Friday, 27 May 2016

Suitcase Sojourner

It has been a while since I posted. Sorry about that!

Things have been somewhat hectic with Jane’s induction into Campsie Parish Church, our very prolonged, complicated and difficult move, and my new job as an Interim Minister.

I cannot pretend that the various phases of leaving, farewells, removals and new starts was anything other than extremely stressful! With two separate Manses (more below!) and two adult children who were unsure what they were doing (seem still a bit unsure to me!) it was all very trying indeed.

However, I am very much enjoying my new role as Interim Minister for Central region with the job of helping a congregation through a time of transition often (but not always) after a time of particular challenge or difficulty for them.

My first placement is in rural Perthshire and I am very much enjoying a) the experience of working in the kind of community that I have not previously been involved with and b) getting to know and minister alongside the folks of the congregation.

Of course, there is a lot of adjustment involved in all of this, and I have not found every aspect of that adjustment easy.

And especially challenging has been the difficulty of working out how to live in two places! I have moved in with Jane to her Manse in Campsie (as you would expect!) and count that as home, but I am also living part of the time in the Manse of my placement Parish and trying to make that feel like home from home… and, truth be told, it does.

However, the problems arise from the moving from one to the other. The initial patterns we established are already under review as it has meant a great deal of travelling back and forth. So the week is undergoing a change to allow me to minimise travel and maximise productive work time and quality down time.

We’ll see….

Meanwhile I find myself still living out of a suitcase much of the time. I do have clothes and so forth in both places, but sometimes what I want or need is in the house I am not in, and other times I forget to take the right things from one home to another, or forget to put on a washing or forget where I am on any given day or what I am doing and what implications that may have for what I need by way of clothes… and so on!

But we will get there… I hope!

Meanwhile, that feeling of being a sojourner can have a very positive effect; the journeys back and forth allow me time to engage/disengage and can be very therapeutic; I have still to establish new patterns of spiritual devotion that suit the new lifestyle;, but meantime I am learning much about praying in the car(!); and the words of Jesus, ‘ foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ seem to have a resonance, even though in fact I have two places to lay my head (although it takes me a while on any given morning to work out which place I am in!). And certainly the author to the Hebrews had it right when he said ‘here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city which is to come’.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

soul space - again!

I have posted before about ‘soul space’ the monthly worship event at St Cuthbert’s.

As I explained in that previous post, the aim of ‘soul space’ (which was formerly ‘Sanctuary in the City’ which in turn had evolved from the earlier ‘Reflective Services’) is to provide a place and time for engaging with God, prayer, Scripture, the Holy Spirit, peace etc at your own pace and in your own way, in silence (although there are occasional short spoken reflections and often quiet music playing).

I happen to think that ‘soul space’ is one of the most important things that St Cuthbert’s offers in terms of our worship provision! (and before some folks get offended by that, let me say that I very deeply appreciate our musically and liturgically rich Sunday worship and our important and intimate Healing Services!) But there is something distinctive and significant about ‘soul space’.

But let me be honest; ‘soul space’ is not well attended or supported. There are a few who come from the congregation (including those who are members of the planning team). There is a handful from the places of work around our doors. A few occasionally come from other city centre churches. And we even have one or two who travel from beyond Edinburgh to be with us. But the numbers are small.

It remains a mystery to me why more people do not come, why those who come once and express appreciation of it do not return, why the undoubted enthusiasm of those who attend does not attract more. But that is how it is.

And perhaps that is ok. Perhaps we are simply a mustard seed... a small thing that can have a much bigger effect and influence than the initial size would lead us to expect.

And that is where I am encouraged!

Over the years we have influenced others from throughout Scotland (and beyond!) to use our material or to begin their own alternative/creative /reflective style of worship. Just recently a Christian ministry in London sought our permission to use some of our ‘soul space’ resources and reflections in their own materials and settings. On Wednesday past members from a congregation in Fife came along to ‘soul space’ with a view to considering doing something along similar lines in their own setting.  And in the past we have encouraged congregations elsewhere in Scotland to ‘do their own thing’.

I am encouraged by all of that as well as by the assurance that ‘soul space’ will continue with a marvellous and creative team beyond my leaving. (as indeed its predecessors in St Cuthbert’s were established long before I arrived here).

But I do remain mystified as to why – in our frantic and frazzled world, crying out for places of peace and stillness – so few attend.

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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Transition and Confusion

‘Confusion will be my epitaph’ it says in the track from King Crimson’s 1969 album ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ (and if you did not know, King Crimson are my favourite band!)

Well, right at the moment were I to have to choose what was to be put on my gravestone, then ‘Confused’ might well be it!

These weeks of change, journeying, new beginnings and sad endings are causing me considerable confusion – not mental confusion, but certainly emotional confusion.

A couple of weeks ago there was the excitement of moving into our new home – Jane’s manse in Lennoxtown. But that is confusing also as I am still staying part of the time in Edinburgh.

The joy of Jane’s induction into the Parish of Campsie last week was tempered by the realisation of how much I still have to do by way of tying up various things at St Cuthbert’s... and the prospect of the leaving, which occasions a great sense of loss.

The excitement of Jane’s new ministry has also left me a bit confused about my role in her new parish. (Yes, there have been all the jokes about being the Minister’s wife and if I can bake scones etc etc!). But there is a serious issue here... one of role and function.

Meanwhile, while I am trying to settle into a new home (in which I am only sometimes staying) and share in Jane’s new life (while still trying to minister and conclude things in St Cuthbert’s) I am also looking ahead to my new role as an Interim Minister and today I head off to a conference for Interim Ministers which brings that new dimension much closer to the forefront of my already confused and conflicted brain!

All this said, I suppose that I know fine well that transition is always emotionally upsetting and challenging. Confusion may be inevitable.

I am reminded of poor confused Nicodemus who seemed to be struggling with Jesus’ night time teaching in John chapter 3. But Jesus said to him ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’.

So, whatever lies ahead, whatever changes are occurring, whatever transition is being negotiated and whatever confusion I may be feeling, still the wind of the Spirit is blowing. Who knows where it will take me or how I will get there? But all I am called to do is raise the sail and catch the breeze...

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Breaking up is hard to do

Neil Sedaka’s famous song with that title (recorded by him in two different versions, 1962 and 1975 if I am correct) was about the end of a relationship – a love affair.

And I suppose that is how I feel about the fact that I have just in the last few days announced to the congregation that I am to be leaving St Cuthbert’s at the end of March. I am taking on the role of one of the Interim Minister team in the Church of Scotland.

I suppose that one result of this is that I may need to change the title of this blog! No more ‘Cuthbert in Edinburgh’!

But whatever adjustments that will need to be made, the biggest thing at the moment is that I have such a deep sense of loss at the prospect of leaving St Cuthbert’s. I love St Cuthbert’s, I love the people and I have loved my (approaching) 8 years there. In fact in some ways it does feel like the end of a love affair, certainly on my part.

One perceptive long-time friend and colleague in ministry, on learning of my news, perceptively wrote ‘what a wrench for you!  I really felt that St. C’s has been a real zenith in your career, kinda what you were born for’.

Indeed. That is how it feels.

But on we must go... me and them.

And if the road to a future of service to God, for me and St C’s, and the road to the future mission that awaits me and St C’s, and the road to new opportunities in the Spirit for me and St C’s lies at first through a time of pain and loss, then that pattern is not a strange one for Christianity. Far from it!

I announced my departure at the Church service on Sunday morning. After I did so I was somewhat distracted and desolate... and then I heard the words of the Old Testament reading being read and suddenly I was very alert to them ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;   I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. ... Do not fear, for I am with you’ (Isaiah 43).

I was further struck by one of the hymns we sang (I had not chosen Sunday’s praise). It was Carl P Daw’s ‘Mark how the Lamb’. The final part of the second verse reads:

So we, by water and the Spirit 
baptized into Christ’s ministry, 
are often led to paths of service 
through mazes of adversity.

Oh, how true, and how relevant that felt for me on Sunday morning.

Breaking up is hard to do.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

A Question of Identity

Last Sunday, my wife Jane preached as sole nominee for the vacant charge of Campsie Parish Church. Thanks to the generosity and kindness of my lovely colleagues in the Ministry Team of St Cuthbert’s (and at their insistence!) I was able to be there.

It was a heart-warming, lovely, affirming and entirely joyous occasion as Jane was voted for unanimously by what seem to be a welcoming, community based and thoroughly delightful congregation.

And there was I… the husband of the minister; the ‘had to be introduced to be known’; the ‘came along too’ person!

Not that I was for one moment complaining. I know that this is the role that Jane has fulfilled (and with considerable grace) since my ordination in 1981. And we had agreed that the time was now long past when roles should be reversed.

I was glad to be there, pleased to share in the joy and delighted to be photographed with Jane as her husband (and that despite the protest of some who may have implied that this may have been demeaning to Jane?!?!) I cannot see that, given that she was the main woman, I was the happy supporter; a loving partner is not a bad thing, is it?

But for me the interesting thing is the complete reversal of roles. For so long Jane has been the ‘Minister’s wife’ (I hated that tag, the implication of it and the expectation that went with it, and was delighted that Jane did not fulfil these expectations). Not surprisingly (but possibly, tellingly!) there are no such expectations of Ministerial husbands (and it will be interesting to learn how same sex partners are being treated in this respect).

But all this said, and all that considered, for me the interesting thing is observing how things have so completely turned around during the course of my (almost) 40 years of Minister.

When I was ordained, Jane had no thought of ordination and no sense of a call to Ministry.  I was the Minister, she was my wife.

On Sunday past, she was the Minister and I was her husband.

I loved it… and yet there was still a sense of slight dislocation. Who was I/am I really?

Well, I know in a fundamental and ontological sense…

…but – in Ministry terms – that is for another post!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

soul space

One day, about two years ago, a book was left for me at St Cuthbert’s when I was not present.  The book ‘The Blessing of Life’ was written by an American Presbyterian pastor named Gerrit Dawson. The message left with the book suggested that I check out pages 99 to 101.

I was somewhat puzzled. Not only had I not previously heard of the author, but I wondered why there would be anything of special interest to me in this book.

I turned to page 99 and read of how Gerrit and his daughter were in Edinburgh a couple of years earlier. ‘As we walked to the end of the Princes Street Gardens in the center of Edinburgh we came to St Cuthbert’s Church. Noticing that the church was hosting a time of reflection called “Sanctuary in the City”, we went in. Various stations were set up around the beautiful sanctuary. At each you could interact with the meaning of Christ’s passion and resurrection through prayer, visual art, writing or reading’.  Gerrit went on to describe the profound impact one ‘station’ in particular had on him.

In subsequent correspondence with Gerrit I discovered more of just how important and meaningful that visit to St Cuthbert’s, and the interaction with ‘Sanctuary in the City’, had been. He told me that he had used some of the prayers and texts he found that day in Lenten worship and sermons in his own setting, and he wrote ‘that we both had such an experience of the Lord’s grace together in St Cuthbert’s was a gift beyond hope’.

This was a great encouragement to me and to the team of folks involved in setting up this monthly time.  When Gerrit visited St Cuthbert’s, this time of peace, space and prayer was indeed called ‘Sanctuary in the City’. It is now called ‘soul space’. Its roots are in monthly Reflective Services which had been held in St Cuthbert’s for years before I was called as minister.

The aims of ‘soul space’ (formerly ‘Sanctuary in the City’) are to provide a place and time for engaging with God, prayer, Scripture, the Holy Spirit, peace etc at your own pace and in your own way, in silence (although there are occasional short spoken reflections and often quiet music playing).

We are pleased when regular congregational members come, but even more encouraged when folks from other churches attend and delighted when people passing by, those on a lunch break from local work places, harassed shoppers and so on, drop in and participate for a short time or a longer time.

Usually we do not know how many people may engage with what is offered, still less how and in what way they may benefit from it.

We offer what we offer, hold the space open, and leave the rest up to God.

What I can say is that I believe that in offering a place and space where folks can stop, pause, be quiet and reflect for even a few moments, we are giving people an immeasurable gift. And I know that I gain so very much myself from these moments praying, reflecting, engaging, reading, lighting a candle, silence…

Truth be told, I think I am really quite pleased that in this target driven, goal oriented world where numbers are counted, success measured in some supposedly quantifiable way, and outcomes assessed, we are offering something the effect and benefit of which cannot be readily assessed or measured.

If you want to find out more (or even better, start something in your setting) then see or

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Autumn Days

As I sit at my desk in my study in the Manse, I look out of the window at a beautiful tree which has been slowly turning colour as autumn progresses. It lifts my spirits every day when I look out on it.

I love autumn and especially these bright, crisp sunny autumn days when the light has a magical quality and the air is clear. When the sun is low in the sky it highlights buildings and hills in stunning ways (and I reckon that Edinburgh is one of the very best places to appreciate this!)

I have very vivid memories from back in the mid 70s of starting the University session in October and these early wonderful days of each new session (just to be clear, I loved my time at University!)

On bright, crisp autumnal mornings I would walk through Kelvingrove Park admiring the colours of the trees, praising God and joyfully anticipating the forthcoming Systematic Theology lecture!

Of course, all that was forty years ago… say it quietly! Forty years…

The other day I rediscovered the Bible which had been presented to me at my licensing in Glasgow Cathedral in 1980, 36 years ago. Extraordinary. Indeed, the day that this bible was rediscovered was the same day on which I attended a conference organised for Ministers to tell us about retirement, pension, Housing and Loan fund etc.

I guess it is now autumn for me too!

I may have to work a little at loving the autumn of life as much as I love the season of the year.

And yet there is something attractively mellow about knowing that one’s most energetic and possibly productive work lies behind;  a quiet satisfaction that – for all the mistakes and failures – there has been a lot of good work done, and it is now time to slow down just a little and adopt different rhythms. Time to shift down a gear.

And that is fine… in theory!

I have not found it quite so easy to accept in practice.

But right now, as I look out at that tree I think I may not be too far away.

As ‘The Preacher / Philosopher’ said ‘For everything there is a season…’ (Ecclesiastes 3: 1).