Minister will show Bible in a new light in Falkirk

Faith can be fun...and Rev John Bell wants to prove that the Bible can also be humorous by turning stories on their heads and showing them in a new light.
Faith can be fun...and Rev John Bell wants to prove that the Bible can also be humorous by turning stories on their heads and showing them in a new light.

The Bible is often viewed as a text book – black and white, with no grey areas.

However, an event in Falkirk next month aims to change that perception.

Appeal...to help fund refurbishment at Iona Abbey, Rev John Bell will deliver his Holy and Humorous talk at Trinity Church in Falkirk on February 16 at 7pm. Tickets �10, with all proceeds to the abbey appeal.

Appeal...to help fund refurbishment at Iona Abbey, Rev John Bell will deliver his Holy and Humorous talk at Trinity Church in Falkirk on February 16 at 7pm. Tickets �10, with all proceeds to the abbey appeal.

Being billed as especially for those who think there is no fun in faith, Rev John Bell’s Holy and Humorous talk is sure to stimulate debate about the Good Book.

The 68-year-old certainly has the credentials to lead the discussion.

He has been an ordained minister with the Church of Scotland for 40 years and a member of the Iona Community for 33 years.

And it’s for that community for which John is taking his Holy and Humorous tour out on the road, calling in at Falkirk’s Trinity Church at 7pm on Friday, February 16.

He said: “The Iona Abbey Appeal has been going for a couple of years now.

“We need to raise £3 million for the conference centre’s refurbishment and the rebuilding of the abbey’s living accommodation.

“The appeal is making a big push this year and members, like me, have been asked to help make a contribution.

“So I’m doing six Holy and Humorous talks in the next couple of months to help raise funds.”

Falkirk is the only Scottish date on John’s upcoming tour and it’s one not to be missed, particularly for those who want to have their eyes opened.

John said: “People read the Bible as if it’s the most serious and ponderous book in the world and we have to treat it like that.

“If you listen to Jesus speaking, for example, it’s as if he’s the most boring minister in Scotland – ever!

“But there are, in fact, very funny incidents in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testament.

“People need background to see that though.

“So I take familiar stories and turn them on their head, allowing people to look at them in a different light.

“It helps people see Jesus in a way they never have before.

“It’s a great way to engage with people and I also then learn from their experiences and the way they see things.

“For years, for example, the church has told women how to behave; most religious texts have also been written by men.

“So when I encourage women to tell me how they see a story in the Bible, it’s very often a perspective I’ve never heard before.”

What John is doing may seem unique to readers but retelling Bible stories is, in fact, ages old.

“There was no Bible when Scotland first became evangelical so people initially heard stories from monks,” said John. “The stories were colourful because people were telling them.

“But the Bible is all in black and white and people regard it as a text book, rather than a collection of interesting stories.

“Holy and Humorous aims to show that there is fun in faith by letting people see the Bible in a different and more colourful light.”

John spent two years in an English-speaking church in Amsterdam at the start of his ministry.

In the years since, he has delivered lectures all over the world, as well as being a hymn writer and occasional broadcaster.

Originally from Kilmarnock, John’s travels have given him an insight into humour around the globe. And having lived in Glasgow for the past 30 years, he’s also well-versed in our own brand of humour.

So his talk will be two-pronged – not only looking at humorous Bible stories but also analysing what makes people laugh.

John added: “Making people laugh is something that’s very limited to our culture. So people from Germany or Japan, for example, won’t laugh at our jokes – because they simply don’t understand them!

“People in Scotland often use sarcasm as humour and that doesn’t carry in the continent either – something is lost in translation.

“Humour often relates to society and hobbies too, with in-jokes that only some people find funny.

“When I was living in Amsterdam, for example, I went to see a film about working class life.

“The Dutch women were roaring and laughing as they could see their husbands portrayed but the men were pretty grim-faced!

“So I also explore and analyse with audiences what makes people laugh.”

Holy and Humorous will be coming to Falkirk Trinity Church, Manse Place, at 7pm, on February 16.

Tickets, priced £10, can be purchased from the office or online at https://www.seetickets.com, with all proceeds to the abbey appeal.

£3 million Iona Abbey appeal

For more than 70 years, the Iona Community has welcomed visitors from around the world to Iona Abbey.

Situated on the Isle of Iona, just off the Isle of Mull on the west coast of Scotland, it is one of the oldest Christian religious centres in Western Europe.

The abbey’s accommodation has provided a sanctuary for thousands of residential guests over many decades. However, the Iona Community has been advised that substantial infrastructure work is urgently required to safeguard its future.

It’s a major undertaking given that the abbey is a listed building of considerable historic interest on a Hebridean island, with the refurbishment expected to cost in the region of £3 million.

Work is scheduled to begin soon, in close partnership with Historic Environment Scotland and in continuing consultation with the Iona Community’s island partners, businesses and friends.

John said: “The abbey’s residential accommodation was originally monks’ cells.

“They were not worried about disability issues but we must provide better access now.

“People are also used to a bit more comfort these days.

“The refurbishment will address these issues, as well as safeguarding the abbey for future generations.”

The complex renovation project involves vacating the abbey’s residential accommodation. So the Iona Community has decided that – for the first time for many decades – it will not be able to offer a residential programme during 2018.

However, it will offer a non-residential programme.

And in partnership with the St Columba Hotel, it will also offer an Easter and three autumn residential programmes.