Friday, June 19, 2020



This week, Dunoon lost a warrior. Grace Page - or Dr Grace Dunlop, to give her her maiden name - died peacefully in the local hospital after a fall in her house. She was a week short of her 91st birthday. She had lived in Hunter's Quay as a child, an evacuee during the war, and as a frequent visitor during the years she lived in London with her husband Charles. But latterly, as travel became difficult, it was in the house in Hunter's Quay, with its view over her beloved Firth of Clyde, that she chose to live permanently, and, fiercely independent to the last, lived there until a few days before her death.

She became a part of my life, of our lives, through Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. That is where I first became aware of her as the most marvellous reader of lessons at the big brass eagle lectern. It was far too big for Grace's diminutive form to look over the top, so she would peep round the side of it as she read with enormous vigour, giving every character a different voice or adopting the persona of a prophet or St Paul as the reading demanded. It was obvious that she was completely unintimidated by an audience, this former University don, and had a firm grasp of the subject matter in hand.

For years she organised the Christian Aid collection for our congregation, challenging us to take whole areas as she did when she was well past the age when putting your feet up might be an acceptable option. When I took over her round with a friend, we were asked at every door what had happened to "the usual lady" - this in an area of hills and driveways, strenuous to visit. She cycled everywhere - though I do recall her driving and having an altercation with a fence beside a parking bay - and would appear at the top of Holy Trinity's hill with bike and wooly hat in all kinds of weather. In fact many of us will always think of her clad in the kilt, the wooly hat and her cagoule - prepared for Argyll weather at all times.

However it was through the music of the church that we really got to know Grace. Right up until the time when the church closed for the Covid_19 pandemic, she could be heard vigorously singing the hymns, especially the traditional ones, dropping - still perfectly in tune - to the tenor register when the melody went too high. Sometimes when she was very old she would confide to me "I really only come for the music, you know", and it was clear that the organist was the important one of the two of us. In the early years of this millennium, she paid for a new electronic organ, the old one (also electric) having gone up in smoke during a service one Sunday. Only last year, when this organ in its turn was showing its age (computers really don't last for ever, especially not in damp churches), she gave a generous sum towards replacing it. By now her memory was failing, and she would ask anxiously if she had indeed given the money, and if it was safe. We were glad she was able to be there to hear the new instrument and know that she was part of its story.

It is always sad to see someone of formidable intellect suffer the ravages of old age, and Grace knew what was happening to her. If anyone raged against the dying of the light, it was Grace. She became furious with herself, and those of us who had known her well knew the struggle this fury represented. She had never suffered fools gladly, and with the loss of memory came a loss of inhibition in letting us all know what she thought. But on the better days, she would tell us of her childhood, of her research work, of her days sailing on the Firth of Clyde, around Arran, all the wonderful places to which she was so attached.

In recent years, Grace longed for death, and her prayers for this mercy were audible. Now she is gone, and we have lost a formidable presence. Her legacy lives on, it is hoped, in the continuing presence of the PS Waverley on the Clyde, and, most poignantly, in the music of the church to which she had become so attached.  May flights of angels sing her to her rest, and may she rise in glory.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Mopping up

I don't blog much these days, and to find myself doing it twice in quick succession is quite a thing. I feel, however, that I need to clarify my own position after the comments that were left about the Translation of Bishop Kevin, and it's better done here, on a fresh page as it were.

My first point concerns the etiquette of online discourse. There are a couple of anonymous comments on the previous post, of varying degrees of bitterness and hostility, which digitally competent friends  suggested were attempting to hijack my post for their own ends and which should therefore be deleted. And yes, I considered this course. Although I know who wrote one of these comments, it is nevertheless cowardly to refuse to identify oneself with one's point of view. It may be incompetence that makes someone unable to pin an identity to a response, but nothing stops anyone from saying in the body of their reply who they are and what their interest is.

My reason for leaving these replies is that they show what the church is up against. The diocese of Argyll and The Isles covers not only a huge geographical area but also a vast range of different attitudes, some of which belong firmly in the mid-20th century. They also show, I am afraid, another face of what puts people off the church - the all-too-human side of the church.

There have been moments in the past week when I have felt like chucking it all in - but have been so supported by the clearly Christ-filled responses on various media and in private messages that I know giving up is not the answer.

Please note that there will be no more bitter ripostes published on this or the last post.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Bottom, thou art translated ...or Bishop's Move

There are so many temptations to play with the title of this post that it could almost divert me from the purpose of writing it. Almost, but not quite. The news broke on Saturday that the Bishop of Argyll and The Isles was to become the Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway. Two dioceses, the same small denomination. Two dioceses, one populous, the other scattered and sparsely populated over a massive area. This process is not common in the Scottish Episcopal Church - apparently it last occurred almost 100 years ago - and so was not something that even the knowledgable person in the pew would think possible. And the process is called, would you believe, "translation".

I learned of our bishop's translation on Facebook before elevenses on the Saturday when, we had been told, the appointment of the Bishops' choice for Glasgow would be announced. No longer an election because the electors of the diocese had been unable to find a suitable candidate, this was to be a choice, as happened to the Diocese of Argyll some nine years or so ago. Presumably the College of Bishops knew how they were heading before Saturday's meeting - I cannot for a moment imagine it was a Spirit-driven spur of the moment thing. And I learned of it on Facebook. And on Twitter. And then there were the photos on Instagram. And great was the rejoicing thereof, and not a word about the Diocese of Argyll and The Isles.

The announcement was in the pew sheet the next day - the same announcement people like me had seen online. It came as no surprise to me, but in my generation I am known as a social media peculiarity. I could hear the indrawn breaths. And people felt bereft, and just a tad let down. Our last incumbent left to become a bishop - but that, to be honest, was not unexpected.  Bishops tend merely to retire, and retirement, like old age, does not come as a surprise.

At this point, I need to make one notable exception to the torrent of well-meaning explanation as to why this was really needed for Glasgow diocese - as if I needed told. One Glasgow priest had the pastoral sensitivity to respond to my early shocked reaction, not with explanation but with an expression of sympathy and concern, and the assurance of prayer. It is a sad reflection on the church as an organisation that this simple, priestly act brought a tearful response.

There needs to be a serious look at how these things are managed in this era of instant communication. We are no longer waiting for the white smoke, for the revelation of who the latest bishop is to be. Someone gets carried away - for whatever reason - and posts online. Happens in politics all the time. But this is the church. We are supposed to think of our bishop as our Father in God. This is like telling a family that actually the family across the water - for that is where the receiving diocese is for us here - can't stop bickering and so your father is being sent to look after them. You're a sensible lot, they say - you can manage on your own. And they tell you, not even in a private message or a text, but on social media. A done deal.

The truth is that yes, we can manage. As long as we feel loved, and cherished, and valued for our contribution to the church - not financial, but  because we're faithful. But take that for granted, forget to include us in your thinking - no. The College of Bishops, which includes some perfectly savvy media operators, needs to think about the effect of their decisions and the pastoral care of the people without whom there would be no church. It is not the Bishop that keeps going an individual charge like the one in which I participate. It's the passion of the laity, kept aflame, if we're lucky, by the ministrations of our clergy. My church is in a good place just now, spiritually and organisationally. But some of us today are feeling let down by the very people who should be caring for us all.

As I write this, I've found that some people in Glasgow diocese have become aware that there have been failings. I've had two series of supportive messages and an apology, and I appreciate them all. But none of them came from the source that should have managed the whole situation, and none of them has been directed to the people of Argyll and The Isles. For the sake of the diocese and the sake of the Church, I hope it's not too late.