Tag Archives: Pomerville

We’re leaving the country

My wife, Rachell and I are leaving.

Some people just make threats. We follow through. Later, U.S.A.


Yep, on Wednesday morning, we are embarking on a 30+ hour journey to Kampala, Uganda…and we’re staying until December 3.


No, we’re not permanently abandoning our county of origin. This is a work/mission/tourist/vacation excursion as part of our ongoing partnership with the Nyaka Aids Orphans Project (more on that tomorrow!). We have been planning this for the past few months and we are extremely excited for this amazing opportunity. It promises to be an exceptional time spent working, learning, growing, and experiencing my favorite African nation.


But what about those who have, are in the process of, and plan to leave from one country to another in the past, present and future?


Forgive my overly simplistic approach to the nuanced and complicated notion of immigration from one636035188213974932-627964414_giphy-2 place to another but I am struck by the magnitude of any person who “went.”


Very, rarely does one simply choose to go to another country…and the reasons, process, and risks are far from universal for each immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker, or traveler.


Some are forced to leave by war, poverty, political instability, and fear.


Some are encouraged to leave by work, family, religious liberty, or broken relationships.


Some are escaping and some are hiding.


Some are longing to return home and some are leaving behind a long to be forgotten past.


Some want adventure.


Some want love.


Many, many want hope.


By virtue of my place in this great American experiment, I am the product of generations before me who “left.” While I’d like to assume I understand their reasons and experiences, the reality of my narrative is one shrouded in mystery and wonder. Why would my foremothers and fathers leave Scotland, Australia, Germany and France? Did they want to be here? Did they long to be here? If the choice was available, would they have returned home?


Rachell and I have experienced an incredible amount of privilege in our lives that has translated to opportunity. We have had choices at nearly every turn of our lives apart and together. We were then and are now able to “decide” to stay or go. And that is a rare position to be in…the realm of opportunity…especially when the vast majority in our world do not live with such extravagant prospects.


So why is immigration discussed, debated, and imagined in such myopic, narrow terms? I don’t believe I’m speaking anecdotally on this one, though my own experiences do shape these thoughts.


No two immigrant stories are the same…especially not the many faceted travel logs in the Old and New Testaments. Each person, each family, experienced good, bad, and indifferent events that led, called, encouraged, and forced them to go.


So, let’s stop viewing immigration through such a narrow lens.


I’m utterly intrigued to hear Ugandan perspectives on American election politics, especially as they relate to immigration. Though I would pose the same question to my American, Scottish, German, Indian, Aram and Latino friends as well – what comes next in this discussion?


I hope you’ll follow our journey over the next couple of weeks as we travel across Uganda. Pray for our family who will remain behind and pray for a safe, eventful, and glorious adventure for Rachell and me!


It’s festival season for the Pomervilles

In the last few days of our exchange, we’ve been soaking up Highland Games, community gatherings, and Edinburgh during the festivals that dominate the town in August.  

 Our former hometown of Belliare, Michigan had the Rubber Ducky Festival. It embodied all that we love about local gatherings – the whole town came out for food, craft shows, and whatever theme that was more or less related to the town. In Bellaire, they dumped hundreds of rubber duckies in the river that runs through downtown. Everyone follows a parade that ends with a big front-loader full of the ducks as we cheer on the ridiculousness that is a rubber ducky festival. We used to LOVE it. It’s summer, everyone is smiling, neighbors come out of the woodwork and happy tourists descend about the town to celebrate a sunny day in Northern Michigan.

Scotland has plenty of summertime festivals. We had to strategically plan our weekend celebrations. Do we go to Ale and Rugby fest or the animal show? What festivals are going to have the best food? How far can we realistically drive to attend? What places will keep our kids entertained, and thus, keep the parents in a good mood?

We settled on the following:

Saturday: The Arbroath Seafest in the morning and the Johnshaven Fishfest in the afternoon

Sunday: The Cortachy Highland Games after church

Monday: The Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival during the day, maybe the International Book Festival in the afternoon, the Royal Military Tattoo at night
Awesome weekend.
Here’s the quick reviews, plus some pictures, of each fest:
Arbroath Seafest – We weren’t quite sure what to expect from this one. All we knew is that it would focus on the delightful local treat that is the “Arbroath Smokie.”  

 We learned that you can only call it a smokie if it is actually made within the small town of Arbroath. It is the signature dish of this seaside town and it simple in its deliciousness. The smokie is a local haddock that has been deheaded and gutted before being split in half and smoked over a roaring fire. 

  The taste and texture of these fish were unlike any other smoked fish I’ve enjoyed – salmon, whitefish, and trout included. It had an almost shellfishy texture with a strong smoke/peat flavor, almost like an Islay whisky. Rachell and the kids? Not as big of fans as I was. The rest of the festival included craft booths, kids’ cooking tent, lots of seafood for sale, a boat tour of a turn of the century herring fishing sailboat, and of course, rides and games.  


 Our big claim to fame was making it on the Arbroath Seafest facebook page as an example of a local family having fun at Seafest. Ha! Arbroath Seafest Pomerville Pic

Johnshaven Fishfest – You’re probably wondering what the difference is between a seafest and fishfest, right? We weren’t sure about it either and didn’t have the highest hopes for this one because the town of Johnshaven is TINY. It’s a long drive down a steep hill to a fishing hamlet between Stonehaven and Montrose on the NE coast of Scotland. 

  Without any intended insult to Arbroath, we enjoyed the Fishfest a ton more than Seafest. The whole town seemed to turn up and it was one giant street festival along the harbor. The star of this festival had to be the langoustines, what looked to be a cross between a lobster and a shrimp. The flavor was exquisite. I could eat those all day long…and I did!  


 Denali was way into these as well. We were amazed by the freshness of them. I’d take langoustines over lobster or crab every time. The other centerpiece of the Fishfest was a homemade raft race. The three entries were a team of Minions, a covered wagon, and an all male cast of Frozen. Hilarious. 



  We sat on the harbor edge and cheered on the ridiculously costumed paddlers while chomping down on langoustines, fried fish, and candy. Well done, Johnshaven! Also? We found the funniest sentence on any historical marker in all of Scotland. See if you can pick it out… 

 Cortachy Highland Games – Cortachy is one of the small villages here in the Glens and Kirrieumuir Old Parish. It is a full Highland Games with dancers, runners, a dog show, and heavy game competitions. It was a great way to spend an afternoon outside. Denali was all set to compete in the Highland dancing when she got a bit of cold feet and backed out. No worries, though. She and her brother still competed in a number of races.  



 Denali even took second in the egg and spoon race! She won 30p (about 45 cents) for her finish.  

 We watched the big men toss the caber, saw the dog race, and took in the local sights and sounds. It was a delightful day in the country underneath Cortachy Castle. 

Edinburgh – This was the big one. You see, August is festival-time in the capital – The Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival (the largest in the world), The International Festival, The International Book Festival, and the Royal Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. Wow.  


 There are no words adequate enough to describe the feeling of the city during the festival, as they call it. People from all over the world were EVERYWHERE. Each corner had a different street performer and people were passing out invitations and ads for their shows every direction you turned. We could only do so much and opted to attend to shows from the comedy festival during the day before doing the Tattoo at 9 pm. In between our shows we had incredible food and drinks, toured the castle and amused ourselves with the street performers doing magic, music, acrobatics, and comedy. The shows were both for children. “Flight” was an acrobatic interpretation of “The Little Prince.” 


  It was written and performed by Curbside Acrobatics from California State University, Long Beach. It was…um…well…ok? Not the greatest show but it did provide us an experience of the Fringe. The kids were mildly entertained but I think the playwright and performers missed the mark on this one. The second show as “Comedy Club 4 Kids,” and it was just that – a comedy club for children. The three comedians were family friendly and geared their performances toward the younger generation in the crowd. We really enjoyed this one, Bryce especially.  He went up at the end for a joke competition! 

By the way, Bryce is the best person to bring to any performance of anything. He is constantly laughing, gasping, and saying, “How did they do that? That was amazing!” And he is totally genuine in his love of the shows. He was especially into our final show of the night…

The Tattoo was extraordinary.  

 I have seen more shows than I care to admit, having followed Phish around, growing up in Interlochen, and spending an inordinate amount of time and money watching live music and theater. With all of that background, I can firmly say the Tattoo was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. 

 It was stunning. The performers, the background, the experience itself was beyond our expectations and we all said it was one of the most memorable things we have done on our trip. Wow. Just, wow. I would recommend the Tattoo to everyone. We had to book our tickets five months ago but it was worth it. 

After all of this, we drove home from Edinburgh last night at 1:00 in the morning before falling fast asleep in our beds in Kirriemuir. It has been an action packed three days and we are exhausted. Happy, but exhausted.

Way to go, Scotland. You continue to impress. Only a week before we head home and we have enjoyed every moment of our trip. This has been truly outstanding.

Three Sermons, A Foreign Staff Meeting, and Dreadful Predictions

A gentleman at yesterday’s Kirk team meeting said one news outlet recently made this bold statement: The last parish in the Kirk of Scotland will close it’s doors in 2034.


Obviously, this type of doom-and-gloom prophecy is meant to be jolting and distressing. Just as obvious is the lack of good statistical analysis used to extrapolate these results.  

 This declaration is based off the current number of church closures and membership decline felt in the Church of Scotland over the past number of years. Assuming those numbers continue at the same rate, one could argue that the church will cease to exist in a mere twenty years.

I’ve heard nearly identical predictions about the Presbyerian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and a host of other smaller and larger mainline denominations in the States that are going through a similar struggle with numbers.

There is no denying the numerical depression. However, based solely on anecdotal evidence, there are plenty of faithful men, women and children who will no doubt continue the good work of the church regardless of what the church resembles in the future.

This much is assuredly true – the church will not look the same twenty years from now.

  I’d make that statement for any and all denominational expressions of the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the world – fundamentalists, Catholics, Baptists, and Presbyterians alike.

At 35, the Presbyterian Church today looks vastly different than it did in my teen years before cell phones, rapid information sharing, social media, and the “shrinking” of our global community. The pre-digital church was something very different from our ever evolving digital landscape that the Kirk in all times and places struggles to make sense of. When I am 55, I’m not sure what the congregations I have served will resemble, nor am I sure what type of church I might encounter that proclaims the gospel. But it will be there, of that I’m am sure.

  I preached three times on Sunday in Kirriemuir and Memus, here in West Angus, Scotland. My pulpit swap counter-part, Rev. Malcolm Rooney, is part of West Angus Area Ministries, a team ministry approach where a number of pastors serve as ministers for a variety of churches in one given area. The ministers serve the pastoral needs of the various congregations, while sharing the Sunday morning leadership roles, rotating between parishes. Because there are more churches than pastors, each clergy person might be expected to drive between parishes on a Sunday morning in order to preach at all the locations.*

*(as an aside, I also learned about a sever minister shortage in teh Church of Scotland. In 2014, there were only 13 divinity students preparing to be ministers in the CoS and this year there are 19. Friends in the PC(USA), if you are looking for a call, there are LOTS of opportunities for American pastors to serve here in the Kirk)

  My rotation this past Sunday included the 9:00 service in Kirriemuir Old Parish, then drive ten minutes to make the 10:00 service in Memus before hopping back in the car and driving to Kirriemuir again for the “big” service in the Old Parish at 11:15. It was a whirlwind. I’ll never complain about our bakc to back services at The Peoples Church. At least in Michigan, I stay in the same building!

And here is the most stunning observation from my weekend that flies in the face of the predictions about the demise of the Church of Scotland – the congregations were so absolutely connected to one another. There was a genuine sense of fellowship and community. 

  That is where the church will survive and eventually thrive.

Rather than speaking to the fears of closing church doors, I believe an emphasis should be placed on the existing faithful who come week after  week to express their faith in Jesus Christ while supporting and loving their neighbors as themselves. That is an attractive church. That is an evangelical church.

I am so filled with hope for the Church of Scotland…but I believe they need to refocus their efforts on building up the faithful who are there, rather than bemoaning the missing numbers who are not present. Instead of reporting about the fifty who have left, celebrate teh fifty who are there. I would gladly be a part of those congregations and I believe many others in my cynical, authenticity-seeking generation would as well.  

On Tuesday morning, I attending two “team meetings,” staff meetings really, for the parishes. The volunteers there were charming, loving, kind, grace-filled, and full of pride in all the right ways. I was honored to be a part of their discussions and I truly look forward to more of these conversations during my time in Scotland. I pray for the Church of Scotland and I give thanks for their good work. A time of contraction is difficult, but not impossible. Let this be a time of rebirth.

Friends at The Peoples Church, please join me in praying for the Christians here in Scotland, that they would be confident in knowing that they are not alone in their faith. We break bread with them each time we share communion. Remember them this week and give thanks.

The Story of the Changing of the Guard

11:30. We just have to make it by 11:30.

  We rushed from the half priced ticket booth at Picadilly Circus (cheap seats to Wicked secured for the evening show!) toward Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard parade and ceremony. We started walking just before 11:00 and seemed like we would make it just in time. Suddenly, and surprisingly without warning, nearly fifty fuzzy hatted guards appeared immediately in front of us with instruments playing a miltary march. Following these redcoats were another two dozen guards with automatic rifles marching closely in time. 

Perfect timing. 

We walked directly behind the parade for the next quarter mile or so all the way to the palace. Needless to say, the streets were packed with people. By the time we reached the square in front of the palace, there were hundreds of people with cameras out hoping to get a glance of the changing of the guard. While we got a great view of the parade, we couldn’t see that much at the gate. So, I threw Bryce up on my shoulders and Denali scrambled on top of a fence to get a better view.

“Dad, what’s happening? What are they doing?” asked an obviously confused and slightly bored Bryce who couldn’t quite get his head around the notion of royalty, let alone the pomp and circumstance that surrounds said nobility in the UK.

“Well, Bryce, at 11:30 everyday, they change the guards in front of the palace to make sure the Queen is safe.”

“That’s what we’re watching?”

“Sort of…you see, after the parade, the guards all climb the side of the palace walls like Spiderman before putting on their red capes and mask that all guardsmen are required to wear.”


“Yep,” I said as the Canadian gentleman next to me looked at me in disgust.

“Then what happens?”

  “Well,” I proceeded to tell my kids, “you know that big parade we just walked behind? After they get to the palace, they all take a vote on who marched the best. Tha guard becomes the new ‘king-of-London-for-the-day.’ And then they take another, much sadder vote, on who marched the worst. That guard is ceremoniously stripped of his red coat and told he is no longer welcome in England. They immediately send him to Wales on a goat with his cape as a saddle. That’s where we get the term ‘scapegoat.’ Welsh people always put an ‘s’ before any word beginning with ‘c.’ ”

“Daddy, that doesn’t sound right…”

“Oh, but you’re missing the best part! After the vote, which must have just happened minutes ago, the queen comes out to grace us with her presence.”

“We’re going to see the queen?!”

“And how! The thing is, you’ll have to look up on top of the palace to see her. Each day, after the guard votes, she comes out of a window on the wroof. If she sees her shadow, she goes right back inside, meaning it will rain for the next 40 days and 40 nights…”


“…but if she DOESN’T see her shadow, then she reaches back into the window and carries her two great-grand children to the top of the flagpole on the place where she cries out in her high-pitched soprano sing-songy voice, ‘My People!! Behold, your future monarchs!!!’ At that point, she grabs the Union Jack, that’s the flag, with her teeth and parachutes down to the ground in front of the palace.”

At this point, the Canadian man and his elderly father realize I’m not entirely serious and nods over at Bryce, saying, “I love that part.”

“Can we see her do that today, Daddy?”

“I wish, Bryce, but it looks like we can’t see from here. Want to go see dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum instead?”

“Oh boy! Dinosaurs!”

Great Britain rules.

We went to Paris and London’s Calling

  Back on the train…It has been a long few days of exciting times in Grenoble and Paris. Without overstating the obvious, Paris should not be relegated to a 36 hour visit. That said, we were extremely pleased with all the sites we took in during our brief time in the City of Lights.

It’s probably better to back up a couple of days and finish off our account of Grenoble with the Family Phillips.

  We are saying it again to anyone and everyone who can hear us – we are so thankful for Keith and Sarah taking us in for five days and four nights. You know the saying about fish and houseguests? I’m pretty sure we overstayed our welcome but you would never have known it by the incredible hospitality of Keith, Sarah, and the boys. It was such a lovely visit and we are eternally grateful to have started our journey out this way. In addition to the shared meals, we explored the town of Grenoble, took a bus trip out to Lac du Laffrey, and even found a French babysitter to watch our kids one evening while the four adults went out for a decadent French dinner. 

  The food, wine, and company was exquisite.

It’s not much of an expereince if you can’t share it with others, is it? 

After enjoying a leisurely morning over breakfast and coffee, we departed Sunday morning by train for Paris. 

Train trips with children are always an adventure. Add in the requested screen time for ipods/ipads and you have a battle before the journey even begins. They are good children. Really, they are. But they are just as susceptible to the siren song of Minecraft and Harry Potter movies as the next kid. This delicate balance was rudely interrupted by a lack of battery power that we were unable to correct until reaching the hotel. Hallelujah! Keeping them off the handheld devices was a blessing. That meant they slept!

  We stayed at a Novotel by Montparnasse. We’re a bit lame in this way because our hotels in Paris, London, and York are all Novotels. The reason? The easiest hotel to find kid-friendly accomodations. 

Best decision of the trip.

The Novotel catered to families like ours with plenty of space, extra beds, and perks for the kids like a special morning breakfast for children that included balloon artists, face painters, and lots of children’s decorations. The meal was perfect and the ambience, while not the most romatically Parisian, was idela for our two little ones. In addition, the hotel gave the children stuffed animals, games, and toys as gifts for staying. Well done, Novotel. 

The first evening was spent wandering by the Eifel Tower before having dinner at what Bryce said was, “The fanciest and best restaurant ever.” Who said you can’t have a three course meal with children? They ordered in French, tried the food, and made the best of it. We were immensely proud and happy to be in Paris. We stayed out late and wandered through the neighborhoods with the children happily taking in the sights and sounds of Paris at night. Incredible night.

  The next day we tried to be realistic with our experiences. Hop on trains and buses without any real expectations and just see where the day takes us and what we discover. As a result, we saw many highlights but not all of the requisite touristy things. We did a boat cruise on the Seine, walked through Jardins des Plates in the Latin Quarter, explored the Natural History Museum, strolled along the Seine, and spent a lot of time in the heart of the city around Notre Dame. We ate and drank too much, indulged on ice cream and sweets, and stumbled back to the hotel around 8 to promptly fall asleep. Success!

  We are now on the chunnel train to London. We underestimated our travel time to the station and had to cancel some plans this morning in order to make our EuroStar train to the UK. No matter. Everyone is resting nicely on the train as we head to our hotel that sits in view of London Bridge. 

Thanks for taking the time to read. We are especailly thankful for Julie Pitsonis for watching our border collie Lucy, as well as all the rest of our church friends back home who are getting ready to welcome Rev. Malcolm Rooney this week as he joins the congregation as the visiting minister. I’ll be doing the same thing in Scotland in just a couple of days. Until then, we’re excited to see London and York!