The journey north and west to Oban was not for the faint-hearted. It rained, it sleeted, it snowed and it blew a gale. On arrival it was straight to the cathedral for a rehearsal, for yes, dear reader I was to be the Bishop’s Chaplain. What is a Bishop’s Chaplain? I hear you cry. Good question. I’m not entirely sure myself but I took upon myself the role of mothering: hovering; affirming; stroking; cuddling; smiling (and telling him to smile); reassuring; handing hats and sticks at appropriate places; and making sure he looked respectable at all times. (I didn’t have to check his fingernails or behind his ears for that had already been done.)
Now, on to the Cathedral of St John the Divine. Dear friends in Edinburgh, I think we have a contender for the ‘coldest Cathedral in Christendom’. And they’d had the heating on night and day, I was told. Brr. The rehearsal was fun – even when it wasn’t meant to be. Bishop Mark makes a very good MC. I scribbled my notes – hide behind lozenge, move to Primus’ seat and sit there looking gorgeous, etc – and then off we departed with prayers ascending for the Bishop Elect.
We stayed at the Columba Hotel which was close to the cathedral. (Perhaps not the wisest choice but let’s not get into that.) Dinner that night was at EE-USK at the harbour so we didn’t have to walk far in the Force 10 gales. Wonderful seafood restaurant with real sea water from the harbour battering the windows which added to the ambience. (Not good for smoking outside though. You have to be dedicated to your art to do that.) Can’t recommend this restaurant highly enough. Back to the hotel to have the gales battering my corner windows-with-a-view all night long.
In the morning I had to have a quick jaunt along the high street to purchase a pair of jim-jams, having forgotten mine and my room was as cold as the cathedral. Managed to squeeze in a nice coffee and scone to keep the sugar levels up until the next bun-fight.
Then we gathered in the cathedral and I was told to robe with the College of Bishops in a rather cosy Sacristy. It was a case of ‘get the robes on and get out’. I was given a rather fetching dalmatic to wear which I don’t think made me look like ‘woman in a tabard’ as some do. And you had to fight to get a look in at a mirror so I kept my windswept and interesting hair-do (and was told umpteen times it wasn’t purple enough). Then there was a rather long wait until events began so I had a wee pray for Fr Kevin in the Lady Chapel.
The Consecration itself was gorgeous. Quite solemn, but maybe one shouldn’t have a lot of laughs at these kind of events. By the time Fr Kevin prostrated himself on the floor I was awash behind a pillar. Tears flowing for my wee poppet looking so vulnerable. Then I was nearly squished by a flock of bishops coming out to lay hands upon him, but he emerged unscathed so that was fine. (More tears.) Then he was vested with a rather beautiful pale amethyst ring, with matching stylish pectoral cross, gold mitre, and chasuble with woolly bits. (Don’t ask.) By this point I was so proud I could have burst.
Nobody fell up or down the Iona marble steps so that was good news. The bread and wine ran out several times at communion and I was commandeering by the lovely Mother Kirstin (Gospel reader) into being a runner keeping up supplies. And soon it was all over – someone said it had taken over 2 hours. On the way out in procession, Bishop Kevin stopped to present a bouquet of red roses to his wife Elspeth and his sister and sister-in-law. (More tears.) After a long photo call I did manage to find a quiet space for Bishop Kevin’s first blessing. It was very special to kneel in the Lady Chapel with his hands on my head and it made me remember the first time I was asked by someone for a blessing – yes, Fr Kevin my parish priest was the first to kneel before me almost 10 years ago.
The bunfight followed at the Argyllshire Gathering Halls and there were a few speeches. By this time Bishop Kevin had changed into his gorgeous purple cassock with cincture. (These are the details you wanted, yes?) More bouquets. More blethering with colleagues and catching up on gossip.
Then back to the hotel for a wee snooze before we set off once more for the Argyllshire Gathering Halls for the Supper Dance. The Bishop of Lund asked me what this was as she had never heard of it before. I told her – you drink, you eat supper and you dance. She said she didn’t know Scottish dancing but I assured her she would quickly learn – and she did indeed learn when a certain Provost whirled her round the floor for the Gay Gordons. Although I do think Auld Lang Syne completely flummoxed her. (Oh, and by the way, Bishop Kevin was now wearing a rather fetching purple bibstock and a white plastic skull ring which his nephew had given him.) A few glasses of wine gave me the courage to ask Bishop Antje for a blessing which she kindly did. Two blessings in a day! Wow.
The evening finished with a wee dram back in the Columba before we hung up our soaking wet clothes and gave thanks that the wind had died down sufficiently for sleep.
Saturday involved a quick shop in the Rogersons Sale before we headed back to the cathedral for Bishop Kevin’s first Mass with the choir and servers of St Michael & All Saints. This time someone had forgotten to switch off the smoke alarm so after a quick swish of the thurible, and during the first reading, the sirens went off. And again. And again. Until all we were left with was a continuous beep. But it did not marr a wonderful service and although I should have been Bishop’s Chaplain again, but didn’t know and was too late, it was lovely to be in the pews.
A drive home with snow and all the rest and a sob that we are leaving him behind. Glorious for Argyll and The Isles – sad for our own Diocese of Edinburgh.