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.
Yesterdays Conference to mark the 450th Anniversary of the Scottish Reformation was one of those events that sort of grows on you as it happens. Our own Alison Peden gave a paper on the SEC as ‘the other reformed Kirk’. We all went up to St Giles for a Service in which the Moderator, the Cardinal and I led a shared Affirmation of Baptismal Vows. Some protestors turned up outside to help me feel at home. And we went up to the Castle for a bit of a ‘do’ with the First Minister.
The Lecture Theatre was stiflingly hot and I’d had a very early start. So I may have missed the odd moment or two. But I found myself following two trains of thought both set in motion by Alison Peden.
One was about the place of the Oxford Movement experience in our life – no doubt the place from which we draw much of our strength in worship and spirituality. But I was challenged to think past that to our earlier and much more Scottish history and spirituality. As I listen to our clergy and people talking about the life of our church today – particularly in the Highlands – it is that spirituality which I hear re-emerging.
The other came when a Church of Scotland questioner asked Alison if we have a statement of faith. To which she responded that as a church we are as much or more defined by our liturgy as by statements of faith. Which again brought me back to the question of how we should shape the next generation of Scottish liturgy and what it should say about us and our worship of God.
Friday was one of those better days – our congregation in Dollar has been waiting for the arrival of their new Rector, Andrew Frearson. Here he is with his wife, Lynn, and Emily. The congregation was once described to me as a community who have learned how to ‘do mission through hospitality’ If we weren’t in the way in the photo, you could see them doing just that. And this is what I said.
Sometimes a series of events gives you the opportunity of working out things as you go ..
So I was glad to spend Saturday with our Casting the Net Liaison Officers in Crieff – they are another layer of linkage between our congregations and the diocese. Then I moved on to All Saints in St Margaret’s, Rosyth, and to Affirmation of Baptismal Vows with the launch of the Casting the Net Mission Plan in Holy Trinity, Dunfermline.
By the time I got there, I had outdistanced my ability to write scripted sermons. But I had worked out the difference between change and transformation – which featured in the readings we were using. I like change – strangely I get the impression that some people don’t. So it’s helpful that we aren’t actually selling change. We’re promoting the biblical concept of transformation. It seems to me that the good thing about transformation is that you remain the same, as it were. But you see God, yourself and the world from a different perspective and there is no going back.
Thank you for all the kind words and prayers following the recent death of Sheila, my mother. She was very content to be in Scotland on her visits to us. People were kind and welcoming and she relished her role as ‘bishop’s mother’
We had a Memorial Service for her last Saturday in the parish to which she belonged in Belfast. You might find the eulogies from my sister, Helen, and myself interesting. My brother John contributed Widor’s Toccata.
A walk along the Tay at Dunkeld yesterday in the beautiful Autumn colours prepared me for the Development Programme at St Mary’s and for Confirmation/Affirmation of Baptismal Vows at St Mary’s, Strathtay.
Like most clergy, I view Stewardship or Development Programmes with some trepidation. In my Rector days, we did these things on a fairly huge scale – I remember organising a team of 75 visitors. And there were always those who responded to the challenge of sacrificial giving by getting their retaliation in first. The one that sticks in my mind was, ‘Quare time since the Rector stood in my house.’ The visitors tended to report these comments with the urgency of Dispatches from the Front and would be astonished when I was able to pinpoint exactly the source.
Sad day today as we shared in a Eucharist in St Paul’s Cathedral, Dundee, to mark the retirement of Bishop John Mantle after five years as Bishop of Brechin. John is retiring slightly early due to ill-health – today we said lovingly and firmly to him that he has done all that is needed to prepare the diocese for the next stage of its journey. We wish John and Gill a well-earned rest in their retirement. And this is what I said.
It was of course interesting to move in less than 24 hours from Clogher to Dundee – from what one of my predecessors as Primus, Alistair Haggart, once described to me as the ‘restrained classicism of the Church of Ireland’ to the rather less restrained piskie expression of Anglicanism. Yes – vestments, incense, wonderful congregational and choir music including a blast of Africa to greet the gospel. As I often say, I remain astonished by the quality of the liturgy in our cathedrals.
I was sorry I couldn’t get to the conference on Volunteering which was being run today in Bridge of Allan by our Church in Society Committee. If I had been there, I would have said that it is very important that we encourage people to volunteer service in the community. If service simply means ‘looking after the church’ we are never going to catch the imagination of people who may wish to serve and care – but have given up on the institutional churches.
I’ve been way out west in Northern Ireland this evening – further than the Wayside Pulpit at Hillhall Presbyterian Church where this month’s helpful message is ‘Forbidden fruit makes a lot of jam’; beyond the end of the M1 motorway; further even than that. And you get to the beauties of Fermanagh where I spent my childhood – in this case actually Clogher is in Co Tyrone. Beautiful Cathedral looking at its best for the installation of Kenny as the new Dean.
In the days when we were all struggling with the sectarianism of mid-Ulster, Kenny was in my view one of the clergy most to be admired. He has a gift of building relationships and encouraging people to move … and helping them to feel good about it at the same time. This is what I said.
I’m not great at blessing the inanimate – but I had a go at a set of gates today at St Michael’s, Elie, as we celebrated St Michael and All Angels with a bit of ‘Lift up your heads’ and some ‘rather a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord’
Anyway here is what I said. I wish I’d had more time to wonder off into angels unawares. I find that interesting.
Safely back home on Sunday night. Visits to the Scandinavian Lutheran Churches are always interesting – there’s a sort of solidity about how things are done. And then there’s the money. More than we could ever dream about – the Church of Sweden has over 300 people working in its headquarters. But now that the church tax is voluntary, that income is eroding very quickly. They are having to prepare to do as we do all the time – living out the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Not a bad metaphor for a church, I think.
I just happened to notice on Thinking Anglicans this evening a report that the Church of England is now interviewing candidates for episcopacy for the first time. Ah well. And tomorrow on Cumbrae, we hope to see the end of our most recent electoral process when the Episcopal Synod elects a new Bishop of Argyll and The Isles.