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

Magnificat


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

Rejoice?

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.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 3 December 2012

Advent


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!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

God

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.....


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Flutterby

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!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Week From Hell

Not been a great week with the RW away on holiday. Started fine with Pat's first Sunday, which involved negotiations with the Police. Welcome to St Aug's Pat!

Tuesday saw a nose-dive with Archie careering into my groin and serious pain as a result. However, I managed a funeral and a wedding today too!

Welcome back to the RW tomorrow. I need someone to feel sorry for me!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Welcome to The Revd Pat Smith








I relived my own ordination day today.... And ended up in tears, as usual! May God bless Pat in this new ministry and as she exercises all the gifts she was given today.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Things to Look Forward To....

Was at the Cathedral last night for the rehearsal for Pat's ordination on Saturday. It all seemed a bit of a mish-mash, but, as always, it will all come out in the end and will look absolutely perfect choreography on the day! I remember these days when I used to take rehearsals in St Mary's and often it seems like you're trying to herd a flock of cats, but it all works when the day arrives.

Visit to the surgeon today who proclaimed that the hernias were fine and a good job had been done. He promised that in a couple of weeks the pain should be gone and I'll be super fit again. He suggested that he could surgically remove my iPad from me, but I declined. Jeez! My life is on that!


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Monday, 3 September 2012

Hailey Gets Baptised!

It is a very strange feeling baptising your own grandchild. There are just things in life that you want to go perfectly, and this, I guess, was one of them for me! My perfectionism stumbled to the surface, and so was pretty uptight that everything should be just "so"!

I needn't have worried, though, with everyone playing their parts excellently. The Star of the Show certainly helped things along by crying her way through the proceedings. Obviously of the opinion that this sort of thing  should not be inflicted on her by her Pappa, of all people, she gave her lungs a good exercise, and grabbed my microphone to enhance her displeasure! We made up later over a jar of yogurt!

Some pics:











Sunday, 26 August 2012

Partick Thistle Six

One must be very careful not to mention yesterday's result around these parts, but worth mentioning that The Nil are unbeaten this season, and have, in fact, won their past six matches. My Season Ticket is beginning to look like a real investment! The only team in Scotland with 100% record!

One team in Glasgow!


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Saturday, 18 August 2012

Methadone Debate Trundles on

My very occasional readers are well aware of my stance on methadone maintenance for habitual heroin misusers. For me, it's like giving an alcoholic free whisky to stop him using vodka. It keeps a generation comfortably numb, perhaps reduces some criminality, and gives the sufferer some respite from having to graft as much as they used to. It certainly, rarely, tackles the problem of addiction. Reduction programmes make me smile, because I can count in the figures of one hand the number of people who are free of addiction to mind altering drugs as a result of this sort of treatment.
I'm not totally ignorant or inexperienced. I've worked in the addiction field for over 30 years, and most misusers I'm in contact with top up their methadone with smack or something else. That's the way the addictive mind works. I know. I suffer from alcoholism, and if I had been born a few years later, I have no doubt that I would have dabbled in heroin with disastrous consequences.
I am slagged off by some professionals who know better, supposedly, among them workers who weren't born before my first burial of a couple who O/D'd up a close in Possil. Methadone maintenance does not, in the vast number of cases, halt dependency. In fact coming off methadone is a lot harder than coming off heroin.
I have no idea how much it costs the NHS to provide methadone maintenance, but it's probably much cheaper than providing what we really need, and that is much more residential rehab, and the support that is required afterwards to keep people drug-free.
Giving people drugs to stop them taking drugs is simple insanity, and they expect this to happen within the community, in the same shitty places where smack is more available than bread and milk. However, keeping them comfortably numb gives the police the courts and the social workers a wee break from absolute chaos, and allows a little bit of chaos to replace it.
It helps the jails too, because a wee appeal to a judge that Annie is now trying hard and is now on a methadone maintenance/reduction programme will save Annie another shot in Cornton Vale.
But does it help our sufferers?
Who cares anyway..... As long as we get a bit more peace.
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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Pastoral Visit

Ah! The joys of being 'laid up'! A pastoral visit today from my 'Curate-to-be', and she got nine out of ten from the judge. The dropped point was for the Danish, the crumbs of which are still hiding somewhere in my kip! On second thoughts, another two points for the Danish because it was delicious!

I had only taken to bed because the gas fitters were in replacing the toxic fire with a new one and were drilling a dirty great hole through the living room wall. When Pat comes on September 9th, the Blog will be fairly curate-free, because one does not blog about one's workmates, but it's nice to write about the anticipation!

I'm looking forward, greatly, to having someone as gifted as Pat working alongside me. Often it is not good for man to be alone, and it's going to be great to have another cleric to bounce things around with! Pastorally, she's going to be a superstar, note the Danish, and will blend in just fine with my pastoral assistant and me.

It's the opportunity to work with a cleric in training that's most exciting. Lots of new things and fresh ideas are brought to the table, and it should rid me of my bad habits for a while at least.

So, pray for poor Pat as she prepares for ordination. As some say, she'll need all the prayers she can get after being lumped with a fruitcake like me!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Better

Feeling much better today. The bleeding has stopped, and the painkillers are making everything else bearable. (provided I stay away from laughing, coughing, or going anywhere near the loo!)

However, it's a strange feeling, this not being able to do things! It's a strange feeling too about not feeling guilty because I'm not doing anything!

Big D from Greenock tells me he enjoyed his recuperation time. I think I may just do so too!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Bloody Clots....

I suppose this is a post to tell you all that I survived the surgery and the double hernia is sorted!

The staff, their skill, and comfort were second to none. Well done Vale of Leven, and I can't understand why such a magnificent local hospital providing local health care is being dismantled bit by bit, and most of us have to travel to Paisley for treatment! I confess to going 'private' once or twice on the back of the RW's BUPA provided by her employer, and the VoL were every bit as good as them!

Yes, it's every bit as painful as I was warned it might be, but the bleeding from the wound has been a bit alarming. Bed this morning was akin to a mini abattoir, but the Practice Nurse was out within the hour to sort out wounds and dressings. Magnificent response! The RW now has a bit of washing to do!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Loved this!

Spend a lot of time waiting for both our moggies to make up their minds!

Surgery

We get ready for the wee hernia op tomorrow and it's not worrying me at all. The only fear I have is that it may be cancelled at the last minute! I know that sort of thing happens from time to time!

My fear is afterwards, and there are so many scary stories of other hernia ops that include incredible pain and five week recovery periods. I scoff at them all, but they're lodged somewhere at the back of my mind. Permanently!

I plan to be back in action as soon as possible, and the parish will be run from my armchair for a week or two at most!

The worst case is being overly cared for by an enthusiastic nurse, aka the RW! However, if she wasn't so concerned I'd be miffed, so I can't have it both ways!

The only other fear is that they won't let me use my iPad in hospital! Now that would be a real disaster!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Just Sometimes

....... on a Sunday morning, you rejoice that God has called you to be a priest. My little flock can raise you to the heavens!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Depression


Visiting Dad

Someone commented this week that I've not blogged about my father for quite a while, and wondered how he is. The answer is "not brilliant", and I tend not to mention him because in some ways I feel his dementia and downhill trend is upsetting, and maybe should be just a wee bit private for someone who was such a strong and fit man.

Today was not a good one, as he slept for most of my visit, and was fairly incoherent when awake. That's just not my dad, and it is not how I'm going to remember him. His care home is good, with many devoted carers looking after him, but sometimes I think that the medical folk who visit the home often over-medicate. However, I know nothing about psycho-geriatric medicine, so I feel out of my depth in this one. We can simply trust that he's being given the right amount of everything, and it's the dementia rather than the drugs which are responsible for his sleepy demeanour at present.

He's settled and calm, which is in itself much better than he's been for a while, and at 87 we can't expect him to be particularly ready for a game of football, but it can be easy to "let sleeping dads lie", and attend instead to the more active members of the care home. Settled and calm may be as good as it gets from here on in. My prayer is that he will soon sleep away, and get to join my mum in a better place than he's in now.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Grand Time!

Herself was up having lunch, lately, and got to baptise the Rectory High Chair, with banana and milk, an exquisite concoction as I'm sure you will agree!

Talking of Baptism, we now have a date of Sept 2nd for the Event in St Aug's! Splish splash! I even managed to get Eastfield Bowling Club to give us a venue for Her Majesty's reception afterwards. [thanks, John!]

The hospital had me in for a pre-op assessment yesterday and I was told I'm in good shape. Tuesday of next week sees me getting a couple of wee hernias repaired and I will be glad of that.

The big question is, though, whether I will be able to hold Hailey at her baptism! I am given scare stories that it takes weeks to recover, and I'm a week short of having a Curate to do the 'holding'!

I'm sure it will all come out in the wash!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Shepherding

There was much involved in today's readings about shepherding. There was even a fairly weak sermon on how we should all be shepherds and get involved rather than being detached. However, the readings spoke to me, and every clergy person. How are we at shepherding? There are some in my congregation, my little flock, who would say that I'm dreadful. Others will say the opposite. I'm left with me, and how judged I feel when it comes to shepherding. I try my best. Often that's not good enough. Today's readings challenge me always to do better. With God's grace I might!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Condemned.... Well not quite!

My constant need of heat is something my friends will attest to. I despise the cold, and this summer has still to provide us with temperatures to my liking. The central heating is too much, as upstairs reaches 10 degrees more than the sitting room, and why heat the whole house when there is a wee fire in the said sitting room? The fire in question is a flueless gas job, wall mounted, with a glass front. It discolours the walls very quickly, and we have always been uncertain about whether there should be more ventilation or not. Returning from warmer climes, I have needed that wee fire of late, but at the weekend it died on us. Enter the local gas-fitter today who cleaned it all out and all but condemned it. He insisted, as per manufacturers instructions, that there needs to be a flue, but was prepared to let us use it meanwhile since the dogs are running in and out of the patio doors. A decision has to be made about flues or/and an alternative fire. Maybe we'll just have to use the central heating anyway. Central heating in July? Maybe I'm just a cold person, but it is the West of Scotland!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

When the Cat's Away..

In my curacy, many moons ago, I got upset when Sunday numbers went down when the Boss went off on holiday. Who did they come to church for, I would ask! On his return, he'd try to comfort me with, "Well, when the cat's away...". Much the same happens in St Aug's today, and my numbers drop dreadfully when I'm off enjoying myself, but that's for another day, or another sermon!

What happens when the people are away? Let me explain...

Before going off on holiday this year, we made the usual arrangements for the dogs. Archie has to go to kennels because he's too big for everyone. However, with cattery fees being so high, we thought we would run an experiment this year. Let the cats stay at home, and the lad across the road could come in every day to feed them. During the day, the upstairs bedroom window could stay open to let them come and go as they pleased. It sounded like a good idea at the time. It really did!

On our return from holiday, about midnight, we noticed a few feathers in the living room, and we suspected the worst. The young lad explained that there had been various birds and little mice removed during the three weeks, and he suspected the fireside rug had, maybe, been used as a litter tray once or twice.

Sure enough, as a couple of days went by, there was indeed a strange sort of smell battling with the RW's various air-fresheners in the room, and the fireside rug was duly washed and disinfected. Still the smell persisted, and was getting worse, despite our laminate flooring.

A hunt was commissioned, and there it was.. a great dirty, dead, rat, hiding away at the back, underneath the little coffee table in the corner of the room. decomposure was minimal, as the house has been pretty freezing and we really wonder if it's possible that it's been lying there for a week or more, but there it was in all its glory.

I now sit in a living room stinking of bleach and disinfectant, which the air-fresheners are fighting a losing battle with. The rug is still outside trying to dry, and two little faces look at me in all innocence.

When the cat's away... well, when the people who live here are away... the little sods are going back to the cattery next time, and no mistake!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Scottish Football.. a Stramash!

Those who know me will testify to my love of the beautiful game and my avid following of Partick Thistle Nil in the second tier of Scottish Football. They will also testify to my dislike of Rangers and Celtic and all the baggage they bring to the table when we should be talking football rather than sectarian bile.

It is in bewilderment that I have followed the demise of the mighty Glasgow Rangers over the past few months. At first I thought it was quite funny, but I'm not laughing any more. I'm beginning to think I'm one of only a few who believe that Scottish Football has shot itself in the foot in the clamour to kick a club, which few admire, (apart from their "fans"),  in any shape or form, when it's down and almost out.

The reality is that Rangers found themselves in the position they are in as a result of extremely bad management, and all sorts of shennanegins have been going on that few were party to. However, many will be made to suffer! The blame rests on the shoulders of individuals rather than the club itself. However, let's kick the club, even although Scottish Football needs them, however much I hate to admit that. With Celtic at the top table and Rangers at the bottom, there are problems, financial and otherwise, that are going to kick in, and which Scottish Football may never recover from.

However much I admire the high moral ground that we have all supposedly taken, I wonder how much this has been shaped by the dislike of Rangers, and the wish that Celtic could actually follow them soon into the abyss?

I was brought up with sectarianism in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, and I understand the issues more than most as a result of that upbringing. I was taught the words of "The Sash" in Primary One by my fellow pupils. I often wondered, as I grew up, why the troubles in Northern Ireland did not spill over into Glaswegian streets and communities. I believed, as I grew older, that the reason that violence did not erupt was because of the "safety valve" of the Old Firm matches. Much of the hatred and ill-feeling was contained therein, and once the 90 minutes were over, everyone felt a little better!

Would it be wrong to suggest that Glasgow, sociologically, needs this fixture to continue, however much I hate to admit that too?

As far as the demise of Scottish Football is concerned, only time will tell. I really wouldn't be at all concerned if Rangers and Celtic both left Scottish Football and let the rest of us get on with it. It's the imbalance I fear.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Jings Crivvens Help ma Boab!

It's just sinking in today that soon I will have my first Curate to train and look after! Pat Smith will be part of the Ministry Team from September 8th, and today she was in church with Ian looking at stoles she can use. Gulp! It's actually going to happen. It's real! More thoughts soon, but as Pat pointed out, from September, I'll have two women to nag me!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Refreshed and Ready to Go!

I have never taken a three week holiday before, but I recommend it! It gave the RW and me the time to relax properly, and spend some quality time with each other. In ministry, these opportunities are to be seized with both hands. At the end of a fortnight I'm always sad to leave, but a three week break did the trick, and we were both ready to go home after the third week. But, what a holiday!

This was the third time in Kefalonia and it just gets better and better for both of us. The island, which Captain Correlli's Mandolin made famous, is just a stunning place to be, and the local people are so friendly and welcoming. Add to that perfect apartments, with a glorious pool and decent pool bar, a good choice of tavernas and excellent food, lots of chill time on deserted beaches, and you get the picture!

Even a couple of small arguments involving a wall, a pole and my hired car failed to disturb the totally relaxed feeling which life destines you to have in this place. To be recommended for those who don't want discos, lager louts, but simply a peaceful easy feeling!

Go to Greece, please! We were bombarded by scare stories and warnings from our press and media in June! Don't go, they said! Greece is bankrupt! Stories of civil unrest were trotted out, and warnings that everything might collapse and our Euros becoming worthless with a return of the Drachma imminent were everywhere! In this time of crisis, Greece needs tourism, and if they are going to work their way out of this mess then they need tourists! Numbers are well down this year, which is a great shame, and predictably, those going have less spare money to throw about. However, eating out is cheap, and our sterling certainly went a lot further this time around.

The mainland is where the trouble and the greatest poverty is to be found, but the islands seem to be struggling but unchanged. The tourist season is short, so as much as possible needs to be made in such a small window of the year. The wall-to-wall sunshine is free.

Next year? Oh, I think...... Kefalonia again. There's still so much to be discovered down those little roads....... with the walls and telegraph poles!

A Special Night

Sometimes it takes a good rest, or something special to get you blogging again! I suppose, having just returned from holiday, and still tingling from last night's Big Event in St Augustine's covers both of these things.

Yes, blogging is a curious thing, and there are no illusions on my part that many folk do, or would want to, read what I blog if I'm honest. Facebook has seduced me, and it's easier and quicker to make a flyaway comment there these days, and get a reaction too! Thinking about it during my holiday time, I realised that I've really only blogged for one person, and that is me. I used it as an open online diary which I returned to to gauge my moods and feelings at certain points in my journey and at different times in the year. If anyone wanted to read it, then fine, but I didn't expect anyone to get over-excited by my thoughts or feelings. I blogged to remember what was important to me at various times.

There was a point when I blogged fearlessly, but strongly held convictions led to strongly led reactions that became difficult for me and the Scottish Episcopal Church. My wings were well and truly clipped, and I often wondered how you blogged inanity and still expected a response! Now, I feel I need the inanity and the online inanity at that! It matters to me. So we'll return again to the blogosphere for perfectly selfish reasons!

As I've often recorded, St Augustine's is a very "happening" sort of place, and there are always special things going on. I had left for Greece in mid-June with the possibility of an "open mike" evening planned for the Community Hall. There are certainly lots of really good musicians in Dumbarton, and especially among the youth, and it was about giving them, and others, a chance to play in public and share the talent they have. After last night I can certainly vouch that Dumbarton HAS talent!

When tickets went on sale it became obvious that the hall wouldn't be big enough and we had to move the event into the church building. Over 100 folk turned up last night to watch seven different acts, each one brilliant in its own way. The young lads who played and sang were just wonderful, and it was superb to see so many teenagers in the building who had come to support their pals. The "oldies" weren't left out either, and everyone went home with a smile on their faces.

Working with addiction, as we do, it often gets to the point where you begin to ask if there are any young people in our town who are not using drugs; such is the nature of working in that particular field. Last night the answer was clear. There are many many brilliant young folk out there who are full of life and hope, and in need of encouragement.

Can't wait for the next one in August!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Water Difference!

It's wonderful, sometimes, to encounter the power of blogging. I should moan more often, it seems!

As a result of my last post, Business Stream have been in touch, at last, with the promise that this mess will be sorted out soon. Alleluia! I'm having sleepless nights, as I ponder the fact that if the parish pays this much for water, there will be nothing left for my stipend!

Our parish water usage is minimal, actually. There are no leaks, we've had someone check. Our main water usage is from the Community Hall, where groups meet on a daily basis. Most of these groups are dealing with people with mental health, addiction, and stress issues, and some cannot afford to pay us any kind of rent. Our rental income, therefore, is pretty low. Folk in the parish put more in the plate to keep this sort of ministry going, but it looks as if that's going to be penalised since we therefore go over the income threshold set down by either Business Stream, Scottish Water, or maybe even the Scottish Government!

I'm convinced we should be exempt from charges altogether. It's hard enough running a community oriented parish without being crippled with water bills.

Help and hope is at hand, however, and I'm sure the young man from Business Stream will sort it all out. I'm due a good night's sleep!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Water Sensation!

I think it was about 18 months ago that we first received a water bill in St Augustine's. We have never paid for water before, but Business Stream told us they had installed a meter, whether we wanted one or not. We have now found "our" meter, which is on the street but not outside our property.

After much angst, including an argument about whether or not we should pay for our water or not, we eventually paid over £1000 some three months ago.

We received a message this month that we were due another £6,000 for water. Eek! Have we bought a reservoir or what? Are we paying for the High Street? Sure, we have baptisms, but no full immersion here!

It's all very worrying, and we can get no response from Business Stream that makes any sense.

Apart from everything else, being located in the West of Scotland where rain is the default weather system, it sticks in my craw that we pay for water anyway!

Any comments about which parishes actually pay for their water, and what their annual bills come to?

Monday, 26 March 2012

Parish Retreat

It's the day after the Parish Retreat in Millport, and my head is still spinning. It was a strange retreat really, a retreat that could only be crafted, executed and celebrated by St Augustine's. A retreat with a party in the middle of it, as Revd Anne Tomlinson gently guided us through the topic of "Graced Encounters", with the emphasis on food, feeding, and encountering God in our daily bread, linked into our Eucharistic community where the Bread of Life is at the core of our congregational being. Food..... Preparing, Pondering, Provocative Practice, Partying, Participating.... and a picture of our parish life emerged which was pleasing to the eye, and a comfort to my soul. Hey. We are doing something right here. There's deep Kingdom stuff going on.

There was so much laughter, so much gratitude, not least because two of our number have beaten serious cancer scares in the past months, and at the start of Passion-tide, we presented as a Parish with great Passion. We prayed together, we were silent together, we shared much good food with each other on so many different levels, and shared a joy of living and being alive.

Friday evening's talk was so pertinent to us, as Anne read an extract from one of her books to us:


I came late to Christianity, knocked upside down by a midlife conversion centered around a literal chunk of bread. The immediacy of my conversion experience left me perhaps freakily convinced of the presence of Jesus around me. I hadn’t figured out a neat set of “beliefs,” but discovered a force blowing uncontrollably through the world.
Eating Jesus cracked my world open and made me hunger to keep sharing food with other people. That desire took me to an altar, at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, where I helped break the bread for Holy Communion, then to a food pantry that I set up around the same altar, where we gave away free groceries to anyone who showed up. From all over the city, poor people started to come every Friday to the church—100, 200, 450, 800—and like me, some of them stayed. Soon they began to feed and take care of each other, then run things, then start other pantries. It was my first experience of discovering that regular people could do Jesus’ work. In the thrilling and difficult years after my first communion, I kept learning that my new Christian identity required me to act. .. Time and again, I was going to have to forgive people I was mad at, say I was sorry, be honest when I felt petty, and sit down to eat, as Jesus did, with my betrayers and enemies: the mad, the boring, and the merely unlikeable.
As I got pushed deeper into all these relationships, I started to suspect that the body of Christ was not a metaphor at all. “Because there’s one bread,” as St. Paul, another poleaxed convert, wrote in astonishment, “we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one I began to taste something, see something, touch something which suggested that Jesus’ vision of what we could do was true. “I know this sounds nuts,” I said to an old friend, who’d been shocked at my conversion to a faith I’d mocked, and baffled by my sudden urge to give away pallets of lettuce and cereal. “But, uh, when we’re all together at the Eucharist and at the food pantry, it’s the same thing. Because Jesus is real.”
Jesus is very real in St Aug's, and the parish in San Francisco echoed our own life and practice in a very deep and meaningful way.


There is a sadness though, today, for those who didn't come, and for those who wouldn't come on this weekend. They missed out greatly on a wonderful experience, and one which will be remembered and treasured by many for years to come.


The RW and I lit a candle for every one of us, those present and those missing, as we rather shamedly wolfed down pizza last night, and gave thanks to God for allowing us to be part of something very special.