What is the Church for? Why am I doing what I am doing? Those are the fundamental questions that I think about often! If I think that the purpose of the Church is only to provide us with an escape from the world, and that our role is to come to worship and to help keep the building and its grounds looking nice and the Church finances secure, then there is little point to what I am doing as a Church community worker. But if I do think that that’s all the Church and we as Christians are for, then I’ve rather missed the point!

 For the purpose of the Church is the glorifying of God and the furthering of the Kingdom of God on earth by word and by deed. The Church exists for those who are not yet its members. We are here to show the love of God for the whole world and for all who are in the world. The Church is called to be the ‘Sign, Instrument and Foretaste of the Kingdom of God,’ to be the salt, yeast and light for the world Jesus spoke of.

And that’s a tall order and a big picture. But it is true! Therefore my question to you – and to your Church and to all that your Church does – is, ‘How are you furthering God’s Kingdom in the Musselburgh Area by what you are doing?’ That task is partly about making our local communities more just, more equitable, fairer for all, places where all can flourish and have shalom – peace, wellbeing, prosperity. But it is also about telling others about God and Jesus and inviting them to find eternal life by accepting Jesus as their living Lord.

I have found quite often that by being involved with others from outside the Church on activities that seek to improve the quality of life for local people, I have been given opportunities to talk about Jesus and Christianity with those ‘on the fringes.’ One day recently, when I spent much of the day helping in the Starfish Recovery café and then called into Blue Triangle with some ‘Starter Pack’ items, I had no less than four separate ‘spiritual’ conversations with people – a customer of the café, two of the other café volunteers and one of the BT project workers. Those conversations don’t readily lead to people becoming Church members, certainly not of the Musselburgh C of S congregations, but they do sow real seeds of the Kingdom in people’s hearts. And I’m only able to have such conversations because I have shown that I and the Church are concerned about folk’s material wellbeing and not just about getting them to be Church members.

So how can I help you and your Church or Group to become more aware of and more engaged with the life of the communities around you, to become more of an agent of the furthering of God’s Kingdom in your area?


Dementia Friendly Musselburgh Launch – how did it go?

It was great! The weather was fine, loads of people came and all sorts of good ideas were put forward.

Sue Northrop of Dementia Friendly East Lothian has put a very full report – with pictures! – onto the DFEL website. You can access it here:


The challenge now is to work with the local community on making some things happen!

Dementia Friendly Musselburgh Launch Event Sat 27th June 1pm-6pm

The day for the launch event for Dementia Friendly Musselburgh is almost upon us! It is on SATURDAY, 27th JUNE 1PM-6PM in the grounds of ST ANDREW’S HIGH CHURCH, HIGH ST, MUSSELBURGH.

It looks from the forecast that the day will be fine – thank God for that!

There will be activities and entertainment for all the family – a Pipe Band, dance troupes, a Fire Engine, a Face Painter, refreshments, but also a more serious side:-

  • the chance to see the Alzheimer Scotland ‘Dementia Friends’ videos and to register as a Dementia Friend, that is as someone who wants to see our community as more Dementia-friendly and will seek to be Dementia-friendly in their daily life
  • the chance to see the video about the Hollies Day Centre
  • the chance for those with dementia and their carers to say what is good and bad for them in and about Musselburgh
  • the chance for all to say how they can and will help to make Musselburgh and the surrounding area more Dementia-friendly.

We have had the support of lots of local organisations, including Tescos, Greggs and Loretto School, so the main refreshments will be FREE.

The day – and indeed the whole Dementia Friendly Musselburgh initiative – is being fronted by a broad-based partnership, including Alzheimer Scotland, the Church of Scotland (through me!), Carers of East Lothian, Tescos, The Hollies Day Centre, Eskgreen Care Home and many others.

The Church is involved because we see it as part of our call to ‘Love our neighbours as ourselves’ to do all we can to make our Churches and our communities as friendly as they possibly can be for those who live with Dementia and their carers. If we get it right for those with dementia, we will get it right for many other grouos, too.


The 5 Marks of Mission and Christian Community Work

One of the better things that has come out of the Anglican Communion in the past 30 years has been the classifying of the Mission of the Church under 5 ‘Marks.’  These Marks describe Mission as:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God by word and deed
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To care for the poor and needy by acts of loving service
  4. To seek to transform the unjust structures of society
  5. To care for and sustain the creation

It seems reasonable to ask where Church-based Community work, such as that which I do in the Musselburgh area, fits into this scheme.

It would be tempting to locate it solely under #3, and to see Christian Community work as being just about caring for the poor and needy. But that is just what can be called ‘Community service’ or ‘Community relief.’ It is indeed true that this is a time-honoured and legitimate way of undertaking Christian community work. Indeed, the parables of the Good Samaritan and of the Sheep and the Goats lead us in that direction!

And some of my current work could be seen as falling into that category – that with Blue Triangle Housing Association, where through me the Church helps young homeless people by providing items for ‘Starter Packs’ for those going into tenancies, or that with the local Foodbank, where the Church provides foodstuffs for food parcels, or that with Dementia awareness.

But there is more to Christian community work! Part of my role is about working with groups of people, rather than just doing things for groups of people. That’s Community Development, rather than Community Service. What I am doing as part of Starfish Recovery SCIO, working alongside people in Recovery from drug and/or alcohol misuse as they seek to support others in or coming into Recovery, is more Community Development than Community Service.

And this type of ‘working with’ perhaps is closer to Mark #4 than it is to Mark #3 – it is closer to changing society than it is to caring for the needy.

And then some of what I do is clearly under Mark #4, in that it is explicitly about seeking to improve the quality of life for all in local society, particularly the disadvantaged. My work as part of the Musselburgh Area Partnership and with developing the Musselburgh Plan falls into this category. So does the emerging Scotland-wide Food Justice movement, which is seeking to move ‘Beyond Foodbanks’ to questioning why Foodbanks are needed in the first place.

So I see my work as encompassing both caring for the poor and needy by acts of loving service and seeking to transform the unjust structures of society.

The challenge,though, is how I can be explicitly CHRISTIAN in what I do, and for what I do to be part of the Mission of the Church and different from – say – ‘secular’ Community Development.

I am always up front about being a Church-based Community worker: very often I wear a ‘uniform’ – a hoodie or a polo shirt with a Celtic Cross on the breast, with the words ‘Church of Scotland Community Worker’ under it – and I always explain that I work for the Church of Scotland. It’s surprising how often wearing the uniform or saying that I work for the Church leads to people wanting to talk about God and their (usually rather incipient) faith in some way or another, either to me or to others but in my hearing. Recently, I’ve also taken to carrying a supply of the ‘trypraying’ booklets around with me, and to giving them to people who start talking about ‘things spiritual’ as a result of meeting me.

In these small ways, I hope (and indeed pray) that what I do may also fall under Mark #1, in that it does have a real element of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God by word as well as by deed. It is very much in the nature of a ‘seed-sowing’ ministry or, perhaps, even one step before that, a ground-ploughing ministry, so it doesn’t bring instant or quick or obvious ‘results’ in terms of increasing Sunday attendance in our Churches. But it does- in God’s purposes and time-scales – have a effect in people’s hearts and lives.

And surely that is what Mission is all about.

Religion and Politics DO mix

It is often said, usually by those who are not Christians, that ‘The Church should keep out of politics,’ or that ‘Religion and Politics don’t mix.’ It shouldn’t come as any surprise to you to learn that I totally disagree with that view! Here is the text of a piece I have contributed to the theological and ministerial journal The Expository Times about this whole matter. It is for their ‘And finally … ‘ column, which is the back page of each month’s issue. This column is limited to a maximum of 600 words:

And finally ….

It was one of those providential moments. I had been in post as Church and Community Development Worker with the Church of Scotland in Musselburgh, East Lothian, for just a few weeks. As part of my getting to know and establishing links with the local ‘community,’ I decided to ring up the office of the East Lothian Community Planning Partnership. When I was working in Newcastle as the Churches’ Urban Regeneration Officer, I had got heavily involved in my Local Strategic Partnership, the English equivalent of the Scottish Community Planning Partnership.

When I rang the East Lothian Partnership office and introduced myself, the voice on the other end of the line said, ‘That’s extraordinary! We’re just setting up the Musselburgh Area Partnership, and were wanting to ask the Council of Churches to be involved, but we couldn’t find any contact details for them.’  As a result of that conversation, Musselburgh Council of Churches is indeed a full member of the Musselburgh Area Partnership, with me as their representative, alongside the local Ward Councillors, local Community Council and School Parent Council representatives, and a limited number of representatives of organisations from the local community – the Sports Hub, the Conservation Society, a local charity working with vulnerable and marginalised 14-21 year olds.

So the Church is present in and involved with the Musselburgh Area Partnership. The Partnership is developing the Musselburgh Area Plan, which seeks to improve the quality of life for all who live in the town and area. It has three  themes – sustainable economy, resilient people and strong and vibrant communities. For each of these, a series of things that the Partnership can do is being drawn up, with a timescale and a note of who could make it happen. The Partnership will also have a budget, devolved to it from East Lothian Council – £250,000. Not a huge amount, but not nothing, either.

And it seems to me that it is important that the Church is explicitly present in and involved in its local Area Partnership, in seeking to improve the quality of life of local people and communities. The transformation of the world is as much part of the mission of the Church as leading people to accept Jesus as Lord and receive eternal life is. We pray that God’s Kingdom may come ‘on earth as in heaven,’ and God’s command to the Exiles through Jeremiah, to seek the shalom of the city where he has sent them, and to pray to the Lord on its behalf, surely applies to us today in our places as it did back then.

And that transformation of the world is not only about Christians offering direct care to the vulnerable and needy, vital though that is. It is also about working to change the structures of society to make our communities, countries and world more equitable, more just, more godly for all people. That’s where Christian political involvement – in every sense of the term, and at every level – comes in. For politics, at its best, is also about seeking the transformation of society for the good of all, and embraces local Partnerships and Community Councils, not just ‘Party Politics.’

Of course, the Church should not support any one political party, and I’m glad that there are no mainstream UK parties with ‘Christian’ in their name. But it does mean that Christians should get involved with all that seeks to promote the good of society and human flourishing, while never forgetting that that is not the whole picture or the whole purpose of the Church.

I don’t know when this piece will be published in ExpTim. Some time in the coming months I imagine. It’s a journal that I always find interesting and useful, and to which I have contributed numerous articles, sermons and book reviews over the past 25 years.

Looking upwards, outwards and forwards

Back on Trinity Sunday 2012,when I was Rector of the Episcopal Churches in Kelso and Coldstream, I preached on Isaiah 6, the first eight verses of which were the set Old Testament reading that day. I suggested that Isaiah looked upwards to God, outwards to the world and forwards to the Kingdom of God, for he saw the Lord high and lifted up, he was told by Lord to ‘go to this people’ and he asked – and was told – ‘How long?’  I further suggested that this was the calling of the Church today, to look upwards to God, outwards to the world and forwards to the Kingdom of God. What I did not say, but strongly implied, is that the temptation for the Church and for Christians is to look downwards, inwards and backwards, that is, to be overwhelmingly preoccupied with its own life and not with God or the world, and with maintaining things as they ‘have always been’ and not with furthering the coming Kingdom.

Three years later, the Lectionary has brought us round to Trinity Sunday Year B once again, so this Sunday we will once again hear Isaiah 6.

And the call and the challenge to individual Christians and indeed to the whole Church remains – to be looking upwards to God, outwards to the world and forward to God’s Kingdom and to resist looking downwards,backwards and inwards.

Dementia Friendly Musselburgh

Right from when I started working in Musselburgh, I have been involved with people living with dementia, their carers and with seeking to raise awareness about dementia and with making Musselburgh – and its Churches – more dementia friendly.

My own father lives with dementia, and my mother is his carer, but my work with and around dementia in Musselburgh arose from the fact that one of the pieces of work that the Mid and East Lothian service of Alzheimers’ Scotland does in East Lothian takes place in St Andrew’s High Church, where my office is. They run a monthly ‘D Cafe’ for those with dementia and their carers. I came out of my office on my second day in post, and there they were!

So I’ve got heavily involved. I attend the D Cafe every month and, through the AlzScot local Dementia Adviser, have trained to deliver their Dementia Friends one-hour awareness raising sessions, and have done so 3-4 times, and am booked to do it again another twice, with Church and ‘secular’ groups. I was also one of the first members of the Dementia Friendly Musselburgh steering group, which now includes a wide range of stakeholders – AlzScot, the Church of Scotland, Carers of East Lothian, the Hollies, Eskgreen Care Home, STRiVE, East Lothian Council’s Social Wortk and Community Learning and Development, the Council of Churches, Tescos and more. We are passionate about seeking to make Musselburgh a place that is better to live in if you have dementia and a place where very many people understanding what it is like to live with dementia and turn that understanding into action.

We’re planning an afternoon event – ‘D in the Park’ on Saturday 27th June, 1pm-6pm, in the grounds of St Andrew’s High Church, High St, Musselburgh, and in the Church itself. It’s a day for everyone – for those with dementia and their carers to tell us what it is like for them to live in the Musselburgh area and how we can together make things better, for the wider community to learn more about dementia and to commit to taking action and to start to integrate the whole community better.

There will be entertainment, stalls, refreshments, consultations and the opportunity to become a Dementia Friend. Come along and support us!