Peter's Blog

Arrogant and offensive

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Warning: there be politics in these parts.

The outpouring of anger and frustration over the decision of the Prime Minister’s Special Adviser, Dominic Cummings, to flout the law has been overwhelming over the weekend and into this week. By leaving his home in London to travel to Durham with members of his family who he had reason to believe had Covid-19, Dominic Cummings disregarded the rules that were in place, and remain in place, that if you suspect that you or someone has Covid-19 you must stay at home and isolate yourselves.

The excuses have reached epic levels, beyond parody. That you would go out for an hour drive to test your eye-sight with your family in the car, risking their lives and the lives of other road users is, of course, patently ridiculous. The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, voiced the feelings of many in response to Boris Johnson’s defence of Cummings’ actions: “The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs? The moral question is not for Cummings – it is for PM and ministers/MPs who find this behaviour acceptable. What are we to teach our children? (I ask as a responsible father.)”

What really angered me was the Prime Minister’s insinuation that any loving parent, concerned for their child, would have done the same. Many loving parents, concerned for their children, stayed at home, as the law demanded.

The actions of Cummings should not be remotely surprising to watchers of politics. Remember that Sajid Javid resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer after weeks of reported tension with Cummings, including the Special Adviser sacking an aide of Javid’s, Sonia Khan, without Javid’s knowledge. She was marched out of Downing Street by an armed police officer. Cummings, it would appear, thinks he can go around the rules, such as over the firing of staff or the rules on self-isolating. More than that, he has made this kind of rule-breaking a part of the “mystique” around him. That is hokum, but the number of times you hear stories of his genius, of his special abilities, it has gained some traction.

civil service tweet

What really did stun me over the weekend was a short-lived moment of pure clarity that some brave soul offered to the world. A tweet was published from the official UK Civil Service twitter account that, in response to Boris Johnson’s press conference on Sunday evening, said: “Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine working with these truth twisters?”

The tweet was rapidly deleted, of course, but in that brief glimmer of honesty we saw someone who could not help themselves but to speak truth to power. It has been announced that an investigation is ongoing to root out who published this tweet. One suspects far fewer resources will be expended on investigating the actions of Dominic Cummings by this Government.

The issue of truthfulness and honesty amongst leadership is one that I have repeatedly been returning to in Sunday’s messages as John’s gospel keeps returning us to those themes and Jesus’ own example to us.

In a time of pandemic when nationwide shifts in our behaviour, our actions, are necessary to bring the rates of infection down, to protect the more vulnerable, we were being told, repeatedly, that we were all in this together. We had to obey the rules, albeit introduced too late to stop the devastating loss of life that has affected so many people, in order to protect one another. This was an action of shared social concern. This was the nationwide community being asked to change their way of behaving in order to protect one another. And in the intervening time people tragically either could not or would not, due to trying to obey the rules, be with loved ones who died.

This communal activity to protect one another, at tremendous personal cost for many, is what Cummings’ betrayed and what the PM and other cabinet Ministers (noting that Douglass Ross MP resigned his Jnr Minister position today) are now lauding as not only acceptable behaviour but an example of good, loving, parenting.

But again, this is not in the least surprising to me. The crew that are in Downing Street are the same folks who brought us Brexit on a bus replete with lies and misinformation and other such gems as lying to the Queen over Prorogation of Parliament. And it is all connected. The attitude of one rule for us and one rule for others is endemic in their whole project.

The Brexit argument was fabricated with a house of cards. Each card representing another false argument (sovereignty of parliament, immigration rules, bendy bananas, EU funding payments, Prawn Cocktail crisps, the EU is bad for our trade, refugees, and on and on). But it worked. That heady mixture of lies, fabrications, interwoven with a heavy dose of populism and simplistic sloganeering led to a narrow referendum victory. But that did not stop it from being a project built on falsehood.

As time has gone by and the campaigning is past those falsehoods are revealed, along with the dire cost of them.

My point, in regard to the current hoo-ha over Cummings’ actions is that this is but one example of what we should expect far more of in the future. The whole point of Brexit, as is the case with the Trump project in the USA, is to break the system of rules within nations and between nations. It is to allow an individualistic free-for-all where the rules, limited though they were, that restrained the powerful and wealthy are removed, once and for all. It is a world in which the wealthy elites can move between homes at whim while the rest of us have to remain self-isolating. It is a world in which the regulations that protect those in the workplace are reduced in order to boost stockholder value and company profits. It is a world in which the vulnerable will find themselves even more at risk of the vagaries of viruses or poverty or unemployment or limited choices.

The Brexit propagandists repeatedly, for instance, laid claim to how we will be fine leaving the single market of the EU because we can fall back on WTO rules. But at the same time Donald Trump is undermining the World Trade Organisation to the point now that it is almost worthless and unable, due to his decision to block the judges that are required for the WTO to do its work. If the UK gets in a disagreement with another nation about a matter of trade there will be no one to adjudicate on it at the WTO, making the WTO rules meaningless. It is a Wild West era we are being led into.

When the mask is pulled off the project and we see what it really means, such as “one rule for me and another rule for them” we rightly object and are horrified by the selfishness that this exhibits. We recognise that this is going to do terrible harm to communities and to society, while at the same time enriching and enabling a few. Because we often want to see the best in others, we are generally happy to accept people’s word as presented to us, which is what the PM is wanting us to do with his Special Adviser. To do so in this case, however, is to focus on a single tree and miss the wood around us.

The patterns of thought, the reliance on lies and falsehoods, the dismantling of relationships with partners (as we are grimly witnessing with Europe and the failure of the UK team to negotiate with the EU team) is not an accident, it is part of a strategy. That strategy includes never admitting error or apologising. It is the same strategy being deployed by Trump and the Republican party in the USA. When you read about authoritarian regimes around the world, past and present, you realise it is part of a pattern and, as such, it is deeply worrying. (If you are interested, Sarah Kendzior’s new book “Hiding in Plain Sight”, she being a scholar of authoritarian regimes, is a good place to start.)

Which is why I keep coming back to the part that the church should be playing to be a prophetic voice that defends community, that tries to display a model of how we can support each other. It is heartening to see so many bishops in the Church of England publicly come forward to speak out over the last couple of days, revealing the hypocrisy of those who say one thing to us while doing another themselves. We are about to celebrate the coming of the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost Sunday this Sunday coming, and we need to be empowered by that Spirit now more than ever.


Pause for Thought #3

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Peter's Pause for Thought for this week for pupils at Ferryhill Primary School and anyone else looking for a wee craft challenge and to make some joyful (not always in tune) noise!

You can find instructions to create your own origami tulips here, and if you want to print out sheets with coloured paper for making your tulips you can find a Word document here. You can then change the colours to whatever you want!


Pause for Thought #2

Written by Peter Johnston on .

The next in the series of "Pause for Thought" videos for the pupils at Ferryhill Primary. This is on the theme of finding things for which to be thankful and then holding on to those things as if they are rocks amidst the storms of life. The song is another super Fischy Music song called "Holding on to the rock". Thanks to Sophia for helping me out!

Spill the Beans Free Resources

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 34

Those of us who are worship leaders, planners and creators are in a very different world at the moment in our organising of worship and ways of encouraging people in their worship of God during the Covid-19 pandemic response. In recognition of the difficult circumstances many of us are in at this time, the Spill the Beans Resource Team offer their latest issue as a free gift to our friends and colleagues around the world.

This is the third issue in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary and covers from Trinity Sunday to Pentecost 12, taking us through the summer months.

Collaboration with Fischy Music

We continute our collaborative work with Fischy Music with a new song titled "A Little More" which debuts in this issue and explores our calling to be more like Jesus and to see the world as if through Jesus' eyes. You will find the score within the issue and audio tracks both with vocals and the backing track alone.

Download the Pack

Spill the Beans Issue 34 Cover

We are not using our usual delivery service for this free of charge issue. So please click on the image of the issue above or click here and the download of the zip pack should begin. 

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too. There is also a facebook page in which we share ideas and we have introduced a new facebook group which you can link to from the facebook page and which we hope will provide a place of mutual support, ideas and encouragement as we trek together through this new adventure.

Print Copies

The office in which the printed copies are made is currently closed due to the pandemic so we cannot provide any printed copies of this issue. Our apologies for that inconvenience.


Virtual Choir Notes For Pentecost

Written by Peter Johnston on .

We are really looking forward to a celebratory worship service for Pentecost on 31 May 2020. We will be joined by the Moderator of the new Presbytery of Aberdeen and Shetland, Rev Hutton Steele, with the new presbytery beginning the following day, 1 June. We will have a video message from the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as part of that service. We are also looking to expand our Virtual Choir / Orchestra for this service and have been delighted by the response so far from folks seeking to join in.

There will be a Zoom meeting to talk through what we are doing on Saturday 9 May at 3 p.m. and details of that will be sent out to those who have expressed an interest. You can join us by clicking here and following the instructions (if you have not used Zoom before you may need to download the programme).

If you need to join the meeting manually the Meeting ID is 845 7354 4671 and the Password is 005039.

In the meantime, here are some notes and resources so that you can start to prepare, listen to the song and get yourselves ready!

Hail Thee, Festival Day!

A vivacious Pentecost hymn (Church Hymnary, 4th Ed, no. 581). You can fiind the score here.

This is a unison hymn so we are all singing the same notes, however we will split which voices are singing which verses for a bit of variety. I have noted who will be doing what on the score that you can download above. It will go as follows:

Verse 1 (Refrain) - ALL

Verse 2 - WOMEN

Verse 3 - MEN

Verse 4 - WOMEN

Verse 5 - ALL

The refrain (verse 1) is sung by ALL after each of verses 2-5.

Do note that the tune is different for verses 2 & 4 and verses 3 & 5.

Kevin has prepared the audio backing track which you can listen to below or download from here.


And this version includes a sample vocal track that you can use as a lead and to follow:


Download here.

If you would like to listen to the tune being sung there is an excellent Songs of Praise version, but do note that THE WORDS ARE DIFFERENT!

O Breath Of Life

This is a Pentecost anthem. It is in simple harmony for Soprano, Alto and Men's Voices. We begin all together for the first verse. In the second verse Women will sing the melody with Men providing some harmony beneath "God, remake us,...". In the final verse Altos and Men will sing the tune with Sopranos singing the Descant.

This is a really lively one so while we have generally been recording ourselves singing sitting down when doing the Virtual Choir pieces thus far, I would really recommend, where possible, that you stand up to sing this one (not a bad idea for Hail Thee, Festival Day either). Especially for that final verse and the long held last note it will stand you in good stead (see what I did there?)!

You can find a copy of the score here.

Kevin has prepared three different backing tracks for you to use with each of the three parts highlighted for you to follow. Please download or listen to the one you need.



Download here.



Download here.



Download here.

Men (with vocal guide)


Download here.

Technical Instructions

How this works is that, once we all know what we are doing, we go our own paths to practise and then to record ourselves. You do this by playing the audio backing track through headphones so that only you can hear it (you may just want to have one headphone in your ear so you can also hear yourself better through your other ear) and then record just your vocal part.

We have used a combination of people recording directly in the Zoom app and people recording onto their phones. Either works fine. The files are a lot smaller if you use Zoom which makes it a bit more manageable. We will go over this on the Zoom meeting.

If you are recording using Zoom on a desktop or laptop computer there are some audio settings to tweak:

  1. Turn off "Automatically adjust volume" and then set the slider yourself. Start around the half way mark and then try singing as loud as you are going to get and watch the blue indicator line - you do NOT want this to go much over half way at your loudest - adjust to suit.
  2. In "Advanced" (button at bottom right of the Settings window) checking the box to allow "Enable Original Sound"
  3. In this same section turn the options for "Suppress Persistent Background Noise" and " Suppress Intermittent Background Noise" to Disable.
  4. When you then go to record your session on Zoom ensure that you have clicked the link at top left hand corner that would say "Turn on original sound" so that it illuminates in blue and says "Turn off original sound" - it is a bit of awkward language, but when it is blue then you are recording the original sound from your microphone.
  5. Ignore all of this if you are using Zoom on a tablet or smartphone as these options are not available!

Please try to record in "landscape" format rather than "portrait" - it makes life much easier when editing if we are all using the same proportions!

Also, make sure to keep filming and looking at the camera at the end of the piece right through until you hear the accompaniment fade out before you stop recording. That again helps us with editing.

We have experimented with different ways to get the files to me once you have recorded them and I have a new method we could try!

For files relating to Hail Thee Festival Day you can upload the files using:

And for O Breath Of Life you can use:

Note that if using Zoom to record then both the audio (m4a) and video (mp4) files are useful for us to have for the edit - you should find these in a folder titled "Zoom" under "Documents".

Looking forward to our combined efforts!


Peter's Pause For Thought - Kindness

Written by Peter Johnston on .

I'm starting a weekly (hopefully!) Pause For Thought for children at Ferryhill Primary School, but also available for everyone else!

Thanks to Sophia for helping me out with the song at the end.

Miserere mei, Deus

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Utterly beautiful. I remember singing this as a treble, sure couldn't do anything as pure today. Just left here as a thing of wonder.

Though sometimes the comment section of YouTube really does bring out the best in people. This comment made me chuckle:

No one can sing like an angel.
The woman on the left:
"Hold my holy water"



Forever Young

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Nearly eighty years old and Joan Baez still speaking truth to power and bringing hope and joy. 

You're The Shepherd

Written by Peter Johnston on .

We have been busy over the last few days recording and putting together our latest Virtual Choir piece, a relatively new hymn from New Scottish Hymns, written by Greg de Blieck. We will be using this as part of our worship online this coming Sunday, 3 May, so please do have a watch and listen so that you can join in with us on Sunday.

Thanks to all the contributors for this video.

We are working on another two songs for Pentecost Sunday and the invitation is out at the moment for anyone who would like to join with those so please do email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We will be having a Zoom meeting soon about that and to start the ball rolling. Kevin, our organist, has already got backing tracks recorded and ready to go!

COVID-19 And Democracy

Written by Peter Johnston on .

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has released an important, clear statement on the response of the UK Government to the Coronavirus pandemic. One of the things that has really been bugging me for the past few weeks since it was mentioned in the Covid Report videos is the secrecy surrounding the SAGE group that advises the UK Government. I went online to try to find out who was on the group and all I could find was generic waffle on the government website and no details. Now it has all blown up in the face of the UK Government with the realisation that political advisers, not scientists, have been involved in SAGE. 

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics says:

It is a matter of fundamental democratic accountability. Decisions are being made and are due to be made that go to the very heart of what governments are there to do: to protect the freedom and well-being of their people. But they must do so openly, transparently, and accountably, especially where those decisions impinge on precisely that freedom or aspects of well-being. Democratic governments must be subjected to public debate and challenge. The fact of an emergency or crisis makes things difficult, but is no justification for closing down on public discourse. On the contrary, if we are all at risk, and we are all in it together, we all need to know and all need to have a voice.

Over and over again the UK Government is failing in transparency when that is absolutely vital to helping us understand how we can move on from this national lockdown. Nicola Sturgeon did a better job at trying to explain this, and thus gain the trust of us, during the week. We need far better from Westminster than politics as usual.

The whole statement is well worth a read.

Rev I.M. Jolly Jnr

Written by Peter Johnston on .

A colleague, Robert Allan in Falkirk Trinity Church channeling Rev I.M. Jolly. Superb.

Inspired by Love and Anger

Written by Peter Johnston on .

One of my favourite hymns in the collection written by John Bell and the late Graham Maule is the hymn “Inspired by love and anger” which is set to the Irish folk tune Salley Gardens. A beautiful melody that softens the blow of the lyrics, it makes palatable for the many the challenge contained in what we are singing about: a clarion call to wake up and smell the coffee about the injustice implicit in the way our world works and the place of those who profess to follow Christ to both point out those injustices and to work towards a world in which they are minimised.

Inspired by love and anger,
disturbed by need and pain,
informed of God’s own bias,
we ponder once again:
‘How long must some folks suffer?
How long can few folk mind?
How long dare vain self-interest
turn prayer and pity blind?’

I watched and listened carefully to what our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said in his address to the nation on leaving the care of St Thomas’ Hospital. I am very thankful that he is recovering from the Covid-19 infection. Seeing what some of my friends and colleagues have been and are going through with the infection you know how debilitating and life-threatening it can be for some people. That Johnson was hospitalised shows that his symptoms must have been bad indeed and I am sure it was an awful time for him and family over the past week. I wish him well and, as with all those who are struggling with the coronavirus and the repercussions for their health of the current pandemic, I pray for a restoration of health.

Family Worship for Easter Sunday

Written by Peter Johnston on .

We complete our journey through Holy Week and our collaboration betwee Spill the Beans and Fischy Music. Today's resources have been prepared by Rev Gayle Taylor of Newbattle Church.

Today we have arrived at the most celebrated day in our faith calendar, Easter Sunday. 

Easter Virtual Choir: Thine Be The Glory

Written by Peter Johnston on .

It is, as they say, "in the can". Sophia and I finished the final edits from all the contributions of audio and video files on Friday evening just before our Good Friday service online via Zoom and YouTube. It felt a little strange going straight from finishing this to the passion narrative, but also gave us an anticipation for what is to come on Easter morning.

Kevin Haggart did a wonderful job with the arrangement which includes an interlude using the March from Judas Maccabeus, the Oratorio from which the hymn tune originates, and we hope that it lifts your spirits as we celebrate Easter within the confines of our own homes this year.

The film will premiere on YouTube (so fancy!) at 7:30 a.m. on Easter morning, the time we would usually be gathering at Duthie Park for our dawn service. This year you can join us in song instead and warm up your voices in preparation for the Easter Service which will be at the usual time of 11 a.m. and will also include this wonderful hymn.