Thursday, 17 April 2014

Rest in Peace Pappa!

Dad died on Tuesday morning at 2.15am. It's been a pretty fraught Holy Week, but we are getting there. On the Altar of Repose tonight I could almost see him dancing between the candles! What a soppy guy I am!

Rest well Jack. You gave so many people so much! Read your love letters to mum last night. What a romantic. Probably where I get my soppiness from.

His funeral is in St Augustine's at 1pm on Tuesday, with his remains coming in on Easter Monday at 4.30pm.

Saturday, 12 April 2014


It's been a little while since I've posted. Well, things have been so busy with the linkage of charges and two parishes rather than one. 

And I have ignored the blogging, even though it gives me time to reflect.

Today, I maybe need to reflect. It looks like dad is dying, and my visit today was to a bed in his care home which has brilliantly transformed into hospice mode. They are fantastic and I made the decision to keep him there rather than being transferred to a hospital.

My mum died on Holy Tuesday.

Jack is strong, though, and he may last for weeks and months yet, but today it didn't look like that.

I remember the strong man who worked on the tools, provided for his family, and loved my mum and each of his children equally. He is still strong, although lying in a bed with no recognition, and morphine to take away some pain.

He may well recover, our Jack, for he has had more comebacks than Lazarus, but I fear this may be the beginning of the end.

Say a wee prayer for him, and for Jacqueline, Gale, Graham and me.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Moving On

It is with dread that I look at the week ahead! Apart from three funerals and a Remembrance Service for those who have died in our community as a result of addiction, a Vestry Meeting and a short listing meeting to choose who we will interview for the post of Associate Priest here, there is the Moving House Day on November 19th.

As I speak, I am surrounded by boxes, some empty bookcases and bare walls. I'm dreading, yet getting really excited, at the prospect of moving on. However, this is not really to a new parish, but to another Rectory in the forthcoming linkage of St Augustine's with St Mungo's Alexandria. Richard Holloway may have recently published his book Leaving Alexandria, and here I am Going to Alexandria!

Moving on has always been a big part of my life, and in many ways it reflects Christian Pilgrimage. We are called constantly to move on, to grow, to change, to be better and to move eventually to the heavenly home! I hope that's a move I'm not asked to make in the next wee while, though, for there is much to do and much to accomplish.

I'm not really leaving Dumbarton, though, it's just that my boundaries have become broader. My office will still be in Dumbarton, and probably most of my time will be spent in Dumbarton too. Just a physical move of goods and shackles. A new house with lots of big rooms which is going to be hell to heat and a garden which fills me with terror, but at least the dogs will be happy!

And both congregations will have to move on; move on to a new place where they will be ministered to by a team rather than an individual. Exciting times...... But I wish we could afford Pickfords who come, do the packing, and let you sit back and watch!

Now, there's another thought! How many of us, in our spiritual journey, take the Pickfords option and let other folks just get on with it as we sit and watch?

Monday, 4 November 2013

God's Revelation - Our Core Beliefs

Yikes! It's been a while since I've had so many positive comments on what was preached on a Sunday. Maybe I'd been getting a bit stale! I'd have liked it to have been recorded, in retrospect, and I cannot reproduce what I said, for it was "off-the-cuff" stuff, but much was based on what I had experienced last week on retreat.

Basically it was centred around what God thinks of us, and what God says to all of us. Let's call them God's revelation, or our Core Beliefs!

  • ·         I have been made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1)
  • ·         I have sinned but have been redeemed (Gen 3 and 2Cor 5:17)
  • ·         I am precious in God’s sight (Isaiah 43:4)
  • ·         I have been made little less than a god and crowned with glory and beauty. (Psalm 8:6)
  • ·         I am reborn of water and the Holy Spirit  (John 3:6)
  • ·         My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19)
  • ·         I am God’s work of art (Ephesians 2:10)
  • ·         I am part of the Body of Christ  (1Cor 12:27)
     This is what Scripture tells us, and to protest that we are "only human" does God a great disservice. It may even amount to heresy! Our humanity is precious and loved, a work of art, in the image of God indeed, and we have been made little less than a god and crowned with glory and beauty. How wonderful is that? 
      Yet, we are plagued by the Inner Critic. Our lives are full of dialogue, with all sorts of people who will use negative words to tell us how they perceive us, but the rest of the time we have an inner dialogue, and that is when the Inner Critic comes to life. It will tell us that bits of our body, or our whole body is ugly, or that we are useless, that we should have done better, that we are no good and bound to fail, that we are forever falling short. Ad infinitum it goes on and on, whispering lies to us, and the Core Beliefs are shoved to the side as we listen to the Inner Critic which magnifies all our shortcomings, especially if someone else has sown the seed in us! 

      In truth, we need to banish the Inner Critic and see ourselves as God sees us, worthy, loved precious, a work of art, etc etc, which are all part of God's revelation to us. The Inner Critic will destroy us if we let it. 

      We are children of God, and we need to drag that truth from the bottom of our souls and keep it at the top of our inner being, where it belongs, and refuse to let the Inner Critic bury it again!


Saturday, 2 November 2013

New Soul for All Souls

Coming off a few days at St Mary's Monastery at Kinnoull in Perth, and a wonderfully led mini-retreat by Fr Jim McManus, a priest I have greatly admired for years. These past few months my soul has been greatly troubled by a number of things, and as a result, I have been unwell at times when I'm normally quite a bouncy person. The things which troubled me are still around, OK, but I've managed this last week to put them where they belong, and they will overburden me no longer!

In fact, I'm looking forward to the days ahead, merging two congregations into a Linked Charge, which means I'll be moving house to Alexandria on the 19th November. However, even the thought of the turmoil of moving house is not flustering me in the slightest, although it may do a bit more before we get to the 19th!

On this All Souls Day, I feel as if my own soul has been renewed and revitalised, and that's going to be so important to me as I face the days ahead. There is a morbidness, along with a feeling of gratitude in my heart on every All Souls Day celebration. I grieve for many on the lists I read out, but I'm grateful for all they gave me in their lives. Some names bring a tear, and others a smile.

At the Requiem this morning, I read out a blog post which had popped into my inbox earlier, and all seemed to appreciate the words I read to them. They had moved me deeply. Written by Beth, a young medic, who happens to be a server at the Cathedral, they had me in tears, tears of empathy and understanding and I think joy, yes joy too. There is indeed a fine line between the living and the dead! Read Beth's words here.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Pat's first Celebration of the Eucharist

And then on Sunday we capped it all off!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


What a wonderful day we had on Saturday 28th September, as Revd Pat Smith was ordained priest in St Augustine's! A full church, two bishops, a music group in fine fettle, and lots of clergy from all over the Diocese. It will be long remembered!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Pain in the Neck

It's been a strange week! On Saturday night I slipped on the top step in the house, trying to carry six things at once, and ended up tumbling down our stairway, bumping my back on each of the fourteen stairs. After a very painful night I struggled through the 9am service on Sunday.

However, the RW drew the line and I was carted off eventually to the RAH in Paisley for multiple x-rays. By this time I was in complete agony and it was feared at one point that I may have broken or chipped a bone in my neck. Thankfully, this proved not to be the case.

Having been told by the doctor the week before to take some rest, I found myself with another few days of having to stay in the house and swallow painkillers like they were going out of fashion.

It's been an enlightening fortnight! Being forced to take time out, good quality thinking time, has enabled me to think through a lot of issues and worries, and gain a bit more perspective. Things WILL get done on time, I CAN cope with my workload, and with my Higher Power partner, nothing is insurmountable.

For those who have supported and helped this past fortnight, 'thank you'! (You know who you are)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Food Bank

I really didn't want to have much to do with it, as our parish resources were stretched already, and I certainly wasn't going to have any truck with coupons or vouchers, but when West Dunbartonshire Foodshare was born, I was persuaded that St Aug's could be used to provide basic groceries to those whose benefit had been cut or stopped, and who found themselves hungry with hungry children.

At first it was hard going, trying to fix times and commitments, helping people feel safe, and managing to separate those who were really in need from those who were on the 'con', but things have settled down and we are running a worthy wee Food Bank which doesn't use vouchers or letters from your doctor/social worker or anyone else.

The fact that the Benefits Office are turning people away and then sending them to us speaks volumes. CAB and Social Work are constantly referring, and there's a lot of need and poverty outside our door. Benefits are being slashed and ordinary folk are finding themselves in untenable positions. The Bedroom Tax doesn't help, but folk are having to choose between food and electricity, between clothes and rent arrears, with threats of eviction and all the rest. I think we may have saved one or two lives in the process.

I'm appalled by the amount of poverty we are now unearthing in Dumbarton and the Vale, as more and more folk come in tears, with nothing and leave in tears of gratitude with a bagful of groceries sometimes costing less than a fiver. Single mums and dads with kids, and sometimes even wage earners, whose jobs pay less than what is acceptable, and have no way of topping that up.

I hear there was a big Political Forum in Dumbarton last night, talking about poverty and how we tackle the mess we are in. It was nice to hear St Augustine's being praised to the highest heavens for the little we do from MSPs and all in Authority, but why have we come to this, that a struggling wee church which can't afford to pay stipend is being asked to bridge the gap. Is this how the Big Society works out, that you leave the poor to feed the poor? That's what it looks like!

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Partick Thistle Too

Just a wee ps. It was Thistle two today! Tonight we are third in the Premier League. I'm getting a nosebleed!

Blame the iPad

Two major things have been around since I last blogged. One was my falling out of love with my laptop and falling in love with my iPad. Using Blogger on my iPad has never worked for me, even with the "App", and I once wrote a long and deeply moving piece about the power depression can have over me only to see it disappear into the strata from my new lover, the iPad. Put me off a bit!

Apple are very cunning and extremely seductive, and as I hate my old laptop so much now, it's so slow and old and the battery needs replacing, I've been looking at MacBooks which come in over £800! Help ma boab, I'm on minimum stipend here! So, blogging means opening up the dreaded laptop and doing stuff from there, especially if I want to add pics. Meanwhile I'm dragging myself away from Apple stores, because I know that if I go in, the dreaded credit card would start whispering in my ear!

The other major thing is that I have had to stop calling my Football Club Partick Thistle Nil, after an inspiring First Division Championship win! So it's Thistle from now on and a season in the League of Greed is already underway. This has repercussions, with bigger crowds, all-ticket games and having to host Celtic supporters twice this season.

If I'd been blogging at the end of last season it would have been mostly about The Jags, so at least the world was spared that!

Blessings eh?

Friday, 30 August 2013


What have I been doing since Lent 3? Well, the answer is that I've been very busy thank you! Blogging has become almost 'old hat' I guess, and I use Facebook for short stuff and to share things. Yet, I really miss my blogging although nobody else does! I need to write things down and keep a diary of feelings, if for nobody else but me.

I guess I felt it so much yesterday after a really fulfilling day with Christchurch Dalbeattie as we looked at the possibility of doing a Community Audit. I wanted to share the joy, and enthusiasm, but there was nowhere to share it, and my Facebook friends would just say "eh?",

So maybe a return to blogging, just for my own sake maybe. My stats show that nobody really kept up with me anyway!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Lent 3 2013

Why do bad things happen to good people? It is a question all of us ask from time to time. Some of Jesus’ listeners asked him this same question. They brought up a recent news story about some Galileans who had been cruelly offered as human sacrifices by Pilate. Were they greater sinners than others in Galilee that they should suffer that much? A tower had fallen in Siloam and crushed eighteen bystanders. Was it because of their sin? 

Jesus had already dealt with this question. Please note, if you have not already done so, that Jesus consistently condemned the notion that human tragedy is punishment for sin.

In other words, God does not reward us according to our virtues or punish us for our sins. There are some things in this world that just happen sometimes as a consequence of the physical laws which govern this universe.

And sometimes they happen to the best of people. Things like the Aberfan Disaster happen. Christian people get cancer. Entire families have been wiped out by drunk drivers behind the wheel of ordinary cars. Some things just happen.

Somebody was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some things in life we cannot control. The guys who entered classrooms and shot innocent children in recent history were certainly not sent by God.

We want to control the world. This is what superstition is all about. We carry around a rabbit’s foot or hang a horseshoe or read our horoscope in order to control our fate. We keep shoes off the table. In order to control that small area of life that is unknowable and uncontrollable. Maybe something good will happen to us. At least, maybe the bad will somehow be warded off. And sometimes our efforts border on the absurd. 

When we attempt to control our fate by the use of a charm or a ritual or trust in fate or the stars or whatever, this is superstition. I have a Lucky Thistle scarf which I wear when we need a win. It works... I think... except against Celtic or Rangers! 

Most superstitions are harmless. Sometimes, if they give us confidence, they can even be helpful. If we use them as a substitute for helping ourselves or trusting God, however, they can be destructive. Nevertheless, we need to understand the difference between superstition and authentic Christian faith. 

Superstition is an attempt to manipulate that part of our lives that is beyond our personal control. If I carry a rabbit’s foot with me, I am trying to control my luck.

At least I might get lucky, we think to ourselves. That is superstition trying to control the uncontrollable. Authentic Christian Faith is something else. Christian faith at its best is not an attempt to use God, but a willingness to surrender control of our lives to God.

Analyse your prayers sometime. Many of us use our prayers to manipulate God. We want Him to adjust the weather to our liking. Or to help us win the lottery. (Please God, if I win the lottery you can trust me to make sure the right people get the money, and I'll give £1m to St Auggie's to help that stuff that's going on!) 

We seek to advise God as to what we think is best for us. Rather than trusting that He in His omnipotence and omniscience knows best, we seek to guide Him, to control Him, to use Him. 

Do you believe that God knows what is best for your life? Do you believe that God’s will is for your best good? Or do you secretly try to manipulate God to work things out the way you see best? It is the rare Christian who has the spiritual maturity to truly pray, "Not my will, but yours be done." 

Jesus did not want his interrogators to get bogged down with this question about why bad things happen. He wanted them to understand their responsibility for making good things happen. He tried to get them to see that we are not to concern ourselves with those things in life which we cannot control. Rather we need to concern ourselves with those things which we can control.

Some people sit around and speak sadly about what life has done to them. Jesus says to them and to us that on the day of Judgement we will not be asked what life has done to us but what we have done with life! 

Jesus used the parable of the fig tree and said that if it does not bear fruit, cut it down. He was saying to them and to us that we are responsible for bearing fruit, for making a difference, for taking responsibility for that part of life that we can control.

H.G. Wells once wrote an essay on that tribe of people he called the "goodness sakers." These are the people who see something that needs doing, or see some social evil, or detect some moral shortcoming, and they stand and wring their hands, and say, "For goodness sake, why doesn’t someone do something about this?" 

It is we who have been called to do something. We cannot answer the question why there should be hunger in the world, but we can do our part to see that some of the hungry are fed. We can’t answer the question why sometimes healthy adults with families are struck down suddenly by tragedy, but we can be there to bring comfort and to supply both material and emotional support. 

We are constantly asking God to solve the world’s problems. He is asking us to do the same thing.

That ought to be our approach to prayer. Rather than praying for peace in the world, we need to pray that God would make us peacemakers. Rather than asking God for special favours, we need to pray that He show us someone less fortunate than ourselves who needs our assistance. Is your faith just superstition or is it authentic Christian faith? Do you attempt to use God or are you willing to be used of Him? 

A sailor was leaning on the deck rail when his pal stuck his head up through a nearby hatch. "The ship is sinking!" his pal cried. 

The sailor shrugged. "So what? It’s not my ship." 

I’m certain that he learned in a few moments that it was indeed his ship. We are all in this together. If the world goes up in flames, it is our world. We are accountable for what we contribute. 

We are not comfortable with the concept of accountability in the church today.

Is your religion authentic Christian faith or mere superstition?

Is there room for a cross in your life? Are you using God or is He using you?

Why do bad things happen to good people? That’s a tough question. Here is one even harder.

With so many persons in this world who claim to be followers of Jesus, why are we not having more influence? Maybe it’s because some of us are out looking for four-leaf clovers rather than taking up a cross and following him. 

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Gambia Bound

This time tomorrow, I'll be getting ready to fly off to The Gambia for ten days. Most folk will think it's a wee holiday, and yes, there will be sunshine, a chance to slow down, and all the rest, but there is serious stuff to be done and dusted while I am there.

For those of you who don't know, we run a Nursery School in London Corner, the poorest part of the sprawling town of Serrekunda, which is comprised of crippling poverty, corrugate, and broken dreams. We educate 90 children and feed them daily due to the generosity of people from Dumbarton, Helensburgh and beyond.

January is the usual time to negotiate rents, pay rises, bonuses, and teaching materials/resources, and my ten days will be full of meetings, lots of head shaking, and a few pleas for a taxi for Christmas! This year, too, will begin a hunt for alternative accommodation, as the building we operate from is in a pretty critical condition.

I will try to blog a diary when I'm there, depending on whether I get electricity or a WiFi connection that works properly!

It's with some sadness that I go. One of St Augustine's greatest stalwarts, May Thomson, died yesterday, and I will miss doing her funeral. Indeed, May, in her early eighties came with us to The Gambia to see the school, and managed to do a spot of unintended topless sunbathing! They still ask about the "Lady with the Laugh!"

Next Sunday, I'll be worshipping in St Andrew's Lamin, which is a three hour marathon, but worth every minute!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

A Parish Christmas

We probably had enough drama in the parish over Christmas to keep the Denny Theatre going for the next six months, but such is life in a busy place where needs are being met, folk are struggling to put food on their table, and the consequences of living out an Incarnational Theology come home to roost.

Somehow, despite exhaustion and emotional overload, it all happened and the sermons were preached and the Good News was told to all. We even sent out a wee missionary band to Drumchapel to provide them with a Christmas Eve Eucharist with carolling and much joy.

The wonderful thing was the Christmas lunch which was put on for the folk in the town who would otherwise have been on their own. The community were fantastic with lots of donations, and our helpers put on a Christmas Dinner which was probably much better than the local hoteliers put on. And everyone got a doggy bag to take home. St Augustine's was the place to be!

We have still got some stuff left over which will help the needy until all the Benefits Offices kick in again in January.

Thank you to all who made this possible. In the midst of chaos, Our Lord was born. In the midst of chaos in St Augustine's 2012, he was born again. Emmanuel!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas Midnight

It is one of the spin offs of becoming a grandparent that you take again an interest in children’s books and Christmas stories. I was browsing lately and came across that wonderful story of the young girl who was turned into a frog.

Eventually, as you know, the handsome prince came along and kissed the frog, and the rest, as they say, is history!
And I was thinking about that story when I was thinking about what to say tonight….

God, the Prince of Peace leans down to kiss his creation and turns into a frog himself.

It’s one way to think about the meaning of Christmas, I suppose!

But, let me begin tonight with a beautiful old Christmas legend... the ancient legend tells of how God called the angels of heaven together one day for a special choir rehearsal. He told them that he had a special song that he wanted them to learn... a song that they would sing at a very significant occasion.

The angels went to work on it. They rehearsed long and hard... with great focus and intensity. In fact, some of the angels grumbled a bit... but God insisted on a very high standard for his choir. 

As time passed, the choir improved in tone, in rhythm, and in quality. Finally God announced that they were ready... but then, he shocked them a bit. He told them that they would sing the song only once... and only on one night.

There would be just one performance of this great song they had worked on so diligently. Again, some of the angels grumbled. The song was so extraordinarily beautiful and they had it down pat now... surely, they could sing it many, many times. God only smiled and told them that when the time came, they would understand. 

Then one night, God called them together. He gathered them above a field just outside of Bethlehem. "It's time," God said to them... and the angels sang their song. And, boy, did they sing it!
 "Glory to God in the highest... and on earth peace and good will toward all..." And as the angels sang, they knew there would never be another night like this one, and that there would never be another birth like this birth in Bethlehem. 

When the angels returned to heaven, God reminded them that they would not formally sing that song again as an angelic choir, but if they wanted to, they could hum the song occasionally as individuals. One angel was bold enough to step forward and ask God why. Why could they not sing that majestic anthem again? They did it so well. It felt so right.

Why couldn't they sing that great song anymore? "Because," God explained, "my son has been born... and now earth must do the singing!"

My son has now been born and my world must now do the singing! 

Once each year, Christmas comes around again to remind us of that... God's Son has come to earth... and now we must do the singing!

And to do that we need to be right with God... (If we want to find the peace that Christmas promises.) 

That's the starting place because that is indeed what Christmas is all about. Jesus Christ came into this world to set us right with God. Jesus Christ came into the world to bring us back to God.

I remember the old story about the elderly couple driving down the street one day. They were listening to the radio as the man drove the car through the busy Christmas streets. As they listened to the beautiful music of Christmas, the wife became nostalgic and she said, "George, do you remember how when we were younger we used to sit so close together as we drove along? It was so wonderful back then. What happened?" "I don't know about that," said George, "All I know is that I haven't moved." 

Well, Christmas comes each year to remind us that God is not the one who has moved away from us. No! We are the ones who move. We are the ones who drift away from Him.

Christ has come down to this earth to help us get back together with God who made us... and who loves us. That's what that word Emmanuel means in our text. God with us! God comes in the Christ Child to seek and save the lost.

That's what Christmas is all about. This is the only way we can have the peace of Christmas. The only way is to let the Christ of Christmas bring us back to the Father who loves us and set us right with the One who made us. 

The first step toward the peace of Christmas is to be set right with God. 

In an old Peanuts comic strip, that popular misfit Charlie Brown cracks open his piggy bank. He says, “Look, I’ve got $9.11 to spend on Christmas.”

Lucy is not impressed. “You can’t buy something for everyone with $9.11, Charlie Brown,” she responds.

Charlie Brown retorts, “Oh yeah? Well, I’m gonna try!”

“Then,” Lucy continues, “they’re sure gonna be cheap presents.”

“But,” Charlie Brown says with absolute conviction, “nothing is cheap if it costs all that you have.”

God has given us all he has, and we need to try to give something back to God!

God gave us Himself in the babe at Bethlehem! What a wonderful truth! It is our turn to sing!

So - Get yourself right with God, this Christmas! Sing his song, or croak it if you will, and help others sing it with you!

Sunday, 23 December 2012


I want to make my annual public service announcement to the men in our congregation. Guys, it’s time to do your Christmas shopping. I know that maybe some of you have this problem already out of the way. But just in case, please heed my announcement. 

Our Gospel from Luke takes place some months before the birth of Christ. In fact, Mary has only recently learned from the angel that she will bear a child, a child conceived of the Holy Spirit. Almost immediately, Mary decides to visit her older cousin Elizabeth. This meant she had to travel about 100 miles south to the hill country of Judah. This would be about a five day journey, an amazing trip for a young teenage pregnant girl.

And Mary breaks out in a song, a song we know as the Magnificat. We seem to be hearing it and singing it a lot today!

The Magnificat is radical and revolutionary. The humble and the hungry are lifted up but the wealthy are sent away empty. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, warned his missionaries to India never to read the Magnificat in public. Christians were already suspect in that country and they were cautioned against reading verses so inflammatory. Don’t speak too loudly against the rich – they might throw you out! 

In our country, Mary would be accused of being politically na├»ve today.  It’s dangerous to talk about the greed of the wealthy and powerful and the oppression of the least and lowest. It causes fights at parties! 

We have to watch out for the hangers-on, and haven’t you read the Daily Mail lately?
Stupid woman! What does she know? We need the wealthy! They are our salvation!

After all, the Old Etonian’s tell us, “We’re all in it together”!
Aye! That will be right! I'm on £50 a week and you pay more for that for a bottle of champers!

And you will not find many MPs or MSPs living up closes in places like Bellsmyre. The Queen visited the cabinet last week and realised she was the poorest person round the cabinet table! Ho ho ho!

So, what is it that we need to take away from Mary’s song so close to Christmas?  First of all we need to see that Jesus came to turn the world right side up, or upside down! I prefer right side up. It makes more sense!

Jesus didn’t come to maintain the status quo. Jesus came to bring righteousness and justice. The message of God’s love for all people regardless of who they are or what they have is the most liberating message in the world. 

Remember that the very first message the adult Jesus preached was based on the words of the prophet Isaiah and went something like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. 

Jesus was not a revolutionary. He was sent to be the Saviour of the world. However, his message was revolutionary.

Once you accept that God is the Father of all people, once you accept the fact that Christ died for all people, once you accept the fact that everyone on earth is our brother and our sister, it becomes impossible to justify the oppression of one people by another.

It becomes impossible to justify that some would live in absolute luxury while others go to bed each night with hunger pangs gnawing at their insides or need food banks to feed their children. Jesus came to turn the world right side up, or upside down. We have still to hear the message it seems!

There will be food banks soon in Dumbarton, but I will have nothing to do with them. It's a return to the Poorhouse!

The Provost recently visited America and in a Q & A session was asked what was the most significant thing he had seen. He answered the poverty and homelessness in the streets. Every parish had a homelessness programme. Every parish fed the hungry! In one parish they boasted that they fed 30,000 people each week, and Kelvin said that if 30,000 people lined up in Great Western Road, he wouldn’t be feeding them. He’d be on to politicians to ask them why the poor were not being fed!

We are in the same position! Why our poor and those who have benefit cuts needing to be fed by churches? God help us all! Are you listening? We are not all in this together! 

I will not run a food bank but I will pester those in Scottish society who think that’s an acceptable state of affairs! You guys in parliament who tell us that you care for the poor and are trying to make things fair….  Show us your hand! You are hounding the least, last and lost.

Jesus also came to give dignity to those whom society does not value. Where is the dignity to queue up for food? The Christmas story shows those in government palaces in the worst possible light. Meanwhile members of society’s least prestigious vocation, shepherds, hear the message of “Peace on earth, good will toward humankind.” That is no accident. 

The Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, as I said, has just returned from America where he spent three months. He calls Washington the city where nothing matters except politics but I read a story of an Episcopalian Vestry member from there who wrote:  

I should have kept running, he says, but for some reason I stopped for just a moment. It was then that I noticed all of these teenagers, singing carols had some kind of developmental disability. One young lady with Down syndrome had the job of playing the triangle. Whenever the director pointed to her, her face would light up, she would smile from ear to ear, and give her triangle a whack.

He says he was riveted by her. He says she became his priest. As his eyes teared up something inside him leapt for joy. He noticed the stressed-out leaders of business and government around him who had also been captivated by this moment, dabbing their eyes. What was happening? He wondered. “Something deep inside,” he writes, “something planted by God, was touched as they sang, ‘the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’ That holy thing God had started leaped up to our hearts and every one of us wanted to join that group of singers saying, ‘I have disabilities, too. My spirit and heart have been disabled by cynicism, hurt, and anger. I would love to have your innocence and purity leap out of me as it does from your little choir.’”  

It is only right that at Christmas we should be mindful of those for whom life is a struggle. It is only right at Christmas time that we should be reminded of our bounty and the world’s need. Sometimes it seems that Christmas is homage to Mammon and not to God. Whose birthday is it anyhow? Have we forgotten somebody? Someone?

And that is why I am so proud of all of you who in whatever way, will make Christmas Dinner happen for some really needy people on Tuesday. Even those who gave the widow’s mite or the generous cheque. Jesus is undoubtedly yours this season!

Because Jesus came to turn the world right side up. Jesus came to give dignity to those whom society does not value. 

Jesus came to give hope to the hopeless, peace to those who hearts are in turmoil, love to those who are broken. 

Among the things we will want to remember is the song the wee girl sang as she awaited the birth of her son, God’s son.

The song was about her son and his mission in the world. Jesus came to turn the world right side up. Jesus came to give dignity to those who society does not value. Jesus came to give hope to the hopeless, peace to those who hearts are in turmoil, love to those who are broken. Jesus came to give you the greatest gift of all.  Just love. 

Monday, 17 December 2012


It's been a bad weekend newswise, with staff and children mowed down in an American School. I look around and see terminal illness, depression and sadness. I am entrusted with proclaiming Good News.

All I can say is "Emmanuel", God with us. God's middle name is 'with'.

God is with us whatever befalls, whatever we need to go through. God is there, comforting, healing, making all things new.

Today's readings were from Zephenia proclaiming hope in the ruins of Jerusalem, and from Paul on death row. Rejoice, they said. Emmanuel. God is with us.

God's middle name is 'with'. Maybe we can live with that. Rejoice then.

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Monday, 3 December 2012


Sometimes I think that we ought to enter Advent with a level of excitement. 

It is a shame that some of the old Advent hymns tend to be slow and almost mournful. I grew up with one that we sung every Sunday during Advent which included the words “deeply wailing”. And boy, did the choir at Holy Cross Knightswood know how to deeply wail!

Sometimes I think that shopping centres do a better job of promoting this season of the year than churches. The problem is that they start in October! But they start generating excitement about what is to come.

Advent is a magical time. It’s a time of anticipation.. anticipation that we will see The Lord again, and anticipation of the magical Feast of Christmas when we get to come to adore, yet again, with shepherds and wise men!

In church, we should be generating excitement!

And children understand that kind of excitement. Just wait until Christmas gets a little closer. Most of them started making list of things they want Santa to bring them in June, but as Advent starts the lists start to get serious. 

A priest tells about a young boy, a few years ago, who at one of their Christmas Eve candlelight services expressed his excitement. Immediately after the blessing, this four year old exploded at the top of his lungs with, “Hooray!  Jesus is born! Jesus is born! Let’s get going, mammy!” 
Maybe he didn’t understand the true meaning of Christmas, but he certainly caught its excitement.

The prophet Jeremiah understood that kind of excitement. God always fulfils His promises. 

That’s the thing we need to see today. God always fulfils God’s promises. Jeremiah writes, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah . . .’” 
And God always fulfils His promises. No matter how dark the night, no matter how harsh the critics, no matter how violent the enemy God will not forsake us. 

There is a wonderful story about an event that occurred several years ago somewhere in the States. I can’t remember where, but it had been devastated by a tornado. Six people died in that tornado. Among the structures that were devastated was a Lutheran Church. 

The day after the tornado the pastor walked through the devastation. She writes that it was an unbelievable sight a water tower toppled, vehicles and other heavy items strewn around like toys, whole buildings gone from their foundations. 

When she got near the site of the Church someone called out: “Look! There He is! There’s Jesus!” 

“Sure enough,” this pastor wrote, “there was the statue of Jesus that had stood at the altar of the Church. There it was a beacon to what had been the site of a 100-year-old congregation’s place of worship.” 

The pastor later wrote that it was so fitting to look up from the chaos around her and see Jesus arms outstretched, welcoming, and loving His people.

She wondered how the statue had survived the devastation and later learned that two young girls, helping clean up for a family member in a nearby home had taken time to come over to where the Church had been and found the statue in the rubble. They decided that everyone needed to see that Jesus was still there, so they stood him up for all to see. 
Those young girls were right. Whether times are good or bad, in times when things seem hopeful and times when they seem hopeless, people need to see Jesus. He is our hope. He is the Saviour of the world. 

God always keeps his promises. Among those promises is the promise that he will never forget us or forsake us. 

This is an exciting time of the year. It’s very busy, I know, but it is exciting as well.

I hope you will use the Advent season as a chance to invite a friend to worship with you. There are special services all over the place during Advent and Christmas, which give us the perfect excuse to invite someone to something a little different, or even traditional?

The most powerful form of advertising any church can do is word of mouth. When people are excited about their faith, they spread that excitement to others. Are you excited? Do you have the same excitement as that little boy when he shouted, “Hooray!  Jesus is born!  Let’s get going, mammy!” 

Maybe you’re not quite that excited. Maybe we don’t do great excitement in Scotland? 

At least maybe you will be just as determined to spread the good news of Christ as the two young girls who lifted up Christ after the storm swept through their town so that everyone could see their Saviour. 
God always keeps His promises. Jesus is the Saviour of the world. His Kingdom is promised and will one day come. That’s exciting. And it’s what Advent is all about!  

I Will Survive

I had one of my nastier experiences last week. I know what a cold is, especially if it's a "man cold", and I've had a few episodes in my life that have been "flu", but I was banjaxed by some sort of bug on Wednesday of last week.

Shaking like a pneumatic drill at times, sweating, hallucinating, together with the usual temperature, my body feeling as if it had gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson, coughing and sneezing, I had no option but to stay in bed.

The RW who was sent for Benylin was chatting to the pharmacist who opined, "People come in here telling me that they have flu, and I think, Jimmy, if you had flu you wouldn't be able to come into the chemist!"

Masses of Co-Codamol, linctus, and pints of fluid shoved down my throat saw me in church yesterday, first day up! Today, I'm a bit better again, although I think I'll leave the visiting off for a couple of days more. Whatever it was, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Plain Biscuits

We had a visitor in church this morning, on holiday from Lincolnshire. He thanked me after the service. "Nobody has ever told me before in 63 years that Advent is a season of joy", he said. "It's always been a mini Lent with plain biscuits".

Glad you enjoyed it, sir! You ought to see us when we get to Christmas!

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Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Listening to a brickie last week, as he laid out his life before me. Recovering alcoholic, sober for many years, coming to believe in a Higher Power who has relieved him from active alcoholism. Over 20 years without a drink.

His life is not easy, having lost loved ones lately. Family causes him nothing but anxiousness and pain. Difficult days and sleepless nights. I was crying inwardly as he spoke.

As he ended there was a long silence, which he broke by saying, "Either God is, or he isn't"

Been thinking about that for a whole week now.....

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Tuesday, 27 November 2012


The wee Girls' Group that started in St Aug's this year are really going from strength to strength. Just a wee group of teenagers, only one of them belong to St Aug's, but in lots of ways they all belong to us now. Their arts and crafts programme is exceptional, they discuss really deep and meaningful stuff about being a young "teenie" in the modern world, and recently they tell me that they've made contact with a wee Faith Group similar to themselves in a church in England. "What church?", I asked. "Southwark Cathedral, are they any good, Kenny?"

"I don't know, I'll check them out", I reply.

They reach out to the needy and make up food parcels for the homeless, make poppies for the fallen, do giant posters on being grateful, and they bring them all into church and bring their mums with them.

Just now they are finishing off a giant montage of a butterfly made from bottle tops for the wall of the Community Hall. It reminds me of them. Little butterflies emerging from a cocoon, but twice as special!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Complimentary Nuts

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.

Provoking each other to love… eh?

Encouraging each other? Sounds good to me!

St Paul loved and worked with Barnabas the Son of Encouragement… cos even St Paul could see a vital thing in Barnabas and his ministry. – Encouragement!

Barnabas was a man who encouraged others.  And the church of Jesus Christ is intended to be a community that encourages one another that provokes one another to love and good works.

A guy goes into a bar. He’s sitting on the stool, enjoying his drink when he hears a voice say, “You look great!” 

He looks around there’s nobody near him. He hears the voice again, “No really, you look terrific.” 

The guy looks around again. Nobody. He hears a voice again, “Is that a new shirt or something? Because you look absolutely brilliant tonight!” 

He then realizes that the voice is coming from a bowl of nuts on the bar. 

The guy calls over the barman, “Hey Jimmy! What is it with the nuts?”

“Oh,” the barman answers, “They’re complimentary.”  

I know it’s a bad joke, but it can be really good for us to be around someone who is complimentary! Someone who encourages us and gives us praise? What does a wee bit of encouragement do for you? Doesn’t it make you more likely to smile and go on to encourage somebody else?

You know I always say that I preach to myself first… and I do…  and I admit that at times recently I have been far from encouraging, and that is wrong. One of the tasks of ministry is to encourage others, to provoke others to love.

Very often, in my own ministry, little words of encouragement have been enough to keep me going through the dark times .. sometimes just a wee comment from someone .. or sometimes a wee note or card or letter from someone has given me the encouragement I’ve needed to carry on going.

There was a time not too long ago that I was ready to walk away from here and from ministry, and a wee notelet from Anne Tomlinson, totally out of the blue, was enough to pick me up and keep going. She’s totally unaware of the effect that had on me. Maybe I will tell her one day.

I’ve often said from here how important it is to encourage each other as a congregation. A kind word goes a long way, and we need to be building each other up rather than tearing each other down. We need to be praising and counting the positives rather than trying to find fault with negatives.

There’s a lot to be positive about in St Aug’s. We have some wonderful people and do some wonderful stuff together, but often we need to hear a bit of praise from others. Often we need a kind word to keep us going.

Those of you who have been on a Cursillo weekend should know the power of a wee card or note to someone… so why don’t we do it with each other more often? Even a wee phone call to someone who is going through a hard time is enough! A phone ministry can be really effective. Sometimes we are really good at this stuff in St Aug’s, other times not so good, depending on who it is!

It’s all too easy to be negative about others, too easy to run another person down. But, as my granny used to say, “If you don’t have something nice to say to someone, or about someone, then keep your tongue to yourself”!

As a parish family, we need to remind each other of that fact from time to time. We need to build each other up, rather than tear each other down. It’s dead easy to be negative or sarcastic about someone else but let’s not go there.

We encourage each other, and we have words of praise for each other and words of kindness and encouragement. And that’s the way to do it!
And we need to be encouraging others out there in our daily lives … we, too, should be sons and daughters of encouragement in the world. There are a lot of people out there in need of a kind word. Because of unemployment or poverty, there are thousands beyond our doors suffering from dreadfully low self-esteem, and we have a ministry to them too!

Kindness is contagious and you never know what kind of effect an individual word or act of kindness will have on others. 

You never know where a simple act of kindness may lead. 

That is why the writer of Hebrews tells us to provoke or to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. . . encouraging one another . . .” 

A great Jewish rabbi named Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “When I was younger, I used to admire intelligent people. Now that I am older, I admire kind people.” Why do you think he said that? It is because he knows that kindness is contagious and kind people are truly building a better world. 

Of course, Jesus set the example of love and kindness for us. “We love because he first loved us,” says I John. 

The Kingdom of God is built brick by brick, and our little acts of love, our simple words of encouragement are little bricks of that Kingdom.

That is why we are to provoke one another to love and good works. So that someday the whole world will know Jesus and his love – and God’s Kingdom will be ushered in.

As I look around St Augustine's, I often think of you as something akin to a bowl of nuts..... but lets make sure that we are complimentary ones.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Partick Thistle Nil - Eh?

While I'm having a go at blogging today after an absence, can I just point out that Partick Thistle are top of the First Division in Scotland, playing excellent football, and cheering the heart of Jagophiles everywhere? There's only one team in Glasgow! I sit just to the left of the yellow barrier. Great view!

A Spiritual Parish? - preached today...

Many years ago, when Hitler's forces occupied Denmark, the order came that all Jews in Denmark were to identify themselves by wearing armbands with yellow stars of David. The Danes had seen the extermination of Jews in other countries and guessed that this was the first step in that process in their countries. The King did not defy the orders. He had every Jew wear the star and he himself wore the Star of David. He told his people that he expected every loyal Dane to do the same. The King said, "We are all Danes. One Danish person is the same as the next." He wore his yellow star when going into Copenhagen every day in order to encourage his people.

The King of Denmark identified with his people, even to the point of putting his own life on the line. It's a wonderful story with a powerful point. The only problem is it isn't true. It's an urban legend. It's been around for a long time and told thousands of times over. And now with the internet we are getting a lot of these legendary stories retold. It’s a shame! What an image for a king, identifying with his people.

Our image of royalty is very different, isn’t it? I have a great respect for Elizabeth our Queen, but she’s hardly one of us, is she? She hardly identifies with her people. She lives in palaces and castles, eats sumptuously at banquets, even though she may well be fed up with them and would prefer a bacon roll from time to time.
She has the best instant medical care that money can buy, she has much wealth, and will never know what it’s like to sign on, or visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux. She talks in a very posh accent, and has people on hand to cater for her every need. And good luck to her! I wouldn’t have her life for the world!

On the other hand, many of her subjects live in great poverty. We are being asked to set up a food bank in the town because some of our people do not have enough to feed themselves or their family. Unemployment and poverty is rife in our town. The NHS is wonderful, but there are still long waiting lists for those who cannot afford to go private.

Today we proclaim Christ as King, but his Kingship is obviously very different from the sort of image and example we have of royalty today. His Kingdom is very different, it is a spiritual Kingdom where love and care for the outcast is paramount. It is a Kingdom where the humble and meek are exalted, and the mighty are cast down.

So when we look after the lepers of our world, we take part in Kingdom stuff, the spiritual kingdom that is. When we welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, serve the downtrodden and the marginalised, we are doing Kingdom stuff, the spiritual Kingdom that is. And we DO this sort of ministry in St Augustine’s and in Drumchapel where I celebrated the Eucharist earlier today. In our ministries we get down to the stuff where our hands get dirty, and we become servants of God’s little folk.

Our hall is full every day of people who are being accepted and cared for and loved. Our doors are open for the distressed and needy, and we identify with them and walk beside them on their journey. We kiss lepers here, you know.

I have heard it said this week that we are not a spiritual parish. How much more spiritual do you want? We walk with the poor, the anxious, those with mental health problems and support women in prison and through their time of release. That is a very deep and meaningful way of working out a practical spirituality…. And it is underpinned by our prayer, here at the Sunday Eucharist and in our daily lives.

I know that people in this parish pray because I can see it in their eyes.

We follow the King of Kings and identify with His people as he showed us to, as he commanded us to do. Our King came to earth and identified totally with his people and we are asked to follow his example.

Some will pray in a more organised way than others, and sometimes will pray in groups. Some of us will study our faith in a deeper way than others, but we have a deep spirituality here which is rooted in the practical. It is the sort of spirituality which Mother Teresa showed the world, and although we might not be quite as good as her, we can see that it is the way of the Kingdom, the spiritual Kingdom which Jesus taught us about.

And it is deeply rooted in this Eucharistic celebration which goes on week by week, where in the ordinariness of bread and wine, Our Lord takes us blesses us and breaks us, then feeds us to strengthen that ministry and commitment. What is more spiritual than kneeling at this altar with your hands out to receive Jesus, to be fed, so that you are strengthened to go on into this week to carry on this work of the Spiritual Kingdom? It is deeply rooted in our Taize Services and our Remembrance Services where this place is lit up with candles lit for the dead who died as a result of addiction.

And we are a part of a different kind of Kingdom, with a different kind of king … a King whose glory shone from the cross with love in his eyes, as he loves us to the end.

That makes me want to fall down and worship and give thanks that indeed I am part of that spiritual Kingdom with every one of you here today.

Because if what we do here today, and every day, in our wee ministries is not spiritual, then I'm not sure what is!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Historic Day

Recently, archaeologists have found a part of Dumbarton Castle which was obviously used as a chapel, dedicated to St Patrick. Today, with the help and permission from Historic Scotland, the first Christian worship was held there probably since the 16th Century.

It was a grand half hour, with all Dumbarton churches being represented. Our Bishop, +Gregor was there, along with the new Archbishop of Glasgow, Phillip Tartaglia, and Revd Ian Miller representing the Presbytery, and all three took part along with local clergy.

We also had a Provost, an MP, and an MSP!

We should do this more often!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Emerging from the Fog

To say the least, 2012 has not been the kindest to me healthwise. The bleak depression which haunted me from January through to the Spring, has hung around in a milder form, off and on, as the months have gone on, and it has been frustratingly debilitating. Add to that a double hernia op in August, and you get the picture.

Mental illness, such as depression, is greatly misunderstood, and is most difficult to live with, both for the sufferer and those close to them. Ask the RW about that! However, it's something which many in the Church find almost distasteful, and there is an almost judgemental attitude towards it.

A priest, a man or woman of prayer, it seems, should be able to rise above it. Whatever happened to having Joy in The Lord? The lives of many people I touch have great cause to be depressive and yet in the midst of great pain and consternation they are able to smile and get on with things. Something chemically wrong in my brain obviously disallows that positive response!

Not that I have much to be depressed about! I have a wonderful wife, a beautiful grandchild, a super parish, and enjoy holidays that others can only dream of. I am in employment, live in a nice house, surrounded by everything I need, and enjoy the company of faithful pets. What is there to be depressed about? (Apart from the weather, but, hey, it doesn't just rain on me!)

There is no obvious reason to feel the way I have felt for most of the year. A fairly brave face is put on for the world, and at worst, most folk just think I could be in a better mood! Sermons are just as passionate, I preach to myself constantly, and things tick along because I've set them up over the years to do just that! What is not widely known is the great effort it takes to simply get up and out of bed in the morning.

And yet the 'Black Dog' still haunts me!

Being part of a Forum in West Dunbartonshire, I'm sometimes asked to fill in questionnaires designed to catch the attitudes of the populace on many issues. I was stopped short on yesterday's questions. They were asking me how I would feel if one of my family wanted to marry someone gay, or of another faith, or a cross-dresser, etc etc, and then at the end, how would I feel if my child was marrying someone who suffered from bouts of depression? That certainly made me stop and think. As a sufferer, how do people view me? Am I in some kind of minority that the Council see as problematic, or even a little odd or different? I guess they were trying to gauge attitudes to depression, but it gave me a wee shiver down my spine.

Certainly, there is little doubt that an employer may have doubts about taking on a depressive, and I know that many have been turned down for churchy jobs when it has become clear that they sometimes suffer from depression. I know of a number of priests in the Scottish Episcopal Church who have been in touch with me seeking advice, who would never in a million years tell their Bishop that they were taking anti-depressants. (Same as those with a wee drink problem, but that's another matter!)

At the moment, thankfully, the fog has lifted for me and I have some energy back. It enables me to think a bit more clearly, especially about mental illness, the Church, and other employers. When I'm down I often wish my illness was more visible, and that if I had a big stookie or bandage, I might get a bit more sympathy or understanding! Recently, someone who suffers dreadfully from ME has come into my life, and I have a lot of empathy for their inability to function as society expects us to.

Meanwhile, depression, like alcoholism amongst clergy, is whispered about in corners, and like alcoholism, is perceived as a weakness.

Perhaps my weaknesses are my strengths after all! I understand the struggles and can sit in solidarity with those in the darkest of pits. And even in the midst of it, in St Augustine's at least, I can always manage a crazed laugh about it all!

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