Tag Archives: Edinburgh

You’ll have had your tea!

“You’ll have had your tea” is a traditional Edinburgh greeting!  “Tea” here meaning evening meal.

Well, I didn’t get my cup of tea, one Winter’s evening way back in 1984.

I had returned from ministering in Trinidad, and was just about to go to my next Charge in Perthshire in the March of that year.

Various speaking engagements had been organised for me, during this interim period, including this one – at a well-known (and well-healed) Edinburgh Kirk – one Sunday night.

It had been snowing all afternoon, and, by evening the roads were slippery and difficult to drive upon.

I struggled to drive there through the snow, and the ten minute journey took more than half an hour.

So, I eventually arrived (with some effort) to give a talk about what the Church of Scotland  was doing on the Island, and my time there for the previous four years.

The evening service had just finished, and I wandered into the Hall.

People were standing in little groups, chatting, and totally ignoring me. Everybody, including the then Minister, had a warming cuppa in their hand; nobody offered me anything, nobody asked who I was & what I was doing in the building, and that included the Minister who addressed not a single word to me, before he left – never even acknowledged me.

Once the evening’s congregation had dispersed, leaving only half a dozen or so people, chairs were hastily dragged into a semi-circle, I was given the most perfunctory of welcomes (including the group’s leader saying to those present, “Thank you for coming out on such a wretched evening; I’m sure Mr Strachan won’t keep us too long!”

Then…my (shortened) presentation…. a muttered thank you about bringing some Caribbean sunshine into a dark, cold night…. and that was it.

“I won’t insult you by offering you any expenses, as you’re just a mile away,” was the parting shot. “Thank you”

I stopped at a nearby pub for a warming dram….. after all, I had had my tea (not!)

 

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The very place

As cauld a wind as ever blew,

A caulder Kirk, and in’t but few;

A caulder preacher never spak;-

Ye’se a’ be het ere I come back.

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Scottish witch report shows executioners’ crisis. (Scotsman article)

imageIT WAS a macabre and dreaded career to take, during one of the darkest chapters in Scotland’s history when superstition brought about a culture of fear and panic that claimed the lives of hundreds of people.

Now, research into the grim role of the men who ended the lives of the nation’s witches has revealed how they were handsomely rewarded for their deeds yet feared by ordinary people.

A new book exploring the history of witch hunting throughout the 16th and 17th centuries shows that there was a recruitment crisis for executioners.

Laura Paterson, from the University of Strathclyde, found that in many of Scotland’s smaller communities, no-one was willing to take on such grisly work, meaning that sons often followed their fathers into the execution trade.

Her research is published in a new collection of academic studies of Scottish witchcraft, Scottish Witches and Witch Hunters, edited by Julian Goodare, a reader in history at the University of Edinburgh and a leading expert in witchcraft history.

Ms Paterson, a postgraduate student at Strathclyde, said: “One of the most pressing concerns must have been to find someone who was willing to execute the witch. The large towns, including Edinburgh and Aberdeen, appear to have had professional executioners – the Aberdeen accounts consistently refer to the executioner as Jon Justice, possibly a pseudonym.

“However, in many of the smaller towns and parishes, there was no-one willing to carry out the gruesome task. The occupation of executioner was unpopular in the early modern period. The executioner was paid to torment, maim and kill people for money.”

The difficulty of finding people willing to take up such a bloody role often meant that the position of executioner was hereditary, Ms Paterson said.

In one instance, in Peebles in 1629, the son of the executioner was paid 12 shillings at the execution of three witches to act as dempster, an official who pronounced the sentence and was sometimes asked to carry out the dark deed himself.

However, Ms Paterson’s research shows that, if an executioner was able to “cope with the bloody work and with the infamy that came with it”, the job paid handsomely.

One executioner tasked with ending the lives of three women in Peebles in 1633 received the then eye-watering sum of £10.

Similarly, John Kincaid, an “infamous witch pricker” in the 17th century, was paid up to £6 a time for “brodding” a suspect witch, a process designed to elicit a confession by inserting needles into her body.

Even so, executioners were regarded as pariahs by Scottish society. One man, William Kirk, was the executioner in a case in Kirkcudbright in 1698. But no-one was willing to offer him shelter during his stay in the town, and he was forced to live in the local prison.

As Ms Paterson notes, the executioner was a figure feared throughout Scotland and beyond at the time.

“There was other instances throughout Europe where the executioner’s infamy was considered contagious, damaging the reputation of any who associated with him,” she said. “In some communities the touch of the executioner, or even objects he had touched, could be contagious.”

According to the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, a total of 3,837 people were accused of witchcraft, 84 per cent of whom were women.

It remains unclear exactly how many people lost their lives as a result. The record books indicate only 205 instances where the accused were found guilty and executed, but the figure is thought to be higher.

Ms Paterson’s research indicates that, although the most common method for executing witches was strangling and burning, there were other grim means used to kill the “guilty”.

An Edinburgh man, Robert Erskine, along with his sisters, Annas and Issobell, was beheaded at the capital’s Mercat Cross in 1614 after being found guilty of consulting with witches and “poisoning and treasonable murder”.

There were also, Ms Paterson adds, a small number of cases where the witches who had “committed a particularly serious and wicked offence” were burned alive.

• Scottish Witches and Witch Hunters is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

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Elsie Inglis

Published on the 8 November 2013 in the Edinburgh Evening News

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On the battlefields of First World War Europe, Elsie Inglis risked her life to save those of countless soldiers.

Wading through mud in the face of the enemy, the redoubtable Edinburgh doctor made sure the injured and the dying received the basic medical care they would otherwise have been left without.

Tens of thousands were helped by field hospitals she set up in Serbia, Ukraine and Romania, acting with the support of the French and Serbian governments, after the British rebuffed her offer of help.

Her heroism, said Winston Churchill, would “shine forever in history”, while in Serbia she is a national hero.

But today as we prepare to mark Remembrance Day in Scotland there is little to mark the final resting place of Edinburgh’s greatest heroine.

Exposed to the elements for almost a century, the inscription on her gravestone has faded.

It is only with difficulty that visitors to Dean Cemetery can discern her name on her memorial stone, while the citation marking her achievements – her pioneering medical work and support of the Suffragette movement in Scotland, as well as her First World War heroics abroad – is in parts completely worn away.

Historian Alan Cumming was disturbed to discover the neglected state of her grave on a recent visit. The state of her Edinburgh memorial stood in stark contrast to the pristine plaque that stands in her honour in Serbia.

He said: “What Elsie Inglis achieved at that time was nothing short of a miracle – she had an incredible life. I was ashamed that the women involved in the Scottish Women’s Hospital [which she established during the First World War] are known about and revered in Serbia, yet their work and achievements are barely recognised in the country they came from.

“It’s very poor that there’s nothing to let visitors to the cemetery know who she was.”

The upkeep of her grave is technically the responsibility of her family, said a spokesman for the privately-maintained Dean Cemetery, but like the memorials to millions of Scots whose immediate family are no longer living, it has slipped into a state of disrepair. Today there were calls for funds to be made available ahead of next year’s centenary of the outbreak of the First World War to restore her grave and provide information boards for visitors.

Born in India, she was 14 when her parents came to Edinburgh, where she would go on to establish the George Square Nursing Home in 1899, which eventually merged with the Bruntsfield Hospital to provide a complete women’s health service in Edinburgh for the first time.

At the start of the war, Elsie approached the government with a plan to utilise women’s medical skills in female-run field hospitals but was flatly denied, leading her to establish the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service.

She would equip field hospitals with only basic supplies and faced a fight to improve hygiene, help the starving and control typhus and infections.

Her efforts in Serbia led to her being given the highest national award, the Order of the White Eagle, with the commendation that “Scotland made her a doctor but Serbia made her a Saint”.

Ahead of Remembrance Sunday, Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “Elsie Inglis is such an inspiring figure it is a real shame that her headstone has been allowed to deteriorate. Ensuring the epitaph on her grave is legible is the very least we owe her.”

Mike Turnbull, who wrote the Edinburgh Graveyard Guide, said: “Are many people aware Elsie Inglis is buried in the Dean Cemetery – probably not.”

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Eyes Down!

And now for something completely different: an Atheist church for Scotland

 
Sunday 6 October 2013 The Herald
 

IT sounds like the ultimate paradox, but an “atheist church” is to start holding regular services in Scotland from next month in a bid to spread the word about the “free-thinking faith”.

Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society branded it a ??barmy idea??

Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society branded it a ??barmy idea??
 

The gatherings will be run along the lines of a traditional church service, but the strains of All Things Bright And Beautiful might be swapped for a sing-a-long to Eye Of The Tiger and preaching replaced with a talk on positive thinking.

The first “Sunday Assembly” – as these atheist church services are known – was held in London at the beginning of this year, stemming from an idea by stand-up comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans.

This month and next, they plan to launch another 30 satellite ‘congregations’ in cities from Leeds to Chicago and Vancouver to Adelaide.

As part of it, the Sunday Assembly will begin to be held on a regular basis for the first time in Scotland, with monthly events in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, where one-off services have previously taken place.

But the idea is divisive within the world of atheism with some calling it barmy and an “aping” of religion.

Robert Concannon, who is helping to organise the Sunday Assembly in Edinburgh, said: “There are lots of communities which are available for people to do the whole angry atheist thing. This is specifically not about that, this is an opportunity to get all the good bits of going to church but without the need for invoking anything supernatural.”

He added: “A lot of us are ex-religious who feel the lack of community when you drop the religion.”

While details of the service are still being worked out, Concannon said it would involve a speaker, a poetry reading and a moment of silence. In Edinburgh, the service will take place in a city-centre bingo hall.

“It will follow a fairly traditional church service-type format, only with better songs,” he said.

“I adore hymns and I still have a hymn book on my piano – but the words are dodgy and I don’t like them.” On the songs that will be sang at the Sunday Assembly, he added: “It is popular songs that everyone can sing along to – it is really nice to get that singing in a group feeling.”

The Sunday Assembly founders claim it is catering to the fastest-growing belief group – those who do not count themselves as religious.

Figures from the 2011 census, published earlier this month, revealed the number of people in Scotland who regard themselves as non-religious stood at 37% – with numbers rising from 1.4 million to 1.9 million over the past decade.

It meant those in the “non-religious” category overtook the biggest denomination, the Church of Scotland, for the first time.

According to the census figures, just over half of the country – 54% – still think of themselves as Christian.

Gary McLelland, one of the organisers of the Sunday Assembly in Glasgow, who is also chair of the Edinburgh Secular Society, is keen to hold more regular services if the idea takes off.

“The hope is the more people get involved and spend their time with it, then we might move to perhaps fortnightly or weekly services”, he said.

McLelland said the Glasgow launch will include a talk by psychologist Patricia Elliot and “positive secular uplifting songs”, citing the example of Eye Of The Tiger by Survivor, which was played at a Sunday Assembly he attended in Edinburgh. But he is keen to develop the idea beyond just a get-together. He hopes the congregation would develop into taking part in community outreach work, for example running soup kitchens.

He said: “It is generally one of the most positive aspects of organised religion. So I think there is a growing consensus among people who aren’t particularly religious that they want to get involved in doing something like that themselves.”

The Sunday Assembly doesn’t entirely steer clear of allusions to religion, sometimes using tongue-in-cheek biblical references. The launch of the satellite congregations is being dubbed “40 days and 40 nights: The Roadshow”.

Both the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland declined to comment.

But Nick Spencer, research director of Christian think tank Theos, says the idea is not new. “They sprang up a hundred years ago, with people who had lost their Christian faith,” he said.

However, Spencer, who will publish a book on the history of atheism next year, said the so-called ethical churches formed in the late 19th century had fizzled out by the 1930s, from a failure to find a common cause.

“I suspect it is quite an urban phenomenon and it is people who lack a sense of community and meaningful relationships in an otherwise anonymous and individualised culture.”

Not all of those who challenge the role of religion in society back the concept of an atheist church.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, branded it a “barmy” idea.

“If you want to have religion, go and get the real thing instead of this pretend one,” he said.

Sanderson acknowledged that it did seem to have “caught people’s imagination”.

He said: “The bigger it gets, the more likely it is that people will disagree, fall out and split off. “

The Sunday Assembly will be launched in Edinburgh on Tuesday, October 22 and Glasgow on Wednesday, October 23. Visit www.sundayassembly.com

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Harry Potter and his Strange Origins

Daily Mail, Saturday 28 September 2013

How JK Rowling’s sob story about her past as a single mother has left the churchgoers who cared for her upset and bewildered
◾Author often speaks of her ‘tough time’ as a single mother in Edinburgh
◾But members of the church she attended dispute it
◾They say she was cared for and offered positions within the church

By Paul Scott

PUBLISHED: 23:38, 27 September 2013 | UPDATED: 01:08, 28 September 2013

The plotline has all the best-selling — if resolutely downbeat — hallmarks of the sort of misery memoir so beloved of the more populist end of the publishing world.

A hard-up single mother finds low-paid, menial work in an inner city church but bigoted, unchristian people make clear their disapproval of her unmarried status, and cruelly taunt her.

Then, as evening falls, she trudges through the snow, wheeling her baby daughter’s pushchair back to her grotty rented flat.

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What’s the story? Author JK Rowling was helped during her time as a single mother, according to many at her old church in Edinburgh
But like all the best stories this is, ultimately, a tale of redemption and triumph over adversity. For it transpires our downtrodden heroine is a secret would-be novelist.

Fast forward a few short years, from the mid-Nineties to the present day, and she has gone on to achieve huge international success, earned millions and bought herself a mansion close to the church where she once worked part-time.

Which might cause raised eyebrows from even the most credulous of readers — were the story not, apparently, 100 per cent true.

The female protagonist is, of course, none other than JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series of children’s books which became the fastest-selling in publishing history, rewarding her with a £560 million fortune in the process.

The rags-to-riches story of how she made a cup of coffee last all day in her local café as she wrote, rather than going home to her freezing Edinburgh flat, has been endlessly told and re-told.

2 Edinburgh

Back in the day: JK Rowling has often mentioned her struggles as a single mum in Edinburgh

But writing last week on the website of Gingerbread — the single parents’ charity of which she is president — 48-year-old Miss Rowling revealed, for the first time, her painful feelings as a single mother in the climate at the time.

She was paid £15 a week — the most she could earn without losing state benefits — while working as a part-time secretary. She wrote: ‘My overriding memory of that time is the slowly evaporating sense of self-esteem, not because I was filing or typing — there was dignity in earning money, however I was doing it — but because it was slowly dawning on me that I was now defined, in the eyes of many, by something I had never chosen.

‘I was a Single Parent, and a Single Parent On Benefits to boot. Patronage was almost as hard to bear as stigmatisation. I remember the woman who visited the church one day when I was working there who kept referring to me, in my hearing, as The Unmarried Mother.

‘I was half annoyed, half amused: unmarried mother? Ought I to be allowed in a church at all? Did she see me in terms of some Victorian painting: The Fallen Woman, Filing, perhaps?’

Miss Rowling, who described herself as, ‘prouder of my years as a single mother than of any other part of my life’, went on: ‘Assumptions made about your morals, your motives for bringing your child into the world or your fitness to raise that child cut to the core of who you are.’

All of which is suitably thought-provoking stuff. This is Miss Rowling’s bleak recollection of her life at the time.

However, members of the church in question, St Columba’s-by-the-Castle in Edinburgh’s city centre, recall going out of their way to make her welcome by taking it in turns to babysit her daughter, Jessica, so the hard-pressed budding author could have time to write her debut novel, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone. They remember inviting her into their homes for meals.

They pride themselves on being one of the most forward-thinking parishes in the country, who were at the forefront of the battle for sexual equality in the priesthood 20 years ago.

3 Potter

Young actors: Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone
Indeed, the church had one of the very first women rectors in Scotland, the Rev Alison Fuller, and it was she who took pity on Miss Rowling — offering her the secretarial job in 1994 to help her out financially. None of which exactly fits with the impression of a congregation holding on to outmoded stereotypes about single mothers.

Miss Rowling, has remained a member of the very same congregation — even asking one of the church’s priests to officiate at her wedding to second husband Dr Neil Murray in 2001?

By describing her trying experiences as a single-mum, is the best-selling writer employing a liberal dollop of poetic licence?

Commenting on Miss Rowling’s recollections, Sheila Gould, says that the Rev Alison Fuller, then rector of the church, helped the wannabe author (who had not yet swapped her Christian name, Joanne, for JK) by offering her the role of vestry secretary, for which Miss Rowling says she was immensely grateful.

Mrs Gould, who with her cleric husband the Rev Bob Gould has been very closely involved with St Columba’s for more than 50 years, told me this week: ‘Alison went out of her way to help Joanne, and a lot of people in their congregation helped her, too. People looked after her daughter Jessica, babysitting her to give Jo the space to write.

‘She was also invited to dinners and lunches, which is the sort of thing we do within the congregation. It was a safe place for her and that’s what we provided. She needed a safe space for herself and Jessica.

5 Church

Helping hand: Saint Columbas-by-the-Castle in Edinburgh, where JK Rowling is said to have received refuge

‘We offered her protection. When she came here, she wasn’t famous, she was just a single mum with a child and it was obvious that was not what she would have chosen for herself.

‘We knew she was writing and Jessica was only very small, in her pram, at the time and needed quite a lot of attention, so we helped out.’

So what do Mrs Gould and other parishioners think of Miss Rowling’s description of her miserable time during the period when she was working at the church?

‘It’s all quite confusing,’ she says diplomatically. ‘We have all sorts of different people in the congregation, including alcoholics who live on the street, and we would never stigmatise any of them in any way.

‘I don’t think that what Jo has said happened to her would be typical of the church at all. It’s a very open, friendly place. It’s a tiny church with a tight-knit community and small congregation.

‘I’m not aware that she brought her concerns to anyone here at the time and I can’t think of any member of the church who would have said those things to her.

‘To be honest, when I heard about her comments to Gingerbread, my reaction was she’d said it because of the audience she was talking to. As far as we’re concerned, this church has been a safe haven for her. We have tried to offer her a sanctuary.

‘Jo is still a member of the congregation, though she comes and goes depending on her commitments. None of us has gone around talking about her and we’ve always protected her.’

But perhaps she felt her surprising story of discrimination and stigmatisation was an appropriate platform for someone who gave £1 million to the Labour party in 2008, to attack the Tory-led Government’s welfare policies on behalf of Gingerbread — which published her article on its website last week.

Gingerbread is not without its critics. It has been accused of encouraging lone-parenting by offering single mothers detailed advice on to how to get the most out of the benefits system.

Gingerbread’s founder, hippy activist Raga Woods, who changed her name from Tessa Fothergill, served time in Holloway Prison in the early Nineties for breaking an injunction which stopped her joining protesters wanting to prevent the building of the M3 motorway at Twyford Down, near Winchester.

However, JK Rowling is a passionate advocate of the charity.

The writer, who was brought up an Anglican and has talked openly in interviews about her religious faith, arrived in Edinburgh in 1993 after the breakdown of her stormy 13-month marriage to Jessica’s father, Portuguese journalist Jorge Arantes, whom she met while teaching English in Porto.

Subsequently, a rather grim picture of her life in the Scottish capital in the years before she found success and money has emerged. However, not only did her sister Di live in the city, but it has emerged that it was Di’s husband, Roger, who owned Nicholson’s café where Miss Rowling famously did her early writing.

Significantly, a TV documentary a few years ago, which saw a tearful author revisiting her old flat, revealed it to be far from the dump we might imagine.

In fact, it’s a spacious two-bedroom apartment in the sought-after Leith district. But without doubt, her hard-luck back-story — and all the publicity it has generated — has not done her career any harm.

Another mystery is why the author has once more chosen to reveal details of her private life for public consumption. After all, she famously guards her privacy and appeared as a star witness at the Leveson Inquiry into Press standards last year, during which she complained bitterly about the attention of photographers.

However, Miss Rowling, who employs two sets of PR advisers, is not unknown to reveal titbits about her private life when she has a book to or film to promote.

Last year, for example, while doing publicity for her debut adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, she talked extensively in interviews about her troubled relationship with her estranged father, her unhappy teenage years, her failed marriage, her current husband, daughter Jessica (now 20), and her battle against depression.

The book, with its profoundly depressing themes, tells the story of a teenage girl in a fictional West Country town who lives on an estate with her heroin-addicted prostitute mother and young brother.

But the novel, which is being made into a mini-series by the BBC, has been slated by some critics for being vehemently anti-middle class and for portraying anyone with money as a dreadful snob.

Which some might say is a bit rich coming from one of Britain’s wealthiest women. She lives with husband number two, the bespectacled Dr Murray, a GP, in a 17th century mansion in an upmarket suburb of Edinburgh which she bought for more than £2 million in 2009.

They live there with Jessica and their two young children, a boy aged ten and an eight-year-old daughter. Last year, Miss Rowling applied for planning permission to build a pair of two-storey treehouses — said to cost £150,000 — for the youngsters.

Nor does she show signs of toning down her famous obsession with controlling every aspect of her work.

Last year, her publishers forced literary critics to sign five-page confidentiality agreements before they were even allowed to read The Casual Vacancy.

And in July, she brought legal proceedings against a London solicitor, working at a law firm she employed, after he let slip she was secretly the author of another book, a thriller called The Cuckoo’s Calling, which Miss Rowling wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

After she was outed as the author, the book — which had hitherto achieved very modest sales — shot to the top of the best-sellers list.

With such good fortune, perhaps it is time for Miss Rowling to thank her lucky stars for her gilded life instead of harping on about how terrible her lot was in the past.

Why, she might even show gratitude to those who helped her in those far off days.

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Good Samaritan bus driver goes beyond call of duty (from the Edinburgh Evening News, 12,9, 2013)

    Neil Reid has helped injured, distressed and disorientated members of the public while on duty. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Neil Reid has helped injured, distressed and disorientated members of the public while on duty. Picture: Ian Rutherford

  • by David O’Leary

Published on the 12 September 2013 12:00    

BY night he’s a mild mannered dad of three but by day he’s a hero bus driver, ready to leap from his cab to help the injured and distressed. And his services are in high demand.

Good Samaritan, Neil Reid, 38, from  Gilmerton, has swung into action an incredible five times in the space of just ten months, leaving his bus mid-journey to deal with a variety of dramas.

The Lothian Buses driver has given aid to both the victim of a pub brawl and a traffic accident, was the first on the scene of an attempted suicide, helped a disorientated woman back to her home and most recently helped find a missing man before he had even been reported missing.

Depot bosses believe “super Neil” should be singled out for some sort of award, but the worker insists he’s just doing his job. He said: “I don’t think of what I did in any of these situations to be special, it’s my job to look after my passengers and members of the public.”

Neil’s sixth sense for city residents in need first kicked in on Leith Walk last November, when he saw a man assaulted outside a bar.

He immediately stopped his bus, rounded up two first aiders from his passengers and jumped out to tend the bloodied man ahead of the arrival of paramedics.

Just months later in January, he was on hand again to help a passenger who was knocked down by a taxi while crossing Waverley Bridge. Neil wrapped the young girl, who had suffered a broken leg, in his jacket and called for an ambulance.

In June he witnessed an incident which will “live with him the rest of his days”  after he spotted a man falling backwards over the Dean Bridge.

Neil jumped from his bus and using only the light from his mobile raced to find him in dense undergrowth 30 feet below. He soon found the man “unconscious, but breathing hard” and with severe injuries to his face.

Again in June, he helped a disorientated woman who boarded his bus and phoned his depot to arrange for a 
colleague to bring her home.

And on Wednesday last week, he noted an elderly passenger in Colinton who seemed “out of sorts”. Alarmed by the man’s agitated state, he phoned his controller and asked for the police to be informed. Minutes later he was told the man’s distressed wife had just filed a missing persons report to try and find the gentleman.

The modest hero said: “I’d like to think if one of my daughters was hurt or in distress that somebody would stop and help. Every day bus drivers help out in similar situations, it’s just that all of mine have been clumped together over the last ten months.”

Ian Craig, CEO of Lothian Buses, hailed the hard-working driver. He said: “I’m continually delighted when I hear stories about drivers going above and beyond the call of duty to help out members of the public. However, what Neil has done over the past year is truly exceptional. We’re very proud to call him a Lothian Buses employee.”

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THE SIN OF NOT NOTICING

If you visit our larger towns and cities, one thing that strikes you is the number of people begging on the streets.

I used to live near Edinburgh, and walking along Princes Street, I’d lose count of the number of homeless people sitting on the pavement during the day & huddled in shop doorways in the evening looking for handouts.

And one other thing would always strike me – to most of the pedestrians, these folk were invisible!

People going or coming to work, or shopping or having an evening out, didn’t seem to register their existence.

They were just part of the scenery.

I remember one Christmas Eve about twenty years ago. It would be about four thirty in the afternoon, dark and bitterly cold. The window displays in the big shops in Princes Street were bright and filled with expensive yet tempting gifts. Last minute Christmas shoppers were rushing from this store to that trying to track down that elusive present for Uncle Jimmy or Auntie Mary or whomever.

The shoppers were weighed down with carrier bags and gift wrapped parcels. The sound of Christmas carols could be heard through the opening and closing doors of the busy shops.

It was a time for celebration and generosity and giving. It was Christmas time.

And lying on the pavement with his back to the wall of Jenners department store was a bundle of rags. On closer inspection, a down and out.

And these Christmas shoppers in their rush and in their busyness to celebrate the season of giving, walked round him – in fact, I’m sure I saw some of them actually step over him in their hurry.

It would appear that nowadays many are blinkered to the sight of the needy, the wretched, the poor and the outcast. They become, as it were, part of the scenery. We cease to notice them.

That was the sin of the rich man in the story which Jesus told

The rich man didn’t even take in the existence of the poor man, whose name was Lazarus. He was just part of the scenery.

The rich man had not asked for Lazarus to moved from his gate forcibly or otherwise (some city councillors – and, I’m thinking of Edinburgh again – have been known to have the down and outs rounded up and moved from their usual patches, especially at Festival time. That way they don’t offend the tourists. The same happened a few years ago before one of the Olympic games was staged – I think in Mexico City)

No, the rich man didn’t get his servants to move the man away because he was an eyesore.

Nor was he deliberately cruel to him. He didn’t kick him every time he passed. (we may not use physical assault either, but sometimes our words or comments toward those less fortunate than ourselves can hurt and wound “get a job, you lazy scrounger!” or simply, to quote an old saying “the poor will be always with us” and it’s God’s will…..

Do you remember the verse from ‘All things bright and beautiful’? It’s a verse we don’t sing anymore:

“The Rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.”

No, the rich man was not deliberately cruel to Lazarus.

His sin was that he never noticed Lazarus, that he accepted him as part of the landscape, that he thought it perfectly natural and inevitable that Lazarus should lie in pain and hunger, while he wallowed in luxury.

The sin of the rich man was that he could look on the world’s suffering and need, and feel not a twinge of grief or pity.

That is a warning to us all. Christ’s parable confronts and threatens all comfortable and indifferent Christians. Whatever we gain, we have by the grace of God.

As we see the world around us, it is possible – even as we profess our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – to go on living selfishly in a manner that God ultimately condemns.

How shall we live? According to our own wishes, attending to our every desire? Or according to God’s revealed and stated will?

How shall we decide? Well, perhaps the chilling tale of the rich man and Lazarus may just help concentrate our thoughts and help us in our choice! And so too the words of Christ himself: ‘As you did unto one of these, the least of my brethren, you did unto me.’

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Calls for religious reps to leave education panels

Edinburgh Evening News                                        

  • by IAN SWANSON

The Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) has accused the churches of “religious interference at the heart of local democracy” and said allowing unelected religious representatives full voting rights was damaging to democracy.

It pointed out the places were required by law to be given to church representatives while humanists and people with no religious faith were excluded.

ESS founding member Professor Norman Bonney said: “The legally required appointment of religious nominees to education committees is profoundly undemocratic.

“There has to be a fundamental rethink of these arrangements to ensure that education committee decisions are made by councillors, not by unelected religious reps.”

SNP councillor Sandy Howat said religious reps were “unelected, unaccountable and untenable”.

He said: “All contributions to committee deliberations should be welcomed, yet continued undemocratic privilege of the few over the many is an outdated tradition we should remove.”

The Reverend Thomas Coupar, one of the three religious representatives on Edinburgh’s children and families committee, said he could understand the 
criticisms.

He said: “It’s a fair enough debate. Do we have a contribution to make? I think we certainly do. Will it always stay this way? I wouldn’t think so.”

But Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said: “The church’s involvement in education goes back centuries. Schools were first founded by the churches and the existence of church representatives reflects that long-standing connection.”

Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council, said there were legitimate questions about why religious representatives served on education committees.

But she said: “I’m disappointed at the suggestion religious reps have a hidden agenda. Instead of having a meaningful debate, we hear a misguided attack on people who give their time in the service of their community.”

A city council spokesman said: “We’re legally obliged to have religious representatives on the committee, and they along with our teacher and parent representatives all make a valuable contribution to the work of the committee.”

AT YOUR SERVICE

EDINBURGH City Council has three church reps on its children and families committee.

They are former teacher Craig Duncan (Church of Scotland); retired Holy Rood RC High School deputy head Marie Allan (Catholic); and the Rev Thomas Coupar, an Episcopalian priest, chaplain at the Thistle Foundation’s Robin Chapel and former headteacher and education adviser.

There are also two teacher representatives and a parents rep, all of whom have full voting rights on education issues.

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Cyclist

I was once driving back from a hospital visit at the Western General in Edinburgh.

In Queensferry Road, a cyclist cut right in front of me.  I sounded my horn, and got a V sign and what seemed to be a sweary word or two.

I turned left, and along some parallel streets then eventually out at Queensferry Street where I parked at the kerb…… waiting.

Very soon, this lycra-clad cyclist came abreast of me, and, with my car window open, shouted as loudly as I could…….

….. JESUS LOVES YOU!

He nearly fell off his bike.

Not very Christian, but, again, Jesus DID love the sinner…….

…. and the Bible tells me so

English: Cyclist in Edinburgh against blurry m...

English: Cyclist in Edinburgh against blurry motor traffic Deutsch: Radfahrer in Edinburgh vor verschwommenem Verkehr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The Sin of Not Noticing

Притча о Лазаре. 1886

Притча о Лазаре. 1886 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lazarus and the rich man, 1620

Lazarus and the rich man, 1620 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rila Monastery, Rilakloster, Kloster Rila, Рил...

Rila Monastery, Rilakloster, Kloster Rila, Рилски манастир, Bulgaria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazar...

English: The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, painting by Bartholomeus van Bassen, ca. 1620-30 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you visit our larger towns and cities, one thing that strikes you is the number of people begging on the streets.

I used to live near Edinburgh, and walking along Princes Street, I’d lose count of the number of homeless people sitting on the pavement during the day & huddled in shop doorways in the evening looking for handouts.

And one other thing would always strike me – to most of the pedestrians, these folk were invisible!

People going or coming to work, or shopping or having an evening out, didn’t seem to register their existence.

They were just part of the scenery.

I remember one particular Christmas Eve .  It would be about four thirty in the afternoon, dark and bitterly cold.  The window displays in the big shops in Princes Street were bright and filled with expensive yet tempting gifts.  Last minute Christmas shoppers were rushing from this store to that trying to track down that elusive present for Uncle Jimmy or Auntie Mary or whomever.

The shoppers were weighed down with carrier bags and gift wrapped parcels.  The sound of Christmas carols could be heard through the opening and closing doors of the busy shops.

It was a time for celebration and generosity and giving.  It was Christmas time.

And lying on the pavement with his back to the wall of Jenners department store was a bundle of rags.  On closer inspection, a down and out.

And these Christmas shoppers in their rush and in their busyness to celebrate the season of giving, walked round him – in fact, I’m sure I saw some of them actually step over him in their hurry.

It would appear that nowadays many are blinkered to the sight of the needy, the wretched, the poor and the outcast.  They become, as it were, part of the scenery. We cease to notice them.

That was the sin of the rich man in the story which Jesus told.

The rich man didn’t even take in the existence of the poor man, whose name was Lazarus.  He was just part of the scenery.

The rich man had not asked for Lazarus to moved from his gate forcibly or otherwise (some city councillors – and, I’m thinking of Edinburgh again – have been known to have the down and outs rounded up and moved from their usual patches, especially at Festival time.  That way they don’t offend the tourists.  The same happened before one of the Olympic games was staged – I think in Mexico City)

No, the rich man didn’t get his servants to move the man away because he was an eyesore.

Nor was he deliberately cruel to him.  He didn’t kick him every time he passed.  (we may not use physical assault either, but sometimes our words or comments toward those less fortunate than ourselves can hurt and wound “get a job, you lazy scrounger!” or simply, to quote an old saying “the poor will be always with us” and it’s God’s will…..

There’s a verse from ‘All things bright and beautiful’  It’s a verse we don’t sing anymore:

“The Rich man in his castle,

  The poor man at his gate,

  God made them, high or lowly,

  And ordered their estate.”

No, the rich man was not deliberately cruel to Lazarus.

His sin was that he never noticed Lazarus, that he accepted him as part of the landscape, that he thought it perfectly natural and inevitable that Lazarus should lie in pain and hunger, while he wallowed in luxury.

The sin of the rich man was that he could look on the world’s suffering and need, and feel not a twinge of grief or pity.

Christ’s parable confronts and threatens all comfortable and indifferent Christians.  Whatever we gain, we have by the grace of God.

As we see the world around us, it is possible – even as we profess our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – to go on living selfishly in a manner that God ultimately condemns.

How shall we live?  According to our own wishes, attending to our every desire?  Or according to God’s revealed and stated will?

How shall we decide?  Well, perhaps the chilling tale of the rich man and Lazarus may just help concentrate our thoughts and help us in our choice!  And so too the words of Christ himself:  ‘As you did unto one of these, the least of my brethren, you did unto me.’

Scripture Reference (The Rich Man and Lazarus):  Luke 16, verses 19 – 31

 

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