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Principle and Compromise PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Saturday, 18 May 2013 13:44

Shawn Johnson contemplates the beam

Pictured is the American gymnast Shawn Johnson preparing herself for her beam routine in a competition back in 2011; Olympics followers may remember her stunning performance from the 2008 Olympics. Some of you will know that we have two gymnasts in the household here, Katherine in the acrobatic and Emma in the artistic disciplines. Emma, last weekend, successfully passed her first national exam and placed well amongst those with whom she was performing.

It is her artistic discipline that includes the beam, along with the bars, vault and floor exercises. It will happen frequently as you learn and train that you will fall from the beam, and we have witnessed that before. It is a heart-in-mouth moment as a parent. Even at Olympic level there are times when these superb athletes lose their focus and struggle to maintain their balance on the beam.

Today in Edinburgh the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (GA) for 2013 has begun; I write this while watching the webcast stream of the proceedings. After a brief break during the 2012 GA when the inclusion of gay and lesbian ministers and deacons who might be living in same-sex relationships was not discussed while the Theological Commission on same-sex relationships and the Ministry continued its work. On Monday that report and its deliverances will be discussed. [There's more...]

Lifepath Team PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Friday, 17 May 2013 16:41

Lifepath Team

This afternoon was spent in glorious sunshine at the David Livingstone Centre where members of the team (comprising the chaplaincy team and staff at the centre, along with some keen and willing helpers) had a walk-through of the Lifepath event that is planned for the first week in June. This included an orienteering activity that began at the large fallen tree and took us hiking across the whole grounds to time how long it took - it worked perfectly, but we weren't carrying large boxes and canoes...

Now that the day is getting ever closer everything, as it always does, is nicely coming together. There are a few loose ends to tie up (like making sure we have those four canoes ready to go), but we are basically there. [There's more...]

And now, the end is near... PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Friday, 17 May 2013 00:34

The death of Jean Valjean

Two films I had long been wanting to see were released on disk this past week and I snapped them up and watched them last night and the night before.

The first was, of course, Les Miserables. Despite that two of my kids saw it not once, but twice at the cinema, once with Carolyn and another time with friends, it was about time I got to watch it having missed the opportunity on the big screen. I can certainly see why the film has created so much buzz. I enjoyed the performances tremendously and the cinematography was superb. The feedback from others was that the film was a weep festival... tissues at the ready! But... [There's more...]

It's all geek to me PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 20:10

As a self-confessed geek, I was amused to read a blog post by another geeky minister, Mark Sandlin, from the PC(USA) contrasting geek culture and the church in the 21st century. Have a read of 10 Things Church Can Learn From Geeks.

Having seen with Andrew last Saturday the new Star Trek movie which I loved for all the references to the past (which I had to explain to Andrew) Sandlin's last of his ten points made me chuckle:

My first recollection of geeking out about something was Star Trek. Yes, the original series. One of the things I've come to love about it was the way it pushed us into new frontiers without bashing us over the head. Story and metaphor softened the blow of moral imperatives for a more fully functioning society based on equality. The further I went into the geek culture the more of this kind prophetic behavior I noticed. I like to think I'm a better "me" because of it. Come to think of it, Jesus told a lot of parables that did the same thing. I read those too. Once again, I like to think I'm a better "me" because of it.

Sure, some of these points overlap and not all of these are perfect correlations. They're not really meant to be. And sure, in some ways we are comparing reality and make believe, but let's not pretend like some of our Church practices aren't human made constructs. Some church people will be offended. Some geeks will be offended. I imagine portions of each will totally disown and disavow me for even thinking these thoughts, but who knows, maybe there was another misquote in the Bible. Maybe it wasn't the kingdom of God that was at hand, maybe it was the fandom of God.

Words, Confusion and Justice PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Monday, 13 May 2013 13:13

Storm in a teacup

I confess I was a little frustrated last week to read the storm in a teacup that had blown up over the publication (since withdrawn for some edits) of a report by the Church and Society Council ahead of the General Assembly next week. The report, titled "The Inheritiance Of Abraham? A Report On The 'Promised Land'" was perhaps not as clear as it should have been on the implicit assumptions within the Kirk that the nation of Israel has a right to exist, that all violence and acts of terror should be condemned, and that the Kirk deplores any anti-semitism. These have been affirmed in a press release subsequently released, but they were always implicit in the Kirk's understanding of the report.

The brouhaha over the report does reveal both the power and limitation of words, and the ease with which people can misunderstand the author's intention.

Blog Transitions PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Thursday, 09 May 2013 10:27

Ferryhill Website

Over the last few months I have had in the back of my mind the necessity to find a way to transition my personal blog, which has been hosted for the past years here on the Blantyre St Andrew's website, to a new site. Last weekend this process began as a new website for Ferryhill Parish Church was created which is now active alongside their old website (the two will run in tandem for a time while any bugs and issues get worked out of the new site).

I am now in the midst of moving some 800 blog posts... As with the two websites at Ferryhill, during this transition I will be maintaining my blog both here and on the Ferryhil website. This is one of the benefits of such a long time from knowing you are going to be moving to actually moving. So, do please continue to pop past the blog in either location. 

The Great Unknown PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Thursday, 09 May 2013 10:17

Do you remember those algebra lessons at school? And the unknown numbers (the 'independent variable') that were represented by 'x' in all those equations? 

Today the letter 'x' appears everywhere. We have x-ray machines (from a time when we did not fully understand what x-rays were), the x-factor, x-men, the x-files, generation X, and on and on.

But why the letter 'x'? It is something to do with Arabic and Spain...

Terry Moore explains:

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Picnic Praise PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Thursday, 02 May 2013 16:12

Picnic Praise

This summer the David Livingstone Centre are hosting a "Picnic Praise" afternoon that has been organised by the staff at the centre along with Calderside Chaplaincy Team with the support of Hamilton Presbytery.

This event is open to all from across the region and particular encouragement is given to churches to make this an outing this summer. The activities are appropriate for all ages. Please bring a blanket and picnic with you. 

  • Praise Concert led by Fischy Music
  • Traditional games
  • Play area for young children
  • Bouncy castle
  • Face painting
  • Tours of Museum
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Large park area

Sunday 23 June 2013
1-4 p.m.
David Livingstone Centre

If possible, we would encourage you to use public transport. The centre is a short walk from Blantyre railway station, and regular bus services are availabe. There is limited parking in the grounds, street parking is available and plans are being put into place to arrange for more parking to be available near the Sports Centre in Blantyre.

There is no charge for attendance of the event, though if you plan to use the café at the centre you will need to bring money for that.

If you are planning on bringing a group from your church, it would be very helpful to have a rough idea of numbers. This information can be passed to Katie Palmer at the David Livingstone Centre on 0844 493 2207 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Posters and flyers will be available at presbytery on Tuesday 8 May. If you would like to print your own for use in your church please download the following files:

Further Spillage... Issue 8 Available PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Saturday, 27 April 2013 19:04

Spill the Beans Issue 8

Issue 8 of Spill the Beans is now available for download. This takes us through the first half of the long post-Pentecost season. Spanning 26 May to 25 August 2013, the issue is broken into two sections. In the first we concentrate on the story of the prophets Elijah and Elisha before returning to the gospels for the second half. We are delighted to be able to reproduce the long out-of-print retelling of Elijah's story by the late actor and writer David Kossoff in this issue; a perfect means to enter the world of these ancient prophetic voices and the times in which they served God.

Inside you will find worship ideas and resources, including Bible notes, stories, prayers, reflections, music suggestions, and more, and for age groups you will find suggestions for activities, crafts, games and teen discussion resources.

If you have already used Spill the Beans, you will know what a fabulous resource this is, created by folks here in Scotland. If you have not yet, but are intrigued, have a look at this sample. The last issue was taken up by two hundred church leaders or Sunday School leaders, the largest number yet. Amazing. And the team have plans for the long term future... more on that another time!

Some months ago I was interviewed for the CEAS website about Spill the Beans. A series of videos is available here explaining what Spill the Beans is, how it is created and the ethos behind it. In the introduction I said:

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If you'd like to download a full copy of Issue 8 for use in your church or personally, then click the button below. It is a positive steal at only £12. You can make a secure payment via PayPal and then an email with secure link to the download should wing its way to you. Please note that you can only download the file using this link three times, so please make sure you save the file to your computer.

Please follow the instructions carefully. The Adobe pdf file is approximately 7 MB.

Buy Now and Download

You can also get involved in feedback and discussion on the Spill the Beans blog, where we try to put up weekly PowerPoint backgrounds too.

If you would like a print copy of Spill the Beans, Issue 8, then this can be arranged. The cost is £20+P&P and these can be arranged directly with the office at Lanark Greyfriars Church. Each issue is in full colour and comb bound for ease of use. We have had to raise the costs of the print copy from our initial issues as we have found the original costs were not covering the costs of producing the copies.

If you would like to order copies (which are all printed to order so there may be a few days to wait before you receive yours) then you can email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with your order details. An invoice will be issued after dispatch of your order. If you prefer you can contact Greyfriars Church Office on 01555 661510 and place your order over the phone.

Wedding Bells PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Sunday, 07 April 2013 14:37

Isla and Claus cutting cake

It was a very busy week last week, with the kids off at the moment, of course. We had a day away to Twynholm in Dumfries & Galloway and the Cocoa Bean Company which proved great fun and worth a visit, though it isn't cheap if the kids are going to do the full chocolate factory experience and create their own chocolates. None of which, it should be said, have been offered around!

In amidst putting together the next issue of Spill the Beans, which is always difficult around Easter, the week saw the final preparations for a big day on Saturday as my sister and Claus were married at Crutherland House in East Kilbride. It was such a privilege for me to be able to lead that service, with our mum providing the music and our older two girls doing the readings. A special moment for us all in the Johnston and Noel clans that doesn't come round often.

Friends from Gravesend made the trip north to be there which was really fab, bringing back lots of memories.

A good day. And every blessing for Isla, Claus, Ella and Olivia!

A eulogy for Jesus PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Friday, 29 March 2013 21:33


In the Good Friday service this evening I used an idea from a friend, Donald McCorkindale, who mentioned that he had used a funeral service as the basis for a Good Friday service. I did the same this evening adapting one of the funeral liturgies that I use. It was a very moving experience for me to prepare a funeral service for Jesus for the moments after he was laid in the tomb. 

From the words of those who left the service this evening, it was equally powerful for them as it had been for me. What would you say if you were writing the tribute for Jesus? [There's more...]

Leading by example PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Friday, 29 March 2013 01:13

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This is really good to see. Pope Francis breaks with tradition, as is becoming something of a habit for him, for the Mass for Holy Thursday. Normally the Pope would celebrate it at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, but Pope Francis decided he would officiate it at a juvenile detention center in Rome, saying to the youngsters "I wash your feet to remind you that we have to help each other."

In another break from tradition, Francis washed the feet of two girls. A sign of changes to come, I wonder? Traditionally, foot washing has been all male remembering that Jesus washed the feet of the twelve male disciples.

Mandatum novum PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Thursday, 28 March 2013 23:14

Maundy Thursday Last Supper

It is Maundy Thursday today, and I saw someone on facebook reflecting on the meaning of the word 'maundy'. It is derived from the Latin mandatum, and its use here comes from Jesus' words to his disciples, "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you" which translates in Latin as "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos". The word 'mandate' comes from this root too.

This evening we celebrated in fellowship in the hall, journeyed to our upper room to remember the Last Supper and ended at the doorway to the church with a newly filled planter (thanks, Geoff Krawczyk) which represented the Garden of Gethsemane for us.

The words from this evening that most stuck in my mind were these from the end of the evening, part of our Spill the Beans liturgy for this evening:

There is a gap in the darkness
where the Son of Light once prayed,
a crease in the air
like a warped lens
through which we can see
what fear has done
and ghosts of the past
have come to shape our present.

The kiss has been given
and still the ripples distort the scene
where the son of humanity
has been betrayed.
This may be the first,
but it is not the last.

The path is now certain,
the powers that be have chosen their way:
chosen how to complete this story
and Jesus has been stolen from us.
Yet, my friends,
with all that you can believe
conspire with the light
torn from us now,
yet crumpled somewhere,
ready to rise again.
Conspire to believe
that this turning of events
is not the way love
intends to leave things.

Tomorrow is Good Friday and we have a service in the Church at 7 p.m. when we will bear witness to the death of our Lord Jesus.

Antisectarianism Panel PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Wednesday, 27 March 2013 21:22

Antisectarianism Display

On Monday afternoon I had the privilege to step into David Burt's shoes representing the Church of Scotland for a Question Time panel organised by Glenlee Primary and John Ogilvie High School. The children had been doing a power of work together on sectarianism and displays along one of the corridors and in the hall graphically illustrated some of the work they had been doing.

On the panel was Dr Robin Jamieson (working with Community Links on sectarianism), Jim Reid (headteacher at Glenlee), David Scott (representing Nil by Mouth), Alison Logan (from Sense over Sectarianism), Father Matthew Despard (St John Ogilvies Roman Catholic Church) and myself, with representation also from Cooperative Funeral Care who had helped sponsor the project.

It has to be said, it was a very harmonious response to all the questions the children raised, unanimously seeking to find ways to continue the progress made to eliminate the blight of sectarianism that still can rear its ugly head. Respect of each other and the responsibility to ensure that our own actions do not add to the tribalism of the West of Scotland were frequent responses. [There's more...]

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