Nature at its most beguiling. Blogstead adrift in the Perthshire snowfields like Debussy’s ‘La cathédrale engloutie’

We did manage to get back there today after having to stay overnight in Glasgow – but the lane is impassable and we were without electricity all day. But the Blogstead folk have been taking the opportunity to do some community-building. Communications trenches now run through the courtyard from house to house. We are considering publishing what we think of one another on Wikileaks – or maybe we should launch our own currency.

Back in Bangor


This weekend marked the 50th Anniversary of the renovation of the ancient Abbey Church of Bangor – after it was reconstituted as a Parish in 1941. The most striking element of the renovation is the remarkable mural by Kenneth Webb on the East Wall. It shows the three Celtic saints of Bangor – Gall, Comgall and Columbanus – receiving their missionary command from the Risen Christ

I served as a Curate there from 1983-6. It’s a long time ago but familiar faces there were in plenty and this is what I said.

No hiding place

It’s been a while. But it’s good to have a Secretary/PA again after doing without for a while. Sharon’s arrival gives us a new opportunity to discuss how we deal with what comes in, where we put things, how we find things, who to blame when we lose things .. Appropriately enough, I like working in the cloud. So we work out how to deal with Google Documents and the mysteries of the digital dictaphone. We’ve also turned the Inbox upside down.

My problem is now very simple. The backlog has all but disappeared. So I am face to face with the difficult things which I have been putting off doing for a while. Where do I turn?

Reaching out through the bars


Back to the roots today with a visit to Stonehaven – scene of one of the two iconic paintings from the history of the Scottish Episcopal Church. This one dates from 1748 and shows Rev John Troup baptising a baby through the bars of Stonehaven Gaol. You can read the full account on the website of our congregation in Stirling Following the failure of the Jacobite Rising, the Episcopal Church lived under penal laws which prohibited worship with more than four people present.

My visit was for the Preliminary Meeting of the Electoral Synod for the election of a new Bishop of Brechin. I did my geek’s guide to Canon 4 which governs the electoral process. And we explored our shared vision of the future. Given the very prescriptive nature of Canon 4, we know that the process will end on April 2nd.

I suppose what is interesting to consider is the extent to which that picture still shapes us today. Many of course have little knowledge of our deep roots in Scottish history – or of our history of persecution – or of the doggedness in our nature which comes from that.

Anyway the satnav took the faithful Passat to Stonehaven and back on a very wet day. You’ll be glad to know that the rear footwell is now driza-bone since they cleared the drains under the battery. That cunning little hole which they drilled in the floor may also have had something to do with it.

Dying for Ireland

There’s a mythic quality about the idea of ‘dying for Ireland’. So it’s not surprising that in the present difficult times that are in it the even the august Irish Times got itself a bit overheated this morning
IT MAY seem strange to some that The Irish Times would ask whether this is what the men of 1916 died for: a bailout from the German chancellor with a few shillings of sympathy from the British chancellor on the side. There is the shame of it all. Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be the masters of our own affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Their representatives ride into Merrion Street today.

More balanced and thoughtful was this comment from Church of Ireland priest, Stephen Neill, writing in his column in the Church of Ireland Gazette and quoted by Anglican Communion News Service. He suggests that disestablishment was the best thing that happened in terms of the mission of the Church of Ireland – it now needs to be institutionally disestablished from itself.

There is no doubt that Ireland is in a bad state. Viewing and listening figures suggest that people are literally ‘turning off’ from the relentless outpouring of gloom and despondency. The problem is plain to see – 300000 unsold houses, the product of the house price bubble which was produced by irresponsible lending and irresponsible borrowing.

Those who have followed this blog may remember the building around Blogstead na Mara in Donegal – the very modest houses which suddenly appeared on a terrace carved out of the mountain opposite and were on sale and on sale and on sale at 600000 euro.

It’s a tragedy for the landscape .. and for the people .. particularly the generation which will now emigrate. You may remember my conversation which George who mended our washing machine. We talked of our children as people of our advanced age are wont to do. George’s five children had all come home, got jobs, built houses and put their children into the local schools – the first generation to do that since the Great Famine of 1845. And now it’s gone again – squandered in greed and corruption. Those who remain will rebuild the country using the best resource of all which is the highly-educated, flexible and articulate workforce which is the young people of Ireland.

O for the wings …


Random public art seems to be becoming fashionable. I had wondered abstractly in the way that one does when thinking about something else .. what the people who appeared to be on safari in the middle of the Broxden Roundabout just outside Perth were doing. Equally random reading of the local paper in the dentist’s waiting room today tells me that they are erecting an enormous grouse – presumably to rival the random female form which now marks Cumbernauld as you drive down the A9 towards Glasgow.


So what is all this about? Maybe an attempt to add character and memorability to a world which is becoming duller and less defined? In Dublin of course they have a way of dealing with these things. They name them. Hence this statue of a rather buxom Molly Malone at the bottom of Grafton Street quickly became ‘The Tart with the Cart’

A name for our [soon to be] famous grouse?

Last of the Autumn


We’re in the last of the Autumn here – 0.5C this morning. This is the world-famous Beech Hedge at Meikleour – about two miles from Blogstead.

The story is of course about Jacobites …

The story of the hedge is closely associated with the story of Meikleour House, which lies half a mile to the west and whose eastern boundary it defines. The house was built by Robert Murray Nairne and his wife Jean Mercer of Meikleour, heiress of the estates of Aldie and Meikleour, who had married in 1720. The house itself was remodelled into the form of a French château in 1870, but by then its most outstanding feature was already well established.

The Meikleour Hedge was planted by Robert and Jean in the autumn of 1745. However, as Jacobites sympathisers, they would never see it grow to maturity. By the time the hedge was planted, Bonnie Prince Charlie had been on Scottish soil for over a month. The 1745 Jacobite uprising came to a decisive end at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746. Amongst the Jacobites killed in at Culloden was Robert Murray Nairne, and following the battle Jean Mercer left Meikleour to seek refuge and anonymity in Edinburgh.

TISEC Graduation

Today we had a Graduation Ceremony for our students in TISEC – Theological Institute for the Scottish Episcopal Church.

To provide some continuity, I turned up wearing the Pectoral Cross which was left to our diocese by Bishop Kenneth Woollcombe, former Bishop of Oxford, who became Principal of Coates Hall in the mid-60’s. I remember him well when I was a student in Oxford – one of the best preachers I ever heard.

TISEC is a remarkable organisation. It provides training of high quality for the great diversity of people who prepare for ministry in the SEC. It does that on a model which is partly resourced at the centre and partly devolved to the dioceses. So a great many people are involved in the training process – and the commitment and personal sacrifice involved on the part of those who are the students are remarkable.

This is what I said.

With the Clergy

I spent part of yesterday with the clergy of Aberdeen and Orkney at their annual Clergy Conference. Even though it was a misty day, the 62 miles from Blogstead to Banchory was amazing.

I gave them what Bishop Bob calls my ‘State of the Union’ address. Many people have heard bits of it and it’s always ‘work in progress’ so you’ll have to do without the pleasure for now. It’s the current state of my internal dialogue about Scotland, Scottish society and the Scottish Episcopal Church. I’m constantly learning so it’s constantly changing. But at the moment it touches on secular society, the distinctive nature of secular society in Scotland, why secular societies suit small churches, the Scottishness of the English Kirk …. A recent addition is the beginnings of an exploration of the spirituality of the SEC pre-Oxford Movement – which arises out of the Reformation 450 Conference this week and the experience of sharing in the Renewal of Baptismal Vows with the Moderator and the Cardinal.

There’s a reason for burdening clergy with all that. Back in the Diocese of St Andrews, our Casting the Net initiative is moving ahead steadily. But it’s led me to visit some of the literature on Engagement – since clergy tend to find themselves ministering in one place for quite a while and working very much on their own. You’ll find some of it here in From Frustration to Fulfilment. It seems obvious that the more people are helped to think about their context in ‘big picture’ terms, the more confident they will be about giving leadership in their local situation.