The Appalachian Trail reaches Larne

southIt’s almost too much for a Larne man like me to take in, but recent reports suggest that the Appalachian Trail, which runs for over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine in the Eastern United States, is to be extended from America to Ireland, and may even reach my home town of Larne.

The organisers of the International Appalachian Trail have already lengthened the well-known route into Canada and Newfoundland, and they are now considering stretching it across the Atlantic into Greenland, Ireland and Scotland, and then on to Norway and North Africa.

The Irish section, which will rely on existing tracks, would run from Donegal and connect with the 625 mile long Ulster Way. Walkers could then take the ferry from Larne to Scotland to continue on a further leg of the trail.

The reasons given for making the link are largely geological. On the basis that before the Atlantic Ocean was formed, Europe and America were one large land mass, there are geographical and geological features that justify a link between the two continents.

This might give some impetus to those who promote local tourism. It is estimated that up to 4 million people walk the Appalachian Trail every year, and if even just a small percentage of those hikers made it to Northern Ireland, it would be a great boost to the local economy.

I’m certain that those who live close to the Ulster Way, given the waves of emigration from these shores to the New World in the 18th and 19th centuries, could add a few local cultural events to help hikers make an even stronger connection between Ulster and the Eastern United States.

Mind you, I never thought when I was growing up in Larne that I was anywhere close to living on the Appalachian Trail. It makes me think of my home town in a whole new way.

Philadelphia Weekend

10b11134621We have spent a few busy days visiting friends and fulfilling engagements in and around Philadelphia. With the volcanic ash cloud bringing all trans-atlantic air travel to a halt, we had hoped that our trip might have been lengthened a bit. But the aviation authorities decided to get things back to normal before we could extend our stay, and we got home on schedule.

It was a privilege to preach at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia on Sunday morning and to spend some time with my friend, Dr Phil Ryken, who is soon to become the President of Wheaton College, one of the premier Christian colleges in the US. Phil is a good scholar, a fine preacher, and a man of great integrity. He is well-qualified to take on the leadership responsibilities at Wheaton College. We wish him well as he and his family move to Wheaton to take up his new post on July 1st.

It was great to see the church so well-filled for the 9am service and full to capacity for the 11am service. The music was as excellent as ever, under the direction of the superbly-gifted Dr Paul Jones. For any Presbyterian visiting Philadelphia on a Sunday, attendance at Tenth is a must.

On Monday I was the guest of my former colleagues at Westminster Theological Seminary, and it was wonderful to be with them again. Westminster Seminary continues to attract students from all around the world and offers a superb theological education.

Dr Tim Witmer
Dr Tim Witmer

Its main task is to prepare pastors for ministry in reformed and presbyterian churches, and my former colleague and good friend in the Practical Theology department, Dr Tim Witmer, has recently published an outstanding book on pastoral care, entitled The Shepherd Leader. I know that many ministers will benefit from the biblical and practical counsel which this volume contains. Already it is proving a popular book among north American pastors.

Dr Vern Poythress
Dr Vern Poythress

Another excellent volume coming from the Westminster faculty is Dr Vern Poythress’s Redeeming Science. Dr Poythress has doctoral degrees in both mathematics and theology, and he applies his creative mind to key questions in the area of science and theology. I may have more to say on this book once I have finished reading it.

Dr Poythress is also one of the key members of the team of scholars responsible for the English Standard Version of the Bible, and we had a good conversation together about the way in which that translation is being received by Christians worldwide. Vern is the author of the article “A Survey of the History of Salvation” which is in the preface of the ESV Study Bible and which gives a wonderful summary of one of the great unifying threads of the Bible.

All in all, it was a stimulating week-end, not least because of the travel chaos. But I came home with a few new books in my bag, which will keep me going for the next couple of weeks.

On the Other Side of the Cloud

Patricia and I flew to the US on Wednesday just before the cloud of volcanic ash erupted and stopped all flights across the north Atlantic. So here we are in Philadelphia, on the other side of the cloud, with many trans-Atlantic air travellers unable to get to where they want to be. We are quite content to enjoy the beautiful spring weather in Pennsylvania, and we will see how things develop by the time we are due to return next week. Maybe we will have to stay longer? For others, to be on the wrong side of the cloud will be very disruptive.

I had lunch yesterday with Dr Paul Wells, who teaches at the Reformed Seminary in Aix-en-Provence in France, and he left us to get an Air France flight to Toronto and then to Paris. The Paris flight out of Toronto was cancelled, but I believe Paul made it safely across the Atlantic on an Air India flight to Barcelona.

The last time trans-Atlantic air travel was so disrupted was immediately following the 9/11 attacks. On that occasion, Patricia and our eldest daughter had just crossed the Atlantic on the evening of the 10th September and I was in Philadelphia with our younger daughter. But all flights were restored within a week and Patricia and I were reunited on schedule.

This disruption seems strangely apocalyptic. One (relatively small) volcanic event has a massive impact on human activity and travel. It is another reminder that in spite of our successes and achievements in many areas of life, we are still quite powerless in face of the natural phenomena in the earth. I think the biblical writers made that point many centuries ago.

Ulster Rugby Reborn?

ravenhill-actionMy friend, Niall, who edits the Belfast Telegraph Rugby Supplement (published every Friday) invited me to write a few words for the penultimate edition of the Supplement as the rugby season winds down. This is what I wrote:

If some Ulster rugby supporters turned up at church last Sunday morning looking a little forlorn on what is meant to be the most joyful day on the Christian calendar, the reason was clear. After a couple of poor away games, Ulster returned to what we used to call “Fortress Ravenhill” to deliver a less than impressive performance against Cardiff which left many supporters, myself included, feeling distinctly blue at the beginning of Easter Day. Thankfully, after the second verse of “Thine be the glory”, I began to feel better. Continue reading “Ulster Rugby Reborn?”

My Easter Egg

img_0149I have been given an appropriately inscribed Easter egg. It was a gift from the Deaconess Association which I will treasure, but only briefly. Come Easter Monday, it will be well and truly gone!

The pattern for a number of years is that the Moderator conducts a communion service on Good Friday for deaconesses who serve in various ministries within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Currently there are 27 deaconesses, with a further 3 women in training. They carry on an amazing variety of pastoral ministries in local churches, in community projects, and as part of the chaplaincy teams in our hospitals. They bring many gifts and skills to their ministries, and are very much appreciated. You can read about their work here.

In giving me a chocolate Easter egg, these women were clearly showing a great pastoral concern for me and for my health. A recent study has shown that Easter eggs and other chocolate can actually be good for you. The study of over 19,000 people, published in the European Heart Journal, found those who ate half a bar a week had lower blood pressure. They also had a 39% lower risk of heart attacks and strokes. Continue reading “My Easter Egg”