Peter's Blog

Spill the Beans Issue 24 is a Go!

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 24

We start the fourth year of the Narrative Lectionary cycle, the final year which has John's gospel as its focus, and the Spill the Beans Resource Team has got the next issue for the autumn ready. I've finished putting it all together today and so it is out as I need a holiday!

Issue 24 covers the second half of the Pentecost season from Pentecost 14 to the end of the church calendar on Reign of Christ Sunday, from 10 September to 26 November 2017. As we journey with the Hebrew people through the autumn we do so under the thematic signpost marked "Go!"

As always, created by folks here in Scotland as a labour of love, this issue has lots of ideas and resources for you to inspire, adapt, use in a worship setting or for age groups in Junior Churches and youth groups. If you have not used Spill the Beans before then have a look at this sample.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 24 for use in your church or personally, then click the 'Buy' button below. The cost is only £12 (GBP). You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer or tablet.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 4 MB so it may take some time to download.

Spill the Beans Issue 24

Spill the Beans Issue 24 Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook group in which we share ideas.

Print Copies

If you would like an additional printed copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Ferryhill Parish Church. Note this cost is just for printing expenses. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. Please note we can only send these within the United Kingdom.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a short wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued with dispatch of your order.

 

Faith In Politics

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Faith In Politics

The Joint Public Issues Team (which has representation from the Church of Scotland, Baptist Union, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church) has produced a helpful paper for approaching the 2017 General Election exploring many of the key issues which we all face in a rapidly changing political landscape.

It opens saying:

Does the prospect of the upcoming election fill you with excitement, or apathy? Or something in-between?

Every General Election presents an opportunity for citizens to participate critically and constructively in the democratic process. It may be a cliché to suggest that there has “never been so much at stake”, but there is an element of truth to this saying. We are living in an unprecedented political moment. There are many things that are uncertain about the future of our country, and this is an important opportunity for you to challenge and scrutinise the policies and rhetoric of politicians.

The briefing paper tries to be as straightforward as possible in laying out the key facts to help us make our own decisions.

You can download a copy here.

Spill the Beans for Summer 2017

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 23

While many of us are just starting to enjoy Spring, others are already planning for Summer services. The Spill the Beans team has also been busy for this summer and just off my desk is Issue 23. This covers from Trinity Sunday to Pentecost 13, from 11 June to 3 September 2017. There is a short series on psalms, a series through Ephesians and then four weeks looking at the sacraments of baptism and communion. An interesting spread. Of course, while these are laid out in the book with specific dates, you could just use these small series at any time.

Those of you who have already used Spill the Beans know what a super resource this is, created by folks here in Scotland. If you have not yet then have a look at this sample.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 23 for use in your church or personally, then click the button below. The cost is only £12. You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer or tablet.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 6 MB so it will take some time to download.

Spill the Beans Issue 23

Spill the Beans Issue 23 Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook group in which we share ideas.

Print Copies

If you would like an additional printed copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Ferryhill Parish Church. Note this cost is just for printing expenses. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. Please note we can only send these within the United Kingdom.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a short wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued with dispatch of your order.

 

The stoning of St Stephen

A hymn for St Stephen

Written by Peter Johnston on .

We are thinking about the story of St Stephen (Acts 6-7), famously known as the first Christian martyr, this Sunday but when planning the service I could not find a hymn that specifically spoke about Stephen's story.

Here is my contribution for others to use if they wish. We will be singing it, appropriately enough, to the tune St Stephen.

The Seven Men, Respected All
Words: Peter Johnston
Tune: St Stephen (Newington) CH 686
CM

1.  The seven men, respected all,
     were sent to serve the Lord;
     with blessing and the Spirit’s power
     their ministry outpoured.

2.  Amongst these men and strong of faith
    came Stephen, filled with grace.
    His love and care was known to them
    who saw in him God’s face.

3.  Through miracles and signs he worked         WOMEN
    to spread Good News to all;
    but questioned and maligned by some
    he faced his highest call.

4.  In Temple’s courts the high priest asked:    MEN
    “Is what they say the truth?”
    But Stephen’s face shone bright with light,
    his voice was raised anew.

5. “Listen to me!” he called aloud,
    and preached with holy fire.
    From Abraham to Moses he
    proclaimed God’s righteous ire:

6. “You stubborn people, deaf to truth.        WOMEN
    Why do you resist me?”
    And Stephen joined the ranks of those
    whose voices stilled must be.

7. “I see the Son of Man!” he cried,        MEN
    his eyes gazed heavenwards.
    The mob descended, stones flew down,
    yet grace was their reward.

8. Did Stephen know the price he’d pay,
    for living Jesus’ way?
    May we know Stephen’s courage strong:
    witness for God each day.

©2017 Sleepless Nights Productions

Living in other's shoes

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Another vlog today thinking about empathy and its role in politics.

Humility and Tolerance

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Fourth video in my wee series on faith and politics, thinking about the role of humility.

Who Is My Neighbour?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

The difficult question of "Who is my neighbour?" as it applies in our current highly charged atmosphere of fear about immigration and of talk about border walls addressed in this third episode of my Faith and Politics vlog.

What is truth?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

The title is Pilate's famous line to Jesus as Jesus stands before him: "What is truth?" In the light of "post-truth" and "alternative facts", I take a few moments to think about "truth" in the second of my vlog series on Faith and Politics.

Faith and Politics Vlog

Written by Peter Johnston on .

I'm toying with starting a new video blog (vlog) series on YouTube in addition to my series on life with an electric car. With this one I am going to explore some of the nagging issues that have been on my mind over the last couple of years with relation to politics and what part faith might play in informing or giving some perspective on some of these issues.

In the first episode I talk about the language of "winning".

Spill the Beans, Issue 22

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 22

The new year is zipping past and that means a new issue of Spill the Beans has escaped from my computer. Issue 22 covers the season of Lent, Easter all the way to Pentecost Sunday, 5 March 2017 to 4 June 2017 with ideas for Holy Week included.

A huge thank you to all the creative team who added their contributions for this issue. We are already working away writing material for the summer issue at the moment.

For current Beanies you alread know what a fabulous resource this is, created by folks here in Scotland. If you have not yet, but are intrigued, have a look at this sample.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 22 for use in your church or personally, then click the button below. The cost is only £12. You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer or tablet.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 5 MB so it will take some time to download.

Spill the Beans Issue 22

Spill the Beans Issue 22Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook group in which we share ideas.

Print Copies

If you would like an additional printed copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Ferryhill Parish Church. Note this cost is just for printing expenses. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. Please note we can only send these within the United Kingdom.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a short wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued with dispatch of your order.

 

Memory Bridges

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Our Friendship Team has been exploring ways in which we might be able to minister more effectively to people with dementia. They have been looking at the work of the Living Well Project Cafés in Bridge of Don and Bucksburn which have been developing ways of helping people with dementia and their families and carers to find a safe and friendly space.

With this in mind, a friend happened to post on facebook the video above today. I had seen it before, but it powerfully reminded me why supporting people with dementia is such a valuable act of love.

In this profound video, Naomi Feil, a Jewish woman and founder of Validation Therapy, sings Christian hymns for Gladys Wilson, who has had Alzheimer's since 2000 and was unable to speak. Watch what happens at the end, when Mrs. Feil opens her heart and gives Gladys what she needs so deeply.

Spill the Beans, Issue 18

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 18

Christmas is just past and already eyes turn towards the next big festival in the church. Certainly my mind has been on it a lot over the last few weeks as the next issue of Spill the Beans has been coming together into its final form. Issue 18 covers the season of Lent, Easter all the way to Pentecost Sunday, 14 February 2016 to 15 May 2016 with ideas for Holy Week included in that.

A huge thank you to all the creative team who added their contributions for this issue. We are already working away on the summer issue at the moment, which is going to be packed!

For current Beanies you alread know what a fabulous resource this is, created by folks here in Scotland. If you have not yet, but are intrigued, have a look at this sample.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 18 for use in your church or personally, then click the button below. The cost is only £12. You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer (or share to your book library or Adobe Reader if you are using an iPad).

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 4 MB so it will take some time to download.

Spill the Beans Issue 18

Spill the Beans Issue 18 Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook group in which we share ideas.

Print Copies

If you would like a print copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Ferryhill Parish Church. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a few days to wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued with dispatch of your order.

 

Renault Zoe on Cairn o' Mount

EV Trekking

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Today I got a little ahead of my usual pattern and managed to get Sunday all organised. Tonight is the final presbytery meeting of the year, and I am hoping that it is not too long a meeting as I need to get an early night, for once!

It will be a very early start, hoping to leave around 6 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday 2 December) for a bit of a trek. I am heading back down to St Columba's Church of Scotland in London where I grew up, a place with many happy memories for me. They are having a special service on Thursday 3 December to mark the 60th Anniversary of the building. It was rebuilt after the Second World War, the original red brick building having been hit by incendiary bombs during the Blitz.

All very nice... but I have decided on a big experiment and I am going to drive down in my Renault Zoe electric car. As some of you will know, I am regularly down to the central belt of Scotland and that poses few problems. This is a bigger test and I am fascinated to see how it works. I am just about ready for the trip which will be a total of around 1,150 miles and will involve numerous stops along the way for me to recharge (hello caffeine!) and for Zoe to recharge (hello electrons!).

There are two reasons for wanting to do this. I am fascinated to see how well the charging network is operating across the whole length of the country to enable this kind of journey. I am also wanting to do this to show that this is entirely possible and getting easier all the time, knocking one of the big naysayer reasons for the adoption of much more efficient EVs: that they are only suitable as city cars.

Over the last two years I have been documenting my experiences of living with an electric vehicle through my YouTube channel here. This has been a record of what has been, and I will no doubt add to it after my journey. I have a wee following now who will demand this! But this time I will also be posting updates as I go. So... if you follow twitter you can follow my progress using #ALAevtrek. On facebook, you can do the same: #ALAevtrek.

My intention is to make it down to High Wycombe on Wednesday, then into London on Thursday and back to Aberdeen Thursday/Friday.

Wish me well...

 

Trump and Mussollini

Separated At Birth?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Why do I do it to myself? Every four years I get sucked into the American election coverage. This year is no different, I am engaged with what is going on over in the States and yet we are a whole year away from the actual election, in which I cannot vote anyway! Though, we do have five American citizens in the house, which gives more substance to my fascination, even if I am the only person who is not a US citizen.

At the moment we are just at the early stages of selecting who will be the candidates in the election for each party. Early stages, pah! This has already been going on since before the summer.

As a relatively seasoned observer of US politics - and someone who watched in stunned amazement as George W Bush won a second term - this election cycle seems to be something altogether more desperate, fact-free, personal and, when you come right down to it, deeply repugnant.

Each new week and each new day we have seen new depths of political depravity trawled.

Spill the Beans, Issue 17, Incarnated

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 17

Not that many sleeps until Christmas... just saying! It also means a new issue of Spill the Beans has just been incarnated covering the season of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany up to Transfiguration Sunday, 29 November 2015 to 7 February 2016.

Note that issue 16 is still available (see the sidebar on the right) if you are wanting something to take you up to the end of this liturgical year, 22 November 2016.

In Issue 17 you will find the usual rich assortment of ideas and resources for worship and age groups. Have a particular look, if you are doing worship planning, at the ideas for a Blue Christmas service with a particular focus on helping people who have suffered recent loss to worship in this season.

A huge thank you to all the creative team who added their contributions for this issue. And, believe it or not, we have already had our two planning meetings to look ahead to Lent and Easter... that material is now being written.

For current Beanies you alread know what a fabulous resource this is, created by folks here in Scotland. If you have not yet, but are intrigued, have a look at this sample.

If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 17 for use in your church or personally, then click the button below. The cost is only £12. You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer (or share to your book library or Adobe Reader if you are using an iPad).

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 4 MB so it will take some time to download.

Spill the Beans Issue 17

Spill the Beans Issue 16 Cover

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook group in which we share ideas.

Print Copies

If you would like a print copy of Spill the Beans, then this can be arranged. The cost is usually around £22+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Lanark Greyfriars Church. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. We have had to raise the costs of the print copy from our initial issues as we have found the original costs were not covering the costs of producing the copies.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a few days to wait before you receive yours) then you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your order details. An invoice will be issued after dispatch of your order. If you prefer you can contact Greyfriars Church Office on 01555 661510 and place your order over the phone.

 

As Reliable As A Volkswagen

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Periodically this week I have been trying to work out why the church website had reverted to what is known as WSOD, aka the dreaded White Screen Of Death. You may not know how this website works, but it is based on what is called a content management system (CMS) comprising a large database containing all the information the website needs to create the content of the website plus thousands and thousands of support files that provide the framework for the content. Which is a complicated way of saying that it is not as simple as creating a Word document!

However, finally this evening with some friendly help from an online community I traced the problem to a particular part of the website. A swift payment to access their latest file updates and an update to our own site and hey presto it is back in business. The frustrating part of this was that all the while we could access the "behind the scenes" part of the website, it is just that the "front of house" bit that you all get to see was not accessible.

It has meant that a number of things I wanted to blog about have been passing me by over the past week or so. However, one of the subjects is not going to go away soon. I mentioned on Sunday morning when we were thinking about the power of names, that names can very easily become tainted by bad associations and in that light happened to touch on Volkswagen.

What can we do?

Written by Peter Johnston on .

I have been following my friends Jonathan Fleming and David Burt on facebook as they have been driving down to Calais over the past couple of days with a van full of aid supplies that they have been gathering together through Erskine Parish Church. In Aberdeen the CafAid folks have also been collecting good to assist the crisis going on in Calais. That crisis, of course, is a tiny part of a much larger flood of humanity out of the ghastly mess that is a place like Syria. In Turkey alone there are approaching 2 million refugees. Just think about that for a moment. Here in the UK David Cameron has relented and has talked about 20,000 refugees being allowed to enter the UK over a five year period. Meanwhile Turkey, with far fewer resources, is already having to deal with nearly 100 times that number.

I hang my head in shame at the grudging language that some of our political leaders have used while bowing to the pressure to do more from so many of those who elected them. A couple of weeks ago this crisis was the focus of my sermon on Sunday. My notes for that sermon are really just notes, rather than a script, but I may edit them a bit more and add them to the blog as some contribution to our own dialogue about the Christian response to a crisis such as the one we have been witnessing over the last months and years.

With the acknowledgement finally that the government will be doing something more organised to help some refugees find a new home, faith groups have been busy starting conversations with partners to assist any families that might be coming to communities. As part of that process, please read the letter below from Aberdeen Churches Together. Below that you will find a letter from the Ministries Council of the Church of Scotland with other relevant advice on what we can do to assist.

On my recent trip to Malawi I found myself on a few occasions when we were spending time in feeding stations for children pondering the priority of one's assistance into situations that seem so big that they are almost insurmountable: do we help the imminent need of people struggling in the present, or do we focus our energies on the structural problems that are at the root of such suffering. Of course, it has to be a bit of both, and handled with great sensitivity.

Letter from Aberdeen Churches Together

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are sure that you and your congregations are greatly concerned about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and the resulting migration of large numbers of people exposed to great hardship, uncertainty and vulnerability. As Christian people, we are called by Christ to respond with compassion and hospitality.

Many in your congregations may be asking what the Church is doing in the face of this crisis. Firstly, as congregations and as individuals, many will have already responded to appeals for help and many churches will be taking up special collections in aid of the refugees. Moreover, following the decision of the UK Government to accept up to 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years, representatives from a number of churches across the city met on Thursday 10 September to discuss an ecumenical response, and an invitation was received from Aberdeen City Council to attend a Refugee Planning meeting, along with representatives from the Muslim Community and the Voluntary Sector. Accordingly, Rev. Hugh Wallace, Convenor of the Church and Society Committee of the Aberdeen Presbytery of the Church of Scotland, and Rev. Stuart Chalmers, Vicar General of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Aberdeen, as representatives of Aberdeen Churches Together, attended the meeting on 14th September to discuss how the Council, faith groups and the voluntary sector could work together to offer spiritual, emotional and material support to refugees coming to the City and the North East. Reflecting the common consensus at the meeting, all faith community representatives expressed a commitment to welcome and assist the refugees when they arrive.

There is great willingness in our congregations to help in a variety of ways. However, at this point in time, we are waiting for further detail from the UK Government as to who will be resettled in our area and what their specific needs will be. This will then inform a plan of action, shaped by the Council in collaboration with faith groups, charitable organisations and individuals. Congregations will be informed of this plan in due course. In the meantime, offers of help and pledges of financial assistance can be lodged on a new website created jointly by the Scottish Refugee Council and the Scottish Government: http://www.scotlandwelcomesrefugees.scot 

Please continue to pray for the many people of Syria and the neighbouring countries in the Middle East, whose lives have been so deeply affected by the on-going conflict. Pray for the peoples in Europe as refugees make their way into their countries. Let us pray that the values of wisdom, compassion , courage, justice and peace would prevail in this uncertain situation.

Yours in Christ,

Members of Aberdeen Churches Together

Letter from Ministries Council, Church of Scotland

Dear Colleagues,

In recognition of the extraordinary situation facing refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria, a special meeting of the Councils and departments of the Church has taken place.

The Church and Society Council and the Finance Group of the Church have recognised the desire of church members to respond to the refugee crisis. The Church has an extraordinary depth of experience and resource which it can bring to bear to meet the needs of refugees arriving in communities in Scotland.

The meeting at Church Offices in Edinburgh looked at ways the Church can help resource congregations where refugees are eventually settled in Scotland. The focus was on providing practical, sustainable and long term assistance which would complement the initiatives of government and other agencies.

The Church has already been engaging with government, agencies and other churches and faith organisations to raise awareness of what assistance the Church can provide and secure the greatest chance of a coordinated response. Given the size and scale of the Church, the meeting was held in an attempt to ensure the response within the Church itself also benefits from appropriate coordination. It was also recognised that the response, wherever possible, will gain strength from being ecumenical and multifaith. The Church has already issued interfaith statements in the last week to pledge a united response to the refugee crisis, and will continue in this joint working going forward. It is important to also continue campaign work to ensure this issue remains a priority even when the media spotlight moves on.

At present, it is unclear when, where and how many refugees will be arriving in Scotland. There was a recognition that no matter how many find a place of safety here, it will not present a solution to the current catastrophe. Many more displaced people will still be dependent on support beyond our shores, and their needs must not be overlooked. At the same time, the Church has to maintain undiminished the full range of support and services it currently offers on a routine basis to people in Scotland every day of the year.

The meeting heard about the social care network which already exists through CrossReach, the Church's Social Care Council, which may be able to accommodate some of the care needs of those arriving. The Mission and Discipleship Council has the ability to equip church members with appropriate skills to meet the needs of refugees. There was a recognition the Church has a national membership which wants to respond, and there will be ways everyone who wishes can contribute their support to parishes where refugees are settled.

It was recognised that Ministers and church members can play a role in their communities in promoting radical hospitality and welcome for refugees. In some cases, there may be concerns and suspicions about strangers entering their midst. Congregations can play an important role in overcoming these prejudices.

As well as time and talent, the Church also has financial resources and there is the commitment to make money available to aid the short and long term response.

It is intended the meeting will result in a considered action plan to be published shortly. Measures will also be taken to keep members across the Church fully informed about what is happening, and enabled to contribute their own ideas and initiatives.

In terms of resources, ACTS, the Joint Public Issues Team and Christian Aid are among the groups which have made prayers available. Worship resources are now being created which will be distributed through the Church website and other channels in the coming weeks.  Other information is available on the Church of Scotland website and Resourcing Mission.

I’d also like to draw your attention to an initiative next week which will see the Moderator seeking the support of congregations in signing the global education petition Up For School. Two short high quality videos have been produced featuring the Moderator, Gordon Brown, and members of the National Youth Assembly which can be shared with members in church and on social media. The Moderator has also written a letter requesting support, as well as a prayer with prayer points which can be used in worship.

With best wishes

Rev Dr Martin Scott
Secretary, Ministries Council

 

Highlights from my Malawi trip

Written by Peter Johnston on .

I finally got round to editing together some of our video from the recent trip to Malawi. I confess I had not been in a "video footage creation" mindset when we were there, but was rather catching snippets here and there for the blog I was creating at the time. However, I hope this will give a wee flavour of what the trip was like.

You can hear much more from Fiona, Margo, Sheila, Robert and myself at our Malawi Partnership shindig taking place on Sunday afternoon, 30 August, 2:30 p.m. in St Stephen's Church, Powis Place. This is an open event for anyone to attend to hear our experiences. There will be snacks and drinks available too, but, alas, no nsima.

 

Titanic Belfast

Back to work...

Written by Peter Johnston on .

And so... the summer is nearly over. An in-service day for schools today so I still have the children all at home, but tomorrow school is back properly for the other five members of the Johnston household. I am trying to get some odds and sods done today before starting back properly tomorrow. That is looking like a pretty grim day with scheduled meetings morning, afternoon and evening. Ah, back to work indeed.

We did manage a lovely wee break in Northern Ireland visiting our friends, the McDowell family, in Ballyeaston. In our brief few days we managed to fit a lot in with a trip to the new Titanic Belfast exhibit at the harbour which was excellent (and you paid the price for that excellence!), a visit to Castle Ward where numerous scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed (good for the nerds amongst us) and Crumlin Road Gaol (but only visiting it, I hasten to add).

Amongst the huge Titanic Belfast exhibit, which does a superb job of setting the scene for industrial life around Belfast in the time leading up to the building of the Olympic class liners of which Titanic was the second. A ride around huge models that gave an idea of the sounds, heat and danger of fabricating such a huge boat was a highlight. However, the most poignant section of the exhibit was very low key. In a darkened section with minimal exhibits you followed the last hours of the Titanic's journey before and after having struck the iceberg through the various radio communications sent from and to the Titanic's radio room and the radio operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride. This very simple exhibit along with the depictions of the situation the boat found itself in at the various stages of that night was heart breaking and very moving.

If you find yourself in Belfast then I would recommend a trip to the exhibit, it is as full an exploration of the ship that still haunts our imaginations and collective memory as one can find anywhere, and much more in depth than the exhibition at the Transport and Folk Museum in Belfast that we had previously visited a couple of times.

The Crumlin Road Gaol was fascinating. I had joked that our various visits had a distinctly dark side to them, wondering what that said about Northern Ireland's history, but there was no doubt that the visit to the Belfast prison was interesting and even captivated the children as the tour went on, particularly when we visited the condemned man's cell and the hanging room. Eeks! The prison had been in operation for around 150 years before closing in 1996 so there was plenty of history to draw on from earlier years right up until the troubles.

One of the things I found fascinating was how the loyalist and republican inmates were segregated. For a brief few months in the early 1970s on the request of the IRA who offered a ceasefire, segregation of loyalists and republicans into different wings was instituted (this was one of a number of demands that the UK government agreed to at the time). The ceasefire did not last more than a few months, however, and some time later it was decided to mix the inmates once more. The inmates themselves then decided to voluntarily segregate themselves. When it was time for exercise on one day all the republicans would go out, while the loyalists chose to stay in their cells; the next day this would be reversed. The same went for using the canteen to eat. I found that fascinating and rather tragic.

As far as the execution part of the tour, 17 inmates were hanged over the course of the prison's operation, and I suppose it was done in the most humane way possible in the later years when you walked through how it was enacted by Albert Pierrepoint's methods (the executioner par excellence in the UK from 1932 to 1956), but it was grim to see, make no mistake. Not something I would want to see us revisit as a country. There is a brilliant film about Pierrepoint's life, if you have not seen it, of the same name, where he is played by Timothy Spall. A particularly chilling afternote on Pierrepoint's role as a hangman was our guide's explanation of why the actual noose displayed was not the one that had been used for the executions but rather one of the two other spare sets: Pierrepoint had written to all the prisons in which he had carried out hangings asking for the ropes which had been used. Many prisons sent them to him. He put these up on display in the pub that he and his wife ran. The pub's name was "Help the Poor Struggler". Ouch.

Behind the curtains...

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Wednesday: almost the mid point of this year's Summer Club for primary aged children at Ferryhill. We have based this year's theme around material that I have used in the past, but now six years ago. It is interesting revisiting it again and making tweaks to adapt and improve on it. We are focussing on Jesus' stories, his parables, and what they still mean for us today.

Last year we had a full on drama each morning with our Circus troupe, but this year we have gone for some puppetry with Katie and Callum (voiced and puppeted by Linda Kerr and myself). We are having great fun with this, though it is a full on workout for the shoulders doing the longer narratives with them.

Today we included a manic rendition of the children's song 'I've lost my sheep' as part of the lost sheep and lost coin parable introductions. It was a real laugh though also a good thing the children could not see the mayhem behind the stage curtains as I managed to rip my trousers moving around too quickly behind the scenes from my kneeling position at the front stage to the back stage, and as we desperately tried to affix a tea towel to Callum's head during one of the song's verses before the first chorus started that Callum was supposed to be singing as the shepherd. We did not manage to get the tea towel properly attached and during the chorus the teatowel went aflying hanging on to one ear by the sole safety pin that we had managed to attach during the verse break... it had seemed like such a good idea. What it did create, of course, was a huge number of laughs as the tea towel flapped around during the chorus!

I'm enjoying this week. The children are doing great, really engaging in the stories, songs, games and crafts. And the team are doing a fabulous job too. Listening to different people each week approach telling the parable's stories each day is great to hear. Kudos to everyone involved.