Peter's Blog

An Empty Desk

Written by Peter Johnston on .

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. 


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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.