Category Archives: News

Good New Year – yes, really!








Good New Year - and I’m not joking!



(and I won’t rub it in about how nice it is once more, suddenly, as a cyclist, to enjoy clear roads!)



What a cloud of opportunity comes with this year! as a movement, we have learned so much as we engaged with  barriers of distance and regulations: not of our choosing, but in place for our protection.  



As chaplain I discovered I really can offer to be wherever and however you are as churches, and then also share our experience with others online. That’s one reason I can be happy to visit, irrespective of the numerical size of your fellowship: we give light to the ‘whole house’.  And the encouragement even of small things lifts the spirits of others.



Churches in vacancy, and currently lacking in support  might also consider using one of the Chaplaincy’s  ‘major reflections’ ( video sermons) each month. There will not be a month without at least one, and there is a back catalogue,



So yes, some  tough months remain, both of  precautionary restrictions to the fuller life of our churches,  but also, to make the most of our spiritual preparations to welcome the nations of the world to Scotland, to discuss and challenge each other towards  greater ‘ambition’ in their responses to ‘climate change’.



When  lockdown first loomed, we seemed about to miss  the expected boat of COP 26 - when the world was due to descend on Glasgow, in the colossal  international circus of a Climate Change  conference, though something by the same name, even more urgent, if, reshaped by the events of this last year,  still awaits us in November 2021.



Perhaps the cancellation in 2020 was a blessing: I saw little sign in 2020 that our churches were anywhere close to being prepared for this  catalyst for growth in our familiarity with the backdrop of crises against which every single aspect of our faith, life and worship will, for the rest of all our lives be played out.



Certainly, there have already been conferences and consultations as to what might be the “priorities for Scotland in the year of COP.” 


Listening in on these,  folk often opt for 



‘more charging points for EV’s’ 



or push for 



“an earlier target date than 2045 for the nation to be carbon neutral”



Or yell at governments to do all the work, make all the changes. Carts before horses? (Though I will admit that sometimes, investing in a cart encourages the acquisition of a horse!)



However .... having recognised amidst what should have been a totally compelling torrent of facts and figures, that it  really is primarily the change of mind and heart that takes the lead and tips the domino of change,  and  leads to the “behaviour change” so beloved of our Scottish Government, I’d like to suggest some much more demanding priorities than these.



First of all, the oldest and most basic of spiritual duties: hospitality and welcome.  Together with  the Trees of their homeland,  Abraham and Sarah - the founding family of our faith and of others -  welcomed the Strangers who turned out to be God. 



(Of course, attending conspicuously to the details of hospitality, such as eco-friendliness in food and facilities, greatly strengthens the witness. It really does undermine the point of an environmentally-themed service when you meet for fellowship afterwards over single-use plastic.)



Whatever else we might contribute to the deliberations and decisions in the  white heat of the conference floor itself, an atmosphere of welcome and encouragement in the cold and damp of a Glasgow November should not be underestimated as a force for good. In that, whether  we’re next door to the conference site, or in the hills and islands exposed to the November gales. We really have learned lots about being in touch; and about being more than just physically  present, this  past year. 



Secondly, as we have seen from the surprisingly worthwhile statement from Scottish faith leaders (- and my surprise is that a statement with such broad agreement can be so strong and searching-) a commitment to change ourselves, and the things within our own grasp, rather than looking only to others and to governments to play their part without disturbance to our own participation in cultures and lifestyles which, like it or not, are still part of the problem, rather than leading the way in engagement. 



Of course these changes will involve, challenge -and potentially strengthen - our ways and targets of prayer and worship: though this is also a joyous challenge: to deepen our relationship with the Sustaining Christ; to uncover the treasures in our fields, and to bring  from our hoarded reserves of wisdom and hope. To encourage prayer and worship, in partnership with Creation, to come into their own.



And this year, that’s what the chaplaincy of EcoCongregation can reasonably hope to offer to local churches. Not a convenient filler for a gap in a preaching rota, but solidarity, encouragement and partnership in realising the spiritual value and potential of the Body of Christ. How blessed and gifted we already are.  How seldom we recognise this. We. And our neighbours too. 



I will continue, on receiving invitations, to enquire how congregations have reached out to neighbouring churches to share the occasion. EcoCongregations are the yeast in the dough of the church, as the church is the yeast in our various cultures, networks and environments. 



The future we had been relying on is gone. Since this future  involved acquiescence in the  demonic myth of church irrelevance, despair,  and terminal decline, other options may not be all bad!  But alertness and responsiveness are mainstream gifts of Christianity as a whole.



Some parts of our movement have helped each another with visible signs of spiritual change: *attention to the environmental impact  of a congregation and  - even more - its component households;  



*support for Christian Aid, SCIAF, Tear Fund and others who bring to light the harm long entrenched and visited on those with least power and wealth; 



*facing  with solidarity rather than blame and condemnation the  just transitions which will have up-front costs not only to ourselves, but to others, and having the courage not to be  neutralised  by the towering “we-know-better”  demons  of  threatened employment, prosperity and peace, when it is the crises we are still perpetuating  that, not only in the long term, deeply  threatens all these human values and far, far, more in the home our species shares, as the sustaining peace and balance of the  living planet.  



The spectacularly, if understandably  unpopular healing courage of Christ at Gerasa/Gadara,  [(see Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39, Matthew 8:28-34). ] which  was also an attention to misplaced spiritual  powers, is given us not just to inspire awe, but also action. 



As everyone who is pleased that their taxes fund the NHS will recognise, healing change will cost someone somewhere something, usually long before the costs of continued harm, however apparent, are sufficiently recognised. 



It’s a very difficult story, not least in what also seems to be  the destruction of living creatures, let alone the prosperity of the swineherds, though intervention and partnership with the living world has its robust side. 



We plant trees, and need to plant more, though the right trees in the right places help most, and yet  those tending our most valuable wetlands often remove them, transforming carbon-positive to negative. 



Is any of this ‘simple’? I don’t think so. But human beings like you have brains and the capacity for discernment.



And before the Season of Advent fades, hold on to its key message: even in winter “Wake up!” - there’s an exciting and demanding year ahead, and as part of EcoCongregation Scotland, you’re well-placed  to enjoy it too!


Dunnichen, Letham and Kirkden Silver Award

Bug Hotel

We are delighted to announce that Dunnichen, Letham and Kirkden Church have been awarded their Silver Eco- Congregation Scotland Award. This is the second highest level of award and shows the commitment of the congregation to their work to care for creation.

The assessors specially commended a number of areas of this small congregation’s work. It was noted they had made really effective use of their existing leadership structures to make sure that their Eco work was embedded as a responsibility for each of the smaller groups reporting to the Kirk Session. This structure helped new ideas to be discussed and developed, leading to plans being approved by the Kirk Session and integrated with all aspects of the life of the church.

The assessors praised the good links with community groups in the parish that has led to work on joint projects. This has included asking the local school to help with developing the church grounds. Dunnichen, Letham, Kirkden Church has an established pattern of keeping the community in touch try providing a very valuable Parish Magazine. The congregation also run film nights on an environmental theme. These have generated lots of interest from people in the community.

Promoting the use of net bags to reduce plastic use when shopping.

Our assessors were delighted to hear about interests the church has in learning from and supporting the work of a wide range of charities. The congregation are keen to support and promote Fair Trade goods, encouraging everyone to shop locally, and to reduce food miles.

The congregation have been exploring the journey of recycled goods. The members have also looked at ways to reduce waste and energy use through adapting their lifestyles. They have been running a rag bag scheme to help recycle clothing. Interest and awareness raising in these eco matters has been taken up the children’s and youth groups, and is now an important part of their work.

We wish the congregation well as they continue to develop their care for creation further in years to come.

Eight out of ten for a National Treasure


It’s New Year’s Day….

as I often would as a local  grassroots minister, I was putting together something like a ‘New Year Message’ which will also follow. 

When, following on from my daughter’s long-awaited viewing of a Dr Who Special, our favourite Grand Old Man  – David Attenborough – popped up on the screen,  fervently and usefully reminding us of the significance of the COP 26 event in Glasgow this year. 

Wonderful  that the BBC still feels able to slip this in to some of the remaining peak viewing (before the unmitigated nastiness of Eastenders, no less!).

All of us express things as best we can, and Attenborough is no different: his recent semi-autobiography ‘A Life on This Planet’ would be very good and useful reading for the New Year: so many connections, and the importance of one life, one specices, to all the others. 

God bless David Attenborough.

Two niggles, though. Not by any means to turn off or not to see what he still has to present.

The first is the almost Reaganesque conviction that :”if we work together there is no limit to what we can achieve”. It’s an inspiring thing to say, and uplifting to hear, though it’s unwittingly based on the fundamental philosophical toxicity which also sells us ‘unlimited growth’.  There certainly are limits to what we can achieve, and to how our intervention, vital though it is and will be, to our engagement with climate and other environmental crises. Unless we proceed with an awareness of these limits, of our mortality,  of our not-God-ness – indeed, unless we also remain mindful of one of God’s most helpful hints, that we are “dust and to dust we shall return”  then our assault and abuse of the planet, whatever our good intentions, is the  only thing which will have no end. 

Great and greater things  than we have so far seen may yet emerge from COP and from all the revolution of awareness that we need to encourage surrounding it: we need the humility as well as the ambition, to do only what we really can; to be prepared to value what may seem a very small thing. To offer to God with dignity whatever our own tiny contribution might be to a world different from what might have been.  But please, every time you hear of “solutions” to climate change, or “calling a halt to the crisis”, as if we can simply fix it,  take a deep breath and pause for thought. 

As Pope Francis long ago pointed out, we are ruled by/at the mercy of the Earth. It’s less a matter of war and victory than of what do do with a oonflict you really can’t “win” [Cf Luke 14:31].  Befriend the rest of Creation, rather than “fight” climate change. Watch out for those military metaphors!

My second worry – and for many it won’t seem troubling – is the title of his forthcoming series “Perfect Planet”.  The interpreted notion of ‘perfection’  has played into the hands of racists and tyrants for centuries.  Divorced from its biblical context of ‘finding our true place and purpose’,  ‘perfection’ causes endless waste (‘imperfect fruit’, and far far more) and intolerance, as well as fuelling despair:  no action we might take in response to the crises will ever be ‘perfect’. No car is ‘emission free’, no form of energy has zero environmental impact. Nature itself, the Bible rather hints, needs our human intervention and management, to fulfil its potential. But perfection is something else. My own ministry would be completely impossible if perfection were required in even one dimension of it, be this my own lifestyle,  the infallibility of my theology, or my ability to keep track of my diary!

Please watch and enjoy all that David Attenborough,   and the huge team of skilful, and creative people who stand behind him, have to offer. I will. 

But please: remember and cherish your limits. Please, be thankful  for your life, gifts and commitment in every imperfection.  

And if you think I’m being too fussy, then my point is made anyway 😉

This year, rely on grace, and friendship with Christ. Let’s see where it leads.