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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Sermon at Convention – Diocese of Ohio #pisky

It’s the beginning of their bicentenary year – and a nod to Samuel Seabury.   So this is the sermon which I preached at the Convention Eucharist this evening


It is an honour and a delight for Alison and for me to be with you for your Diocesan Convention. I thank Bishop Mark for his kind invitation and generous hospitality.
You are at the start of your bicentennial year of celebration and new commitment. Bishop Mark is doing as all bishops must do. The bishop has many roles and the bishop is blamed for many things. But he or she is first the leader of mission – the person who calls the church to mission – who says to the church, ‘lift your eyes from your worries about budget, building and decline – our future with God is over there – it is out there among God’s people where the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.
I am here also to bring you greetings from the Scottish Episcopal Church. Our two churches share history – a moment of time expressed in the consecration of Samuel Seabury as your first bishop in 1784. That shared Seabury moment – in the mixture of history and myth which comes to us over nearly 250 years – still shapes us today. And not only us but also the still-developing and sometimes troubled story of the Anglican Communion.

Here today at this Convention, those two themes are woven together – our shared past and our mission in the fields ready for plentiful harvest

Up in Highland Perthshire, we have a little church on the edge of the village of Blair Atholl – near Blair Atholl where the Dukes of Atholl maintain the only private army in Britain. Queen Victoria was a regular visitor to the area, particularly after the railway opened in 1863. The church – first mentioned in 1275 – is dedicated to St Adamnan, Abbot of Iona in the 7th century and biographer of St Columba. We call it Kilmaveonaig. In the porch as in many of our churches are two pictures which are iconic for us – and one of them is the consecration of Samuel Seabury by the Scottish Bishops led by my predecessor as Primus, Robert Kilgour, on 14 November 1784. Why did this happen? This too was a turbulent time. After the War of Independence Seabury couldn’t swear allegiance to the British Crown. The Scots were as nearly always in difficulty because they would not pray for the Hanoverian monarchy. We were always slightly on the edge
It’s misty-eyed stuff. I sometimes say it was our ‘Cinderella went to the ball’ moment. But from that past come threads which profoundly shaped both our churches and what become the Anglican Communion . It was a post colonial moment because of American Independence. The Communion still struggles with colonialism. It began the shaping of a Communion in which we are all in communion with the See of Canterbury. But we are also all independent provinces. Our two societies are not dissimilar – a distaste for establishment and a markedly secular character which in Scotland derives from the Scottish Enlightenment. One of the hidden effects of the secular is that it liberalises societies – so we both find ourselves shall we say on the progressive edge of the Communion
But let’s leave aside global ecclesiastical issues and speak of mission. Let us ask what we offer to our societies out of our tradition. In Scotland we would say this – and you may find it familiar. In a secular society we offer spirituality – space, contemplation and prayer. We offer liturgy of drama and colour in which God can be glimpsed. In a society which thinks that there is nothing more than what we see, we offer a sacramental mindset – relationship with God whose graciousness we can touch, taste and see. In a society which is deeply suspicious of institution and authority, we place the focus of authority rather more towards the democratic than the authority of office. Beyond that I know that in your church under the leadership of my friend your Presiding Bishop run passions for racial justice, for local mission and for inclusion.
And so we are back looking out on these fields and the plentiful harvest. What is interesting here is how the mission field is described – disease and sickness; harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. So familiar at this point in the story of your nation after the Presidential Election and of the UK after the Brexit Referendum. It is the story of our times – anger everywhere; struggles between vision and nostalgia; challenges to the authority of the state and to the integrity of leadership. We are not at ease with ourselves. And so our mission calls us to healing and peace. It involves connecting people to the deeper realities – declining to be consumed by the struggle and strife of daily life and politics – seeking to be touched by the deep peace of the eternal life of God.

It is a real joy for me to be with you these few days. I pray for ever deeper friendship between our two churches. More than that, I pray for the success of your mission in a world in need of God and his peace.

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Coming to terms with Trump?  #pisky #anglican

Flying into Newark yesterday on our way to Cleveland, Ohio, you get a great view of the Manhattan skyline.  The new Freedom Tower, the Empire State Building and all the others are still there.  But when you get your feet on the ground, the sense of shock and the feeling that everything has been changed by the outcome of the Presidential Election are palpable.

 For the couple of hours of what they call here a ‘layover’, the rolling news channels were all covering Trump’s visit to the White House.  They were looking at the graciousness of his meeting with President Obama and daring to wonder if this might herald a new and post-election Trump.  The rationale would be that ‘hard things are said during election campaigns but that was then and this is a new time’

But it feels more like a revolution.  There is a real affinity with the aftermath of the Brexit result in the sense of bereavement and shock among those who would have found a vote for Trump impossible to contemplate.  The election of people like Reagan and even the ‘hanging chads’ election of George W Bush didn’t produce this sense of loss.

The first explanations for the outcome have been about Trump’s cultivation of the white, ‘blue collar’ constituency – the sort of ‘left behind’ group which you can find in states like Ohio.  Next people have suggested that Trump successfully presented himself as a political outsider and that Hillary Clinton unwisely responded by describing herself as the consummate insider – ‘nobody is more qualified to be President, etc.’  In this election, that may have been exactly the wrong thing to say.

But it’s more than that.  If it was just that Trump had cultivated an ‘overlooked’ white working class vote – a constituency neglected by others and somehow left behind – the shock would not be as great because it would arise from an obvious political failure.  And if it was – as I believe Brexit was in part – an incoherent rage at the failures of an entire political class, one might understand but regret the way it was expressed.  The lady in the queue behind Alison said declared that ‘the last eight years have been unbearable – if, as some have suggested, it was an inevitable white backlash against Obama’s election, one could weep.

But what people are quietly pondering here is the reality that the people who voted for Trump were a much wider and more diverse constituency than the white, working class, ‘left behind’ vote.  ‘How could so many women have voted for him?’ they ask.  But that is what happened.  In that sense it isn’t logical – because it is a sort of revolution where the normal rules of cause and effect which might satisfy the liberal mind simply don’t apply.  So it’s a new time and the pathway ahead is anything but clear.

And there is one other affinity with Brexit.  You may have seen those alternative voting maps which show the voting of younger people.  And in this election too there may be a generational disconnect.

So when we go to the Diocesan Convention later today – much later because the jet lag woke us in the early dawn – I’ll be listening very carefully for the voices of those who voted for Donald Trump.  And I’ll be doing that throughout my time here.  I’m looking forward to hearing from them about the complex of issues and feelings which has brought this about.

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Off to the US on pisky business.  #pisky

We are off this morning to Cleveland, Ohio, where I am going to preach their Diocesan Convention and do one or two other things.  Interesting time to be there, of course – particularly in Ohio.  It’s rust belt and a bit post-industrial – exactly the sort of place where Donald Trump drew his support.  It will be an interesting time.  The Guardian moodily says that the Democrats got so focused on minorities that they neglected their heartlands.  A warning for churches maybe?

On then to New York for meetings with leadership in TEC and Canada about the evolving story of the Anglican Communion

And finally to Washington to visit Virginia Theological Seminary.  My purpose there is to seal a link which we are establishing between VTS and our own Scottish Episcopal Institute.  We hope that this will make it possible for some exchange of students between us and for VTS staff to contribute to some of our programmes.  As you know, I am a firm believer in partnerships of all kinds – particularly for small-ish churches.  It keeps us outward facing.  But it also enables us to ‘get to the next level’ when we might struggle to find the resources to do it on our own.  It’s also really encouraging that others want to partner with us.  So the list includes – Church Army, St Mellitus and now VTS

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Faith for turbulent times #pisky

Another Thought for the Day for BBC Scotland this morning

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In the migrant queue. #pisky

It’s a while since I have been in Glasgow.  And I realise I should go more often – it’s like Belfast with bits of Donegal attached.

The traffic was terrible – which allowed time for a proper conversation with the taxi driver on the all-too-short journey from Queen Street Station to the BBC at Pacific Quay.  That led to a slightly bizarre recording for the Sunday programme in which Sally Magnusson and I had a discussion on faith and politics with an extremely voluble Spanish nun – a strong advocate of Catalan independence.  Sister Theresa believes that clergy should marry, that the Catholic church should address same sex relationships …..   I think I have probably met the Pope more recently than she has.   BBC Scotland on Sunday morning 

And then I ended up in the queue for the Ryanair flight to City of Derry airport – a neat Ryanair way of getting round the Derry/Londonderry/Stroke City dilemmas.  Naturally everybody was joining in everybody else’s conversations.  And they all came from Gweedore and Bunbeg in West Donegal.

The flight was fine.  At about 2000 feet on the approach, the person sitting next to me took a phone call – which caused the plane to fly sideways for a bit.  Then we did the classic Ryanair hard landing.  This is normally about banging it down onto the the runway so that you can turn off at the first exit and save a little time.  This was slightly different because the runway at City of Derry is very short.  So it was more like one of my great heroes – Biggles.   Biggles would bring the Camel in to land at the end of the dawn patrol – a blip of the throttle and a kick of the left rudder bar, over the hedge and onto the grass of the runway.  Welcome to City of Derry where the time is ….

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Learning about Dementia    #pisky

I’ve been watching a presentation about dementia from Skimstone Arts – part of the year’s Malcolm Goldsmith Lecture from Faith in Older People (FIOP)

Like most clergy, I have spent a lot of time with elderly people – and particularly with people with dementia.  Faith is very deep in people.  So hymns, prayers, bible stories can trigger response from people who may be otherwise somewhat disconnected.  And there is some satisfaction in that.  The Lord’s Prayer tended to be a particular marker of what it was possible to bring to the surface

But as I watched Jack and Jill, I remembered the feelings which I experienced with elderly people in my parish.  Strong and capable people who became anxious and sometimes fearful because they no longer ‘knew where everything was’.  And I can get to the edges of that myself in those moments when I can no longer easily remember – the slight stab of anxiety when the name doesn’t come to mind immediately.

And I shall ever remember the way in which people with dementia were ‘lit up’ by the presence of babies and small children – or of pets like cats and dogs

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