-loved Bishop Vincent Logan had to retire due to ill-health. So it will be good to have a new Catholic colleague. It was an interesting and very positive evening. Archbishop Leo Cushley preached an elegant sermon. The liturgy moved with the kind of confidence which we sometimes but not always manage. Mitres came on and off in a synchronised way. But it’s clear that ministry still means the ministry of priests rather than the shared ministry of clergy and laity
So I moved back to my reading in an anthology of writing from the Scottish Enlightenment. I believe that the attitudes and values shaped by that period – with the Scottish Reformation – shaped the distinctive nature of Scottish secular society. It’s a long, long way from Christendom.