St Palladius Episcopal Church nestles in Glen Drumtochty near Auchenblae. We spent a cold wintry afternoon driving over the Cairn O Mount and down to the Clatterin Brig, which has a really fine Cafe and restaurant. Which by the way, we always support as a local source of fine cake and coffee - paradise cake and shortbread yesterday for those interested in these things.
Then we came through Glen of Drumtochty where the small loch was frozen in the middle, a silver grey disc with a dark peaty border, and almost invisble against it, a silver grey heron, standing disconsolately dreaming of a slithery takeaway. Earlier we saw the Red Kite patrolling for food up the hill, just as hungry but a much more impressive hunter, and the same camouflage as the red brown bird flew against a backdrop of heather and woods.
You turn the corner and this church sits as an incongruous reminder of the saint known as the Apostle of the Scots. The bleak weather and the cold feel to the photo are however quite congruent with a saint whose life was hard, whose ministry was tough and whose sense of mission makes utter nonsense of the assumption that mission is a late comer to the theology and practice of the church. In the North East of Scotland the Light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
I like old churches. They are reminders that we are the latecomers to the party, that the mission of the church is 2000 years in the making and may be another many a thousand years in the fulfilling. Because it is the mission of God, and is the realisiation in time and eternity of the reconciling love of the Eternal Triune God. In that mission, which the church is called to share, the righteous mercy of the God of grace and peace, works itself out in our history; and so we trust in the God of hope in whose purposes and power the ultimate hope of the creation rests, as it and we groan awaiting our redemption.
This stern old apostle gazes over the glen, with either serene patience or stoic indifference. Or maybe he glowers at the mess the world has become since his day and his time. That staff and mitre aren't the usual equipment for missionally challenged Baptists. Yet I wonder, for all our talk of strategy and resources, our plans and projects, our entrepreneurial enthusiasm and spiritual rationalising, I wonder if there is something we are missing in the courage and resilience, the willingness to suffer for the Gospel, the counter cultural offensiveness of 'in yer face' holiness, that characterised those earlier Christ-followers. I'm not appealing to a romaticised early Celtic whatever, but asking about the ongoing relevance for our cutting edge theology, of those ancient pioneers of mission who, unlike modern pretensions to the title, by their hardship and sacrificial faithfulness, earned the name apostle. Or so it seems to me as I look at this grey, lichen shaded statue of the Apostle to the Scots.