By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

  • Strange Old Week!

    Last week was a strange one, beginning with me stepping in at zero notice to conduct a funeral, and ending with me having to ask others to step in at zero notice to cover for me because I was unwell. In between times, the week just became increasingly odd, with unexpected twists and turns.

    Above all it reminded me that I am blessed with what, at its best, is probably THE best church in the universe. No-one panicked (at least not overtly) when I rang in at 9:30 to say I was unwell (the worst headache I've ever had, nausea, dizziness, shivers (but no temperature/fever)), rather they simply slipped into gear with someone producing a sermon 'from his back pocket' and someone else offering to plug the 'All Together' gap.

    It also seemed mildly amusing in reminding me of the need for ministers to be both competent (this was the first funeral I've done at zero notice and with no access to service books or a Bible) and to recognise that we are not indispensible (this is the second time in 20 years I've had to drop out at no notice, the first without being able to hand over stuff I'd prepared).  Competent, dispensible, and also sensible - there was a time when I'd have dragged myself to church and forced myself to get through the service no matter how ill felt (though actually, yesterday, given I could hardly stand up without feeling ill, probably not!).  I recall the 'assessed preach' of my final year at college, when I had been going down with a terrible cold (I'd now recognise it as a chest infection, I didn't back then) and I had driven 10 miles, took the service, stayed for the monthly 'singles lunch', then driven ten miles home to fall into bed for two days!  My tutor and I ended up discussing not the sermon or the service, but how to manage thing when a minister becomes unexpectedly sick.

    This week, then, I've recalled wise advice, recognised my experience and ability, been reminded of my frailty, and awed by the awesomeness of the church of which I am part.

    This week is likely to be no less strange, albeit in other ways, but in the strangeness God is present, and that's enough for me.

  • Desert Island Books

    On Sunday I will conclude a short series of 'overview' sermons on each of the four Gospels.

    It's been a lot of work - typically having to skim read at least four commentaries a week - and it's been fun.

    It would have been easy to go for a 'four protraits of Jesus' approach - and there are even ready made guides/books - so my choice of 'what is one thing that's unique or interesting about this gospel, and how might that affect our disicpleship' has been interesting and also restricting: how do I pick one theme/idea from many, and how do I do justice to any of it?

    Maybe at some point I can revisit some of it, but for now a few thoughts to ponder, not from any one gospel per se, but  from the differences between them...

    Only half of the gospels have a birth story for Jesus, and the two we do have are very different.  If we only had Mark and/or John we would never have invented Christmas!  So, how important are these stories to us, and why? How does this affect our views on historicity (did it happen like this) and truth?

    Mark has no post resurrection appearances, John had no ascension.  So what do we make of that?  And does it matter?

    John has no description of the Last Supper to support the practice of Communion, instead he has a very clear mandate for foot-washing!  So what does that say about Communion?  And what does it say about the rituals/rites we do include and they we quietly ignore?  How would you feel if one Sunday instead of bread and wine, there was a bowl of warm soapy water and a towel?!

    Matthew ends with a clear 'Great Commission' which finds echoes in the beginning of the second volume of Luke-Acts; neither Mark or John has anything quite so explicit.  So, how does each gospel speak to us about the place and work of mission?

    I wonder if you have a 'favourite' gospel, and if so, which one and why?  What unique insights does it give you?  What would you lose if that was the only gospel you had?

    February is going to be very different, not least as I am not preaching at all!  I am excited to see what God might say/show to us as we worship in ways familiar and less familiar.  Oh, and the small matter of walking to Whithorn from Glasgow!

  • The Kingdom by RS Thomas

    Some of my readers are kind enough to appreicate my 'prayer doodles' so here's another.

    Last night at my GPRL course, one of the resources we were offered to reflect upon/pray with was the poem The Kingdom by R S Thomas.  During the evening I created the doodle below, and then today, at home, the one above.  They aren't art, they are doodles, reflections, prayers... and they work for me!

    RST 2.jpg


    Here's the poem. I wonder what strikes you?

    It’s a long way off but inside it

    There are quite different things going on:

    Festivals at which the poor man

    Is king and the consumptive is

    Healed; mirrors in which the blind look

    At themselves and love looks at them

    Back; and industry is for mending

    The bent bones and the minds fractured

    By life. It’s a long way off, but to get

    There takes no time and admission

    Is free, if you purge yourself

    Of desire, and present yourself with

    Your need only and the simple offering

    Of your faith, green as a leaf.

  • Funerals (again)

    This week I have been at two funerals in an official, but non-leading capacity.

    They could not have been more different, and yet they raised, once again, huge questions about what we are doing, why we are doing it and who we think we are serving by doing it.

    The first funeral was attended by around two dozen folk, neighbours, friends and church folk, who had waited two months for the service to take place.  What struck me most was the significance of the conversations afterwards (there was no 'afterwards for refreshments') as we stood in the car park and share funny stories about the deceased, each discovering whole tranches of the story that were new to us.  I reminded me, were any reminder needed of two things...

    • the need to allow space in the service, even if it's just a minute or so, for personal remembering
    • the importance of the 'afterwards' and its informal opportuity to share the stories.

    I endeavour to include/mention each of these when I lead a funeral.

    The second funeral was attended by around 60 - 70 folk, I'd guess, many of whom had travelled significant distances to say farewell to a relative.   The person I'd gone to support commented that "he would have loved it" - and that always seems an important, if not over-arching, factor.  The personalisation of funerals, within reason, is something to which I always aspire.

    Within reason? Yes, I think so.  People ask me to lead funerals knowing who and what I am, and I have never had anyone decline once I mentioned Bible readings or prayers. Funerals have an important pastoral role, which includes a measure of dignity and decorum, sobriety and sensitivity.

    Over the years, I have conducted funerals for people aged 'less than zero' to 103, in packed congregations and when no mourners were expected.  I've shared detailed tributes and I've had to acknowledge that I never met the deceased but they were 'known unto God'.  I have been in countless chapels, churches and crematoria, have buried and scattered ashes, blessed new graves and replacement gravestones.  I've stepped in when the celebrant couldn't cope and stepped up when no celebrant had been planned. I say this not as a boast - for what is there about which to boast? I say it as recognising that funerals are hugely important, and that getting it right - or as right as we can - matters.

    If, at the end of the day, we have enbaled people to remember with gratitude someone they have known and loved, if I have been able to offer some words of comfort and hope,  if we can go away thinking, 's/he would have liked that', then we've got something right.

    RIP R and C whose funerals were this week, safe in the love of God.  

  • A lot of (no longer) loose ends!

    Recently, I have been keep busy knitting a cot blanket (and made reference to it here) which is now completed and today was posted off.  It's far from perfect, not least because the 'squares' refused to be effectively 'blocked' instead springing back to their 'leaf' shape.

    Sewing up took a long time - 48 squares and an all-in-one border in a contrasting colour.  That alone made for 98 loose ends, and a lot of work to sew them in (or in a few cases some tight knotting).

    Sewing in - or maybe tying up - loose ends always takes a long time, and is one of the most important phases of any knitting project.  I guess in some sense that's a metaphor for any project we may undertake - there are plenty of 'big' pits that bring quick results, but there are fiddly little bits that no-one will see, without which the end result isn't possible.

    In due course this blanket will enjoyed, and will no doubt become misshapen and stained over time.  But then that's the whole point - it's meant to be used.  That's a bit like any other project too!