Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Kerrera Pilgrimage

On May 7, 2011 the ecumenical community of Kilmore and Oban took the six mile walk around the southern path of Kerrera, a beautiful island just off Oban Bay. While Kerrera may not be known for the iconic Christian history of places like Iona, it remains a deeply historic and dramatic island with a resident population of about 30 people.
As for parrots, the population is closer to 60.

Kerrera is home to the sweeping Horseshoe Bay where Alexander II, King of Scotland, met his end. It also hosts the Gylen Castle, which was burned in 1647 by the Covenanters under General Leslie, but still maintains a rugged and majestic presence along the rugged cliffs.

We took six stops round the island, and corresponded each stop with a little scripture. Our understanding is that every place we walk upon us a gift from God...

Stop 1: Horseshoe Bay. The place of Alexander II's death. We read from John 3:11-17, to compare what the kingdom(s) of humanity and of Christ look like, and how they may differ. Where we seek domination, Christ seeks reconciliation.

Stop 2: Kerrera Bird Sanctuary. Operated by gentle Yvonne, who cares for some 60 exotic birds that have otherwise been abused, neglected or forgotten. We read from Genesis 1:24-28, recollecting God's command to care for all living things as beings made in God's image.

Stop 3: Gylen Castle. As noted, this beautiful ruin has a turbulent history of warfare, bloodshed and a great arson. We read Psalm 46 to hear of God's fortress, which is a stronghold and refuge for all people. In the Triune God there is greater strength still than the fortresses of humanity.

Stop 4: Ardmore, the old shepherd's house. At the shepherd's house, we are reminded of Luke 15's parable of the lost sheep. We'd like to think we're one of the found, but I'm convinced those don't exist. Christ is in the business of shepherding, and shepherding is what he is going to do.

Stop 5: Barnabuck: an old port. Barnabuck was essential for trade in the 18th century, particularly in the cattle industry. Important goods from the Hebrides were brought here to be taken onto the mainland, including some record of 2,000 cattle. In this business, the sea was something to be worked with/endured. We read Luke 8 to hear the story of Jesus calming the sea- who is he who has such power over even the waves?

Stop 6: Balliemore, the old schoolhouse. We read Romans 11:1-5 as we gathered around this old gothic schoolhouse built in 1872. This housed pupils until about the mid 90's: by then there were but two students left! While this has been a wonderful institution of learning for those in the remote community of Kerrera, we read Romans to note that the "wisdom" in discipleship can never be learned in an educational institution. Maybe not even an ecclesiastical one.

We had a good crowd to join us, and for those that fear fatigue, fear not: there was delicious food at the tea garden that day.

This is a route that we will continue to be working with in the future, with the hopes that those of you who find yourselves in these places enroute to Iona would consider a wee adventure around Oban- there's something to be found everywhere.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

No Time Like the Present

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
- Tao Te Ching, No.44

One of the difficulties of the pilgrim life is this: living in the present. This is quite different than living FOR the present, as if divorced from the past and the future.

But to live IN the present to accept all of the trials, joys, doubts and misgivings of NOW. It's a lot easier to cling to a great and noble past, or a better future "out there," but to do so is to deny Christ's lordship and salvation right now, in this moment.

The apostle Paul wrote often about his "thorn in the flesh" which we can speculate on- but not know necessarily what it was. However, we can guess that it was something wounded; physical, emotional or otherwise. It didn't make life easier, certainly. Paul was keen on getting rid of it, and as written in 2 Corinthians 12, he exclaimed, "A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell on me."

Weakness, trial, powerlessness and wrong are transformed through the power of the Triune God, this moment and every moment. This isn't a Pollyanna denial of the day's trials, nor a condoning of evil in the world. Instead it is a look towards the perpetual redemption of the world in Christ, this second and every second. It's a lot simpler to think Christ will save here on this mountain top or there on that better day-

but God's grace is sufficient for all of us, now. Christ is redeeming and reconciling the world to God, right now.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Alarming Statistics

Recently I came across a set of statistics through the blog Per Crucem ad Lucem (www.cruciality.wordpess.com) which had me perhaps startled, but less surprised. In an entry for August 24, 2010, there was noted that from a sample of ministers in the Orange County area:

Half of those surveyed would consider leaving ministry for another position in the secular arena.
Over half have battled depression at one point in their lives.
A vast majority considered themselves over worked and under appreciated.

In many ways, it seems quite probable that these concerns would arise. After all, ministry is not a task that is easily qualified, quantified or assessed. We are asked to put the Gospel before all things, and Jesus makes this clear that this will have us encountering opposition (Luke 14:25-27). Yet in this opposition, we are also called to love one another as we have been loved by God. How do we maintain such love when confronted with so much concern, worry, anxiety and fear? How do we lessen the burden when others (and ourselves!) are more than willing to place all of their responsibilities on to our shoulders?

The Orange Co. survey pointed out an important practice which can help keep us in our place: regular prayer and devotional time. Almost all of the ministers who were doing most poorly did not keep this or consider it significant. Who are we as spiritual leaders if we do not take time to cultivate our own self? It would be alarming to come across a nutritionist with a love for fast food... and equally so for clergy who have no regard for their own self processes and relationship to the Divine.

Occasionally we will call ourselves selfish (certainly others will!) for looking out for our own lives. However, it is absolutely necessary. Christ took time to pray. Christ wandered off from the crowds. Christ took what belonged to him as his own responsibility and purpose, and allowed others the freedom to come and follow (or not) as they pleased. He was misunderstood for this at best, and well, we know what happened. Receiving the approval of other people just isn't a primary concern in the Kingdom. Loving them is, but not above our conviction to follow Christ.

With all of this, we must be realistic and not expect a parade or applause when we seek to feed ourselves spiritually or seek awareness. We are imperfect people living among other imperfect persons. God thankfully exceeds us in every way- therefore no time is wasted in developing further that relationship. In fact, it may very well be what saves us.

Monday, 28 June 2010

It's always time for prayer!

A colleague of mine recommended a book recently, which was so much more than ink and a few pages. It's such a minister thing to say, a temptation really, to claim that you "got something from a book." But sometimes that's true.

I have been reading Sleeping With Bread, which is written by Dennis Linn, Shelia Linn and Matthew Linn. It comes from an old story that dates back to the second World War, during the bombing raids all throughout Europe. Many children were left to starve, and a few were sent off to refugee camps where they received basic care. In these camps however, children could not sleep at night for fear that they would wake up with nothing to eat. Rightly so, the effects of the war were devestating. No one could be promised basic nourishment.

It then occurred to someone to reassure these children by giving them a loaf of bread to hold at their bedtime, so that they could go to bed with this in their hand and then wake up the next day. Through this they could receive encouragement and assurance that somehow, they would survive.

Prayer can have this effect on our lives. In some moments of our ministry we can feel like we are stuck in a refugee camp, wondering when and if we are ever going to get any kind of "food" for our starved souls again. Prayer is often something that we encourage our congregations to participate in, or that we praise in theory as a nice practice.

Prayer is more than a nice practice or a spiritual discipline. It's a direct communication to the Living God, calling us back to the source of all love and redemption. Sleeping With Bread encourages the simple practice of examen that St. Ignatius insisted upon... even if all of the other prayers were skipped!

It's very simple. We simply take a moment, sit down, and ask these two questions:
1. What am I most grateful for in this day, month, time, season?
2. What am I least grateful for in this day, month, time, season?

It's an act of honesty and confrontation, and can be done in groups, alone, with screaming children, at the dinner table or in the office. It allows us to reconnect with God, but also to start being more realistic about our lives. For those of us who always see thunderclouds, we are finding ways to be grateful. For those of us who are addicted to the sunlight, we learn the gift of confrontation.

The Holy Spirit has a penchant for comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Wherever we are, that Spirit will find us. Let us take some time for prayer.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Travelling Mercies

We extend our traveling mercies to the Presbyterian Campus Ministries Group from UNC-Greensboro as they embark on their pilgrimage to Scotland!

I know that it has been a tradition for the Presby Campus Ministry to go to Iona for a summer journey: I was unable to go myself as a student, but friends were able to attend and came back delighted and transformed- perhaps even with a kilt that they ordered waiting in the rain for the shop to open here in Oban.

This is a wonderful opportunity for connection, teaching, sharing and fellowship. Dorothy Day wrote in her autobiography that "the only way through the long loneliness (of our lives) is through love, and that love comes through community."

We Christians are not intended to be isolated people. Christ often broke bread with his disciples and shared many meals with people in the community. He delighted in the company of others. His first miracle was at a wedding banquet, pouring out wine for the delight of fellowship.

As UNCG's Presbyterian Ministries embarks on another trip to Iona, they learn to engage with one another and all that they encounter on the way. Perhaps friendships will deepen or begin in this place. New experiences will be shared, alongside all of the joy and frustration of travelling to a new place. This an engagement of vulnerability and of growth, and we wish our friends traveling mercies as they embark on their adventure of fellowship and community.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Presbyterian Pilgrimage

Warmest greetings from sunny Oban, here in the Western highlands of Scotland! We are a Church of Scotland congregation right here on the coast, leading to the beautiful and sacred Inner Hebridean islands- one of which is the stomping grounds of St. Columba: Iona.

I am a Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as an Associate Minister with the Kilmore Oban Church of Scotland, and my colleague, the Rev. Dugald Cameron (Senior Minister) and I have noticed a trend of many a pilgrim wandering through our doors on any given Sunday, en route to Iona. They are Americans, English, Germans and Kiwis. They're an exasperated Presbyterian pastor on sabbactical, a Church of England prayer group on retreat, or college students from a North Carolina university on a journey.

In the past we have given our greetings and offered coffee and the essential buscuit, but we see that there is a real opportunity for a greater vision. We have asked ourselves the question, "how may we extend the right hand of fellowship to our brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world?" Oban is a little place, but it is such a vibrant locale because of the many visitors that mold and shape its character. We at the Kilmore Oban Church don't just want to greet you at coffee, but acknowledge you as a fellow brother and sister on the road.

Oban itself has a rich history of Christianity that has been about for millenia; in the nearby town of Kilmore Christians have settled since the 5th century. We have a little prayer room that we dedicated this last February in our Corran Esplanade sanctuary which contains photographs taken by one of our members of holy sites, "thin places" all across Argyll and Bute. Iona is a large part of this, but there are many other sites seeped in the communion of the saints all around us.

Our hope is that we can not only be a resource for you, but a soul friend. Whether you are planning an excursion to Iona for sabbatical or taking a group from your congregation, we would love to be a part of the road with you. Perhaps we can show you some of the sacred spaces here in Argyll, or provide for you some quiet time for retreat and prayer on your journey. We are still beginning to envision what our ministry of hospitality will look like, but please don't hestitate to contact us at obancofs@btinternet.com or check out the church's website at www.obanchurch.com. We would love to hear from you.

Yours in Christ,

Revs. Catherine Knott and Dugald Cameron