Dec 30th - Monday

Weddings. I've just seen another post that suggests humanist weddings should be a preferred option for any couple. The sub-text is that their ceremonies are far superior to anything else, full stop! Well, let’s have a look at some of the points they put forward.

Venue. In Scotland, the licence to marry is with the celebrant and not the venue. This means that anyone licensed by law can carry out the wedding ceremony in any reasonable venue. This is not exclusive to humanists. While I’ve been here there have been weddings in many different venues, as well as in church buildings; for example and amongst other venues, there has been a wedding at the top of the lighthouse, under a tree and quite a few on beaches ( after checking tide times! ).

Spiritual aspect. Unlike a Humanist ceremony, a faith based religious ceremony will not ignore that part of a couple's relationship. Church congregations may be at an all-time low but that doesn’t mean couples don’t want a faith element in their special ceremony. If fact, there are many, many people of faith who have no formal religious affiliation who still choose to be married by a religious celebrant.

Religious differences. Faith ethos is centred around being kind, treating people with respect, and so much more. The faith celebrant, ( I write from a Church of Scotland tradition ) has the best interests of the couple very much at the centre of the ceremony. If the couple are from different religious traditions, weddings are a chance for couples of different faith systems to come together, discuss their own faith traditions and to incorporate these into their wedding ceremony developing a ceremony that accommodates most main-line faith traditions. Being open and honest with the celebrant will help for the day and, so important for their future, help the couple understand each other better.

Content of the ceremony. Each wedding is crafted ( very deliberate use of this word ), with the couple very much at the heart of the ceremony. This doesn’t mean ignoring the formal legal requirements of the wedding ceremony but it does mean these are incorporated in a way that suits each couple. There can be singing, dancing, pet ring-bearers ( though I’ve not experienced those last two … yet ), symbolic gestures, etc, all worked into the celebration. I know of ministers who have incorporated hand-fasting and, this summer, one wedding here included drinking from a quiach. 

Inclusion of family. This has always been part of religious traditions. How family is involved is up to the couple and their families. Children are very welcome to be involved in the wedding of their parents!

Drama. Most dramas are caused by what goes on around the wedding at the core of the day. Who to invite, where to have the wedding worries about the party / reception, family tensions - these are what causes most drama!

Cost. If a couple decide to hold their wedding in a church building there will be a charge for the use of that venue, as there would be for any building. There would be charges for any organist and, occasionally, for the person who helps prepare the building for the day. Beyond that, there is no charge for the minister ( remember, I write from a Church of Scotland tradition ), but it’s nice to receive a donation towards the costs of ministry. Donations are charitable and alturistic, not fees or charges. Donations help with the cost of ministry in supporting the communities they are part of eg to enable other weddings, or baptism or funerals, of those who are less fortunate, and to provide ongoing pastoral support of all in their care.

Same-sex weddings. This is the only point on which humanists can claim to provide a service a Church of Scotland minister cannot.

After all that … is a humanist wedding best? Well, they certainly seem to believe that! I don’t. What is best for the couple is very much a reflection of who they are and what they would like on the day. Any Church of Scotland minister will work with the couple to achieve the best for them on the day - and, as mentioned above, continue to provide ongoing pastoral support as necessary. Perhaps humanists could be aware that others are just as good and offer the same range of services, with the addition of being open to acknowledging people of faith have value too.

Dec 28th - Saturday

Preparing for worship tomorrow. The season of Christmas has only begun and will last until the 6th of January - so we'll be having a Carol Fest and wearing, if we have any, Christmas jumpers!

It's not always easy to be happy and cheerful over this period, in particular. Today I visited, with a colleague, a bereaved family and we talked about their loved one. Beyond the biography of their birth and death, we remembered stories and what they were like. Laughter in the sadness, and thanks for a life well lived.

Please remember that if you are feeling down and would like to talk to someone, there are people ready and willing to listen - your minister included! In Scotland, the minister, as part of their remit / responsibility, has pastoral care of all in the parish - you don't even need to be a person of faith! How's that for care and concern?? Send a message or check out the contact details on the web page.

God bless!

Dec 27th - Friday, final part

Today there was Messy Church at Acharacle, in Shielbridge Hall. The Christmas story has been told many times recently and today we heard the story behind on of the Christmas traditions - how the tree came to be decorated.

There's an old story of a fir tree sheltering the holy family. The tree was so happy to have done so that it shed tears which then froze into icicles, the first decorations.

We played traditional games, decorated and pinned icicles onto a large tree drawn onto lining paper, iced icicle-shaped biscuits and ate a large tea together.


Dec 27th - Friday part 2 of 3

On the 23rd, Monday, there were pastoral visits to the care home previously mentioned, and to a few other people. And more prep.

That afternoon, some of the manse family and I went for a walk to Dorlin. The light there was beautiful and I've put a photo below.

On Christmas Eve there was an afternoon service at Kilchoan and an evening service at Acharacle and over 80 between the two services. Good fun and great singing. Such a lovely atmosphere ate each service.

Mention must be made of the music. At Kilchoan there is no live music but one of the congregation has taken on the task of playing backing tracks from an old iPad - and she does it so well, thank you! At Acharacle all three regular musicians played at the Christmas Eve service! Usually, there are two musicians at one time so it's quite a treat to have all three. Again, thank you.

A short service at Acharacle on Christmas morning and the rest of the day, and Boxing Day, off! Phew.


Dec 27th - Friday, part 1 of 3

iona Ogg1 hr

Oh goodness, my last real blog post was a week ago! But then, it has been a little bit busy. 

On Friday 20th I was supposed to be going to part of a team carol singing at the local care home, but I called off as the manse mutt wasn't well and I took her for a check up at the vet in Fort William. Vet couldn't find anything wrong but the mutt definitely had something going through her system - she's fine now, thankfully.

While we were in FW, I delivered 50kg of donations to Lochaber Foodbank. Those donations have been gathered over the peninsula, and are only the latest in the ongoing generosity and concern of local people for those who are struggling to get by. Thanks to one and all for their support of the Foodbank.

Saturday 21st was a desk day, preparing some of the upcoming services and events - and clearing the desk of the last few!

On Sunday 22nd worship was at Kilchoan and then Acharacle. I admit to a 'Christmas Brain' moment when my mind went totally blank and I couldn't remember what I was about to do. Thankfully, the congregation just smiled sympathetically.

Finally on the Sunday, while some members of the congregation were supporting the Free Church Carols, there were carols at Salen in the Hotel. Carols at the Salen pub is a new event and next year, so as not to conflict, I'll double check the date of the Free Church Carols. There was a good gathering at Salen and nearly 60 folk had gathered with most singing along. A good evening and not too late. Photos below after I've had dinner.

Photos now posted.


Dec 20th - Friday

On Wednesday the congregation at Kilchoan held the last of their Mince Pie Mornings in the manse / meeting room.  The mince pies were delicious and the chat just kept going.

I'd taken the camper van and the manse mutt as I was to stay at Kilchoan until the primary school nativity and play in the evening.  There were pastoral visits to make, only half the folk I called on were in so the mutt and I had a walk on a beach (bit blowy out there!), I did some worship prep and had my dinner.

On Thursday I’d been invited to join the the primary school for their Christmas lunch, and very delicious it was too!   The children were on a high after their nativity and play, as well as Christmas!  

A pastoral visit and then, as I headed back to Acharacle, there were posters to put up advertising Christmas Carols at the pub and Christmas Eve services.  

Carols singing outside the Village Store and then back to the manse.  I took the evening off.

Dec 17th - Tuesday

It was Sunday when I last blogged, I think. Breakfast here in the manse went well. Those there munched their way through rolls with bacon sausages, jam, marmalade, croissants while drinking orange juice, teas and coffees. Sadly for me, the left overs were all cleared away and in the freezer before lunchtime! Thanks to the 'staff' for all his hard work. Two services of worship went well and then we were out socially in the evening.

Yesterday was Monday. There was a funeral early afternoon, and in the evening the manse heathen and I went to Acharacle Primary School Nativity and Panto.

While the funeral was sad, the lady was given a lovely send off my her family and friends - the church building was well overflowing! She was well known to most folk of the peninsula.

The Nativity and Panto were sweet and mad as appropriate. How the children remember all those lines! The costumes were superb and the stage set wonderfully imaginative. Thank you for a great evening. The mince pies were delicious.

Took a slight breather this morning and started writing our Christmas cards - I think they may arrive in the New Year. This afternoon I was in one of the classes in the primary school telling the Christmas story. After various challenging questions we made individual stables and a giant one for the class. The teacher will send a photo of the giant stable and I'll post it but here's my template below.

Tonight we're out socially. Meantime, back to writing Christmas cards ...

God bless!


Dec 14th - Saturday

Friday's primary school assembly was fun - told the story of Christmas using Bob Holman's interactive version, which included wolves howling! 
The primary school is small so there may only be about 40 - 50 kids there but we all know each other and they're not afraid to ask questions. So they did! They asked loads abut the traditions of giving presents and where did Christmas trees fit in? You never know what questions children have but it's great interaction!

This morning I caught up with one of the office bearers. A few ideas were bounced around and we have a couple of ideas to follow up. And, this afternoon there was a pastoral visit in preparation for a funeral. 

Now I'm finishing preparing worship for tomorrow and then ...

... decorate the Christmas tree - yeah! It's got to be finished by tomorrow morning when the manse heathen and I host the congregation, at Acharacle, to breakfast before worship.

God bless!

Dec 13th - Friday

lovely venue and we enjoyed the evening - carols, teas, coffees, hot chocolate, cakes and lots of chat. Many thanks to the distillery staff ( Sophie ) for making us to very welcome. 

Thursday was a quiet day in that there were no events on! Desk time for admin and prep, and prep, and prep. I admit to a late night, watching election results coming in. There's a lot to reflect on in the results, but I do hope and pray that politicians now turn their attention to looking after the needs of the people they have been elected to look after.

This morning, I've been to the High School with the neighbouring minister ( we are both chaplains there ). In at the deep end, we had a conversation at assembly about religion and politics - of how Mary and Joseph were caught up in politics, had to have their child with no outside help, were on the run from the forces of evil, escaped a kind of genocide. And yet, God was able to work through it all and Jesus grew to be leader of a movement that focussed on justice and helping those in need. We then talked of how churches are still involved in working for those causes - of how local churches are this Christmas helping eg Lochaber Foodbank and Lochaber Hope. Church will always be involved in politics, with a small 'p'. We then wished the children a Happy Christmas.

I'm now off to be involved in an assembly at the local primary school. 

God bless!

Dec 11th - Wednesday

On Monday I was up at Spean Bridge for a meeting about a joint project with the neighbouring presbytery. About three hours on the road in total for a meeting of 2 1/2 hours, so it was worthwhile.

Yesterday started with another meeting. The neighbouring minister and myself are joint chaplains of the High School and we take assemblies each term - what do you do for an assembly just before Christmas that is on the day immediately after a General Election ... Well, we're going to mix the two and hope that it works! 

Pastoral visits after that and sitting in on Acharacle Community Council in the evening. Oh, don't tell anyone, but we went to the pub after that.

Today, I've done some baking for a carol service this evening and we hosted Acharacle nursery for Little Christmas. The nursery come into the church building where they hear the Christmas story, told with the help of lovely little wooden figures, and then they go into the chalet to draw and play for a little while. It's lovely. I'll add photos once I've taken a cake out of the oven - excuse me ...