Peter's Blog


Written by Peter Johnston on .

This morning was a morning I have not been looking forward to for some two weeks. I thank everyone for their kind words this morning, it meant a tremendous amount to Carolyn and me.

I wanted to put online a copy of the statement I read after the service and that was available for people to pick up after the service this morning. It seems that we ran out of printed copies of the letter, so I will make sure there are a few more copies available next week. 

However you can download a copy of it here. And the full text of what I said is below the jump. 

Spill the Beans Issue 7 has risen!

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Spill the Beans Issue 7

It has been quite some feat by the Spill the Beans Team to pull this off over the festive season, but after a crazy deadline of 31 December for all the writing, the next issue of Spill the Beans is now beautifully formed and available for download. This is the Lent to Pentecost edition that sees us from 17 February all the way to 19 May 2013! And this edition is not limited just to Sundays, you also get ideas for each day of Holy Week too. It is a large issue.

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.

Packaging and Perceptions

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Joshua Bell in Washington DC

I saw this morning a circular post on facebook that is the kind of thing that I would normally ignore, but this one I found fascinating. It is made that wee bit more interesting by being true too. It centres around world famous violinist Joshua Bell, who I once saw playing in London many years ago at a concert in the Royal Festival Hall - he is a wonderful performer. The post being circulated is about an experiment carried out by a journalist, Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post, in 2007.

Have a read below the jump to see what they did. 

Strictly Come Jesus

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Uz!, the youth group at Blantyre St Andrew's with some guest appearances, excelled themselves with their imaginative efforts, creativity and hard work in putting together the Watchnight Service as is the tradition each year. The theme this year was "Strictly Come Jesus", and we had a very motley crue attempting to be present at the birth...

This was one of our more ambitious Watchnight services (about as intense as The Lord of the Kings ten years ago!) and kudos to everyone for their hard work and patience during the long hours of filming.

Thanks to Lindsey Cooper on a flying visit back to Scotland for her creative input at the planning meeting - I think Lindsey can be blamed for the title, if I remember correctly!

After the video, all the group arranged themselves at the front of the church, by which time it was almost midnight, and sang along with Mariah Carey's 'Jesus Born On This Day'. Spot on.

Note, you may need Quicktime installed (free here) to see the video if it will not play, and it may need to download first which might take a minute or two depending on the speed of your connection - please be patient! Note this is a large file - be careful if downloading over a mobile network! You can download a high definition version here (500MB, so be warned).

Calderside Christmas Concert

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Calderside Academy held their Christmas Concert this evening with a diverse but Christmas-themed programme. From dance to singing and instrumental solos, bands, and choirs, it was an excellent night and great to see so many young people confidently performing in front of the audience.

It was particularly good to see so many folks one knows well performing on the stage, and even a staff choir who did a fabulous job. I used my 'official' invitation which got me a great seat right down at the front, leaving the rest of the family ten rows behind - shocking! 

Fairy Nuff

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Fairy CompetitionA call this morning from Auchinraith Primary with an urgent need for my presence all became clear at break time when the staff indulged in a little festive fun in the staff room.

Then I realised the setup I had walked into... as a team competition we were tasked with creating fairy's to adorn the tree with whatever was at hand (which unfortunately for me included some cans of squooshy cream!). With fellow adorned teachers Nicola and Scott, we looked quite the part, as I am sure the picture proves... ahem.

At one point when we had a treasure hunt in the corridor outside, some of the children commented bemusedly, "I've never seen everyone so hyper..."

It is definitely that end of term feeling... hang in their folks, only a few more days until the holidays!

We have the Christmas Assembly for Auchinraith Primary at St Andrew's Church on Friday 21 December at 10 a.m.

Watchnight preparations underway

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Supper in the Kirk

In what has become a Blantyre St Andrew's tradition, many of the young folks started their preparations for this year's Watchnight service on Christmas Eve. In fact, the preparations began on Saturday night when we all met to plan what we were going to do. This evening we all got together to enjoy a fish supper before rolling up the sleeves and getting busy in producing the props we need for this year's service... huge sheets of cardboard, paint and roller, thousands of fairy lights, and much cutting out later, we have the bulk of the set we are going to be using prepared.

We meet again on Thursday night and then all Sunday afternoon for rehearsals and filming... it is ambitious, a little daunting, but I am sure it will be a memorable celebration for the birth of Jesus. To find out more, you will need to come along on Monday night to see for yourselves.

Our one year old

Written by Peter Johnston on .

KeelyI can't quite believe it, but our wee puppy Keely is no longer a wee puppy. She turned a year old today and with an hour to spare this afternoon I treated her to a lovely walk around Redlees Quarry. She was bathed and brushed and blow-dryed (I kid you not, all that fur can be high-maintenance!) just last night so I was hoping she would keep herself from her usual habit of finding the muddiest puddle to stomp straight through... Just as the sun began to set I managed to get a snap of her. 

I must say, as the months since she arrived in the family have passed, I have been so pleased with this wee doggy. We really have got ourselves a lovely dog with a wonderful temperament. Much as though I loved our previous dog, she was a lot harder work...

Happy first birthday, Keely!

Follow the star...

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Cosy Café Sundays following the star

On Sunday night it was our final Cosy Café Sundays for 2012 and we went completely crackers with a special Christmas night. After an afternoon of preparations, including picking up two of the minibuses from the Blantyre Volunteer Group, we all met at Hillhouse for the start of a pilgrimage as we moved around Hamilton and Blantyre stopping off at each location for a course of our evening meal and to add another group to our journey.

We had one of our largest groups this week, filling both buses and a car, as we followed Lindsey Cooper's hand made star from place to place - oh the creativity that comes with an old broom, tinsel, sparkly card and some fairy lights! This was a very special moment for Lindsey as she finally was able to satisfy her life-long ambition to be "the star" of the nativity. 

The Wee Man Turned Good

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Gold coins and ingots

Yesterday we finished the fifth year of running "Bubblegum 'n' Fluff", the chaplaincy event we run each Christmas for Primary 6 pupils in all the associated primary schools to Calderside Academy. By my rough and ready calculations, that is 35 days and around 1,500 pupils talking about the Christmas story and why our celebration of the birth of Jesus is still important. It was more noticeable to me this year than in previous years (and this will only become ever more the case) that there were more children who said they had never heard the story of the nativity. They knew more about it after our time together.

One of the things we build into the morning with the children is some understanding of the context, both within Judea at the time to give some understanding of the expectations of the people at that time, but also an idea of who baby Jesus grew into to connect the importance of this birthday celebration to the man who made such a difference to people's lives. To do that we tell a few stories: the changes to Simon Peter, the story of Jairus' daughter and the story of wee Zacchaeus. A conversation after one of the days has had me thinking a lot about that last story over the last few days... 

Modern Psalmists?

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As many of you will know, music is a great passion of mine. There are a number of bands that have in recent years exploded onto the scene from rock/folk roots in London. I've loved listening to Laura Marling and Noah & The Whale, and with them also the band Mumford & Sons. With the recent release of their second album, Mumford & Sons have affirmed their rather unique position as purveyors of theologically literate folk rock that can fill arenas.

Hall 4 of the SECC was jumping and singing along to the band as they brought their "Tour of Two Halves" to Glasgow on Wednesday night. I know of many folks who were there tonight, scattered across the hall, and no wonder as the tickets sold like hot cakes. With David Burt and Jonathan Fleming, I took up our seats for the concert. We had a fab time, and you can get a rather scary taste of that from the video above of the closing two songs from the concert, with Mumford's own song "The Cave" and a cover of the Beatles "A Little Help From My Friends". I suspect that both Jonathan's and my own voice will be a little the worse for wear at tomorrow morning's "Bubblegum 'n' Fluff" event... Personally, I wish I had been in the middle of the heaving mob on the floor, but in deference to one of my more aged companions we had the benefit of seats. 

Christmas Lunch

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Entertainment at Christmas Lunch

I had to make a bit of a mad dash after our first morning of this year's Bubblegum 'n' Fluff mornings with all the Primary 6 children (on Monday from High Blantyre Primary) exploring the real heart of the Christmas story to get to the Parkville for the Christmas Lunch for all our pensioners. As we packed up all the paraphernalia that follows every event the chaplaincy team are involved with and starting loading it into the car the sleet started to descend rapidly turning to icy cold rain. I was dressed in suit ready for the lunch and within ten minutes was soaked through! Definitely not the right clothing!

We unpacked and setup at Livingstone Memorial Church and then I zipped along to the Parkville, a little late but not too late to miss the soup! It was a lovely afternoon, and we certainly had a lot of laughter around the table... Thanks to Elsie Balneaves for picking up the reins to organise this year's lunch and entertainment. It is always so much appreciated.

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

Written by Peter Johnston on .

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

Written by Peter Johnston on .

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

Written by Peter Johnston on .

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

Written by Peter Johnston on .

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.