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Highlands

The journey from London to Inverness doesn't seem so far if you sleep most of the way, which I did. I had checked my bag into the left luggage place at Victoria, had lunch with Alastair Cutting, walked to the Tate Modern, saw the artworks, got lost walking back, found a tube station and thus my way again, had dinner, got my bag again and boarded the Caledonian Sleeper, so it had been tiring afternoon. I was glad to have a wee dram in the dining car before retiring to my rocking swaying little cell to sleep. At about 2 in the morning I awoke and peered out my window at a station with an unpronounceable Gaelic name and saw that there was about a foot of snow on the platform. At about 7 I got dressed, and raised my blind to watch the gray dawn rising on countryside that seemed at once familiar and utterly other.

At Inverness I was met by Bishop Mark Strange, who appeared, reassuringly large, talkative and casual, a minute or two after the train disgorged its passengers into the frosty morning air. He drove me to his home, and then with astonishing generosity, around a fair proportion of his diocese.

The Diocese of Moray Ross and Caithness is in many ways very like Dunedin. geographically it is about the same size and has a similar number of parishes. There are familiar issues of ministering to small and scattered communities and of finding models of ministry which make the best possible use of the limited numbers of stipendiary positions available. The diocese has developed collaborative ministry- mutual shared ministry to us- and is now considering the evolution of the model.

In some ways the landscape is reminiscent of home, but there are some very distinct differences. The hills have the same rolling contour, but there are not the steep sharp, high mountains that we in the South Island expect to be always in the background. The forests look unfamiliar, as do the birds and other fauna. The architecture is very different as are the apparent land use patterns, which draw attention to the biggest difference of all: the towns, the buildings, the stone fences, the abandoned or gentrified crofts, the vast deer pastures, the stone churches, the new forests all speak of the long and fraught history of the Highlands. This is a country whose past tensions still shape the society in which the Episcopal Church of Scotland still ministers.

As I was driven there was a strong sense of being at home. Some of my own ancestors came from here or hereabouts, and the values which shaped this culture have also shaped me. My ancestors, however, had been so anxious to leave that they never gave the Highlands a backward glance. There was no fiddling about with tartan or bagpipes or sporrans for my lot, they were keen instead to acquire a sense of security not vouchsafed by their fatherland and to build a new life in the antipodes. I am, in fact I'm not sure exactly where it was they left, but after a day learning a little of the history of this beautiful place, I could understand what it was they left.

The sky was blue. The lochs were mirror like and there was a dusting of snow on the higher peaks. The churches may be small but they seem to be energetic and innovative, and I finished the day convinced that we in Dunedin have much to learn from and much to share with this Anglican family from the other end of the globe. For instance, many in our diocese would be interested to learn that they run pretty much the same size operation out of an office in a small converted stables in the bishop's back yard with a paid staff of two.

That evening I was treated to a superb Highland meal cooked by Jane Strange for me, and for some other clergy of the diocese including David and Loma Balfour who have known me for years and Clemency for decades. I would have liked to have stayed longer. In the morning I caught the train for Edinburgh but hope that one day I might make the return journey.
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