24 June 2017

The registrar came to see Mary-Catherine and explained what had happened. He had an unusual but distinctive name. I remembered it from New Kilpatrick days. When he had finished, I asked him if he was related to the Professor.

‘He was my grandfather!’ he replied. ‘I conducted his funeral!’ I continued. ‘My dad did the tribute.’ I remembered it well. It was a pleasant discovery and another reminder of how our lives are all interconnected.

In Scotland, everyone is connected to someone whose friend  knows  your mother! But, more importantly, John Donne summed it up well, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself.’ We should haud our wheesht and beware these hidden connections. One of them could be God in the most unexpected disguise!

23 June 2017

The medic asked Mary-Catherine about her fall. But was obviously keen to get past this polite preliminary to the task in hand. What should be done next with the wrist. She realised what she had done and drew back but it was too late.

At that moment, I realised something very important. For the medic, the priority is getting the job done, the wrist repaired or whatever. Talking to the patient, gathering the details of the story, the life interest are of secondary importance.

But for the minister … this is where our work begins and ends. Unlike the medic, we have no expertise to offer, no goal to fulfil, to endgame to play to. Our interest is in the person and what they share with us.

Through this interaction wrists may not be healed but people are given time and space for personal reflection, a deeper understanding of what has happened, an opportunity to be healed inwardly.

God’s servant opens the door to another sphere of existence, another dimension of life. ‘When you came to the house, I felt God came too!’ said a woman when I called to see her young, terminally ill husband. No expertise to offer – only God!

22 June 2017

Yesterday, we were filming the second sermon for our Technology Project for the Presbytery at Whittingehame Kirk. I was reminded once again of the fifty-three year ministry of the Very Revd. Dr. James Robertson.

In 1897, he wrote a series of lectures for students for the ministry entitled, ‘The Christian Minister: His Aims and Methods’. He explores the aims in the first chapter and the means he will use to fulfil them. Even after a hundred and twenty years, his words still stand.

Our work is an inward work.’ he says. ‘It is to open a spring of divine life in the souls of men: it is to bring men into the large liberty and seal for righteousness that come of their being, and knowing themselves to be, sons of God.’

21 June 2017

When I was a pupil at Ardrishaig Primary School, there was no colour in any of our text books – our readers, the sum books, spelling book and books of sentences for parsing. The only exception was the nature study booklet accompanying the radio programme.

There was no colour on the walls either. In fact, the walls were mostly blank – perhaps a map of the world in the upper school and an alphabet in the infants. The first time my work was put on the wall for display purposes was in Primary six!

Nowadays, classroom walls are ablaze with colour, artwork, project work. They are busy to look at and sometimes difficult to understand. Perhaps we have swung too far in the other direction? One recent study suggested that this was true!

Far from stimulating pupils, too much material on the walls actually stymies their progress because it is too distracting! The more stimulation there is in a classroom, the more competition there will be for attention from that part of the brain which requires us to focus.

This study made me wonder about worship spaces. Would a church which is highly decorated in a baroque style cause the worshipper to become more distracted than a church which embraces Presbyterian austerity? Perhaps there was wisdom in our forebears’ lack of ornament and love of simplicity?

20 June 2017

The most disturbing thing to emerge from the fire which engulfed the Grenfell Tower was the loss of life and the speed with which it all happened. The second was the failure of several people in differing roles to fulfil their duty and the third was the mindset which was determined to cut corners to reduce costs.

There is the unchallenged assumption that this happened because those who were resident in the Grenfell Tower were poor and didn’t deserve any better. And so there is much talk about people being failed by council and government.

A culture of neglect can easily be nurtured when people fail to fulfil their obligations or try to minimise their responsibility. Corporate management leads to diffused responsibility. Before you know where you are, it’s difficult to know who is in charge!

The quality of our work is important. St. Paul says that we should do our work as if we were doing it for the Lord. That sorts out the problem about dividing the world up into those who matter like the rich and those who don’t like the poor!

And Jesus says that we do not know the day nor the hour when he will come to be our judge. But one day the quality of our work will be exposed. Why have we been  so acquisitive that we ordered every situation to see what we could get out of it regardless of the cost to others?

19 June 2017

We had our last ‘Church in the Hall’ event at Stenton yesterday morning. People have been very appreciative of the change – delightful, relaxing, light touch have been some of the comments.

The beautiful refurbishment of the Village Hall, the sunlight and the glass windows opening out into the park have all enhanced our experience of worship. Our attendances have been better and we have attracted some of our families who have been participating enthusiastically.

At Prestonkirk, we have moved into a more intimate seating arrangement. One older member of the congregation said, ‘I hope it’s going to stay that way!’ It encourages more informality and integration.

Yesterday, two of the children in the kirk played piano and saxophone and four of the dads made us laugh with their thoughts on fatherhood. They likened fathers to toast, a sheep dog and an old boot!

Their respective wives were quick to see the resemblance between the images and their husbands! And one dad paid tribute to his own dad who happened to be visiting the kirk. That was moving. Sometimes we are too late to say, ‘Thank you!’ He led the way timeously!

18 June 2017

Perhaps it was too hot for the garden yesterday? I didn’t have much time to spend there but I did pop into the walled garden at the manse to see if the grass needed cut. It did but it hasn’t grown as much as I thought.

We are looking after the walled garden for the first time in seven years. The person who had been responsible for it has been unwell. Mary-Catherine and I agreed to look after it for a year – and it seems to benefit as much from our neglect as our attention!

The potatoes are growing well. The cauliflowers are beginning to show. But something has been eating the runner beans. My pride and joy are the peas. I planted fifteen dried peas in a jam jar with cotton wool during Lenten children’s addresses. Eight grew and continue to grow in the earth!

But my greatest pleasure comes from those corners of the garden which are flourishing despite my failed promises. In one corner the foxgloves are in glorious profusion celebrating a variety of colour and hosting plenty of bees.

In another, the flowers, shrubs and trees have taken off with sun and rain, filling the garden with so much sweetness, shape, colour and pleasure. We have done nothing to stimulate all this beauty. We simply admire it and long to know the secret of its divine artistry!


17 June 2017

This week, I had five funerals. Interestingly, three of the people who died were keen gardeners and loved wildlife. One found contentment in the garden and the greenhouse – tomatoes, cucumber and melon, growing flowers – geraniums and begonias in the sun room.

Another had a profusion of flowers in her garden with ducks, hens and geese at her back door. And, ‘Leave the door open and let the swallows in to nest!’ she would say of the summer house.

A third grew fresh vegetables in garden and greenhouse and built a beautiful pagoda with a refreshing water fountain. There was always time to befriend the blackbird who ate sultanas out of this gentle giant’s hands.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on earth.

That’s why we sometimes call heaven ‘Paradise’. It’s an old Persian word meaning ‘a walled garden’. All three had a well-nurtured and beloved garden for growing things and making space for God’s creatures.. It brought them much fulfilment and peace, a veritable foretaste of heaven!

16 June 2017

Despite the catastrophe which engulfed the residents at Grenfell Tower, what stands out is the resilience of the human spirit – the courage of the emergency services facing up to a tragedy of unknown proportions, the generosity of fellow Londoners in opening church halls and donating food and clothing, the resolve of parents to save their children at all costs even throwing a baby out of the window into the safety of human arms ten storeys below!

The image of the destructive, raging fire is terrifying not least for people who live in multi-storey buildings, raising questions about their construction and their personal safety. People have become vulnerable as a consequence of this tragedy. We may tame the elements for most of the time but the power of fire and water is ultimately beyond our control. In one brief moment, our godlike profile is exposed. We are not gods anymore but creatures to the Creator God.

15 June 2017

Once I put a file of important papers on the car roof. And promptly forgot about it. As I drove away, it fell off and the papers were blown down the street. A woman found them, generously returned them to me saying, ‘I have a thing about litter!’

On the Sunday next, I confessed to the congregation. But I wasn’t alone. A petrol cap, a box of bananas, a tray of strawberry tarts had all been left on car roofs! What a string of confessions I heard that day! And how we celebrated our common humanity, our love for one another and, above all, our joy in living!

14 June 2017

Three days before she died, she came to baby-sit for us. We didn’t ask her. We didn’t need to. She had seen the need for herself. She knew we were both going out. She volunteered to come and help before we thought to ask.

It is well to give when asked,’ says the prophet, ‘but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.’ Yes, give generously when someone asks you today but look further to that hidden and often deeper need and give unasked through understanding.

13 June 2017

She was old but not that old when she died. We could have had her a bit longer. She was quite philosophical about life and death.It’s like a carousel.’ she said.

‘We’re like children on the hobby horse going round and round. The carousel stops and we say, ‘Just one more turn!’ But …’ and she smiled. ‘We’ve had our turn!’

Sometimes we cannot see it. We want our turn to last for ever. But there are others waiting for a shot. Let them take our place. Rejoice in their good and say with a smile, ‘We’ve had our turn!’

12 June 2017

We had two very distinctive services on Sunday  morning. At Stenton, we had a Breakfast Service in the newly refurbished Village Hall. One of our young families greeted people at the door and took up the offering.

Bacon and sausage rolls were popular and the informal atmosphere of the hall suited the children who made their escape at the end of the service to the nearby play park. There was a lot of chat and laughter.

At Prestonkirk, Queen Reagan and her Gala Day Court arrived in church with the bagpipes, expertly played by two of the children, Robbie and Harry. Later on they played a couple of solos. Georgia sang and Molly read ‘The Lamplighter’ by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The theme was, ‘I am the Light of the World’ and since the Gala was focusing on ‘Art’, I showed a very attentive group of children the famous painting by Holman Hunt, ‘The Light of the World’.

We sang a round from Taize – and finished together! The Sunday School had brought along their colourful banner from their Gala Day walking float. Some of the older children in the Court were concerned to hear about Mary-Catherine’s accident. One said, ‘Say hi from me and tell her I hope she gets better soon!’ Charming!

11 June 2017

On the way to the Gala, Mary-Catherine slipped on some mud at the end of the manse drive and fell. She knew immediately that her wrist was broken. We spent four hours in Accident and Emergency before getting home.

I was deeply impressed by two things. Firstly, despite the number of people in the waiting area, the staff were very calm, quietly efficient and very reassuring. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing.

Secondly, the expertise of the staff was impressive – the different nurses, the two doctors, the people who took the X-ray and who applied the dressing, the consultant, hidden from view but casting an expert eye over the results. We go back on Monday.

On the way out of the house, Mary-Catherine said, ‘You better take something to read just in case you have to wait!’ I ran up the stairs and grabbed a book from the top of my pile of unread books. It was written by the late Oliver Sacks and was called, ‘Gratitude’.

10 June 2017

When I was visiting in the parish this week, a person showed me a few photographs of the East Linton Gala Day. They had been taken some sixty-eight years ago. They were charming with a modest stage for the Gala Queen, a striking harlequin costume, families picnicking on the grass.

It is remarkable that the Gala Day continues and the Queen and her court, fancy dress costumes and family picnics in the park still attract large numbers and all ages of people from the community.

Although the photographs were taken during post-war austerity, the traditions inherent in this more modest celebration are evident today. And, more importantly, the values which inspire people to work hard to organise and produce the Gala are just the same. What are they?

Firstly, an inclusive community where people of all ages are valued. Secondly, a tradition which binds the community together into a common story. Thirdly, an opportunity to celebrate the things that are of most value – family, friendship, a sense of belonging, the common good, peace on earth.

In a month when we have witnessed vicarious acts of barbaric terrorism and the indiscriminate attacks on innocent people, it is good to reaffirm the value we place upon the lives of our neighbours in the lasting traditions of a Gala Day where young people are given centre stage and strangers are welcomed as friends at our party!

9 June 2017

In the book of Acts, it turns out that the preachers of the Word had accrued so many responsibilities that they couldn’t fulfil them all. In order to refocus their attention on prayer and preaching, seven deacons were elected to do things like organising the foodbank.

The democratic principle was evident right from the start for we read that the whole community participated in the selection of these seven office-bearers. Although election is a valuable principle, it is still a human instrument which is being used to discern the will of God.

As such it isn’t full proof. The first of the seven was Stephen who became the first Christian martyr. This honour didn’t belong to a minister of Word and Sacrament but to a foodbank worker. The last named was Nicolaus. He recanted the faith and caused the early church much strife!

8 June 2017 – Election Day

The election of a minister was an important principle in the church. Right from Biblical times, the whole community was involved in the selection of office-bearers. By the Reformation, the principle was lost.

Knox and the others remedied this in 1560 when they produced their liturgy for the ordination of a minister. They didn’t call it that. It was entitled, ‘The Forme and Ordour of the Electioun of the Superintendents’.

The liturgy was drawn up for the election of John Spottiswoode, Superintendent of Lothian. The liturgy which was produced was intended to be used thereafter in the ‘Electioun of all uther Ministers’.

In due course, the Kirk was corrupted by patronage and was ultimately split by it in 1843. John Galt famously captured the growing resentment in the Kirk when he wrote about the Revd. Micah Balwhidder at the start of his ministry in Dalmallaig.

When it came to the day of his ordination, the Presbytery had to secure a band of soldiers to escort them to the kirk. The people nailed the door up so their only access into the kirk was through the window!

‘The crowd followed us in the most irreverent manner,’ writes the Revd. Micah Balwhidder, ‘making the Lord’s house like an inn on a fair day, with their grievous yellyhooing!’ Some elections don’t change!


7 June 2017

I have been reading some of the reports to this year’s General Assembly. One of the best was a joint report presented by World Mission and Church and Society on the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

This is of concern to us since Lord Balfour lived at Whittingehame House and was a member of the kirk at Whittingehame. His Declaration opened up the way for a Jewish homeland to be created in Palestine.

The Kirk wants us to reflect on these things sensitively this year and, in particular, to prayer for peace in the Middle East. It cannot be accomplished without justice. This requires wisdom which so far has eluded the world’s political masters.

The report was very moving in places where examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things was illustrated. Among them a story about Bassam Aramin. When he was twelve, he saw a fellow Palestinian boy shot by an Israeli soldier.

He wanted revenge and became a freedom fighter ending up in jail when he was seventeen. There he realised that he needed to understand the Israelis better and deliberately got to know the prison guards and so on.

In 2007, his ten year old daughter was shot whilst standing outside her school. He tried to prove she was shot by a soldier. He couldn’t. At that point, he had an important choice to make. As he says:

‘Abir’s murder could have led me down the easy path of hatred and vengeance, but for me there was no return from dialogue and non-violence. Afterall, it was one Israeli soldier who shot my daughter, but one hundred former Israeli soldiers who built a garden in her name at the school where she was murdered.’

6 June 2017

It’s not what you expect to hear at a pop concert albeit one in Manchester to raise funds for those who have been injured and bereaved in the recent terrorist attack. But, one of the performers, Justin Bieber, said before his performance, ‘God is good in the midst of the evil. God is good in the midst of the darkness. He loves you.’ In the context, it was an eloquent sermon in only twenty-one words, an effective witness to the  power of the gospel to speak to us all in time of trouble.


5 June 2017

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit.’ says St. Paul. There are no exceptions. Everyone in the kirk has been given a gift, a manifestation of the Spirit. It’s our responsibility to identify and use it.

Two important things are said about the distribution of gifts. Firstly, we don’t have a choice. Gifts are a manifestation of the Spirit. So it is the Spirit who chooses to whom a particular gift is given.

There is no point in being envious of another person’s gift. They have done nothing to deserve it nor achieve it. The gift belongs to the Spirit and the Spirit has chosen to give it to them. There is no other rhyme nor reason.

Secondly, gifts are given by the Spirit for the common good. They are not given for self-aggrandisement. They are not given as rewards for work done. They are not given to mark out one member over against another.

No! The gifts of the Spirit are given for the benefit not of one but of all. They are primarily gifts of service and not celebrity. They are to be used in our ministry not to humiliate nor destroy but to encourage and build up the community of faith!

4 June 2017

The vestry clock had gone in Prestonkirk. The Session Clerk left a note. ‘I’ve got the clock.’ he wrote. ‘I think its time is up!’ It happens to clocks as much as human beings. Sometimes the two happen at the same time.

Before the popularity of ‘Stars in their Eyes’, there used to be more modest talent shows in village halls. They certainly happened in the Public Hall in Ardrishaig when I was a child. The most surprising people took to the stage. And I remember them.

Archie Aitken was one. He sang an old song called, ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’. I was immediately drawn to the singer and the tale. It finished quite dramatically with a stamp of the foot when the singer sang, ‘The clock stopped never to go again when the old man died!’

It seemed extraordinary that time was up for both grandfather and clock at exactly the same moment! Couples sometimes tell me that they would like to go together. But their passing rarely happens at exactly the same time.

The time of our parting is unique. We do not know the day nor the hour, says Jesus. So we live one day at a time and pray with Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, that whilst there is a time for every purpose under the heaven, God will make everything beautiful in his time.

3 June 2017

I saw a photograph of the Queen yesterday. She was signing a document to record her attendance at a celebratory lunch to honour her association with the Drapers’ Company. She has been a member for seventy years.

In the accompanying article, we were told that there are only three institutions of which the Queen is a member. The second is the Sandringham Branch of the Women’s Institute and the third is the Church of Scotland.

But isn’t she a member of the Church of England? The Queen is styled ‘Supreme Governor of the Church of England’ and, as such, she is in communion with the Church of England but clearly her status is quite different from ordinary members.

However, there is no such position for the monarch in the Kirk. Jesus is styled ‘that great King and Head of the Church’. We have no Supreme Governor. The Queen attends the General Assembly as monarch. But she sits apart from the Assembly and only speaks when invited.

To all intents and purposes, she remains an ordinary member of the Kirk and exercises no power by virtue of her office. It must be a unique relationship within Christendom – and something to celebrate too!

2 June 2017

When I was on holiday recently, I bought a copy of the April issue of ‘Scientific American’. I read about a fascinating Swedish study about preventing or stalling the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to Miia Kivipelto and Krister Hakansson in their article, ‘A Rare Success Against Alzheimer’s’, there is no cure for the disease and in the last thirty years, more than 200 drugs intended to halt its progression have failed.

They were involved in a two year study which concluded that three things have the potential to stall the onset or development of Alzheimer’s – a healthy diet, regular physical exercise and mental and social stimulation.

The improvement in cognitive function was impressive. ‘The intervention group logged an 83% improvement over the control group in executive function; a 150% better score in speed of processing … and a 40% performance increase in complex memory tasks.’

A healthy diet and regular physical exercise are good for our general health. Mental and social stimulation are crucial for improving cognitive function. The brain like the rest of the body needs to be exercised too by being put into challenging situations.

It’s interesting that membership of the Kirk offers us opportunities for mental and social stimulation. Going to church to worship is a social activity and offers lots of opportunity to get to know others.

In addition, reading the Bible is not easy and listening to a sermon can be challenging. Although people naturally want to be entertained, it is not to their ultimate advantage. The Gospel demands a lot of our brain power. And this is good mental exercise!

In conclusion, the authors of the Swedish study said, ‘It may never be too early to take measures to prevent Alzheimer’s – and fortunately, it may never be too late.’ There is always time to increase attendance at the Kirk and join the next Bible Study!

1 June 2017

At the beginning of March, the Pope visited All Saints Anglican Church in Rome. There he talked about the close bonds which exist between the two denominations in Argentina. He told the congregation about ground-breaking work which is being done in the north of the country.

Apparently, the Anglican bishop and his Roman Catholic counterpart work very well together. So much so that if a member of the one church cannot go to their own service on a Sunday, they take advantage of the other.

‘This stems from their profound engagement in common witness and service to their people,’ said Pope Francis, ‘which inspires them to manifest that common life of service in worship and teaching together.’

This was a remarkable thing for the Pope to say publicly. It was interpreted as some sort of endorsement of inter-communion. The interesting thing is that when people get to know each other and begin to work together for the good of their community, unity grows.

We shouldn’t be surprised. For Jesus prayed for the unity of Christians. ‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.’ he said at the end of a very long table discourse which, of course, began with the supreme act of mutual service, the washing of feet!

31 May 2017

Paul Ramchandi has just become the first Professor of Play at Cambridge University. This post has been endowed by the Lego Foundation through a £4 million grant to help fund the University’s centre for research in ‘Play in Education, Development and Learning’.

For some time now, teachers have known the value of play in education especially in the early years of Primary School. It’s well-documented that children learn more effectively when they are fully engaged. Play offers such an opportunity.

However, is this sufficient? In an effort to make our education programmes more attractive are we in danger of watering down the content of our programmes and denying the truth that learning is not always easy nor playful but very hard work?

In his analysis of this new appointment, Tom Bennet wrote in the Sunday Observer, ‘No matter how good a juggler or marksman you become you will never by yourself establish the laws of motion or the algorithm that maps the arc of a parabola!’

Even when children are young, there must be times when there is a reality check that learning cannot always be fun or playful or pleasant. Things have to be learned and time and energy dedicated to this work.

Listen to advice and accept instruction,’ writes King Solomon, ‘that you may gain wisdom for the future.’ The instruction of a gifted teacher is irreplaceable in nurturing a love of their subject and providing a springboard into higher education.

30 May 2017

It is always shocking when a child dies. And even more shocking when a child is killed. It happens too often – at least twice last week. Coptic Christian children were killed on a bus and young people by a suicide bomber at a pop concert  in Manchester.

Among the twenty-two who were killed in the Manchester Arena was a young person from Barra. Eilidh MacLeod was among the last to be identified. She was only fourteen years old. It was clear from what was said about her that she belonged to a very loving family and a supportive community.

Before her identification, the parish priest and the parish minister had led the island in an ecumenical service of prayer. Her parents described her as ‘beautiful, intelligent, popular and talented’. She not only loved pop music but Scottish music. She played the bagpipes in the local Pipe Band.  Her seventy-six year old teacher said, ‘It has shattered my life!’

She was one of those people who shared her gifts with others. She played her pipes at community events and spent time caring for elderly people. She was participating in what Jesus called ‘life in all its fullness’.

The contrast between the actions of the twenty-two year old suicide bomber, described by the Queen as ‘very wicked’, and the fourteen year old teenager couldn’t be more dramatic.

The one brought destruction and devastation, untimely death and grief which will last for ages. ‘It will be a long time before the community recovers from the shock of her untimely death.’ said a relative.

The other brought an enrichment to the lives of family, friends, members of the community, old and young not least through the stirring music of the bagpipes and the vitality of her personality.

As it happens, Eilidh is Gaelic for Helen. This is a Greek name which means ‘shining light’. It looks as if she lived up to her name for the darkness which befell her has served to illuminate the richness of her life and the love she brought to others.

29 May 2017

Salvador Dali’s ‘Christ of St. John of the Cross’ is one of the jewels of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. It’s just about to go out on loan to destinations in London, Florida and County Durham.

I saw this painting as a child and I never tire of it. However, I don’t think it is a painting of the crucifixion but the ascension! Afterall, the cross is suspended in the air! Dali invites us to see two important things in this crucified but ascended Christ.

Firstly, the Christ who is ascended, the one who is enthroned as King, the one who sits on the right hand of God is indeed the same one who was crucified on the cross. And secondly, he is also the one who suffers for us and shares our suffering. That’s what his kingship is all about!

Whenever I see the Dali, I am always reminded of these beautiful words which are recorded in St. John’s Gospel. ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ And how does Jesus do that if not through the love which suffers and dies for others.

That’s why the angels appear to chase the disciples away from that holy spot on top of the mountain. ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?’ Why indeed? For there’s work to be done in the city where the ascended Christ continues to  inspire us with the cross upon his back.

Who knows how many people may view this masterpiece in London, Florida and County Durham and discover anew the power of such grace to transform the heart? And, indeed, to transform our troubled world for it can only be done through the infinite patience of a suffering God!

28 May 2017

Stenton Gala Day is often blessed with sunshine – and for the most part that was true yesterday. The fun of the fair was relocated to the green and by far the most popular stall was the bouncy castle with lots of children and accompanying parents and grandparents.

Luca’s ice cream was dripping off the cone and Jamie was doing a fantastic trade at his BBQ. Younger children enjoyed the pony rides and there were cream teas in the refurbished hall. Harry Potter was in fancy dress and for once the ground was dry enough for people to sit on the grass and chat.

Earlier on, Faith and Marc Brunton hosted an ‘At Home for Christian Aid’ in the Votadini café. Margaret had a baking stall on the pavement and was selling books under the shade of a large umbrella on a stand.

Votadini’s is clearly an hospitable place to be. People care. In the winter, there is nothing more welcoming than their coal fire. People enjoy the opportunity to chat and today we chatted with delicious home-baking for the poorest of the poor.

We walked home via the Doocot and discovered that the old Torness Showroom had been transformed into a bakery. Bostock’s were selling loaves of bread and pastries from a van in the forecourt. Another welcome enterprise – freshly baked Saturday bread!

Now we have been asked to run the Bottle Stall at the Gala Day in East Linton. We have never been stuck for volunteers and people are generous with their bottles! More laughter and chat in another corner of the parish.

All of these things in their own modest way enrich our lives – and the lives of others. There’s peace in it and much joy. Long may it continue in all of our communities. We have seen the alternative when darkness descends. We will not look back!

27 May 2017

In February, I ate a couple of Braeburn apples. I dried the seeds and planted six of them. Four sprouted. Two did not. The saplings are now about 10cm high. But I will have to wait a long time before they grow into fruit-bearing trees.

There were lemons in the house for enhancing the fish and making the water tasty. I thought it would be interesting to plant six lemon seeds too. The apple seeds sprouted a full month before any of the lemon seeds came popping through the soil.

Whereas only four apple seeds sprouted, all six lemon seeds were a success. It’s a bit like the hare and the tortoise. The apple sprouted faster but not everyone was a success. The lemon seeds sprouted later and every one of them sprouted into little lemon trees.

Planting trees is something which cannot be hurried. You need to have patience to nurture the seed, the sapling and the tree before you can enjoy the apple and the lemon. Sometimes it can take as long as ten years for an apple seed to grow into a mature tree.

In sharing all of this with the children at the school assemblies yesterday, I discovered to my surprise that almost every child in both schools not only loved the taste of the apple but also the taste of the lemon! And what was the point of it all?

Well, sometimes it’s good to do things which we cannot enjoy today nor tomorrow nor next month nor even next year or the year after that but in ten years’ time. In this way, we are making  the future a better place to be even if we’re not going to be around to enjoy it!

26 May 2017

The community which gathers around our bird-table are quite a company – the robin, the blackbirds, the wrens, the blue-tits, the goldfinches aplenty. The pigeons feed on the droppings and are mesmerised at the agility of the smaller, more agile birds.

But something has happened to disturb the peace of this harmonious company – the arrival of a crow, a hooded crow which looks very sinister. I have banged on the kitchen window to disturb it and to its credit it has flown away. But not for good!

Crows feature in the tales written by Aesop. In one he is flattered by a fox into dropping some delicious cheese he is carrying in his beak. In another, he manages to access the dregs of water in a pitcher by dropping pebbles into it and raising the water to an accessible level!

From these two insights, he is both easily flattered and quite clever. He is not as docile as the pigeon and not as agile as the goldfinch. He sits with the pigeon at the foot of the table picking up the crumbs! They do not engage with each other!

However, he has an enemy. At first Mr. Blackbird would swoop low over his back. If that wasn’t successful in making him fly off, he did it again and again! Eventually, he was successful. Today, he was joined by Mrs. Blackbird.

In addition to the swooping, there was an attack. The crows wings were ruffled and he took off. Back again. More swooping and more attacking, followed by flight and a triumphant call from the blackbird.

He is the guardian of the woodland – and our garden! Mr and Mrs Blackbird have raised their young here and we have seen the fledglings being fed. I am strangely comforted by his presence and his protection of the smaller birds. Who would sacrifice the beauty of the robin, the blue tit or the goldfinch for the hooded crow?