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.

In which Ruth ponders the M word

Some people in the church love the M word. They want to talk about it all the time. They want committees devoted to it. They want to throw piles of money at it to make it work. They want conferences and books and weekends away all dedicated to that M word. They reckon that if we’re not doing it, then the church is going to die.

So what do you think about the M word? Are you for or against? Do you love it or do you give an inward shiver every time you hear it? And you will hear it. There is no getting away from it. The M word is here to stay.

Mission. Of course. Mission is the word on everyone’s lips. If you’re not doing it then you have no life in you. Some dioceses have programmes dedicated to it. Everyone has to sign up and everyone has to share in buzz groups and pledge to do this, that or the other because if you don’t… dum, dum, dum… then surely the church will perish.

But what if you didn’t like the M word? What if you prefer another M word? What if you dreamed a dream that one day nobody would throw all the money in the diocese into M, but into your favourite M word? (Let’s call it M2.)

Ministry. Of course. What if all the money was ploughed into selecting and training and supporting and caring for fabulous priests who were so inspirational that they didn’t need to use the M word?  Those priests would love liturgy so much that people would be transformed by it. They’d literally be so moved that they’d want to tell their friends about it and bring them along for a slice of that loving. Word would spread and soon everyone in town would be wanting a bit of the action. They’d want to do some of that M2 word themselves. Because they realise that the M2 word was what it was really all about.

Today a lot of my friends are out marching at Gay Pride in Glasgow. They are wearing badges and carrying banners, proclaiming to anyone who hears that the Scottish Episcopal Church welcomes them and loves them. You might call it Mission. I call it Ministry. Because my job as a Minister of Religion (at least that’s what my Tax Office calls me) is to welcome all and to love all. That is my ministry. That is our ministry. Yours and mine.To proclaim a church for all.

When I first went to church (and that was in my late 20s) it was not because of any Alpha Course or Poster or Notice in the local paper. But more importantly, the thing that made me stay was the Mass. It was every part of that liturgy: the music, the Confession, the theatre, the stories, the food for the journey, the people, and yes, the priest too. Those were the things, most of which I didn’t understand, which made me want to go back and learn more. I went with a friend and I made a thousand more. It made me want to do that M2 word every hour of every day.

And it still does. But I do wish folk would stop banging on about that M word. Just sayin’.

holding hands elderly

In which Ruth ponders the exams she didn’t really pass

All over Scotland today young people will be ripping open envelopes containing their exam results. Or perhaps they don’t get envelopes these days? Perhaps it is all done exam resultsonline? I’m told the pass results are the best ever but I seem to remember that being said last year and the year before and the year… The teenagers I know these days seem to take it all very seriously and study ever so hard for those exams. Those who can afford it have tutors to help and their social lives take a long backseat while they study for that chance of a place in the university of their choice.

When I was young not everyone was expected to go on to University. In fact, it may have been a minority who did, even at my fee-paying school. Neither of my parents went to university although one uncle did and he was always thought of as the brains of the family. (Sadly he died last year of Alzheimer’s.) However, my mum and dad did have a faint hope that I might have gone to university but there was certainly never any pressure to do so. Which was just as well.

Revising for exams in my teenage years coincided with the much more exciting task of getting to know boys and going to parties. Being at an all-girls’ school (and from a family of four sisters) meant that I knew nothing of the mystery of the male species until a skiing trip to Switzerland in 2nd year with nearby Broughton High School. All of a sudden there was something more exciting than playing rounders or hanging round the swing park. Or studying for O levels. I’m sure if I had hung around with boys sooner it would not have been such a distraction. And there was no amount of revision which was going to take me away from listening to T Rex and Bowie on a record player in someone’s house while their mum and dad were away.

I was only allowed to sit three Highers and when that brown envelope came through the door nobody was in the slightest suprised that I only passed one – English. However, on appeal I got French and Art but they must have been the lowest mark possible for a pass. I think in those days you were expected to do 3 Highers in 5th Year and then more in 6th. I didn’t stay on for that, needless to say.  Although I was accepted at Queen Margaret College to do Drama with my one English Higher, I never did go. They wanted me to wait a year until I was 18 and by that time I worked in the bank and was far too used to having money to spend. The student life would not have suited me then at all.

But things change and life moves on and somehow in my late 30s I found myself doing an Access Course at New College, part of the University of Edinburgh and was accepted to do a BD. In 1996, at the grand old age of 40, I became a full time student and had the most glorious four years studying theology. Oh it was hard being a mature student with a lousy memory, but what fun. I think the only TV I watched in those four years was Casualty on a Saturday night for the rest of my evenings were spent writing up notes, revising and trying to remember what I’d learned that day. And you know, I think university would have been wasted on me as a teenager. Far better to be there when I really, really wanted to do it and could appreciate it.

So for those of you who haven’t got the results you want today, have no fear. There’s always time. And perhaps the time is not right for you at the moment. I can thoroughly recommend becoming a mature student. And Son #1 went in his late 20s too and got a great degree, which I’m sure would never have happened as a school leaver. Let’s hear it for mature students! Yay!

mature student

Sermon for Pentecost 7 2015

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19

One of the most interesting parts of my sabbatical has been visiting other churches. And there’s nothing quite like visiting other churches to appreciate how good your own is! Most of the time I have been ignored. Oh perhaps I got a smile at the door as I was handed pew sheets and a hymn-book – but not always. At the Peace people did indeed shake my hand, or limply touch my fingertips without even looking me in the eye, but you could tell they were just being polite before they could have a natter and a real smile for their friend in front of you. And then at the end I handed my books in and mostly nobody even noticed. Only once was I invited back for coffee.

In churches where I was known it was very different of course. There it was smiles and welcome-backs and catching up on news. So it was very tempting to keep going back to those ones.

And then there was the worship itself… Oh jings, but some of it was dreary. Hymn singing that you could hardly hear; (and you know, if you’re going to insist on only singing hymns written before 1900 at least sing them joyfully);
dull, dull, dull sermons straight out of a biblical commentary;
and Eucharistic prayers recited as if it was the phone book.
How great are we, I kept thinking? And we are great! And I really missed you!

But when I was reading today’s lessons the Old Testament reading reminded me of one church I visited where things were completely different. Let me remind you of those verses from the 2nd book of Samuel:

‘David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals… and David danced before the Lord with all his might.’
Dancing and joyful songs and musical instruments – surely not in worship? Surely not in Scotland? No indeed, this was New York.

St Mark’s in the Bowery to be precise. A church tucked away in the East Village, nothing much to look at outside, in a rather poor neighbourhood.  But oh what a welcome! And of course you’re thinking ‘those Americans are a bit over the top when it comes to welcome and worship’ and you could be right. But you know, before the service people really cared that I was there and asked where I was from. “Scotland?! Oh wow! My grandmother came from Scotland.”  “Scotland? Wow! What brings you here?”  “Scotland? Wow! How lovely that you’re visiting us!”

Let me read you the welcome on their pew sheet:
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery works hard to be a welcoming place. What that means here is that you are welcome, as you are, to participate in any of our worship services. We believe people encounter the holy here, and we want that for you.
We know that church might be something you have wanted to do for a while; a dream come true; kind of scary; possibly awful; or really exciting for you. We won’t assume.
We would like you to know that all kinds of people come into St. Mark’s week to week. You might find yourself next to a life long member, a new-ish one, or someone who has walked in for the first time. Don’t worry that you have to do what they are doing.
We love children. We are delighted to have them in our services. If you are worried that your child is distracting others, please do what you need to do to be comfortable, but don’t worry that we are worried. If you find it difficult or distracting to be near a child who is making noise, feel free to move. We want children to remember the church as a place that reflects God’s love for them. If you feel that you have been approached in an inappropriate or unhelpful way during your time at St. Mark’s, we would like to know. If you feel that something about how we do things causes you to feel unwelcome, we would like to know. Please talk to an usher, a priest, or email or call the office.

The service was relaxed, the music was mostly modern (quite a few Iona hymns actually) but we also sang The Lord’s my Shepherd to the Scottish tune Peter and Hazel had on their wedding day: Brother James’ Air. And the people really, really enjoyed singing them. There was even some swaying along to the music too. I couldn’t see an organ so they used a piano and if you felt like singing in the choir all you had to do was turn up half an hour before the service and join in the practice.

The sermon was funny in bits and serious in bits and there was a story (and you know how I love a story) and gave us all something to think about when we went home.

We sat in rows in a circle round the altar in the middle and when it came to the eucharist we stood in one big circle round it. “Come along!” they said. “Come and join us!” And Winnie, the priest, really meant that Eucharistic prayer, she believed it, you could tell. Then we passed the bread and wine along the circle from one person to another.

And you know that big AMEN at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer? That one that I’ve told you has to be said loudly and affirmed? Well they sang it and clapped it and swayed to it and someone even produced a tambourine for it.

So when I read this morning’s reading about David rejoicing and dancing in the temple, St Mark’s in the Bowery is what I thought of. I remembered the joy they had for all their worship. A joy that showed on their faces. A jazzy, gospel, blues kind of joy. A bit too cringey for you?  For us in Scotland? Well perhaps. But what a sense of enjoyment I got there, of loving the Lord with all their heart and soul – and bodies too.

And afterwards when I was sitting in the sun in a nearby park jotting down my memories of that service, I saw the people from the church coming round with a big shopping trolley handing out food and drinks to the homeless folk there. Just like David who, when he had finished offering the sacrifice, blessed the people and distributed food among all the people – to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. (And I have some Hershey’s Kisses for you when you leave today.)

Now we may not be up for the dancing and singing but we can support the homeless by bringing food along for the Salvation Army. Do what you can in your own neighbourhood.

And perhaps in time, you’ll be so inspired and excited about coming to church that you’ll go out of here singing and dancing. You’ll know you’ve welcomed the stranger in your midst, made them feel at home in your little Temple of the Lord here in Falkirk. You might even want to go home and write it down so you never forget the welcome you got and how wonderful you feel. You might even believe that you are loved by God and you want to show it.

You might.

man dancing in kilt