I was back in St Peter’s, Lutton Place, in Edinburgh this morning – as I am about two Sundays a month during my time as Interim Pastor.
We used Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ as they did in the Festival of Remembrance in the Albert Hall last night. I am one of the most unmilitary people you could meet – but I find today always deeply moving.
The picture – by Hector McDonnell – is of Her Majesty the Queen’s visit to Enniskillen. She comes out of the Church of Ireland Cathedral and crosses the road to the Catholic Church – a historic ‘first’. By a slight piece of artistic licence, a dove of peace hovers overhead.
I preached there last Sunday morning and worked in the ‘Love God and Cross the Road’ theme.
It was a remarkable day for me – meeting people whom I had known in early childhood in the ’50’s and not had contact with since. But now of course through the wonders of social media ….
This is a kind of time travelling experience. I went back to St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen, to preach at the service which commemorated the 400th Anniversary of the Charter which established the Royal Schools in Ireland – as part of the Plantation Settlement. In this case, the school was Portora Royal School, Enniskillen. I became a Choirboy in the Cathedral in about 1957 but I hadn’t really been back since 1967 when we moved to Belfast.
Portora was a kind of Glenalmond, set in the beautiful lakeland scenery of Co Fermanagh. I have pretty mixed feelings about all the schools I attended. But I can’t get away from the fact that my grandfather, my father, my uncle and I were all pupils at Portora Royal School. My father and mother both taught there.
But as always this is a time of change. The boarding school that Portora was is no more and a merger has just taken place with the Girls Collegiate School at the other end of town. The merger has been something of a bumpy ride but it will sort itself out in time.
The picture is with Dean Kenny Hall of the Cathedral – and the sermon honours among others former pupils Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Henry Francis Lyte – whose hymns we sang yesterday.
I met old friends, more from my Primary School than from Portora – but it was extraordinary
Time I wrote about that – but some of my time is now being taken up with interim ministry at St Peter’s, Lutton Place. It’s all the familiar stuff – AGM next Sunday when we run the gauntlet of ‘Any other Business’ as clergy have for generations!
Long past time that I put up this posting about my visit to St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, for their 850th Anniversary. Our own Bishop Anne Dyer said that this was a moment when various bits of her life came together – so here we are with Martin Brown OSB of Glenstal Abbey where she was on retreat.
I went over to Helensburgh on Saturday to preach at the Institution of Revd Dom Ind. Dom has been Rector of Bridge of Allan for the last ten years – Director of Ordinands in the Diocese of St Andrews. Beside all that, he has acted as my Chaplain – sorting out Orders of Service for the ‘big event’ so that they were the best that we could do and standing just behind my left shoulder making sure that I didn’t get lost or wield mitre or crozier inappropriately.
I’m gradually sorting out what retirement means – now one year on. It wasn’t difficult to stop and walk away. You have to do that. But it takes longer to work out how life is going to be. Alison and I are busy at all sorts of things – family, friends, garden, a bit of travel – . I’m doing a bit of peripatetic preaching and enjoy that. Some more broadcasting and other things. This week I begin a spell as Interim Pastor at St Peter’s, Lutton Place, in Edinburgh. I’m going to work with the Vestry and the congregation to prepare the ground for the appointment of their next Rector.
The best story we all knew in Belfast was about the woman who used to take the baby elephant home from the Zoo every evening during the blitz in 1941. In 2009 it was traced to Denise Weston Austin , a keeper at the zoo. She would walk Sheila the baby elephant into her back yard each evening – and back again in the morning.
Now it’s a film called Zoo just released. The charm in the story is its simplicity and humanity. The blitz in Belfast was devastating. Denise found a simple – if slightly eccentric – thing which she could do in the chaos. She looked after the baby elephant
Politics will always be adversarial. That’s how the conflict between competing ideas and visions is resolved. But sometimes the ability of politics to achieve seems to break down – another crunch Brexit cabinet meeting or the efforts of the EU to solve the migration crisis. Not much charm, grace or humour in any of that.
It’s always tempting to think that things were better in the past Maybe they were – the vision and political determination which founded the NHS seventy years ago speak of a different kind of political culture. Sheila the elephant had gone back to the zoo and there was a desire to build a better post-war world.
Values are influenced by time and re-examination. Seventy years has seen society do some critical thinking around equality – about class, gender and sexuality. But there are also aspirational ideas around public service and shared responsibility which we can continue to celebrate and foster.
I think it is time to honour values and indeed spirituality in our public life. More service and less personal ambition – more compassion and less sloganising -more vision which catches the imagination and. warms the heart.
The story of Denise Austen who looked after Sheila the elephant reminds us that what matters is our ability to retain our humanity and compassion – however challenging the times