Peter's Blog


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Here is a video introducing Foncho, a banana farmer from Colombia who is at this very moment touring parts of Scotland talking about life as a banana farmer. We watched a longer video from the Fairtrade Foundation during our service to mark the start of Fairtrade Fortnight at the weekend. I briefly talked about some of the struggles that are faced by farmers and workers because of the peculiarly British penchant for cheap bananas. 

Recapturing the power of song

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John Bell and Jo Love

Last Friday night I joined many others at Queen's Cross Church for "A Big Sing" led by John Bell, Jo Love (pictured above is John on piano and Jo introducing a song) and Graham Maule of Wild Goose Worship Group from the Iona Community. It was a great night (and the start for them of a weekend of workshops) as we travelled around the world singing songs with their tunes or words rooted in countries near and far. It was good to see friends old and new from Aberdeen and Balmedie, Inverurie and Kintore there.

We were reminded, time and again, that song is a powerful action: it communicates both intellectually and emotionally, it motivates and energises us, it immediately provides a sense of single purpose, yet allows for diversity in harmony within that purpose. We learnt some songs that were new to me, and some of them we will no doubt use at Ferryhill in the future. Some of the language was superb in its depth and yet down-to-earth vocalisation of our human experiences with each other and with God.

In that same vein, a friend John Owain Jones wrote a new hymn this week for Transfiguration (which is this Sunday's celebration in the church) - the moment when the disciples go up a hill with Jesus and witness a kind of revelation of who Jesus was, they see him transfigured. This will be our theme for Sunday, so below the jump I leave you with Owain's super down-to-earth, yet mountain-top retelling.

15 to 1

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Ready for Harlaw Assembly

Remember that very tricky gameshow Fifteen to One that used to run on Channel 4? We had a different 15 to 1 this week.

This week in the chaplaincy team's assemblies at Harlaw Academy we have used our fabulously useful Giant Jenga set (indeed, I had to go and retrieve it from a certain primary school in Cove on Wednesday morning). As an introduction to the assembly we asked a pupil to come forward and build the tallest most stable tower they can on the table in one minute. Thereafter we tested it with the "shoogle" test and promptly brought down, in a matter of a second or two, their carefully constructed towers.

It is so easy to knock someone else's efforts, to bring someone down a peg or two. In Scotland we make a bit of a sport of it, elevating people just so you can knock them back down again. What about that 15 to 1? We read that the destructive power of one negative comment on an average person's sense of self-esteem and self-worth takes fifteen positive comments to rebuild. That is food for thought.

In our assembly we went on to think about the kind of school community we seek to build where taking risks in trying new things is encouraged, supported and celebrated, whether those efforts lead to failure or success.

A word to remember on this theme which stands the test of time:

"Worry weighs a person down;
an encouraging word cheers a person up."
(Proverbs 12:25)


The Return to Mither Tap

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At the top of Mither Tap

It has been a short week this week after a long weekend with the children off school Friday, Monday and Tuesday. With Carolyn also off work on Monday we all trekked out to Chapel of Garioch in the Shire to climb Mither Tap at Bennachie. The last time I would have climbed it must have been around fourteen or fifteen years ago. We were trying to remember if we did once climb it when our eldest was still a baby. I cannae remember, but what I do know is that it felt a lot harder work on Monday than I ever remember it...

Age and weight are fearsome enemies to hill-walking! However, much panting and heart racing having passed, we all got to the top, or rather I joined everyone at the top for our photo moment. Of course, those youngsters immediately wanted to head back down as the clouds gusted around us. It was one of those days when you got a much better view from lower down than you did from the cloud-wrapped peak. As everyone else departed, I stayed a while to count the years before giving my heart a break for the way down, and instead let the knees take the pain.

As we sat and had some food after our climb, I did a few wee calculations just to emphasise that I had had to expend a collosal amount more energy shifting my bulk to the top and preventing that bulk from coming down too quickly on the return! Well, it made me feel better...


Readers Conference

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Shuna Dicks and Peter Johnston

With Issue 11 of Spill the Beans hot off the press last night, finally, Shuna Dicks (minister at Aberlour Kirk) and I found ourselves this morning leading a workshop on Spill the Beans for a group of Readers from Buchan Presbytery. With the last issue so fresh in my mind, at least, I had no problems chatting about it!

If you are not familiar with the role of Reader within the Kirk, a Reader is a non-stipendiary ministry of church members who have trained to lead worship and do so frequently to cover for ministers who are away, or, increasingly, in more permanent roles such as locums for vacant congregations. Both Shuna and I were amazed at how many Readers there are in Buchan Presbytery, it is a tremendous resource for the presbytery. It was, therefore, no surprise to see that the Readership was well used and in statistics presented at the start of the morning we saw that around 40% of all services held in the presbytery had been led by a Reader.

They were an enthusiastic bunch of folks and it was a delight to be able to spend some time chatting with them.

Spill the Beans Issue 11 Free At Last

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Spill the Beans Issue 11

It is a good sign in many ways, and very encouraging, that each issue of Spill the Beans gets that little bit larger. This issue is no different, and is packed full of stuff. The challenge is that it takes that little bit longer to bring all those resources together into the finished resource book. This has been particularly tricky this time around, but we are finally there. Apologies for anyone that was looking for this a week or so ago. I know some churches are champing at the bit with planning meetings for the next few months.

I trust that what you find inside will be as helpful and stimulating as ever. I had a delightful experience in Cambuslang a few weeks ago at the end of the service when someone I had never met before came running up just as we were leaving the church and expressed in no uncertain terms her appreciation to the Spill the Beans team for the resources that they had found had triggered a whole new enthusiasm within their children's ministry. It is great to have those moments, and it makes you realise how much this resource is being used across the church.

A big thanks, as always, to all the creative team who added their parts to our communal working documents before they were pulled together into the final form. This continues to be an incredible team effort and a real privilege to be a part of it. The last issue grew again in circulation, and with the team members included we are now going to be seeing Spill the Beans being used in over 300 churches.

Issue 11 is now available for download, and takes us through Lent and Easter to the day of Pentecost (9 March 2014 to 8 June 2014). The focus in Lent is on Lenten Landscapes, predominantly from the Old Testament, and then in the Easter season the focus is back on the gospels with the visual stimulus of doorways.

As always, 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. In this issue we also have ideas for Holy Week and a labyrinth that would be ideal for Good Friday, which are well worth looking at if you have never done anything like that before.

No limits

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This is truly inspirational. Nick Vujicic was born with Tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of all four limbs. As a child, he struggled mentally and emotionally, as well as physically, but eventually came to terms with his disability and, at the age of seventeen, started his own non-profit organization, Life Without Limbs. What a fantastic message for school kids to hear, very well delivered by a truly gifted communicator.

At our next series of assemblies at Harlaw Academy we are going to be talking about the way pupils and staff can work together to encourage and support each other's achievements, rather than the more usual trying to knock someone who has a success down a peg or two that seems to be a part of our culture. I wish Nick was near so that he too could share his story. This is all part of being salt of the earth and light to the world that was our theme on Sunday morning.


690 Years

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Long Service Presentations

This evening Ferryhill Parish Church hosted the annual Presbytery Service in which the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rt Rev Lorna Hood, preached a message of hope and service, and then presented long service certificates to some of the folks who have served over thirty years as office bearers in the Kirk within presbytery. It was a delight to see a number of folks from Ferryhill amongst that number. Those whose certificates were presented tonight totalled more than 600 years of combined service. That is pretty mind-blowing. There are some folks from Ferryhill who could not be there tonight, and in total all Ferryhillers totalled 547 years. This is the power of working together in community. A true blessing.


Congratulations Karen!

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Karen Harbison

I just got home from Hamilton having driven down yesterday afternoon for my good friend and colleague's induction to Greenock Westburn Parish Church, at which I had the pleasure of being the guest speaker at the social (which is a little akin to best man speeches within the clerical world!). It was a super evening with a full church including two coachloads of folks from Trinity Parish Church in Hamilton from which Karen leaves after some 22 years of ministry there.

Karen and I shared many fun years of working together and I do pray that the fresh challenges of a new charge will be invigorating and exciting for her. There are many similarities in the move Karen has made to the one I made to Aberdeen (though she has managed to stay within easy driving distance of IKEA), so it will be good for us both to compare notes as the months go by.

It was great to have all the "old gang" together again last night, and thanks to David and Shona Burt in Hamilton for their kind hospitality (and Glenmorangie) last night.

Burns Supper Adventures

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David Ogg and Peter Johnston

I'm taking a wee break from editing the next issue of Spill the Beans (which is going to arrive a little later than I hoped) to remember last weekend's adventure. Having received another invitation from David Ogg (pictured to left, and thanks to Craig Henderson for the photo) to join his table at the Hamilton Burns Club I gladly accepted, having been unwell last year and unable to go. It is a great night, even more so for me this year without any duties attached. We had a varied and fascinating group on our table (amidst a total of around 300 folks), from the likes of a lowly parish minister to the Ambassador to Dubai.

The food was excellent, the drink even more so, and I have a feeling we may have lived up to David Ogg's ever growing reputation for hosting the noisy table at this event. The speeches were of their usual high standard, and a particular delight was a recitation by the actor John Cairney which garnered a standing ovation from our table. A splendid night that somehow ended with a gathering in my hotel bedroom as we sang songs into the small hours. My apologies to fellow residents at Bothwell Bridge Hotel!

Stretching my EV legs...

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An update on life with an electric car. Last week I had a bit of a trial run to get a feel for how easy it will be to get down to Glasgow in the very cold weather (which saps battery life). I made a video blog of my trip up and down to Dundee, see above. This was in preparation for heading down to the Glasgow area on Friday, actually to Bothwell on Friday night for the Hamilton Burns Club supper which is a fabulous do at which I spoke a couple of years ago. This year it is just to enjoy the company, for which many thanks David Ogg for the invitation!

I do have a big question mark over whether or not the rapid charger at Broxden Park & Ride is working. The last I heard it was not, and that will mean a longer wait using one of the slower chargers in Perth before the haul from Perth down to Bothwell. It is still doable, but I would need to leave earlier. If the charger is fixed by the end of the week, then it will be very straightforward. I say with great hope...

If it all goes to plan it will mean that my journey will be even cheaper than a pensioner on the Gold Bus. And that I can live with!


A Blind Eye

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12 Years a Slave

Taking this morning off, I went to see the film 12 Years A Slave. My word. I knew it would be difficult watching, but it is worse than I anticipated: it is truly harrowing, leaving you squirming in your seat in shock, frustration, sadness and anger. The film-making is excellent, no mistake about it, and the performances are superb in capturing the bleak horror of the Southern States pre-Civil War.

I have now seen the three films that are all in the running for Oscar success this year: Gravity and American Hustle being the two others most often mentioned. I thought they were all superb films, but very different. American Hustle was superbly entertaining and richly captured the 1970s while leaving you anguished for the injustice done to the only genuinely well-meaning character in the whole story. Gravity was on one hand a visual tour de force, particularly watching in 3D, and yet also a very personal journey of one woman facing her own grief at the loss of her daughter and the loneliness that her loss brought into her life, all while facing imminent disaster alone in orbit (there are other layers of spirituality, a critique of technology as our saviour, overcoming fear, and more...).

Personally, I have no real interest in which film takes away most gongs. They were all brilliant in their own way. However, for me there is no doubt that 12 Years A Slave is the most affecting of the three films.

Out with the Old, In with the New

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Mercedes R320 and Renault ZOE

Like Janus, the Roman God of transitions and new beginnings with his two heads looking back over the past and forward into the future, a wee bit of Photoshop-ery created the image above (though the picture taken today was two hours earlier than the picture taken a couple of days ago so the sun is in two different locations - grr!) which shows our old Mercedes R320 that has served us for the past five years and was a wonderful machine (though very thirsty for city dwelling) on the left. It has now gone, to be replaced by our brand new Renault ZOE which I picked up from Mackie Motors in Brechin yesterday.

We're saying goodbye to the past and visits to fuel pumps, and hello to the future and plugging in to charge what is a fully electric vehicle. First impressions are good. It is a lot of fun to drive around town, quiet and smooth but very peppy when you put your foot down. After around 70 miles of driving yesterday we plugged it in at Duthie Park for a couple of hours which brought us back to 99% full.


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A belated Happy New Year to you all. This whole holiday has zoomed past lickety-split and I cannot quite believe today is the last day of the school holidays already. After a nice wee break staying with family in Cambuslang after Christmas it is time to get back into the usual routine. Long lies, no more!

So, 2014, I wonder what the year will hold? Last year was one of great changes, personally, with the move to a new charge, the upheaval of family, a new job for Carolyn, and all the attendant flux caused by flitting. There is a part of me that would be relieved to see some stability over the course of the next year, but I also know that there will be further transitions and changes for me and for all of us within Ferryhill Church as the year goes by. It is inevitable, and planning ahead will best allow that to happen.

On my immediate radar for 2014 is to start a group for secondary school aged young people, and something for young adults connected to the church. Watch this space for more...

I may even try to be a bit more diligent with this blog. Alas, it suffers first when other work presses in!

So, here's to 2014, and the pathway to furthering Christ's kingdom that unwinds ahead of us.

Tragic News

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Friends at Ferryhill Kirk will be deeply saddened to hear that Moira Whyte, a truly servant-hearted member of the church, died yesterday after a traffic accident while on her way to celebrate Christmas with her family. Many of us shared laughter with Moira and her juice, tea and coffee made yesterday morning while everyone busied away at creating Christingles. She was in her element, with lots of children around, and doing what she could to help. We can only imagine the shock of her family who were awaiting her arrival. Our prayers are with them all at this time.

UPDATE: The funeral service for Moira will be held in Ferryhill Church on Wednesday 8 January at 10:30 a.m.

Advent Prayer Pathway

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Last night the church was a haven of peace as the Advent Prayer Pathway took place in the beautiful setting of the sanctuary. It was great to see folks of all ages travel along the pathway following the journey of the nativity story and as they travelled marking each step of the journey by creating a decoration for the tree in the church.

My thanks to Cecilia and Hazel who put a huge amount of work into getting all the craft activities together, to the Christmas Tree team for putting the tree up a bit earlier this year to fit with our plans, and to Fiona, Gwen and Margaret from the Worship Task Group who helped to get the church ready in a rush as we had a very short timeframe as the previous folks using the building overran somewhat!

Below the jump is the tree in all its splendour...

Little Drummer Boy A Capella

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This is pretty wonderful. Kudos to Pentatonix. At the time of posting this the video had gone viral with 8.5 million hits on YouTube in the space of one week.

And for something a little less seasonal for Daft Punk fans they do a pretty fabulous compilation too.

The Doctor Calls

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The Doctor

I had a bit of fun yesterday for an Assembly at Ferryhill Primary themed around The Doctor, remembering the 50th Anniversary of the fabulous BBC show taking place this weekend. I was going for 'The Eleventh Doctor, the extended version' and I think I may just have carried it off. Later in the day going back to the school to pick up the kids, all I heard was "There's The Doctor!!"

There was a reason for it, relating to the Time Lord's ability to go back in time and the advantages that could bring, and the pupils came up with lots of ideas for what they would do if they could go back in time from correcting one's own mistakes, selecting the right lottery numbers (from a keen Back to the Future fan, perhaps), or stopping some of the worst atrocities of the past. However, I have been reliably informed by one of the dedicated Whovians in the family that there is a complication for The Doctor in that he cannot change certain things in the past. She would have to explain the details, but it is to do with certain permanent points in history, or something like that. This has been a recurring problem in fiction, see this wonderful collection of attempts from fiction.

The point for yesterday morning is that we have to live in the present for the future, which means we need to be that bit more careful about the choices we make. Next week the theme of choices will be the focus of assemblies at Harlaw Academy, but I'm not dressing up as The Doctor for those!


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NT Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God

This evening with an almighty thump a parcel arrived from Amazon containing N.T. Wright's magnum opus, a collosal (a mere 2,263 pages) work on St Paul: "Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God" published last month. I ordered it a couple of days ago and at that point it was not available on Kindle... I notice today that it now is available for the Kindle, doh!

A world respected scholar (sometimes a wee bit too conservatively-minded for me, I have to confess) and formerly Bishop of Durham who impressively stepped down from that post in order to finish this work that has been some 30 years in the making, Wright has finally delivered what had long been awaited. Patheos have a very interesting interview with Wright, from which comes the quote below.

"A Whole New World...

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Charging Post

...a new fantastic point of view." So sings Aladdin in the Disney film. But, I feel I am entering that new world, and it really is different. The above machine is soon to become my friend, and a whole new world will open up...

What is it? It is a charging station installed for EVs (electric vehicles) in the parking area at Duthie Park, in other words, just a few doors down from the manse. Ever since we moved up to Aberdeen this box has been giving me the eye, and back in September it went live along with a number of other charging points across Aberdeen installed by the council with funding from Plugged In Places / Transport Scotland. There is increased funding at the moment to start creating a proper infrastructure for charging EVs as this is still very much a nascent technology. That being said, when I investigated the charging point and found that it was now available it opened a door to try something different.