Twenty Communities and Counting

Posted Sunday 30 January 2011





The first church I spent time in during this period was the Cathedral in Oban, running through the order of service for Father Kevin’s Consecration.  The journey there had been very slippy and the journey home torturous, I stopped at St Bride’s, Onich to say the evening office before sliding my way up the Great Glen and on to Arpafeelie.

The following day I spent time catching up with administration before joining the Vestry in Glenurquhart for a meeting to discuss the future of the church and its ministry, it is always refreshing to have a group of people who are keen to see the church expand. On the Wednesday I attended the Diocesan Mission and Ministry Board before heading off to Dufftown where I was undertaking a formal visitation to try and find a way forward for St Michael’s Church. We opened the visitation with a celebration of the Eucharist before I drove up to Glenlivet for the night. The following day in the church I said the Morning and Evening Office, celebrated the Eucharist and finally led Compline, all interspersed with a number of home visits, home communions, a telephone conference with the Home Mission Committee and an open meeting.  I now need to write up the conclusions, but I fear that will have to wait until AATI (Anno Argyll and The Isles).

On Sunday 16th January I headed south and celebrated at St Columba’s, Grantown on Spey before heading to Boat of Garten for a Badenoch and Strathspey ministry meeting and lunch with the Gillings family. It is really good to welcome Richard, Katherine and Chloe as permanent residents rather than holiday visitors and who doesn’t need the odd retired Archdeacon to keep everyone on their toes!

Monday was spent on another phone conference, this time with the other bishops, and I also joined the ministry reflection group for some of their sessions before preparing for my next visitation, this time to the churches of Lochleven and Appin. A hectic two days then ensued. I set up camp in the Ballachulish hotel and had a couple of meetings before Alison Clarke and myself headed off to Glencoe rectory for dinner and a group ministry meeting. The following morning I led and preached at Morning Prayer in Glencoe before driving off to Portnacrois, stopping briefly at St Moluag’s, Kentallen to look through the windows, this is the former chapel of the Stewarts of Ardsheal and is now used for occasional services. At Holy Cross Portnacrois I was greeted by a truly stunning space, a church that has been reordered so that the Altar sits in the middle of the church surrounded by three areas of seating, the sense of being in the heart of the congregation was powerful, the church also contains the windows and memorials from St Mary’s, Glencreran, maintaining a link with a former church and congregation.  The congregation may be small but it could never be accused of being stuck in the past. The next stop was at St Adamnan’s Druror, and yet another beautiful church lovingly cared for, here members of the vestry showed me round, pointing out details and difficulties, treasures and troubles, the church had something very familiar about it and I realised that the carved stone in the windows and arches was Aberdeen Granite, pulled out of the ground in my home town and placed here in the heart of Appin. Lunch was courtesy of the Conway’s and was concluded by a short meeting with the vestry which competed in my attention with a stunning view out over the coast line North towards Moidart.

We drove on stopping at St John’s, Ballachulish to chat with Ian Mackenzie, St John’s is a large church that has suffered from the movement of it’s congregation, the slate quarries that supplied the roof tiles to much of the country now lye silent and the families have moved away, leaving the church with structural issues and a dwindling purse, but the loyalty and affection obvious in this place sustains the congregation through these difficult times. In the burial ground I was allowed into the tool shed, this was once the chapel used by the local Episcopalians during our difficult times following 1746, I was also told of it’s other use, having been set up as a small one roomed cottage so that the newly weds of the church who might have been living with parents could have at least the first night of married life in privacy, what a wonderful concept and sadly as the property market continues to exclude the young first time buyers and renters, an idea we might need to use again.

Ever onwards and this time we stopped for Sung Evensong according to the Scottish Prayer Book in the church of St Paul’s, Kinlochleven, we sang hymns, Anglican Chant and the Responses, I also preached again before Donald and the congregation provided us with a wonderful buffet. I spent some time in the church giving people a chance to talk to me and while I stood there I noticed the reredos, it had turrets and towers, staircases and pathways and it was all painted in bright colours. I asked it’s history and discovered it had been made from drift wood by one of congregation in the early days of the church.  He combed the beach at the end of his shift in the smelter before creating this remarkable image of the heavenly Jerusalem. The last stop of the day was at St Bride’s, Onich where I had called together the people from across this large charge to share in the Eucharist to mark the end of the Visitation. All six of the churches were represented and I preached my third sermon of the day and before you ask, yes, three different sermons! I then had a quick cup of coffee, before thanking the Rector, Adrian and the congregations for their welcome and started the long drive home.
Half through this entry now and twelve places accounted for.

I have to confess to sleeping most of the Thursday even if I looked like I was listening to you all, and on Friday I sorted out the essential office items because on Saturday we were heading with many others, to St Paul’s Cathedral Dundee to celebrate the life and ministry of Bishop John Mantle.  Here I had the privilege of offering a tribute to John, reflecting on his visit to the Youth Camp at Glenalmond. We left Dundee and got as far as St John’s, Rothiemurchus where I had a haggis to address and a supper to enjoy.

Gordon Chapel, Fochabers was next.  Sunday worship, congregational meeting and lunch with Frances and James, Jeff and Lynne.  Gordon Chapel is really looking wonderful if a little bare without it’s Burne Jones windows.  Roll on the end of road construction outside and the return of the windows!

On Monday morning I had been invited to lead assembly for the children in Dornoch Primary School. Most have never seen a Bishop before, so imagine their faces as they entered the hall to see me sitting on a gym bench in cope and mitre with pastoral staff and pectoral cross.  I told them what I did, they all got the chance to put on or hold the regalia and they asked me back! I even managed to cause a stir in the local coffee shop, though I had taken off the mitre before going in!!  That afternoon I attended a meeting of a regional synod at St John’s, Inverness, they were very well behaved too!
I had to wait in most of Tuesday for the new washing machine to arrive but managed to get to the Cathedral for the early evening Eucharist before we drove up to Stathnairn to celebrate with the congregation of St Paul’s as they held a patronal festival. The church was looking splendid with newly refurbished candlesticks standing on the new carpet, and, as it was Strathnairn, we ended the evening with a wonderful buffet.

On Thursday we had a family evening and the girls had chosen the theatre.  We all went to see Cinderella performed by Scottish Ballet and even I enjoyed it, allowing for the fact that ballet doesn’t usually do it for me.  The performance was great and the choreography allowed for many subtle jokes and cameos. At the interval I rushed around as the theatre seemed to be full of Episcopalians, what a cultured lot we are.

Nearly there now. This weekend Jane and I headed west and took up residence in the church cottage at Poolewe, a nice meal on Friday evening in Gairloch was followed by a great day in Applecross.  We drove over and met Rev Tim and Anne at the Applecross Inn for lunch. As ever the atmosphere and welcome in this community was affirming and generous, we chatted to those who are restoring the old parish church which sits in the grounds of St Maelrubha’s monastery, we listened to community concerns, joys and adventures before we set off for our first visit to Tim and Anne’s home. They live at the end of a 2Km starvation path in a ruined village facing the Isles of Skye and Raasay. The only ways to the house are either by boat, landing on the shore or by walking through the mud and peat of the path. As you approach the village you discover a wooden house and a restored croft house, they live in the wooden house and the croft house is available for quiet retreat. We sat in front of a solid fuel rayburn, drinking tea and eating flapjack while our socks gently steamed. Ministry at the road end indeed. Jane and I then drove back to Gairloch where we enjoyed dinner in the company of Heather, Bob, Pam and Tony.  As we talked shop, Bob, Tony and Jane tried to shut us up but with that combination of “talkative” clergy they had little chance. This morning we headed off to St Donnan’s, Nostie and were delighted to discover another congregation who are in good spirits and who have been joined by new people, the little church fairly shook with the singing. Home now, four more days to AATI and one last drive to Oban.