It must be a Christian Festival…

This one is not just me because I see it and hear it elsewhere.   All Christian festivals come with their highs and their lows.

At Christmas time we get caught in the excitement, and love the crowds coming to greet a baby.   We try to fit too much into a week, and then have to add in the funerals, schools and other expectations.   By the afternoon of Christmas Day, we are collapsed in a heap, promising ourselves that next year we will pace ourselves.

The highs and lows of Lent, Holy Week and Easter come in a different form.   They begin with the small niggles about unfamiliar, dreary hymns.   They are unfamiliar because unlike Christmas carols, they are not belted out at every opportunity in a hurry to get to the main event.   No-one wants to hurry to the crucifixion.   At times Lent is dreary, because the Gospel stories within that period ask us challenging questions about how we cope with grief, ill health and loneliness.   These are not topics we talk about easily.

There are of course good moments in Lent, when the stories blow open the door and throw a breeze through encouraging all to travel a well-worn path.   We like the familiars of Mothering Sunday, even if it is confusing with lectionary stories about fathers and hymns about shepherds.   But we enjoy the notion of nurture, and sharing in the potential to encourage growth in others.

By Holy Week we are all hoping that the hymns might get better, but if you thought we hardly sang Lent hymns, then we sing Holy Week hymns even less.   It starts well on Palm Sunday though, we know those ones.

Of course, heaven help the clergy who like a bit of play acting.   With Sunday Schools on holiday, processions can seem a little flat – although there are those who will give of their best to create a festival with twelve.   Wandering into the church singing cheerfully, to a band of folk sitting in Presbyterian gloom is always amusing.

Monday to Wednesday are a struggle for for a congregation.   They came on Sunday, why do you want them out the door again?   Nothing much happens these days – according to sum.  I’m not sure how to get across the fact that Jesus and the disciples visited the temple every day, walking from Bethany to Jerusalem.   Most of a congregation don’t see or hear that.

Instead it all kicks off on Thursday, and there might be a hymn or two we recognise that night.   So Maundy Thursday still has meaning for more than a few.   They sense the purpose of the words and the action, a recollection of a night when life was changing.

Good Friday has too many emotions for some.   It opens the bottle of uncertainty, guilt and grief that we have contained all year, and we fear that once opened we may never get it closed again.   The pauses, the changing light, the fragrances, the voices…all of these seep into the unconscious self, tearing at emotions we didn’t know we felt.

Few mark Holy Saturday in a Presbyterian tradition.   Vigils don’t fit in our pattern of worship.   Three hours of waiting, and nothing much happening.   Except new beginnings happen.   The soil gets disturbed, and light seeps through.

By Easter Sunday its good to see the crowd return.   We know these hymns and we’ll sing them with full volume.   After all we’ve had seven weeks of hymns we didn’t know.

There are those among us who sometimes feel we wear the Christian festival we are sharing.   Advent and Nativity comes tooquickly, and we’re never quite ready but we just get on and celebrate.   Lent and Holy Week sometimes hurt, as the discomfort of the journey spills in silly comments and misunderstandings without experiencing.

But Easter will be worth it, as the light shines from the darkness of the journey.




It’s a long time since I’ve hung out here, but I’m back to let off some steam safely and to begin to think through the last four years and how to move forward.   It’s post a Kirk Session meeting in the early hours of the morning, and my head has not yet switched off.

So before the careful laying down of the issues, the state of play so far.   I am in no doubt that this is where I am meant to be.   Every day is exhausting.   There is more to do than one person can possibly do, and in a five minute gap some time I hope to put together a proposal that might actually provide me with the help I desperately need in some form of paid, part-time assistant (lay/ordained).    Doors open regularly to new possibilities, and perhaps my biggest problem is wading through the mire of what I can reasonably do in the time a day offers and what will have to wait.   We have fun, with new opportunities to worship in new ways or different places, with meeting new people, and connecting to new organisations.

In that last sentence though is perhaps my biggest concern – “we”.   “We” sounds like huge numbers of people making a big impact.   In reality it is a very limited group from a large pool of resources.   I’m working on the saving starfish model, that even managing to do one thing is better than nothing.

So here I sit post Kirk Session meeting quite frustrated and thinking through possibilities. There is always a lot on an agenda at a meeting here, and so I want to get through most of it as quickly as possible so that we can all get home to bed at a reasonable time.   On the agenda this evening were two opportunities for elders to leap to the fore and take up the mantel of leading a project.   Both items were short term projects.   One to happen later this year with an already thought out plan and list of people to contact.   The second needing a bit more vision to happen over three years, involving some thoughts on celebrations and events that could place.

Looking for volunteers both events were presented, but there are no volunteers.

A frustrated minister closed the meeting with a reminder that the task of the Kirk Session is not to agree to ideas and leave the work to the Session Clerk and the Minister, but for them to be involved in the shared leadership and serving of Christ in this place.   As always those who heard were the ones who already do help, as they apologised for not being able to offer more time.

So we now have two projects to happen but no-one to take the lead on them.   The first one, I can organise the speakers, venue and advertising myself.   Someone else can worry about funding.   The Kirk Session agreed to underwrite it and if they are not willing to organise finding finance then they will bear the cost.

The second is more difficult and quite important that someone is identified.   My head is busily scurrying across members of the congregation who might be willing and able to lead on event planning and organising, and have some idea of how to identify appropriate funding for each event.   I may have to get the congregation roll out on my day off, and work through the list with LinkedIn on screen and see if I can identify someone who might fit the bill.




In marriage do we give away our “freedom”?

There is a context to the question which gives away too many details, but even in that short question I wonder what it tells us about how we view marriage of any gender.

I’ve been married for nearly 22 years, and at no point have I felt that my freedom has been removed.   My feeling is lack of freedom happened with the arrival of children, and even there freedom was not lost but instead responsibility established.

Giving away our freedom in marriage plays into that notion of the other person as your ball and chain.   It sees marriage as a prison, a place we cannot escape from.   It becomes a room in which the corners never change, as we pace the floor in desperation knowing that the door is in front of us and yet we cannot get out.   We end up longing for time off for good behaviour, and an early release from the chains that we perceive to bind us.

My understanding of marriage is about gaining freedom.   We’re freed to be the person we truly are because we know love.   The doors of our personality and capabilities are opened because we have the support and encouragement to explore our whole selves, without bowing to social convention because we want to be liked or loved.

Of course that understanding of marriage extends to the best of friendships and to the relationship with the divine found in faith.   Finding we are loved by God opens up the possibilities of our lives to be our true selves, for in God our whole person is already revealed and so there is no escaping that which we would hide from others.   But our best friendships should also allow us the freedom to be ourselves.   Not the perfect, polished, careful, clean self, but instead the self that snorts with laughter; that sometimes says the wrong thing; that dresses unusually; that holds a contrary opinion.

No marriage is perfect, but in binding one to the other it becomes a place for security and growth.   We find ourselves better with, than better without.

And perhaps there lies the gap for when marriage becomes the prison of harm and abuse where our freedom is no longer offered.   It is a place where we should be better with, than better without.   That is the hope of marriage and sometimes experience does not always match the hope.


Who, which, what…..?

It had never occurred to me that people think that different denominations make a difference to this debate, but I learnt a whole new way of thinking about which was more appropriate recently.


I wonder which you use, or which you prefer…

It’s that moment in the service, and the encouragement words are said, and you set forth with others in what might be the only moment in which a whole congregation gets to speak…

Have you caught on yet?


Post a funeral, I was hanging about a room collecting my abandoned things when I was caught.

“I’ve been meaning to chat to you about this.   It’s just someone finds it very uncomfortable when you insist on saying “which” in the Lord’s Prayer.    They think it should be “who””.

Ignoring my usual philosophy on finding out who someone is (please know that that is always for my own benefit and not so I can go and speak to “someone” about the particular matter), I said, “Oh..?”

“Well, why do you say “which?”    I’ve told this person its because you were “Episcoplian” before you joined the Church of Scotland.”

“Hmm…well I wouldn’t have said I was Episcopalian.   I was brought up in the Church of Scotland before I went to live in England and only joined the church there because that was the local church.   We only lived there for five years, and we came home when I was still a teenager and I joined the Church of Scotland then.   So I’m not sure it is because I’m Episcopalian.”


[Interluding thought – does hanging out in the Baptist Church on a Sunday evening because there are boys, and they are not bad-looking, and you can sing in a band with them make you a Baptist?   Because if so I’d maybe better never mention that…]


Back to the conversation.

“It just seems odd that you should say “which” when it really is “who”.”

“Well I think some people choose to say “who” and some choose to say “which”, and I think “which” is probably the older form but I personally use it because for me it is better theology than “who”.”

“It’s not very Church of Scotland.”

“It probably depends on the Church of Scotland.   It’s the version I learnt in church.   And I know it is in the Church of Scotland Book of Common Order from the 1940s because I have my great-grandfather’s copy.   But I use it because for me “who” means a person, and I think God is much bigger than a person and I would hope that prayer could give voice to that feeling, so that’s why I use “which”.

“It’s in an older prayer book, what date?   I think someone would like that, I think they would appreciate knowing it as the older form.   Maybe they’ll not wince so much when they are sharing the prayer.”


“Who” or “which”, they are like hymns.   The one you prefer is probably the one you’ve been saying since childhood, and then someone comes along and disturbs you and makes you ask questions.   Questions are great, because in the working out of an answer with which we’re all comfortable there is an encounter with the wonder and oddity of this overwhelming presence some of us call God.

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Miracles can happen…

Today I decided fairly early on that I would be saving my voice and preserving my sanity, so I chose not to watch the rugby.   Instead my focus for the early part of the afternoon was to get the prayers written and perhaps a sermon started.    In the brief spell before I took for lunch, I peered into the living room and found that my initial thoughts were being confirmed.   Rather than suffer another Scotland rugby defeat, it seemed more sensible to focus on something that would give me a lift and perhaps would offer others something similar tomorrow.

As I started on the final prayer I heard a scream form the living room, and it would seem that some transforming miracle has happened in Italy.   With a final drop goal, a win has been stolen.

Am I sad to have missed this?

Not today.   My voice is intact.   My prayers are complete.   And now I just need to put my head into gear and attempt to pull a sermon together in record time so that I might enjoy and evening with my family.

Have I any ideas for that?

I’m not sure yet.   But I’m thinking about perfection and maturity, and holiness and community.   Something is brewing and hopefully by 7pm I will shut this computer and say enough.

Well there is another miracle that will need to happen today…


Picking Hymns

In a previous charge, an elder would appear at my front door on a Monday morning with a list of hymns that he thought we should be singing.   It was a list with only 45 hymns on it, and I would look at the list and thank him.   When he questioned why I did not pay much attention to his list of 45 hymns I would look at them again and say “but that is only 9 weeks worth of hymns.”

The list he assured me were the hymns the congregation favoured and knew well, and he thought it would be better if we stuck to this list rather than continue to introduce new and different hymns.   We usually agreed to disagree, although I would try to explain that in picking hymns I did try to get a balance between what a congregation know and hymns that reflected particular seasons.   At points in the year there could by 5 well-known hymns, while at another point the struggle of learning something different would be worthwhile and maybe meaningful.

After he had gone, I would stomp around the manse – I try to keep my stomping to myself – and take his list to see how many of the hymns had been sung in recent weeks.   More often than not most of them had been sung in the last six month period, although perhaps not always on the Sundays he was there.   There was one hymn he always placed on his list that I was bemused by, because when it was given to the congregation to sing almost no-one knew it.   Perhaps it was his favourite.

Is picking hymns an easy task to do?   It is if you just want to pick five well-known, easily sung hymns.   It is not so easy if you want to pull out the theme of the readings, encourage a congregation in new thoughts about faith, and catch the season of the year and congregation.   It is not easy when you do not know the repertoire of a particular congregation.   It is not easy when your policy is to try not to repeat hymns within a four to five month period.

There is a distinct disadvantage in having grown up in a congregation where it seemed like we sang almost every hymn from the hymn book, the third edition of the church hymnary of course.   It’s not helped by that jaunt in childhood to the Church of England and another spectrum of hymns, or in teenage years hanging around the Baptist Church and learning a different genre of church music.   Of course I love music and words, and the combination of the two opens up the possibility of exploring something new of God.

Hopefully there will be no-one at the door tomorrow with a list hymns hymns they think we should sing, because I think between the two services this week I managed to cover my bases on the need for something familiar to get your teeth into, with the unfamiliar to set you thinking.