With the Celtic Bishops

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Our meeting with the Bishops of the Church of Ireland and the Church in Wales is one of the better events in the calendar. A slight Celtic vagueness means that I a not quite sure whether it happens every two or every three years. But it happens – this time at Portmarnock just to the north of Dublin. It was also enlivened by the presence of the Irish football team so I kept meeting a bearded Roy Keane in the corridor.

So what did we do? We had a look at Ministry Training – we are all in transition on that one. Also at issues of faith and identity – particularly in the light of our Referendum, And we looked at patterns of ministry

It always surprises me that there is relatively little contact between these churches. We’ve seen a small amount of movement among clergy – myself included. But I suspect that we each measure ourselves off against the establishment weight of the Church of England – rather than against one another,

That’s a pity because there is much that we share – relatively modest size and the challenges which go with that; disestablishment and not-establishment; complex history around faith and identity. We are all sufficiently fleet of foot to be attempting some brave steps in mission and growth.

I came away hopeful ….

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Hong Kong

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Like me, you will be watching events in Hong Kong with great concern.

None of this F&O course comes out of nowhere, I took this photo in the Autumn of 2012. Protestors are occupying an urban flyover. The police have arrived and have positioned a large inflatable just below. People watch, it’s over very quickly. But even at that point it was a daily event as anti-Bejing feeling grew,

Please remember in your prayers the ministry of the Anglican Church in Hong Kong. It’s small but very influential – particularly through its schools. I think particularly of the ministry of Dean Samson Fan and Archbishop Paul Kwong.

And Hong Kong is fun. Here we are – just off the overnight flight – exploring place of snakes in the Pet Service at the Cathedral with Samson Fan

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Seated

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The Camino was all very well. But I’m a cyclist at heart. You get your exercise sitting down – and you get to freewheel on the downhills which is a but difficult when you are walking.

This is National Cycle Route 75 – the canal heading west from Edinburgh. Not much freewheeling here, of course. But it is a remarkable journey which shows you familiar places from a very different perspective.

This is the aqueduct where the canal crosses the many lanes of the City Bypass at Hermiston Gait.

And if you really want to see things from a different perspective, try cycling across the centre of Edinburgh along the Water of Leith

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With the Church of Ireland

A quick trip to Dublin to preach in St Patrick’s Cathedral – the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland – in the centre of the city. The Service marked the start of the Academic Year for Church of Ireland Schools across Ireland.

I thought I was going to preach an elegant sermon on faith and identity for staff and governors who were having a Day Conference on that theme. But I gradually came to realise that the ‘main business’ was that they had 450 teenagers in the Cathedral – with President Michael D Higgins. So no sermon on the blog because it changed quite a bit.

Dublin was looking smart and prosperous. It was interesting to find out how the Irish Government’s efforts to move to a more secular base for the education system were going – to which the answer is that that is an issue with some distance to run,

This kind of outing is full of ghosts for me. As I climbed into the pulpit – and it was quite a climb – I thought about my maternal grandfather, Ernest Bateman, who was a Canon of the Cathedral. There are 11 boxes of his sermons in the Church of Ireland Library. They cover the experience of the Southern Irish Protestants post-Partition and through the Independence of the Irish Republic. What goes around comes around, as it were.

I don’t imagine any of the teenagers in the Cathedral spared a thought for the innocent formulation in Evensong, ‘O Lord, guide and defend our rulers’. Behind that lies what was called the State Prayers controversy in which my grandfather and others ‘encouraged’ the Church of Ireland to recognise that they could no longer pray for the British monarchy. It was resolved by Archbishop Gregg who said simply, ‘We must have reality in our prayers.’

And so just as quickly back again – apart from the experience of a ‘go-around’ as we landed at Edinburgh Airport, a first for me. Ten feet off the ground and the straight up again. Turbulence – do you know about wind shear close to the ground?

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A Referendum Thought #pisky #anglican

Thought for the Day on BBC Scotland this morning

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Reconciling Scotland – the local church. #pisky #Anglican

All over Scotland today, local congregations are meeting for the first time since the Referendum vote. Passions are running high. We’ve just lived through a moment at which many of the things which matter most to us about our country have been at stake. Those strong feelings are the natural and proper outcome of a remarkable level of political engagement – something which is to be welcomed,

There is much talk at present about the role of the churches and faith communities in reconciliation. It seemed to me that, unless we maintained neutrality in the pre-Referendum period, we wouldn’t be able to act as healers and reconcilers after it. More than that, I believed that it is the business of churches to be passionate about values and justice – but to be very careful about flags and identity.

The local church is very special at a time like this.

Everybody is welcome. People of strong and passionate views are welcome. But the church has to be a place where everybody recognises the integrity of the views of others. People aren’t expected to leave their views outside – indeed the church is precisely the place to which they should bring their visions, their hurts, their fears, their disappointments. For sharing and for healing – not for winning or for losing,

I have always believed that the church must be a place strong and confident enough to allow all voices to be heard – particularly the quieter and the contrarian voices.

I believe in the transformative power of prayer. Today’s papers describe a context of astonishing complexity and difficulty. I don’t believe that prayer will give us political ‘answers’. But I do believe that prayer will help us to live and work together so that new kinds of answer will emerge.

The role of local clergy is vitally important in all this. Some clergy have made thoughtful and measured contributions to debate. It’s understandable that other clergy have wanted to express their feelings about the future of their country. But if we are now addressing the challenge of reconciliation, it would be better now to set that to one side and to ‘be there for everybody’.

So maybe that sounds a bit soft? Well it isn’t. It’s very tough indeed. It means calling people to be bigger than – to transcend – their political passions. It means sometimes withstanding and sometimes carrying considerable amounts of other people’s anger. It means saying to people who crave answers and certainty that neither is possible at this moment.

I’m a parish priest at heart and I believe that that is where it is ‘at’ just now

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Finished!

Well we got there. We think we did about 110k in five days. A bit much for the feet – but very good for contact and friendship. We went to the Cqthedral is evening and saw the mighty thurible in action

Tomorrow is a quiet day – beginning with a celebratory breakfast in the Parador beside the Cathedral

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Camino

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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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