Death is not the end

2016 has had a sad start for me. At the end of 2015 three members of my little flock died. Each one of them was shocking and heart-breaking.

G died first. I had been visiting her for over five years since I’ve been here, taking her communion in her wonderful top-floor flat with views of the Ochils. G had a wonderful sense of humour and we shared a love of the same authors so got on well right from our first meeting. However, a stroke and then the loss of sight through macular degeneration left G deeply frustrated and unhappy. When her beloved only son died earlier in the year she felt she had nothing left to live for. G only had a granddaughter left but she lived in Glasgow and we never met. The first we heard of her death was when it appeared in the newspaper. We had talked about her funeral, G and I, and I knew that she wanted a simple service of the Committal. She wanted no eulogy, no hymns because she thought nobody would be there. When you get to your nineties there are not many friends left. No matter how often I told her that friends from church would be there she was convinced that there was no point in anything ‘fancy’. We agreed on a simple service. Perhaps her granddaughter didn’t know she was a member of Christ Church. Perhaps she was convinced by the Undertaker that they could take care of it all. So we gathered in the Crematorium, we friends of G, and listened to the Undertaker read two poems and say one sentence of the Committal. It was terribly, terribly sad.

A few weeks later I got a phone call to tell me M had died suddenly, found beside her bed. I’d seen her the day before bustling along Kerse Lane heading into town as she did every day. For M loved to shop. She loved to buy presents for all her family, friends and for me. Flowers Molly 2011 She looked well the day before she died. Her death was sudden and a shock. M had a large and loving family who grieved deeply at her death. Her funeral was on Christmas Eve in church and then at the Cemetery. The church was full and there were tears and laughter. M used to do the flowers for Christ Church and I know there was great concern that we should do her proud with a glorious display. It was a difficult funeral to take and I think that was partly because I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see her again with her full head of chestnut hair, even in her 80s – and  it was all natural, unlike my own! I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t get more tipsy glasses or a request for fluffy polar bears in the nativity. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see her every Thursday at Mass and be greeted with her eternal optimism.

Then there was the death of B, another huge shock. B had recently been diagnosed with cancer but it was treatable and was certainly not going to get him down. B was a character, a very private man with a loving wife, with a caustic sense of humour who never failed to make me laugh. He was People’s Warden all the time I’ve been here, loved opera and theatre, and more than anything loved to entertain with food. Afternoon Tea for the CHURCHCHRIST.RP.SERVICE.21housebound were catered for with bone china tea-sets, tiered cake plates and real linen napkins, flowers on the table, all thanks to B. His platters for the Quiz Night were famous and wherever there was food to be served, B was at the forefront organising it. After just one round of Chemo, B caught pneumonia of the worst kind. The kind which is resistant to any antibiotics. So just a few weeks after his diagnosis and after just one week of chemo he was taken into hospital, then ICU and then a few days later on the day before Christmas Eve we sat at his bedside while all the life-support was switched off. Too soon. Too soon. Again another shock that we wouldn’t see him again, taste his little amuse bouches. His funeral was the first I took in 2016 on the 6 January and we catered for his funeral tea in his memory. The joy of Epiphany was overwhelmed with sadness. A star had fallen from our skies.

Three lovely people gone. Each one a beloved child of God. Each one unique and each one a character. Each one missed by us all.

And then this week I began my post-Christmas holiday. I was tired. Tired of death. Tired of being strong and carrying on when all I wanted to do was sit down and weep. Tired of loss. Tired of shock. I knew it would be a holiday of sleeping and reading and thinking back over these few weeks of great loss. I didn’t want to go away. I just wanted to coorie down and wallow in sadness.

bowie_aladin_sane_1000pxAnd then David Bowie died. Not a man I knew, but a man I had adored since I was a young teenager. A man whose music was the soundtrack to my life. A man who shocked my parent’s generation but who thrilled us. A man who cared nought for gender or rules and no, I didn’t understand all of his music and lyrics but I loved them all the same. I know them all still. My boys grew up listening to his music and also know and love him. That made me strangely proud. Memories of listening to his LPs on our little record player over and over again, of dressing like Aladdin Sane at the local disco, of dancing a strange dance to Rebel Rebel with my first boyfriend at a wedding, of wishing I had straight hair so I could have mine cut like his, of crying at Murrayfield when he walked on stage in that blue suit on the Serious Moonlight Tour. And I didn’t even know he was ill. I was totally unprepared for his death. I found a radio station playing all of his music and I sat in the kitchen all day and listened and sang along. Why on earth was I so moved by a pop-star’s death? Because so much of my life had been accompanied by his music. Because he had been theatre and a legend for me.

Then two days later Alan Rickman, the actor, died. Another shock. Another person whom I admired and watched avidly. That voice, that intonation, that humour. I seldom cry at movies but I did at Truly, Madly, Deeply. And his death seemed like the final nail. Too much death. Too much shock and loss.

It has been a sad year so far. Yes I know each one will live on in my memories. I will never forget G and M and B. We will keep on telling their stories. And Bowie will continue to be yelled (I won’t say ‘sung’) along to in my car and whenever I hear him. I might even make a Spotify list of my favourites. And I think I may watch all of Alan Rickman’s performances again and laugh at his Slope or Snape. Dead but not forgotten.

Christmas past and present

So, as ever, one of my New Year Resolutions might be to blog more and as thoughts of Christmas past and present have been whirling round my head for the past week, let me share them.

My childhood memories are of desperately waiting to go through to the lounge to open those parcels under the tree. Dear old mum loved to have a long lie so there was always the worry that she wouldn’t want to get up and let us in to the lounge. And my sister Carol would never go in first in case Santa was still there so we hovered in the hall coughing loudly. Eventually mum got up and gathered her notebook and pencil to record everyone we opened, taking turns but peeking through gaps in the wrappings to get a hint of what was therein. Of course Carol knew most of hers already for she had been snooping in the top of mum’s wardrobe for weeks but I was always happy to wait for the surprise.

After the pillow cases were emptied and the tangerines and shiny Macintosh Red apples discarded in favour of Selection Boxes and chocolate treats, and the wrappings put in the bin, the serious work of reading or playing began. After breakfast, and I don’t remember what we had but it certainly wasn’t anything resembling smoked salmon, we had to get dressed for Christmas lunch. This was a grand affair when Dad came to pick us up andCafe Royal we opened more presents before heading off to the Cafe Royal where Grandma, Barbara, his current wife, and Lesley and Joanne (our half-sisters) all gathered sharing lists of what we’d got.

The Cafe Royal was probably the most grand restaurant in Edinburgh in those days and we’d always have a table in the Crown Room. There would be luxury crackers to pull and beautiful gifts for the women. That’s when the serious eating of smoked salmon began although I do remember Dad occasionally have scrambled egg on toast if he’d been overdoing the dining out. Dad was always adamant that both families and both wives got on and Mum and Barbara went along with it and did indeed seem to get on although, looking back, it can’t have been easy for mum to be brought face to face with the newer model.

When I became a mum of two little boys some traditions remained the same. The pillow case became a proper Santa Sack but the orange and apple remained and the notebook always came out to make a list ready for thank-you letters. Mum came to us for Christmas and helped make lunch, a more informal affair round the dining table with no white-aproned waiters in sight. Breakfast might be smoked salmon and a wee Croft Original sherry, or maybe a bacon roll.

Then ordination changed all of that. The boys were growing up but still around but Mum died in 2006 and I was left to make the food myself. Friends who know me will also know that cooking is not one of my gifts. Heating things in a microwave is my gift but cooking things and having them all ready at the same time is definitely not one of my gifts and charisms. And I was exhausted. I was so busy in the week leading up to Christmas that I sometimes didn’t get to the shops until the last turkey was gone and there was not a potato to be found.  One son was a fussy eater and the other had cordon bleu tastes so there was never an agreement on what we should eat. One year I remember a fridge full of lobsternibbles and savouries and only a lobster platter from Marks and Spencer as a main course.

For a few years it fell to Son #1 to make the food but as he and Son #2 had often been up late drinking the night before they never felt like cooking or eating until about 7pm. By that time I’d done about 14 services over the past few days and made so many bacon rolls to see me through I never felt like eating and was ready to go to bed by 6.30pm.

Then Son #1 decided he’d rather have Christmas with his new partner, and who can blame him? And we were left, the two of us, who really didn’t like the same food as each other. He didn’t want to get up early to open presents before I went off to do the Christmas day services but I was desperate to see what Santa had brought. No sherry for breakfast when you’ve got the Holy Mysteries to see to and bed was only a few short hours before. Midnight Mass can really up the adrenaline levels and it takes hours for me to come back to earth after the high. No sleep for me before about 4am. And so I come back from the Christmas Day eucharist and Son #2 is still in bed and reluctant to leave his cosy pit and share the love of the baby Jesus.

A few years ago we made a splendid decision to have a Chinese carry-out for our Christmas meal. I can’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before. It was the perfect solution for we both loved Chinese food and I didn’t have to cook it. And it worked beautifully. Until last year… the Chinese restaurant decided to close for Christmas Day. We phoned every Chinese carry-out in town and not one of them was open. That year we had a plateful of chipolatas and some sausage rolls. Oh how we laughed.

This year I actually planned ahead and no Chinese restaurant could be found. I asked Son #2 what he’d like instead and he said the only meal he could remember that I’d ever cooked which was edible was a slow-cooker stew so that’s what we had. I put it on after the Midnight Mass and it was really tasty at 5pm. (The veg were pre-packed and the gravy came from a bottle.) This was also the Year of the Lindt overload as I’d casually lindor-003.jpgmentioned my love of Lindt chocolate and I received rather a surfeit. 8 boxes in fact, not to mention the Thorntons boxes of chocs. That did nicely for breakfast and lunch.

What I failed to do this year was get that old notebook out to write down the presents for the thank-you letters. So thank you, dear friends, for all those lovely presents. I love them all, even if I can’t quite remember who gave what.

Ordination really messes with your Christmas folks. Unless you have a lovely spouse who happens to enjoy taking care of that kind of thing, it can be a messy business and a stipend doesn’t quite stretch to dining out in the Cafe Royal, although I hear its not quite the same these days. So spare a thought for the poor children of clergy who don’t get to open presents at a reasonable hour and have to eat stew on Christmas day after mum has snored her way through the afternoon movie and is ready to go back to bed at 7pm.

In which Ruth ponders church rotas

Mother Lynsay over at Penicuik and West Linton asks on Facebook whether any church has done away with church rotas. She asks if it is possible to ask those who turn up to read, welcome, serve coffee etc. Oh what a thought! In fact I’ve done nothing else since she mentioned it this morning. Imagine a church without rotas! Here are some of my thoughts:

You could do a first-come-first-serve kind of thing. All the jobs are written on cards and put in a basket and first through the door gets first choice – or lucky dip. But then I thought that it could mean most folk would come even later than they do at the moment, joining in at the end of the procession to avoid the last job in the basket.

It would be fine for readers and might mean some folk read who don’t at the moment because they’ve never been confident enough to put themselves forward. When I first came here I didn’t have any readers at the midweek service so asked old John if he’d like to do it. He was so chuffed. Just delighted to be asked because nobody had before. So much so, that he’s done it every week since. And proudly so. It would be good in the rota-less church to hear more voices.

Intercessions might be harder because I know some people take weeks to prepare them at the moment. We only have a handful of folk here who do them because most folk think they couldn’t possibly write meaningful intercessions. Even though I’ve said you can read them straight from our blue book where there are perfectly adequate prayers, it seems a step too far for most folk. I love it when people have read the lessons for the day and woven the theme into their prayers. And I love that each person brings their own interests to their offerings: Dav always prays for animals; Matthew for all the saints of the week; Tom for our friends in Nyakinoni, etc.

Getting volunteers for Sidespeople would be greatly needed as we don’t have many who do that. I don’t know why folk here are reluctant to help out in this role. You smile, you hand out pewsheets, you ask someone to bring up the elements, you help folk up for communion and you tidy up at the end. What bit of that puts people off, I wonder? Imagine if everyone HAD to take a turn. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

welcomers

Serving at the altar could be interesting as you do need to be there early to set up and get things organised. And the choreography might put some folk off. Perhaps leave that one on the rota.

Coffee would be good to go rota-less here as we are down to a handful of folk who’ll do it. If we provide the milk and biscuits (which we do) and have someone set up (good old John does that every week) then why not ask for volunteers on the day to go and make a pot of tea and pour out instant coffee then fill up the dishwasher after? Never understood why everyone doesn’t take a turn at that one.

Flower rota? That could be fun. A card could say ‘Next week you have to bring one flower/one piece of pussy willow’ and then shove them in oasis. It could work. No fake poinsettia though! And no tulips – I have a phobia.

flowers in glass

Chalice bearers here are all licensed by the bishop so that could be tricky to hand out on the day. And I know some of them dress up for the part and wouldn’t want to be caught out on a trackie and old jumper kind of day. It’s a serious job, that chalice bearing, and you want to look your best.

I think we’ll keep the organists we have on a rota. That would be a step too far. Although who knows what hidden musical talents lie out in the pews? A secret saxaphone player, an old trumpet blower? Ooh I do love a trumpet at Christmas and Easter.

I know the Holy Dusters would love to have more volunteers but it is not done on a Sunday. Actually, having said that the first one through the door for the early service does often have to get the duster and hoover out to deal with falling plaster but that’s usually me or my server. But I rather like the idea of everyone HAVING to take a turn at church cleaning!

cleaning_sunday

Perhaps a rota-less church could work. Perhaps not for all the jobs but its worth a thought…

 

 

 

Remembering

In an issue from our church magazine in 1919 there was a letter from the Rector, the Reverend Jenkins. He was priest here from 1914 and he was exhausted.  Throughout the first world war he had been looking after Grangemouth as well as Falkirk and the mission church had opened there with a curate helping out. His parish was huge, the roads were difficult, and the troops deployed at Grangemouth needed pastoral support. He was also overrun with blessing the many marriages which take place in the time of war.

By 1918 he knew he needed extra help and then when the curate at Grangemouth caught Spanish flu, I imagine he was at the end of his tether. Although he had the help of a ‘lady worker’ it just wasn’t enough so he wrote to the Home Mission Board asking for help. He told them his doctor had ordered him to rest for three to four months. However this just cannot happen. He looks for help with the mission churches that need supporting at this busy time. He says he is not even considering that Grangemouth and Falkirk may become important industrial centres after the war.

On top of this there was clearly a real problem of income for him. He wrote a letter to the congregation saying that although his stipend was comparable to similar charges before the war, the value has dropped by 50% during the war and so they are being asked to present money as an Easter offering to the Rector. (In those days the collection for Easter was a key part of the Rector’s income.)

In 1919 things had got very bad indeed for Jenkins and he gave his resignation. In June fourteen members of the congregation presented the Rector with a petition signed by 500 adult communicant members asking him to reconsider his resignation, and offering more help. Rev Jenkins was deeply touched at the gesture, but felt unable to change his mind. He did, however, feel that the petition was the highest compliment the congregation could offer.  By August he and his wife moved near to Rugby to a charge which was considered lighter.

Poor old Jenkins. You can’t help but feel sorry for him. At this time of year we remember those who lost their lives in the war but perhaps we forget those who were left at home to do the caring.

Who cares for the carer? An eternal question.

So this week I’m thinking of all clergy who struggle with parish life. I’m thinking of those with more than one Charge who feel they never give enough time to each one. I’m thinking of those who find it hard to delegate and ask for help. I’m thinking of those who dread the season of Advent and Christmas because they just don’t feel creative. I’m thinking of clergy who never find time to read and the well on which they draw inspiration for preaching has run dry.

Sermon for Christ Church Falkirk Dedication Festival 2015

Last year we celebrated 150 years in the life of Christ Church. We held a big celebration which took almost a year to organise. We invited all those special people who had been stepping stones on the way: past curates (now bishops); past rectors (now elsewhere or retired); and past friends. We had an exhibition of old vestments worn by all these worthies, and all the treasures were taken out of the safe for an airing. Wendy is still working on putting together a history of Christ Church, looking back at old magazines and we hope to have it available soon.

We are now a year on and again it is time to look back. Christ Church is about her people as much as it is about her building. A building which is need of considerable repairs in the coming months. On our Dedication Festival, we dedicate our building with its dodgy roof and flaking paint.

“Where do you work?” someone asked me last week. “Oh I love the look of that church whenever I pass it,” they replied when I told them. And it is a beautiful church, a unique building. We are very fortunate to worship in this space. The stained glass is exquisite, the proportions just right, and sometimes it takes your breath away.

But we mustn’t forget the people. They are unique too. Exquisite, proportions just right…? And sometimes you take my breath away. Just not so many of you these days. Even if we add in our 28 housebound members and the new people who have joined us this past year, we are still struggling to keep the building going and pay the bills. And I’m afraid that’s going to get worse in the months and years ahead.

But what warms my heart is the effort you all do put in. Look at these gifts today – birthday presents for Christ Church which make a huge difference. And I know it comes on top of our Harvest appeal and our last collection for the homeless. These gifts are a sign of the love you have for this place.

We love the place, O God, as we’ve just sung in our Gradual Hymn.

A house of prayer… how many prayers have been said in this place, I wonder?
The stones are seeped in them.
The kneelers are infused in them.
Prayers of thanks, of hope, of pleading.
Prayers of some of you as youngsters,
prayers right through your lives.
How many prayers said right here, I wonder?

We love the sacred font, the hymn goes on.
For there the holy Dove pours her blessing on little ones and some grown ups too.
Think of all the babies who’ve been baptised here.
Some still sitting here today.
Some becoming our future and our hope.
Promises made to care for them and share our faith with them.
Each one of us made these promises and we need to keep fulfilling them.

We love the altar, Lord.
Where we find his presence near.
How many hands have been outstretched and fed at that altar, I wonder?
Old wrinkly hands, arthritic hands, bejewelled hands, growing hands, wee pudgy hands.
Each unique.
Each telling a different story.
Each reaching out to be fed.
To hold the body of Christ in our throne of hands.
To be fed and nourished for our journey.

We love the word of life, the word of God,
the stories told again and again at the eagle lectern there
and down there for the gospel
and in this pulpit where the clergy try to make sense of it all.
Words of peace, of comfort, of challenge, of joys that never cease.

We love to sing too.
Unless it’s a new hymn, eh?
Songs of triumph with occasional descants and harmonies.
Songs of joy and songs of mercy.
Which are your favourite?
The joyful rousing ones
or the quiet reflective ones?
How many songs have been sung in this place, I wonder?

And finally, the hymn ends with these words:
Lord Jesus, give us grace on earth to love thee more, in heav’n to see thy face, and with thy saints adore.
Give us grace to love thee more.
And I suppose I’m preaching to the converted here because you are here and I assume it’s because you want to love him more.
And next week we shall hear more of the saints who’ve gone before.

We love thy place, O God. We do. But do we love it enough to make sure it continues for another 151 years though?

And that’s the question I leave with you today.

Statistics show that the vast majority of people come to church for the first time because somebody invited them. It’s that simple. Maybe there are people you know who are just waiting for that invitation. They just don’t know how to ask you if they can come along. But think of what you have here, what joy and love you have received here. Don’t you want to share that with someone? If you do, then you can rest assured that you will have shared the greatest love of all.

How awesome is this place, said Jacob in our first reading.
How awesome is this place, say we.
This is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven.

2015-10-25 10.05.53

In which Ruth ponders pastoral care surprises

The phone rang.

“Rector, I’m just letting you know that my sister E has been taken to hospital. It’s not looking good. They’ve withdrawn all food and antibiotics.”

I’ve been visiting E since I came here five years ago. In all that time we’ve never really had a conversation although she receives communion in her Care Home every month. She had a brain tumour over 20 years ago and is not able to communicate well, but she often has a smile and we know she appreciates receiving the sacrament. I tell her brother I’ll go up to the hospital first thing.

To tell you the truth, I’m not feeling great myself. Ropey asthma and maybe a virus beginning. Slept for 10 hours the night before and feel achy all over. Figure whatever I’ve got won’t do E any more harm. Jump in car with oil and wee bookie and head off.

lost-directionForget that there is a road closure so get caught in traffic jam on temporary lights and follow diversion signs which take me up a road I’ve never been before. Lose diversion signs and keep driving until I end up at the Falkirk Wheel. In a carpark I never knew existed. Go back and try to find where I should have turned off. Miss it and end up at some high flats. Drive around until I find the canal and follow it until I find a road I do recognise and finally reach the hospital. Not a carpark space to be found and I join those circling round and round looking for likely suspects about to leave. Spot a space and some idiot drives up the one-way road the wrong way to beat me to it. I spit feathers.

By this time, a journey which should have taken me 15 minutes has taken an hour and I am not well pleased. Find a space at the furthest point from the hospital and head off uphill, inhaler at the ready. Reach hospital, puffing and wheezing, and discover E is in the farthest ward possible. Of course she is. Think to myself that at least this will give me plenty steps on my Fitbit (measures the exercise I take each day) only to find the battery on it is dead. Of course it is.

Get to E’s ward and there she is asleep. I take her hand and gently tell her I’m there. She opens one eye and looks distinctly miffed at being woken up. ‘It’s Ruth,’ I say, ‘from Christ Church. Would you like communion?’ E throws my hand away and closes her eye. I take her other hand. ‘E, it’s Ruth, shall I say some prayers with you?’ She pulls her hand away and puts it under the covers. The other three ladies in the ward look at me over their magazines and sip-cups and wait to see what I will do.

Undeterred, I go into my bag for the oil of healing. It isn’t there. Of course it isn’t. It is on my car seat. So I sit down and pray. I pray for E. I say the Lord’s Prayer and she opens an eye again. But she doesn’t wave me away. I sit and breathe and pray some more. This is grand, I think. I’m feeling much better now. I make the sign of the cross on E’s forehead and I think we both feel a wee bit calmer now. Well I know I do.

The tale of the Tax Return

So my partly completed Tax Return has been lying in my In Tray accusing me for months now. I started it some time ago but couldn’t complete it without checking something in last year’s one. It lives in a purple box on top of my bookcase. This would require getting the steps out. Months passed.

My baby visited one day and I asked him to pass me down the purple box file and then it lay in my In Tray along with the rest of the receipts, forms and pay slips. It lay there for another few months. Teetering. Accusing me. It lay next to my crucifix with candle which often threatened to set fire to the whole house. I think I would be glad because then I wouldn’t have to do it.

Today Kelvin​ suggests I just do it and reward myself with chocolate afterwards. The incentive worked as a diet of grapes and satsumas is wearing thin. I’ve only been on a strict diet for 48 hours but it seems to be taking its toll. I’m thinking grapes dipped in chocolate would be really good. Even Jakeman’s throat and chest lozenges dipped in chocolate would be good.

With the incentive of chocolate I opened the purple box file and the partly finished Tax Return. It took me all of 5 minutes. Turns out I only needed to fill in 2 boxes. Rita Kitten is now sitting in In Tray looking smug. And I can’t be bothered going out for chocolate.

Tax return

Rock Art

Many years ago I went to stay at Bishop’s House on Iona with friends. I can’t remember what was wrong with me (other than the usual) but I was unable to join them on long walks about the island. Instead, I would take my book and sit at the little beach at the foot of the garden. I might paddle, or sit in the shelter of some rocks and read, or just gaze across the Sound to Mull. Just like every pilgrim before or since, I gathered some pretty pebbles, knowing I’d probably never be able to carry them all home.

When I was in the local shop I spotted some enamel paints (the ones which model makers use) and thought I could paint something on those pebbles. I did some celtic crosses and friends’ names and handed them out to everyone as a wee memento. And ever since then I have painted the occasional doodle or word on little pebbles.

Then came Pinterest. If you don’t know about Pinterest, google it now. What an amazing resource. So I started to pin religious paintings, Scottish art, nice old gates and doors (a particular favourite of mine), funny quotes, nativity sets from around the world, cute cats because who doesn’t love a cute cat?, crafts to make for church… and that’s where I found my first piece of Rock Art. It was a rock, a stone, a pebble painted with beautiful patterns. I could do that, I thought. And so I did…

To begin with I made mistakes. But you learn from your mistakes. Here are some tips that I’ve learnt:

  • Acrylic paint is best but I found that a coat of Gesso does a wonderful job of preparation.
  • Brushes have to be just right and I found that brushes specifically for acrylic paints are best of all. I have a zillion brushes but I use only 3 or 4 – 2 flat ones and 2 tiny pointy ones.
  • Chalk or a pencil gives you the outline but pencil can show through light colours so don’t press too hard.
  • I use my old travel hairdryer to speed up drying if I want to move on to the next colour or do the other side.
  • Don’t put down newspapers but use plastic sheets because the paint can pick up newsprint if it’s not completely dry.
  • For outlines or fiddly bits use Sharpies pens.
  • I’m using a varnish for decoupage just because I had some but you can use exterior varnish if you want to put them outside or Mod Podge.
  • There are books you can buy for inspiration but I’ve found Pinterest has more painted pebbles than you can shake a stick at.
  • And if you make a mistake or the varnish makes the paint bleed (which it did with some black paint for some unknown reason) you can paint over and start all over again.
  • Let the shape of the rock dictate what it will become.
  • Sometimes the rock is so beautiful you don’t need to paint it all – just do a little bit.
  • If you live near a beach or river then you can find lots of nice rocks. Smooth surfaced ones are best. If you don’t have easy access your local garden centre should have River or Sea Cobbles which you should wash and leave to dry overnight before use.

Happy pebble painting! Here are some of my first attempts.

Cream and Red mandala first attempts flowers Mandalas owl and mandala Penguin and owl

Sermon on the Refugee Crisis

Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9,22-23
James 2:1-10,14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Someone very famous – so famous in fact that I’ve forgotten their name – said that to do theology you had to hold a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
Our reading of Scripture has to be informed by what is going on in our world today.
For it to be relevant to us, this book written two thousand years ago, can only be meaningful when we place it in our own context and in light of what is going on in our world.

So I wonder what you thought of when you heard these words from our first reading this morning:
The rich and poor have this in common:
the Lord is the maker of them all.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity
and the rod of anger will fall.
Those who are generous are blessed
for they share their bread with the poor.
Do not rob the poor because they are poor
or crush the afflicted at the gate
for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them.

God loves the rich and poor.
Those who are generous and share with the poor are blessed.
God cares for the poor and doesn’t think much of those who don’t treat them right.

So I’m going back to my newspaper in my other hand.
Actually I don’t read a newspaper. I don’t read newspapers because I don’t trust them. Having worked in PR in a past life and regularly sent stories to the press I know how often they got it wrong. They couldn’t be trusted to copy and paste a story accurately. And people got hurt. And if they can do that with my wee billet doux then heaven knows what happens to the bigger stories. And newspapers are so affiliated with political parties now that I’m not sure if any can be trusted.

But we all watch the news on TV or listen to it on the wireless.
And I also get news from my tablet, my phone or computer.
But however we hear or read it, we can’t help but notice what every bulletin is screaming at the moment.
The migrants, the immigrants, the refugees.
What do we call them?  And does it matter?

Well yes it does.
For according to my dictionary they each have different meanings.
But which is the name you’ve heard most?  Migrants?
According to UNESCO a migrant is someone who travels freely to another country for reasons of personal convenience and without intervention of an external compelling factor.
They travel freely, of their own accord, to make a better life for themselves.
And why not?
People in this country have been doing that for centuries.
Choosing to emigrate and live and work in another country.
Immigrants are those who have already done that – they live and possibly work in another country.
Our country has plenty already that nobody says a word about – those are footballers.
One law for the rich and another for the poor, it seems.

Interestingly most news articles seem to think that all those poor people in Calais, in boats, in stations are just wanting to come to Britain because they fancy a change of scene. Or worse.
Some newspapers would have us believe these migrants are coming to sponge off our State, getting benefits, using our beloved National Health, take all our jobs.
So tempting is our treatment of the poor – what with all those foodbanks – that they’d risk life and limb (and they do lose their lives) to come and have a bit of the action.

But what about the word Refugee?
We don’t hear that word quite so much in the Press, but perhaps we should look at the definition of it now.
UNESCO says we shouldn’t confuse the two.  Migrants are not refugees or displaced.  Refugees are compelled to leave their homes.
Migrants make a choice, although sometimes it is Hobson’s Choice.
It may be that there are no jobs in their own homeland.
But Refugees have no choice.
They live with the fear of persecution (or worse) because of their religion, race, nationality, or political opinion.
They have no choice but to escape for their lives.

Those are the people of Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and elsewhere living in the shadows of our world.
Some are seeking asylum – protection from death.
Many are well educated and many already work in our hospitals, our hotels and cleaning our streets.
Many have no homes to return to.

So there is a difference between Migrants and Refugees.
Migrants are getting the headlines, but I know most are actually refugees.
Either way, they are not getting a good press.
Their desperate measures are causing disruption to our roads, our travel, our holidays in France, for heaven’s sake!
But remember…

God loves the rich and poor.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity.
Those who are generous are blessed.
Do not crush the afflicted at the gate
for the Lord pleads their cause.

Some of you might be of an age to remember, or at least have heard of, the Kindertransport.  In 1938 twenty thousand Jewish children were sent away from Hitler’s regime.
Britain and the USA were reluctant to take in Jewish refugees at that time but public opinion forced them to give in and many children travelled (with no adults) to the UK.  Some lived with families, others in camps and special homes and many Christians and Quakers were instrumental in making that happen.
9,000-10,000 came to Britain hoping that one day they would be able to go home again and be reunited with their parents.
For the majority that never happened.  Their parents died a horrible death in concentration camps.

But I wonder why that kind of thing can’t happen today with the people of Syria?
Why is nobody planning this kind of aid?
Why aren’t the churches?
Instead we watch men, women and children drown in dark waters trying to escape a regime just as awful as Nazi Germany.
And this week I hear that the Germans are being so generous in their treatment of refugees that they’re being told to stop sending so much.
The descendants of those on the Kindertransport are now helping others as much as they can.

And then I laughed when I read our second lesson today – from the letter of James…

Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonoured the poor.  The rich oppress, drag you into court.  But if you show partiality between the rich and the poor you commit sin.

I laughed because a couple of weeks ago Songs of Praise went to Calais to the camp there and oh what a song and dance there was about it.  The Press were baying for blood, screaming about how ridiculous it was to be giving them air time on our precious BBC and spending our licence fee in the process.
But like the Italians imprisoned in Orkney, these refugees had built a little church in their camp. So important was their faith that they had cobbled together a chapel made from sticks and blankets and they went there to pray.
The poor in the world are often much more rich in faith, I suspect.
And we have dishonoured them.

What good is it, my sisters and brothers, if you say you have faith but do not have works?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

This is why we need to read the bible with our newspapers in the other hand – or our ipads or phones or radios, however you hear the news.
But what can we do?
An article I read this week said:

Faith communities… can play a significant role in making the human issues of forced migration and displacement central,
challenging misleading language,
highlighting unjust or victimising policies,
and opening up space for alternative perspectives and conversations.

In particular, those of us who are Christians need to remind ourselves that we are the product of people movements – some forced, some voluntary, some hopeful, some fearful.
It is out of this resource of experience, and our founding texts that point to justice and compassion as going to the heart of what God requires, that we should seek to respond.

So challenge the language you hear with your families, your friends, your colleagues.
As Christians we have to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Even if our neighbours are clamouring at the gates to get in.
Our job, as Christians did in 1938, is to open our arms and welcome the stranger.
No ifs no buts.
It’s a simple law.

In your handout there are lots of ways you can get involved if you wish.

Not easy – no one ever said it was going to be easy – but it’s what we’re called to do.

In which Ruth ponders the housework of ministry

Following on from my musings on ministry (last blog post) I came across this quote from Kathleen Norris’ book The Quotidian Mysteries. This spoke to me today.

I found it remarkable – and still find it remarkable – that in that big, fancy church, after all the dress-up and the formalities of the wedding mass, homage was being paid to the lowly truth that we human beings must wash the dishes after we eat and drink.  The chalice, which had held the very blood of Christ, was no exception. And I found it enormously comforting to see the priest as a kind of daft housewife, overdressed for the kitchen, in bulky robes, puttering about the altar, washing up after having served so great a meal to so many people. It brought the mass home to me and gave it meaning. It welcomed me, a stranger, someone who did not know the responses of the mass, or even the words of the sanctus. After the experience of a liturgy that had left me feeling disoriented, eating and drinking were something I could understand. That and the housework. This was my first image of the mass, my door in, as it were, and it has served me well for years.

A photo illustration shows a priest cleaning the Communion vessels inside the chapel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' building in Washington Oct. 24. At the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion will no longer be permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses in the United States. (CNS photo illustration/Bob Roller) (Oct. 24, 2006) See SKYLSTAD-VESSELS Oct. 24, 2006.