Stairway to Heaven

Still reading Alan Bennett. He quotes this extraordinary poem by Ian Hamilton:

We are on a kind of stair. The world below
Will never be regained; was never there
Perhaps; And yet it seems
We’ve climbed to where we are
With diligence, as if told long ago
How high the highest rung.

Confirmation at Doune

Sometimes the phone rings but when you pick it up it’s dead. Sometimes the voice – which may be in Basingstoke or Bangalore wants to sell you a new mobile phone contract or insurance. You can block the calls but they still get through. Yesterday I had an E Mail telling me that I had won £3,987,470 in the National Lottery. I just deleted it. We are all consumers and the pressure from people who want to sell us things is insistent and persistent.

Insistent and persistent. It was when the Lord called Samuel for the third time – and when Samuel went to Eli for the third time that Eli realised that the call was the call of God. And he tells Samuel to be a servant with open ears – ‘Speak for your servant is listening.’

Take a bow, Poppy

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to introduce the subject of Poppy, our brown Burmese cat. Those who talk to me on the phone will be familiar with the sound of her voice because she is the family member who has been most upset by the move to Scotland. We think it may be because this house was formerly DOG territory.

And why is she better now? Could it be because, instead of putting her into the posh kennels at Scone Palace after Christmas, we took her with us first to Belfast and then to Donegal. Maybe she was so glad to get home after all that …

So that’s how it’s done!

I’ve been thinking about leadership again – particularly as our Clergy Conference comes closer. I’ve been reading Sotirios Christou’s ‘Evangelism and Collaborative Ministry in the Local Church’.

‘Give people a clear understanding of what the situation is now and what you believe it can be in the future.
Show them the discrepancy between the two, which is the arena of challenge and faith.
Explain the process of change which will take you from where you are now to where God wants to take you in the future.’

That sounds fine to me but …. … the magic seems to me to be in the tension between the need for the leader to state the vision clearly, restate it even more clearly and restate it ad nauseam …. and the need to involve people in the vision so that they respond to it, own it and are able to influence/adjust it … recognising that the best answer may not be the first vision of the leader.

After that, the rest is easy.

Use words if necessary

Today is being spent in talking about communication – one stage better than talking about the use of silence in worship! What’s our problem in communication – after all, we have the gospel! But, somehow, we seem to become a sort of content-free zone when it comes to communication – or we are apprehensive about putting ourselves ‘out there’ in engagement with the world. But how do you communicate in words – in soundbites, if possible – depths of compassion, forgiveness, caring, love, understanding. It always seemed to me that words were there to frame the silences – and when the best communication was taking place – words were almost an intrusion.

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.


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.