Peter's Blog

Doors into Advent

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Advent Doors

At Cosy Café Sundays on 2 Dec we had one of those really simple ideas that just worked brilliantly. When we were planning what to do we talked about advent calendars, which then transmogrified through creating individual advent calendars through a single mega advent calendar to the idea of creating 4 doors to represent the four Sundays in Advent. Each door was themed (Hope, Joy, Peace and Love) and decorated by everyone together before we then travelled through each doorway to hear about an aspect of each theme as it relates in this Christmas time.

Travelling through the Hope doorway, Drew Gebbie told us about the organisations that try to bring some sense of hope into the lives of those who are particularly vulnerable during the winter. Charities like Shelter, or organisations like Hamilton Churches Drop-In Centre were mentioned. Each group expressed a practical way of bringing hope. 

A Helping Hand

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At a meeting this evening with representatives from Larkhall, Hamilton and Blantyre, after many months of talking about the growing needs (particularly with the changes to the benefits system that will take effect next year) that many people sadly have in our communities, it was decided by the group that we had talked enough about it and it was time to do something. A steering group will shortly be formed to begin the process of forming a foodbank that will serve these three communities (with the possibility of growing beyond this if and when other churches from other towns want to come on board).

It was decided to use the expertise offered by the charity The Trussell Trust and to seek partnership with them to do this. You can watch a video about the Salisbury Foodbank, a well-established group, to get a sense of what is being aimed at. Needless to say, this will start small and will no doubt grow within our own area over time, but the sense of wanting to do something positive and with compassion to help individuals and families who are genuinely in need was clear tonight.

Rev Jonathan Fleming

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Jonathan presented with robes

Tonight was the Ordination and Induction service for Rev Jonathan Fleming to Erskine Parish Church, pictured in the social following the service being robed and looking quite the part. It was a lovely service and an emotional moment to see Jonathan move on now to his own charge with a wee babe in arms, Hollie. I couldn't help but be brought back in my memories to first coming to Blantyre when Katherine arrived only a month after my own Ordination & Induction. 

I don't think anyone will forget Alan Sorensen's illustrative instruction to Jonathan that he should not be a tube, instead he should be a tub! There was more to it than that, but...

Spill the Beans Issue 6: The Festive Edition

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Spill the Beans Issue 6

The next issue of Spill the Beans is now available for download. This is the festive edition that sees us through advent, christmas, epiphany and all the way to the transfiguration, or from December through to 10 February, if that makes more sense to you! As an additional bonus there are also ideas and resources for a Blue Christmas service of remembrance for those who have lost someone special in their lives during the year.

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.

If you have already used Spill the Beans, you will know what a great resource this is, created by folks here in Scotland. If you haven't, but are intrigued, have a look at this sample.

Builders, Boomers, Xers and Yers

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Image from conference

This afternoon and evening was spent in Peebles where David Burt and I represented Hamilton Presbytery at a Presbytery Conference hosted by the Ministries Council of the Church of Scotland gathering folks from across the country to think about the future of ministry within the Church of Scotland beyond the year 2020. It was an eye-opening day picking up on a number of things I have read elsewhere but bringing them together in part to help understand what is going on in the Kirk, and particularly within ministry at the moment.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will be aware that the numbers of people entering ministry has dropped considerably over the last decades, but this is particularly the case amongst the latter generations that are usually labelled the Gen X (approx. 30-48 years old) and Gen Y (under 30s) where there has been a collapse in people entering the ministry.

I took a snap of one of the charts we studied, shown above. This charts the number of ministers in the Church of Scotland according to their age. As you can clearly see for the over 50s upwards there is a relatively consistent number (around 40 ministers serving in each year group) showing some variation but it is pretty even. Go younger and at 48 years old you see the line collapse down and then sink throughout Gen X until you get to the Gen Y generation where there is an average of 1 minister per year serving. In the past this chart would have looked much more balanced with many, many more ministers doing what both David and I did and going pretty much straight into ministry. That is no longer the case and what it means is something that must cause us to stop, reflect and think about the shape of the church we envisage for the future. 

Thanks for the World

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World of Thanksgiving

We created an earth respendent with "flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents" (Psalm 8:7-8) this morning in our harvest thanksgiving service. The creatures added for which we gave thanks included electric eels, lots of giraffes and even a couple of mermaids! There was a lot of paint which is drying at this very moment. Hope we can put this up somewhere, perhaps even with a lamp inside it!

A thank you to everyone who donated food this morning for the Hamilton Churches Drop-In Centre. This will be delivered during the week.

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.