Rather a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord …

Off this morning for a quick check on the new house. It’s going to be a lovely place to live – new house built as part of a group of four inside the walls of an old steading and out in the heart of the Perthshire countryside. I’m doing my best to stay engaged with choices of tiles, carpets, etc. As this particular saga comes to a happy conclusion, it reminds me both of the amount of time I spend dealing with property issues – and of the fact that most of the real heartache which I have experienced in ministry has been to do with the problems of living in tied housing, managed by committees. More about that another day – but I suspect all who have experienced what is sometimes muddle – and sometimes teeters on the edge of being an attempt to exercise control by proxy – will know what I mean.

All things new?

We’re beginning to move into a re-organisation period. I’ve had time to take a look around, establish some relationships. Now we are starting to sort out a process which will … I’m tired listening to politicians talking about ‘modern and relevant’ because it doesn’t seem to mean anything very much at all. In the church, we face the same challenges. But it seems to me that the most important thing is to set up processes and structures which make it possible for the church to make choices, to provide encouragement, to challenge if necessary. The church works best at the local congregational level and that’s where it needs to be encouraged and supported.

Herding Cats

We’re in the run-up to our Clergy Conference next week – the first since I arrived here. Our congregations are spread out over huge areas of Scotland so the clergy don’t get to meet one another as often as they would like. To be together for a couple of days is a big encouragement for everybody. Somebody once described the task of managing church life as being like herding cats – one of the bishops I served under said of clergy [did he mean me?] ‘Clergy begin by being individualistic and end by being idiosyncratic’ Whatever the truth of that rather gnomic comment – most clergy that I meet are cheerfully doing what is a very difficult job. They do it because of deep vocational commitment and, for many of them, it involves a lifestyle which is sacrificial. I’m looking forward to being encouraged by them.

Yobs

Moving on from [other people’s] yob dogs to [other people’s] yob teenagers – as politicians discuss nuisance, consent, public safety, good neighbours, etc….

I approach all these issues with a degree of questioning cynicism. When I was Chair of Governors in a local secondary school in Northern Ireland, It was the witholding of consent by a small group of parents which made the management of the school, at times, unacceptably difficult. We also had a youth club in the parish – good, well-run, aspirational in terms of Duke of Edinburgh Award, etc., for young people from the housing estate where the club was. Young people needed it and supported it. The church supported it. The education authority supported it although funding was always under threat. In a vague sort of way, the community supported it – although the neighbours would ring me up to complain and, now and again, parents would storm in and disrupt it. It was almost impossibly difficult to get people to make a commitment to helping as leaders.

I heard somebody this morning speaking of the ‘waning influence of the church’ as part of what has led to these signs of disintegration in society. The church is interested in helping to build viable and healthy communities – not in being a paternalistic or maternalistic presence in society. The church also should have a gospel commitment to the outcast – these may be yobs but they are also people and, often, people who are serverely disadvantaged.

But almost anything is better than prison. Dostoevsky once remarked that he measured the quality of a society by the quality of its prisons. I am sure Perth Prison is excellent in terms of quality – I am still astounded by its size.

Faster then a Chihuahua

Charles Nevin’s column in yesterday’s Independent had an interesting comment on the training in canine psychology being given to German postal workers – including the information that it is not possible to cycle faster than a dog. Can this be true – or is it a comment on the speed at which German postal workers cycle? In my cycling experience – whether as nippy curate or as rather more sedate bishop on Brompton folding bicycle – dogs have become rather less of an occupational hazard. Although the reference in today’s cycling column to Richard’s Bicycle Book and his advice on how to kill a vicious dog did stir my interest. But, sadly, my copy is in the many boxes of books awaiting our second house move – so the vicious Chihuahuas of Perthshire are safe, for now.

Looking through other’s eyes

I’ve just had the rather strange experience of looking at somebody else’s holiday video of their time in our cottage in Donegal. I know it is beautiful – but I also grumble about how much it has been spoilt, about over-development and carelessness about the environment. What I saw was [apparently endless] lingering shots of heather and hillsides, crystal clear surf breaking on clean and empty beaches, amazing sweeps of scenery, small children building sandcastles, a rather ‘stage Irish’ village with enough pubs to float off the whole of Ireland. Sadly there are no direct flights from Perth.

Ah, Bisto!

I’ve been enjoying Alan Bennett’s ‘Untold Stories’

He reflects on a friend’s funeral Mass: ‘the Catholic Mass … is open to anybody who just happens to be passing. There’s almost an ‘Ah, Bisto!’ quality to it so that even at the smartest requiems there are these oddities who, not having anything better to do, just wandered in. And that way, maybe, salvation lies.’

I have a similar test

Sermon at Alloa 8th January

The word ‘about’ is a dangerous word. Bishop, what do you think about …. Do you think the church should be doing more about …. How do you feel about …. Charles Kennedy’s resignation, Celebrity Big Brother, the current level of interest rates, the war in Iraq. Sometimes I think it is a bit like watching the tide washing in and out, carrying with it all kinds of stuff.

This medical problem

It is – but of course it is more than that. Charles Kennedy’s use of the term attempts to make alcohol dependency sound as emotionally neutral as diabetes or a broken leg. Those who have dealt with alcohol dependency among the circle of family and friends know about the enormous secrecy and denial which it engenders. They know about the anger which rises up among those who try to cut through and challenge that denial. And all of us who use alcohol socially are uncomfortably aware of the narrow space between enjoying, wanting and needing alcohol. There but for the grace of God …