Tag Archives: Elders

The Call

In a previous generation, the Rev Andrew Sutherland, minister at Lairg, received a call to a church in Glasgow. On hearing of the approach made to their pastor, the elders of the Lairg congregation, cross and concerned, beat a hasty path down to the manse. They were met at the manse door by the minister’s son. “Is your father home, we must speak with him”, they said to the boy. “No”, he replied, “my father’s in his study praying about a call, and has given strict instructions that on no account is he to be disturbed”. “Is that so”, said the senior elder, “go get your mother, we will have a word with her instead!” “Sorry”, said the boy, “my mother also said that she wasn’t to be distracted.” “Oh, is she in prayer too?” “No”, the boy replied, “she’s packing the dishes.”

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Watching the (live stream) of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly last week, a face from the past popped up to ask a particular question during a debate.

I hadn’t seen him for many years, but he used to be a Minister in the town where I live, before he moved elsewhere.

He would pop into the local Infirmary (where I worked as the full-time healthcare chaplain) now and again, to visit the hospitalised members of his congregation.

Several times, when I was chatting to certain patients who worshipped at his church, they would remark on what a clever man he was, with a wide ranging knowledge of just about everything.

“You know” someone would tell me, “he’s even abreast of the day time soaps on TV, and has been keeping me up to date with them”

Another patient, “You know that antiques programme on the telly at 3 o’clock?  Well, Mr D was able to tell me that someone who had bought a piece of junk in a car boot sale for a couple of quid, had it valued by an expert at £500”

And so on.

Of course, they all missed the point – Mr D wasn’t out working every day, but was sitting in his Manse, watching afternoon TV!


Many years ago, Helen and the boys and I were driving somewhere on a particular Sunday morning – probably setting off on holiday with my in-laws in Suffolk (presumably because I had to be around on the Saturday for a wedding)

En route, I was amazed to see so many of my own Kirk members, including some Elders, walking their dogs, washing their cars, going to the supermarket…..with about 10 minutes before their “home” church service was due to start.

The cliche is true, as so many are, “When the cat’s away….”


Now and again, when ministering in Trinidad, we had a two hour Saturday morning discussion/training session for church Elders.

For one of these – held in the first week in July – I received a lot of apologies for absence.  The meeting itself was poorly attended.

Trinidad is four hours behind British time.  Last week in July. London – 2.00 pm.  And in those days, guess what happened in SW19?  Yep, the Wimbledon men’s finals. (shown on TV)

It was only on the Sunday morning, that some of my Elders (post service) asked, “Did you see that Match?  Wonderful!”  oops!


Lastly, a ministerial friend who was Presbytery Business Convener, sent in his apologies to the Clerk, saying that he was unable to attend the Meeting “for family reasons”

Aye, the “family” was his fellow football team fans!  There was a big European game that evening – and not only did he attend, but was caught on (TV) camera.  Ouch!



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The Reverend Superior

I was once asked to be on a small committee (two ministers, two elders and the convener) to have talks with a particular minister whose congregation and office- bearers had fallen out of love with him.

He was always right and they (particularly his elders) were wrong.

One bone of contention was that he would ignore members of his church and pass them in the street without acknowledging them. Same if he met them in one of the local shops or supermarket or post office.

Another problem was his refusal to allow the spouse of a church member to stand with his/her wife/husband at a baptism service. Only the member was there by the font, while her/his partner was banished to the pews. The non member, in other words, was not allowed to make the baptismal promises with his/her partner.

This, of course, led to murmurs of discontent and rebellion amongst the good folks of that congregation.

So, it’s Showtime or Showdown time with meeting number one – the little committee, the elders and the Reverend Superior.

Our convener went for the gentle approach, explaining that we weren’t there with them to take sides or to be judgmental; rather, to help, guide and support and to find some resolution.

After this introduction, she said something along the lines of “Now what would solve this situation?”

An old Elder creakingly got to his feet, looked long and hard at his Minister, pointed to the latter and in a voice full of emotion: “Get rid of HIM!!!! ”

Thereafter, it was chaotic, with accusations flying backwards and forwards, the convener in tears at one point and nobody willing to budge an inch.

What was it that Gandhi said: “I like your Christ but not your Christians”

Yup, now let’s all join in singing “bind us together” followed by “they’ll know we’re Christians by our love”

He left about a year later

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Mysteries (some thoughts for Trinity Sunday)

I vividly remember the days when I was younger and discovered  Sherlock Holmes and then Agatha Christie, to these days with an Inspector Morse or a Rebus whodunit or a Taggart or (best of all) “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbatch

 It’s pure enjoyable escapism to lose myself in the clues and the back-tracking and the twists and turns until the mystery is finally solved.

Besides the “whodunit” mystery stories we read or watch on television, there are many other mysteries that I know I can’t explain—like how a TV works. How is an image captured and transferred to a signal that travels invisibly through the air, only to be displayed in thousands of living rooms across the world?

Or how does an aeroplane that weighs several tons fly off into the wild blue yonder? Or how does a doctor diagnose and treat a cancer growing deep within someone’s body, giving them hope for a full life, when only a few years ago that cancer was a certain death sentence?

Even our relationships with each other can be quite a mystery—there is always the potential for miscommunication, offence, inequality, and misunderstanding—it only takes two people and a minute of time, and the relationship is off in a brand new direction.

There are many mysteries in life. Some of them can be explained by science. Some of them can’t— there are mysteries that simply cannot be explained.

Shortly before Jesus died, he prayed for his disciples and told them many things that would help them through the next troubling days. But there were some things, Jesus said, that they could simply not understand—nor bear to hear—right then.

The Holy Spirit would guide them, Jesus promised, and give them a power beyond their imagination—the power of Jesus’ love and grace.

This kind of talk was a mystery to the disciples—and it remains a mystery to us today.

The very nature of faith challenges us to see the mystery, to grapple with it, to dig deep within the Scriptures to find clues, to back-track to our basic belief that Jesus loves us, and to trust the Spirit to guide us through life—with all its twists and turns.

In the Great Commission,   Jesus ends this Charge to his apostles – to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that he had commanded them – he ends this with these words:

And, behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age

And, you know, it is the Holy Spirit that  brings Christ to us throughout the ages

How? It’s a mystery! But Christ’s Spirit of love, mercy and redemption is in our lives.

To have the Spirit is to have God in us, in our hearts, minds and persons.

So we need to be committed to have the Spirit, to have God within us, to have the Spirit within us. Then we can fulfil that Great Commission to tell others about the Spirit who is within us.

The kind of relationship God wants from us can be demonstrated in this story:

During a Sunday service in a little church near Falkirk years ago, as the elders were returning to the table with the offering plates, a little boy sitting next to the aisle tugged at the sleeve of one of the men and whispered, “Please put the plate down on the floor.”

Bewildered, the elder obeyed.

Then the boy proceeded to step into the plate. This was his way of saying to Jesus “I  give my whole self to you, not only the money in my pocket, but my time, my strength, my whole life.”

This boy was Robert Moffat, the great missionary to Africa and the father-in-law of David Livingstone.”

Are we willing to step into the offering plate so to speak? To give ourselves so that the Spirit of God can rest in us and then we can proclaim that Spirit to the world? 

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The Sabbath 2 – Thirst after Righteousness

In Scotland, it used to be the case that one could only purchase alcohol on a Sunday, if one were a “bona fide” traveller.  If memory serves me correct (I’m think back over 40 years here), only hotel bars were open in the evening; pubs closed all day.

My friend Murray and I used to take the subway to Buchanan Street, Glasgow.  Opposite the station was an hotel with a large bar. Of course, technically, we were “travellers”

On one occasion, I noticed a group of middle aged men sitting in a corner.  They were wearing dark suits and black ties.

An undertakers’ convention?  or perhaps they’d been to a funeral as mourners and were stopping off for a drink before going home?  no, no funerals on a Sunday.

Then I overheard one of them say something like “Blast! I’ve left my watch at the Kirk – I took it off when we were cleaning up the Communion cups”

They were elders from some church nearby!  Obviously, a case of “thirst after righteousness” 🙂


It was only in the late eighties that off-sales were legally permitted to open in Scotland on a Sunday (I think only in the evenings).

On the first Sunday of this happening, I drove from Musselburgh where I lived at the time to Portobello which is a short distance away. I did so because I didn’t want to be spotted buying booze on the Sabbath in my own town.

There was a Haddows in the main street and I duly bought some beer (and crisps) which I carried out in a branded plastic bag.

Now, immediately outside that “offie” was a bus stop and, just as I left the shop, a bus pulled in and, to my horror, several members of my congregation’s (Woman’s) Guild got off.

One eyed my Haddow’s carrier bag……

….. “Oh just some odds and ends” said I, “the boys wanted some crisps”

With a wry smile on her face, one of the ladies said, “you’d better get them home then, while they’re still chilled!”

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Jimmy Carter: Women and Religion



Former President of the United States, Nobel Peace Laureate and veteran peace negotiator Jimmy Carter has dedicated his life to the advancement of democracy, peace and health globally.

As part of his worldwide efforts, Jimmy Carter works as an Elder:

Chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights. They were brought together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, who is not an active member of the group but remains an Honorary Elder. The Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was also an Honorary Elder, until her election to the Burmese parliament in April 2012

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April 12, 2013 · 12:39

Cheerio – Minus Six

The Meenister’s Log

Six days to retirement……


Quite soon after my induction to my first Charge, and the Kirk Session was discussing how as a congregation we should be advancing under our new ministry together.

After some talk about Elders’ Conferences and the like, one old boy interrupted, saying “I did realise being an Elder involved all this…. I was told that it just meant putting the Communion Cards through folks’ letterboxes”  (oops!)

“Well that’s something you can do – come to the Manse tomorrow and put your letter of resignation through the letterbox there”

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Kirk Session Day

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