A sniff of sanctity

I spent last Sunday morning with our congregations in Glenrothes and Lochgelly. We have had difficult times in the Central Fife Group, which also includes our congregation at Leven. But Thomas has come from Canada to offer leadership after a long clergy vacancy. And now there are signs of new life, possibility and hope.


The waft of it hit me as we walked into the church. These congregations have an underlying catholic tradition – but this wasn’t about moving ‘up the candle’. More about evoking the memory of an historic tradition of worship and the confidence and rootedness which came with it.

Beyond that was something which related to my musings at the String Quartet concert recently – and to a passing comment on a Radio 4 book programme which I was listening to in the traffic. It’s about getting in touch with the transcendent in some way. After all that is what worship is for. But if its too much of a ‘small congregation struggle’ or if we overdose on friendliness and accessibility …. then strangely the transcendence moves further away

If we had been talking about it, we might have had a lengthy discussion about the first of the Nine Marks of Mission – Worship which renews and Transforms. But the waft of incense did it better.


  1. You know that feeling when someone shouts “surprise” and suddenly one finds oneself at the slipstream of events…

    but that is what happened on Sunday last when our organist ran up to me saying “ Bishop David’s here…I said, surely not…But as the writer of Ecclesiastes 9:11 reminds us: “time and unforeseen occurrences happens to them all: and suddenly there behind me was Alison smiling and reassuring.

    Now quite aside from the enthusiasm and expectation of this visit to St.Finnians, I suddenly thought to myself, is everything as it should be? And a checklist of possible oversights such as altar linen: was it clean enough? Were there pewsheet errors? Was there candle grease on my cassock?

    Before I could begin worrying I found myself in conversation with +David and enjoying his company.-As +David notes in the blog, this Sunday, the church was filled with incense: so much so, that it seemed we had returned to an earlier age. There is something about the mystery that is deeply transcendent and we -the actors in the moment of cosmic drama – unfolds to remind us of the deeps of our faith and the shallowness of our being. And yet, it is in these moments that we re-engage with our faith however meagre our dispositions –however our own inchoate spiritual beingness is- As St. Bernard wryly observed: it is God who knows the hearts of all men, and is the inspirer of all good dispositions.

    1. Hi Ann. I hope I have read your very brief comment in the right light. I would like to respond because it appears to me that (if I have read you rightly) your experience of “so-called emerging church” and mine are very different. I thought I’d share my experience briefly, as a counterpoint. I hope you don’t mind.

      For years I’ve had my foot in both camps; Emergence Christianity (Fresh Expressions, Emerging Church, Neo-Monasticism, etc.) and Inherited Christianity (Episcopal/Anglican, main-line traditional, etc). My experience is that very often, Emergence Christianity gets Sanctity, and the encounter of God in worship (worship that inspires and renews) better than most inherited expressions. I believe the reason is that transendence and mystery is a fundamental need in the post-modern seeker.

      (Great examples of this are: Ancient Future Faith Network, Uncommon Worship by Shane Claiborne, the Moot community (London), and Sacramental Fresh Expressions (Bishop Steven Cotterell (sp?) and Rev. Ian Mobsby

      However, in the vast majority of main-line and inherited expressions of Christian worship, this active and concious pursuit of inspired transformation is mostly missing. Absolutely there are tremendous examples of how it is not absent in many places, and among many individuals, but I can say that the vast majority of worship experiences I have engaged in in the vast majority of Episcopal/Anglican contexts has been devoid of Encounter. It is here that I have come to find the majority of attempts to be friendly and accessible at the expense of mystery occur, not in Emergence Christianity contexts at all.

      But that is just my experience, and is only relevant if I understood you correctly.

      Thomas (the Thomas Bishop David is very kindly alluding to)

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