New Provosting

There’s a new provosting tonight in Oban and I’m carefully packing the Cope of Glory.

There’s certainly a sense of purpose and excitement about the Diocese of Argyll and The Isles these days.

[Trivia point – the definite article in the name of the diocese is capitalised for the Episcopal diocese of Argyll and The Isles but not capitalised for the Roman Catholic diocese of Argyll and the Isles. You learn these things whilst editing a magazine].

It is always exciting to witness the start of a new ministry which inevitably means someone landing in the middle of a load of other ministries and working out how to relate to them all and trying to help weave them together into one coherent whole.

When you start working in a church it is often the little things that give you the most stress. You can read the accounts and meet the vestry, but who tells you what order the first part of the liturgy works on your first Sunday. Somehow everyone expects you to know the little things.

I remember when I arrived at St Mary’s I wanted to know one small liturgical detail about the start of the service. I asked around. One person told me we did it one way. Another person told me we did it precisely the opposite way. And a third smiled sweetly and said, “We do it whatever way you want, Provost”. All I wanted to know was what was the norm.

There is a legend here that one of my predecessors was once told that he had made 35 changes to the liturgy when he arrived and was surprised to hear that he had made any of them. I can see how that happens, and people think that the slightest change is a point of principle.

Down south, the person who runs a cathedral is a Dean. They are sometimes thought of as “the first priest in the diocese” and occasionally act as a kind of shop steward, able to articulate in a particular way what it is like to be a priest with charge in a diocese and sometimes murmur in the bishop’s ear the concerns of those who don’t get the same chances to do so.

There can be some of that up here too. But here there’s that distinctive word. Up here, the word Provost has its roots in the latin and hints of someone who has been pushed to the front.

My good wishes to Provost Nicki McNelly as she takes up her appointment in Oban. Provosting is an exciting business and, as cathedrals take their particular and a distinctive ministry I believe in. Cathedrals occupy an interesting place in the life of the modern church which I don’t think many could see 20 years ago.

Welcome, Nicki to one particular front line of mission and ministry.

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