Let us haste to Kelvingrove

They don’t ask me now, but people used to pose the question “As an architect and a Christian, wouldn’t you like to design a Church Building”   They were generally disappointed when I said “No, not really”  You see, I had no desire, inspiration or passion to design a church.  I had always believed (and still do) that the church is not a building.  It is the people of God wherever they are and wherever the met. The building was and is incidental.  That is not to say that I was not deeply affected and sometimes awe struck when visiting great church buildings: with the sheer majesty of the cathedral church of Notre-Dame de Reims, with the intimacy and simplicity of the parish church on Papa Stour, with monasteries in Romania and reformed churches in Hungary, with the work of Alvar Aalto and Corbusier especially with Notre Dame du Haut and many many more. Yet my appreciation of these building was perhaps esoteric and detached and I would have no conviction that they related at all to a real and living church, a gathering of God’s people for worship and service. There was a disconnect in my mind.

trinity church 1

I had qualified in 1973 and worked for 7 years with the late Jack Notman in Glasgow.  His output as far as building was not prolific but I learned much during my time with him. I still follow the principles that I learned then: designing buildings, that were of quality and would last, that would provide comfort and convenience and would be life affirming for those who use them, that were designed using the simple elements of space, light, materials, colour and textures, examining how spaces connect with each other, how people move though a building and what it says about who we are and what we are about. The aim was always to achieve something of real value with a timeless quality.

trinity church 3

Towards the end of my time with Jack Notman, I was involved in a number of significant projects, among them, the conversation of  Trinity Congregational Church, in the west end of Glasgow, as a rehearsal and concert hall for the then Scottish National Orchestra (now the RSNO). It was a very interesting project as it involved changing the role of the building from an ecclesiastical one to an arts and entertainment one. It was challenge to de- ecclesiasticise the structure, while retaining its character. It was opened by Princess Margaret in 1978, became a very successful project, won several awards and remained the home for the orchestra up until very recently.   Not long after it was opened, I was at a concert with a friend, who was a minister and, during the interval, he turned to me and said “This would make a good church”.  The throw-a-way comment stuck with me and I came to see that Church Buildings are, in fact, important. They do matter and like the clothes we wear, affect how we feel about ourselves and how others view us.  So began, for me, a new direction in the adapting and refurbishing of church buildings, altering, extending, re-ordering, refreshing , preparing feasibility studies and designs for new buildings which has extended to over 50 individual projects for a wide variety of Christian denominations.

trinity church 2

So it is not difficult to understand my surprise and my delight when I heard, just this week, that Trinity Congregational Church designed by John Honeyman in 1863, converted into the Henry Wood Hall by Jack Notman in 1978 was to begin a third life as a Church Building in 2016 as The Tron Kelvingrove.

Crawford Mackenzie

(I was not the Job Architect on this project but helped with drawings and details. The person who was, and who did all the real work on it, was Nigel Duncan)














The wedding


the band

I can’t pretend that I am a fan of weddings. I just can’t get excited about the details, the outfits, the flowers, the hair, the cake, the photographs, the music, the waiting around, the hours mingling with glass in hand, trying hard to make conversations, the partying before and after and the mountains of work in preparation and the outrageous cost that goes into just one day. But… and here is the strange thing, there is nothing that moves me so much, that chokes me up and causes tears to dribble down my face as that moment when you see the bride, radiant and beautiful, the friend, the niece, the sister, the daughter approaching with such confidence and poise, the one you have known for years or for just a little while, perhaps you have watched her grow from childhood and you see her now as you have never done before. Immediately all the mean thoughts are banished. She is worth every bit of it, all the work and all the expense. Nothing is to be spared for this, her day.  And then you catch the look on the bridegroom’s face and see the sheer delight in his eyes and the sense of unbounded joy that fills the whole place… and I am converted.

It is something that is very hard to explain or to understand but yesterday as we were basking in the wonder of Jesus’ first recorded miracle, the turning of water into wine at Cana -the subject of the sermon at our evening service, we were beginning to.

Crawford Mackenzie

the band

I am not ashamed


Sin is a troublesome word. Like so many words in our vocabulary its meaning changes over time it mutates and takes on other baggage and selective nuances so that it can mean quite different things to different people.  Preachers and communicators of the bible often struggle with this and try hard to find a new word or words that would resonant better with the original meaning. Rebellion is one, missing the mark and being messed up, are others. The problem, of course, is the word itself and the idea it imparts. It is offensive. It is the implicit suggestion that there is something wrong with us – whoever we are. That cuts to the core of our self.  It is a blasphemy against the ego.  It is strange that there is such a revulsion against this approach when we are very relaxed about using the same approach with other more acceptable wrongs.  The first step on the recovery from drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual offending, or any socially recognised disorder, is to admit it.  No one has any problem with that. Yet we have enormous difficulty in owning up to this core problem.  Preachers, who have tried to avoid the issue for fear of coming over too censorious or self-righteous, or worried that it presents too bleak and pessimistic a view of humanity, have not helped either.  The focusing on nice things like the celebration of love and positive affirmative strokes, to the ignoring of this essential truth in the Christian faith, has been disastrous.  Because acknowledging the reality of sin is one of the most liberating and essential parts of the good news.  Now we understand that there is a reason for the way things are. And that must be good to know. Pretending that there isn’t a problem or that it is one that with enough willpower and the right conditions we can overcome is pure fantasy. The Gospel, on the other hand, exposes the problem and reveals the solution. But of course it is not the small slightly naughty unimportant thing that it is so often made out to be. It is not just about making bad decisions or errors of judgement it is deadly serious, more than deadly serious. Sin at its core is a vile, corrupting and corrosive thing. It is not good. It is destructive and left to its own will continue to degenerate and destroy all and everything in its path, everything that is good. It contaminates everything and seeps through the personal, the social and the institutional. It is that bad. It is that serious.

This, of course, begs the question, if it is that bad why has it not destroyed good already after all it has had plenty of time to do that and yet good still seems to survive.   Many, I suspect, would believe that it is because humanity is essentially good, that evil with all its manifestations is a temporary blip and that in time this unfortunate character trait will be resigned to history.  But, to hold on to this view must take extraordinary faith and a remarkably optimistic view of human nature without any real evidence to support it.   The reason, I believe, good continues to survive, is because ultimately it is to do with God. He is good and merciful  and he has put in place at certain times restrictions so that we do not yet destroy ourselves -The angels with the flaming swords at the garden, the confusing of the languages and scattering of the people on Shinar’s plane, the flood and other events throughout history. He also chose a man and a family and a people to be witness of him and tell the world. He gave them the law in the Ten Commandments and other regulations to help them in their approach to him and in how they relate to each other. Finally he promised and sent his son, who would be the one who would reconcile people to himself and once and for all deal with the problem of sin.

Last night I was sitting with the small group of internationals, who meet each week in our home. They come from countries in all parts of the world, with backgrounds in all types and shades of faith. It is a precious moment in the week.  After sharing a meal, we spend the time reading, studying and discussing the bible. We had just begun to read through Paul’s letter to the church in Rome and it is hard to describe the sense of joy and liberation as we touched base with the cosmic reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The dawning of this truth is like a massive door being opened to let light flood into a stale and dingy room and we could understand why Paul was able to say “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”.

Crawford Mackenzie

An Enduring Memory

snow on the trees (2)

We arrived in Aberdeen in mid-November in the late fifties.  To children brought up on a tiny Scottish island with a tinier population, it was an experience to shake the senses. Save for a twice weekly ferry bringing already stale bread and margarine, an out of date “daily” newspaper bound into a weeks’ edition, a hit and miss wireless set and limited telephone lines, we were isolated from  the rest of the world.  Now we were in a city with thousands of people. There were cars and busses, street lights, TV’s with moving pictures, restaurants and shops of all kinds stacked with toys and sweets that made our eyes jump from their sockets.  There was the constant noise of the trains in the nearby marshalling yard and the hum of traffic and people walking and cycling, moving to and from work. Amongst it all was an enduring memory: the Christmas Eve watch night service.

It was magical experience. Being allowed up so late was exciting in itself. Our normal journey to church would be the mile and half on foot, but on this occasion we were carried in a taxi and dropped off at the church with both doors swung open pouring golden light into the dark street and casting shadows from the great piles of snow at the side of the pavement. We slipped into the high polished pews squeezed close between the men in heavy winter coats and women in furs and hats and gazed in wonder at the twinkling lights in the enormous Christmas tree. As the service began, We were led in rousing carols by the minister directing, dancing and urging us on to greater strains from the bold and joyful  “O come all ye faithful” through the ballads of the shepherds and the wise men to the sweet and lyrical Scottish and Irish carols. From time to time a figure would appear from behind the tree to read from the timeless story and a soprano would sing in unaccompanied solo “In the bleak midwinter” with the startling our “God …heaven cannot hold thee” and then as it came close to the hour, the lights were switched off, one by one, and we were left in the soft light of the Christmas tree. Without words to look at we sang from memory: “Still the night”. It was when we came to repeating the final line of the second verse “Christ the Redeemer is here” it came to me in a way that is hard to describe or explain, but I knew it was true. He was.  Christ the Redeemer was here. To a young mind overwhelmed with the magic and beauty of it all and, as yet, ignorant of the twists and turns that life would so quickly throw our way, it was a moment when I truly believed. 50 plus years later, I still do. It was true then and it is true now.

We didn’t notice the less than subtle hand that reached out from behind the tree to press the Grundic tape recorder and allow the Christmas morning to be announced with the chimes from Big Ben. But it didn’t matter. We were singing our hearts out and, with our loudest voices, rising in crescendo on “Hark the herald …Glory to the new born King”

Crawford Mackenzie

In the Autumn

fintry from braes 2

The first frost is beginning to bite, the geese are marshalling overhead and that’s all that it needs to remind me that Autumn is my favourite time.  Every season has its beauty and its charm; winter with the crisp frost and blanket of snow that covers so much ugliness and for a while transforms the city into a magical wonderland, Spring bursting through the ground, as hard as iron, with the continual surprise of new life and Summer with its early mornings by the green and long evenings on the beach, that seem as if they will never end. But, for me, Autumn has most to say and most to bring and like Keats, its colours, its songs ,its blessings far outstrip the other seasons  For me, It is packed through with memories: the time when I became one of the big boys and moved to secondary school, the time of leaving home and the first days at college, the time of coming to this city and later to our present home, the time when our daughter was married and when our granddaughter was born, the time when I fell in love.

It is the changing of the seasons that is part of the wonder. But the changes in life’s seasons carry something of the same magic. Moving on and up to the next step, the next phase, the next decade: like the new jacket, the new décor, the new strings on the guitar, the new horizons, ideas and possibilities, the new people. The breathtakingly realisation that it is all still so much bigger and grander than you could possibly have imagined.  Inevitably there is sadness and loss that is inescapable. There will always be sorrow.   I identify with Sandy Denny in “rising of the moon” “ there’s a heart in very place a tear in each farewell but that’s the way it is that is my fortune”  yes moving on is sad , saying goodbye is sad, leaving people is sad, but overwhelmingly there is the joy of the promise of the hope of the glory.  There is reminder of the reality that all that seems to be loss is in fact gain and giving up is getting more.

It is the beginning of autumn again and for me, a new phase, a new opportunity, a new beginning. I could try, but it would be impossible to describe that joy.

Crawford Mackenzie