Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Personal Journey 25: Schools

It is a lovely sun-shiny day here today. I am quite excited as I have just had a delivery from Amazon. It is my order for the newish book by Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and two BBC Audio CDs, dramtisations of books by Dorothy Sayers. Bauckham's book looks brilliant. He is arguing that we can actually trust the Gospels historically.

I have been appreciating Dorothy Sayers more and more lately. I particularly like to listen to plays on the CD in the car. It helps to pass the time in traffic jams! I have quite a few of the Lord Peter Wimsey recordings. Dorothy Sayers was herself a devout Christian and wrote a famous series of plays about Jesus, The Man Born to be King. She thought the Gospels were reliable too!

She also wrote a paper on classical education, which most nearly correpsonds to my own educational philosophy. Sadly, we are both out of step with where education has been going for many years now. I wonder how many people in the future will have the ability to write a book like Bauckham's or a novel like Sayers. All of which leads nicely into today's blog!

I hope your week is good.

Personal Journey 25: Schools

Chinese people place a great store on education. It is taken very seriously indeed. At the forefront of educational provision in Hong Kong has been the Anglican Church. At the risk of an oversimplification, let me give you a brief history. During British rule the Anglican Church set up several institutions to cater for orphans. Some of the orphans were the products of unions between the British and local girls. The British had abandoned the girls and the girls were in no position to bring the children up. The children were not socially acceptable to either community being neither Chinese nor English.

These institutions provided schooling until schooling became their chief function. What is more they were very good schools so that locals also wanted to send their children to them. Entry to them became very competitive and tragically very exclusive. To put it bluntly, they became schools for the rich and connected. Places were, and are, much sought after. Parents will sell their souls to get their children into these schools. Money is not a problem.

If you have followed this story of mine, you will know that I believe in both academic excellence and I also believe in openness and opportunity, inclusiveness and equality. I do not believe in taking an academically poor child simply because his parents have contributed a lot of money to the School and live at an exclusive address. Does that happen? Yes. Do I know it happens? Yes. Do I think Christian schools should do this? Well, I think you can guess.

Christ Church for good and laudable motives had been very involved during its history in education. By virtue of my role as Vicar, I am a Council member of five schools. I am the Chairman of three and the Supervisor of two of those I chair. (The role of Supervisor is very important here. Please bear with me, this much background is necessary to set the stage for what follows.) Three of the schools that Christ Church is involved in are what are known as ‘elite’ schools. Christ Church Kindergarten (4-6year olds), Diocesan Preparatory School (a primary school for 7 year olds and above), and Diocesan Boys’ School (a very elite boys’ school!). The kindergarten is mixed and is one of the main ways in to the Diocesan system. This is true for girls as well as there are female equivalents to DPS and DBS.

DPS was again what was known as a feeder school for DBS. This meant that the vast majority of boys went on to DBS. DBS itself is held in the same sort of regard as the very top schools are in the UK and in other countries as well. Getting to DPS was seen as absolutely vital by many parents. When something is this important to people, then emotions have the potential to run very high. Happily for most of its history things had been tranquil and smooth.

Christ Church had greatly benefited from this connection with DPS. Christ Church had built it in the first place and the Vicar was automatically the Chairman of the Council. The relationship was extremely close between DPS and DBS. Now I thought from the perspective of the UK that this was a good thing and in many ways it was. But it meant that the life of the Church and School had become very tied up with one another. The result was that a significant number of people came to Christ Church because of the connection with the School and the advantage it was hoped going to Church would give.

I think the Church can cope with people coming for the wrong reasons - to an extent. It is a question of how many people. However, there are inevitably serious consequences for the Church when things go wrong between the two.

I had been told at interview that there had been some difficulties. Naturally enough, I thought that was always going to be true. I had no idea, however, just how serious the difficulties were. The first inkling I had of how seriously wrong things were, I mean seriously wrong, was sitting in my study in Banchory. My appointment as Vicar of Christ Church had been announced and everyone knew I was coming to Hong Kong. Bishop Bruce forwarded to me an email that he and it seemed all the Bishops in the UK had been sent from a parent in Hong Kong begging the Bishops to help because a well-established school in Hong Kong was in turmoil.

The School in question was DPS! The moment I arrived in Hong Kong, before I even had been installed as Vicar, I had people contacting me to tell me their side of the story and to try to get me to support them. The tragic events that affected the Schools still have their consequences and have coloured the whole of my time here so that even as I am writing this blog I can see emails coming in asking me to deal with part of the fall-out from the events that occurred just before I came.

If you are sitting comfortably next time, I will begin the story of politics and intrigue inasmuch as I can tell it without being served a writ for libel.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Personal Journey 24: To Hong Kong via Jerusalem

I hope you are having a good weekend! I have just finished taking a wedding so I am quite pleased that I have managed to post as I have to be soemwhere else very soon!

I will be back on Tuesday!

Personal Journey 24: To Hong Kong via Jerusalem

I knew that Hong Kong had many challenges waiting for me. Some of them I had already been contacted about. There wasn’t going to be much settling in time. A holiday before going seemed a reasonable idea. It was one of the first where I hadn’t had to worry about organizing cover while I was away and one of the last! I decided to fly to Hong Kong through Israel. El Al offered cheap fares if you flew via Tel Aviv and allowed a few days for a stopover. I am sorry if it sounds sentimental, but I wanted to commit my future ministry to God from the place where what I believed all began.

Summer, 2000 was a time of hope in Israel. It looked like a peace deal was on the table that went further than any ever thought possible. Israel had conceded much and there was genuine optimism on both sides. I would be the first to criticize the way Israel has behaved, but I find it hard to understand why Yasser Arafat found it necessary to scupper this deal. Within weeks of me having been in Israel talking of the prospect of peace with taxi drivers, Israel and the Palestinians were fighting one another again. Tragic!

As you will all know Hong Kong itself used be a British colony. It was handed back to China in 1997. Before that the British had been here in force and many were still here. The British had left their mark on the place, and I found there was still much goodwill (on the surface at least) to the British. Three years on and it was still possible to see what life had been like. What is more many wanted to talk about it and tell stories. There was much nostalgia amongst many for the old days. One day I will do a series of posts on Hong Kong. For now let it be said that I came at a time when Hong Kong was going through a period of transition.

There had been much anxiety before the handover as to what Chinese rule would mean. Tiananmen Square and the protests there in 1989 still cast a shadow over Hong Kong. I think some expected the Red Army to be marching through Central. Well that hadn’t happened and indeed much had gone on as before! China, in fact, had showed much understanding and restraint. There were still those who went on about the need for democracy, but this was a separate argument. It is worth remembering that freedom and democracy are not the same thing. Democracy is a western style voting system. Hong Kong may not have democracy in that sense, but it certainly has freedom.

The Anglican Church had benefited from Hong Kong being a colony under British rule and had been a Church of England Diocese. After the handover, the Anglican Church in Hong Kong set Hong Kong up as a separate province within Anglicanism. It is the smallest with just three Bishops, but it is lively and active. There was and is, however, a real separation between the Chinese and the English-speaking church. The two do mix and are all part of the Hong Kong Sheung Kung Hui as the Province is called, but the English speaking church also have their own arrangement.

There are three English speaking Anglican Churches in Hong Kong. St John’s the Cathedral, St Andrew’s, and Christ Church. The Cathedral is more formal, St Andrew’s is charismatic and evangelical, and Christ Church is, well I was going to say in the middle, but that doesn’t quite get it! In many ways, it is like Banchory when I left it. It is a mix of churchmanship, with the Eucharist as the main service (thankfully every Sunday), a modern English language Eucharist, and a Catholic approach. The music and hymns are mostly traditional. I often reflected during my first year that I had got to where I had wanted to be when I was in Banchory in terms of worship by moving to China. A move that was easier than it would have been to move liturgies!

Christ Church had seen many expatriates leave as the handover approached and more have left since. Christ Church has always been the most locally rooted of the three Anglican Churches in Hong Kong. I will post a little of the history next. Nevertheless, at one time the congregation was about 50% locals and 50%expatriates. This has dropped to, I would estimate, 80% Chinese and 20% expatriate now.

Before I came, there had been talk in the Diocese of appointing a Chinese Vicar. This had been vigorously resisted by the Church itself not least by the Chinese members. The language used in the church is English although informally people do speak to one another in Cantonese, the local dialect. This is a bit of a problem because while many of our congregation speak in English for many it is very much a second language. This makes communication very difficult at times. Email has been a godsend for while people can’t always converse in English, they can write in it.

While many Chinese speak excellent English, we still attract many who don’t, and to explain that I now have to talk about the biggest problem that I encountered on coming here: the schools.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Personal Journey 23: In His Will is Our Peace

I am sorry to have missed yesterday to post as was my original intention. Have a good weekend and I will definitely try to post again on Sunday.

Personal Journey 23: In His Will is Our Peace

So what was it about the position that encouraged a little travelled British clergyman to apply for it at the age of 45. The post advertised was for a Vicar of a medium sized English speaking church with a significant involvement in education. In a nutshell, it seemed to be offering in a different context a continuation of the sort of work I was doing in Banchory.

I sent for more information and the post really did seem like me. My involvement in education up until this point had convinced me of its importance. I felt it to be important in and of itself, I also felt that the Church also should be involved and have influence within it. I liked the sound of an international congregation that was made up of different nationalities and the Anglican Church in Hong Kong sounded like it had strong contacts with the Church of England so that it was something I could relate to. I felt that it was worth exploring more.

Guidance is a funny thing. How does God show us his will for us and how do we know? When I was still a teenager coming to faith for the first time the most important book I read was someone who coincidentally had been a missionary to China: Isobel Kuhn. She had written of her search for God and her own journey of faith. This book helped me so much. I know language like this is quite common now and I use it myself. Too often I think for us today, though, we also add it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. We like searching and asking questions, but are not so keen on finding and getting the answer. I don’t think Isobel used it in this way. She would I think be the first to admit that here we see through a glass darkly, but she believed that God rewarded those who sought him here and now and answered those who asked questions. He may not answer completely but he does answer truly.

Her own personal motto was ‘in his will is our peace’. I adopted this as my own and have found it helpful ever since. It is not that we are excused the business of thinking things through, taking advice, and working at discovering God’s will. Nor is it that God’s will is to be reduced to a subjective cosy feeling. Ultimately, however, once we have done all we can and arrived at a decision that decision if it is from God should bring peace, and if it doesn’t it is to be questioned. It can, though, take a long time to get to the point of peace!

I sent off the requisite application letter and CV and waited. This was September and then I heard nothing. By January, 2000 I assumed that I was not wanted! However, I did not want to look at other posts until I had established that nothing was going to happen with this one! I contacted Hong Kong to be told that they were still interested and that I would be invited for interview.

I came out here for interview in March, 2000. My visit coincided with the Church AGM, which was good as it meant that I was able to see several sides of the church’s life. My few days here were well organized, with plenty of opportunity to meet people. I liked the people I met. I liked the Church. And I liked Hong Kong. I have always been useless at making the final decision, though, and agonized over what I would say if offered the post while out here. Before I left Hong Kong, it was unofficially indicated that I would be offered it and I was asked if I would I accept. In a moment of rare decisiveness, I said yes.

That as it turned out was the easy bit. Now I had to tell family, friends, and the Church. I had kept Bishop Bruce fully informed, and he had been as supportive as he always was. I told family and friends at once. They were, of course, sad that I would be going so far away. The question was when to tell the Church. It was agreed that an announcement would be made during the Sunday services in both Hong Kong and Deeside on Palm Sunday. As fortune would have it Bishop Bruce was with me that day preaching. I am glad he was because the reaction was far stronger than I had expected and even now I feel emotional thinking about it. I was, and am still, very touched by obvious regret that most people felt at the news that I would be leaving. I doubt that I will ever experience such genuine goodwill towards me again.

It was agreed that I would start in September, 2000. This was a sensible time for both my two Deeside Churches and the Church in Hong Kong. It was, though, quite tight as there were various legalities and practicalities to sort out. I won’t bore you with the details here, but one problem was that Hong Kong, although generous in every way, nevertheless only included a modest allowance for removals, which meant that most furniture and much more besides could not be taken.

I have no complaints and it was a useful object lesson in what it means to give things up. Storing items was not feasible, financially or practically, so everything had to be either sold or given away. I think the most bizarre event was a jumble sale of many possessions. I had done many jumble sales before, as most clergy have at one time or another, it was though quite strange haggling with the public over the price of what had been a much treasured possession. Good for the soul, psychologically therapeutic, and all that, but strange nevertheless!

Incredibly, all the arrangements were made and all the formalities completed in time. In August, 2000 I left Banchory for a family holiday before setting off for Hong Kong. How did I feel to be leaving? On a personal level, I felt that the decision was right although 7 years on I still miss the people there. I had some very good friends who had supported me and who had been through a lot with me. And I still felt some regret that I was not going to be involved in theological training. I am not quite sure why God doesn’t want me to do it, I actually think I would be quite good at it. Perhaps that’s why!

From the point of view of the Churches, I also felt it was the right decision to go. I felt optimistic for the two Churches, not least because of the clear determination the congregations were showing to go forward and to keep growing. I was much encouraged by the commitment that people were showing. What is more, they were handling the process of finding a new person to replace me in a professional and responsible way. While there was sadness at partings, there was justifiable optimism for the future. The story of what happened after I left, however, is not mine to tell.

At Banchory, I had learnt far more than I had taught. I left convinced of the value of inclusivity, tolerance, and compromise within a congregation. I had seen the importance of mission and the need to reach out to people, of involvement in the community, of families, and of personal relationships. I was fortunate indeed to have been given the chance to be part of the worshipping life of my two Churches, of the Diocese, and of the Province.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Personal Journey 22: Transition

We are now approaching my time here in Hong Kong. I am sorry if it has taken longer than was interesting!

Personal Journey 22: Transition

I can describe the events of the transition from my time at Banchory to here reasonably well, but I am conscious that in approaching my ministry here in Hong Kong I am beginning to reflect on something, which is still going on and developing. It is harder, I think, to be clear about the meaning and significance of something of which you are still a part. Distance lends perspective! In talking about Hong Kong, then, I am reflecting on my ministry here so far and, inevitably, these reflections are somewhat more provisional in character than what has gone on before.

In 1997, apart from going to Oban for the meeting of the General Synod and to Iona to commemorate the death of St Columba, I was also visited by my parents in Banchory. One afternoon, we went to visit one of my church wardens, also a dear friend, Stanley Wilkinson. Stanley was from Liverpool. He was an accomplished architect and had worked in Hong Kong. Together we watched the handover of Hong Kong on television.

A former governor of Hong Kong, Lord Wilson, was an occasional member of my congregation having a house in the area. On top of that, a member of the government who negotiated the handover, was in the choir. This may give the impression that I knew something about Hong Kong. I didn’t. I knew next to nothing about it except that it was being handed back to China and Chris Patten was the governor.

I need to explain that I had not been a great traveller. Apart from anything else, I had always been happy going on holiday to Scotland, when I did not live there, and when I did, I used mainly to go south to visit family. In many ways, I was resistant to going ‘abroad’. I don’t know why, because now I think I must have been mad not to have travelled more. I think I reacted a little against the’ I am going travelling to find myself’ brigade, but I never really felt the need or desire.

The British are also full of paradoxes. Now that I have travelled quite a lot, I have been able to see firsthand just how extensive the British Empire was. And yet, at the same time, the British are very insular as can be seen by the resistance at present to immigration and what is perceived as foreign culture. Many of us who were born when I was born did not travel much outside of the UK when we were young, even though we still had an imperial understanding of the world. True, this was changing with the advent of cheap package holidays, but the British on holiday tended to do what they did when they had Empire and that is to impose their culture on wherever they went. Now it’s predominantly the Americans who do it, but we British were at it first!

As a matter of interest, I had felt much the same about going to Israel. I was brought up in a theological culture that was pro-Zionist, seeing the foundation of the State of Israel as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecies. Many Christians I knew had been on pilgrimage there and there had been several opportunities when I, too, could have gone, but hadn’t taken them. I disliked the way that tour companies marketed it to Christians as going on a pilgrimage when it was transparently a package holiday. I also found it rather cynical that clergy got to go free if they persuaded 15 people or more to go with them from their congregation.

However, two very good friends, a married couple in the Church, very much thought I should go, particularly since I was a clergyman. He was a longstanding member of the congregation and she an Israeli. John had found regular visits to Israel to see his wife’s family very significant and tried to encourage me to go. I was more than a little resistant. Eventually, though, they both persuaded me. I am including this here partly because I don’t know quite where else to put it and because it was a very important moment in my life. I would now say that I don’t know how anyone can ever study the Bible and Church history without going to Israel. I have been back many times. It’s in my blood. It does that to you.

At LBC, we had always been challenged to think seriously about serving abroad as missionaries. In the 1970s, there was still a missionary culture amongst Christians. Now I think we are unsure about it all. Personally, I had never felt I should serve abroad, seeing my calling as being within the UK. Indeed, it had been a big thing moving out of England to go to minister in Scotland. So what made me apply for this post in Hong Kong? Essentially, it was the position itself, which I shall describe in the next post.

In retrospect, though, the earlier move to Scotland had been to cross a psychological rubicon. I had seen that not only was there life outside of the Church of England, but that there was more life outside of it. I also began to see that the Anglican Church was far bigger than the Church of England. It meant, too, that I was more focused on the work than on the place. I now believe firmly that if it is the right position, the place really does not matter, whatever we may feel about it on a human level.

Mind you if anyone wants to offer me a job in Israel, I promise I will seriously think about it!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Personal Journey 21: Reaching a Decision

I am quite pleased to have been able to keep posting this week. There has been so much going on. To cap it all we had a serious burst pipe on Saturday at the Vicarage. It takes forever trying to sort these things out, doesn’t it? Don’t get me going about plumbers!

I am preaching on the rest of 1 Corinthians 12 today. A hard message to communicate. Anyway, I will try and post again on Tuesday.

See you then!

Personal Journey 21: Reaching a Decision

The problem in making a decision as to whether I should stay or seek a move was that, on the one hand, I believed that someone new could bring fresh insights and gifts. I thought the momentum that you get when someone new is appointed might help whoever it was who was appointed achieve some difficult goals and overcome the small, but vocal opposition that there was likely to be to change. On the other hand, the church members themselves were marvellous and were showing real potential for the future. People within the Church had caught the vision of an inclusive community in which difference was celebrated and not seen as a threat. Maybe, after all, I was the one to continue what I had started.

Perhaps I can be permitted a comment here. I believe now as much as I did then that a church community needs to be about inclusiveness, tolerance, and compromise. I don’t think a church should grow by one side ignoring the beliefs, opinions, and attitudes of the other, whatever those beliefs, opinions, attitudes may be. But it must surely be wrong that a very small number of vociferous people, who only have influence because of their social status, should hold a church to ransom.

In terms of my own ministry, I did feel that maybe the time had come for me to move on. Precisely because of the strength of my relationships with people, there were limits to what I could do. It isn’t good for me or anyone else just to do the same thing year in and year out. Furthermore, I still hoped, more than anything else, that I could be involved in theological training. This was still proving to be as difficult an ambition to achieve as it always had!

When I first moved up to Scotland from Bedford, I didn’t want to leave an academic environment altogether. I applied to and was accepted as a part-time postgraduate student at Aberdeen University. This enabled me to attend classes and to use the University facilities. I chose to study reformation church history. The reformation had had a big impact on Scotland, and still very much influenced the theological landscape. Also, I didn’t feel that I could cope with the language work, which was still required for studying the New Testament at postgraduate level, beyond what I had already done for my master’s degree. I should explain that when I had investigated doctoral study in the New Testament, my supervsior to be had said the he expected good Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and definitely German. I think this has been relaxed now. It should be!

The time at Aberdeen University was a great time, and I enjoyed being a student again, even if it was only a part-time one! I was still doing distance learning tutoring and some lecturing for people training for the ministry. I was being let down gently after 8 years in a college environment!

The more involved I got with the wider church, however, the harder it became for me to concentrate at the sort of level required. I know others manage to hold it altogether, but I felt I had to choose. I was sure that I should be doing the work that I was being invited to take on in the Diocese and Province. Nevertheless, stopping the formal research was not without regret! Still, I have on an informal level kept up my interest and theological study remains one of my main interests.

I discussed the whole question of the Church’s future and of my own on more than one occasion with Bishop Bruce. He was very supportive and encouraging. I think he felt that I should move from Banchory, but he wanted me to stay in the Diocese. Sadly, there has to be something for you to do and at the time there were just not the openings. I would have liked to work with the provincial theological institute (the body responsible for ministerial training in the SEC), but that didn’t happen either. I was quite clear in my mind that I was not going to move for the sake of it, and I had no desire to move back to England while I was so happy in Scotland.

I think I should explain that I found not being in England genuinely liberating. I found the Church of England suffocating and incestuous. I am more than willing to accept that the problem may have been me and, at the very least, I am sure that I contributed to it. It was just different in Scotland and 'better' different. It helped that I loved Scotland as a country and still do. Indeed, one of the highlights for me during my time while at Banchory was going to Oban in 1997 for the meeting of the General Synod, which was being held there that year, and being able to go with other delegates to Iona to celebrate the 1400th anniversary of the death of St Columba. St Columba, as many of you will know, first brought Christianity to Scotland from Ireland.

In the summer of 1999, I was looking forward to another school year not at all sure what to do. It was then that I saw the advertisement in the Church Times for the post of Vicar of Christ Church, Kowloon Tong. Everything was about to change.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Personal Journey 20: Time for a Change?

So many different things going on here this week and it is not over yet! I am just off to a school Speech Day where I am leading the Opening Prayer.

I will post again on Sunday all being well.

Have a good weekend!

Personal Journey 20: Time for a Change?

In 1999, I was living a busy, but fulfilled life. My smaller Church in Kincardine O’Neil was happy and stable, the Church in Banchory was growing and there was an energy and enthusiasm about the place with several new ventures starting up. Indeed the biggest problem was the lack of space. We had simply outgrown our existing building. What is more, I loved living in Scotland, and in the north-east in particular. I had made some very close friends. And I don’t think I am being immodest if I say I was reasonably respected within the local community. Outside of it, I was much involved in the Scottish Episcopal Church, not least with Mission 21. I served on the General Synod and had a number of roles within the Diocese.

Whether it was the prospect of a new millennium dawning or something else, I did, nevertheless, feel that it was the right time to review where I was and where I was going. At the time, I would dearly have loved to have stayed in Scotland and in the SEC. I thought they were brilliant people: human as we all are, but sincere and committed. Nevertheless, where we had arrived as a Church forced me to think about the next phase in the Church’s development and to ask whether or not it was right to stay at Banchory.

I was conscious that if the Church was to go on growing it couldn’t stand still and this meant that there would have to be some changes. We couldn’t make the church physically bigger and so we would have to address the problem of lack of space. We had partially solved it for the children’s work by hiring the Town Hall on a Sunday. It was what to do about the main morning service that bothered me most.

Furthermore, the newer members of the church - many not that new by now - were wanting a further change in the liturgy. I had a near revolt on my hands every time it was the Sunday when the Mattins service was the main service and many wanted a modern language service for the Eucharist. These were not, in the scheme of things, major changes, and I think the majority were more than ready for them. Nevertheless, I knew there would be a big outburst from the usual suspects! It only takes one terrorist with a bomb to cause much destruction, and I feared the damage that would be done if the otherwise necessary changes were made.

I felt that there was a way forward and that was to have two morning services. Nothing unusual about that! Indeed, we had discussed the principle of having two main morning services on a Sunday in training sessions for Mission 21 facilitators. I did not want to do what many churches have done, however, and have one service for the traditionalists and one for the modernizers. This went against all I had taught and worked for at Banchory. I had constantly stressed that we were one body and that unity meant getting on with one another, listening to each other, and being willing to compromise and show tolerance towards one another.

Creating two ‘ghetto’ services in which one side could just ignore the other was not something I was prepared to go along with. I believed that if there were to be two services there needed to be two services that were more or less the same, where there could be an intermingling of the congregation. The only real difference between them being the time at which they were held.

This meant that the liturgy issue would have to be dealt with. It could have been avoided if I had been willing to have two different services! But, at the risk of repeating myself, I believed liturgy should unite, not divide, a congregation. In principle, I was sure that the right way forward if we were to have two services was to use a modern language Eucharist for both services keeping them otherwise much as they were in terms of formality, music, and so on.

But then there was another problem: how I was going to be able to staff the services? Having two churches already made it tight getting to both. I have never been lucky in getting help. I was very much on my own in terms of clerical help for most of the time at Banchory. This was hard enough on a normal Sunday, it was impossible when I wanted a holiday. I just could not find someone willing to cover when I was away. During my first three years on Deeside, I only managed one Sunday off. I could get away during the week, but had to be back for Sundays. Things got so bad in 1996 that I drove back from holiday in London to take the Sunday services, a journey of some 400 miles, and then drove back again to England to resume my holiday.

I felt the way round the problem on a normal Sunday was to try and find a priest for my smaller church on a house for duty basis. Perhaps someone semi-retired or studying at the University. I thought that this would be good for the village as well as the Church and would make expansion possible. Finding him or her, though, plus a house was going to be a significant task.

Basically, to enable the Churches to continue to grow meant that a major restructuring was needed. I was clear how I would want to tackle it, and I believe it would have been the right way to tackle it, the question was both whether I was the right person to do so and whether it was right for me to do so. I could see the arguments both ways.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Personal Journey 19: Ministry Within the Wider Church

Quite a couple of days! On Monday, we had the enthronement service of the new Bishop of Hong Kong Island. The service began at 6.00pm, but we clergy had to be there by 5.00pm with an hours travelling either side and a banquet after it, it was a late night. No problem there, except yesterday we had a major Opening Ceremony here for our new school block and Church hall followed by a school bazaar. All these events are good fun in themselves, it's just that they are very time hungry. It's then a question of trying to fit in all the routine stuff still waiting.

The service for the new Bishop was really quite impressive as is the new Bishop, Bishop Paul. It's not often that a Bishop manages to say anything substantial in a sermon. Normally it's the same old platitudes. Bishop Paul delivered his very substantial sermon in both Cantonese and English as well as greeting people in Mandarin. He is a very annoying man. Not only is he clever and gifted, he is also a very likeable person! May God give him strength and energy for the ministry that lies ahead of him.

Personal Journey 19: Ministry Within the Wider Church

I think there is the danger when you talk about something as esoteric sounding as a Latin Mass that people think you are very inward looking. However, this was just a small part of an aim to encourage people to be more outward looking by seeing the bigger picture.

Coming back down to earth, the bigger picture for me personally was involvement with the Diocese, the Province and the wider Church as well as mission to those outside the Church. While at Bedford, I had concentrated on my work in the College. At the time, I found this pre-occupying enough, but in retrospect I felt, and feel, that I should have struck more of a balance and been more involved in the wider Church or in the Diocese at least. It has to be said that they weren’t actually clamouring for my involvement! When I went to Aberdeen it was different. Bishop Bruce was the sort of Bishop who encouraged people to be involved. When other clergy also encouraged me to take on a role, I felt that it was the very least I could do to accept.

One thing led to another, and I found myself very involved in the work of the Diocese and Province. One of the roles I took most seriously was on the Provincial Board of Ministry. This oversaw, amongst other things, theological training within the Province. The Scottish Episcopal Church, being a small and geographically diverse church, was wrestling with the issue of what was the best way to train future priests. It was moving from a residential based model of training in which people went away to theological college for training to one where people trained while remaining where they lived. Given my interest in theological training and theological study, in general, I believed this to be very important. In retrospect, I think I took it more seriously than they took me. Nevertheless, I still think what we did and what we were trying to do was worthwhile.

What mattered to me more than anything else at the time was Mission 21. Bishop Bruce asked me if I would be part of a venture within the Scottish Episcopal Church that was to address mission. I will resist the temptation to go into too much detail! Basically, however, Mission 21 was an attempt to encourage the Church to become more outward looking and more geared to mission. The first phase aimed to train a group of people as facilitators, who would spend time with local churches to help them to assess their effectiveness in mission and to ask how they could change to become more effective. I was invited to be one of the first to be trained.

It was really quite exciting, and I remember with fondness time spent at Perth in July, 1996 when Alice Mann from the Alban Institute in America led the training. On a personal level, it challenged me to think more about how I could be effective in reaching out to those who did not come to church. It was intensely practical and thoroughly rewarding. Alice was the sort of person it was simply impossible not to like. She was wise, inspiring, sensitive, and a truly wonderful person.

I went on to work as a facilitator on three separate occasions with three different congregations asking how each could become better at inviting, welcoming, and incorporating people into the specific church in question and, significantly, examining what each church needed to change and to do to enable them to do this successfully. The idea was not to impose a formula or a programme, but to look at the context of each church and to try to see what were the strengths and weaknesses in each situation. The outcome was a set of specific goals that the Church in question agreed to implement. I was so impressed at how seriously each of the Churches I worked with took the challenge. They were all theologically different in emphasis, but each saw the importance of trying to welcome and include people and took it very much to heart. Working with them changed me as much as it changed them.

Back home in Banchory, I was fortunate to enjoy good relationships with the other three churches in the town and with their clergy. There was one Roman Catholic Church and two Church of Scotland Churches. The Churches collaborated together on a number of projects and met together more formally for study during Lent. There were also good friendships between people within the different congregations. I had been the ecumenical Chaplain in Bedford, and found the idea of co-operation between the different Churches just common sense.

Some Christians within the town also met together informally for prayer and fellowship across the denominational boundaries. This tended to be charismatic in emphasis, though not exclusively so. I had avoided too much direct personal involvement in charismatic groups since Moreton. Frankly, it always seemed to cause me trouble more than anything else. I was, however, attracted by the obvious sincerity of the people concerned and with their real desire to minister to people rather than simply to entertain themselves. I appreciated their willingness to include me for a time in their fellowship and to allow me to minister as part of their group. It encouraged me to think seriously about the charismatic movement again.

All of which brings the story back to how I saw my ministry and where it was heading. Little did I think at the time that it would be to Hong Kong! This is going to take a few posts to explain!

Monday, January 15, 2007

A New Week

Well, I decided to be a little less balanced yesterday in my sermon than normal after all. If someone is starving themself you don't go on about the danger of obesity, and I think in our case here the problem is not that we overdo the emphasis on experience and spiritual gifts, but rather that we ignore it altogether. Anyway, if you want to hear the sermon, it is available on our website!

Today, I am posting a homily I wrote for one of the other Latin Masses. This one for Pentecost in 1998. I should say that they were not controversial events. I wasn't out to cause trouble at all and if people were uncomfortable they could just stay away. They did raise questions though, which was the whole idea.

Let me make it plain that they were not a stunt, but genuine services of worship held for the reasons given in a previous post. I was, however, very happy that they should, in a non-threatening way, make people think about liturgy and language.

Today is the enthronement of the new Bishop of Hong Kong Island with a service at the Cathedral and a celebration meal at the convention centre afterwards. We have three diocesan bishops here in Hong Kong. Bishop Paul takes over from Bishop Peter who has just retired! It is not an easy task. May God bless him in his future ministry!

Have a good week. I will try and post again on Wednesday.

A Latin Mass


Questions have been asked about tonight's Mass. Essentially these centre on one question, 'Why have a Latin Mass?’ The reasons for this questioning differ. For some, it is about understanding. Why have a liturgy in a language we don't understand and don't generally use? For others, there is a theological suspicion. Did we not get rid of all that at the reformation? It may be worth, then, attempting an explanation while at the same time answering the implied objections!

Firstly, for much of the Church's history the liturgy in the west has been in Latin regardless of what language people spoke in their normal everyday conversation. Indeed, it was only comparatively recently that the Roman Catholic Church changed to the use of the vernacular for regular services, while maintaining Latin for formal and alternative use.

This means that much of the liturgy that we use, regardless of our tradition, has a Latin original. We still describe various parts of the liturgy using the Latin as with the Gloria, the Sanctus, and so on. There seems little to lose and much to gain in hearing these in the language in which they were originally composed. It is hard to see how it can do any harm!

Secondly, much traditional Church music comprises of musical settings of parts of the Mass. Often in putting the words of the Mass to music composers use precisely these Latin originals. If we are to use this music, and surely we should, we will find ourselves singing part of the service in Latin. It seems at the very least appropriate, on occasion, to use Latin for the rest of the liturgy as well.

It is not essential to do so. Choirs often sing in Latin for those parts that are set to music with the rest of the service in English or whichever language the congregation happens to speak. On special occasions such as this, however, it is good to use just the one language!

These are essentially pragmatic arguments. Some may not like the use of Latin and some may not even agree with the reasoning so far given, but there is no reason to fall out and not much to argue about. What, however, about the theological worries?

Firstly, the text we are using tonight is a modern one, albeit in Latin. Indeed, it is essentially the same as the Rite A Liturgy that we use once a month on a Sunday evening. True, it reflects a Catholic understanding of the sacrament -for want of a better way of putting it, but then so do all the liturgies we use here at St Ternan's - that is how we understand the Eucharist, regardless of what language we use. In principle, our use tonight of Latin is theologically no different to using English, German, or Urdu!

However, we must not be naive. For many there is a theological symbolism in the use of Latin. It was not after all English, German and Urdu that were rejected at the reformation; it was Latin. Indeed, the articles of the Church of England effectively ban its use in parish churches!

This is not the place to re-run old arguments. Indeed, it is the unwillingness of many to leave behind the arguments of the sixteenth century that is keeping the churches divided today. We can, perhaps, concede that our use of Latin does have a symbolic value over and above the pragmatic reasons that have been outlined above: a symbolic value that goes beyond particular arguments about the meaning of the Eucharist. By using Latin tonight, we are making an important theological statement.

Tonight we are celebrating Pentecost (this was in 1998). Pentecost is not just about the giving of the Spirit to individuals, it is also about the creation of the Church. Tonight is a birthday celebration! We as the Church are charged as were the first disciples to speak the Gospel to our own generation. To go into all the world and teach it to every nation, as Jesus put it in the Great Commission.

It is indeed right, it is a theological necessity that we do this in a way that people can understand and in the language that they use. The literary brilliance of the Authorized Version of the Bible disguises the fact that the Bible in its original languages was not written as a piece of literature. The New Testament writers all use language with one aim: to communicate. Indeed, the New Testament does not use a literary Greek, but the Greek of the market-place. It is a Greek that people would have used themselves in their daily conversations. Normally, in our worship and proclamation, we should do the same. Not to do so is not to be true to the Spirit of the New Testament.

However, all too often we make the mistake of thinking we are the first to do this. We all too easily think that our understanding of the Gospel is the only understanding. We turn our back on the ways the Church has historically understood it and proclaimed it. We limit, in other words, the Church to ourselves and to our own generation. This is nothing less than spiritual arrogance.

The Church is greater than us, and it is greater than the present age. It exists in every time and beyond time. It is composed of those who worship Christ from all nations and from all periods in the history of the nations. Its members are a multitude that no human can number.

Now it just so happens that quite a number of this multitude worshipped during their earthly existence in Latin! Tonight, as we do the same, we unite ourselves with them. We remind ourselves that although our age is temporary and transient, soon to pass away, the Church is eternal. The gates of hell will not prevail against it.

All our liturgies and all our worship, in whatever language, are ultimately unworthy of the Lord of the Church. But tonight we offer him our worship, however inadequate, and express our thanks that by his Spirit he has made us part of the 'one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church'. We thank God for all those who have gone before us and who tonight with angels and archangels join their worship with ours.

Soli Deo gloria!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Happy Saturday

One of the big problems about living in Hong Kong is that if you go anywhere by car it can take an interminable amount of time because of the sheer volume of traffic. Every now and then the roads are clear, and you get where you want to go so quickly because everywhere is relatively near to everywhere else. Today was not one of those days! I had to go to lots of different places today so the car beat the MTR (the underground) as a choice. The MTR is wonderful. The roads aren't. I am exhausted!

Hopefully, after an unusually quiet night tonight, I will be ready for tomorrow! I am preaching tomorrow on the Epistle for the day: 'Concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed'. I much prefer the old alternative, 'ignorant'. Whether uninformed or ignorant, wouldn't it be wonderful to have Paul in a recording studio to ask him to elaborate on those two chapters of 1 Corinthians? My suspicion is that we are more uninformed and ignorant today than we have ever been despite - (or should it be because of ?) -the charismatic movement!

My sermon will be a suitably low key affair, although part of me wishes I could go back to my housechurch days and encourage the congregation to all speak in tongues. Sadly, I don't believe they should any more, but I think it would be infinitely more fun if I did. And it might make more people think than will the rather balanced, sensible offering they will get tomorrow.

I wish I could be a charismatic again.

Anyway, here's what I wrote for the first Latin Mass.

A Latin Mass for the Presentation of the Lord - February, 1997


There will be no spoken sermon in tonight's Mass. What follows, however, is instead a short written homily offering some random thoughts on liturgy.

Liturgy is a subject that arouses many passions. People can be fiercely loyal to one specific liturgy, arguing its merits against all comers. At times, there will be those who will put all their energy into changing the liturgy, while others will use theirs to resist all change. This is, perhaps, to be expected for liturgy is about how we approach God in public worship. Our feelings on a subject of such seriousness, naturally, go deep.

We are living through a period of great change, and this is reflected in the fashion for liturgical revision. The days of one common liturgy have gone, and have been replaced with an age that has a plethora of different liturgies. Often, one single church will use several different liturgies for their celebrations of the Eucharist in order to cope with the different needs and demands of the congregation. Whatever we feel about this situation, it is a fact of life, and it is not going to go away.

In the midst of this great variety, change, and experimentation, there, nevertheless, remain certain principles of which we must not lose sight.

1. Liturgy is about the service of God.

In modern liturgical revision, we have been seduced and possessed by the demon of relevance. Nothing matters more now than being relevant. But relevant to whom? Liturgy, it is argued, must be seen as a tool of mission. So liturgy is to be relevant to the atheist, to those who have abandoned Christianity, to those who prefer going to St Tesco's to St Ternan's on a Sunday morning, to those who watch their 3 hours television a night, to those who object to patriarchy and sexism in the church, to everyone, in fact, who is a paid up member of modem secular society. To everyone, that is, except, it would seem, to God.

Which is not to say, of course, that mission is unimportant. It is more important now than ever, and the Church is not a spiritual equivalent of the golf club - for members only. It is to argue, though, that liturgy is not primarily about mission. Indeed, in the days when the church was somewhat better at mission than it is now, those who were not yet part of the Church were asked to leave at the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

We should not be afraid, then, if our liturgy does not seem terribly relevant to the world around us, as long as it enables the people of God to worship God in a way that is pleasing to Him. Liturgical revision will still have to take place. Liturgy inevitably must evolve and adapt, as it always has done, to enable worshippers to worship God in the language they use, taking account of their culture and background. Liturgical change, however, must begin and end with the worshippers' desire to listen and speak, not to the world, but to God.

2. Liturgy is about the Church's service of God.

This means that it is about what we do together. Liturgy is not there primarily for the individual, but for the body of Christ. Its function is to make it possible for us to serve God together. The consequences of this are that we must not seek to impose our own individual requirements, likes and dislikes, tastes and preferences on everyone else. Compromise is always going to be the order of the day, for what matters at the end of the day is not that I go home full and my brother or sister goes hungry, but that together we are able to share in the riches of God, and so find strength for mission and service.

But it is also the Church's service and the Church is bigger than its manifestation in this particular locality and bigger than its manifestation in this particular age. In the Eucharist, we join with the angels and saints in proclaiming God's glory. Our liturgy will be seriously impoverished if we lose the rich inheritance that the saints who have gone before have left us. We will be committing a great crime against the church of the future if we sell their spiritual birth-right for a mess of contemporary liturgical pottage.

Tonight's Mass is offered with thanks to God for the liturgy we have received, which is both our joyful inheritance and our sacred trust.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Personal Journey 18: Rethinking Liturgy

Where is January going? It still feels like New Year's day! Reading over these past few posts, I am conscious that I am focusing on liturgy. There was, of course, much else that was happening. The reason for focusing on liturgy is that it was such a key issue in the life of the Church and required me to think hard about my attitude to it and to worship in general. I am also aware that it was an issue in many other local churches and, indeed, in the wider church. I don't want to give the impression that it was, or is, the only thing that mattered, but what we feel and think about liturgy affects many other areas as well.

Have a good weekend! I'll try to post over the next couple of days.

Personal Journey 18: Rethinking Liturgy

When I arrived in Banchory, I could basically say in sermons just about anything I liked as long as I did not touch on the liturgy. If I had said that the trinity was a later theological construction that was fundamentally flawed, I doubt if anyone would have cared. I could have said that you need good works if you are to be saved, no-one would really have minded. To suggest, however, that the Book of Common Prayer was not the right way to worship God, in this and every generation, would have been to risk the wrath of – well, certainly the choir!

I had become a Christian - if any of you can remember that far back - through people who believed that God had stopped working when the apostles had died and had only resumed a little at the time of the reformation. Now, however, He was really back in business working with them, in particular, and with the charismatic movement more generally. This did not incline a person such as me to take traditional forms of worship very seriously. Charismatic styles of worship were simply so much more fun and enjoyable. What is more, my experience of traditional Anglican worship at St Andrews, which had been predominantly Prayer Book Mattins and Evensong, wasn’t exactly positive. I found them deadly: truly awful.

At LBC (I know some of you think I idealize LBC!) I came to believe that a balance was possible. My theological studies led me to believe that, whatever the reality in the present, the Eucharist should be the main service when the Church gathered for worship each week. I have to say this remained for many years a theoretical concept. At Moreton, it actually was the main service, but I felt torn between what I saw as a superficially charismatic form of worship and Anglicans going through the motions of the liturgy without really appreciating it. I was spared the conflict at Bedford when I had to find a way of talking to people who couldn’t spell the word liturgy let alone know what it meant! And why should they?

At Banchory, I found myself caught up in the problem in a truly personal way. On the one hand, there was the pressing and urgent problem, as I saw it, of mission, that is, of reaching out to people who did not come to church, but who were not ignorant of it. And, on the other of those who had attached themselves to one view of Anglicanism centred on the Book of Common Prayer. As many of you will know, this was created by Archbishop Cranmer in the sixteenth century.

The former, those new to the Church, I found more willing to adapt than many credited them being. I constantly heard people within the Church, mainly clergy, saying that liturgy must become relevant, that it needed to be updated, and that we must connect with people were they were by changing the way we worshipped. Their argument was that unless worship and liturgy addressed modern day concerns in modern day language and ideas, then we would alienate people and drive them away. In short, we would be failing in mission. My experience was that this was just not true. The people we were reaching out to wanted to understand what was going on, they wanted someone to explain it to them, but they rather appreciated that the Church was offering something different and permanent, something that was not transient and simply a product of whoever was in power at the moment.

The latter, that is the tradionalists in the Church, I found not to be traditional enough. That is, that they had sanctified a specific relatively modern and radical liturgy, which was as new and as innovative in its day as were many of the ones they despised in ours. The Book of Common Prayer, after all, was meant to be a revision of the liturgy of the previous one and a half thousand years of Christian worship, translated into the vernacular, that is, into English from Latin. What is more this had been undertaken by one small section of the Church, that in England.

Simply put, the conclusions I came to were:

that the Eucharist should be at the heart of the Church’s worship and that this was non-negotiable

that the liturgy for the Eucharist should be recognizably in continuity with the liturgy that the Church had always used. For we worship not only with the saints on earth, but with the saints in heaven and with angels and archangels

that the liturgy should be understood by those who were using it. Understood, I have to say, did not necessarily mean, in my opinion at least, in the language of! (I think we all understood Pope John Paul’s funeral service and that, coincidentally, was in Latin.)

Working from these conclusions, I felt that a Latin Mass challenged all of us:

For me, the challenge was to see the need to think more broadly about worship and to learn from the whole of church history and not just a short period of it.

For the choir, and for those who shared their outlook, the challenge was to see the way that liturgy had changed and that use of the word traditional raised serious questions of definition.

For newcomers, the challenge was to see the relativity of modernity and the emptiness of secularism.

Well that was the theory.

On a personal level, it also involved a steep learning curve in other ways. I needed to get my Latin and my use of the ceremonial accompaniments (incense etc) right. I had already been learning ecclesiastical Latin at Aberdeen University with a wonderful man, whose name I can use here, since, tragically, he died recently: Morton Gauld. Morton was a lover of the Latin Mass, a deeply devout Christian, a Catholic, but not simply a Roman one, and a generous spirit. He was very dear to me, and Morton, if you can read this, thank you for all you gave me and shared with me. I hope one day we can again share a glass of port in another place.

+Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord,
and let light perpetual shine upon him.

I shared with Morton my intention of holding a Latin Mass. My idea was to ask the choir to sing a setting of the Mass, but that it should be within the context of a proper liturgical celebration and not a concert. Morton was very enthusiastic, and offered help in all the practicalities. The choir was also enthusiastic and worked exceptionally hard to get it, not only right, but good. We held the first Mass on a Friday in February, 1997. The setting was Palestrina’s, Missa Aeterna Christi Munera. We had a good number in the congregation, who entered fully into the spirit of the occasion, and even forgave my pronunciation. It was a very special service. More followed.

For my next two posts, I will publish two of the homilies that I wrote (in English!) for the Masses. They give an indication of my thinking both at the time and now!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Personal Journey 17: Reaching Out

Having made these changes to the structure of the services, I felt that I had to concentrate on making the services the best they could be without making any more changes. I know some clergy favour an incremental approach, making one change after another, but I felt stability was important and that people had a right to know where they were. Nevertheless, the Mattins service remained a problem and the number in our congregation fell on the Sunday we had it. The new people we were attracting especially found it very alien indeed. But it was only one Sunday a month and compromise needs to be on every side! On the positive side, the modern evening Eucharist, once a month, attracted a regular group of people and became a time I really looked forward to. We would stay behind chatting over wine afterwards, which was a definite bonus!

In my preaching, I stressed two things, in particular: firstly, that we must welcome people and secondly, that we must accept people. For me, this meant being willing to accept people we disagreed with, not by hiding our disagreements, but by being willing to discuss and debate with each other without falling out with one another. I dislike theme churches: churches where people all share the same outlook. of course there needs to be certain fundamentals in common, but insisting that everyone is charismatic, catholic, evangelical, or whatever, surely is to limit the church to one human perception of the truth.

I encouraged the congregation to invite anyone and everyone to church, and we all made a big effort to be as friendly as we could in welcoming people when they did come. It is with a real admiration for the congregation that I look back on how hard people worked to build an inclusive community. Our efforts were rewarded as new people came to church and kept coming back.

I was absolutely convinced that we needed to make a special effort to reach out to families given the demography of our situation. I should say that I don’t mean simply children and young people, but the whole family. Our Sunday School especially saw significant growth, and we put a lot of resources into supporting it. Some of the teachers made a very serious commitment, a commitment which was rewarded by the enthusiasm of the children and their parents. Indeed, we ran out of space to accommodate them and had to rent the nearby Town Hall. Church actually became quite fun. Not something that can always be said about church!

Most traditionalists within the congregation realized, I think, that I wasn’t going to change everything they held dear and discovered that it was actually quite nice to be part of a growing church with many young families. While for me it was an absolute priority to reach out to new people, I also wanted to reach out to people within the congregation who were wary of what was happening. Two opportunities presented themselves to do this. The first occurred towards the beginning of my time there, the second after I had been there a while.

As I have suggested, the choir was a very significant group within the church. Not only did they have a big influence on the conduct of the services, they were quite a tightly knit community and effectively formed a pressure group within the church. They were mostly very sincere and committed people, and while at times I found myself in disagreement with them and, indeed, being opposed by them, nevertheless on a personal and individual level, I had a great deal of respect for them. Whatever else, they cared about the music.

The Church had a pipe organ that had been built at the beginning of the 20th century. It was in need of repair and renovation. I took this on as one of my first major projects and one that the choir and I could unite on, no matter what our other differences.

This was not just a gesture. I have watched with horror as some clergy have conducted what I regard as ecclesiastic vandalism, ripping out pews from historic churches, for example, and getting rid of organs as old-fashioned and unsuitable for modern worship. Much of this was, and is, simply the equivalent in the Church of what went on in the 60s and 70s in many towns and cities, where old buildings were destroyed to make way for trendy modern ones, and which most people now regard as just blots on the landscape. It is frightening how what we consider at the time to be progressive and spiritual is just a manifestation of the spirit of the age, sadly with clergy serving as its false prophets. A healthy respect for tradition and the past guards against being led astray by new heresies in present posing as exciting new insights.

Now I am not arguing that the use of different instruments in church is wrong just that abandoning the organ as many have done has greatly impoverished the musical life of many churches. When you have sung the same 4 line chorus 14 times to some second rate accompaniment on a guitar then you long for the return of Bach, Wesley, and a pipe organ.

Anyway, I was determined we were going to keep ours. There was already a reasonable amount of money in the organ fund, and we raised the rest of what was needed without too much difficulty. Quotes were obtained and from firms of organ builders, and one was chosen to do the restoration. This required the complete dismantling of the existing organ and meant that the craftsmen concerned had to stay in the town for some weeks. As it happened, the two lads who came to do the work were, like me, from Liverpool and over the time they were with us, I worked closely with them. Although they didn’t realize it, they provided friendship at a time when I was feeling greatly in need of some. They did a great job.

If you have an organ in your church, especially a pipe organ, supplement it by all means with other types of instruments, but please, whatever you do, don’t get rid of it. And encourage more people to learn how to play it. We are very short of real organists. I don’t mean pianists who know how to play the keyboard, but musicians who understand the instrument and can get the best from it. There are some really good courses available for people wanting to learn how to play the organ in worship. Churches need to invest in music for worship and send their organists and potential organists to them!

Changing the pattern of the services and restoring the organ had made me think far more than I had previously about liturgy and worship. My work at Bedford had not been liturgically based and the number one concern had been apologetics. My own personal worship preferences had been shaped by my experience in the house church movement and evangelicalism. From my study at LBC, I had become convinced of the importance of the Eucharist and, instinctively, I did not favour making radical changes, but this was not the same as having a properly worked out theology of liturgy. The more I thought and studied, the more catholic I found myself becoming in my approach to worship. This leads on to the next opportunity I found to reach out to traditionalists in the church.

I decided to hold a series of Latin Masses.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Personal Journey 16: Managing Change and Conflict

This has been a hard blog to write. I have wanted to try and explain what was happening without too many unnecessary details while at the same time trying to be fair. It is always hard to be objective about things that you care passionately about. I hope what follows is not too boring.

Personal Journey 16: Managing Change and Conflict

My goals for the beginning of my time at Banchory had been:

1. Making what we did as friendly and as welcoming as possible without actually changing what we did.

2. Getting as involved personally as possible in the local community so that I could establish and build relationships with people.

Without wishing to sound clever, I felt that I could justifiably claim some success in achieving my goals thus far, but I also felt I needed to move onto the next stage. I now had to think what my goals for that should be. Obviously, I wanted to continue with my involvement in the local community. I was convinced that mission had to be at the heart of my ministry and, hopefully, that of the Church as well!

The problem lay with the first of my initial goals. There was no problem, in theory at least, with the desire to make what we did as friendly and as welcoming as possible. The problem lay in the ‘without changing’ anything part! While new people were slowly coming to church and were interested, they were, nevertheless, finding it very alien.

I think I should say at this point that I think people should find certain things about the Church alien. I am worried that, in our attempts to be relevant to contemporary society, we forget that the church should also be counter cultural. That is, that we should challenge as well as relate to culture. The trick, of course, is to avoid being unnecessarily alien. I felt that using Shakespearean language and chanting responses was as alienating to many Christians as it was to outsiders!

However, I also believe that you have to take the congregation with you. It is all very well for some emergent leaders to declare that they will only work with new congregations and that they can’t work within existing structures, but surely that is to take the easy way out and what does it say about our love for the brethren in existing churches? Doesn’t it sound more than a little arrogant? Being a body means loving all parts of it – even those parts that can’t keep up with the speed we want to go! This is one of the big issues I have with many in the emerging church. It’s very easy to start from scratch. It’s a lot harder to start from a place that is facing the opposite direction to where you want to be. I will return to this in the future.

Furthermore, an inclusive approach surely means including those whose tastes in worship differ from those of the clergy or even the majority in the church. Many traditionalists feel that their views don’t count, and I have some sympathy with them. Many clergy see traditionalists as a barrier to their more radical tendencies. But tolerance, inclusivity, openness - and all the other modern buzzwords - are not a one way street.

I remember David Watson saying that to fill a church you first have to empty it. I decided that this was not the path I wanted to go down. I hoped that we could build a church that held on to existing members as well as attracting new ones. The question was how to do it! I decided that to change the language would be to go too far. Given that it was unity that I wanted, I thought that the Eucharist provided the best hope of finding it. I also believed that this was a theologically sound position.

Consequently, I decided to do two things, which may not at first sound very radical, but were, in fact, quite radical for someone in my position. Firstly, I decided to change one of the two monthly Sunday morning Mattins services to a Eucharist. This meant that we would have three Eucharists and one Mattins service as our main morning service each month. On those months where there were five Sundays in the month, on the fifth Sunday we would have a Family Eucharist with the children staying in for the service. This was in addition to the regular 8.00am Eucharist, which remained unchanged. The monthly Evensong also remained unchanged. To this, I added a modern language Eucharist in the evening once a month.

I felt that I wasn’t abandoning traditionalists, anything but, just making the most of the traditional services we had. The liturgy for the morning Eucharist was going to be that preferred by the choir and there were to be no changes to the music or hymns used. It was a small change designed to make the morning services a little more accessible than they were. The Family Service was more of a change, but it was only 4 times a year and still used traditional language. The additional communion service once a month in the evening was for those who wanted it and no-one was being forced to attend.

Most of the traditionalists in the congregation supported the change as reasonable and didn’t really feel it was that radical anyway. From some in the choir, however, there was an explosive reaction. I have to confess to feeling somewhat aggrieved, I knew of so many churches in which traditionalists, when it came to worship, would have seen me as very much one of them! Here I was being cast as a complete villain! However, the reaction was out of all proportion to the changes being made and consequently those creating the fuss lost any sympathy there might otherwise have been.

A far more serious problem in my mind was that there were those in the congregation who justifiably felt that I was not going far enough and that it was always those in favour of change who had to compromise. Looking back, I think I should have gone further than I did. With the benefit of hindsight, I would have followed the same principles that guided me in making the few changes I did make. I would have certainly have kept a more formal approach to worship, but I would have introduced a modern language Eucharist as the main service for every Sunday.

In my defence, I was genuinely trying to find what was right for the Church as it was rather than trying to impose some pre-determined formula. I still believe this was right. Where I think I was wrong was in not going that little bit farther. It’s hard! At the time, I was wanting to make sure that I did not lose anyone. This much at least was achieved. While a few people stayed away to begin with, their experiences at other churches they visited made them realize that I was by no means a crusading radical bent on change at any cost. I am not aware that we lost anyone permanently. It could, of course, be argued that we did not gain as many people as we otherwise would if the changes had been more radical, but this cost-benefit approach to church membership didn't appeal to me then and it still doesn't now.

I need to say at this point that I was truly blessed in the people who occupied the key church offices. They were all respected members of the congregation. They trusted me and I trusted them. They knew what I was trying to do, even if I did make mistakes, and that I wasn’t wanting to abandon those who had been coming to church for years. I knew that if they advised me to do something, or cautioned against it, then I would be a fool not to listen. More than simply church officers they became dear friends.

The second change I made was to reposition the altar so that I could face the congregation as is typical in just about every church nowadays. There were one or two murmurs about this, but it was hard to justify not doing it. For me, it was as important as anything as it signalled the sort of spirit in which I hoped our services could be conducted!

Sunday, January 07, 2007


I am sorry, I had hoped to post the next blog in the series today, but it is taking longer to write than I had expected.

I would like, however, in the gap, to recommned a book by Simon Chan that I have been reading. It is entitled, Liturgical Theology, and is published by IVP Academic. It is really stimulating. It is hard to find anything that is original at the moment, especially from an evangelical publisher, but this is. I really do recommend it.

We celebrated Epiphany here at Christ Church today. Afterwards, we threw out our family Christmas tree. Back to normal now. I am already looking looking forward to Christmas, 2007! I know all the purists say it's Easter that matters, and, theologically, I understand, but I still love Christmas.

Have a good new year in the meantime!

And remember this coming year, let's make sure our cards are Christian Christmas cards!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Happy New Year!

Well after a bit of a break, I am back in harness. I am sorry that the break from blogging was longer than I originally intended. A big thank you to all who read this blog in 2006. I hope you will want to stay with me in 2007!

To get back into the swing of things, I want to add to the last blog. I felt at the time that it finished too abruptly. I am working on the next stage and hope to publish it over the weekend.

Personal Journey 15 (continued)

The Primary School in Banchory was large, perhaps the largest primary school in the UK. Each of the four chaplains took assemblies and had responsibility for one age group within the school. I offered to take responsibility for the early stages, which included the nursery (or kindergarten, as we would say out here). I found myself enjoying going in to take classes each week, and I found myself making some good friends on the staff.

Not too long into my time there, I was invited to become a School governor. I think I should explain that I did not have children of my own and so I felt especially honoured that they should ask someone like me and nor did they have to ask a clergyman. It was a great encouragement. As an incomer, and a new one at that, I wanted to do what I could to get involved in the local community and this was a big step forward. Later, I was also to get more involved in the local secondary school, but it was the Primary School that was to be my main commitment. Towards the end of my time at Banchory, I also had the privilege of becoming the Chairman of the School Governors.

In addition to my involvement in the schools, I did what I could to create a good relationship between myself and local community groups and organisations. Organisations such as the British Legion, for example, whose annual service and lunch I always enjoyed and looked forward to. I also made some good friends at a local retirement estate and regularly took services there. I encouraged local groups to make use of the church hall in the hope that it would help people get over the psychological hurdle many feel about coming to church. I thought that if they had been to an activity at church during the week they would feel more comfortable about attending a service at a weekend!

I tried to make the Church available for people in time of need. For example, I always agreed to marry people in church, if asked, and again made some good friends through helping people prepare for their wedding. And I always said yes if asked to officiate at a funeral for someone in the town. My attitude was that the Church ought to be there for people and that we should do what we could to minister to people.

Gradually, and slowly, we began to see some growth in the number of people coming to church. What was especially encouraging was that people started bringing their children to Sunday School and attending church while their children were there. While nothing spectacular was happening, I did feel that I was fulfilling my initial goals. The problem was going to be how to proceed next!