22 July 2018
We went to a screening of a very old Hollywood classic at the Byre Theatre – ‘Young at Heart’. It starred Doris Day and Frank Sinatra who both sang several songs during the film. Their voices were astonishing.
Sinatra sang the title song. ‘Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you/ If you’re young at heart./ For it’s hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind/ If you’re young at heart.’ Do you believe it?
There are two consequences. Firstly, being young at heart keeps us open to new things. ‘Sing unto the Lord a new song!’ sings the Psalmist about the God whose love for us in ‘new every morning’.
Secondly, being young at heart energises us. Some people shut down as they grow older. They limit the possibilities. They play it safe. But if we’re young at heart we are more inclined to take a risk, expect more of ourselves and thereby be surprised!
The cast remained young at heart through their love of music. In this way, life was something to be celebrated. But, at the heart of the tale was a mental illness – depression and an attempted suicide.
No-one tried to say that life would be easy but the underlying value of music and especially song and a love which remained constant and true despite what was happening were convincingly celebrated. It warmed our hearts!
21 July 2018
Quite a number of the painted penguins have been made into characters. Outside the British Golf Museum in St. Andrews, we saw a golfer complete with golf club and ball. This penguin has been entitled, ‘A Birdie’, effectively picking up on a common golfing term.
Outside the DCA in Dundee, there is a piper parading in a Pipe Band. The penguin has been very effectively transformed complete with kilt, pipes, sporran and skean dhu!
The penguin lends itself to being transformed into a human being chiefly because it stands up when on parade! Others include Mr Sofishticated, a Dundee United footballer, Pen Broon and even Old Tom Morris! But, sadly, I haven’t seen a minister!
The sponsorship came from many businesses like Apex Hotels, Michelin, Specsavers. There were leisure facilities like Dundee Ice Arena, the Aquarium. And various institutions – the High School, two Universities, Tayside Health Fund, the Police etc.
None of the penguins has been sponsored by the Church. Perhaps it was too expensive? Perhaps it was too trivial? Perhaps no-one saw the opportunity? Perhaps no-one supported the initiative?
In all of this community engagement which we have witnessed first hand, it would have affirmed the Kirk’s place within the nation to have had a penguin dressed as a minister parading to the ‘Kirkin of the Penguins’.
Mad? Probably! But it would have made people think for a moment about the Kirk. It would have brought a smile to their faces and reminded them of God. The penguin edition of the Bible could have been opened to reveal the Antarctica text, ‘From whose womb did the ice come forth?’
20 July 2018
We went to Brechin to see some penguins – easier than travelling with Scott on the Discovery. It’s berthed in Dundee now but, of course, took Scott and his crew to Antarctica where the penguins are one of the few natural inhabitants.
The penguins are all part of Maggie’s Penguin Parade, a project run by ‘Wild in Art’ to engage the whole community and to raise funds for the Maggie’s Centre at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.
Eighty local artists were commissioned to paint eighty penguins. They were sponsored by businesses and institutions across Dundee, Tayside and Angus. Pamela, our daughter-in-law, painted one. It is located outside the Community Campus, Brechin.
Pamela’s penguin is called ‘Penguin Street’ and features a street in Brechin with three landmarks including the cathedral. When we arrived it was surrounded by a family – two parents and three children, composing themselves for a family selfie!
Sticker books enable children to go on the Parade and see as many penguins as possible. They will be able to see how imaginatively the artists have fulfilled their task, choose their favourite and thereby have a discussion about art.
One child was photographed in the local paper hugging Pamela’s penguin! But that’s what penguins do. They huddle together in huge colonies to stay warm and to support each other during the winter and celebrate with a colourful Scottish Parade in the summer!
19 July 2018
Wendy Cope has treasured a memory in a few lines of poetry. It’s all about the flowers her sweetheart or lover or husband or friend didn’t actually buy for her. He almost did and he told her so.
There were all sorts of excuses. The shop was shut. He doubted the appropriateness of the gesture. He thought she wouldn’t appreciate the gift. You know how he felt. Love telescopes everything down to these intense but limiting dimensions.
Her response is generous. ‘It made me smile and hug you then.’ Afterall, she knew and loved him, appreciated his ways. ‘Now I can only smile.’ She continues and the penny drops. He is gone.
‘But, look, the flowers you nearly brought/ Have lasted all this while.’ Flowers do not last. It is the memory we treasure – even if it is a memory of sincere intention compromised by doubt and diffidence. There’s love in that and it consoles for aye.
18 July 2018
The most delightful chess game I ever saw was in a painting by Sir Henry Raeburn. Francis Dundas is playing his wife Eliza Cumming. They were married in 1800 and had six children.
He was a military man, a British General and one time acting Governor of Cape Colony. At the start of his career, he fought with the British forces against the Americans in the Revolutionary War.
The artist has caught the couple at a very intense moment. Eliza is just about to check mate her husband whose greatest gift was military strategy! He has just been promoted to Colonel!
17 July 2018
There is an interesting pilot being undertaken in two of our prisons. It is being sponsored by a charity called, ‘Chess in Schools and Communities’. Its primary purpose is to combat boredom and channel aggression.
From their experience in schools, the charity has observed that playing chess also builds up useful skills, strengthens resilience and nurtures self-esteem. They are usefully transferred to prisons.
‘It’s a game that trains you to think before acting and that’s a really useful skill for a lot of offenders.’ said Malcolm Pein, the Chief Executive. ‘Prison staff were amazed at how the inmates were so completely focused for three hours.’
The idea is to train prisoners to teach the game to others and to extend the training to the prisoners’ families so that they may usefully engage with each other on prison visits and when they go home.
Recently, I have been playing chess with a member of the congregation who has a chronic illness. My skills are not great. I taught my sons to play but haven’t really played myself since school days.
I have enjoyed it. However, the most surprising thing for me was not the mental exercise which it clearly provides but the stillness it engenders in the players. There is much companionable silence and physical concentration. It is a prelude to prayer.
16 July 2018
We went to a concert in the Byre Theatre. It was very popular and barely a spare seat to be seen. Steven Worbey and Kevin Farrell were playing duets on a Steinway grand whilst sharing a single piano stool. Their repertoire was phenomenal – and mostly arranged by themselves.
As well as wanting to entertain their audience, they set out to achieve two things. Firstly, they wanted to transform the traditional classical music concert by adding some fun into the repertoire. Their comic commentary sparkled and their playfulness united the audience.
Secondly, they wanted to bring out the orchestral dimensions of the piano. A lot of their programme consisted of transcriptions and personal arrangements of orchestral music including piano concertos. This ambition was easily accomplished by their virtuosic performances of Rhapsody in Blue, the Warsaw Concerto and Carnival of the Animals.
Throughout the concert, the keyboard was projected onto a screen behind the Steinway and so we were able to see at close quarters the movement of their hands and the skillful way in which they were both able to play on top of one another and often at the same end of the keyboard.
Sometimes classical music concerts are austere. The musician rarely interacts with the audience for fear of interfering with the communication of the music. However, laughter and play not only help to communicate the music but to celebrate a common humanity. We see that the musicians are fellow human beings!
This is an even greater accomplishment than being a concert pianist for they not only have to play to the same high standard but they also have to give so much more of themselves in their interaction with the audience and the light-hearted way they perform. Their supreme characteristic was joy, a specifically Christian attribute, which we imbibed in great measure!
15 July 2018
Everyone knows that if you choose a number, you will always be able to write down a number which is greater than the one you have chosen. If my chosen number is 100, I can write down 101.
In this way, numbers can grow very big. One big number is the googol which is a one with a hundred zeros after it. Of course, we can write down a bigger number – googol plus one. It wouldn’t take a few minutes to write this number down with all its zeros.
However, there is a bigger number called the googolplex. This is a one with a googol of zeros written after it. Of course, we can write down an even bigger number – googolplex plus one.
Amazingly enough, the lifetime of an average person would not be long enough to write down this number with all its zeros. In fact, there wouldn’t be enough paper and ink in the whole of creation to complete this task even within ten billion years!
With numbers as great as this and as difficult to handle, what does it mean to consider a number which is even closer to infinity. And what does it mean to consider infinity at all if the time and space within our universe is insufficient to write down a number which is so much smaller.
And in this amazing context where finite numbers can be conceived so readily and yet cannot be written down in full well before we reach infinity, what can we say about God whose understanding according to the Psalmist is ‘beyond measure’? (Psalm 147;5)
14 July 2018
We have been watching a police drama. It was exciting, nerve wracking even. But as time past, I began to feel dispirited. Somehow I was unable to separate fact from fiction and wondered how much the drama resembled reality.
There was much depravity in the criminal activity but the corruption evident in the police force was almost worse – tampering with evidence, framing witnesses, bullying, sexism, unbridled ambition and collusion with the criminal fraternity.
It challenged the trust we dutifully place in our police force. It revealed the pervasiveness of evil – and its ordinariness. It showed how difficult it was to bring people to justice and how much it cost some officers to maintain their integrity.
Was there value in it all? There was entertainment and insight into the difficulties of policing our nation. The pervasive presence of evil in its ordinary disguises was alarming but the dogged almost heroic determination of those who struggle for justice and redemption was memorable.
13 July 2018
When I was at school, I remember being asked in an examination to estimate the dimensions of a standard builder’s brick. In those days, the bricks were solid. But not now!
We have some building being done at our house and the bricks which are being used are not solid. In fact, three cylinders have been extracted from the brick. I don’t know whether this makes the brick cheaper. But there’s certainly less of it for building.
I did some mathematics. I measured the brick and worked out its volume. I measured the diameter of the extracted cylinders and worked out their volume too. It turns out that this modern brick is twenty-five per cent less than the traditional brick!
I was puzzled so I asked the brick-layer. Apparently, extracting the three cylinders in every brick enables the mortar which attaches one brick to another to seep into these cylinders. This in turn strengthens the brick on the vertical as well as the horizontal.
It seems strange that the traditional brick has to give up so much of itself in order to make a stronger contribution to the building. Perhaps the construction industry has been wise to the gospel of losing self in order to gain the whole world!
12 July 2018
‘I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.’ were words written on a cellar wall in Auschwitz. Would it make any difference if you didn’t believe in the sun on days when it couldn’t be seen?
This is where the scientist has an easier life than the religious person. Belief in the scientific realm is not costly. It doesn’t affect my life one way or another whether I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow or not.
However, belief in the religious realm has cost people their lives. People have been killed for holding on to their faith. Is this why science is more appealing? It is certainly less dangerous and much less demanding!
The poet continues, ‘I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.’ What does science make of this lack of evidence? For religious people, it has the power to redeem!
11 July 2018
In her last collection of poems, ‘Inside the Wave’, Helen Dunmore writes from the boundary between life and death. One of her poems is called, ‘The Shaft’. She’s lying on a hospital bed. ‘I don’t need to go to the sun,’ she reflects, ‘It lies on my pillow.’
And immediately, we are introduced to a sensitive spirit which resonates within our own experience. We too have lain in bed and enjoyed a shaft of the sun’s light lying on our pillow. We have felt its life-affirming warmth and goodness.
‘Without movement or speech,’ she continues, ‘Day deepens its sweetness.’ And we are opened up to the eternal words of Psalm 19, ‘In the heavens God has set a tent for the sun ….and like a strong man runs its course with joy.’
The poet is surprised by the contrast between the sun’s unexpected gift and her own predicament. She concludes with a rhetorical question. ‘Who would have thought that pain/ And weakness had such gifts/ Hidden in their rough hearts?’
10 July 2018
Rene Descartes was acclaimed for many things not least his achievements in mathematics. We were introduced to him at school through his brilliant invention – Cartesian co-ordinates.
Through this very simple device, he was able to transform geometry into algebra and thereby make it much more accessible. Newton’s laws of motion describing what happens in the world were equations which could be plotted in this system.
At the end of the book, ‘Le Geometrie’, he wrote, ‘I hope that posterity will judge me kindly, not only as to the things which I have explained, but also to those which I have intentionally omitted so as to leave to others the pleasure of discovery.’
Was there more which he could have shared with the reader if time or space had permitted? Or was this a ploy which enticed the reader to do a little digging for himself? Either way, it was a charming way to go!
Two things emerge. Firstly, Descartes saw himself as part of a community of mathematicians sharing in the discovery of its riches. Secondly, he saw the mathematical future as one characterised by joy! And that made him happy to let go!
9 July 2018
I hear ‘Love Island’ is a popular reality TV show. It attracts millions of viewers. There’s more to it than beautiful bodies. There is a fascination with the developing relationships – the role modelling and working through the inevitable mistakes!
Role-modelling is important and young people need opportunity to see how best to develop relationships which are neither superficial nor exploitative. Maybe ‘Love Island’ is helping with this?
Whilst some have been on ‘Love Island’, others have flown to Russia to follow the fortunes of the England football team in this year’s World Cup. A win in the quarter finals was exceptional and much celebrated.
There has been universal praise for the England Manager. ‘Arrogance is the last charge one could raise against Southgate.’ wrote David Olsuga. ‘Composure, humility, integrity and intellect are the words that have been most commonly attached to him.’
Comments have been made about the England side – the lack of players with big egos and the quality of the team playing. Southgate said of them that they played with humility not least because of past history which has clearly informed their outlook.
Southgate is the first to acknowledge that this success is a team effort but the manager’s ability to keep the head and to use it, to live with an honest estimation of himself and reflect what he says in what he does are virtues which not only shape a personality but a team and a nation!
7 July 2018
I have been reading a delightful book, ‘Victorian Miniature’ by Owen Chadwick, eminent Church historian. He studied the diaries of two Victorian men – Sir John Boileau, squire of Ketteringham Hall and the Revd. William Andrew, vicar.
Whilst the living was in the gift of the squire, he could do nothing to sack the vicar. As a consequence, there were two strongly-minded men in the parish who both sought to work for the good of its people but did not always agree.
Sometimes the sermon became the modus operandi of the vicar’s attack. Andrew’s sermons were not short. In 1844, his New Year’s resolution was to preach for no more than half an hour. He found it impossible to keep!
The squire did not like the preacher’s antics in the pulpit and ‘expected the sermon with foreboding’. He couldn’t understand how the parish seemed to like it. In fact, people came from neighbouring parishes to hear the vicar preach.
On 2 August 1846, the vicar observed Sir John and Lady Catherine laughing during the service. He resolved to speak to them about it but, not surprisingly, the opportune moment always seemed to elude him.
A friend suggested a different strategy, ‘Stop the service and look earnestly towards the squire’s pew.’ However, when a neighbouring clergyman had done the same and said, ‘Sir, you are laughing. Clerk, turn that man out!’ Chadwick concludes that the offender ‘stood his ground and the result was not edifying.’
6 July 2018
There was a delightful piece of news in a recent issue of the Church Times. A blue tit built her nest in the wooden lectern in St. Thomas a Becket Church, Sourton, Devon. The bird had accessed the church through a tiny bit of broken window and thought the lectern a suitable nesting box!
When the Parish Church Council discovered the nest together with eight offspring, they decided to stop ringing the bell and reorder their service timetable to accommodate these new arrivals. The said morning holy communion services continued and the birds were blessed after each service.
Apparently, the congregation didn’t mind the changes. ‘God is in nature. We are all part of that. We share this planet with all sorts of life and we should care for it as much as we do other things.’ said the Vicar. And, of course, there is strong Biblical precedent for such hospitality!
‘Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself where she may lay her young at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.’ sings the psalmist. ‘Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.’ As the cartoonist put it in a conversation between two of the chicks, ‘Apparently, our tweets are getting a huge number of followers.’
5 July 2018
We visited a miniature exhibition at the John Gray Centre, Haddington on the last of the Hepburns of Smeaton. It has been curated by David Affleck, local historian and organist at Prestonkirk.
Its inspiration comes from a study of family papers recently lodged in the Special Collection Department of St. Andrews University Library. It describes the sale of the mansion house in 1934 and includes the sale catalogues listing items of interest.
According to Affleck’s study, these include items attributed to Mary Queen of Scots. Her third husband was James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell. An altar cloth belonging to the Queen was not available for public display because of its fragility.
There are many associations with the kirk. George Buchan Hepburn became an elder in 1764. He married Margaretta Beck in 1781. She inherited a huge fortune from two previous marriages. The silver font which we still use at Prestonkirk was her gift.
There is an inherent sadness in the exhibition. Family disputes following the death of Sir Archibald Buchan-Hepburn in 1929 meant that the estate was sold and the house demolished. Little remains.
There are a few stone steps which led into the terrace garden. They have been featured in a water-colour which is still within the family’s possession. The terrace is now part of a horse-jumping course. But there is a flock of sheep grazing on it today!
4 July 2018
Last Thursday, Anne Cubbitt, Convener of the Presbyterial Council of Lothian East, made her report to the Presbytery about the Guild within the bounds. It was a very clear, informative and encouraging piece of communication.
Historically, the Guild has exercised an enviable ministry of compassion, supporting many projects, keeping members informed and raising astonishing sums of money. Over the past three years almost three-quarters of a million pounds has been raised by the 19,000 membership.
Despite the increasing age-profile, six hundred new members joined the Guild nationally and supported eight hundred branches. Forty-eight of these new members are in Lothian East, some are in the Traprain Guild and some are not members of the kirk.
Several celebrations appear on the Guild calendar which bring all the branches together. It’s a great opportunity for members of the kirk to get to know others from neighbouring congregations, something which should be replicated by the Presbytery as a whole.
Unafraid to embrace the new technology, the Presbyterial Council has provided a local opportunity for older members who are unable to travel to Dundee for the Annual Gathering to participate in a live streaming in North Berwick!
When Dr. Browning, former moderator, met the Pope last year, he gave him a gift of a Guild tartan scarf. The proud boast of the Guild today is that it includes men as well as women. When I asked, the Convener didn’t know whether Browning invited His Holiness to join!
3 July 2018
The third significant principle to emerge from the preacher in Ecclesiastes is the mystery of life. For that constitutes part of Koheleth’s conclusion. Life is a mystery. It is unfathomable. Two things contribute to this observation.
The first is that there are obvious limits to wisdom. The preacher realises that it is incapable of supplying all the answers. In fact, it ceases to be a source of consolation. ‘For in much wisdom is much vexation and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.’ (1;12)
The second is that there are certain things in life which can never be changed. Wisdom has no power to make a difference. The wisest course is acceptance. ‘What is crooked cannot be made straight and what is lacking cannot be counted.’ (1;15)
With the acknowledgement that there are limits to wisdom, the preacher concludes that he may never, ever plummet the depths of human existence. All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, ‘I will be wise.’ But it was far from me. That which is, is far off, and deep, very deep. Who can find it out? (7;23,24)
Who indeed? For the work of God is beyond our ultimate understanding. No one can fully find out what is happening under the sun. It doesn’t stop the preacher from searching and asking questions and embracing this wisest thought of all!
2 July 2018
The second significant principle to emerge from that enigmatic book of Ecclesiastes is the inevitability of death. It casts a shadow across the whole book.
The acknowledgement of its existence keeps the preacher in touch with reality and offers him a unique vantage point to make his observations.
In death, wise and foolish are equally forgotten. The generations come and the generations go. A few are remembered. Most are quickly forgotten.
The benefits of those who work hard are lost to the labourer in death. Who reaps the reward? Isn’t it the one who comes after?
‘I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me – and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish?’ (2;18)
1 July 2018
We have been looking at the first chapter of Ecclesiastes. Three significant principles emerge. And the first is the importance of the search. The book begins with two fundamental questions, ‘What do people gain from all their toil?’ This casts an uncomfortable spotlight on the meaningfulness of our existence.
‘Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See this is new?’ The second question is also about the meaning of life. Are we simply going round and round in circles? Does anything new ever happen or is life completely boring, devoid of any meaning?
Koheleth is a rare preacher. He is unafraid to ask the unanswerable question. In fact, he relishes it. ‘I applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven …’ This is his vocation – and ours too!
30 June 2018
When I was minister at Logie Kirk, there were a number of homeless people living rough in the woods surrounding the church. 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.’
29 June 2018
Did you listen to Archbishop Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding? He had the charisma of an old-fashioned preacher – repeating key phrases and pressing the right buttons – Martin Luther King, slavery and the Spirituals.
But there was a surprise. He mentioned Teilhard de Chardin – a white, Roman Catholic Jesuit, a geologist, a scientist of much distinction who was also a mystic writing about prayer.
Significantly, his books on theology were banned by the Vatican. He was told to stick to the day job and just write about science. But his vocation was to interpret the one to the other.
Working on the boundaries can be exciting if not dangerous. There is no compass, no map just opportunity, curiosity and the faith to search further and deeper.
It was in keeping with Curry’s text taken from the ‘Song of Songs’, a series of love songs sung by bride and groom. ‘For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave’.
Strangely enough, this Old Testament book has an unusual characteristic. It contains no reference to God whatsoever! As such, it has a universal appeal to those who believe and those who do not. It’s common ground which we should treasure!
28 June 2018
The Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar is under threat of demolition. The Jahalin Bedouin have been living there since the fifties. Jewish settlers are driving a government campaign to expel them.
The area is crucial to securing a long term aim – the annexation of large swathes of land east of Jerusalem which will cut the West Bank in two. Some have described it a grotesque act of racism.
One of the casualties will be the school. It is affectionately known as ‘The Tyre School’ because it has been built of mud on a foundation of old rubber tyres. The walls have been decorated.
You can see the dove of peace carrying an olive branch in its beak and a flower celebrating new life. Their beauty contrasts with a criminal act breaching the human rights of children to an education.
Interestingly, this village is on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The Good Samaritan passed nearby. The remains of a ruined Byzantine monastery marks the spot where love transcended the boundaries of race and religion celebrating a common humanity made in the image of God!
27 June 2018
For the last five weeks, we have had a series of informal acts of worship on the Beatitudes, the recipe which Jesus gave us for a happy life. Before the fifth, the children were invited to decorate some butter biscuits with happy faces. We ate them after the service along with some homemade elderflower cordial.
Smiling is important. It helps to release endorphins and makes us feel good. It also makes other people feel good about themselves when we offer them a smile. And, of course, the gift is free. It doesn’t cost us anything. Anon has drawn my attention to another side to all of this in his verse about the loser:
Let others cheer the winning man,
There’s one I hold worthwhile;
‘Tis he who does the best he can,
Then loses with a smile.
Beaten he is, but not to stay
Down with the rank and file;
That man will win some other day,
Who loses with a smile.
The poet leads us into that upside down world of the Beatitudes where happiness is sometimes counter-cultural. Happy are those who mourn. Happy are those who are poor in spirit. Happy are those who are the victims of persecution. Happy are those who lose well and neither detract from those who win nor draw attention to their own disappointment.
There is a grace in making the most of life even when things are not going our way. In one of his morning prayers, Robert Louis Stevenson says to God, ‘The day returns and brings us the petty round of irritating concerns and duties. Help us to play the man. Help us to perform them with laughter and kind faces. Let cheerfulness abound with industry.’
26 June 2018
On Sunday afternoon, we had the second of two workshops for our ‘Welcome to the Lord’s Table’. There are ten young people participating in this along with their parents. Today, we were thinking about the church as living stones.
The children were invited to decorate some stones. One child made his stone into a foot. ‘Follow me!’ says Jesus. Another featured a heart. ‘Let not your heart be troubled!’ says Jesus. And a third, celebrated the moment with some dazzling fireworks.
Later on, we ate some bread with assorted fillings. Egg on brown bread was the favourite! An exploration of Prestonkirk followed with a visit to some of the graves of former members – Andrew Meikle, inventor of the threshing machine and Robert Noble, artist and elder.
The Sacrament unites us not only with those who are present around the Table but also those who live on the other side of the world as well as those who have reached their journey’s end in that house of many mansions.
The children and their parents engaged readily. Our ‘Welcome to the Lord’s Table’ does not focus on individual commitment but on the child’s place within their family and the family’s place within the family of God.
It’s an opportunity to nurture a deeper spiritual life within our families and to affirm the place of young people within the church. This begins in baptism but continues through the Sacrament which unites us with Christ and strengthens the bonds of love among us.
25 June 2018
The late Catherine Bramwell Booth was a celebrated letter-writer. One of her collected letters, is called, ‘Concerning the Unexpected’. She was feeling down. She wasn’t looking forward to the day’s problems. But when she entered her office, she saw ‘a small but unexpected splash of colour on the desk’.
Someone had left her a few wild orchids in a little glass mug. She didn’t know how they got there but this unexpected gift had a helpful effect upon her. ‘They were truly messengers of the Lord,’ she wrote, ‘meeting me in a way and at a time when I was not looking forward to anything so nice and cheering.’
In her letter, she focuses on the element of surprise and encourages her correspondent not only to enjoy the unexpected gifts of love but to share them with others. ‘Scatter as generously as you know how, the kind words, the approving smile, the loving services, that will be as sweet a surprise to souls as my orchids were to me that ‘blue’ morning.’
24 June 2018
‘Strawberry Fayre’ organised by the kirk in the Community Hall, East Linton was well-patronised by folk from kirk and community. Some people had hired space to sell bric-a-brac, knitting, plants and cosmetics. Fiona was making a kilt!
The afternoon tea was astonishing. It began with some fizz and continued with a plateful of goodies – nine on mine, all beautifully baked and presented. Strawberries galore even on napkins and T-shirts!
Moray McConnachie and Ruiridh Woodside entertained on piano, saxophone and cello for three hours without a break! Spontaneous applause broke out on several occasions. They were accomplished young artists and added a buzz to the event.
It was great to see several members from our neighbouring parishes – Athelstaneford and Whitekirk, accompanied by their locum minister. There was lots of chat and laughter, facilitated by a hard-working and imaginative team from the Kirk Session.
Jack won the hamper and I won the Treasure Hunt! I now have something to spend on holiday in the local bookshop! The fundraiser was successful, drawing people together and exercising a ministry of hospitality worthy of Abraham and the three angels! I am not sure how many angels we entertained unawares! At least one, I think!
23 June 2018
There has been a lot of discussion about the future of the Glasgow School of Art. Some want to rebuild. Some want to demolish. Rebuilding is a definite possibility. Funds will certainly be available and all the details of Charles Rennie Macintosh’s design are known.
Afterall, it is the design which is celebrated and can be replicated just like the Frauenkirche in Dresden, which was bombed by the allies and remained derelict for some forty years. The communists were not interested in rebuilding and the church had no money.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism, the will to rebuild grew stronger. Reconstruction began in 1994 and was completed in 2005. Britain’s contribution replaced the damaged gold cross on top of the cupola.
When I visited in 2006, I was deeply impressed. The building was the same as it had been but different. The charred remains of the cupola cross had been taken into the church and used as a focus for peace-making.
Instead of walking up hundreds of steps to get a heightened view of the city, a lift had been incorporated into the reconstruction which made it easier. Far from detracting from the building, its authenticity was unimpaired by this modern convenience.
Like the Frauenkirche, the Glasgow School of Art may benefit from modern technology. Whilst remaining true to its original design, it may grow into something even more beautiful with this contemporary twist. It may even become a work of art in its own right!
22 June 2018
A few years ago, we holidayed in Perthshire. On one occasion, we walked across fields and country roads to the tiny church at Gask. It was about seven miles there and back.
The hawthorn hedges, the colourful dog-roses, the sweet smell of the honey-suckle and the pine trees, the buttercup, Star of Bethlehem, forget-me-not, Lady’s Mantle, foxglove enriched our journey.
When we got to the tiny white-washed kirk, we discovered it was open just like Stenton and Whittingehame. We were glad of the rest – and the welcome. We went inside and sat down.
Someone had been expecting us for there on the chancel beside the Holy Table was the most beautiful arrangement of freshly picked garden roses! It was a most refreshing sight.
Someone cared for us. Someone cared for God. Welcoming strangers. Praising God. Signs of hope. A delightful surprise. The flowers saw and said it all!
The lilies of the field exercise a valuable ministry simply by being what they are and by being where they are. We can learn a lot from their silent constancy!