Saturday, 16 June 2012

Back in the Blogging Seat

Apologies to readers for the long silence! I have been on holiday in Wales (you may have gathered) and I was then away leading a retreat for the clergy of Brechin Diocese, in Scotland. It has been interesting to be in both Scotland and Wales in quick succession and to realise how very different the history and make up of the Anglican church is in each province. The relationship bewteen the indiviual church vestry and its priest is quite different in the Episciopal Church of Scotland from that of the priest and PCC in England. Ecumenical partners are much more likely to be predominantly Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland. In Wales, dis-establishment and the degree to which the Anglican church has had to define itself in the context of 18th and 19th century non-conformity has led to a very different place in the public arena for the Church in Wales and to a different background in terms of working within the education system. In 1900, there were about 190,000 Anglicans in Wales while there were nearer three quarters of a million non-conformists and one of the big issues at the time of dis-establishment was that the Church of England catechism was taught in schools instead of the more bible-based teaching that the chapels advocated. In the environment, the University of Wales, whose constituent colleges were set up between 1843 and 1893, adopted a constitution that forbade the appointment of chaplains. Today, 92 years after dis-establishment, I think there is a greater sense that the Church in Wales has its roots down in the soil of Welsh society and that it plays a significant role in linking Welsh Christians with the early sites and sources of pre-Roman Christianity.

All this has reminded me how very difficult it is for the whole Anglican Communion to stay together. Every province has its own extremely disinctive context and it is important to honour the unique struggles and attempts to define effective mission that have gone on in each place across a great spectrum of global religious and political history.

One thing the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Churh have in common is the pervading sense of their having their roots in forms of Christianity that go back to the earliest times in the history of Christianity in these islands. The retreat I led was held at the Brechin Diocesan Retreat Centre in Glenesk, where the local church is dedicated to St Drostan. Drostan was of royal blood and active around 600AD. We do not know a great deal about him, but what we do know comes from two (not always consistent) sources, the Brevarium Aberdonense and the Book of Deer which is a ninth century Manuscript. He was certainly a pupil of St Columba for a short period; together, they established a monastery at Deir, about 60 miles north of Aberdeen. When Columba returned to Iona, he left Drostan in charge of the new foundation as Abbot. Later, Drostan became Abbot of Holyrood before feeling called to a life of greater seclusion; he left his position as Abbot and moved further north to become a hermit in Glenesk. He is reputed to have preached from many sites around the area (some associated with stone crosses) and to have attracted the poor and needy by his humility, sanctity and kindness. Tarfside, where the Centre is situated, is, to this day, a beautiful place of sanctuary, hospitality and peace. 

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