Minister’s Blog

19 September 2018

When we visited Helmsley Parish Church in North Yorkshire, we discovered an important link with the church in Scotland. On one of the walls, there was a framed handwritten letter from the nineteenth century. The ink had not faded, the writing was still legible.

It had been written by Dr. David Livingstone on 14 July 1863 to Mrs. Gray, the mother of the Revd. Charles Gray, vicar at Helmsley. She had made him a mosquito curtain. He thanks her for her kindness and says how much he admires the invention!

In the letter he confessed that ‘the greatest and most unaccountable folly of my life was travelling all over this Continent without ever once thinking that the pest could be escaped from.’

At the end of this personal letter, he shares his victorious joy over the mosquito!. ‘I laugh as they dash themselves against the meshes. Many thanks for your kindness. I start for the Lake tomorrow.’ Her husband was the first Bishop of Capetown.

Minister’s Blog

18 September 2018

When we were in York for the weekend, we enjoyed watching some of the mediaeval Mystery Plays. They were traditionally performed on the Feast of Corpus Christi  which often landed in June. This year, it was a September celebration!

The plays were performed on wagons which trundled through the city streets to four locations. We saw them in St. Helen’s Square for free! There were eleven plays altogether performed by people of all ages accompanied by  musicians playing period instruments.

We saw eight of the plays standing in the Square. There were innovations. Whereas the mediaeval plays were performed by men, these plays had a predominantly female cast. For example, women played Adam and Christ.

The plays were chosen to reflect similar themes. So the sacrifice of Isaac was followed by the sacrifice of Christ and the temptation of Christ in the wilderness was followed by the remorse of Judas. For me, the latter was the most powerful and moving. We can all stand in these pitiful shoes.

The beauty of these street performances was that people were free to watch or not. A lot of people looked round to see what was going on but walked on. Not everyone who stood around the wagons was listening to the play. Mobile phone conversations were not unusual.

This made the plays the more attractive for three reasons. Firstly, the gospel is a gift which we are free to accept or reject. Secondly, the gospel is something which needs to be brought into the market-place. Thirdly, the gospel is the more engaging when clothed with imagination, humour and all the colours of the rainbow!

Minister’s Blog

17 September 2018

Yesterday was St. Ninian’s Day. Who was St. Ninian? We hardly know the answer to this question. Someone compared his life to  a palimpsest, a manuscript with writing on top of writing.

The bit about St. Ninian has been partially erased and other history has been written on top of it. You can make out some of the words but not all of them and  not enough to recover a reliable history.

The earliest documentary evidence we have for Ninian is the eighth century, at least two hundred years after he died! This was written by the Venerable Bede who worked in the monastery at Jarrow.

He tells us that Ninian was British. He became a bishop. His preaching was effective in converting the Southern Picts. His diocese was named after St. Martin and his church was called Candida Casa because unusually it was built of stone!

Despite the difficulties we have in pinning St. Ninian down, many people were trained at Ninian’s Candida Casa. One of these was a man called Finnian. He established a monastery at Moville, Ireland around 540AD. He taught Columba!

It was Finnian’s copy of the Psalter which Columba illegally copied. It was a scandal. The first recorded breach of copyright law! It had awesome consequences – a trip in a coracle to Scotland, a monastery on Iona and the conversion of the West Highlands!

Minister’s Blog

16 September 2018

When we visited the Jorvik Centre recently, I was fascinated to see the Middleton Cross. The original is to be found in St. Andrew’s Church, Middleton in Ryedale. In 2016, Jorvik commissioned the Minster Stoneyard to model it using oolitic limestone.

The stone was shaped in the form of a wheel-head Cross. However, on one side there was a Viking warrior and on the other there was a serpent. The mixture of cultures was obvious. Apparently, the Vikings assimilated Christianity easily and contributed to its changing shape.

Visitng Rievaulx Abbey later on, I was fascinated to see in the museum, two chess pieces which had been found by the archaeologists. One was in the shape of an elephant. Was that the bishop?

The other was a pawn. It was small and black. However, it had been decorated with an Islamic symbol. It seemed strange that this worthy Christian institution, founded on a rigorous reading of St. Benedict’s Rule, should accommodate these hints of Islam.

When human beings meet, their differences loom large but in due time, friendship takes over and what has the potential to divide is re-imagined as a gift which enlivens and recreates what has become traditional and sometimes staid.

A church which is growing old needs to guard against a process of decay. The only way to counteract this movement is to be open to those who are young – thinking fresh thoughts, seeing things with unburdened eyes, offering new connections with a changing world. For God is working there too!

Minister’s Blog

15 September 2018

Walking up the hill from Knowes Mill, I was shocked to see that one of the ash trees had fallen to the ground. Judging by the girth of the tree it was very old. Perhaps it had been weakened by age.

On closer inspection, I was horrified to see that the tree was hollow on the inside! It frightened me. For the tree looked so strong and elegant on the outside. But inside, there was nothing there.

Preachers are particularly aware of the hollowness within every time they ascend and descend the pulpit steps. They do not escape the words of their own preaching and realise all too readily how far they have fallen short of  the glory of God.

The second time I inspected the tree, I had a different thought. What I saw inside the old tree may not have been hollowness but emptiness. Perhaps the tree had given all it could give to sustain life and beautify the landscape. There was nothing left to share with the world.

This was the picture evident in Paul’s great hymn to the church at Philippi. For Christ, ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.’

Two days, two thoughts about the hollow or the empty tree. Are they related? Either way, we need to make space within for the Holy Spirit to work its cure. Forgiving and healing begin with the emptying of self through the austere and sometimes unwanted recognition that we are hollow without the life of God within to make new.

Minister’s Blog

14 September 2018

On Wednesday night, I returned home from visiting in the dark. As I drove up to the manse, my headlights caught some movement. I stopped the car, switched the lights off and then put them on again. It wasn’t a squirrel, as I first thought, but a hedgehog!

‘Hedgie has returned!’ I thought. This is Mary-Catherine’s name though I dare say Hedgie could be Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle instead! Whatever … I was glad of the siting because it means we are not as far removed from the natural world as we had thought!

There is alarm in some quarters that the agricultural developments in the fifties and the road-building in the seventies have contributed to the demise of the hedgehog’s natural habitat and they are declining in large numbers – 30% since 2002!

Tom Holland was writing about it recently. He made two good observations. Firstly, those who point the finger at  leaders in other lands who are not taking sufficient care of the elephant should begin by pointing the finger at home and thinking about the hedgehog!

Secondly, whereas the hedgehog is not a pet nor a farm animal, it is to be treasured as one of the most accessible wild animals in our country. Its presence within our garden puts us in direct contact with the wild even if our natural inclination is to tame it and call it Hedgie!

Minister’s Blog

13 September 2018

Last Friday, I went to Stenton Primary School to take the school assembly. I was armed with leaflets about our after school club, the J-Team. It was scheduled to start the following Wednesday.

When I entered the classroom, there was a frisson of excitement. ‘We went to the Hall on Wednesday but there was no one there.’ said one. ‘And we ran to the church to see if J-Team was there. But the church was empty!’

Surprised, heartened but confused by their comments, I explained, ‘But J-Team doesn’t start until next Wednesday. I have just given the leaflets to the Secretary for distribution.’ The Secretary said, ‘Obviously, they were ready for it to start again!’

It reminded me of my childhood in Ardrishaig where there was a season for everything – a time for skipping ropes, a time for kick-the-can, a time for rounders, a time for hoola-hoops …No-one declared when it was the right time to do the one nor the other. We all just knew!

Minister’s Blog

12 September 2018

Kurt Godel was twenty-three when he completed his PhD in mathematics. He was invited to speak for twenty minutes at a conference in Konigsberg in October 1930. He was shy and introverted. His talk made little impact. The next day there was general discussion about the conference papers.

Late into the day, Godel made a comment, ‘One can (assuming the consistency of classical mathematics) even give examples of propositions (and indeed of such a type as Goldbach and Fermat) which are really contextually true but unprovable in the formal system of mathematics.’

It took less than thirty seconds to say and as Rebecca Goldstein comments, ‘Godel brought it out with no fanfare, played it barely pianissimo.’ And what happened? The discussion continued as if he hadn’t said a thing. In the official reports of this discussion, Godel does not earn a mention.

Up until that point, mathematical truth was seen in terms of what could be proved. No one imagined that some mathematical statements could be true but unprovable. Godel proved his Incompleteness Theorem and turned the mathematical world upside down. It took time for his brilliance to sink in. But in the end, truth will out.

Minister’s Blog

11 September 2018

Picasso was sitting in the park when a woman asked him to paint her portrait. The artist agreed. After thinking about his subject, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. The woman was thrilled.

‘How much do I owe you?’ she asked. The artist replied, ‘Five thousand dollars!’ The woman was flabbergasted. ‘How can you ask me for so much. It only took you a second to draw it.’ The artist replied. ‘No, Madame, it took me my entire life.’

Minister’s Blog

10 September 2018

Mental health issues came to the fore this week in a Herald article about the late Chris Mitchell. He was a promising young footballer who was forced to give up his career because of a spinal injury. Depression followed and he committed suicide at the tender age of 27.

His family have opened up about it and taken an initiative to help others. They have founded a charity to raise awareness of mental health problems in football. It is widely acknowledged that the macho image of this and other sports makes it difficult to admit mental health problems.

As a consequence, young people who suffer feel even more isolated and alone and this contributes to a downward spiral of depression with loss of self-esteem and a purpose in living a useful life.

Footballers like any other profession need to be supported in their work. It isn’t sufficient to focus on fitness and performance. Managers and other responsible people need to be sensitive to the whole person and be alert to emerging problems.

We all benefit from a ministry of encouragement especially when things are difficult. Walking beside people, listening and showing understanding like the hidden Christ on the road to Emmaus have the potential to bring hope and even new life.

Minister’s Blog

9 September 2018

When Heinrich Steinmeyer was nineteen, he fought for the Germans in France. Following the D-Day Landings, he was captured and taken to Scotland as a prisoner-of-war. He was imprisoned near Comrie.

As a tribute to the people who managed his imprisonment and the people he met in Comrie, the former SS officer left his entire fortune to the older people in the community. It amounted to almost £400,000!

The people in Comrie have just finished deciding what to do with this small fortune. One of the beneficiaries is the church which appealed for funds to redevelop St. Kessog’s Square. The kirk wants to turn into a welcoming area at the heart of the village.

‘I would like to express my gratitude to the people of Scotland,’ wrote the former German soldier, ‘for the kindness and generosity that I have experienced in Scotland during my imprisonment of war and hereafter.’

It’s a marvellous commendation not only of his gratitude but also the humanity shown towards him by ordinary people at the height of the war. Compassion and mercy enable us to see that enemies can be friends if we acknowledge that we are all sons and daughters of God made in his image!

Minister’s Blog

8 September 2018

If you wanted another tool for your well-being toolkit, you could consider what Rolf Dobelli calls ‘mental subtraction’. You probably already use it. Many people do in stoical Scotland. Ask anyone who has been at a clinic.

Looking around is always a salutary lesson. Inevitably, you see someone much worse than yourself. You take another look and you realise that you aren’t so badly off afterall. This is mental subtraction.

If you feel badly about things, it doesn’t take much imagination to create a scenario in which things could be much worse. Living momentarily in that environment is the speediest way to value what you’ve got.

Interestingly, mental subtraction is much more effective at doing this than listing all the positive things that have happened to you today. Whilst gratitude is important, this is a tedious exercise which wears thin very quickly. Try it and see!

Minister’s Blog

7 September 2018

It is a year since I had my heart attack. I got the best of treatment – timeous and compassionate and was well-looked after at home. People were thoughtful, supportive, kind. I made a speedy recovery, getting a very good report in February.

I don’t need to worry – and I don’t. These intimations of mortality are a blessing. They make me value the days more as gift than right. And they put me in touch with my own mortality. This is good too.

It’s only here where we realise that we are mortal creatures albeit made in the image of God that we have any chance of getting our relationship right with the Creator and finding a true contentment.

My heart attack has made my life richer not poorer. It helped me to find my place among the rest of humanity, one of many not one alone. It has enriched my understanding of loss and the wisdom of taking time to savour the things taken for granted – health, family, faith, vocational work,  belonging to a circle of love.

Minister’s Blog

6 September 2018

The local farmers seem to have managed to gather in their harvest. One told me that his yield of grain was down by half a ton per acre. However, with serious drought in Australia, this may not be significant.

Somehow, the weather seems to have suited the fruit. The apples have grown in abundance. There are grapes growing in the greenhouse in the manse garden. Brambles, hawthorn berries and mushrooms have appeared in profusion.

Helder Camara, former Brazilian archbishop, wrote this prayer celebrating God’s generosity. ‘May your bounty teach me greatness of heart. May your magnificence stop me being mean. Seeing you a prodigal and open-handed giver, let me give unstintingly, like a King’s son, like God’s own.’

Minister’s Blog

5 September 2018

The other day, I spotted no less than five goldfinches vying for position at the niger seed stand in the manse garden! Where do they come from? Where do they go? Have they built nests nearby or is the season for nesting over?

I think it is the most beautiful bird in our garden. It’s full of charm and has a pleasant song. They are very playful and dance elegantly. They don’t appear to be solitary birds like the robin but enjoy the company of others. And, unsurprisingly, they are called a charm of goldfinches.

Forty years ago, they were in serious decline because of increased use of herbicides. Apparently, they are feeding more frequently in gardens either because natural resources like teasel and dandelion are reduced or because more homes offer niger seed and sunflower hearts!

Who wouldn’t want to welcome a charm of  goldfinches into their garden? They bring so much vitality and joy. They help us to reconnect with the natural world and distract us from the stresses of everyday life.

‘Look at the birds of the air!’ said Jesus in his essay on worry. ‘They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?’

Minister’s Blog

4 September 2018

Interestingly enough, it is from the woman’s voice that the most beautiful things are said about love in the Song of Songs. If there is any theology at all in the book, it is articulated not by the man but by the woman.

Love is strong as death.’ she sings. What did Jesus make of her song when he read it as a young man? For isn’t it her philosophy of love which has informed our understanding of his ministry among us?

‘Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.’

But when Bishop Michael Curry preached on this text at the recent Royal Wedding, he did not unpack the context  so much as to reveal that it was Meghan and not Harry who spoke these magnificent words!

Minister’s Blog

3 September 2018

The Song of Songs is a delight. It’s a book of love songs sung alternately between the two lovers. One of the most remarkable features of this Old Testament book is the prominent place it gives to the woman in the songs.

The book begins with the woman’s invitation to her lover. ‘Kiss me!’ and ends with her invitation to ‘Make haste!’ to come away and enjoy the love which is springing up within them.

This is my beloved and this is my friend.’ sings the woman. And immediately we realise that this is an equal partnership. He is her friend. She is not subservient to the man nor is she a passive lover.

‘I arose to open to my beloved and my hands dripped with myrrh, my finger with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt.’

Clearly, she takes the initiative. They are bold and daring steps for an unmarried woman. She often is the one who initiates the love-making. ‘I awakened you.’ she reminds him with a certain degree of pride

Minister’s Blog

2 September 2018

An eagle-eyed member of the Kirk Session spotted this on the internet and handed it over to me. ‘I thought you’d enjoy it!’ she said. I did. And I think you will enjoy it too!

‘When you enter this church it may be possible that you hear ‘the call of God’. However, it is unlikely that he will call you on your mobile. Thank you for turning off your phones.

If you want to talk to God, enter, choose a quiet place and talk to him. If you want to see him, send him a text while driving!’

Minister’s Blog

1 September 2018

I was at the Primary School at East Linton for school assembly yesterday. Some of the children were awarded stickers. There was a rosette with a red star in the middle, surrounded by the words, ‘I went over and above, ask me how!’

The sticker is awarded to pupils for doing small things. Some of them were done unasked. Some of them were seen by very few people. All of them enriched the life of the school in one way or another.

There were two dimensions to the award. The first is the Jesus injunction to, ‘Go the extra mile!’ and the other is the invitation to, ‘Ask me how!’ In this way, the children are affirmed by members of staff and pupils and goodness is reinforced.

It’s all part of a new strategy which is held together by three key words – ready, respect and safe. Being ready to learn, to fulfil a task, to listen. Showing respect for everyone within the school and beyond. Being safe with scissors, with other people, with our behaviour.

They are following the work of an educationalist, Paul Dix, whose skill is to turn behaviour on its head and focus not so much on reforming the child but on acknowledging the importance of the adults’ behaviour.

It is described as ‘an approach in which behavioural expectations and boundaries are exemplified by people, not by a thousand rules that nobody can remember.’ I think this expert has tuned in to the gospel – grace rather than law.

He is emphasising the importance of relationships and the formation of a community through the upside down values of God’s kingdom celebrating hidden goodness, the value  of the least, the integrity of word and action.

Minister’s Blog

31 August 2018

Fact is stranger than fiction. Who could have foretold the events now unfolding within the SNP Party? The challenge to Alex Salmond’s reputation has been met with a personal legal battle. He has decided to sue the Scottish Government for the inept way it handled the complaints made against him.

In order to finance this legal bid, Mr. Salmond has made a very successful crowdfunding appeal. In less than a few hours, it had exceeded his £50,000 appeal. Who has given him this money? Do fellow SNP voters want their government to be publicly sued for their ineptitude? What do their actions say about the complainants?

At the moment, we presume that Mr. Salmond is innocent until the investigation is completed. If this is the case then he has nothing to fear and the costly legal battle would have been totally unnecessary. If it wasn’t the case then generous supporters would have been duped by his enormous ego into papering over the cracks!

Poor people beg for money to buy bread on the streets of Edinburgh. Rich people beg for crowdfunding not for bread but reputation. He has appealed to SNP supporters not to follow suit and resign in solidarity! Are there people who would actually do this? If so, this abuse of power is  a danger to democracy! For a political party like  a Christian church is much larger than any former leader however dominant  the ego!

Minister’s Blog

30 August 2018

When I was minister at Logie Kirk, 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.

Throughout my 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 end of the kirk, ‘David, that was beautiful?’ He had tears in his eyes!

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?

The answer was to be found above the chancel arch. In big, gold lettering, there was a text from the book of Psalms, clearly visible to all who entered that place, ‘Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.’

Minister’s Blog

29 August 2018

On Saturday, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, welcomed Pope Francis to Dublin Castle and delivered an extraordinary speech in which he not only celebrated the Pope’s ministry but also challenged him with the sorrow and shame of the contemporary Church.

He went on to illuminate the true nature of Irish society in which a sixth of the population were not born in Ireland and an increasing number belong to other faiths and no faith at all. He delineated recent acts of Parliament which have modernised their laws.

He suggested that there should be a new covenant with the Church for the twenty-first century. ‘Building on our intertwined history and learning from our past mistakes, it can be one in which religion is no longer at the centre of society, but in which it still has an important place.’

When faith groups are at the centre of society, oppression and corruption follow. This was true in Protestant Scotland in the eighteenth century and Catholic Europe in the fifteenth century. And, of course, in some Islamic countries today!

Religion works best on the margins. And this is certainly the gospel. What it loses in opportunity it gains in humility. It is more gracious and more understanding. It is less in your face and more by your side. An Traoiseach was very wise. I hope the Pope listened.

Minister’s Blog

28 August 2018

Throughout the Biblical witness, we are introduced to young people who are called by God to exercise a unique ministry.

Go … to that little house in Nazareth and meet Mary, the fourteen year old  mother of Jesus!

Go … to the shores of Lake Galilee and see two energetic teenagers, Andrew and Peter, casting their nets.

Go … to that sunlit hillside and the wee boy whose five barley loaves and two fishes were offered to Jesus and used to feed five thousand people. What a ministry of generosity exercised by a mere twelve year old!

Go … to the Temple at Shiloh  and listen to the voice of God calling in the lamplight not to Eli, the priest, but to his servant boy, Samuel, a child, a youngster, called to be one of the greatest servants of God!

Go … to Jeremiah and tell him to stop making excuses. ‘Sovereign Lord, I don’t know how to speak!’ he prays. ‘I am too young!’ Yes – you may be too young, Jeremiah, to stand beside the great and the good but never too young to minister for God!

Minister’s Blog

27 August 2018

For five hundred years, there were ten empty stone niches above the West door of Westminster Abbey but not today. They have been filled with the statues of ten twentieth century martyrs! One of them looks like a teenager. She’s young, athletic, African.

Her name is Manche Masemula, born in South Africa in 1913 and murdered in 1928 for refusing to give up her Christian faith. She belonged to an animist culture which still believed in making human sacrifices to assuage the anger of spirits who had brought illness, drought, famine.

When she was fourteen years old, she was befriended by a priest. She began participating in Christian worship and joined a Guide company. She became ill. Her family were furious that she had gone to the Mission doctor.

Manche refused to give up her belief in the Christian God and was beaten to death by her own parents. Her body was wrapped in a blanket for burial. At fifteen, she became a martyr, baptised in her own blood!

So do not say with Jeremiah that you are too young, but celebrate the strong convictions and extraordinary resilience of an African teenager who wasn’t too young to stand up and be counted!

Minister’s Blog

26 August 2018

Today, we have a treat in store at Prestonkirk. Four young people are to be confirmed. It is one of the signs of the times that there aren’t as many people confirmed as there used to be. In 1981, my first year of ordination, I had seventeen new communicants in Forth:St. Paul’s.

The figure never went below double figures. We took it all for granted. In fact, some people actually grumbled about some of the people who were joining the kirk. ‘We’ll never see them again!’ they said rather pessimistically.

But we did! They came back to get married or had a child baptised or called upon the minister to conduct a family funeral. At least, the ones who joined got to hear about the life of Christ, the history of the kirk, the demands of the gospel.

They were informed even if they didn’t participate regularly in the life of the kirk. Nowadays, we long for such minimal contact because we know that it helps to embed the kirk within the wider community.

But today, no-one will grumble about our four new communicants. They are all in their teens. They have all been through our Sunday School and 4 U Group. They have all made valuable contributions to the life of our kirk – reading, acting, praying, making music, teaching, helping at the Adventure Day and so on.

In fact, their contribution has been greater than many adult members of the kirk. So this is an opportunity to celebrate the gifts of our younger members whose generosity and faith give us hope in the value of the gospel, faith in the future of the Kirk – and make it good to be alive!

Minister’s Blog

25 August 2018

When Gauss, the mathematician, was at Primary School, he was punished for his misbehaviour. He was told to sit in a corner. Thinking that this would be a boring activity which would occupy him for some time, he was told to add up the numbers from one to a hundred.

He did it in a matter of seconds. He quickly realised that if you write down the numbers one to a hundred and write them again underneath but in reverse order and add these two numbers together, you discover that they all come to 101 i.e. 1 plus 100, 2 plus 99 etc.

So Gauss converted an addition into a multiplication and a division i.e. 100 multiplied by 101 and divided by two! In this way, he not only got a quick result but worked out the formula for adding any number of integers.

It is what GH Hardy would have called a beautiful piece of work, the fruit of some lateral thinking. Mathematics is full of this – and we need more of it in the Kirk. Jesus was the master. Remember the woman taken in adultery!

Instead of focusing on the woman and her sin, Jesus looked at everyone else and their sin instead. By shifting the focus and saying no word of condemnation, he resolved a tricky situation. It was ‘full of beauty, elegance and surprise’ just like Hardy’s mathematics! No need to apologise for that!

Minister’s Blog

24 August 2018

Professor GH Hardy, erstwhile Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, wrote a beautiful book entitled, ‘A Mathematician’s Apology’. He discusses whether mathematics is created by the mathematician or discovered by him and whether or not it is useful?

It is often centuries later that a mathematical discovery ends up being applied to the real world.’ he writes. ‘Rather, the mathematician is drawn to mathematics that is full of beauty, elegance and surprise.’

I think the Church needs to follow the mathematicians in this regard and celebrate its apparent uselessness a bit more! The value of our ministry is not often realised at the time nor indeed in a lifetime. Does that matter?

I remember one minister telling me that in a ministry of forty years, he only knew of one person who was converted as a result of his ministry. Of course, I failed to name anyone who came into this category!

The Evangelicals are keen on this type of result. But it’s not us who converts but the Spirit of God. Most of his work remains hidden from view so how would we know the value of our part in it all. Like the work of the pure mathematicians, harvest may be a long time in coming!

Minister’s Blog

23 August 2018

The Royal College of Psychiatrists Scotland reported to the Scottish Government recently about the need to tackle what they called ‘Personality Disorder’. It is a mental health condition which affects around 6-10% of the population.

It is often undiagnosed and untreated. However, that doesn’t mean to say that the person with the condition and their families do not suffer as a consequence. The report states that those who have this condition are likely to live 18-19 years less than the average citizen!

The psychiatrists describe the symptoms of the condition – disturbed thinking, impulsive behaviour, problems controlling emotions which make it more difficult to hold down a regular job and to maintain healthy relationships.

It doesn’t take much reflection to identify people within our families who probably had this condition but went through their briefer lives undiagnosed and untreated because it wasn’t readily identified.

They were probably in good company for King Saul suffered from a mental illness which certainly included signs of personality disorder. Although David was called in to comfort him with his music-making on the harp, it didn’t prevent the King from firing a javelin at him!

The shorter lifespan is indicative of the seriousness of this condition which causes so much unnecessary distress within families as they struggle to maintain a normal life. Pray that our psychiatrists will be eloquent and persuasive enough to make a difference.

22 August 2018

22 August 2018

Recently, I wrote a little quarter page article for the ELDA, the local advertising guide. I get a monthly slot and entitle it, ‘By Baldred’s Well’. Whilst I don’t get a lot of feedback, I did get an interesting e-mail following my last contribution.

It was all about Robert Burns and the recent conclusion that he probably suffered from a mental illness. My correspondent wrote to tell me that he had been entered into  a Burns essay competition as a schoolboy. He won – but he was the only entrant!

It was all down to the inspiration of his English teacher who taught without the belt and helped direct the futures of her pupils. Later on he met the teacher and as he said plucked up ‘the courage to thank her for what she did for me and others’.

This is so important – and I hope I will be able to cover the ground before I die. Looking back, so many people have enriched my life and played such a crucial role in my development. My Primary 3/4 teacher was one.

She gave me the handwork prize two years in a row. I am sure I didn’t deserve it for I do not have skilful hands – but I needed the encouragement. She sensed that and set me on my way! She appeared out of the blue one Wednesday when I was at New Kilpatrick and I got the chance to proffer my thanks!

You planted seeds inside me/ But didn’t see them grow.’ wrote Steve Turner in his poem about his favourite teacher. It is a labour of love and in all the controversies surrounding education, the shortage of teachers, the suitability of exams, we dare not lose sight of this. For Jesus was the teacher par excellence and his seeds are being harvested yet!

Minister’s Blog

21 August 2018

Not so long ago, the Royal Bank of Scotland issued a new ten pound note. It featured a portrait of the Scottish mathematician and astronomer, Mary Somerville who was born in 1780 in the manse at Jedburgh and was brought up in Burntisland, Fife.

Her education was limited. She was largely self-taught. Her first marriage was unhappy but she inherited money after her first husband’s  death which she used to enhance her education.

She then married her cousin, the medic, Dr. William Somerville, who encouraged her to study science. However, when her paper on ‘Sunlight’ was to be read to the Royal Society, she wasn’t allowed to read it herself and had to get  her husband to do it for her! Such was the prejudice of these Victorian times!

Mary Somerville excelled as a writer. She had the ability to write about science in such a way that ordinary people could understand. It was her intention, ‘to make the laws by which the material world is governed, more familiar to my country-women’.

It was in the scientific review of one of her books that the term ‘scientist’ was applied to her. This was the first time the term had ever been used. It is highly significant that the first person afforded the professional title of ‘scientist’ was a Scotswoman!

Her intention to make science accessible to her fellow country-women is still required today. For whatever reason, women aren’t attracted to studying the sciences as much as men.

But for me, Mary Somerville’s initiative to make science more accessible to ordinary people, men as well as women,  is important for another reason. It puts science in its place.

I think some people are afraid of science. And whenever fear abounds, dominance follows and a skewed perspective on the world. Truth is an inevitable casualty. Science is important but other things are equally important especially when it comes to  understanding reality!