Friday, 30 January 2015


I discovered a new and interesting word last weekend!  We had been kindly invited to a Burns' Nicht Dinner held by the Amersham and District Scottish Society.  This is a big event in the Society's year and on the table was a printed running order for the evening along with a menu that included Neeps, Champit Tatties and a wee dram!  The word that was new to me came at the very top Clishmaclaver - Scots for gossip or idle talk - but I'm sure for us last Saturday it meant something more uplifting - that relaxed banter that enhances any meal spent with companions around a table.

I'm all in favour of Clishmaclaver!  Every Sunday after the service I go into our church hall as coffee is being served and there is the wonderful sound of people deep in conversation - catching up, sharing news, listening to worries or even (and I know this sounds incredible) discussing the sermon!  I think sharing conversation is a vital part of Sunday mornings - so much is possible simply because people talk!

Last week I also experienced a slightly different form of Clishmaclavar.  After a united service with our Anglican and Methodist friends a group of us from AFC went over to Chesham and visited the Mosque there.  This was an open invitation to anyone from our Muslim friends as they tried to show the true and peaceful face of Islam to counteract the extremism showed in Paris last month.

I was so proud of members of my own congregation as I watched them engage so willingly and respectfully with the folks at the Mosque.  Together we shared Clishmaclavar - we talked about our faith and discovered some inspiring similarities.  Both parties were secure in their own faiths and in this context we were happy to share our stories with laughter and mutual respect.

Have a good weekend and if you get the opportunity enjoy some Clishmaclavar!

Best wishes,


Friday, 23 January 2015


On Monday evening I attended a Social at AFC put on by the Trustees of the Chiltern Child Contact Centre as a sort of 'thank you' for all their volunteers - it was a lovely occasion full of warmth, good humour and commitment.

Child Contact Centres bring together children and estranged parents in a safe and supervised place.  Although CCCC isn't officially one of our church organisations it is held on our premises and many of the volunteers - I'm really proud to say - come from our congregation.

Monday had been officially designated in the media as 'Blue Monday' - apparently one of the most depressing days of the year!  Well none of that had rubbed off on the volunteers I met in our Carey Room that evening.  Indeed the thing that struck me most was the overwhelming sense of 'energy' amongst everyone.  Some of these folk have been 'on duty' at the Centre once or twice a month since it started three and a half years ago.  Yet their sense of commitment, energy and sheer enthusiasm for the project remains inspirational. I came away so uplifted by that spirit.

So on Blue Monday I encountered something really precious - the 'energy' of dedicated people seeking to make a positive difference to their society.

With best wishes,


Saturday, 17 January 2015


Why is 'unlearning' just so tough?!

Last Wednesday I had an organ lesson.  I've been taking them since the autumn of last year and have a very patient and encouraging teacher! However fitting in the practise is a nightmare and when it comes to the lessons - well just before they start the butterflies in my tummy are going mad.  It's like being back at school again and realising you've forgotten your homework! (Actually Wednesday's lesson went quite well and after I played a piece my teacher said in that rather 'surprised' way - 'sounds like you've been practising then'!)

So I'm glad I'm doing it as it's been a long time ambition of mine to get better at the organ - on my 'bucket list' you might say.

However, the truth is I'm having to 'unlearn' the 'bad' habits and incorrect ways of playing that I've picked up over the last forty years.  My biggest problem (apparently) is that I 'substitute' the wrong fingers in the course of playing a piece.  I don't know I'm doing it, it has just come naturally and even after being told ten times by my teacher that I must use fingers number one and three I still use numbers two and four - and can't seem to change and get it right.  On Wednesday I think I wore the teacher down so much that he said as we were drawing to a  close - 'well you seem to get by with your own fingering method - so I suppose if it works for you...'!!!

Strikes me that 'unlearning' is just tough and bad habits are addictive.

... might it not be good for me to be more open-minded and unlearn some of my irrational prejudices.
...might it not be wise for me to continue with my theological reading and unlearn some of the pious yet simplistic interpretations I used to hold about scripture.
...might it not be loving of me to put others in my frame of reference more often and unlearn that dominating tendency to always put myself centre stage.

I suspect that 'unlearning' is one of the most difficult yet necessary aspects of growing older.

Best wishes,

ps As I sign off the snow is falling with some of the biggest flakes I've ever seen!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Year of Light!

Happy New Year!

At Amersham Free Church, with such a large Scottish contingent within our congregation that, surely, becomes a significant greeting bringing back memories of Hogmanay and First Footing north of the border!

What do we already know about this New Year?

We know it is written as MMXV in Roman numerals, that it is the 2015th year of the Anno Domini (AD) or Common Era (CE) designations, the 15th year of the 3rd millennium and the 6th year of the 2010’s decade.

It’s also been decided by the United Nations General Assembly that 2015 is to be known as the Year of Light.  I got rather excited about that and its theological possibilities until I read a little further that the year’s full title is actually Year of Light and Light Based Technologies!

I grew up singing hymns at this time of year like ‘I know who holds the future’ and the assumption was always made that God has a Plan A for our lives – all we need to do is discover it.  I’m not sure I believe in that pre-determined, some might almost say pre-destined, future anymore.

2015 has some scientific certainties – so on March 20th, all things being equal, there will be a total solar eclipse.

2015 has some firm probabilities – so on July 14th the NASA spacecraft, New Horizons, is due to fly past the planet Pluto!

And 2015 has some hoped for possibilities – so if the Queen is blessed with good health and wakes up at Balmoral on September 10th she will become the longest serving British Sovereign of all time.

Yet I would suggest for most of us that 2015 will offer an exciting and daunting mixture of certainties, probabilities and possibilities.  What counts is the way we face both the worrying challenges and potential joys of this forthcoming year. 

God, who we sometimes describe as Alpha and Omega, is at once outside of time and yet, we dare to believe, somehow present in every moment.  We are not alone as we face the future because something of God’s goodness and love touches our pilgrimage through these days that are now before us.

And it’s not a bad aspiration to hope and pray that 2015 will indeed be a Year of Light!

Best wishes,


One small step...

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