In which Ruth ponders end times (again)

My doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting anyone so that means whoever is there might be a pleasure or not. When I say ‘not’ I mean salespeople, who I know have to make a living, but sometimes it is just annoying. Through the glass I could see an elderly couple – strangers. In the few seconds it took me to get to the door things go through your mind…

  • They want food.
  • They want money.
  • They want the guest-house down the road which has no sign.
  • They want to tell me about Jesus.
  • They want to join the church (I’ve never actually had any of those but I live in hope).
  • They want to sell me something.

elderly-old-couple-in-love-walking-streetThis couple didn’t seem to fit into any of these categories as far as I could guess. The elderly gentleman introduced himself and told me he wanted to ask me a question. Uh-oh. Do I invite them in? Or is this safer on the doorstep? Opted for doorstep. And his question? 

Will you bury me?

What? Right now?

It turns out he used to be a member of Christ Church but stopped going some years ago. But he was worried, as he got older and his health deteriorated, that there would be nobody to take his funeral. He had asked a previous rector who had agreed that he would do it but as he was passing and saw a new name on the board (I’ve been here 4 years!) he thought he’d better check. 

I told him I’d be delighted to bury him. And yes, his wife too, although she didn’t look quite so enthusiastic. And I also told him that he could come back to church any time he liked. Neither looked very enthusiastic about that.

It is a funny old world, right enough.

Stations of War

A few weeks ago I was watching the television programmes about the commemoration of WW1. For some reason the Stations of the Cross came into my mind and I could see how many themes there were which paralleled what I was watching.
I then started to write my reflections of the war around the theme of the Stations of the Cross – I’ve called them Stations of War.

Tonight we will walk the Stations of War. There will be some stops to listen to a piece of music, and there will be some poetry and prose. I hope they speak to you.

To begin with we will listen to a piece of music by Vaughan Williams called The Lark Ascending. I have always loved this piece and wasn’t aware until recently that it was written in 1914,

‘just as Europe was teetering on the edge of the abyss of the First World War… It evokes a tranquil time when Britain was riding high, having mastered the secrets of the Industrial Revolution, and memories of Queen Victoria’s sixty-four-reign were still fresh. Yet whole countries were now sleep-walking into a conflict that would wipe out a generation.’  

Frank Gardner, Only Remembered, Ed Michael Morpurgo (Jonathan Cape, 2014)

 

The story goes that as he scribbled notes for the music while on holiday in Margate, someone mistook him for a German spy and he was arrested.

Let’s listen to it now as we think back to an innocent era just before the War to end all Wars began…

MUSIC – The Lark Ascending (Vaughan Williams) 16.08

STATION 1 – JESUS IS CONDEMNED TO DEATH

As we contemplate Jesus standing there, wearing a crown of thorns and the scarlet cloak, the crowd cried out “Crucify him!”
How many young men were condemned to death fighting in a war, not of their own making?
How many teenagers, caught up in the propaganda, caught up in the desire to escape their own poor situations to go off and seek glory?
How many fathers were condemned never to see their wives and children again?
They went, believing it would all be over in a month or so.
They went, while politicians sat in boardrooms and played with their lives.
Your Country Needs You said Kitchener.  God is on our side.
Condemned to death.
Condemned to a miserable existence of suffering and misery.

The General

‘Good morning; good morning!’ the General said
when we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead,
and we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old care,’ grunted Harry to Jack
as they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.  (Siegfried Sassoon)

We pray for all those condemned to death. For the innocent, the unjustly accused, the unjustly condemned. Pray for all who are condemned.

 

STATION 2 – JESUS TAKES UP HIS CROSS

As we contemplate Jesus led to the Place of the Skull (Golgotha) he is forced to carry his own cross. 

On their backs our soldiers carried all they would need to exist.
Their kit and clothes, their food and drink, their shelter and weapons. 60lbs of solid weight.
It weighed them down and made marching unbearable after a few miles.
Young skinny, underfed men carried their burden on their backs.
Heavy weighted burdens supposed to keep them alive.
‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag’, they sang with stiff upper lip.
‘Smile, boys, that’s the style.’

And the rain and the mud made them heavier still.
Smiling was the last thing on their mind. 

from NIGHT MARCH by ROBERT GRAVES

Evening: beneath tall poplar trees
We soldiers eat and smoke and sprawl,
Write letters home, enjoy our ease,
When suddenly comes a ringing call.

‘Fall in!’ A stir, and up we jump,
Fold the love letter, drain the cup,
We toss away the Woodbine stump,
 Snatch at the pack and jerk it up.

 Soon with a roaring song we start,
Clattering along a cobbled road,
The foot beats quickly like the heart,
And shoulders laugh beneath their load.

 Where are we marching? No one knows,
 Why are we marching? No one cares.
For every man follows his nose,
 Towards the gay West where sunset flares.

 An hour’s march: we halt: forward again,
 Wheeling down a small road through trees.
Curses and stumbling: puddled rain
Shines dimly, splashes feet and knees.

 Silence, disquiet: from those trees
 Far off a spirit of evil howls.
‘Down to the Somme’ wail the banshees
 With the long mournful voice of owls…

 Our comrades who at Festubert
And Loos and Ypres lost their lives,
In dawn attacks, in noonday glare,
On dark patrols from sudden knives.

 Like us they carry packs, they march
 In fours, they sling their rifles too,
But long ago they’ve passed the arch
Of death where we must yet pass through.

 Seven miles: we halt awhile, then on!
 I curse beneath my burdening pack
Like Sinbad when with sigh and groan
  He bore the old man on his back.

 A big moon shines across the road,
  Ten miles: we halt: now on again
Drowsily marching; the sharp goad
  Blunts to a dumb and sullen pain.

 A man falls out: we others go
 Ungrudging on, but our quick pace
Full of hope once, grows dull, and slow:
  No talk: nowhere a smiling face…

 We win the fifteenth mile by strength
  ‘Halt!’ the men fall, and where they fall,
Sleep. ‘On!’ the road uncoils its length;
  Hamlets and towns we pass them all.

 False dawn declares night nearly gone:
  We win the twentieth mile by theft.
We’re charmed together, hounded on,
  By the strong beat of left, right, left.

 Pale skies and hunger: drizzled rain:
 The men with stout hearts help the weak,
Add a new rifle to their pain
  Of shoulder, stride on, never speak.

 Now at the top of a rounded hill
  We see brick buildings and church spires.
Nearer they loom and nearer, till
  We know the billet of our desires.

 Here the march ends, somehow we know.
  The step quickens, the rifles rise
To attention: up the hill we go
  Shamming new vigour for French eyes.

 So now most cheerily we step down
  The street, scarcely withholding tears
Of weariness: so stir the town
  With all the triumph of Fusiliers.

 Breakfast to cook, billets to find,
  Scrub up and wash (down comes the rain),
And the dark thought in every mind
  ‘To-night they’ll march us on again.

We pray for all who lived, even now, under the yoke of persecution. For those in prison camps, for those doing hard labour. Pray for all who are weighed down.

 

STATION 3 – JESUS FALLS FOR THE FIRST TIME

As we contemplate Jesus falling under the weight of the cross, we wonder how he can go on.

from For the Fallen

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe. 

(Robert Laurence Binyon)

 They fell. These young men fell as easily as petals from a summer rose.
They fell on the first day of war and on the last.
They fell in mud, on grass, in No-man’s Land and some never to be found again.

“On your feet!” shouted the sergeant. “On your feet! No stragglers! No malingerers! Soon as I blow my whistle, we’re going over the top. On your feet or it’ll be a Court Martial for anyone who stays.  On your feet or it’s the Firing Squad.”

Slowly they got to their feet, took a drag on a cigarette, a silent prayer.
It would be death either way.

We pray for all who fall. For those who are injured in body, mind and spirit.  Pray for all who suffer.

 

MUSIC – No Man’s Land (The Green Fields of France), words by Eric Bogle, sung by June Tabor  7.38

STATION 4 – JESUS MEETS HIS MOTHER

As we contemplate Jesus meeting his mother on the road we hear those words “A sword will pierce your soul”.

What of the mothers left behind?  Mothers who said goodbye to their babies, their brave young babies, some barely men?
Mothers who wrote with news of home and waited in dread and fear for the telegram or the knock at the door.
Mothers who poured over newspapers and every small letter from sons who couldn’t tell the horrors they saw.
Mothers who wanted to hold and protect their young from all that would endanger them, but had to let them go.
Wives and mothers bringing up babies on their own, forced to work to provide for them, fearing the worst.

I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier (song)

Ten million soldiers to the war have gone,
who may never return again.
Ten million mothers’ hearts must break
for the ones who died in vain.
Head bowed down in sorrow
in her lonely years,
I heard a mother murmur thru’ her tears:

 

I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
to shoot some other mother’s darling boy?
Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
it’s time to lay the sword and gun away.
There’d be no war today,
if mothers all would say,
‘I didn’t raise my body to be a soldier.’

 

What victory can cheer a mother’s heart,
when she looks at her blighted home?
What victory can bring her back
all she cared to call her own?
Let each mother answer
in the years to be,
Remember that my boy belongs to me!

(Lyrics by Alfred Bryan; music by Al Piantadosi)

We pray for all women who wait. For all children suffering from hardship and neglect. For all the tears shed.  Pray for all who weep.

 

STATION 5 – SIMON OF CYRENE HELPS JESUS TO CARRY HIS CROSS

As we contemplate Simon, a passer-by who had come in from the country, forced to help carry Jesus’ cross we see a man sharing the load of another. 

And what of those acts of heroism? Of brothers in arms sacrificing their own lives for their comrades.
The orderlies who ran out to carry back the wounded from where they fell.  Who risked their own lives to care for others, to help carry their load.
They watched out for one another, those men in the muddy trenches, passed cigarettes around, told stories to keep away the bogeyman.
They joined up as pals and died as pals.
¾ million signed up as Pals Regiments, loyal to one another.
Whole streets, villages, towns lost all their men because of this.
Nobody ever encouraged Pals Regiments again.

From All Quiet on the Western Front

I am fighting a crazy, confused battle.  I want to get out of my hollow in the ground and I keep on slipping back in; I say to myself, ‘You’ve got to, it’s to do with your mates, not some stupid order,’ and straight after that: ‘So what?  I’ve only got one life to lose.’

 

Suddenly a surprising warmth comes over me.  Those voices, those few soft words, those footsteps in the trench behind me tear me with a jolt away from the terrible feeling of isolation that goes with the fear of death, to which I nearly succumbed.  Those voices mean more than my life, more than mothering and fear, they are the strongest and most protective thing that there is: they are the voices of my pals.

 

I’m no longer a shivering scrap of humanity alone in the dark – I belong to them and they to me, we all share the same fear and the same life, and we are bound to each other in a strong and simple way.  I want to press my face into them, those voices, those few words that saved me, and which will be my support.

(Erich Maria Remarque)

 We pray for all people of good will who help others. For those who give their time, their riches, their strength in the service of the poor.  Pray for all who care.

 

STATION 6 – VERONICA WIPES THE FACE OF JESUS

As we contemplate Veronica, stepping out from the crowd, rushing forward to wipe the face of Jesus we give thanks for the imprint left on her cloth and in her heart. 

There were many Veronicas in that war. Women who left the security they knew to go and work in field hospitals and tend the wounded. 38,000 Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), semi-trained nurses, left comfortable family homes to tend to the wounded and dying.
Empowered in this new and horrible world, they faced sights they had never dreamt of.
Gangrene, infection, missing limbs, night terrors, and death became their daily lives.
Shell shock (‘no heart for the fight’) left them with dreams too horrible to bear. Nightmares that no amount of hand-holding would cure.
No more the social whirl, no more the simple life – death and destruction, the smell of rotting flesh and putrid blood, the coughing that never stopped. That was the life of service for others.
Writing letters at the side of a man who’d lost his sight, holding hands long into the night.

From Not So Quiet (a novel)

Cleaning an ambulance is the foulest and most disgusting job it is possible to imagine.  We are unanimous on that point. Even yet we hardened old-timers cannot imagine it without ‘catting’ on exceptionally bad mornings.  We do not mind cleaning the engines, doing repairs and keeping the outsides presentable – it is dealing with the insides we hate.

 

The stench that comes out as we open the doors each morning nearly knocks us down.  Pools of stale vomit from the poor wretches we have carried the night before, corners the sitters have turned into temporary lavatories for all purposes, blood and mud and vermin and the stale stench of stinking trench feet and gangrenous wounds.  Poor souls, they cannot help it.  No one blames them.  Half the time they are unconscious of what they are doing, wracked with pain and jolted about on the rough roads, for, try as we may – and the cases all agree that women drivers are ten times more thoughtful than the men drivers – we cannot altogether evade the snow-covered stones and potholes.

 

How we dread the morning clean-out of the insides of our cars, we gently-bred, educated women they insist on so rigidly for this work that apparently cannot be done by women incapable of speaking English with a public-school accent!

 

‘Our ambulance women take entire control of their cars, doing all running repairs and all cleaning.’

 

This appeared in a signed article by one of our head officials in London, forwarded to me by Mother last week. It was entitled ‘Our Splendid Women’. I wondered then how many people comfortably reading it over the breakfast table realized what that ‘all cleaning’ entailed.  None, I should imagine; much less the writer of the muck.  Certainly we ourselves had no idea before we got there.

 

I wonder afresh as I don my overalls and rubber boots. I wonder what to expect this morning, remembering that poor wretched soul I carried on my last trek to Number Thirteen, who will be buried by one of us today.

 

I am nearly sick on the spot at the sight greeting me, but I have no time for squeamishness. I have Commandant’s bus in addition to my own to get through.

 

The snow is coming down pretty heavily now, the waterproof sheet over my bonnet is full, and the red cross over the front of the driving seat totally obscured by a white pall.  Blue-nosed, blue-overalled drivers in knee-high waterproof boots are diligently carrying buckets of water and getting out cloths in readiness for the great attack.  The smell of disinfectant is everywhere.  No one speaks much.  It is a wretched morning and the less one talks the sooner one will be out of these whirling flakes. 

(Helen Zenna Smith, Not so Quiet, in Only Remembered, ibid (page 59-60)

We pray for those disfigured by war and those who care for them. For friendly faces and a caring touch in the face of adversity.  Pray for all who nurse.

MUSIC – Tallis, Salvator Mundi  3.59

STATION 7 – JESUS FALLS A SECOND TIME

As we contemplate Jesus in those narrow streets teeming with people, stumble and fall a second time we wonder if he can go on.

from Armistice Day 1918 – Robert Graves

But the boys who were killed in the trenches,
  Who fought with no rage and no rant,
We left them stretched out on their pallets of mud
  Low down with the worm and the ant.

 

Stretched out on their pallets of mud. They fell and they lay face down in the mud.
Deep in the dugouts, they lay still trying not to whimper with pain.
Old lags, young fresh recruits lying while whizzbangs flew overhead.
Too tired to get up again, too weary of the horror they’d never imagined when they signed up that glorious day.
They fell and they lay with the rats and the worms.
No glory now, lads. No glory now.

We pray for those who fell, innocent of any crime. For those who still lie there, row upon row, some known and many known to God alone.  Pray for all who fall.

 

STATION 8 – JESUS MEETS THE WOMEN OF JERUSALEM

As we contemplate the women beating their breasts and mourning over Jesus, we marvel at his words: ‘Don’t cry for me, cry for yourselves and your children.’

The women cried and cried, they wept until rivers ran with their tears.
They cried for their lost ones, for the brief but intense relationships, for what might have been.
A million men were missing from their lives, men these women never had a chance to meet 

Aunties

When I was a child,
there were always lots of
Aunties.
They were everywhere.

 

Some were real aunties –
Mum’s umpteen sisters,
Dad’s umpteen sisters.
There was no end of them.

 

Auntie Flo, Auntie Betty,
Auntie Edie, Auntie Marjorie,
Auntie Bertha, Auntie Jessie…
the list is endless.

 

I won’t go on,
except for Auntie Violet,
my favourite auntie,
killed on a bus in the Blitz.

 

It seemed quite natural,
didn’t give it a thought.
That was the way the world was –
lots of old ladies everywhere.

 

There were called spinsters.
Some were rather quaint.
And looked down upon.
A few were slightly mad.

 

Then, one day,
when I was grown up,
it dawned on me –

 

First World War

 

A million men were missing.
Why hadn’t I thought of it before?
Then men these women never met,
never even had the chance to meet.

 

All dead

 

These ladies were always kind,
gentle and loving to me.
Not sour, bitter and resentful,
as they had every right to be.

 

A million missing men.
A million aunties.

(Raymond Briggs, ibid (page 240-241)

 We pray for those women who lost their loves, their hopes, their dreams, their futures. For children left without fathers.  Pray for all who were left behind.

 

STATION 9 – JESUS FALLS FOR THE THIRD TIME

As we contemplate Jesus lying in the dusty road under the cross, we imagine the humility and the insults he bore.

 

from Robert Graves – It’s a Queer Time

You’re charging madly at them yelling ‘Fag!’
When somehow something gives and your feet drag.
You fall and strike your head; yet feel no pain
And find…you’re digging tunnels through the hay
In the Big Barn, ’cause it’s a rainy day.
Oh springy hay, and lovely beams to climb!
You’re back in the old sailor suit again.
         It’s a queer time.

In Belgium there’s a Peace Pool, man-made from a bomb crater.  The water is still, the reeds blow in the breeze, frogs croak and it seems so peaceful indeed.
Until you remember that this is where they fell, fell to the sound of silence as the bomb took away their hearing.

Day and night the shells fell.
Dugouts crumbled. Digging became a way of life.
Digging friends out, some suffocated, some smashed to pulp.
The noise of the shells grew into a great crescendo.
In a flash of time they threw themselves down into the mud and cringed at the bottom of the crater.
Red-hot jagged pieces of iron fell around them.

A second or two later they’d laugh, roar with laughter.
Laugh because this time your name wasn’t on it.

We pray for those who suffer humiliation from others. For all who fall daily because of disability and disease. Pray for all who live with pain.

MUSIC – O Sacred Head Now Wounded (Passion Chorale) – J S Bach    3.03

STATION 10 – JESUS IS STRIPPED OF HIS GARMENTS

As we contemplate the soldiers taking his garments and casting lots for them, we imagine what it was like to be so vulnerable and helpless.

For some, their army uniform was the first suit they’d had.  How proud they were, marching through their home towns with crowds cheering.
Proud of wearing this badge of honour, to be a soldier fighting for King and Country.
In time those clothes became something much less glamourous, stained and filthy, burned by shrapnel, seams crawling with lice, socks rotting in boots.
A far cry from that seamless garment worn by Christ.

But as death approached and they lay in a field hospital, clothes torn away, sometimes taking flesh with it, the result was the same.
Vulnerability without that badge of honour, going out of this world as they came in. Naked as a newborn babe. 

From Testament of Youth

I had arrived at the cottage that morning to find [Roland’s] mother and sister standing in helpless distress in the midst of his returned kit, which was lying, just opened, all over the floor.  The garments sent back included the outfit he had been wearing when he was hit.  I wondered, and I wonder still, why it was thought necessary to return such relics – the tunic torn back and front by the bullet, a khaki vest dark and stiff with blood, and a pair of blood-stained breeches slit open at the top by someone obviously in a violent hurry.  Those gruesome rags made me realize, as I had never realized before, all that France really meant.  Eighteen months afterwards the smell of Etaples village, though fainter and more diffused, brought back to me the memory of those poor remnants of patriotism.

 

‘Everything,’ I wrote later to [my brother] Edward, ‘was damp and worn and simply caked in mud.  And I was glad that neither you nor Victor nor anyone who may some day go to the front was there to see.  If you had been, you would have been overwhelmed by the horror of war without its glory.  For though he had only won the things when living, the smell of those clothes was the smell of graveyards and the Dead.  The mud of France which cover them was not ordinary mud; it had not the usual clean pure smell of earth, but it was as though it was saturated with dead bodies – dead that had been dead a long, long time… There was his cap, bent in and shapeless out of recognition – the soft cap he wore rakishly on the back of his head – with the badge thickly coated with mud.  He must have fallen on top of it, or perhaps one of those people who fetched him in trampled on it.’

Vera Brittain

We pray for those who have nothing, whose possessions are few. For all who do not appreciate what they have.  Pray for all who live in poverty.

 

STATION 11 – JESUS IS NAILED TO THE CROSS

As we contemplate Jesus being offered a draught of wine mixed with gall, we hear those words ‘Father, forgive them: they do not know what it is they are doing.’

They practiced with bayonets fixed to rifles running at sandbags. ‘Imagine it’s the Hun,’ they were told.
But when the whistle blew to go over the top, would they be able to look a man in the eye and kill him?
The tot of rum gave them courage but it soon wore off.
What happens when they were faced with someone else’s son, brother, father?

Father forgive them: they do not know what it is they are doing.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
and towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots
but limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame; all blind;
drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

 

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
but someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
as under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

 

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

 

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
behind the wagon that we flung him in,
and watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
of vile, incurable sore on innocent tongues, -
my friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory,
the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.  

Wilfred Owen

 We pray for all victims of war, for men, women and children. For the innocent casualties and for the work of the Red Cross.  Pray for all who are tortured.

 

STATION 12 – JESUS DIES ON THE CROSS

As we contemplate darkness over all the world we hear Jesus cry out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Then he bowed his head and yielded up his spirit.

Poison gas killed 200,000 men. It was a horrible, horrible death.  1 million killed or injured in the Battle of the Somme.
‘The artillery will have killed most of them,’ they were told. ‘You’ll be able to just stroll over and finish them off.’
And they lay dying in No Man’s Land waiting for a friend to finish them off.
‘Call me a coward, if you like, but I just couldn’t shoot a friend even if he was dying,’ said Robbie.
Some of them lay screaming for days.

Asleep  (Wilfred Owen)

Under his helmet, up against his pack,
After so many days of work and waking,
Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.

 

There, in the happy no-time of his sleeping,
Death took him by the heart. There heaved a quaking
Of the aborted life within him leaping,
Then chest and sleepy arms once more fell slack.

 

And soon the slow, stray blood came creeping
From the intruding lead, like ants on track.

 

Whether his deeper sleep lie shaded by the shaking
Of great wings, and the thoughts that hung the stars,
High-pillowed on calm pillows of God’s making,
Above these clouds, these rains, these sleets of lead,
And these winds’ scimitars,
—Or whether yet his thin and sodden head
Confuses more and more with the low mould,
His hair being one with the grey grass
Of finished fields, and wire-scrags rusty-old,
Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold,
Than we who wake, and waking say Alas! 

We pray for those who lost their lives. For young and old, for those who watched helpless, for those who died alone.  Pray for all who died.

 

MUSIC – Flowers of the Forest (Royal Scots Dragoon Guards) 2.55

STATION 13 – JESUS IS TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS

As we contemplate a good man named Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus’ body down from the cross and lay him in his mother’s arms, we think of all those who care for the dead. 

It was the job of the Royal Army Medical Corps to tend the sick and the dead.  To carry them on stretchers to hospital or to grave.
More than 9 million died on both sides in World War 1.
But there were no mothers to hold them at the end.
Far away, across the sea, a knock at the door and a telegram handed over.
‘I deeply regret to inform you… It is my painful duty to inform you…’
The women wept alone, arms empty wrapped around themselves.
Wept for the waste of youth.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmer of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. 

Wilfred Owen

We pray with Mary our Mother, as she holds her son in her arms, for all who were denied that comfort. For women who wept alone, for all women who lose a child.  Pray for all who mourn.

 

STATION 14 – JESUS IS LAID IN THE TOMB

As we contemplate Joseph and Nicodemus taking Jesus’ body, wrapping it in winding-cloths and spices and laying him in the tomb, we think of all who lie buried in a foreign field.

Some were buried where they fell, in the battlefield.
Some in graves close by.  375,000 War Horses too were given a grave of sorts.
Row upon row of white headstones or white crosses, silent witnesses to the horror of war.
They lie in France, Belgium, Italy far from home.
Some named, some ‘known to God alone’.
Some have no grave, just names on a memorial.
54,896 names engraved on the Menin Gate at Ypres of Commonwealth soldiers who died but their bodies were never found.
Tens of thousands more in other cemeteries nearby.

“Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (To the greater glory of God) – Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death”.

Every evening at 2000 hours a bugler sounds the Last Post.

He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who,
at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them,
endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men
by the path of duty and self-sacrifice,
giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom.
Let those who come after see to it
that his name be not forgotten.

(Rudyard Kipling)

We pray for those who fell, for those deprived of a grave. For those who mourn and grieve, that they may receive the grace and the strength to bear it. Pray for peace.

 

MUSIC – Lacrymosa (Do Not Stand At My Grave) – Howard Goodall, Eternal Light (A Requiem)  3.04

ENDING

Remember, Lord, those whose stories were unspoken and untold…

 Remember, Lord, those whose minds were darkened and disturbed by memories of war…

 Remember, Lord, those who suffered in silence, and those whose bodies were disfigured by injury and pain…

 Father of all, remember your holy promise, and look with love on all your people, living and departed. On this day we especially ask that you would hold for ever all who suffered during the First World War, those who returned scarred by warfare, those who waited anxiously at home, and those who returned wounded, and disillusioned; those who mourned, and those communities that were diminished and suffered loss. Remember too those who acted with kindly compassion, those who bravely risked their own lives for their comrades, and those who in the aftermath of war, worked tirelessly for a more peaceful world. And as you remember them, remember us, O Lord; grant us peace in our time and a longing for the day when people of every language, race, and nation will be brought into the unity of Christ’s kingdom. This we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Our Father…

Lighten our darkness, Lord, we pray;
and in your mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night;
for the love of your only Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Blessing
May God the Holy Trinity
guard and defend you on every side,
strengthen you to face times of difficulty,
and keep you rooted in faith and hope;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
be with you and all whom you love and all whom you have lost,
this night and always.  Amen.

In which Ruth ponders her dad’s Life Story

There has been a project on the go now for a number of years in which old folk in homes are encouraged to put together (with help) their Life Story. The Twilight Home in which my dad lives has just got around to doing this with the inmates residents. A lovely volunteer sat down with dad one afternoon and filled in the book of his life – and very amusing it was too. 

For readers who don’t know, my father has dementia. Not Alzheimers, but dementia brought on by a series of strokes. This manifests itself in various ways: he knows who we are but doesn’t always remember our names (but then he never did and we were often introduced as numbers – I am No 1 Daughter); he doesn’t initiate conversations and dislikes questions as they tend to be a test of his memory; his short-term memory is lousy but his long-term memory is not too bad; if he doesn’t know something he has a tendency to confabulate, ie make up something plausible; he pouches food he doesn’t like (like a hamster) which means he eats very slowly because his cheeks are bulging and nothing else will fit in. (Note: he never does the latter with smoked salmon.)

Dad and tiger moth 1952The volunteer had to ask dad about his memories of childhood, school, family, homes, jobs, cars, things he liked and disliked, influential people and friends, spirituality and faith, and jokes. What an interesting read it was too! Most of it was factual but there were some delightful insights into our Walter Mitty papa. At my last visit I had to ‘red pen’ considerable chunks of it and we spent a lovely few hours adding some more memories which I was able to trigger for him. 

I also learned that Dad has spent his first twelve years near here in Polmont. I always knew he was born near there but hadn’t realised that he had lived her for quite so long. He remember where he lived (9 Whitesideloan) and went to Wallace Stone Primary which still exists. He said he’d love go back there some day to see what its like now so I’m planning to do that soon. 

Dad’s cars were a great source of conversation and it is probably a blessing that he hasn’t been able to drive for many years now. I remember vividly as children sitting on his knee being allowed to steer the car and encouraging him to go faster, faster. And he never wore a seat-belt. On journeys we played many car games – counting makes of cars, counting baths in fields (what happened to baths in fields?), guessing when a mile was up, etc. Who needs computer games? We reminisced about his Daimler Sovereign, Ford Capri, Humber Super Snipe, and the one which had a long seat in the front. Anyone remember what they were called? (Just before the Capri.)

So if you should ever read my Dad’s Life Story please take it with a pinch of salt. Especially the bit about his many wives. Not all of it might be true.

In which Ruth ponders why congregations don’t like new hymns

Two complaints came to my ears this week. The first was that we didn’t know the last hymn. Indeed, when I announced said hymn I did ask Mad Margaret, our deliciously eccentric organist, if it was a new one as I didn’t recognise the first line. Half the congregation shouted NO and the other half shouted YES, so just so be on the safe side MM played it through first. Indeed we did know it, except, it would seem, the person who complained. And her friend.

This is an ongoing problem. New hymns. And I wonder why it is that so many people don’t like them. If I thought it was because they like to sing everything with gusto and not hesitation then I wouldn’t mind. But it is rare that a congregation really lets rip with joy and abundance when singing. (Easter and Christmas being the exception and strangely enough we only sing those hymns once a year.) We like familiarity in Church. We like things to be the same. We like the same liturgy, the same pew, and it would appear, the same hymns. Nothing to disturb us. Nothing to upset us. Tosh!

hildegard-musicI mean, if we never learned any new hymns we’d still be singing some Gregorian Chant with a bit of Hildegard of Bingen for the girls. And I have one person who can’t stand the modern Iona hymns set to well-known tunes. ‘Hymns should never be set to folk tunes,’ they say. Like Vaughan Williams never did it! Ha!

Then there’s the words, the content. Some of the modern hymns (and I don’t mean those banal choruses) are really powerful and far more relevant to some of us. But its like the bible, isn’t it? Some still prefer the King James version to the NRSV – until you ask them to read it aloud, that is. We want to encourage new folk into church but we also want them to sing ‘consubstantial co-eternal’ and understand what its all about. 

Of course not all congregations are like this about new hymns. Actually, that’s not true. They are all like this. But teaching organist with fagthem takes great skill. Now, I don’t sing. Actually, that’s not strictly true – I do sing, perfectly in my head. It just doesn’t always come out the way I’d hoped. So my method for teaching new hymns has always been to get the organist to play it through first and then we all have a bash. It works. Not always well, but in time we all catch on. And often some people do know the hymns anyway. I hate it when organists or choir leaders say ‘Oh we don’t know that one’ as if they speak for everyone. They may never have sung it in that church before but people do visit other churches and places and do pick up different hymns. (I’m starting to get really angry now – teeth clenched etc.)

In Christ Church they only teach new hymns if the choir can sing it first, perhaps a few times, before the congregation is ‘allowed’ to join in. Now the choir sing/lead one hymn and that’s just after communion. And frankly, not all hymns are suitable for the post-communion slot. When I first came here I was told that nobody knew Sweet Sacrament Divine and the choir would have to sing it a few times first. How smug was I when everyone joined in? (Yes, that was considered one of the ‘new’ hymns a few years ago.) A friend was visiting a church in Fife a few weeks ago and told me, in shocked tones, that the Rector had taught them three new hymns in one service. Three! I ask you! How brave is that man?

Anyway, back to the other complaint… that the hymns were too long. This poor person was exhausted by the end of it. Really? For those of you who don’t do liturgy or choose hymns to go with it, let me give you a few hints:

  1. The Introit hymn (entrance) should be jolly and majestic, suitable for a procession, long enough to get the altar party down the aisle and to their places. Sometimes, if there is incense, it needs to be a little longer to allow the Celebrant to cense the altar too and find their seat which make time with all that smoke about. 
  2. The Gradual hymn (just before the Gospel) can be short and snappy and preferably the words should suit the reading of Scripture or fit the theme of the readings. This is not always possible but the Lord knows we try.
  3. The Offertory hymn (when the bread and wine is brought and the collection taken) should be long enough to allow all this to happen. In some churches it involves more incense and there might even be two hymns (eg St Michael & All Saints). Bonus points are given if it also fits the theme of the service.
  4. The Communion hymn(s) are just as people are coming for communion or going back to their seats. The choir may do a beautiful piece as a solo, or in our case the congregation can join in if they have got back to their hymn books. The second one is usually when everyone is back in their place and is slow and reflective and usually sacramental in nature. It may have to be long to allow the priest to also get out to those in wheelchairs and unable to get up for communion. (Unless you have an organist who can ‘twiddle’.)
  5. The Recessional hymn is the one the altar party march out to and might have ‘sending out’ words to encourage us. It should be a bit like the coming in one – fast and uplifting. You Shall Go Out With Joy is a good and bad example of this. Good because of the words, bad because it is only one verse and you’d have to make it a sprint which is never dignified. (Yes, we sometimes play it three times.)

In my defence, the hymns last Sunday had (1) Jesus is Lord! (3 verses with chorus); (2) God of mercy, God of grace (3 verses); (3) All hail the power of Jesus’ name (6 verses with chorus – but the verses had 3 lines); (4) Such love (3 verses) and then O God who at thy Eucharist dids’t pray (4 verses) and still not long enough; (5) O Lord all the world belongs to you (5 verses). Well I managed them and I have COPD and Asthma! 

So there we have it. Rant over. Want to share your love of new hymns? Any suggestions on how to share your enthusiasm?

PS MM is a lovely organist and is extremely obliging and willing to have a go at anything. Anything.

Homeless in Falkirk? Forget it.

We clergy who live over the shop (ie next door to the church) are used to callers. These can vary from photocopier salesmen (yes, all men) to those men (yes, all men) who have some tarmac ‘left over’ from a job down the road that they could use to pave my carpark at a very reasonable rate to those who need something. The latter are in the majority. The ‘something’ they need can vary too. Usually it is money.

begging-cup1Each week I probably have about 5-10 callers who need money. Money for electricity cards, for food, for baby food, for train fares because a close relative has died far, far away, for phone cards for that urgent phone call, for all manner of things. All of them look down on their luck and some are more sober than others. Some are so stoned they can hardly stand or speak. All of their stories begin with “This is the God’s honest truth” and often it isn’t.

It is a tricky situation. They have come to me because they believe that as a representative of the church, I will not say no. That as a representative of the church, my job is to help those less fortunate than myself. But usually I suspect that the money I might give will be spent in the local off-licence or junkie. Perhaps you think that this is okay. That it is their choice and that the good Samaritan gives without question. I don’t believe I’m a very good Samaritan. And I don’t often have any money anyway.

The stories they tell are sometimes long and elaborate. They are often heartbreaking. Remember I used to work with homeless people and I’ve heard some of those stories before. Some, I know, are tall tales. Tales spun out of desperation for the alleviation of their addiction. Tales which I often admire for their creativeness. Sometimes they tell me they have a faith or are born again and that this should count for extra consideration. Some want me to let them in so they can tell their story in peace.

My Vestry are concerned for my safety. Not long after I came here a man tried to kick my front door in because I wouldn’t give him money. I now have locks and chains and a sign on the door which says I don’t give out money. I feel bad about that sign in my door but I know it is for my own safety. I do give out food and drinks. I make cups of tea and fill bags with food which might fill a gap. I refer folk to the Salvation Army up the road who provide hot meals, clothes and washing facilities, and give out food parcels when the Foodbank is closed, but often people come to my door when the Sally Army are closed or at the weekend. And often they tell me its not food they want, its cash. I wonder what other clergy do?

Early on Sunday evening a man came to my door called David. He wanted me to pray for him. Now that I can do. But first he wanted to tell me his story. He wanted us to go somewhere, perhaps the church, where he could tell me what he wanted me to pray for. David is from Lithuania and his English wasn’t very good. He was tall and looked quite clean, with a small backpack and an umbrella. There was no smell of drink and no signs of drug abuse. I asked him to tell his story on the doorstep which didn’t please him but he reluctantly agreed. He’d come over for work which was promised but didn’t materialise. He was sleeping rough in the park when he was beaten up and had spent four days in hospital. (He showed me his hospital wristband, his bruises, his loose teeth.) I think he wanted money for a phone card but I truly didn’t have any money in my purse. He wanted food and coffee and I gave him some and I prayed with him. On the doorstep. The hospital had given him clean clothes and the backpack but no socks and he wanted some but mine were too small. “No man?” he asked incredulously. He wanted me to write down the name of the hospital because he was to go back the next morning at 9am for a follow-up appointment about his ribs, I think. Translation was not easy. (The hospital is over 4 miles away.)

In my heart I knew I should have done more for David. But where could I take him? There is nowhere in Falkirk which does emergency accommodation. And would I be brave enough to get in my car with a 6′ man and drive anywhere? I ended up suggesting the Roman Catholic church because I know they have a big Presbytery and there are plenty men around. But I should have taken him myself. I was too scared.

Yesterday I phoned the local housing department and asked what I could have done. They said he wouldn’t get a house anyway unless he comes from Falkirk or unless he could pay. “No point in giving a house if they can’t pay for gas and electricity,” they said. There are no hostels in Falkirk, no places where someone can sleep out of the cold and rain. Their advice to me was to phone the Lithuanian Embassy in London. “Nothing we can do if he’s come here with no return ticket.”

So my question is: what do you do? If you don’t live in a big city with hostels and temporary accommodation, where do you refer people to? Because nine times out of ten, they come in the evening or at weekends out of office hours. I sometimes suggest the Police but I’ve never had anyone take my up on that suggestion once. They may say they’ve been there already, but often I suspect it is the last place they’d go. In retrospect perhaps I should have phoned the police about David.

He’s still in my mind and my prayers. What would you have done?

feet poor

Whitchester Parish Weekend

In all the churches I’ve been rector, I’ve led silent retreats. They have never been over-subscribed but usually appreciated by the dozen or so who do attend. Even those who have never been silent before often become devotees and persuade others that they should try it. Readers will know that I myself struggle greatly with silent retreats. There are probably more blogs about my catastrophes than any other topic and I invite you to go seek them if you want a laugh. However, I do find that leading them is not quite so difficult for me – probably because I get to speak and listen and have enough in the organising to keep me busy.

Since I’ve been at Christ Church many have said that they wouldn’t come on a silent retreat and that’s fine (and quite understandable). And often the feedback after a retreat is that people just wished they had got to know one another better. Mind you, I think you can find out a lot about folk watching them in silence but that’s another topic… So this weekend we had a Parish Weekend. Not a retreat. Not silent. Just a weekend for us to get to know one another, enjoy conversations, and have fun. Hopefully.

We went back to Whitchester Christian Guest House just outside Hawick because they are trying to encourage more visitors and it is a lovely house. A bit too close to nature for my liking but I know others like that sort of thing. I’d planned to go from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon so that any who worked could join us. The majority were probably in the 70-80 age group but that was offset with one family with 3 year-old Eleanor. I’d planned on worship morning and night, and took along some crafts for those who didn’t want to go out hiking or whatever folk do when they go off into nature.

Unfortunately it rained all day on Saturday and although some did go out (mostly looking at overpriced cashmere) the rest of us learned how to do encaustic art and produced some masterpieces. We also made our own labyrinth which took up most of the day but everybody painted at least one leaf on the fabric. It can now be used in our own church – or if you would like to borrow a 12′ square labyrinth, do let me know.

2014-08-02 19.56.29  2014-08-02 19.55.06

Worship didn’t go as well as I’d planned because I’d printed the booklets incorrectly. Page 1 was at the beginning and the correct way up, but Page 2 was at the back of the book and upside down, and so on. It was a test of ingenuity and caused some pauses in unexpected places as some shuffled back and forth with puzzled expressions. On Sunday we had a Eucharist to remember the beginning of WW1 and everyone was invited to bring a flower from the garden and lay it on the altar. (We’d pretty much got the hang of the booklet by then!)

2014-08-03 10.35.38  2014-08-03 13.12.42

The only problem was nature, and I feel just a little smug about this. Breakfast was delayed by some time while the staff leapt around the dining room with a net trying to catch the two bats who had swooped in. At night they were back and forth like busy bees and this rector certainly did no wandering about outside after dusk.

We had a lot of laughs and did indeed learn more about one another. Perhaps every alternate year we ought to forgo the silence and just have fun instead.

In which Ruth remembers her Quali

There has been a lot of talk this week about Proms. On Woman’s Hour there were interviews with Year 6 leavers who talked about being in tears at leaving their Primary School, about the sadness of leaving lovely teachers, of frocks and limousines and all the rest. It was quite a revelation to me.

Let me tell you about the Quali Dance at James Gillespie’s Primary School, for yes, it was not called a Prom in the 1960s. In my day it was the Qualifying Dance (known as the Quali) and I assume it was for those who had qualified to get into the Secondary School. I don’t remember anyone who didn’t qualify but there was a test which was very scary. Did anyone fail it? I don’t know. Of course we left at the end of P7 and I’m not quite sure if it is the same as the current Year 6. Anyone know?

Although there was a James Gillespie Primary School for Boys there was no joining up for the dress patternQuali so it was girls only. I remember I wore a coffee coloured dress which was painful to wear. It had a sticky-out skirt and it itched. I hated it. With a passion. Frou-frou it was. I’d rather have worn my lovely cat-suit and no, there are to be no photographs. No way. There may have been white socks too. Lovely. (Not long white socks, by the way, as those were only worn by the Roman Catholic girls at the Convent next door – ours had to be short, or long grey or fawn.)

Now, my memory of the actual Quali Dance is rather hazy. There must have been dancing but I’m assuming it was of the Scottish Country variety. With girls, yes. That was my life until I left secondary school and then there was a joint dance in 5th Year with the boys of George Heriot’s, but that’s a whole other story and involves Vodka in handbags. The Quali Dance was not nearly so exciting. I don’t remember teachers dancing but perhaps they did.

Nobody cried, that I know of. There was no procession with the whole school waving farewell and parents crying into their iPhones. There were no limousines – I walked over the Meadows as I did every morning and every afternoon. It was held in the gym and perhaps there were balloons but that was probably all the decoration. Most of my friends were coming to the same secondary so we knew we’d all see one another after the summer holidays, so there were no tearful separations.

And if any of my old school friends are reading this and remember it completely differently and were awash with tears then that just goes to show you what a tough nut I was in those halcyon days.

In which Ruth goes on holiday

Does anyone else find it really hard to unwind on holiday? I know of friends who suffer from migraines who spend the first few days of their holiday having a massive migraine attack. It is something about your body relaxing and letting go of a heap of tension and allowing the headache gremlins in. I don’t get a migraine but I do find myself wandering about like a lost soul, picking up books, watching DVDs, needing to tidy the house but reluctant to do the whole lot so just half-heartedly push things around from one place to another. After two days I just wish I was back at work as all the things which need to be done creep back in to my consciousness. And I get bored. Really bored. I get bored because I’m not dealing with people, I think. (Introvert friends look away now!) I want to phone Mrs So-and-so to find out how she got on at hospital. I want to do the baptism booklet that needs to be done on my first day back. I want to plan the Parish Weekend that’s coming up. Let me tell you, I really have to fight those urges when I’m on holiday. So much of ministry involves people and I miss them when I’m forced to stay away from them. Is it just me then?

Ah, I hear you cry, ‘Go way somewhere!’ Well, have you seen the state of my bank balance? This year I shall indeed be going away in September on my D-Day Expedition so this July break was on a severely restricted budget. Now I could stay at home. I love my home and I could potter and read and watch and stuff but when the rectory is next door to the church it makes that more difficult. My little flock are very good at keeping away really but you do get the odd one… “I know you’re on holiday but…” or “Sorry to disturb but my key isn’t working…” And then there are the regular callers: the ones looking for money for electricity or baby food or the bus fare to granny’s funeral. They are a constant in every priest’s daily life when you live over the shop.

2014-07-06 08.25.26So this year I did potter for the first week and then went to stay with friends. First was Fr Alex and Anne at Canty Bay, just outside North Berwick. They are old friends and a great source of ecclesiastical gossip and jolly good at entertaining. For a few days we sat in the sitooterie (Scottish name for a conservatory) and blethered and watched birds at the feeder and marvelled at the skyscapes over Berwick Law and out to the Bass Rock. On Sunday I went to church with them at Holy Trinity, Haddington where Mother Anne fed my soul. So lovely to be pew fodder and relax into the Holy Mysteries.

2014-07-06 11.37.20

Then further down the east coast to stay with Mother Jennifer at Eyemouth where there were more churchy conversations and problem solving and sharing mostly over the kitchen table or out in the back garden (another bird feeder and different birds). We toodled down to Holy Island for the Lindisfarne Scriptorium’s exhibition where I made a Brigid Cross and did some colouring in. We wandered along to the church as we share an adoration for The 2014-07-08 16.50.53Journey, a beautiful wooden sculpture of monks carrying Cuthbert’s body. There was a sign outside to say that Choral Evensong was about to begin with the visiting choral scholars from St Martin-in-the-fields. We were lucky to get seats as the church filled and we were treated to some Parry, Andrewes and Wood. Throughout it all a swallow who has been nesting in the porch swooped and cried along with the singers. A perfect end to the day.

On Wednesday we went to Alnwick where Jen’s daughter lives and met her for lunch at Barter Books at the old Railway Station. If you haven’t been, you must. It is the most extraordinary secondhand bookshop with a model railway round the top of some of the bookcases. We could have spent the whole day there (and the food is great too) sitting reading or having coffee – they really have it all. I was very good and only bought two books but if I’d made sense of the filing system might have bought more.

2014-07-09 15.52.46After that we had a gawp at the castle and then a leisurely drive back up the east coast, stopping at Spittal where we had some very happy holidays as children. The beach was full of people sunning their milk-bottle legs and scoffing ice cream. We resisted both.

Home yesterday via Costco and now I am itching to get back to work. Resisting until tomorrow when I can finally get to work on that baptism…

 

In which Ruth ponders her holiday reading

Did I tell you I’d found a new crime writer whose books are just fabulous? I heard about her from several clergy friends – all women and all from over the pond. The author is Louise Penny and the series of books which I’ve been enjoying are the Inspector Gamache series. So far, I’ve read the first four: Still Life; Dead Cold; The Cruellest Month; and The Murder Stone. They are set in the delightful village of Three Pines in Quebec which is a bit like Midsummer in that many people seem to get murdered there. I kind of want to go there but would be very wary, if you know what I mean. The characters are so real that you feel as if you know them and poetry-loving Inspector Gamache and his wife are just delicious. And the food! Every meal is mouthwatering and there really should be a recipe book brought out soon. There’s not much in the way of churchy stuff but lots of human life is there to be pondered. (By the way, I didn’t read them all in this holiday – just two of them!) Each book is a stand-alone story but it is best to read them in order as the characters develop over time.

I’ve also read The Four Last Things by Andrew Taylor. It is the first in the Roth trilogy but I’m not sure I’ll rush to get the next ones. It is churchy but rather dated now. A little girl is kidnapped from her childminder. Her mother is a curate and father a policeman and the book explores their strained relationship and what a missing child does to your faith in God. The rest of the book explores Angel and Eddie, the kidnappers, and what has brought them to this place. Rather grisly and the church doesn’t fare very well. Perhaps this is more realistic than I’d like to think.

I also read Extraordinary People by Peter May (of the Lewis Trilogy which I loved). This is the first in the Enzo Macleod books, a Scottish forensic expert living in Paris. If you know Paris you will probably love this book. I’ve been but don’t know it well enough so found the constant use of street names a bit of a pain. (However, I realise if it was set in Edinburgh I would probably be delighted so make your own mind up on that one.) Lots of clever clues which of course he manages to solve just in time which reminded me a wee bit of The Da Vinci Code. Good characters and good mystery. Not sure I need to read the rest of the series though. Back to Inspector Gamache for me.

Acts and OmissionsAnd finally I have started Acts and Omissions by Catherine Fox which was waiting for me when I got home. I read all her books when they first came out and absolutely loved them. Being married to a clergyman she knows the church and all its foibles and this is no different. This book actually began as a weekly blog but I didn’t enjoy having to wait each week for the next chapter so am thrilled that it is now in print. It is hilarious and wonderfully observed. If you love the church you will love this. More when I finish it…

The Institution of Fr Martin Robson as Rector of St Michael & All Saints

I’m on holiday at the moment (potential burglars please take note this is a staycation) but on my first day I had to go into Embra for the Institution of Fr Martin Robson as Rector at St Michael & All Saints. Lots of clergy and lots of Martin’s little flock filled the pews as the incense began to smoke its way to the rafters. The choir were in good voice singing the Missa Brevis by Rachmaninov which I didn’t know before but really loved the Agnus Dei. And who doesn’t love a good Litany at an Institution? Parry’s I was Glad always brings a tear to my eye too.

Bishop John preached on the danger of little flocks thinking that Father knows best and leaving him to it. I gather Fr John Penman had preached on the dangers of clergy stress the Sunday before, citing Fr Malcolm Round’s article in Inspires, so I think they’ve got the message by now. There’s a good lay team now at St Mike’s so I’m sure they’ll be fine.

As ever, for me, it is lovely to go ‘home’. The smell of incense, the candles, the stained glass, and the feeling of deep, deep prayer all make it a joy. Even the unexpected bell in the middle of the eucharistic prayer (no, not at the Epiclesis!) didn’t spoil my bliss.

My prayers are now with Fr Martin and his family as they settle in to life at Spiky Mike’s.

Photo pinched from Facebook.

Martin's institution 2014