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