The Visitation and an Anniversary

Today is the Feast of the Visitation. It also happens to be the anniversary of me coming to St Mary’s 8 years ago.

Those who were around then will remember that my ministry started here with a hugely exciting service of induction and installation. I had to be made the Rector and I had to be put in my stall as the Provost. It was one of those services where we threw just about every liturgical trick in the book at it and it worked.

To be honest, I find most induction services rather dull. We’ve got into the habit of using miserable liturgies for induction services in which there is a central drama of people putting gifts into the new priest’s hands to symbolise all that they are getting by coming to their new job. I hate it and tried to keep it to a minimum when it was my turn here. In particular, I refused to receive the keys of the church – one of the most silly symbols the church has ever invented, in my view.

I remember saying at one point in the planning of the service, “Well, you can put the keys on a nice velvet cushion and process them up the aisle and bring them to me and bow deeply and offer them to me and I’ll still say ‘No, I am not receiving these keys’”. In the end they never appeared and I didn’t have to publicly say no to them.

The giving of gifts symbolises things that I’m not comfortable with at all. It is an enactment of a system of power that exists in congregations which is very far from being healthy. (It is also a little bit of liturgy that doesn’t have a great deal of history to it).

When someone becomes a Rector in a congregation, they find themselves given a load of power right at the beginning. And right from the beginning, their success, or otherwise, will be marked by how they chose to retain that power, give it away or share it.

The appropriate letting go of power is one of the great themes of Christian ministry but one that is very rarely discussed when clergy are being trained.

I find myself now, knowing less about what is going on at St Mary’s than once I did. You have to learn to trust people and let go.

As it happens, I’m off sick for this anniversary and the church is coping without me. I wish I was around this weekend as I’d have enjoyed celebrating an anniversary mass this morning and would rather be worshipping at St Mary’s on a Sunday than anywhere else in the world. (We give ourselves permission to be excited by the worship in St Mary’s – when we are on form, the worship is allowed to be as interesting, moving, funny and passionate as it should be).

However, even though I’m not there, I’ve every confidence that all will be well without me.

Once upon a time, I’m not sure that would have been so. I’d have been off sick and still worrying about the place.

Looking back, there have been wonderful high points since coming here eight years ago. I think that the church is a happier place than it was then too. And I never think happiness should be dismissed. It matters rather a lot.

I’m happy here at St Mary’s too.

Eight glorious years.

Thanks be to God.

Off sick

Have had an extraordinarily quiet time over the last couple of weeks, unable to really enjoy being on holiday as I was still trying to get over a bronchial infection which has gone on for weeks and weeks.

Back to work for half a day yesterday showed me that I’m still a long way from being fit and certainly not fit to work. The doctor has signed me off today for 2 weeks.

I can get to local shops, can drive and am not housebound and I’ll shout for anything I need. However it is the quiet life for me for a bit longer.

My thanks to colleagues for covering all bases whilst I’m under the weather. If you are waiting for responses from me about anything, my apologies, I’ll deal with them when I get back to work. In the mean time, please contact the Cathedral Office about anything that seems urgent.

I don’t know whether I will be posting much on the blog. (I’ve got one or two articles written but unposted).

This is what comes of not doing the blessing of the throats for St Blaise’s Day…

Politics Just Became More Interesting

There’s a lot of soul searching going on in the UK over the European Election results. Here’s my take on it all…

  • Those complaining most about the low turnout need to think about what they want to do in order to stop low turnout. The best thing to do is to join a political party and work to get people to the ballot box to vote for what you believe in.
  • Trouble is, I don’t find a party I want to belong to.
  • The above 2 points are the problem.  (Or at least, they are my problem with politics at the moment).
  • The media coverage from the BBC seemed particularly biased. I don’t like criticising the Beeb because I love it but it really did seem to have become the UKIP Broadcasting Corperation and I still can’t quite fathom why.
  • I don’t think I know a single person who has told me they were supporting UKIP. Now – is that because I’m in a little bubble and I genuinely don’t know anyone who votes that way or is it because voting that way is not socially acceptable?
  • Nick Clegg made a number of strategic errors in taking on Nigel Farrage in TV debates. Firstly it got Farrage even more coverage and allowed him to appear to be an equal when he wasn’t. Secondly Clegg failed to merge the UKIP and Tory brand. (People like me wonder whether he is opposed to the Tories at all – he just doesn’t come across as disliking what they stand for and someone in his position needs to be able to convey something a little stronger than dislike). Thirdly, he didn’t really do it well enough – die-hard party members were impressed by him but that’s not what the exercise is all about. Keep it Simple is still effective. (One of the posts that I had up recently which got lots of traction was about why I’m supportive of the EU because of mobile phone roaming, oh yes, and because we don’t tend to go to war in Western Europe with one another as once we did).
  • Policywise I hope that political parties concentrate on those who didn’t vote rather than those who voted UKIP.
  • I fear they won’t.
  • I was surprised that the SNP did not increase their share of the vote.
  • I wasn’t surprised that the Lib Dem vote collapsed.
  • I feel for the Greens who were struggling to get a word in edgeways. I kind of wish that I could vote Green but the trouble is, they’ve got their policies.
  • The Liberal Democrats are not going to do better until they have a change in leader and until there is obvious contrition. It is going to get worse before it gets better.
  • I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but I can’t take the leadership of the Labour Party in Scotland seriously.
  • Thank God there was no “Christian” party on the ballot paper.
  • Politics just got more interesting because people don’t know what it all means and don’t know what comes next.
  • That’s the best politics in the world.

You got your own take? Share it in the comments below.

Glasgow School of Art Fire – video of what I saw

Here’s a video of what I saw yesterday afternoon at the Glasgow School of Art.

Despite news reports today which are playing down the damage, the Mackintosh interiors, particularly the library, were very obviously completely gutted.

Glasgow School of Art Fire – eyewitness report and pictures

IMG_5854 blaze near roof
As I sit down to write this, my clothes and hair smell of smoke. I’ve just witnessed a profound tragedy – the fire at Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building.

There’s huge sadness in the city. I saw people openly weeping in the streets. This was more than just a building. Iconic in terms of the world’s built heritage, the Mack was also part of this city’s heart and soul.

I became aware that something was happening when I looked out of my living room window at 1 pm and saw a plume of smoke rising above Garnethill. I picked up my camera and headed out and saw the worst of the blaze and so there are some pictures of what I saw below.

Glasgow’s School of Art is more than a building. It is a complex institution in which beauty, hope and challenge are forever interwoven. The Mack was indeed a precious icon but it was a working building which produces the art of today and of tomorrow. As I stood with students mourning losses today, there was already talk of what could be saved; what could be rebuilt. None of us looking on know what to make of what we have seen yet everyone seemed to want to talk of what would yet live, even as the smoke of what was burning was billowing around us.

For firefighters, emergency planners and police we give thanks. For students, alumni, administrators and staff we pray for peace. For bystanders, witnesses and for the whole of this creative, vibrant city, Lord we pray. Amen.

There will be prayers for all involved on Sunday in St Mary’s Cathedral, and no doubt across the city.

Church of Scotland rejects biblicist position on sex and marriage

It is going to be important not to underestimate the significance of the votes in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland today. A last ditch attempt was made to get that church to commit to the idea that sex belongs only between a married heterosexual couple. That idea was comprehensively rejected.

People with widely differing opinions never thought we would see this day. Though the legislation that the Church of Scotland is now consulting on accepting is a dreadful mess, and a long way from equality for LGBT people, today was a huge and historic boost for those who reject the ideas of those who claim the Christian tradition to be by definition narrow and anti-gay in character.

It seemed to me, as I watched the debate, as though those seeking to promote an anti-gay view had made a huge strategic mistake by going for an all or nothing approach and trying to get the Assembly to affirm only their view.

Generosity won the day in Edinburgh today. Generosity that has divine fingerprints all over it.

I believe in Europe

I believe in the European Union as a great positive in our lives because it is in the process of minimising two things – roaming charges for mobile phones and war in western Europe.

And a whole lot more of course too. But that seems to encapsulate why I care about Europe. I want forms of good governance which can benefit the citizens of these countries and I also want these countries, which have historically been at war to put that behind them and live at peace.

Now, in saying that I want good governance in Europe, I’m not of a belief that we’ve got that right yet. (Nor am I of the belief that government at Holyrood or Westminster is perfect either). It seems clear that there will, for a long time, be the need for reform of the European institutions. However, that is a process that is not merely worth being a half-hearted part of but worth making commitments to, in order to be able to shape and mould things as they change.

I’ve been wrong about some things in Europe. I thought the Euro was a good idea and though I still like the notion of a single currency, I’ve also seen very clearly that independent nations cannot realistically share their money without having a common economic policy. Having seen it go spectacularly wrong in Europe, it seems obvious to me that the same mistakes can’t be allowed to come to pass within these islands. States which have economic independence need their own currency for their own good.

However, I’m suspicious of the nation state itself. It seems to me to be a positive good that the nation state (The United Kingdom) that I live in, is part of a multiple set of identities in which British nationalism is compromised from both within and without. Nationalisms frighten me. I want them to be compromised by other commitments.

So, I’ve voted in the European Election. (I had a postal vote this time). That I had some enthusiasm for voting was tempered a little by my having little enthusiasm for any of the options on the ballot paper. I did manage to cast a vote and I think that it is important to do so even if one has to hold one’s nose whilst voting, either metaphorically or physically.

I believe in Europe and Europe needs us to believe in it. It isn’t just mobile phone charges that matter, of course. Things like global warming need much stronger action than they are currently getting and a European Parliament can and should be one focus for working to make the planet work. And our continent is far from free from conflict either. However the structures of the EU are part of a political settlement, unsure and vulnerable though it is, which have prevented the horrors of all out war that directly affected my parents and grandparents.

Vive L´Europe! Long live the European Union!

International Day Against Homophobia

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia.

I’m not going to say much about it except to point towards a youtube video – one of the most articulate speeches of recent years about the topic.

It is an unlikely person speaking in an unlikely location – a drag queen called Panti Bliss speaking at the end of of a production in the Abbey Theatre in Ireland.

Lots of people will have seen it. If you haven’t, take a look.

The next time you hear a straight church leader speaking about how it is not actually homophobic to take actions which work to the detriment of gay and lesbian people remember this speech. And ask who is best placed to decide what is homophobic and what isn’t.

Heresy hunting

One of the big differences between the theological training that I received from the university and the theological training I received from the church was that the former was interested in heresy and the latter wasn’t interested at all.

It may be that things are different now, I don’t know. But quite a lot of the church history that we did when I first did my BD was about defining the limits of orthodoxy. In other words, looking at the controversies of the early church and learning about the key players who determined what was and what was not legitimate for Christians to believe in. And it was useful stuff too – far too easily dismissed by those who think the church should simply have fuzzy boundaries and for whom any theology goes. Useful too for helping one to think through the modern church’s controversies to see whether or not things have changed much.

It also led to the entertaining theological dinner party game of ‘I can’t believe that’s not orthodoxy’. The participants have to come up with a new heresy and the others have to prove that it is in fact an old one.

One way of understanding the trials and tribulations of modern Anglicanism is to see it as a global version of this game. And not just Anglicanism of course, though we are particularly good at it.

Current possible heresies include the following:

Optional Doctrinalism – the idea that a church can have a doctrine which it authorises some people to disbelieve. (This one seems very attractive at the moment – see the latest from New Zealand).

Clerical Morality – The idea that clergy have different moral standards put upon them than the laity. (Yes, this one can be found very clearly in lots of documents, not least the recent pastoral statement and guidance from the House of Bishops in England). The interesting question here is whether clerical celibacy, practised, for example, in some parts of the Roman Catholic Church at some times and in some places is a moral injunction or a pastoral one.

Canonical Antiadiaphoralism – Putting a contested doctrinal statement into the canons of a church by majority vote and then claiming it has creedal authority for all Christians for all time and in all places or claiming that statements which were made in canon law for one purpose actually apply in different circumstances but for for all people. (See for example, this statement by a group claiming to represent the Faith and Order Board of the Scottish Episcopal Church).

How are we to determine whether these are indeed modern heresies or whether they fall legitimately within orthodoxy?

Sermon – Road to Emmaus

Here’s the sermon I preached on the Road to Emmaus story.