You know I’m a city girl. You know I’m not terribly keen on the country unless I’m inside a luxury coach (with toilet, of course) or seeing it through a window from the warmth of a nice interior somewhere. For a day or two. At the most. But somehow Iona is different. I have even managed 7 days there before and only started to twitch at the end. I love going to Iona and the journey is all part of the pilgrimage, from the roads round lochs, stopping at the Green Wellie Shop at Tyndrum, to the one-way system in Oban. I’m familiar with Iona. I know how it breathes. I know where the shops are and where you go for peace. I know where the best stones are to be found. And I know that the view over the Sound to Mull changes every 5 minutes or so. I know the water is so clear and so blue/green that you could be in the Mediterranean. I know where the sheltered beaches are and what the sound of the Corncrake is like. (Bloody irritating.) I love St Columba’s chapel in Bishop’s House like an old familiar church. I like meeting people as they pass by and sit beside you in church. I love Iona.
So that is why I am always happy to take my little flock to Iona. Because I know that mostly they are country people or love the outdoors and will love it even more than I do. And I’ve never been wrong. This past 5 days was no different. I took a group of 18, mostly from my little flock, some of whom hadn’t been before, and they loved it. We laughed a lot. There are many in-jokes which will frustrate those who didn’t go in the days to come, no doubt. (Tippi Hedron impersonation anyone?)
Anything to irritate? Yes. The fact that 17 adults seemed incapable of remembering any times given to them. “Ruth, what time’s supper again?” “Ruth, what time is the Eucharist?” “Ruth, when do we meet again?” “Ruth, when’s the ferry?” (even when I hadn’t booked their ferry!) Over and over and over again. It was like herding cats or dealing with very small and unsure children. Next time I will do a timetable and stick it to their foreheads. However, I don’t think it will stop the uncertainty about time. And of course, we lost some of them on the way but we gathered them in eventually (after I went another few shades greyer).
I paddled, went to Staffa again but this time it was so calm we even sailed right in to Fingal’s cave, saw porpoises and seals basking in the sunshine, got sunburned, went to the Abbey on the Feast of St Columba, went up the North End in a golf buggy, painted stones, over-ate at a barbecue, ate Hogget and laughed like nothing on earth.
Every morning I did a little talk on all things Celtic: St C himself; Spirituality; Prayer etc and borrowed heavily from Ian Bradley’s books. I did quote him even in my sermon on Sunday so much so that when we went up to the Abbey just an hour or so later and heard Ian Bradley himself preaching it was almost as if he’d read my sermon. Or rather that I’d borrowed liberally from his book! One of my little flock even brought him back to Bishop’s House to meet me after the Island Pilgrimage. (I was shopping!) He was very charming, as was his wife. And didn’t mind me borrowing from his books at all.
And now we are home once more. I would like to go back again quite soon.
Another long book group yesterday discussing Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. Actually I had read it about a year ago, I think, but someone else suggested it and I remembered that I had found it hard to put down. When I first posted on Twitter that we were going to be reading this the author immediately got in touch and offered to attend our book group via Skype or to answer any questions. Wow! How impressive is that? Then I thought of our little book group… of the one who usually dozes off; of the one who comes to enjoy a cuppa and hasn’t always read the book; of the four of us ladies of a certain age who constantly say, “I don’t remember that bit…” or “Who was she again?” And everyone’s a critic! I’m sure the author would love to hear our opinions.
Anyway, back to the book. It is quite harrowing and one of our members just found it so violent she almost couldn’t read it. It features domestic abuse, with a psychological thriller twist. Almost unbelievable in parts but then you realise that this could be someone’s reality and that is so horrible. The main character also suffers from OCD and what starts out as something rather annoying (‘Oh for heaven’s sake, pull yourself together’ kind of thing) develops into sympathy as you understand why she is the way she is. It really is a page turner and has you wondering who the goodies and baddies are. 5 stars.
I also read The Rapture by Liz Jensen which was not quite so good. Set in the near future, psychologist Gabrielle tries to rebuild her life after a horrific accident which has left her in a wheelchair. She goes to work in a hospital and meets Bethany, a violent, manipulative youngster who can predict the future. Earthquakes, disasters, wars and destruction follow amid a love story and psychological thriller. Bethany’s father is an evangelical preacher of the hellfire and damnation variety, and is probably responsible for many of her problems. I quite liked that the hero was disabled but the rest of it was just a little bit too unbelievable and it was all finished off rather too quickly. 3 stars.
Can I also recommend Awesome Books if you are avoiding Amazon these days? Free delivery, new and secondhand books at great prices (often cheaper than Amazon) and pretty fast too.
The wonderful Mother Anne Dyer is doing another of her art courses which started last week. The theme this time is women in art, in particular biblical/religious women. How could I miss that?
Our first week concentrated on Women in Genesis – the archetypes. We began with the paleolithic, ice age and terracotta figures of women from long, long ago. The vulva featured heavily.
Then we moved on to Eve and Lilith. I’m going to share the images which have stayed with me but there were lots to choose from. I’m rather fond of ol’ Lilith. This may not surprise you. The image of Eve below is painted by a woman and you can read so much into the figure of Eve in it.
Then we moved on to the story of Sarah and Hagar. Such a sad story on so many levels. I’d love to see this Segal sculpture of the story. It should be in a church but suspect it isn’t.
Then Leah and Rachel…
and finally Potiphar’s wife. This Rembrandt sketch just made me laugh so much. Love it.
Now you may know that I am not one to exaggerate or anything like that, but for the last 48 hours my life has indeed fallen apart. Nobody has died, that I know of. (Well, how would you word that sentence without ending on a preposition?) Nobody has lost their job, or if I have I haven’t received the letter yet. My children are still doing what they do and the least I know about that the better. So what is the reason for my life falling apart, I hear you cry?
My computer is broken. And being the age I am, I can’t even remember back 48 hours to what caused it. Was it a print command? Did I try to do two things together too quickly? (This is not a brand new shiny computer, no, this is an XP computer and it was the new thing when I got it.) Anyway, whatever I did, it began to run very slowly and wouldn’t print. Nor could I get into whatisname where the Printers thingy is kept. So I switched it off and had a few words with it.
Yesterday I didn’t have it on until tea time when it kept asking me to report things to Microsoft which I did to no avail. So what’s the point of that then, if they’re not going to fix it? Spooler SubSystem App has encountered a problem… The print spooler service is not running… Duh? Ctrl/Alt/Delete did no good whatsoever and that’s my only remedy. (Speaking of which, I even went out and bought some Rescue Remedy which gave me a nice hit of brandy but did nothing for the computer whatsoever. ) Then I wondered if Rita kitten had something to do with it. She does love my desk as a route to the sunny spot on the window-sill and is prone to escaping there, scattering speakers and crucifixes asunder, if Lucy Pussy is chasing her. Had she pulled out a wire? I spent the evening pulling out plugs and putting them back in again.
Today I realise that my life has fallen apart. Without the comfort of my computer I can do nothing. I cannot write sermons, I cannot send emails to groups, I cannot find files and print them off (oh why did I not print it out as soon as I wrote it?). And this is when you kick yourself for downloading DropBox and other such sharing things and then never putting anything in them. I clutch my iPad to my chest as I rock back and forth and wish that I’d bought a keypad for it that meant I didn’t have to type with one purple pointy thing.
I’m now waiting the arrival of Ewan the £52 + VAT per hour computer man. And I’m praying. Hard.
In the past I have faced a bit of prejudice about being a priest who happens to be a woman. I say ‘in the past’ because, for me at least, it all seems to have blown over. People who were once agin women priests either have changed their minds or have moved to worship with fellow-haters. On the whole it just doesn’t seem to be an issue any more. I suppose my gay sisters and brothers are the ones getting the flak at the moment. Well, the ones who want to get married or be bishops at any rate.
However, this week I came across this letter from the Hebrides News. Let me print it here in full:
The pulpit is no place for a woman 17/5/13
One cannot help but sadly see that the Church of Scotland continuing her downward spiral when she gleefully and shamefully supports bizarre unions and appointments that the Bible clearly opposes. The continuing appointments of women at skyscraping levels in the church is not just wrong but very wrong, just as it is unbiblical for a woman to be a minister in any church denomination or congregation. There are around 196 women which are now ministers in the Church of Scotland. This is 196 too many. There may be only a few women ministers in our Highlands and Islands church congregations, but these few are still a few too many. The very fact that they are women debars them from the Christian ministry.
The pulpit is no place for a woman minister, however elegant she may be in public speaking or proficient in her knowledge of Biblical theology. She may rise up and hold high office in a nation, just like Queen Elizabeth and as the late Mrs Margaret Thatcher did, but not the steps that lead up to any Church pulpit, whether in Inverness Ness Bank Church or St Peter’s Episcopal’s Church in Stornoway.
Yes, women are to remain silent in every church assembly, and that includes pulpit, presbytery and the annual General Assembly. It is best to hear what absolute truth has to clearly say: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Corinthians 14v34-35).
The truth is that God has never ordained or anointed any woman to be a preacher or teacher. If it were God’s will that women should hold such a post in the Church, Jesus Christ would have shown an example by choosing one woman, at least, to be an apostle. But he did not, and even when he selected 70 disciples whom he sent out, two by two, no woman was included. Although Jesus had many women ‘disciples’ He certainly did not send any of them to go about preaching.
God has ordained that only men are to serve in positions of spiritual teaching authority in the church. This is not because men are necessarily better teachers, or because women are inferior or less intelligent (which is not the case). It is simply the way God designed the church to function. Men are to set the example in spiritual leadership—in their lives and through their words. Women are to take a less authoritative role. Certainly women are encouraged to teach other women (Titus 2:3-5). The Bible also does not restrict women from teaching children. The only activity women are restricted from is teaching or having spiritual authority over men.
Yes, a woman, by reason of her faith, knowledge and good understanding, can rise to a place of honour in the church but there are certain offices and privileges which God never assigned to women: no women apostles, no women bishops, no women elders, no women pastors, no women evangelists, no women deaconesses, no women priests, no women moderators. Clearly, the Bible has nothing to say in support of any of these appointments despite what many undiscerning women and unspiritual men may claim, whether in the church or out of her.
Mr Donald J Morrison
85 Old Edinburgh Road
I was so shocked and although I had heard that a friend who is the Episcopal priest in Stornoway had met with some prejudice I had no idea it was as blatant as this. To use the bible (and incorrectly at that) to justify misogyny is even worse. A friend on Facebook asks if censorship is the answer, and I keep thinking that if this were about black or Asian or gay people it just wouldn’t be printed. So perhaps censorship has to be considered. However, I suppose it has exposed this vile prejudice and made me realise how awfully hard it must be to live and work with this all the year round.
The funny thing is that although I suppose I am considered a Spiritual Leader in some circles, I have never really felt like that. My church is much more round-tabled. So if the only thing that women cannot do in this man’s church is teach men and have spiritual authority over them, then that’s fine. I share things and listen to peoples’ stories. It seems to be that it is his church who has turned it into a hierarchical model, not me. And whatever happened to making use of our spiritual gifts?
“Oh sorry Holy Spirit, I can’t lead the church as you ask and inspire me because I’m the wrong sex?”
“Oh sorry God, I can hear you calling me but I must say no. I’m a woman, you see, so you must be mistaken.”
My action has been to let her know that I am praying for her and to write a letter to the newspaper. Would you consider doing the same?
When I was a theological student I did an attachment in Homerton Hospital in Hackney, London. It was quite a modern hospital and one of the first to have a purpose-built multi-faith Chaplaincy Centre. Of course in the old days it would just be called a Chapel, but I suppose that implies that everyone who uses it is Christian. In that part of London the rooms were mostly used by Muslims and Hasidic Jews. I remember it being gorgeous modern stained glass, modern lines and no atmosphere whatsoever. I can’t remember the name of the nearby hospital which we visited one day but it was very Victorian and had a traditional chapel with candles to light and a statue of the BVM. I was told that none of the Muslims complained about any of it, they just faced east (with their backs to Mary) and did their thing.
Recently I was in the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank. On the way home I saw the sign for the Chaplaincy Centre and popped in for a wee nosey. The Chaplain was just coming out of his office to go for lunch but stopped to speak to us and offered us a guided tour. The focus seems to be less on religion and more on comfy sofas and armchairs. There was one dark room with an altar but I don’t think there was a cross. The Muslims had their own dedicated space. It all just seemed rather bland. And I really didn’t get a feeling of prayer at all. But that could say more about me, I’m afraid.
Today I was visiting someone in the Forth Valley Royal hospital so I thought I’d pop in to the Chapel there to say a wee prayer. I wasn’t sure if I’d been in before but it didn’t look familiar so I guess not. Again it was dimly lit and there was an altar with a bible on it and some artificial flowers. In fact there was not a ledge or window sill or wee table that didn’t have some plastic flowers on them. And pebbles. Many, many pebbles. Pebbles in bowls. Pebbles on scarves. Somewhere there is a beach bereft of its pebbles. In the dim room there were lots of little circles of chairs round a wee coffee table (with pebbles or flowers, or both). It felt a bit strange to sit at one of those wee circles on your own. There was a man in there putting his shoes on who left quickly. I think he’d been saying his prayers in the corner. There was also a lovely banner in memory of the children killed in Dunblane and Books of Remembrance which I think must be for stillbirths etc. (The photo shows a candle but I didn’t see one anywhere.)
But I’ve come away feeling a bit unsettled. None of these places felt like places I’d want to go to for spiritual sustenance. I didn’t feel the presence of God in any of them, except perhaps the old-fashioned one in London which has probably been ‘modernised’ by now. Would soft music have helped? Some candles to light? The smell of fresh flowers? More books to read? Icons? The Reserved Sacrament? Or would they all offend people of other faiths? But even when the chapel did have a special room for Muslims they chapel was still very bland. Surely even people with no faith would expect to see religious symbols in a chapel, whether they believed in them or not.
What do you think?
Annabelle, I don’t think you are going to understand what I am going to tell you this morning.
But I hope your mummy and daddy and granny and granddad and uncles and all the rest will remember a wee bit of it and tell you from time to time.
Because today I want to tell you that you are unique.
You are special.
Of all the people who have come and gone on the earth, since the beginning of time, not ONE of them is like YOU!
No one’s hair grows exactly the way yours does.
No one’s finger prints are like yours.
And just like your fingerprints, your lips have little markings on them, little grooves in the skin … and everyone has a different pattern, so no one’s lips are like yours.
No one smells just like you.
And no one’s eyes are just like yours.
No one is loved by the same combination of people that love you – NO ONE!
No one before, no one to come.
And as you grow up I want you to enjoy that uniqueness.
You do not have to pretend in order to seem more like someone else.
You weren’t meant to be like someone else.
You do not have to lie to conceal the parts of you that are not like what you see in anyone else.
You were meant to be different.
And if you did not exist, there would be a hole in creation, a gap in history, something missing from the plan for humankind.
Treasure your uniqueness.
It is a gift given only to you.
Enjoy it and share it!
So many people these days feel like they are nothing more than a number on a computer card somewhere in a government file.
But God says you are more than that.
You’re a special design.
You were made special.
Because that is the way God created you.
You are different.
You are not just a number.
And because you’re different … YOU are important.
Maybe not important to the government but you are important to God.
Because He is the one who designed you.
He is the one who made you different.
He is the one who made you unique.
(Along with your mummy and daddy of course.)
Scientists have only just recently discovered how unique and special each one of us is — how special you are.
But God has known this all the time.
God knows all about you.
She knows what you need.
She knows what you feel and what you think.
She knows exactly what you have done.
And She loves you in a way that is only for you.
Because God made you special, She has a special interest in you.
Her love is for you and it is special.
Her plan for you and your life is unique too.
That’s something worth thinking about.
I have a little present for you.
It is a zebra.
Because recently I found out that all zebras are unique – just like you.
Each zebra has different stripes so mummy and daddy zebra can tell which is their baby in a crowd of baby zebras.
Each baby zebra is unique and special.
So mummy and daddy Gray have the job of telling you all about the stripey zebra and why it is unique.
And they will also tell you how special you are, because that’s what mummies and daddies do too.
And to finish I have another surprise.
Because each bubble is unique too.
There are no two bubbles the same.
Each one is a different size or shape or colour.
Each is special.
Each is unique.
Just like you.
I’ve been thinking lately about the people who have inspired me. This came about when I heard the sad news of the death of John Maitland Moir last week. When I was a teenager growing up in Tollcross, Edinburgh John was a well-kent figure cycling about town on his old black bike in his flowing cassock with long white beard. He was an Episcopal priest who eventually converted to the Orthodox faith in his fifties. (I’m sure at this age he actually looked about 70, or is that just the perception of a young person?) He looked eccentric in his ‘funny’ clothes but he also had the look of a holy man. For a while Fr Gordon Reid of St Michael & All Saints, my home church, allowed Fr John’s Orthodox church to use our side aisle and altar for their services. Then he used a building in George Square near the Meadows, I think. And now the church has grown so much they need a larger building and have just purchased a disused church nearby. A saintly man.
On Thursdays at our midweek service I have been telling the stories of the saints each week in place of a sermon. Some of the saints are well known and others are unknown to most of us. Those often are the most interesting ones! Last week we learned about Isabella Gilmore, Deaconess and had a great discussion about Deacons and Deaconesses and holy women. This week I noticed that the SEC was commemorating Canon Albert Ernest Laurie, late of Old St Paul’s. Canon Laurie is one of those names that is spoken about in reverential tones. Although I’ve never been a member of OSP, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t heard of him even although he died in 1937. He became a Lay Reader at OSP when he was studying theology to finance his studies and was ordained in 1890 and continued to serve his curacy there. When Canon Innes (no relative as far as I know) left Laurie was unanimously elected rector of OSP and remained there for all of his ministry. Imagine never leaving one church for the whole of your working life! Another saintly man, still spoken of reverently, who worked with the poor and had an intense devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He received the Military Cross for his bravery in caring for the wounded at the Battle of the Somme.
So who are your saintly people? Most of mine are still living so I won’t embarrass them here. But among them are priests, both male and female, conventional and unconventional. There are lay people, eccentric and homely. There are saints in books and whose shrines I have visited and adored. And there are people like Alan Ecclestone whose story I read when at Theological College and would practically have traded in my bible for his autobiography if it had been allowed. And there are many who have been in my little flocks and who serve as models of the faith to me. I still have so much to learn.
So, come on. Who are yours?
Today is the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. I was not a fan but I’ve always been taught that ‘if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.’ I don’t always manage to hold to that tenet but today I shall.
Today instead, I shall think of Ivy. Ivy was an elderly member of this congregation. Ivy was lost. I mean that when I first came here Ivy was not at home and we had no contacts to find out where she have moved to. I think it took a year to find her in a local care home. She was estranged from a nephew, the only member of her family left. By the time I got to visit her she was very deaf and had dementia so could not understand who I was or why I was there. We held hands instead.
Ivy died a few months ago and we learned from her lawyer that Ivy had planned her funeral, chosen her hymns, and even sending a car to the care home to pick up any staff who’d like to come. I think about 8 members of staff came which was pretty impressive, I thought. The only other people there were members of Christ Church, many of whom had never met her but knew her name from the prayer list. Usually at a funeral my homily tells the story of the deceased for it is there we learn all the things we wish we’d known before they died. I do this in the hope that we do tell the stories before its too late. But sadly, for Ivy there was little information. And even better, the stories we did have all conflicted with one another. One story was that she had lost her hearing during the war. Another that she had contracted measles as a youngster which left her deaf. Another that she inherited it from her mother. And her parents died either in a plane crash, or on holiday, or when they moved to Falkirk. I think Ivy enjoyed telling stories. And I’m told she did it well.
Later the lawyer contacted us to say that Ivy had left all her money to Christ Church. Ivy loved her church and I think it became her family. She had no children of her own and she felt that the relatives she did have were only ‘friendly’ because they wanted her money. Ivy was very fond of a previous Rector and knew that if it weren’t for the church she wouldn’t have any friends at all. The lawyer did tell us that it probably wouldn’t amount to very much. Ivy didn’t own her own home so it would be just savings after all the other agencies had their cut. The lawyer also said that there some personal effects which were to come to us.
So this week, before the Vestry meeting, we gathered to look through the contents of an old suitcase and a large brown box. It was full of paintings which were done by Ivy’s late husband. Mostly they were copies of other paintings, including a ‘Renoir’ and the ‘blue lady’. But there were also some of flowers and landscapes. One of the portraits had us guessing who Masel was until someone pointed out it was a self-portrait. (Get it?!) There was also an album of cigarette cards, full sets. And an album of photos and cuttings from the newspapers of events that obviously meant something to her. And of course, there was a photograph album and that is the saddest thing of all. We don’t know who the people are and it seems so hard to just throw them away. The paintings can be sold at the summer fair, the cigarette cards perhaps sold, but the photos which tell Ivy’s story lie on the meeting room table waiting their fate.
Any suggestions what to do with them?
So today while the country focuses on a very large funeral which costs a lot of dosh, let us think of Ivy. A woman who was someone in her day and ended up with dementia. By circumstances alone, Ivy ended up alone with just a few visitors and a few mourners. I wish I’d known her before she became bewildered. May she rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.
Many of my friends are sad today because the Church of England has said No to equal marriage. It is an argument which just won’t go away. And in a way, I’ll be honest, I’m getting a wee bit fed up fighting it. I seem to have been doing that forever. Ever since I joined the church I seem to have been on the side of the people who are signing petitions. First it was against women priests. I know, can I ever be forgiven about that one? Then it was Changing Attitude and we held meetings and we tried to help people see that there was another way. Then it was gay Bishops and poor, dear Jeffrey John. Then it was equal marriage. Always I seem to be signing petitions and Liking some gay-friendly group on Facebook and wearing rainbows with pride.
Because all my life I have known gay people. No, I don’t mean that. All my life I have known people, some of whom happen to be gay. (My ex-husband was a hairdresser so honey, I knew where the in-crowd, the fun-crowd, was hanging.) Since I joined church I’ve met as many gay people as I did in those hairdressing circles. And if you think that’s an exaggeration then think again. Sadly, in the olden days they had to keep it a secret. And some still do, the ambitious ones, because we still haven’t got the bishop thing right. But gradually in our wee Episcopal church many have been able to come out and a few congregations are now quite used to having two men living in the Rectory. Most of them have entered into civil partnerships. Sadly some of them had to do it secretly and with closed guest lists. But things are changing. And perhaps in Scotland legislation will be passed which will allow gay people to marry in church one day. And I will rejoice and hope that this is the end of all the petitions.
But then I’m left thinking that this is not the end. Because there are still a whole lot of people in our churches who are not happy if that happens. There are still lots of people who would not want two men living in their rectory openly as a couple. And there are a whole lot of young people who never darken the door of a church because they are pretty sure they won’t be welcome. Of course, some churches have got this right. I can think of two who actually openly welcome people who happen to be gay on their website. And dear Kelvin, at St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, is tireless in his promotion of equal rights using every form of social networking known to man, woman, gay or straight. This does not always make him Mr Popular.
Then today I read Benny’s blog and was directed to this blog which has an Open Letter to the Church from my Generation. It is American, yes, but it reads to any church. It also directed me to this song which I’d never heard before. Not my kind of thing normally, but I did find it extraordinarily moving. We need to get this right if we want our church to grow and continue. To the younger generation we are just so irrelevant.
No freedom until we are equal, the man sang. Amen.
You might also want to read what Bishop Alan Wilson has to say on the matter over on his blog too.