17 October 2019
farewell to the congregation, I likened retirement to the season of autumn. In particular, I talked about harvesting. A member of the
congregation picked up on this theme and reflected on it in a card.
‘I pray that God will bless the latter part
of your lives even more than the earlier part.’ she wrote. ‘Autumn is very fruitful and productive and
after that the leaves fall to produce rich humus for the next Spring.’
to the card which had been left at the front door of the manse, there were
three plump, green cooking apples harvested from her garden. ‘I think we’ll make apple crumble.’ said
Mary-Catherine. Let the harvesting begin!
16 October 2019
Recently, I read a review of a biography of two famous politicians, Winston Churchill and Clement Atlee. The former famously led the country to victory in the Second World War. The latter formed the postwar government which radically altered the lives of ordinary people.
collaborated with each other during the
war to form a coalition government which saved the day. Leo McKinstry, author
of the biography, summarises, ‘If
Churchill was the giant of the war, Atlee was the hero of the peace.’
the book, Andrew Rawnsey asks why they were titans and explains, ‘In war and peace, both had a capacity to
raise their eyes above the petty squabbles of poisonous partisanship and fix
their gaze on the wide horizon in the service of the national interest.’
There is a
crucial lesson here for contemporary leaders not only on the national and
international stage but also in the church and community. Collaboration and
compromise are the most effective instruments to bring the new world to birth.
15 October 2019
love is suffering. When I was at church last Sunday on the Island of Lindisfarne, famous
for its Northumbrian saints, Aidan, Oswald and Cuthbert, I lit a candle by the
icon of Mary carrying her beloved Christchild.
I let them
know about the candle lighting – and they were touched. I also said how cold it
was in St. Mary’s Church to which they added, ‘Just as well you lit the
candle!’ Where there’s a sense of humour and a lightness of touch, there is
14 October 2019
The card with
the amazing message was sent to me by my first charge, Forth:St. Paul’s. I left
there in February 1990 and so to be remembered so affectionately by them after
almost a thirty year absence is very
In the letter
which was included, the person assigned to write it to me wrote, ‘Through the years, you ministered here at
Forth:St. Paul’s, you helped nurture and guide us to a stronger, deeper faith,
for which we will always be grateful.’
this could not have been written when I left this charge almost thirty years
ago. But with the passage of time, the
seeds sown quietly but faithfully have taken root in some good soil and have
produced a rich harvest. It is the Gospel. Let this be our encouragement!
13 October 2019
This week, I
received a beautiful card. It had the best of all messages. Right in the centre
of the front cover were the words, ‘You can’t retire from being amazing!’ In
five words it got to the heart of the matter.
value our work too much and nurture an identity which is only partially aligned
to our true selves. The farmer is more than a farmer. The minister more than a
minister. Each one is first and foremost a human being.
which have been channelled into our working lives and viewed exclusively through this prism, do not
disappear when the pension starts to be paid. They are still there to be used
in other spheres.
home to me most clearly when I thought about the loss of my pastoral work which
I have found very fulfilling. It slowly dawned on me that the opportunities to
listen and encourage other people are there all the time.
I don’t need to be titled ‘Reverend’ nor have a pastoral charge to be a pastor to another. It is what it means to be a human being. More particularly, it is what it means to be a child of God. And when Father Time comes calling with his scythe that is what I will be content to be – a child of God!
12 October 2019
Primary School Harvest Assembly was in the kirk yesterday. The children
excelled themselves with their homemade masks, puppets, songs, dances and
tongue-twisters. They took us round the world in a celebration of other
cultures. It was beautifully done.
At the end, I
was presented with a homemade book of pictures which the children had prepared.
Inside, they made several comments about the minister. ‘Like the grandad we never had, he fed us on Wednesday night …’
This was a
reference to the juice and biscuits at J-Team. I suppose I did look like a
surrogate grandfather! ‘He let us play
lots of games at the end of J-Team.’ It was a lot of fun – and I shall
never forget it.
wrote, ‘He told us the story of Jesus
like when he was buried.’ I hope this writer was there for the second
instalment? A fourth demonstrated the value of telling stories. I gave no moral but this child extracted one
‘I liked it when he brought the book about
the tortoises and the hat. He used them to teach us about fairness.’ Out of
the mouths of babes and sucklings, as Jesus might have said. Who can tell what
may be harvested yet?
11 October 2019
On the cinema
screen, I was alarmed to read that 3 million children die every year because of
hunger. If you do the sums, you discover that this means that a quarter of a
million children die every month and eventually this reduces to six a minute.
Six what? Yes
– six children, six human beings, die
every minute in our world because they don’t have enough food to eat. And if
you go a little bit further, you stumble upon the shocking statistic that a
child dies every ten seconds because of a lack of food!
Do you know
that you cannot reach the end of one of these paragraphs in ten seconds! And
what are the educated leaders of the people doing about this horrific
statistic? Is it because they are children and hidden from view that we can
move so easily on to the next news item?
10 October 2019
the Sacrament with the Guild yesterday and reflected on a lifetime’s
involvement with the organisation. When my mother was in her thirties, she was
treasurer and in every charge, I have worked with the Guild. They have three distinctive
The first is
the ministry of friendship which enables women within the congregation and
parish to get to know each other at a deeper level. The second is the ministry
of hospitality. There is always food around. This is how Jesus shared the
The third is the ministry of service. What other organisation within the kirk has celebrated an international dimension as much as our Guild with its series of imaginative and sometimes challenging projects which take us into less congenial areas of the world.
the Guild has vision. It is not me but the other. It is not only local but
global. It is not temporal but eternal.
There is value in shaping the leadership of the kirk in the image of the
Guild reflecting the ministry of Jesus and enabling us to live a life beyond
our personal limitations.
9 October 2019
every day that a parish minister reaches the pages of a national newspaper.
Recently, this happened to the Revd. Brian Casey, minister at Springburn Parish
Church, Glasgow. He was celebrating the profound impact which music had on people
visiting a parishioner who could neither talk nor acknowledge his presence. In
a moment of inspiration, he remembered that the man’s family had told him that
he was a Kenny Rogers fan.
got out his mobile phone and started to play ‘The Gambler’. It had an immediate
impact on his parishioner. ‘He came to
life in a way we hadn’t seen for some time and started tapping his feet in
and his congregation have harnessed this insight into the development of a
group for people with dementia called, ‘Musical Memories’. It greatly enhances
the mood of participants and has attracted members of their families to join
‘One of the last pieces of memory to go is
the one for music.’ said the minister. I imagine this is because music
carries an emotional memory and they stick around the longest. Interestingly, the
kirk charges nothing for this service. It is a gift of grace.
8 October 2019
I have a copy of Andrei
Rublev’s icon depicting the moment when Simeon encounters Mary and Joseph and
the Christchild in the Temple. Simeon doesn’t speak in the moment that Rublev
has treasured. He bends over to the Christchild lying in his arms and lifts the
child up to his cheek.
It is an act of God. For the Lord says through
his prophet, Hosea, ‘I was to them like
those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.’
And with what did he feed them – bread
and wine, tokens of his undying love for us.
It is the most
tender of embraces. The moment has been held in time for almost six hundred
years – old Simeon holding the newborn Christchild and touching his cheek with
The old and the
new held together in the briefest of embraces,
celebrating the fragility of our humanity, new life and old age. It is both a welcome and a farewell with nothing more than an old man’s blessing
on a new but radical world that is
coming to birth. And so he sings his lullaby and his lament:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant
depart in peace
according to thy word:
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.
7 October 2019
When I was
minister at Logie Kirk in the nineties, there were a number of homeless people
living rough in the woods surrounding the kirk. Some of them visited the manse
which was located on the main road.
ministry only one ever came into the kirk and worshipped with us. And he only
came once. As it happened, we were celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism.
At the end of the
service, I made my way to the kirk door. The organist was playing his
voluntary. The people were sitting in their pews getting ready to leave. As I
reached the door, my homeless friend stood up and called over to me from the
other aisle for all to hear, ‘David, that was beautiful!’ He had tears in his
And that was all
he said. And he never came back. But the interface between the homeless and
those who were at home in our kirk had been breached. And we were left with a
special gift – a question. What was beautiful?
It wasn’t just the baby which touched his heart nor the sincerity of the parents nor even the faithfulness of the minister and congregation. It was the hidden ministry beneath the sprinkling of the water – the new life, fruit of Christ’s loving sacrifice upon the cross!
6 October 2019
Castle Brass visited Prestonkirk. It’s a ten piece brass ensemble made up of
four trumpeters, four trombones, a horn and a tuba player. They were conducted
by Stephen Gallaghan who introduced the ten players and the programme.
certainly brightened up a dreich autumn day. Before we knew where we were, we
had been fast forwarded into Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’. The snow and the ice took on
vivid hues in the brass. It was beautifully supported by John Anderson’s warm
accompaniment on the organ.
hauntingly beautiful tones of Stanford’s ‘Bluebird’ and Ungar’s ‘Ashokan
Farewell’ were separated by three movements from ‘Divertimento’ by Premru. This
was my all time favourite – and I long to hear the rest.
In it, the
brass seemed best placed to question the spinning earth and disturb its peace.
The chaos of the first movement led into a reflection on the mystery of the
universe and all its unanswered questions. The third movement brought everyone
together in a big band dance!
We got an
encore, ‘When I’m sixty-four’ by the Beatles. I’m just in that category! And
the ‘Ashokan Farewell’ was played as a parting gift to Mary-Catherine and me, dedicated
by one of our members, trombone player, Andrew Barker. It was very moving.
concert showcased the versatility of the ten players and the brilliance of
their music-making. We were all uplifted by the experience and left feeling
that it was good to be alive!
5 October 2019
the children brought gifts of tinned food, pasta and toiletries for the Bethany
Christian Trust. They work with people
who are homeless in the city and surrounding area. Chris McNeil, the Churches
and Community Relations officer, wrote in response:
generosity from the congregation of Traprain Parish Church is very welcome
indeed and the food gifts are already being distributed to many individuals and
families in need at this time.
This includes recently
homeless people who have just acquired a new supported tenancy through the
Housing First Initiative, as well as many coming to Bethany’s various community
support drop-in projects in areas with high levels of food poverty and
At the foot
of the letter was a summary of their philosophy. ‘Ending Homelessness in Scotland, one person at a time.’ I like
this more modest approach to the perennial problem of homelessness. Individuals
matter and something can always be done to help like handing in a tin of beans
or a packet of pasta.
4 October 2019
Church celebrates the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi who famously developed a
special means of communication with all living creatures – taming a wild bear,
preaching to the birds, describing animals and birds as his brothers and sisters.
I am not sure
what he would have made of a day in
which we are losing so many species of plants and animals. People in the parish
have already noted the falling numbers of swallows and swifts.
For my part,
it has surprised me that in my nine years living in East Lothian, I haven’t
heard the cuckoo in the Spring. The only time I heard him give his distinctive
call was at St. Cuthbert’s Cave on the way to Lindisfarne.
day, I discovered why this should be. A recent study has just revealed that the
cuckoo is vanishing because of climate change. The changing weather pattern has brought more heatwaves, floods and drought
which affect the cuckoo adversely.
whilst some birds are vanishing others are increasing. What creates a bad
habitat for one species actually helps to foster greater numbers in another.
Swings and roundabouts, winners and losers but the cuckoo is an eccentric
friend and it’s one birdsong which is immediately recognisable!
3 October 2019
at the heart of the gospel, there’s the absence of Jesus. Although his friends
are bewildered when he tries to prepare them for it, he says, ‘I tell you the truth, it is to your
advantage that I go away.’
his absence is going to do them more good than his presence. ‘For if I do not go away, the Advocate will
not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.’ His absence will be
filled by his Spirit.
his absence, we remember what he said and did. Our curiosity is aroused. What
did he mean? Why did he do it? The words, the water, the bread and the wine,
take on a deeper significance as his absence stimulates our search for truth.
it happens, I have had four charges spread pretty evenly over four decades.
‘Which one was your favourite?’ people ask and I reply. ‘I had four charges and
I have four children. I love my charges as I love my children – all equally but
when my mother was disappointed when I left Logie for New Kilpatrick, she
confessed, ‘I thought you would go to Logie and then go out to pasture …’ I was
not interested in sitting comfortably in a charge. I felt God’s call to do
other challenging things.
my work was done and the wind changed direction, I took my lead from Mary
Poppins knowing that there was much
value in a ministry of absence where the Spirit of God could purify what was
given and bring forth a harvest unbeknown to me when the time was right!
2 October 2019
of the people who participated in the Community Bible Experience this year were
upset that Moses didn’t get to lead the people into the Promised Land at the
end of their journey. But why should he? It wasn’t his end. It was God’s. And
he entrusted this final step to his successor, Joshua.
may not have been a good ending for
Moses but God wanted it to be the beginning of a new ministry. Some people cannot see this and never get it.
We are only instruments of God’s grace not initiators.
hold office only through his will and when we try to force it like Abraham,
disaster befalls us. Some people hold on
for too long and do not sense the right
time to hand over to a younger Joshua.
surprising thing is that although Moses was an old man, we are told that ‘his sight was unimpaired and his vigour had
not abated’. He had much more to
give but it was not the will of God that he should continue to lead the people.
was buried in a valley in the land of Moab but it is said, ‘no-one knows his burial place to this day’. It was shrouded in anonymity. There was no
possibility that a shrine to his honour could arise. The honour was God’s and
he lived and died in the spirit of Jesus
who says, ‘One sows and another reaps.I
sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured and you
have entered their labour.’
may not live to see the harvest of our hard work, patience and even endurance. But we let go
in faith knowing that in the
mystery of God’s grace, others will be the beneficiaries of our life’s work
while no-one knows the place of our burial.
1 October 2019
the Parable of the Sower, there are three unexpected things. The first is the
ministry of the sower. ‘Listen!’ says Jesus, ‘a sower went out to sow.’ And
that’s all he did and that’s all he does in this parable.
that’s all that we need to do too! We are told later on that the seed is the
Word. ‘A sower goes out to sow!’ A preacher goes out to preach. A neighbour
goes out to care. We go out in faith to scatter the seed and that’s all we are
called to do!
second unexpected thing is that a lot of this scattering of seed is wasted. It
falls on the path, on rocky ground, in thorn patches and doesn’t produce a
harvest. And that’s true of the sowing the Word.
everything we do will produce a rich harvest. Maybe most of what we do comes
into this category. But we are called not to anticipate the end result but to
go out in faith and scatter the seed!
third unexpected thing is not that some
falls on good ground and produces a rich harvest some thirty, some sixty, some
a hundred fold but that we have nothing to do with it.
a former day, farmers acknowledged that the actual growth of the seed was a
mystery for which they were not responsible. As rich beneficiaries, they were
the first to share their harvest with the rest of the parish at the Harvest
30 September 2019
plant seeds in their fields. Some seeds are planted on purpose in the garden.
But there are many, many more seeds which travel from one place to another by
are blown away by the wind. Some get caught in the soles of our shoes and fall
off in a completely different place. Some get picked up by different creatures
and are buried in the ground and forgotten.
order to grow, they need to move to a different place. If they didn’t move away,
they wouldn’t get buried in the ground nor would they germinate, grow and
produce a harvest.
have to move as well if we want to grow. That’s why people travel to other
parts of the world. That’s why children leave home when they grow up. That’s
why Jesus says, ‘Follow me!’
parachuting, hitchhiking seeds, we are called to go on a journey if we’re going
to produce a harvest! And the best harvest of all are the fruits of God’s
Spirit – joy, love and peace!