The Privatization of Public Space and the Commonwealth Games

Glasgow’s having a ball hosting the Commonwealth Games at the moment. As everyone here is going around saying to one another, there’s a real buzz about the place.

However, that buzz comes at a significant price.

I had a wander down to Glasgow’s great public gathering place by the Clyde yesterday – Glasgow Green. I was surprised to be frisked going onto the Green and even more surprised to read what was and was not allowed there during the Games celebrations.

It was very noticeable that in all the hullabaloo, religion had been written out of the picture. To a certain extent the churches have colluded with keeping themselves hidden during the Games period. I don’t particularly have a problem with that but it was striking that amidst all the festivities in this city in which both the glories and the shame of religious life are vibrantly practiced there was nothing at all to refer to that reality.

More troubling to me is that people on the Green were apparently being told to cover up YES badges indicating their support for Scottish Independence.

I’m not a supporter and have every intent to vote no and encourage others to do so. However, I don’t like the idea that the authorities were asking people to cover up their allegiance to a political movement on Glasgow Green – a place where political opinion and protest has often flourished.

There’s other things you can’t take onto the Green too which are perplexing – the ban on wifi routers being one particularly worrying one. Fortunately those doing the frisking seemed oblivious to the fact that one can use a mobile phone as a wifi router if one so desires.

There’s other things you can’t bring in too – drinks in large bottles was one restriction, I think.

There’s a lot of buying and selling going on down on Glasgow Green. But no protest. No dissent. No freedom of expression.  No freedom to use new technology.

This glorious public space has been privatized and the Live Zone on Glasgow Green is a triumph of authoritarian capitalism.

Amidst all the celebrations which rightly surround these Games, we should not be blind to what is being done to us.

Remembering Dr Pritchard

Dr Edward PritchardEvery day at morning prayer in St Mary’s we remember those whose year’s mind falls on that day. This means remembering by name in our prayers those from the congregation whom we know to have died on that day. Now, our year’s mind list goes back a few decades and we’ve added one or two prominent people from the past to it.

One of them came up today – Edward Pritchard.

It is a name that one could pray through and not pay any attention to but I think of him each year on this day when the anniversary of his death comes around. He was hanged on 28 July 1865 before a large crowd of people, tens of thousands, some said, on Glasgow Green. He was the last person to be hanged in public in this city. He had been convicted of murder, having killed his mother-in-law, his wife and possibly a maid in his household. As a trusted doctor he had been able to get hold of Antimony relatively easily. As a genteel murderer, his case was particularly shocking to people.

He was also a member of this congregation and he died with a curate from St Mary’s in attendance at the scaffold.

Religious people are pretty good at remembering those who have done something courageous. Saints are a real part of our continued worship, but what do we do with sinners?

It seems to me appropriate every year to remember Dr Pritchard. He seems to have been a rather nasty piece of work but I have this giddy belief unsubstantiated by anything other than Christian hope that nasty pieces of work are children of God just as much as those who live lives that are pure and holy. (And I’m not really stupid enough to think that people fall into only one category, either).

When I remember Dr Pritchard, I remember that God most loves those who need love most. As I pray, I remember those who are on death row today and I know with every greater certainty that I’m opposed to the death penalty. And I remember the mercy and love of God which is as real and true for the Dr Pritchards of the world as it is for anyone else.

So, recognising that it is as perplexing and puzzling to work out how to pray for Dr Pritchard as it is to pray for anyone else, I add to the corporate prayer of the church my own intentions, hopes and struggle.

For Dr Edward William Pritchard whose year’s mind falls today.

May he rest in peace. And rise in glory.


Thurible of the Week – 26 July 2014

Spotted in St Mary’s Episcopal Church, Port Glasgow. From the Epiphany Chapel.

thurible from Port Glasgow

Wee dugs – genius


Peter Tatchell on Outing Bishops

I was in conversation with Peter Tatchell yesterday in St Mary’s after the Sung Eucharist yesterday morning. The whole of the conversation was recorded and can be seen on the cathedral website.

One of the things that I wanted to ask him about was whether he still thought it was appropriate to out gay bishops, something that he has done in the past. I wasn’t too surprised to hear him justifying the outing of gay public figures who use their own influence to inhibit the lives of other gay people.

I was interested to hear him say that he and those whom he works with are currently considering outing bishops again.

The whole of the segment on outing people is in the video extract above. The particularly relevant bit comes at the end:

Kelvin Holdsworth: For what it is worth, I find myself very often wondering these days whether we are heading back in that direction [of outing], with bishops in England directly preventing their clergy from marrying at the moment in a way that is not likely to happen in Scotland. And some of them perceived to be in partnerships. And that seems to me to be back in that territory.
Peter Tatchell: You are absolutely right, and we are amassing the evidence right now. I’m not saying that we will use it, but we are certainly thinking about it – because people have a right to privacy so long as they are not using their own power and authority to harm other people and when other people are being caused harm and suffering we have a duty to try and stop it. If this is the only way, it is certainly not the preferable way, it’s not the first option but as a last resort I think it is morally and ethically justifiable.

My own view that it is perfectly justifiable to out those who are gay who use their authority to inhibit the lives of those gay people in their care. It seems to me that it is perfectly legitimate for anyone with concrete evidence of a bishop who has supported an anti-gay policy such as the recent pastoral statement in the Church of England and who is in a same-sex partnership, to draw attention to that hypocrisy in public.

What do you think? Is it reasonable to out bishops who are themselves gay and in partnerships who are supportive of policies which would inhibit their gay and lesbian clergy from marrying?

Why we sang a lament today

It has been a pretty depressing week on the news front. The downing of the plane in the Ukraine, the continued terrorism of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the invasion of Gaza and the oppression of the Christians (and other religious groups) in Iraq by ISIS have been a huge amount of negative events that feel terrible.

As I was preparing to take the worship this morning, I saw a picture of an 1800 year old church burning in Mosul in Iraq.

Now, burning churches are just buildings but this seemed to represent the organised oppression of a whole communion. The Christians of Mosul have been told to convert to Islam, pay an infidel’s tax or be slaughtered. They are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and thousands of them have now fled for their life, their homes being marked by ISIS with a symbol indicating that Christians live there allowing particular buildings to be targeted.

I decided this morning that our worship needed to include something that had not previously been planned for. I decided to include a lament. Given that the city of Mosul sits astride one of the rivers of Iraq (ie Babylon) it seemed appropriate to sing from Psalm 137 – by the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept.

Now the context from when it was first sung to our present age is different but the sense of lament is the same. Lament is what happens when anger and sadness meet and start to sing in harmony, creating a song that suggests that the singer is not happy to let the world rest in its current state.

And so we sang the simple round, “By the waters, the waters of Babylon” during our worship at St Mary’s this morning.

[You can hear others having a go at singing it over on Youtube]

It wasn’t the most dramatic or glorious music we’ve had in St Mary’s recently. However, it was some of the most heartfelt.

When we meet on Sunday’s our songs are generally songs of praise and rightly so. However, we have other songs in our repertoire. Today was a day for lament. And in lamenting to claim that a better world is possible.

Peter Tatchell in Glasgow


You’re invited to come and hear Peter Tatchell give a human rights lecture on Saturday 19 July 2014 at 6.30 pm in St Mary’s.

He’s also going to be doing a forum after the 10.30 am service on Sunday.

Prayer for Flight MH17

It would appear from news report that are still breaking that there is a very strong likelihood that the Malaysian plane which has crashed in the Ukraine has been brought down deliberately by someone as yet unknown but connected with the conflict that rages in that part of the world.

It is one of those moments where the world looks on with horror at something utterly terrible.

I find myself struggling to know how to pray in circumstances like this but prayer must be found somehow. How to form a prayer for Flight MH17? Something prompts me to think of St Adamnan of Iona – one of those saints whom more people should know about. He is most famous for writing a biography of St Columba but should be far better known for his Law of the Innocents. It was one of the first attempts to lessen the savagery of warfare by getting those fighting to commit to leave the innocent untouched by conflict. Adamnan’s witness shines like a beacon from the Celtic lands. A product of what we now know are Ireland and Scotland, his influence is with us today and his message is entwined with modern diplomacy, concepts of human rights and the work of all who strive for peace.

So Adamnan of Iona, prompt our prayers….

Eternal God
for all those killed this day,
for those killed in warfare,
for those who work for peace,
for those killed on flight MH17,
for those who work for justice,
for those who are innocent who are killed in the conflicts of others,
for diplomats, peacemakers, politicians and opinion formers in all places of danger.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Pride Meeting Point – A Correction

This coming Saturday there will be a Pride march in Glasgow. There will be a gathering of Scottish Episcopalians (and friends) marching together in glad array.

Last week I announced that we would meet at the southern end of the Wiggly Bridge (which is the Tradeston Pedestrian Bridge), which is not the Squinty Bridge (which is in fact the Clyde Arc).

However, it has since been pointed out to me that there is no Wiggly Bridge (which is the Tradeston Pedestrian Bridge) in Glasgow. The bridge that we will meet by is the Squiggly Bridge and it is in fact called the Tradeston Bridge, not the Tradeston Pedestrian Bridge.

We will continue not to meet anywhere near the Squinty Bridge.

Is that clear?

The muster time is 0915.

[Photo from David Brossard - (c) Creative Commons - Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic]

Mixed feelings about the Church of England vote on bishops

I’ve very mixed feelings about the vote that has just taken place in the Church of England Synod regarding the question of whether that church should allow women to be able to made bishops.

On the one hand, I know some of the women who are likely to be made bishops and I know the joy and the thrill that will be theirs in taking on this role which previously was denied them. They will make fantastic leaders.

However I also know that the C of E has fallen a long way short of equality. It will still be the case that people will be able to behave in that church as though women are not really bishops at all.

Here in Scotland we’ve been able to have women as candidates in Episcopal elections for some years now however we’ve not elected anyone who happens to be a woman yet.

However if a bishop is ordained in Scotland then she is a bishop. Should someone not accept that, she may take whatever action she needs to take in order to facilitate the governance of the diocese. (She might invite another bishop to work with her or she might not, as she judges appropriately). In England, it will still be possible for someone unable to accept that a women can be a bishop (or even a priest) to simply request a male one.

It is a profoundly different state of affairs and this will embed into the Church of England the notion that the ordination that women receive, whether to the presbyterate or the episcopate can be accepted or rejected by anyone who choses to do so. The same doesn’t apply to men who are ordained.

For that reason, whilst wanting to get all excited about the new opportunities that lie ahead for friends down south who will make brilliant leaders, my fear is that in due course, women and men alike will regret the decisions that led to women being appointed as bishops on these terms.

A single measure clause which simply allowed women to be candidates for the Episcopate would have been just and right. This solution feels far from that.

I know women and men in England who know that this is a vote in favour of allowing women to become second-class bishops.

I have to admit that my sympathies largely lie with them today.