Peter's Blog

Livingstone Lifepath

Written by Peter Johnston on .

A quick blog post with a few images from the S2 event that the Chaplaincy Team and staff at the David Livingstone Centre are putting on this week. The week has been going brilliantly and due in no small part to the glorious weather we have had all week. Indeed this evening after three days in the sun I am positively glowing!

We have had volunteers helping us from local churches, from the centre itself, from the school, the campus cop, and lots of young folks and students who have been participating in the experience as leaders. The programme seems to be working very well with a super balance of different activities and styles. We were fortunate on Monday to start off with a relatively small group including ASN pupils which got us into the swing of things relatively easily. The last two days have been mixed days with pupils from both Calderside Academy and John Ogilvie High School with around 70 pupils each day. These have been very fun and it has been great to see the pupils over the course of the morning together move from sitting on either side of the pavilion where we first gather to working together in their teams.

Preparations and Separations

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Life feels very manic at the moment. Final preparations for the Lifepath week are underway, it begins next week when we will be hosting around 400 S2 pupils over the course of the week at the David Livingstone Centre, and I need to pick up four kayaks tomorrow from the canoe club! The video above is the final edit of the interview between Livingstone and Stanley that I mentioned earlier on this blog which we will be using each day. As you can see, Steve Younger made for a fabulous Livingstone!

That is not all. Preparations are going on for the Picnic Praise event later in June, for the formulation of a new Parish Grouping, for the Cosy Café Weekend Away, for a new issue of Spill the Beans, and so on... Busy enough. And then there is the preparation for a move, for getting the manse ready in Aberdeen, and the change of mental gear that will be necessary at that time. I must admit, at the moment it feels rather like hanging onto a roundabout that just keeps spinning faster! 

Something for everyone?

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General Assembly after vote

Monday was a momentous day at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and the results have been everywhere on the news this evening. The BBC ran with "Church of Scotland General Assembly votes to allow gay ministers" as their article title and also as the rolling headline on their TV news service ticker. The Scotsman has something similar, as does The Herald.

Between home commitments, I tried to watch as much of the debate as I could today. As I knew would be the case, and this I lament, nearly the full day was taken up with procedural discussions, while the debate over the substance of the options was condensed into less than two hours at the end of a long day. The result was that a last-minute option written by Rev Alan Hamilton (convenor of the Legal Questions Committee) and presented by Very Rev Albert Bogle, the Moderator until two days ago when Lorna Hood took over. In an aside, I thought Lorna moderated this debate extremely well and deserves credit and thanks for the way in which the proceedings took place. The communion service at the start of the day set the tone for the rest of the day. When everyone, as she had pointed out during that act of worship, has looked each other in the eye and shared the bread and wine with each other, it inevitably opens up a spirit of grace towards one another.

Without rehearsing the events of the day in their entirety, the net result was that neither of the proposals suggested by the Theological Commission were accepted despite the amendments made to them in the preceding hours. The option moved by Very Rev John Cairns was, as I thought it would be, withdrawn after a passionate speech by John about full equality. I am glad it was said, for what John spoke to was what many of us feel. However, like him, we also recognise that there must be space in an inclusive church for those who have a more 'traditionalist' view. This space was provided by the Theological Commission only in the 'revisionist' proposal which allowed for what became known as the 'mixed economy' where congregations could choose to opt out from accepting a minister living in a Civil Partnership. The premise of this proposal, however, was a 'revisionist' understanding for the Kirk. The traditionalist proposal from the Theological Commission afforded no such space, sadly, and thus it was perhaps inevitable that an alternative proposal from the 'traditionalists' within the Kirk that allowed space for difference would prove attractive to the General Assembly. This is where, despite all that hard work, the Theological Commission failed in fulfilling its remit to the General Assembly for they had not been able to find a 'mixed economy' that worked for all the members of the Commission.

The debate begins

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John McPake speaking at GA 2013

Rev Dr John McPake, a colleague from nearby East Kilbride and the convenor of the Theological Commission, has just finished speaking to the Theological Commission's report and is now taking questions. I suspect it will be a long day.

Some very relevant legal questions being raised, and the procurator has been struggling to give a clear answer to what might happen in the future.

A long day for the General Assembly begins

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Queue to enter General Assembly The live stream from the General Assembly is playing on one monitor at the moment as I follow on twitter the #ga2013 feed in a sidebar, and work on my main monitor. Without being present, I still am feeding my GA needs. The communion service is taking place at the moment, which is always a powerful and meaningful moment during the week. The rousing unaccompanied singing of Psalm 24, Ye gates, beginning the time of worship. 

The rest of the day will be taken up with the report of the Theological Commission on same-sex relationships and the Ministry. The picture was an image tweeted this morning before the doors opened to the public gallery of the queue to get in. People across the world are watching today to see what the General Assembly will decide to do.

There are, at present, three options before the Assembly, with the most likely, I think, being the 'mixed economy' that compromises about enough to allow everyone space within the church and protecting people of different views (though there are legal issues here that I suspect still could be tested if someone was minded to do so under equality legislation).

The Moderator said in her remarks during the communion service: "Our convictions must never lead us to separate one from another." 

Please keep all commissioners in your prayers today.

A thunderous journey

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Carolyn and I just got home from the wedding of Gemma and Craig Mitchell, to whom many congratulations on your special day, and blessings for the future. We were treated in the evening reception to some superb covers of classic songs young and old by The James Honey Band, a band which had quite possibly the most relaxed looking bass player we had ever witnessed.

However, good as they were, the night before David Burt and I had spent at the SECC for a triple bill of classic rock with Thunder, Whitesnake and Journey, which did rather top them. David and I were truly re-living our youth! And it was wonderful! 

Principle and Compromise

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Shawn Johnson contemplates the beam

Pictured is the American gymnast Shawn Johnson preparing herself for her beam routine in a competition back in 2011; Olympics followers may remember her stunning performance from the 2008 Olympics. Some of you will know that we have two gymnasts in the household here, Katherine in the acrobatic and Emma in the artistic disciplines. Emma, last weekend, successfully passed her first national exam and placed well amongst those with whom she was performing.

It is her artistic discipline that includes the beam, along with the bars, vault and floor exercises. It will happen frequently as you learn and train that you will fall from the beam, and we have witnessed that before. It is a heart-in-mouth moment as a parent. Even at Olympic level there are times when these superb athletes lose their focus and struggle to maintain their balance on the beam.

Today in Edinburgh the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (GA) for 2013 has begun; I write this while watching the webcast stream of the proceedings. After a brief break during the 2012 GA when the inclusion of gay and lesbian ministers and deacons who might be living in same-sex relationships was not discussed while the Theological Commission on same-sex relationships and the Ministry continued its work. On Monday that report and its deliverances will be discussed.

Lifepath Team

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Lifepath Team

This afternoon was spent in glorious sunshine at the David Livingstone Centre where members of the team (comprising the chaplaincy team and staff at the centre, along with some keen and willing helpers) had a walk-through of the Lifepath event that is planned for the first week in June. This included an orienteering activity that began at the large fallen tree and took us hiking across the whole grounds to time how long it took - it worked perfectly, but we weren't carrying large boxes and canoes...

Now that the day is getting ever closer everything, as it always does, is nicely coming together. There are a few loose ends to tie up (like making sure we have those four canoes ready to go), but we are basically there.

And now, the end is near...

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The death of Jean Valjean

Two films I had long been wanting to see were released on disk this past week and I snapped them up and watched them last night and the night before.

The first was, of course, Les Miserables. Despite that two of my kids saw it not once, but twice at the cinema, once with Carolyn and another time with friends, it was about time I got to watch it having missed the opportunity on the big screen. I can certainly see why the film has created so much buzz. I enjoyed the performances tremendously and the cinematography was superb. The feedback from others was that the film was a weep festival... tissues at the ready! But...

It's all geek to me

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As a self-confessed geek, I was amused to read a blog post by another geeky minister, Mark Sandlin, from the PC(USA) contrasting geek culture and the church in the 21st century. Have a read of 10 Things Church Can Learn From Geeks.

Having seen with Andrew last Saturday the new Star Trek movie which I loved for all the references to the past (which I had to explain to Andrew) Sandlin's last of his ten points made me chuckle:

My first recollection of geeking out about something was Star Trek. Yes, the original series. One of the things I've come to love about it was the way it pushed us into new frontiers without bashing us over the head. Story and metaphor softened the blow of moral imperatives for a more fully functioning society based on equality. The further I went into the geek culture the more of this kind prophetic behavior I noticed. I like to think I'm a better "me" because of it. Come to think of it, Jesus told a lot of parables that did the same thing. I read those too. Once again, I like to think I'm a better "me" because of it.

Sure, some of these points overlap and not all of these are perfect correlations. They're not really meant to be. And sure, in some ways we are comparing reality and make believe, but let's not pretend like some of our Church practices aren't human made constructs. Some church people will be offended. Some geeks will be offended. I imagine portions of each will totally disown and disavow me for even thinking these thoughts, but who knows, maybe there was another misquote in the Bible. Maybe it wasn't the kingdom of God that was at hand, maybe it was the fandom of God.

Words, Confusion and Justice

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Storm in a teacup

I confess I was a little frustrated last week to read the storm in a teacup that had blown up over the publication (since withdrawn for some edits) of a report by the Church and Society Council ahead of the General Assembly next week. The report, titled "The Inheritiance Of Abraham? A Report On The 'Promised Land'" was perhaps not as clear as it should have been on the implicit assumptions within the Kirk that the nation of Israel has a right to exist, that all violence and acts of terror should be condemned, and that the Kirk deplores any anti-semitism. These have been affirmed in a press release subsequently released, but they were always implicit in the Kirk's understanding of the report.

The brouhaha over the report does reveal both the power and limitation of words, and the ease with which people can misunderstand the author's intention.

The Great Unknown

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Do you remember those algebra lessons at school? And the unknown numbers (the 'independent variable') that were represented by 'x' in all those equations?

Today the letter 'x' appears everywhere. We have x-ray machines (from a time when we did not fully understand what x-rays were), the x-factor, x-men, the x-files, generation X, and on and on.

But why the letter 'x'? It is something to do with Arabic and Spain...

Terry Moore explains:


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Spring Grass

Welcome to my personal blog! This is something I have been doing for a number of years now, and for the next couple of months I will be continuing to add to my existing blog while also duplicating here where the blog will find its new home. I will also begin to move the many hundreds of articles in that existing blog to this new site as an archive.

So this is a time of re-freshing. Something new is happening, and yet it is also a very tangible recognition for me that we are also shaped by our pasts and the journey we have been on.

What is a blog, you might ask? If you have not come across one before, it is a kind of online diary - a space to share thoughts, ideas, news, and the ramblings of, in this instance, a busy parish minister. It is a personal blog, meaning that the contents are the thoughts of the person writing, they do not represent anyone else. The same goes for any comments that might be added to the blog, these are the thoughts of the people who comment.

So please do join me, add a comment or two, I will write when I can, and when the blog goes quiet you will know it is because I am busy with other things.

Picnic Praise

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Picnic Praise

This summer the David Livingstone Centre are hosting a "Picnic Praise" afternoon that has been organised by the staff at the centre along with Calderside Chaplaincy Team with the support of Hamilton Presbytery.

This event is open to all from across the region and particular encouragement is given to churches to make this an outing this summer. The activities are appropriate for all ages. Please bring a blanket and picnic with you. 

  • Praise Concert led by Fischy Music
  • Traditional games
  • Play area for young children
  • Bouncy castle
  • Face painting
  • Tours of Museum
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Large park area

Sunday 23 June 2013
1-4 p.m.
David Livingstone Centre

Further Spillage... Issue 8 Available

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 8 Cover

Issue 8 of Spill the Beans is now available for download. This takes us through the first half of the long post-Pentecost season. Spanning 26 May to 25 August 2013, the issue is broken into two sections. In the first we concentrate on the story of the prophets Elijah and Elisha before returning to the gospels for the second half. We are delighted to be able to reproduce the long out-of-print retelling of Elijah's story by the late actor and writer David Kossoff in this issue; a perfect means to enter the world of these ancient prophetic voices and the times in which they served God.

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.

Wedding Bells

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Isla and Claus Cutting the Cake

It was a very busy week last week, with the kids off at the moment, of course. We had a day away to Twynholm in Dumfries & Galloway and the Cocoa Bean Company which proved great fun and worth a visit, though it isn't cheap if the kids are going to do the full chocolate factory experience and create their own chocolates. None of which, it should be said, have been offered around!

In amidst putting together the next issue of Spill the Beans, which is always difficult around Easter, the week saw the final preparations for a big day on Saturday as my sister and Claus were married at Crutherland House in East Kilbride. It was such a privilege for me to be able to lead that service, with our mum providing the music and our older two girls doing the readings. A special moment for us all in the Johnston and Noel clans that doesn't come round often.

Friends from Gravesend made the trip north to be there which was really fab, bringing back lots of memories.

A good day. And every blessing for Isla, Claus, Ella and Olivia!

A eulogy for Jesus

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In the Good Friday service this evening I used an idea from a friend, Donald McCorkindale, who mentioned that he had used a funeral service as the basis for a Good Friday service. I did the same this evening adapting one of the funeral liturgies that I use. It was a very moving experience for me to prepare a funeral service for Jesus for the moments after he was laid in the tomb. 

From the words of those who left the service this evening, it was equally powerful for them as it had been for me. What would you say if you were writing the tribute for Jesus?

Leading by example

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This is really good to see. Pope Francis breaks with tradition, as is becoming something of a habit for him, for the Mass for Holy Thursday. Normally the Pope would celebrate it at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, but Pope Francis decided he would officiate it at a juvenile detention centre in Rome, saying to the youngsters "I wash your feet to remind you that we have to help each other."

In another break from tradition, Francis washed the feet of two girls. A sign of changes to come, I wonder? Traditionally, foot washing has been all male remembering that Jesus washed the feet of the twelve male disciples.

Mandatum Novum

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Maundy Thursday

It is Maundy Thursday today, and I saw someone on facebook reflecting on the meaning of the word 'maundy'. It is derived from the Latin mandatum, and its use here comes from Jesus' words to his disciples, "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you" which translates in Latin as "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos". The word 'mandate' comes from this root too.

This evening we celebrated in fellowship in the hall, journeyed to our upper room to remember the Last Supper and ended at the doorway to the church with a newly filled planter (thanks, Geoff Krawczyk) which represented the Garden of Gethsemane for us.

Antisectarianism Panel

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Antisectarianism Display

On Monday afternoon I had the privilege to step into David Burt's shoes representing the Church of Scotland for a Question Time panel organised by Glenlee Primary and John Ogilvie High School. The children had been doing a power of work together on sectarianism and displays along one of the corridors and in the hall graphically illustrated some of the work they had been doing.

On the panel was Dr Robin Jamieson (working with Community Links on sectarianism), Jim Reid (headteacher at Glenlee), David Scott (representing Nil by Mouth), Alison Logan (from Sense over Sectarianism), Father Matthew Despard (St John Ogilvies Roman Catholic Church) and myself, with representation also from Cooperative Funeral Care who had helped sponsor the project.

It has to be said, it was a very harmonious response to all the questions the children raised, unanimously seeking to find ways to continue the progress made to eliminate the blight of sectarianism that still can rear its ugly head. Respect of each other and the responsibility to ensure that our own actions do not add to the tribalism of the West of Scotland were frequent responses. [There's more...]