Peter's Blog

Community Organisers

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Jesus was a community organiser

I ordered the T-shirt above yesterday... looking forward to its arrival! It says:

Jesus was a community organiser
Pontius Pilate was a governor

Around the houses and back home again

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Evacuating Crieff Hydro

I know I shouldn't be surprised, but today's session at Crieff just seemed to settle into the very familiar when we tried to flesh out the strawman. The only excitement came with a fire alarm in the middle of the session which meant we all had to traipse out (in an orderly fashion, of course) of the Hydro and hang around for the all clear.

It is always the same with these conferences that the best bit as a participant is the fellowship and conversations. The buzz of meeting with colleagues and sharing stories, ideas and support for one another is always refreshing and encouraging. 

Straw dollies

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Day 2 of conference at Crieff, though today it is just half a day. Today we are supposedly going to be creating a "Strawman" or "Straw dolly" as we thought strawman a bit gender restrictive! What is a strawman? In this context it is a first draft/idea of what the regional Chuch of Scotland (i.e. presbyteries) might look like in the future. This is coming from all the discussion we had yesterday. From this rough sketch more details can be added, or parts dispensed with, and so on.

It is a very difficult task... as much as we complain about presbyteries when you sit down and try to work out how you could do things differently you tend to come back to the same solutions. It will be interesting to see where it goes this morning. The Panel on Review and Reform doesn't report to the General Assembly on this matter until 2010 so I suppose they have time to flesh out the very rough ideas we've been having here.

A great evening last night with much hilarity once the work was finished... although that did mean a late night to bed... so no change there. The room I had last night, albeit briefly, was wonderful, could have brought the whole family with room to spare.

Bubblegum and fluff

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Bubblegum and fluff

The Calderside Learning Community Chaplaincy Team comprising David Burt, Karen Harbison, Steve Younger and myself met this morning with Jen Robertson, the presbytery's Schools and Churches Youth Development Worker, to make arrangements for what should be a fun event for P6 children this Christmas.

I love the title for it: Bubblegum and Fluff. That is going to be the story we tell... about that lost piece of bubblegum that fell down the side of your bed only to be found six years later covered in fluff and all kinds of rubbish. You know that underneath all the fluff there is still a piece of bubblegum, even if it is hard to tell at a quick glance.

The point being that Christmas can be the same. So many additions have been made to the Christmas Story that sometimes it is hard to remember what is central to Christmas. 

Connections and communities

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I finally succumbed today to Facebook... If you have never heard of it, it is an online community where you can keep up-to-date with your friends and family wherever they are in the world. It is one of the products of what is called Web 2.0, the next phase of the internet's development which has been taking off over the last couple of years in developing new online communities.

Truly it is amazing. Within a few minutes I had found folks I haven't spoken to in years both from the UK and in the USA. Once you have your own place on facebook and start to add friends (I have been told there is a fine line here between having very few friends and looking pretty sad and having way too many friends and looking even sadder!) then facebook starts to suggest other people you may want to make your friends from the networks of your current friends and from knowing which school you went to and so on. It is very impressive and immediately started suggesting people that I do indeed know. 

Greed getting the better of us?

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On the front page of today's Sunday Times the current Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Rt Rev David Lunan, is quoted from an excellent article confronting the devastating blows to the world's financial markets and the likes of our own HBOS during the week. The question that is raised by David Lunan is what place can greed play in our financial systems. At the moment it is central, but should it be? What about the commandment about coveting that which is not ours?

The article is reproduced in full on the Times website here.

Money quote:

Those who deal in the buying and selling of shares talk a lot about confidence. But whose confidence — theirs or ours? What if we have lost confidence in those who claimed they knew best? If the money changers are motivated solely by the quick buck, where is the reliability, the trustworthiness, the integrity we used to associate with those to whom we entrusted our hard earned savings? But society seems to respect those who have wealth, and not ask questions about how it was made. We reward failure with golden handshakes.

Communities cannot survive if there is no trust. We must have a moral framework of checks and balances to underpin our economic system without which it is the law of the jungle and the devil take the hindmost. That moral framework must have a bias towards those who have the least capacity to fend for themselves. It must challenge the idea that more is always better because there are values more valuable than money.


Stepping Out

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Sunset over Ben Nevis

The theme of this morning's service was "Stepping Out", chosen by Fiona Ogg, one of our members who is a second year student at Glasgow studying for the ministry. In the main message Fiona told us about her summer spent on the West Coast in Ardgour and the surrounding area in a huge parish stretching from near Fort William down to Kingairloch, a distance of some 25 miles along the edge of Loch Linnhe.

Fiona showed us some glorious pictures of which the above is one, showing a fishery  with Ben Nevis illuminated by the evening sun in the background.

As with many rural churches, there are great difficulties in finding ministers, particularly those with younger families, to move to areas such as these where the facilities are lacking. The high school is a ferry journey away.

It was great to hear that Fiona's experiment at rural ministry over the summer has helped her determine that God's calling to her is to rural ministry. Wherever she ends up in the future, it will be a blessing to that congregation.

We also welcomed Willie Paul this morning to St Andrew's. Willie is a member at Uddingston Viewpark Parish Church and is involved in an enquiry process to find out more about the different ministry options in the Church of Scotland and we hope that his time placed with us in St Andrew's will help him to do that.

Carberry Tower

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Carberry Tower

This is hard to believe, I know, for those of us living in the West but believe it or not on the East coast it is dry! I spent yesterday and today at a Ministries Council conference at Carberry Tower past Edinburgh and it was lovely. Back to the West and it is still raining!

I took this moody picture of Carberry from the walled gardens, though I confess there has been a wee bit of Photoshop trickery to bring out some definition in the sky...  

The Three Big Stories

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On Sunday night we had the first discussion evening for our Autumn Living the Questions series. This first night was based around Restoring Relationships. It was a fascinating discussion that had deep resonances with a lot of other things I have been thinking about recently.

The DVD introduction gave us insight into the three "big stories" of the Bible: the Exodus from bondage in Egypt, the period of Exile in Babylon, and the Temple system of sacrifices.

From these three "big stories" we can see salvation in different ways:  

Andy the Church Mouse

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Puppet Training

I'm down at Greyfriar's Church in Lanark with members of our puppet ministry today. There are about 70 people here all wielding puppets - it is quite a sight! Lorraine Brown has just bought a new puppet, who we are naming Andy, the St Andrew's Church Mouse. See here for more pics.

Lots of brilliant ideas on how to use the puppets... and we're about to start hands-on training. At the moment we're watching the puppets singing to Status Quo... really... 

Politics by musical?

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I have to confess that the American election is still right up there on my list of concerns and worries for the future of our world. Why can't I vote? It is so frustrating! Carolyn can, and thankfully she is equally concerned.

However serious the issues at stake are, it is always good to be see that those campaigning can look on the lighter side too. For a wee bit of background, the election takes place on 4 November, the video is set on 3 November. It is priceless. Enjoy it.

Congratulations Steven

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Steven Preston admited as reader

A group from St Andrew's travelled over to East Kilbride Old Parish Church tonight to support Steven Preston as he was admitted to the office of Reader in the Church of Scotland by Hamilton Presbytery along with another colleague, Stuart Mellroy. Congratulations to them both. (Apologies for terrible quality of photo - must get a better camera phone!)

We will no doubt see more of Steven over the years to come when he takes on pulpit supply for us. 

The car was full on the way over and doubly so on the way back as I had to make two journeys! But we had a good laugh too and the Old Church did us proud with a good selection of the always necessary homebakes!

Anne Paton, the minister at East Kilbride Old, gave an excellent message on "the call to follow", and David Watt led the service as one of his first official duties as this year's Moderator for presbytery.

It is always a privilege to be at these services and especially to support someone we at St A's have seen growing in confidence into their call to follow Jesus as a Reader. 

In Remembrance

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New York skyline on anniversary of Sept 11

It is the seven year anniversary of the devastation inflicted on New York City and Washington DC.

While many of us have deep disagreements over the West's response to those terrorist acts, particularly with respect to the invasion of Iraq, we nevertheless join with friends from across the world to remember those who lost their lives seven years ago today.

Not long after those tragic events, a group from Blantyre High School, as it was then, created a book of poems written by students from local schools. While there are many evocative poems in the book, sometimes it is the simplest that are most affecting. 

Twin towers
Mad people
Empty space

Kelly (P6) from David Livingstone Primary School

The end is nigh...?

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Inside CERN

Tomorrow could be it... the end of all we know... so say the doomsayers about the first proper run of the extraordinary science experiment taking place at CERN in the new Large Hadron Collider. One of the things that may be created are tiny black holes. Some are worried that these infinitesimal black holes will suck up all the matter around them (that is what black holes do, not even light can escape from their gravitational pull) and thus, "pop" or better "slurp", there goes the earth... 

Not so different from us

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Marjane looks up at her bombed street

After a very busy weekend, I sat down to watch late on Sunday night an extraordinary animated film, Persepolis, based on the picture novels by Marjane Satrapi. The story follows Marjane from a young girl to a young woman with the backdrop of the fall of the Shah in Iran and the rise of Islamic rule.

In this day and age with Iran very much on our minds in terms of foreign policy, possible nuclear weapons, and particularly the concerns about what a future American president might do with respect to Iran (candidate John McCain has made no secret of his willingness to bomb Iran), it is perhaps not surprising that the view of Iran we are fed is one of extremism and radicalisation.

The film is fascinating as it shows us what I am sure most of us know already, that Iranian people are just like us. They are trying to make successful lives for themselves, they are looking out for their children, families and friends, and trying to live "normal" lives even while the rulers of their country descend into fundamentalism. Persepolis is clear about the dangers of fundamentalism and the utter hypocrisy of it. In one scene Marjane is castigated by two men as she runs home. They tell her not to run as her rear end is jiggling provocatively. Marjane screams at them, "Then don't look!"

It is a wonderful touching film, the animation (mostly in black and white) is somehow both simplistic and yet also powerfully direct. It is no wonder that this film was nominated for an Oscar this year.

If you get a chance, do make time to watch Persepolis

I am speed...

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Andrew on skidder

For Andrew's birthday today he received a "Skidder" - an almost recumbent trike with slick rear wheels so you can perform skids. This evening he was trying it out as the light went down. I was trying to get a good panning shot of him whizzing past but found when you are crouching down it is not easy. For a good panning shot you really need to be able to swivel around at the waist as the subject moves past you so that the subject is caught but with the background in blurred movement.  

One man went to mow...

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Thistle in front lawn

Twice in the last fortnight I had the ignominy of opening the front door to someone offering to mow the lawn... for a cost, of course. What a cheek, I thought, as our Highland wilderness reached waist height.

As some of you know, I loathe the garden. Actually that's not entirely true. I do enjoy sitting in the garden reading, sipping a coffee as the kids bounce on the trampoline, or admiring someone else's efforts, even the amazing creativity of life that any garden exhibits... but "gardening" is another thing.

Time for coming home

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Archbishop John Sentamu & Jane Bentley

Back in May the Church of Scotland held a tremendous event called The National Gathering organised by the Church Without Walls planning group. A number of us in St Andrew's went along to visit and to show something of what happens in St Andrew's via one of the story-telling tents. There the new puppet ministry and more established pastoral and bereavement support was show-cased - if you receive a copy of Life and Work you may have even spotted a picture of our own Jim Brown manning the tent!

I was given a CD-ROM today with all the official images from the event so that I can use them in future publicity and there are some fantastic photos. I particularly liked the picture above with Archbishop John Sentamu joining Jane Bentley with some drumming as the 3,000 folks gathered sang under the leadership of John Bell. 

God's own country

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Douglas Cemetery

A day of contrasts: a funeral in the morning and a wedding this afternoon.

The funeral took us down to Douglas in deepest Lanarkshire for the burial. On the way to the cemetery I was told that we had now entered "God's own country", and with the weather finally holding off for today (so far, anyway) it really was beautiful. Surrounding the cemetery are fields with sheep gently grazing. 

Not a great picture above, as I had to resort to the phone, but you will get the idea.

One of the strange things (among many) about being a minister is that you start to look at cemeteries in a different light. This one was immaculately kept and truly a peaceful place.

Mad Wednesdays

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At the moment Wednesdays are just crazy in the Johnston household. Once everyone is back from school, there are 45 minutes before the start of drama class for the oldest three, then back home for an hour before Rainbows for Katherine, Anchor Boys for Andrew, and then gymnastics for Katherine in Cumbernauld... It is manic. We're just back home from that, thankfully to a quiet house with everyone else in bed.

However, I must admit I am quite relishing the hour sitting in the car outside Broadwood Gymanstics Academy on a Wednesday night. Peace and quiet and a book. I was hoping to finish the book I am currently reading, Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, but 20 mins cat nap threw that in disarray.