Peter's Blog

The God Question

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Discussion with The God Question

With a group of around a hundred other folks, I travelled through the snow on Saturday morning to Chatelherault Country Park where a breakfast conference was being held to launch some new discussion materials.

We met inside the country house, rather a nice wee pile, for bacon rolls before heading to the auditorium for the presentation by the folks from Search for Truth Enterprises. The discussion materials are called “The God Question” and comprise the usual DVDs and study books. The main areas covered are “The Cosmos and God”, “Life, Evolution and God”, and “God and Consciousness”. I confess I went with a healthy dose of scepticism as someone who has, for my own personal reasons relating to my own background in science, done considerable reading around all three of these subjects over the years. However, I was heartened by what I heard. [There’s more…]

More on Livingstone's Legacy

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Rev Steve Younger as Livingstone

This past week has been very Livingstone focused! It has been a good week and I had hoped to put down some thoughts before this but this has been the first moment to stop and breathe!

After the events last Sunday which I mentioned in a previous blog post, on the actuall bicentenary of Dr David Livinsgtone's birth, 19 March, there were a number of events to commemorate this anniversary. The first took place in the David Livingstone Centre and was a great morning with lots of involvement from local schools, music and drama (with a wonderful performance from Toto Tales as Susi and Chumah, Livingstone's companions, recounted their travels with Livingstone) and the offical opening of a new exhibit in the museum.

Blantyre's Bairn

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Livingstone Bicentenary Service

Yesterday afternoon, Sunday 17 March, one of the events to mark the bicentenary of the birth of the most famous of Blantyre Bairns, Dr David Livingstone, was held in Livingstone Memorial Parish Church. From our lofty perch in the gallery we joined in the worship led by a number of ministers both from Scotland and Malawi. The sermon was given by Rt Rev Albert Bogle, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rev David Burt blessed a set of pulpit and lectern falls as Moderator of Hamilton Presbytery, while prayers were led by Rev Dr T Nyasulu, Moderator of Livingstonia Synod, and Rev Mercy Chilapula, Moderator of Blantyre Synod, in Malawi. As you can tell, the service was very well moderated!

As part of the celebrations of Livingstone's bicentenary, and as part of a number of events taking place in Scotland and London, both Her Excellenecy Mrs Joyce Banda, President of Malawi, and Alex Salmond MSP were present with Mrs Banda reading from Isaiah (49:1-7) during the service, and with Mr Salmond giving a note of thanks and cutting a celebratory cake after the service.

In memory of a good friend

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Presentations at Auchinraith

It was a privilege this morning to join John Prentice and family and friends for a special presentation held at Auchinraith Primary School. In memory of their gran, Sheila Prentice, Ellie and Ross presented two cheques of £870 each to Marie Cure Cancer Care and Macmillan Cancer Support. Ellie and Ross had spent many, many hours creating bracelets (some of which were available at the funeral service for Sheila in the church) which were given away to encourage people to make a donation for these two charities. They did an amazing job, and it was great to see all the pupils at Auchinraith singing Fischy Music's "You are a star" to them.

Every blessing to Anne Jarvie from Marie Curie Cancer Care and Chloe Martin from Macmillan Cancer Support as they support the work of these charities, and to Julie McCulloch and everyone at Auchinraith for making this presentation such a special event.

Clarity, Reality and the Word of God

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Bible and Love

In the post yesterday I received a DVD titled "Facing the Reality: Can someone in a same-sex relationship be a Christian minister?" These are being sent out to all ministers in the Church of Scotland. I heard about the video last week and watched it via YouTube (a link is below the jump).

I have subsequently heard that this is the result of a meeting back in 2011 when around 50 ministers of a "traditionalist" stance within the Kirk asked themselves how they could express their view in "a thoughtful and gracious rather than rabid and homphobic" way. They raised the money to finance the production of the film, commissioning Sanctus Media to make it.

There is little new within the content of the film, which rehearses the same arguments I have read and heard many times, but the tone of the film is certainly an improvement on past interventions into the Kirk's ongoing discussions on the place and role of gay and lesbian people within the church. In the debates of 2009 we had some conservative ministers referred to as "terrorists", and the fight to prevent the acceptance of the ministry of gay and lesbian people likened to defending against Nazi expansionism. From both extremes of the debate, not very edifying or helpful. So it is good to see a less harsh and aggresive presentation of the "traditionalist" position within the film. However, as much as I am thankful for that more generous presentation, nonetheless it is the content that I cannot reconcile. 

The Last Days...

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Witness Chair

Almost every week I share an hour with a friend from Trinity Parish Church while we wait as one of my kids and her two grandchildren are at guitar class. Our venue is the coffee shop at the East Kilbridge Arts Centre. On numerous occasions over the past couple of years I have seen plays advertised and thought to myself I'd really like to see that, but the business of life and lack of free nights has always put paid to those notions. However, last Thursday I noticed the posters for a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis titled "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot". That fairly piqued my interest and when I got home and checked the diary, I decided to hang with it, a few hours relaxation surely need to be scheduled sometimes! So I booked a ticket for tonight's performance.

Needless to say, as the day has come around I started wishing I had not booked it as I have a pile of "to-dos" weighing down. But, having paid my £9 (you see there is a bit of Aberdonian in me!), I trekked back over to East Kilbride for the third time today (first time for a meeting with churches, second time for guitar classes) and I am so very glad that I did, even though I am going to pay for it for the rest of the night/tomorrow!

What a full house in the cosy theatre were treated I found to be an extremely powerful exploration, in turns viciously funny, poignant and deeply emotional, of both the wonder and desolation of free will. The performance was by the HND Acting and Performance students from Motherwell College. They excelled themselves. I was very impressed. 

News from Aberdeen

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Welcome Banner

This past weekend I was preaching as sole-nominee at Ferryhill Parish Church in Aberdeen. We were made to feel very welcome by everyone which made the day that little easier - it is an odd feeling to be leading worship with the additional knowledge that judgement is awaiting imminently! There is none of that 'don't count the days' thing that Jesus talked about...

There was great affirmation for us, however, with a unanimous vote. I have duly accepted, so the processes of the Kirk will begin their activity towards an induction date which will take place probably nearer the summer.

The long gap between now and then still makes it a little unreal, but there is a lot to do in the time between, so the time will no doubt pass quickly.

Time to pack up now, I write from our hotel room in Aberdeen, for our return to Blantyre later today.

Foodbank Funding Beetles On

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Nicola Simpson explaining the rules

We had a very fun night this evening in the Nazarene Hall with a Beetle Drive organised to raise funds for the developing new Hamilton District Foodbank. It was a competitive night, but with a lot of laughter too. Congratulations to Alice Jamieson who was the champion beetle driver!

Thanks to everyone who donated prizes and homebakes, and to Nicola, Linda, Marion, Elizabeth, Karen, Geoff and everyone else who helped get the evening planned and set up.


Written by Peter Johnston on .

This morning was a morning I have not been looking forward to for some two weeks. I thank everyone for their kind words this morning, it meant a tremendous amount to Carolyn and me.

I wanted to put online a copy of the statement I read after the service and that was available for people to pick up after the service this morning. It seems that we ran out of printed copies of the letter, so I will make sure there are a few more copies available next week. 

However you can download a copy of it here. And the full text of what I said is below the jump. 

Spill the Beans Issue 7 has risen!

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Spill the Beans Issue 7

It has been quite some feat by the Spill the Beans Team to pull this off over the festive season, but after a crazy deadline of 31 December for all the writing, the next issue of Spill the Beans is now beautifully formed and available for download. This is the Lent to Pentecost edition that sees us from 17 February all the way to 19 May 2013! And this edition is not limited just to Sundays, you also get ideas for each day of Holy Week too. It is a large issue.

Inside you will find worship ideas and resources, including Bible notes, stories, prayers, reflections, music suggestions, and more, and for age groups you will find suggestions for activities, crafts, games and teen discussion resources.

If you have already used Spill the Beans, you will know what a great resource this is, created by folks here in Scotland. If you haven't, but are intrigued, have a look at this sample.

Packaging and Perceptions

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Joshua Bell in Washington DC

I saw this morning a circular post on facebook that is the kind of thing that I would normally ignore, but this one I found fascinating. It is made that wee bit more interesting by being true too. It centres around world famous violinist Joshua Bell, who I once saw playing in London many years ago at a concert in the Royal Festival Hall - he is a wonderful performer. The post being circulated is about an experiment carried out by a journalist, Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post, in 2007.

Have a read below the jump to see what they did. 

Strictly Come Jesus

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Uz!, the youth group at Blantyre St Andrew's with some guest appearances, excelled themselves with their imaginative efforts, creativity and hard work in putting together the Watchnight Service as is the tradition each year. The theme this year was "Strictly Come Jesus", and we had a very motley crue attempting to be present at the birth...

This was one of our more ambitious Watchnight services (about as intense as The Lord of the Kings ten years ago!) and kudos to everyone for their hard work and patience during the long hours of filming.

Thanks to Lindsey Cooper on a flying visit back to Scotland for her creative input at the planning meeting - I think Lindsey can be blamed for the title, if I remember correctly!

After the video, all the group arranged themselves at the front of the church, by which time it was almost midnight, and sang along with Mariah Carey's 'Jesus Born On This Day'. Spot on.

Note, you may need Quicktime installed (free here) to see the video if it will not play, and it may need to download first which might take a minute or two depending on the speed of your connection - please be patient! Note this is a large file - be careful if downloading over a mobile network! You can download a high definition version here (500MB, so be warned).

Calderside Christmas Concert

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Calderside Academy held their Christmas Concert this evening with a diverse but Christmas-themed programme. From dance to singing and instrumental solos, bands, and choirs, it was an excellent night and great to see so many young people confidently performing in front of the audience.

It was particularly good to see so many folks one knows well performing on the stage, and even a staff choir who did a fabulous job. I used my 'official' invitation which got me a great seat right down at the front, leaving the rest of the family ten rows behind - shocking! 

Fairy Nuff

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Fairy CompetitionA call this morning from Auchinraith Primary with an urgent need for my presence all became clear at break time when the staff indulged in a little festive fun in the staff room.

Then I realised the setup I had walked into... as a team competition we were tasked with creating fairy's to adorn the tree with whatever was at hand (which unfortunately for me included some cans of squooshy cream!). With fellow adorned teachers Nicola and Scott, we looked quite the part, as I am sure the picture proves... ahem.

At one point when we had a treasure hunt in the corridor outside, some of the children commented bemusedly, "I've never seen everyone so hyper..."

It is definitely that end of term feeling... hang in their folks, only a few more days until the holidays!

We have the Christmas Assembly for Auchinraith Primary at St Andrew's Church on Friday 21 December at 10 a.m.

Watchnight preparations underway

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Supper in the Kirk

In what has become a Blantyre St Andrew's tradition, many of the young folks started their preparations for this year's Watchnight service on Christmas Eve. In fact, the preparations began on Saturday night when we all met to plan what we were going to do. This evening we all got together to enjoy a fish supper before rolling up the sleeves and getting busy in producing the props we need for this year's service... huge sheets of cardboard, paint and roller, thousands of fairy lights, and much cutting out later, we have the bulk of the set we are going to be using prepared.

We meet again on Thursday night and then all Sunday afternoon for rehearsals and filming... it is ambitious, a little daunting, but I am sure it will be a memorable celebration for the birth of Jesus. To find out more, you will need to come along on Monday night to see for yourselves.

Our one year old

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KeelyI can't quite believe it, but our wee puppy Keely is no longer a wee puppy. She turned a year old today and with an hour to spare this afternoon I treated her to a lovely walk around Redlees Quarry. She was bathed and brushed and blow-dryed (I kid you not, all that fur can be high-maintenance!) just last night so I was hoping she would keep herself from her usual habit of finding the muddiest puddle to stomp straight through... Just as the sun began to set I managed to get a snap of her. 

I must say, as the months since she arrived in the family have passed, I have been so pleased with this wee doggy. We really have got ourselves a lovely dog with a wonderful temperament. Much as though I loved our previous dog, she was a lot harder work...

Happy first birthday, Keely!

Follow the star...

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Cosy Café Sundays following the star

On Sunday night it was our final Cosy Café Sundays for 2012 and we went completely crackers with a special Christmas night. After an afternoon of preparations, including picking up two of the minibuses from the Blantyre Volunteer Group, we all met at Hillhouse for the start of a pilgrimage as we moved around Hamilton and Blantyre stopping off at each location for a course of our evening meal and to add another group to our journey.

We had one of our largest groups this week, filling both buses and a car, as we followed Lindsey Cooper's hand made star from place to place - oh the creativity that comes with an old broom, tinsel, sparkly card and some fairy lights! This was a very special moment for Lindsey as she finally was able to satisfy her life-long ambition to be "the star" of the nativity. 

The Wee Man Turned Good

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Gold coins and ingots

Yesterday we finished the fifth year of running "Bubblegum 'n' Fluff", the chaplaincy event we run each Christmas for Primary 6 pupils in all the associated primary schools to Calderside Academy. By my rough and ready calculations, that is 35 days and around 1,500 pupils talking about the Christmas story and why our celebration of the birth of Jesus is still important. It was more noticeable to me this year than in previous years (and this will only become ever more the case) that there were more children who said they had never heard the story of the nativity. They knew more about it after our time together.

One of the things we build into the morning with the children is some understanding of the context, both within Judea at the time to give some understanding of the expectations of the people at that time, but also an idea of who baby Jesus grew into to connect the importance of this birthday celebration to the man who made such a difference to people's lives. To do that we tell a few stories: the changes to Simon Peter, the story of Jairus' daughter and the story of wee Zacchaeus. A conversation after one of the days has had me thinking a lot about that last story over the last few days... 

Modern Psalmists?

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As many of you will know, music is a great passion of mine. There are a number of bands that have in recent years exploded onto the scene from rock/folk roots in London. I've loved listening to Laura Marling and Noah & The Whale, and with them also the band Mumford & Sons. With the recent release of their second album, Mumford & Sons have affirmed their rather unique position as purveyors of theologically literate folk rock that can fill arenas.

Hall 4 of the SECC was jumping and singing along to the band as they brought their "Tour of Two Halves" to Glasgow on Wednesday night. I know of many folks who were there tonight, scattered across the hall, and no wonder as the tickets sold like hot cakes. With David Burt and Jonathan Fleming, I took up our seats for the concert. We had a fab time, and you can get a rather scary taste of that from the video above of the closing two songs from the concert, with Mumford's own song "The Cave" and a cover of the Beatles "A Little Help From My Friends". I suspect that both Jonathan's and my own voice will be a little the worse for wear at tomorrow morning's "Bubblegum 'n' Fluff" event... Personally, I wish I had been in the middle of the heaving mob on the floor, but in deference to one of my more aged companions we had the benefit of seats. 

Christmas Lunch

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Entertainment at Christmas Lunch

I had to make a bit of a mad dash after our first morning of this year's Bubblegum 'n' Fluff mornings with all the Primary 6 children (on Monday from High Blantyre Primary) exploring the real heart of the Christmas story to get to the Parkville for the Christmas Lunch for all our pensioners. As we packed up all the paraphernalia that follows every event the chaplaincy team are involved with and starting loading it into the car the sleet started to descend rapidly turning to icy cold rain. I was dressed in suit ready for the lunch and within ten minutes was soaked through! Definitely not the right clothing!

We unpacked and setup at Livingstone Memorial Church and then I zipped along to the Parkville, a little late but not too late to miss the soup! It was a lovely afternoon, and we certainly had a lot of laughter around the table... Thanks to Elsie Balneaves for picking up the reins to organise this year's lunch and entertainment. It is always so much appreciated.