Peter's Blog

Trip to Holyrood

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Artwork in Scottish Parliament

A very good day today spent accompanying the Rights Respecting Steering Group from Auchinraith Primary School on a trip to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh as the guests of our local MSP James Kelly. The children gave a presentation about the work they have been doing over the last few years as part of UNICEF's Rights Respecing School Award. They did a truly commendable job both with the presentation but also in their questions to Mr Kelly about the role of rights and responsibilities in the work of the Scottish Parliament.

I must admit this was my first visit to the new parliament building and it really is an amazing place. You can certainly see where all that money went! There are some amazing art installations of which the image above is but a wee snippet though I thought it was wonderful. It is called "Travelling the Distance" by Shauna McMullan and comprises three walls filled with porcelain representations of the words (in the actual handwriting) of 100 Scottish women celebrating the role of women in Scotland's history. This was particularly meaningful when we watched the First Minister's Questions and found that this was being led predominantly by three women MSPs, Nicola Sturgeon (as deputy First Minister while Mr Salmond enjoys the Ryder Cup!), Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.

Who are we?

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Hubble eXtreme Deep Field Image

My mind has been rather blown by the above image released by NASA/Hubble yesterday. It is a compilation of imagery taken by the Hubble Space Telescope looking deep into our universe's history. This one composite image reveals thousands of galaxies, some relatively close, others some 13 billion light years away. 

We're using Psalm 8 as our Scripture passage for this Sunday's Harvest Thanksgiving service and it seems rather appropriate:

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?

This image is called the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF) and is the result of an intense stare with a collosal combined exposure time by the sensors aboard the Hubble Space Telescope of just a tiny fraction of the night sky. 

Pondering the Future of the Church

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Today I joined the Kirk Session of Ayr St Columba's Parish Church in the Malin Court Hotel in Maidens on the coast overlooking Arran with Ailsa Craig not far off, and  Turnberry Golf Course right alongside us. Before heading back up the road I made a wee detour down to a viewing site right on the edge of the golf course and you can see from the panoramic photo above what a wonderful day it was to be down by the sea. Click on the photo and you should be able to move around the image as if you were there!

The purpose of the trip was to lead a session of the Elder's Conference under the title of "What is the future of the Church of Scotland: where is it going?" Yikes, what a topic! Where do you start? [There's more...] 

Young Mediators

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Mediator Badge

I joined parents at Auchinraith Primary this morning for a presentation about the peer mediation that the Primary 6 pupils are involved with. If you have passed the playground of Auchinraith when the kids are out and about you may have noticed some of the children wearing bright yellow caps. Along with the badge (above) these mark out those pupils who have undergone training in mediation over a two day period. We heard from the trainers this morning and from some of the pupils and staff on how this mediation is working in the school.

It was very impressive and an initiative that I would think there was much scope to see expanded across other schools, both primary and secondary. 

The Many Rs

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RESPECT Assembly 2012

The Calderside Chaplaincy Team ended another week with the S1 pupils at Calderside Academy on Friday. This was our third year of delivering the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. week as part of their Rights Respecting School programme. It was another excellent week, helping us to explore some of the rights and responsibilities with the S1 pupils that are foundational to good community living.

As in previous years the week consisted of workshops run by members of the chaplaincy team with numerous volunteers and visitors to assist, including sixth year pupils and then a final assembly on Friday morning in which presentations were made of what had happened in each of the workshops, including a song written by the pupils and the revealing of the huge banner that now adorns the street within the school - l;ooking fabulous as usual. 

A Post-Truth World

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The animation above complementing part of a talk by Dan Ariely called "Free Beer: The Truth about Dishonesty" is fabulous and the kind of thing you want to watch a few times to catch all the references and fully appreciate the message. I loved the wee Father Ted refence that creeps in at one point! The full talk by Ariely given to the RSA is available here.

It is a fascinating subject: how easily we slip into small forms of dishonesty while rationalising them away to ourselves and anyone else who cares to listen. Perhaps even more so at a time when I keep seeing and reading about 'post-truth' politics. This is being used particularly in the run up to the US elections in November to describe the campaigns. Mitt Romney's campaign especially has been described repeatedly as operating as a post-truth campaign. Obama's campaign is not without its moments too where the truth is stretched or where quotes are taken without due respect for their context, but it is on nothing like the coordinated scale of the Romney campaign. Indeed, one of Romney's own advisers said without irony, it would seem, "we are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers"! Ouch, for anyone who hopes for at least a marginal connection to reality from their potential leaders! [There's more...]

Gathered in Thanksgiving

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Gathered around the Communion Table

One of the joys as a minister of having flexible seating in the sanctuary is that you can organise worship in very different ways with the simplest changes to the layout of the church. On Sunday we had our all-age communion service which over the past couple of years we have had "in the round" with the seating around the central Communion Table. This time, however, we tried a different style that also has its roots in much older churches. The worship space had a long communion table running the length of the sanctuary with the seating arranged on either side.

I was hoping this this layout would lend itself to creating a sense of gathering together at the communion table without any barrier. It also provided a great opportunity to use that space for some creativity. People were invited up to leave their prayers of thanks, concern and confession on the tablecloths before we laid the elements along the table.

Minister-Elect... Congratulations Jonathan!

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Jonathan Fleming

We kept Jonathan Fleming in our thoughts at St Andrew's on Sunday morning just at the same time as he was preaching as sole nominee for Erskine Parish Church. It was a delight to hear that Jonathan was duly elected by the congregation and is now the Minister-elect of that congregation with a date later in the year for his ordination and induction into that charge. I'll keep you in touch with details as soon as these are finalised.

This marks a very exciting time for the Fleming family, and we keep Jonathan, Karyn and Rachel in our prayers. Not least with a new addition to the family due any week now! All change, for sure.

It has been great to have witnessed Jonathan growing into this role and ministry over the past years, and I know we will all wish him very well for the future. As a fully integrated member of the Calderside Chaplaincy Team through his final placement at Trinity Parish Church, however, Jonathan is not being let off the hook yet! Jonathan will be leading one of the workshops in this year's R.E.S.P.E.C.T. programme with first year pupils at Calderside Academy, and will be leading the worship at the first of our local church joint praise services, Sanctus, which is being held in St Andrew's on Sunday 9 September, 6:30 p.m.

Spill the Beans Issue 5 Has Landed

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Spill the Beans, Issue 5 Cover

Now into it's second full year, Issue 5 of Spill the Beans is now available for download. This is another very full issue, 136 pages, based in Mark's gospel for the remainder of the season of Pentecost. Questions are often at the heart of the dialogues that Jesus had with people he met and spent time with. We explore those questions in this issue. As an additional bonus there are also ideas and resources for Harvest Thanksgiving.

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.

Olympics Fever

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Olympics football at Hampden

A very quiet blog during July is the usual sign of mayhem in the Johnston household... It has been an extraordinary month with Carolyn away in the United States for a couple of weeks spending time with her family. A longer taster of what it is like to be a single parent fairly opened my eyes, my hat is tipped to single parents everywhere who keep life together, organised, calm and happy. The kids were actually great, but I have been so busy working that we were not able to spend much time doing any family stuff.

On top of that, the house has been a worksite with a new bathroom being fitted - much needed to replace the rather decrepit room that had been the family bathroom for all these years. It looks great, but the work has taken three full weeks with lots of complications in the plumbing (old houses!) to work round. However, it all should be finished today. Yay! The guys have done a fabulous job, kudos to them all.

Sowing Memories, Growing Hopes

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Memories and Hopes

The day has been spent getting everything together for the end of year primary school services. Thanks to Karen Harbison for the idea of using sunflower seeds! I relieved B&Q of all their sunflower seeds, and visited the schools to give out plant labels for the Primary 7 children to add their memories of primary school on one side of the label, and then their hopes for next year at Secondary School (for most of them that will mean Calderside Academy) on the other.

After getting a planter bag for the children to place their labels into, along with a seed, I realised it looked a bit boring and plain without a backdrop of some kind to place behind the table. Great idea!! Fiddly execution... After five hours of cutting out and messing around with PVA glue on a funky foam backing, this is what I ended up with. It's about 1 metre square, so everyone should see it. It never ceases to amaze me how this kind of thing always takes far longer than you think.

Now to cut out all the cards with a message for the P7s and envelope these up with a seed to take home. It will be a fun evening...

[Update: From the first of the services yesterday for David Livingstone Memorial Primary here are some of the tags the P7s planted in the grow bag along with sunflower seeds. Another service for Auchinraith Primary this morning.]

Plant Tags


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Meeting Detritus

I couldn't resist taking a picture of the meeting table in the session room this afternoon after a long day of reflecting on the year past and thinking ahead to the year to come with Jen Robertson (Schools and Churches Youth Development Worker) and the other members of the Management Group for this post. A day, in other words, of strategising. Despite coming to what normally feels like a break time with the summer school holidays nearly upon us, I seem to have been involved in plenty of these kinds of meetings recently.

Two days a couple of weeks ago were spent in the same room with members of the Rights Respecting Steering Group from Calderside Academy thinking very productively about the vision and values of the school and what a new school charter might look like. This involved children from each year group, staff members, and others like the chaplaincy team. These, too, were long exhausting days but I (and the other members of the chaplaincy team) were so impressed with the young people who were representing their year groups. They contributed brilliantly, and came up with some super ideas. 


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A wee treat for any rock music fans out there! Carolyn and I trekked down to Sunderland's Stadium of Light last Thursday to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in the most northerly of the UK gigs the band was performing as part of their Wrecking Ball tour. It was a rather scary thought when Carolyn asked me when I had first been to a Springsteen concert... almost 25 years ago at Wembley Stadium in 1988 was the answer. And the concerts are still as electrifyingly awesome today as they were 'back in the day'. It is amazing that he is 62...

The video above was from the very end of the concert with performances of Dancing in the Dark and Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, the latter which contained a very poignant tribute to Clarence Clemons, Springsteen's right hand man since the band began, who died last year. The many famous saxophone solos that Clarence used to perform where handled by his nephew Jake during the concert.

Luke Paul

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Luke Paul book cover

I finished reading Finlay Macdonald's new book "Luke Paul" this evening. Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald (to use the full title!) was Principal Clerk of the Church of Scotland until his retirement, a past Moderator of the General Assembly, and before that a parish minister. He has written before and I also have a very helpful book of his on my shelves summarising some of the big debates in the history of the General Assembly, "Confidence in a Changing Church". "Luke Paul", however, is a rather different book in comparison to this earlier work.

This is a piece of historical fiction, if you will. It is the story of a parish minister, Rev Luke Paul, nearing his own retirement, living through the period October 2010 to May 2011, with the backdrop of a Church of Scotland that (like many denominations) is in the process of deciding whether to accept the ministry of gay and lesbian people living in committed relationships with their partners. Dr Macdonald has to be commended for writing a book that tries to do justice to the intricacy of the debates and history of debates, while also giving a flavour of the depth of feeling and real lives that are affected by these debates within the Kirk. He uses storytelling as the means to provide what, he states himself, he hopes will be a positive contribution to people's understanding within the Kirk of this issue. On the whole, in my opinion, I think he succeeds. 

Local Walks

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Walking in Redlees Quarry

First off, a big thank you to Andy Williamson and David Burt for stepping in to lead the worship on Sunday morning! I'm feeling a lot better, if still coughing and spluttering somewhat. Thanks for the prayers, folks!

I confess I have also missed most of the Jubilee celebrations for Her Majesty over the weekend - just not feeling up to watching much TV. We did, however, have our own belated celebrations for Robin's, ahem, 75th, with a festive union flag wrapped cake today!

In the evening, just as the clouds started to sprinkle we got out with Keely for her third walk of the day (truly spoiled today) to Redlees Quarry. I really appreciated getting out and about having been stuck at home for the past few days.

It is one of the delights of venturing back into dog ownership that you do get to explore many more of the local spots than you ever would without a beastie in tow. Two places we had never explored before (shameful, I know) have been the parkland around the old Priory where the football pitches are and the reclaimed Redlees Quarry. The latter we've been to regularly (in part also to get Keely used to the car, which is still troubling for her), but over the last couple of weeks they have really opened up the walks there with a number of new paths taking you around the site. It is great. 

Spill the Beans Issue 4 Now Available

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Spill the Beans Issue 4

This one has been a long time coming, and apologies to all those (around 135 churches for Issue 3) that have been awaiting the next Issue. We had intended it to be available at the beginning of this month but my ill health rather got in the way of any extra-curricular activities, like editing together all the fab creative goodness from the team. However, finally, Issue 4 of Spill the Beans is here! This covers 3 June to 26 August, or Trinity Sunday to Pentecost 13 for the liturgical among us.

We're delving into the story of King David in this issue following 1 and 2 Samuel through the lectionary. It is quite a journey! We haven't skimmed over the tricky bits, but that does mean there are a couple of challenging albeit also helpful and enlightening weeks along the way. It is a worthwhile journey, however, and there is something each week for all ages.

Refreshing Refreshments

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Fruit Juice Cocktails

We always have refreshments in the form of tea, coffee and squash after the service, but this morning we had a wee treat with Jim Brown serving fruit juice cocktails with a very fine collection and the ability to mix your own exceedingly delicious refreshment. On such a hot day, this was indeed a refreshing refreshment.

It would be lovely to have this each week in the hot weather, but this was a special as the juices came from a Boys Brigade fund raiser for the World Mission Council and their work in Zambia.

Perhaps icecream floats next week if the weather stays good? Anyone?

Scoughall Success

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Cosy Cafe Weekend Group

Belatedly, a few pictures from last weekend's brilliant weekend away for members of Cosy Café Sundays. I became swallowed up in trying to finish editing Issue 4 of Spill the Beans as soon as I got back (and took a trip to visit the doctor!), but that is now finished, so I can catch up on these things!

We had a fabulous time. I was rather worried when we left Hillhouse Parish Church on Friday evening in our convoy of two minibuses and the luggage car when the rain started pouring down as we drove along the M8, and that evening it was pretty driech in Scoughall, just a few miles from North Berwick. But the weather just got better and better over the weekend so much so that instead of treking into Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon, we stayed at the campsite and played some wild games of nukemball! 

Nature or Grace, revisited

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I can't help continuing to ponder the amazing Terrence Malick film "The Tree of Life" that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. The above is an excellent reflection from Father Barron on the film, touching on our experiences of suffering, the story of Job, and God's role in it all.

I particularly appreciated how he acknowledges that we should not see nature or grace as simply bad and good. Rather they are both necessary, but the balance between them is the dance of creativity that God exhibits through the creation, and indeed the dance we recognise in our own lives as we try to understand, comprehend and make sense of our lives and our purpose in life.

Rice, Trade and Justice

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Visiting the David Livingstone Centre

Today was an enjoyable day spent in the company of three gentlemen I had not met before (though life is never quite that distant...), Howard Msukwa and Henry Kalomba, both from Malawi, and their host in Scotland, John Riches (with whom it turns out I do have a connection as he plays in a music group with my mum in Glasgow!).

Howard and Henry were over in Scotland sponsored by the Scottish Fair Trade Forum for two weeks to visit different groups across the nation to bring some insight into the local situation in Malawi and encourage us to think more about fair trade issues.

Howard is a rice farmer in North Malawi, and also the current chairman of a large association of farmers in that region. Henry works for NASFAM, the National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi, which has oversight for and works with the regional associations to help the small farm owners to think beyond seeing their farming as subsistence farming, and more as a business that can benefit their families and community.