My baby got married

One of the greatest joys in this job is being part of those big moments in people’s lives.  And it is especially joyful when those people are part of your own family.

On Saturday my eldest son Craig married Vicky, the light of his life. It has been planned since the beginning of the year and early on it was clear that this would be a wedding with a difference. For my son is not what you might call conventional and we love him for that. However it did make the planning just a little chaotic which does not always sit well with this control freak.

The liturgy was poured over and my wordsmith son had considerable input when it came to names for the deity. From the beginning they wanted to write their own vows but as the day got closer the vows were not forthcoming. It was only the day before that they arrived and were so beautiful that they instantly made me cry. Craig loves the sea and sailing so that was a theme throughout the day and also in their vows:

Vicky said to Craig:

I vow to always remain your anchor, to bring you stability in a chaotic world
I promise to be a safe harbour for you, through the highs and the low tides, to guide you through stormy seas to calm waters
And I vow to remain by your side on our adventure as we grow old together.
And Craig said to Vicky:
I promise to always fight my way back to you from dark mountains, valleys and seas
I promise to recognise the light in you, when the darkness is blinding
You are my lighthouse and my siren, and I will always come to your song.
The wedding was small and informal. No organist, no hymns. Vicky came down the aisle on her mum’s arm to the theme from the film The Life Aquatic and later we all sangalong to Kooks by David Bowie. Craig read two beautiful love poems to Vicky and everyone sighed.
Even my lovely sister who suffers from agoraphobia managed to dope herself up sufficiently to come and sit at the back, along with her son Stevie who suffers from CRPS and although he was in horrendous pain he managed to stay for the ceremony. I know Craig and Vicky were surprised and delighted they were able to be there.
Then some of their closest friends trotted down to the Voodoo Rooms (used to be the Café Royal) for a wonderful meal and my youngest son Gareth gave a hilarious best-man speech. Unfortunately the noise from the wedding next door was such that we didn’t hear all the jokes. And then we hit the dance floor and more friends arrived to share in the joy.
I didn’t stay long after that. Three glasses of Pinot Grigio was just too much on top of all that adrenalin! It was a gorgeous day, not without its mishaps, but a day which I shall never forget.

Getting to know one another

I’ve been in post here now for about 6 weeks and it has all been about getting to know one another. Names are a problem. Always have been. I remember faces but names are as File 16-07-2016, 14 53 29elusive as the petals of the fuschia pink poppy which appeared in my garden last week. But people are very nice and can usually tell by the pained expression on my face that I’ve forgotten their name. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of a certain Provost’s book and make badges for everyone to wear. Not snappy witty sayings badges but just ‘My name is …’

This week we had a Getting to Know You evening and produced a time-line of St Fillan’s with all the past rectors’ names on it along with their dates of office. Then we filled in all our names and when we came. It was such a good night and I loved hearing all the stories and got to know everyone a little bit better. This also gave the opportunity for my little flock to tell me why they’d come to St F’s and the stories began to echo over and over again.

‘We moved here with young children and looked for a church where they’d be welcome. St F’s was that place.’

‘We tried another church but it wasn’t child friendly so when we heard about St F’s we came here and it was great.’

‘I didn’t know about St F’s because its not on a main road but someone recommended it for its friendliness and I’ve never gone anywhere else.’

‘We moved here and it was our local church and at the end of our first service I was on the coffee rota and that was that.’

‘The people are so friendly, it is small and has a real family feel about it.’

Sadly those children have all grown up, many with families of their own now. But the loyal folk have stayed and know and love one another like a family. They look out for one another, they know each other’s stories, and they care. And that is why I love small congregations. Of course I’m sure large congregations do care for one another but there isn’t that same level of intimacy that you get in a small church where you know everyone. Everyone. And everyone hopes that one day St F’s will echo with the sounds of children once more. And we have one! A child was born on St Fillan’s Day on 20 June but I can sense that the hope is for more than just the one. Well who knows?

20160625_102343But it got me thinking… what if we didn’t worry about getting more children in? What if we accepted that we are a small, loving, elderly congregation who love and care for one another? Because it was the caring and the friendliness which made people stay in St F’s after their first visit. And that is just as attractive to many as a church full of lively toddlers. So I think we need to give thanks for our wrinkles and our zimmers and our creaking arthritis and rejoice that there are still some who can go skiing and ramble and do the rector’s garden. All are welcome in this place.

One of the joys here is a little group of women who go for Sunday lunch together. They each live alone and have nobody to go home and enjoy lunch with so they get together and go to the restaurant up the road where they are welcomed and known. I’ve joined this group and we have enjoyed sharing our stories.  It is wonderful ministry and I’ve got my eye on an old man who dines at the same time but sits on his own…

Of course amidst all the unpacking and settling my thoughts often stray back to another little flock in Falkirk. Birthdays and Year’s Minds in my diary pop up to remind me of those I still care for. It is so hard to walk away and not be part of the rest of their stories. I worry about M just out of hospital and is she doing too much? I think of J getting over treatment, of L getting used to living alone, of C worried about her sister stuck in an airport in Istanbul. Yes, Facebook keeps me up to date with some of them but not all. And I add them to my list of prayers and hope that our paths cross from time to time.

So my new little flock and I get to know one another better. We get used to those little ways of doing things. I’m told they are looking forward to change and so far, so good. There is lots of laughter around the place and that feels good. There is kindness and generosity and good works going on too. And I look out of my study window and see J sitting on her wee stool weeding my front garden and I give thanks. It feels like a good place to be.

In which Ruth ponders the big move

They came on Monday 30 May. Two of them. Both called Darren. They asked for no tea with two sugars. They did not desire a biscuit. (I had got supplies in.) They were not great conversationalists. But they were good packers. And pack they did. All day long. It was hot and sunny and they did nothing but pack my worldly goods into boxes.

The next day they came with two others. One had a bad back. They didn’t want tea or biscuits either. (I suspect they’ve had a bad experience in the past.) The weather was hotter and up and down the stairs they climbed carrying a whole load of junk until the van was full and they started on the next one. They never complained (in my hearing anyway) and were very professional. But I know what they were thinking. How could one woman have so much stuff? And it was after lunch time before they set off from Falkirk to Edinburgh, promising to get more men to help unload.

And I was left to look around a rectory where I was very happy. (Except for the cold and the choirnextdoor.) My study walls bore the marks of my cross collection, and in2016-05-28 12.00.06.jpg the hall I could see where all my icons hung. The carpet had a few tufty bits from when Rita was a kitten. And I think I left a fish in the freezer of the flat. Sorry about that!

After a big deep breath I jumped in the car with all the leftovers and drove to the new rectory, all fresh paint and new carpets and empty cupboards. For the next few hours I directed boxes to different rooms until you couldn’t see the new carpets any more. God bless Darren, Darren and his friends. (Yes, I gave them a tip.)

2016-06-11 19.31.30That was just over two weeks ago. Since then I’ve been Instituted surrounded by friends old and new, had a week off to unpack and sort, taken my first Sunday and midweek service, been to General Synod, met with lots of people whose names I forget, attended a Vestry meeting (90 minutes for those who keep score), loitered at a Toddler Group Summer Fair where a fire engine was promised and didn’t materialise (gutted), been greeted by many locals, been to Waitrose, moved some furniture around in the sanctuary, produced the long-waited pew sheets and learned a laser printer can do back-to-back printing, picked some rhubarb from outside my back door, had lunch with the Ladies Who Lunch, scared the Brownies, and never sat on my new garden bench once because it has rained every day. Rita kitten found a hidey hole and was terrorised for a few days and is now indignant that I’ve blocked her hiding place up with recipe books.

The new rectory is warmer and almost liveable. Yes, some kitchen drawers need to be rearranged and I’m sitting side-saddle at my desk because there’s a big box under the foot-well and nowhere else to put it. But apart from some minor things I’m almost organised. And now I can do church! Now I can plot and plan and design and imagine and love and proclaim and make friends and suss out talents and, from time to time, wonder how so-and-so back in Falkirk is getting on. It is all very exciting and has been very exhausting. And I don’t want to do it again until I retire!


Ascension Day and the St Cuthbert’s medals

Last year at Diocesan Synod Bishop John told us of plans to acknowledge outstanding service to the church by lay people and asked for suggestions of people who might be appropriate. Immediately I thought of some of my altar servers. Walter, Willie and Frank have, between them, served at the altar for over 200 years. Walter has served for 67 years, Frank for 56 years and Willie for over 70 (not all at Christ Church).

Last week on the Feast of the Ascension Bishop John came to present them with the St Cuthbert award and they proudly pinned the badges on to their cottas. It is an often unseen ministry, sacrificial and always done with great reverence. I know I couldn’t do my job without my servers propping me up, fetching glasses of water, setting up the altar, running out for new microphone batteries and forgotten sermons and spare specs, counting numbers, carrying Paschal candles without dripping wax (not always successful), reacting at the last minute to flighty changes in liturgy and all without a murmur of complaint.

And I know in the weeks and months ahead when Christ Church is in a vacancy and there are visiting clergy every week, they will gently guide them round ‘our ways’. And I know they will be appreciated just as much by them as they have been by me.

2016-05-05 20.36.07

2016-05-05 18.32.59

What are we saying?

Scottish Prayer book_1912“Someone new has joined our congregation. She works shifts so can only come to our midweek mass so we’ve enjoyed getting to know her over coffee after the service. A few days ago she spoke to me about another church she’d visited nearby for their midweek service. She was checking out other churches in case she has to miss a Thursday. This other church was rejoicing that they’d had the covers of their Prayer Books re-bound. How can someone rejoice in using such an old service,” she asked. “The language was awful, the theology even worse. Do they not know what they’re saying, or do they not care? And how on earth is an ancient service going to attract new and younger members? There was so much of it that I just couldn’t say or believe. ”

And I had to agree with her. We do use the 1970 Liturgy (grey book) here on Sunday mornings at our 9am service. Usually it is one or two older members who attend, but we do have a family who often bring their young boys along before they go off to sport. And we do have some visitors who come on holiday and I often wonder what they make of it. Just a few weeks ago we had some Germans who were walking the John Muir Way who came in and I wondered how easily they could translate some of it. But any time I have suggested moving to the 1982 Liturgy there is a hue and cry.

And I can understand that too. My home church still uses the 1970 Liturgy and it was what I was first introduced to in the Scottish Episcopal Church. I do love some of the poetry of its words, I know it off by heart,  but must confess that the theology of some of it bothers me too. Yes, I know that some people do join the church to hear that kind of old-fashioned language. But whenever someone new comes to church, looking to join, at one of those services I do find myself saying, “This is very traditional language. You might find the later service more modern.” But usually we don’t see them again. 9am suited them. But the language (and perhaps the theology) put them off.

I’d be interested to hear what others have done in this situation. Carried on to please the oldies? Or forced a change upon them? Or alternated week by week?

In which Ruth looks back on her last Holy Week here

Holy Week is always emotional, exhausting (physically and emotionally), heart-breaking, agonising, messy, grumpy-making at times, and makes you dwell on loss when you’d really rather not. This was all especially true this year as it will be my last here as Rector of Christ Church Falkirk. All through the talks and discussions on the first three days of Holy Week I was so conscious that this would be the last time I’d prepare Holy Week services and try to find something new to say. But the longer you stay with a little flock, the more you get to know them and it becomes easier to ‘pitch’ the sermons, meditations, talks.

eye tearOne of the paintings I used at those first evening services was this one which I think is by Van Eyk. It is so beautifully painted, the detail so fine and realistic. I don’t even know whose eye it is. Anyone out there help? But the tear made real for me how hard it is to leave people behind and move on. When you live and work with a congregation, you get to know them so well. More than in any other job I think. You know their secrets, their hopes and desires, their weaknesses and strengths. You are emotionally involved with them and that is so hard to walk away from. So there have already been tears and I’m sure there will be more as the time comes for me to sever that tie.

On Maundy Thursday we usually wash feet here at Christ Church. They didn’t when I first came – they did hands, I think. But the bible says he washed their feet so that’s what I do. Well that’s what I usually do and it is incredibly moving (and painful when you’re an old woman who’s more than a little overweight!). But a few weeks ago I thought I was having a heart attack. It was all very dramatic and an ambulance was called and needles were plunged into my chest in case it was air in my lungs. It was none of these and I later found out I had costochondritis which is inflammation of the cartilage in my ribs. Not serious, not life-threatening, just very painful and annoying especially when you catch a cold after and sneezing and coughing feels like your ribs are broken! It won’t last for more than a few months (I hope) but I knew I couldn’t wash feet. So it had to be hands. And I know these hands so well from coming to the rail for communion. I know their hardness, their softness, their arthritic bumps and gnarls, their favourite colour of nail polish and all. I will miss those hands.

Then on Good Friday we walked the Stations of the Cross together which we’ve done often over the five and a half years since I came. Each time the journey has been different and moving and this was no different. Even the Stations themselves, given just a few years ago in memory of Fergie who used to sit in the back row and sadly died, were a reminder of the funerals I’ve taken here.

Nelia Ferreira No More The Passion of ChristFollowing that, we looked at many images of the Crucifixion to which I had written meditations. Oh that was hard. Hard to write and hard to say. Another image comes to mind, and it has tears too. It is by Neila Ferreira and is called No More, I think. Mary looking at her son on the cross and stifling a sob of agony. And that’s what I did too as I read these meditations. It is so hard to let go.

And then we went over to the hall to break our fast and scoff hot cross buns as we do every year. And nobody feels much like being jolly and chatty because of what we’ve just been through together.

On Holy Saturday we cleaned and polished and put the church back to some semblance of order for our Easter celebrations. It would be the last time I put the piggy bank under my prie-dieu, put my favourite altar cloth with the beautiful old embroidery on the altar, hoovered the plaster from the crumbly roof. All the wee things that are particular to this place. As I looked at the flowers being displayed I had a wee smile thinking of all the tulips they’ll have once I’ve gone, not having to worry about my phobia for the wretched things.

And then my alarm went off at 5am on Easter Sunday and there was a huge candle to be lit (after several unsuccessful attempts – again!) and a new Exsultet to be proclaimed, and bacon rolls to be scoffed. And I wondered what my new church will do in Holy Week and Easter and how they will celebrate the Resurrection. And in between the services one kind soul topped up the oil in my car and noticed the tyres needing inflated too so did that. Who will do that for me when I go?  Then the Easter bonnets2016-03-27 10.14.09 started to arrive and I dreaded having to choose the winner and those who wore them were glad of the protection when I got out my pump-action water pistol to make sure everyone got a soaking when they renewed their baptismal vows. And the children tooted their tooters for the Gloria all the way through the service and that was just fine. And our little table-altar with candles and chalice and paten was put in the children’s area and I watched them play with it throughout the service and gulped again at the thought that I wouldn’t be here to watch them grow up.

Then in the afternoon our frail elderly and housebound arrived for the Afternoon Tea service and I was accosted over and over again with shouts of “I’ve heard you’re leaving us! How could you?” And that was hard too because I won’t be here for the end of their stories, these lovely folk I’ve taken communion to in their homes. That Sunday was probably the last time I’ll see some of them so that was emotional.

And then I slept. I slept off and on in my chair and I ached. All clergy ache all over after Holy Week and Easter. I’m told its the same feeling you have if you run a marathon. I’m not likely to be able to compare but someone who has, says its just like that. And the rectory is a mess and there are no clean clothes and no food in the fridge and now I have to think about packing it all up. So that’s why this has been an especially emotional Holy Week. Oh don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some laughs. (Not in Holy Week, but throughout my time here.) More than some, actually. Lots. They’ve groaned at my bad jokes like nobody else. So it will be with a mixture of tears and laughter that I will remember my years at Christ Church Falkirk.


To all clergy before Holy Week

Dear friends

Next week is going to be hard. It is going to be hard physically and mentally. You will think that you won’t get it all done.

You will worry about hymns and service sheets and people turning up and lists not finished and missed meals and whether you’ve ordered all the right supplies and if the candle will fit. You will worry about the words you’ve carefully crafted and whether they are good enough.  You will worry that you won’t have time to fit in your family and shopping and caring for the sick and visiting the housebound. You will worry that the photocopier will run out of toner or break down or that your laptop will die or need to reboot at an inopportune moment. You will worry that you’ve forgotten something. Not something small that doesn’t really matter but something big, like your Easter sermon or whether you asked someone to bring a brazier with them for the Vigil.

You will worry that this won’t be the best Holy Week and Easter ever. You will worry that people won’t get your passion and be infected by it. You will worry that nobody will come. You will worry that your knees just won’t hold out for washing so many feet. You will worry that you just haven’t done enough. You will worry that you won’t have a clean clerical shirt by Thursday and no black trousers by Saturday.

You will worry that Jesus will die and nobody will care. You will worry that you didn’t start the preparations sooner when it was summer and the diary was empty. You will worry that you won’t find time to pray or to sleep. You will worry that someone dear will die. You will worry that the lilies won’t open in time and the daffodils won’t be out in abundance. You will worry that nobody will turn up to clean the church and make it gorgeous.

These things you will worry about.

I know you will worry about these things because I do every year. Every year my study piles up with discarded things until I can’t see the carpet or my desk or where my glasses are. Every year I go through these agonies and I toss and turn and wake up at 2am and watch the shopping channel and talk to the cat until I think I might sleep a little more before the dawn chorus begins. Every year it is the same. And every year it gets done. Maybe not perfectly, maybe not exactly as you’d hoped for, but it gets done.

And I happen to know that worrying about it helps not one jot. But I know that won’t stop you worrying because that’s what we do. We want the best for God. We want the best for our little flocks. And that’s why we worry. But the worrying makes us anxious and crotchety and ill and that really doesn’t help at all. If we cared for ourselves as much as we cared for our parishioners then we’d do just fine.

So care for yourselves, dear clergy friends. I am praying for you all today. I can’t see my desk for rubbish and the carpet is rapidly disappearing and I can feel a tension headache starting but… right now, at this very moment, I have paused to pray for you. For all of you. Know that you are loved and appreciated and that it will all happen. May God’s will be done.

Love and prayers



A daily Lent blog

After my sabbatical last year I put together a wee Lent book for my little flock. We are going to be using it daily and looking at the paintings in more depth at our Lent Group on Thursday evenings 7.30pm. The images and text will also be available on a blog called Images of Lent and you can follow it there if you wish.

William Dyce Christ as the man of sorrows

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.