Peter's Blog

The least of these...

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Many years ago when I was working with Ian Groves at Inverurie West to illustrate the sermon Ian was giving I dressed up in my oldest most ragged clothes (this was not that hard), did not shave for a few days, donned bonnet and hooded top with dark glasses. Midway through the service I stumbled in through one of the back doors as Ian talked (studiously ignoring me), and lurched down one of the aisles, mumbling to myself. I sat in a pew for a few minutes, before getting up to wander around the church before heading out of one of the doors, still stumbling and muttering.

It proved a perfect illustration for Ian later in the service as no one got up to ask me if I was okay or to offer assistance.

In a variation on this kind of social experiment, the New York City Rescue Mission have carried out their own. The powerful results you can watch above. They say:

In this social experiment, unsuspecting people walked by relatives pretending to be homeless. Would they notice their family members? Or have the homeless become invisible?


It is finished

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Rev Adam Smallbone

I watched, as no doubt many of us did, the final episode of the third series of Rev last night. I'd seen the previous two episodes back to back the night before. In the best traditions of British TV, it would appear that the makers of this unlikely sitcom are going to stop while they are ahead (think also of Fawlty Towers, The Office). There is part of me that would like to see more, but there is another part of me that thinks it was a perfect, messy place to cry "It is finished!"

When watching the first series my abiding memory, which has remained to today, was "how did this get made?" Not because it was so bad, but rather because it was so very good and, in my experience, very real. I know many of my colleagues in ministry who also love the show because it touches raw nerves that we all know so well. Thinking it was a completely niche show I was very pleasantly surprised to see it renewed for a second series, and then a third series. 

Prior Agendas

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Press and Journal

Today's Press and Journal is running with an exclusive (above are pictures of the Moray edition - thank you, Shuna Dicks!) from their correspondent Cameron Brooks under the headlines "Thousands quit Kirk as gay clergy row rages" and "People walk away from Kirk in droves". Brooks is basing his report on the annual publication of membership statistics for the Kirk as it appears in the Blue Book (the General Assembly Reports book). His article states, "Nearly 50,000 people have abandoned Scotland's national church in just three years."

Reading between the lines, the purpose of this reporting seems to be to gin up "the fight" ahead of the General Assembly and the ongoing debate relating to allowing congregations to call a minister living in a civil partnership should they wish to do so - this report is contained in the Legal Questions Committee, and there is theological support for a mixed economy approach to this issue in a report from the new Theological Commission (a very good report, I thought). The tenor of the P&J's reporting is that the church's deliberations on this are the cause of people walking away in droves from the Kirk. This is a highly distorted view of the reality, and certainly not how I would interpret the data. But then numbers are so easily recruited to one's own prior agenda. What was it that Twain/Disraeli said about "lies, damned lies and statistics"? 

Lost and Found

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Glasses on chain

Well, today is a day of which I am only too glad to see the back end. It has been a bit of a disaster and excruciatingly embarrassing. All started fine and I began the layout and editing of the next issue of Spill the Beans. I was even ahead of myself for a funeral in the afternoon which I had prepared last night (good thinking it turns out).

At 11:47 a.m. I went into the bedroom to get changed into my clerical clobber for the funeral at 2 p.m. I know the exact time because I got a phone call just as I started to get changed. With a shirt half off, trying to grab my phone somehow my glasses got caught and fell to the ground. I heard them hit the ground. Just one of those stupid things. But from there they disappeared into a different space-time dimension…

Easter 2014

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Here are a few images from the last few days in and around Ferryhill Kirk. We shared in a meal for Maundy Thursday in the foyer where we remembered the last supper before we headed down to the Memorial Chapel which had been transformed into the Garden of Gethsemane. My previous years of gazebo-erecting for The Easter Code came in right handy for this. We gathered in the dark, around 40 of us, with the smell of the greenery around, a single candle burning and we laid our own prayers before God just as Jesus prayed in the garden before his arrest. I found it very moving, personally speaking, to be reading the words of Jesus' prayer (I combined parts from John 17 and Matthew 26) as we gathered in the gloaming. However, I had not completely thought this through and we had to raise the illumination to see our song words for the final hymn we sang before leaving.

On Good Friday we created a labyrinth that was based on one I had included in the current issue of Spill the Beans and that is familiar to me. This was helpful for me to ease planning, though of course it was all new to the Worship Task Group who did a fantastic job sourcing all the props we used from the vast amounts of greenery, cloths of many shapes, hues and sizes, life-size dolls, bowls, stones, petals, mallets, and so on and so on. For the folks who attended, and we were are very pleased to see how many people came along to experience this journey to the cross, of all ages, I think this proved a very meaningful time. It has certainly prompted many conversations. 

Hitting the ton

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In the olden days there was a mystique around "hitting the ton" in a car. And when you consider the road-worthiness of your Austin Allegro, Morris Marina, Vauxhall Viva and the likes, no wonder it was something special. Hitting the ton - 100 mph - would entail shaking bodywork, screaming engines, vibrating steering wheels and a general sense that this was an accident waiting to happen (and, needless to say, a racetrack on which to try it, or a time machine to transport you back to pre-1966 before the introduction of the 70 mph limit!). 

How things have changed in modern cars. Any modern family car will happily cruise along (an autobahn) at 100 mph all day long. The old Mercedes that I traded in for the Renault ZOE I don't think in the four or five years we had it ever got to within 40 mph of its top speed. Doing the ton is not nearly the challenge it once was.

So... I have in my electric vehicle decided to twist that challenge. The challenge in hitting the ton for me is now to do 100 miles in a single charge. 

Habemus Papam!

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Pope on the run

This morning I was a-wandering doing the itinerant preacher bit and leading worship in Kingswells Parish Church meeting a lovely group of folks there. Returning home I saw that a disk had arrived yesterday from Lovefilm which I just had a wee look at. A charming, poignant wee film called Habemus Papam: the famour phrase used to announce "We have a new pope!" from the balcony above St Peter's Square in the Vatican.

A couple of days ago I read a few in the Guardian series "What I'm really thinking" which are very perceptive little articles. One of which is the view of the "Vicar's Wife". There is also the removal man, the dinner lady, the ghost writer, and so on. Having an insider view on something that is a different world is always fascinating. The opening scenes of Nanni Moretti's film give us a similar insider view as we follow the Cardinals into the Sistine Chapel following the death of the previous Pope. As the Cardinals, dressed in their splendid red garb, start to ponder the next Pope, the camera focusses in on different faces. These faces come from every continent, all different, but the inner voices we hear are all the same: "Not me, Lord, please not me! It is too much for me!" And who would indeed choose to be the Pope? 

Of course, with my cynical hat on, and knowing a few things about internal church politics, I am sure that while most would indeed be thinking "Not me!" there would be a few who would be inwardly screaming, "Yes, let it be me! My time to shine!" 

Precipitation Precipice

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Balmedie Beach

We had a lovely afternoon out at Balmedie Beach. It was sunny, but also very windy. The water was... well, it was the North Sea. Enough said. That didn't stop the kids having a great time, and Keely maintained her usual 100% commitment to chasing her ball everywhere, even out into the water. It brought back memories of holidays and sheltering from the wind among the dunes when you could almost kid yourself that you were somewhere 600 miles further South, that is until a cloud covered the sun and the goosebumps followed.

As the kids played, I took a stroll with the dog along the beach and enjoyed the sound of the surf breaking on the sand, and watching the sand sweeping across the beach as the wind blew. It was nice with the wind to my back... it was not so pleasant having that sand blasting into your face when I turned around to head back to the family, it has to be said. Of course, having got home after all that fresh air, we are all pretty exhausted. That fresh air is wonderful, though. One of the things I have noticed after moving from the central belt up to the North-East coast is that my asthma is much, much better. 

The other thing that is very noticeable about the East coast is how much less it rains. You get used to the perennial precipitation when you are living on the West, but it is nice not to have to deal with the daily deluge. 

An Empty Desk

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An Empty Desk

Albert Einstein apparently once said, "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" I like his style, for my desk is usually a disaster zone. Indeed, apart from a small space around the keyboard, the rest had disappeared under six inches of papers, correspondence, and various other oddities that I had forgotten all about. So I am wallowing in a virtuous haze at having cleared my half of the study that I share with Carolyn. I might even go so far as to say the other side of the room is cramping my new feng shui decluttered style... 

This is undoubtedly the tidiest my study has been since before we left Blantyre! Part of my clearing was to remove the last of the big packing boxes which was sitting behind my desk chair filled with those awkward odds and sods that you are not quite sure what to do with. I have found them all a place (even in the bin for some of them) and the box has disappeared. A mere eight months since it was deposited there. 

God is like a shepherd

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Sheep and lake

As part of our service this morning, which was focussed on Psalm 23, we created our own psalm. Reflecting how the psalmist usually recounted some of the challenges and difficulties faced in life (the dark valleys, the table surrounded by enemies to use the psalmist's imagery) we created a verse full of stories from the past week, both good and bad. We then created a verse with our hopes for the future. I say "we", when I mean our younger members who offered their contributions. I had pre-prepared a chorus to hang the verses on.

You never know how something like this is going to work, but it worked out great and we used our new song in the service. No time for fine tuning, just our collective thoughts and hopes, raw and unpolished. Perfect. You'll find it below:

Thanking Tree

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Tree of Thanks

I seemed to have something relating to Ferryhill Primary almost every day this week. Just the way things work with both parental and chaplain responsibilities. At the school assembly on Thursday we spent some time creating a thanking tree gathering a selection of the pupils thoughts about what they would like to give thanks for on the leaves that we added to the spiral tree. We had quite a range of ideas from friends to X-boxes, valentine's day cards to gobstoppers.

Last Sunday we were thinking about favourite drinks in our Sunday service, as we remembered the thirsty moaning of the Hebrews in the wilderness journeying with Moses. We take the life-giving qualities of water far too much for granted in this country, which perhaps removes the need for a sense of thankfulness for that essential component to our healthy living. We didn't add water to our thanking tree at the Assembly, but it should be there.

A host of golden daffodils

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Spring Daffodils

Thankfully this morning I had a rather later start than my 6 a.m. start to the day yesterday, nonetheless there was still frost on many of the cars this morning as I took the children to school. That crispness to the air was lovely, and in the sun the daffodils looked beautiful. I couldn't resist a snap on the way home with the church spire in the background.

No excuse, then, not to remind ourselves of William Wordsworth:

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: -
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company!
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.

(Photo taken and edited with Nokia Lumia 1020, cameras in phones have come a long way)


A Shock of EVs

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A shock of evs

I've been pondering what the collective noun should be for a group of electric vehicles. I quite like the idea of a shock of evs. Today I travelled down to Edinburgh for a meeting as part of the Electric Vehicle Association Scotland meeting with representatives from one of the main manufacturers of charging stations, APT Controls Ltd. A very high proportion of the charging points being installed by local councils in Scotland are APT eVolt machines.

After some research that I did on the charging rates of these machines, we realised something was not quite right with the rapid chargers, plus there have been some installation problems that we wanted to properly understand. So, I trekked down from Aberdeen, Doug (pictured above) came down from Perth and Adrian came around the corner, but all three of our cars gathered to charge while we met with the folks from APT.

I have to say, the journey down to Edinburgh and back was very straightforward. I spent a little more than an hour charging each way in addition to the travelling time to cover around 260 miles. The breakdown is beneath the jump.

Future Planning

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On Saturday members of the Kirk Session and Congregational Board met in Rubislaw Church Centre for a morning and afternoon of discussion and thought as we think together about the present and future for Ferryhill Parish Church. Part of that process was recognising and celebrating the past, for that story leading to today is one full of good news stories alongside the challenges of being a community of faith in the twentieth and now twenty-first century. But we did not remain with eyes on the past, we also began to turn our eyes more clearly on the future and preparing for what that may hold.

In the first of our exercises, pictures from which above, we thought about the past, present and future of the Kirk in Ferryhill by allowing space to give thanks for what has been built up over the years, the many ministries that serve people within the parish, including things like the coffee shop, Sunday club and Summer club. We then turned to the present and tried to be honest about where the holes exist in what we do, from our own perspective. And finally everyone had an opportunity to talk about their dreams for the future of the Kirk. Once these ideas were jotted down on sheets, we put them up around the room and then armed with a sheet of sticky dots we added our agreement to the ideas of others.

I have all these sheets at home now ready to be collated so that we see how folks felt about these issues on the day. That will be an interesting exercise.

Thereafter, we spent a bit of time thinking about some of the challenges that we face as a Community of Faith in Scotland in the current day, which is a very different cultural setting from even 50 years ago. For this we thought a bit about the work done to understand generations, which I have talked about before here

Struggles and Rebirth

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Scene from Gravity

We recently watched the Alfonso Cuaron film "Gravity" again since it came out on disk. We were still watching on a large screen, but not in 3D as I had seen it in the cinema. It was still a visual feast, even if not quite as immersive as it was in the cinema in 3D. Some of the imagery that I had remembered from the first viewing became more clear on the second viewing, with some of the most iconic images retaining their emotive force on a repeated viewing. The image above of Sandra Bullock's character, Dr Ryan Stone, adopting the foetal position as a cable aboard the space station loops around as a high-tech umbilical cord gave a brief moment of security and safety in the film and reminded me of that other iconic image from science fiction's great 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Forever Young

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This afternoon after a morning and early afternoon in videoconference planning with fellow Bean Spillers meeting in Erskine Issue 12 of Spill the Beans I made a mad dash up to the church to join the Monday Fellowship where I was leading the entertainment. Recognising the recent death in January of the American folk legend, Pete Seeger, at the ripe old age of 94, we sang a number of his songs from the past 60+ years and I talked a little about his life.

We ended with my version of the beautiful Dylan song "Forever Young" that Pete Seeger covered for the album "Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honouring 50 Years of Amnesty International". I ended it as it seemed a perfect way to remember Seeger. His version includes children from a project, The Rivertown Kids, he was involved with in his later years wth school children with whom he wrote and performed songs. A brilliant experience for those 9-13 year olds who lived in the same town Seeger lived in New York state. They join him for this song, leading the singing, while Pete recites the lyrics. You can watch a short documentary about the making of this song here.

The album Pete Seeger wrote and performed with the Rivertown Kids, "Tomorrow's Children", won a grammy award in 2010 and is well worth a listen. The legacy of Seeger lives on. Forever Young.


Autism Awareness

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A friend directed me to this video a couple of days ago which helps explain some of the issues that surround the "hidden condition" of autism so that we may better understand the condition. Helpful for congregations, school chaplaincy, children's groups and others.

We so often talk about relationships and community within church life. We may take for granted the good of that, but for some people who may find it hard to relate to other people this can be a challenging stumbling block.

(Hat tiip: Jen Robertson)

Our Vision

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Our Vision Wordcloud

This morning in the service I mentioned the report released by the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland summarising some of the feedback they had gained from the 32 consultations they held across Scotland giving those who attended a chance to think about the future of the nation. It is a good report and well worth reading for the antidote to the current he said / she said accusatory tone and, frankly, scaremongering from both sides of the debate about independence.

The word cloud above is taken from the report and represents the frequency with which these values were mentioned by the 900 folks who attended the consultations in response to the question, "What values are most important to you for the Future of Scotland?" It makes for interesting reading. The report notes, as is obvious from the image, that the primary values people hold are relational, not personal. Food for thought.

You can read the full report here.


The Italian Connection

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Last night, Friday 28 February, was Ferryhill Church's Ceilidh with a combined Italian/Scottish theme. It proved a great combination with lovely Italian food and music as we ate transitioning to traditional Scots entertainment as the church hall was transformed from its dinner layout to its dancing layout and the song (with old and new classics, though some of the singing, it must be said, is better left without comment...), recitation and dance began. This was my first introduction to the Ferryhill Frolic dance!

A great night, with thanks to the Fundraising Task Group under the guidance of Hazel Braynion and all the team of volunteers.


EV Update for Electric Geeks!

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This week has been rather trying with a bug progressing through all the kids. I have not had a day without at least one of the kids at home, and three days with two kids in their beds. Carolyn and I are anxiously hoping we manage to avoid the lurgy. After visiting one of the other congregations this morning to do an inspection of their records, I received yet another call from the school to come and collect one of the kids. My plans for this morning have gone out of the window, so having an hour I didn't expect, I thought I would bring you up to date with my electric car ownership.

Warning: this is a geeky blog post! If you don't know your kW from your kWh then this will either be enlightening or like walking into a secret ritual in a foreign language, a complete mystery. 

I am still very much enjoying electric car ownership and the very different considerations and concerns are still quite fascinating, but I have become very aware as you may have noted from my second video that I had some question marks over the speed of some of the rapid chargers that I have used. Getting more and more concerned about this because of the huge importance of these rapid chargers to Scotland's charging infrastructure and the ability to travel long distances across the country, I decided to do some experiments to measure as well as I could the charge rates of various chargers. The video above shows two of those experiments.