Friday 27th. September, 2013 -- Gathering Momentum 


Olivebank sets out on the start of her journey to Duns


Got up and walked Mix and by the time I arrived at the Manse, folk had arrived to take Olivebank off on the first stage of her journey to Duns. It took them no time at all to pull Olivebank onto the back of their truck and to set off for Helensburgh where Olivebank will stay with Simon while work is done on the trailer before she completes her journey to the Borders.

I went back into the study and worked through some of the tasks which were awaiting me -- and a number of people came to see me and to say 'good-bye'. I have been touched by how many people have wanted to say things to me. Roy popped in today and gave Rachel a horse-shoe from Rosa who has pulled the wedding carriage to so many ceremonies at the Church, and Bob popped in to say good-bye to Rachel because he had missed her earlier in the week when he came to visit. In the early afternoon we had the Luss School Harvest Service -- they had brought it forward so that I could share in it and I enjoyed being part of their service. They gave me a lovely Bible signed by every child (and member of staff) in the school. I appreciate their kindness.

Then it was back to work before it was time to change and go along to the Lodge on Loch Lomond for a bit of a party. I hadn't known what to expect. I had been told to be there just after seven but when we arrived we discovered that there were about one hundred and forty people present all gathered in the big function room at the Lodge and that the event was a full-scale dinner. As with everything the Lodge does, it was a superb evening, good food and a glorious company drawn from both congregations -- in fact I think that the total present was larger than the number in the combined congregations! Everything was chaired by Robbie with speeches by Jamie and by Robbie -- and we were showered with gifts: Rachel was given flowers, as was my mother. Rachel was given a chimnea (a very beautiful one at that) and I was given a hugely generous cheque. But it was the words which people spoke to me which pulled hardest at my heartstrings.

I was amazed at how far some people had travelled to be part of the evening. Hannah had left work at four and travelled from Carlyle where she is on placement as part of her training, Ross and Anne had travelled from deep in the wilds of Argyll, Isobel and Maggie had travelled from the east, Allan and Flora had travelled up to their caravan, Tom and Dorothy had travelled up from the Borders. And there were folk I didn't expect to see out tonight: Davina, and John MacEachern. Judy was there and there were so many children -- it was special to have Hannah, Katie and Emma who seem to have been part of everything that has happened while I have been here.

I sat at the table with my mind in a whirl. So many people so sad to see us going -- but it didn't matter how sad they were it was nothing at all compared to how sad we are to be leaving them: not to be leaving the place (through that is pretty fabulous) but to be leaving the people. All of them have become our very greatest of friends and we will miss them.

I guessed too that there was an element of confusion in amongst everyones' sadness. They knew what was going to happen to us -- we would be sitting in the garden at Mount Pleasant on the garden bench presented to us by the Guild by the chimnea in a garden environment which had never experienced the invasion of the west-coast midge, but what of them? It is natural to have misgivings but there is clearly no need. I have never seen two congregations which both individually and together wouldn't know the meaning of disharmony and which are totally united in being a Christian family with a place for everyone. Both congregations also have a very clear view of where they want to go. In Arrochar the aim is to be a village congregation serving its community. That's a massive objective, already fulfilled -- but it wasn't always the case. I remember going to see the Presbytery Clerk soon after I arrived and saying, "Well, I expect that you'll want us to start rebuilding the Church," only to get the response that the little hall was quite big enough for any congregation that Arrochar was ever likely to attract. The congregation proved them wrong -- a wonderful restoration job and a fabulous congregation which now has a thriving youth group and Guild and I am so proud of the young folk who have come through our Sunday School.

I remember, too, all that the rebirth of the congregation did for the village -- the building of the village hall, the winning of the Village of the Year award and so much more, all of which is now part of the story of Arrochar.

Luss too has a clearly worked out statement of where it is going and how it is going to achieve it. Important strands of the Church's mission here are welcoming the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to Luss each year, the development of the church's youth project with youngsters from all around the world, from Prince's Trust teams and from secondary schools, the work with those who come here to be married -- not because of the economic importance of weddings to the community (five million pounds was a recent estimate) but because of the missionary opportunity of being alongside people from all over our country and beyond at such a crucial time in their lives, the streaming of our Sunday services to people throughout Scotland and throughout the world as well, of course, as continuing to serve the needs of our local congregation and community.

I got a lovely email today from one of the staff of Our Lady and Saint Patrick's High School. He wrote: "Being involved with you and the community of faith in Luss has enhanced my time in Our Lady and St Patrick's and has been significant in the lives of our young people and the school. We hope that this connection will continue beyond your retirement (and indeed mine in the not too distant future) as it has been too valuable for it not to."

We were also commended for all that we do for visitors here. It started with the creation of the Pilgrimage Centre (built by Jimmy and his Arrochar team) providing a heritage centre for those who come to visit but which also provides a place for local groups to meet -- the Guild, the Cinema, the Heritage Group and so much more. It went on through the building of the Luss Bridge by the Royal Engineers and the opening up of the Glebe with its pilgrimage pathways (which in turn led to the Green Pilgrimage opportunities). Now, of course, the Church -- beautifully restored in 2002 -- is equipped with a superb sound and light show which is the envy of many churches and visitor attractions much larger than ourselves. It has become fashionable to talk about the need to 'do up' the village but the Church was engaged in doing it long before anyone else!

With all of this background the Church has little to fear. The services will continue in Arrochar and Luss just as they do today, the Glebe will continue to be open for those who come in large numbers to explore, youth groups will continue to come to stay with us in the Palace -- so proudly named after Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Rothesay's visit in 2010 during which she planted the tree which sits in front of the building. The services will continue to be streamed and people will continue to be welcomed. There will be services of Sunday worship, of baptism and marriage, there will be funerals and the Manse will continue to be the hub of so many of the activities at the heart of local community life.

I am just so sorry that I will not be part of it -- so sorry that it actually hurts! But the start of our second fifteen hundred years will be years to remember. (I think that 2010 was probably the best year of my life -- all of the celebrations, the wonderful guest preachers each with something special to say, the Rossdhu Book of Hours in our care for four months, the musical events, the pilgrimages, the historical addresses -- and most of all, the fun and the friendship of a colossal adventure.)

As I sat at table I found myself thinking too of some of the folk who weren't with us because they now celebrate on a different shore being separated from us by death. Separated yes, but sometimes they feel so close. My father was so pleased that I had come here to serve and he helped me enormously during those first months of my ministry here. Eric worked so hard for Arrochar Church -- when the presbytery tried to sell it, he insisted on 'helping' by showing prospective purchasers around. Somehow they were never so keen after Eric had told them about the graveyard, about things that went bump in the night and the feelings of the community about the prospect of losing its church. Marion raised so much of the money single-handedly for the Arrochar Church knocking on every door in the village and demanding that everyone contribute! We have some good fund-raisers in Luss. Bettie (from Arrochar) and Val (and it was really good to have both of them with us tonight) made up a ferocious team in the days when they looked after the Church and the Centre together.

I found myself thinking of Margaret and Elma, of Hamish (who spear-headed the Luss Restoration), of May Lumsden and of so many more (I knew that I shouldn't have started on this reminiscing because someone always gets left out.) I also thought of Bob who came to see me this week and who worked tirelessly on our youth projects for around five happy years. Then there are all of the folk who arrived when we needed them -- Andy with his IT skills, Bill with his communication abilities, Drew who takes the best photographs and the team of folk who have made the Manse a happy place for so many: Morag and May and Jessie and Cathy and so many more besides. And Chris who looks after the Glebe.

It is a wonderful charge -- Arrochar and Luss complimenting each other perfectly -- and in Luss in particular with such a continued influx of new blood, often as a result of weddings or of the welcome which they have received when they visited. I have been fortunate not only in having two lovely congregations but also in having two special Kirk Sessions.

So many thoughts going through my mind as I sat and looked out on the assembled company. Rachel and I have been so very, very fortunate and everything we have been able to do has been made possible in very large measure by the love and kindness with which we have been surrounded. God has been very good to us.



Having shared my thoughts, here is a view from where I sat. So many friends!


The evening was brought to a close by an unexpected visit from the Minister of Glasgow Cathedral -- our mother Church. The Reverend Doctor Laurence Whitley spoke generously about the lives of our congregations and about my ministry. He saw our parishes as being a centre of excellence and his words of encouragement were greatly appreciated by everyone present.

Must just say that Robbie had an excellent evening in the chair. He was superb, and along with Jamie, who surpassed himself in his carefully crafted speech, and with the care of the staff of the Lodge on Loch Lomond, and by some great singing from Beth Street with music provided by the organist from the United Reformed Church in Helensburgh, ensured that we all had an evening to remember.

I walked home in a dream.

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