The Minister’s Cat

Dear Margaret, my deliciously eccentric organist, passed on some Lenten reading to me after a conversation about our shared love of Timothy Radcliffe. There were some worthy Lenten books in there but the ones which really caught my eye were two little books both called The Minister’s Cat. One is full of delightful Scottish words like ‘bogshaivelt’ = knocked out of shape, and ‘kirkie’ = enthusiastically devoted to church affairs. The other is full of gorgeous poetry about cats.

The Minister’s Cat is…

…AN OMNIPRESENT CATMinister's cat

Obadiah’s on the sofa;
Obadiah’s on the chair.
No, he isn’t there in person;
But they’re covered in his hair.

Obadiah’s on the carpet;
Obadiah’s on the mat.
He’s perpetually moulting,
That infuriating cat.

Obadiah’s on my sweaters;
Obadiah’s on my suit.
When I’m going out on business,
I could kill the little brute.

Obadiah’s on the bedspread;
On the pillow as I sleep.
If he doesn’t keep his hair on,
I shall shear him like a sheep.

I’ve been asking Obadiah,
As he grudges me his purr,
In the name of all that’s feline,
Why he’s prodigal with fur.

Obadiah, to his credit,
Has a reason for the hair:
He’s afraid he’ll be forgotten
Any time he isn’t there.

It’s a token of his presence,
When he’s temporar’ly gone;
And a comforting assurance
That his mem’ry lingers on.

by Douglas Kynoch, Scottish Cultural Press, 1994

(For Obadiah read Lucy Pussy.)

In which Ruth goes on a silent retreat but is not completely silent

Yes, it is that time again. This week was the Diocesan Retreat at Whitchester led by Barbara Glasson, Methodist minister why_botherand author. I first came across Barbara when I read her books I am Somewhere Else and Mixed-up Blessing and loved them. Barbara set up the ‘Bread Church’ in Liverpool which was a perfect example of what seems to be called Fresh Expressions – an alternative way of doing church. The title of the Retreat was ‘Why Bother?

Now, dear reader, you will know that I find these retreats a mix of agony and ecstasy. Agony because of the enforced silence and the struggle which extroverts find without an audience and unable to get to know the other retreatants better. And ecstasy because I get peace and quiet to read and knit and watch people.

Many years ago I was convinced of the notion that diocesan clergy should retreat together. You get to know a lot about people in silence. And when the bishop comes too it shows that our leaders take it seriously too. I’m told in years gone by all the clergy came – all. Those days are long gone. Each year the numbers fall as more and more clergy find their own place to retreat – some abroad, some in convents/monasteries, and some who just don’t. The venue was blamed so it was changed and that made no difference to numbers. This year there were 2 stipendiary clergy and 2 retired NSMs signed up (and one had to cancel because of ill health) and the lay retreat at the weekend was not much better, so both clergy and lay were combined with a total of eight of us.

Next year I take over as Retreat organiser so any suggestions for encouraging folk back would be most welcome.

But back to ‘Why Bother’ and Barbara Glasson… On arrival we had a discussion about how we wanted the retreat to be. In the past we have had two addresses each day along with the Daily Offices and Eucharist. The rest of the time, including meals, have been in silence. This year we were asked if we wanted the same or something different. I really had to hold back on this one. Let others speak first, Ruth (I said to myself). Don’t bully them into what you want. Someone even said that it was the complete silence which put some folk off coming – especially people who live on their own. So it was agreed by the majority that we would have a discussion straight after the address on that topic, and that we could talk at the evening meal. If you wanted silence you could avoid the discussion and sit at a separate table and I think that worked okay. Well it worked beautifully for me. What glory, what joy. Often I’ve found something in the addresses that merited a good blether after and have been left to go and journal about it instead. Not always satisfying. This worked so much better for me. And as someone who eats alone it is such a joy to have company during the evening meal and the chance to chat. (And yes, I can hear my introvert friends silently screaming at their screens.)

Barbara based her addresses on being ‘bothered':

  • Who/what do we bother about?
  • Who/what should we bother about?
  • About clergy living with being bothered.
  • About bothering being part of the Christian vocation.
  • About bothering being caring and soothing but also unsettling and provoking.
  • About being partners in bothering.
  • Why bother to be/stay Christian?
  • How do we resource ourselves to bother?
  • How to be-other.
  • About being God-botherers and Gospel-botherers.
  • Is Mission bothering?
  • About finding confidence to bother.

There was a lot of bothering going on and it was all good. In fact, I know I will never hear the word ‘bother’ again without some of the retreat coming back to me.

I read a bit too – about Dying Well and about murder in a monastery. Perfect retreat reading. And I knitted.

book-chairI also dreamt about my dream retreat house which would have double beds, working en-suite toilets, meals on time, good decaff coffee and tea, beautiful chapel with gorgeous, cared-for things, lots of candles, decent showers and hairdriers, large fluffy towels, reclining or rocking chairs everywhere and an up-to-date library. For starters.

In which Ruth reads and reads and reads…

I’ve been on holiday this week for my post-Christmas ‘and relax’. Of course it never is a total relax because you have a whole house to tidy which has been ignored for weeks with all the comings and goings of the Christmas season. There is forgotten mail to deal with, letters to open, filing to be done, the Archers to catch up with, the photocopier to repair, and a whole host of other thankless tasks to undertake.

I had plans of course. Oh yes, I had plans. Of art galleries to visit, movies to see, family to visit. Not one of them happened. And they didn’t happen because I had to wait in for parcels to be delivered, photocopier repairmen to arrive, a new church noticeboard to arrive, and a son who hasn’t got his Christmas presents yet to visit. That left one day in which I was free to go out and it was blowing a hoolie and all I managed was a visit to papa in the Twilight Home for the Bewildered.

I did, however, manage to read. And read. And it was glorious. Want to know what I read? books open

First I finished Fathomless Riches by The Revd Richard Coles, he of Saturday Live fame. The sub-title of the book is ‘Or How I Went From Pop To Pulpit’ and tells of his life as part of the duo that was the Communards with Jimmy Somerville to CofE Vicar and media darling. Of course there was drug taking, unsafe sex, parties and naughty behaviour before his ‘conversion’ experience and a huge shift into the world of religion and then ministry. To his credit he doesn’t talk about others in his book, well not in a kiss and tell way which so many memoirs do. Nor does he hold back on his own ‘sordid’ past and I found so many ways in which this could have been my story too. (Without the pop star bit of course!) The conversion and subsequent journey to priesthood was almost identical to mine, although I never did ‘go to Rome’. So I enjoyed reading his pilgrimage immensely.

I read two Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny, one before my holiday and one during. I am reading them in order and trying to savour them but I always reach for them when I know I will have time to read them in one go, or at the most over two days. I read Bury Your Dead (no 6 in the series) which was quite different from the others in that very little was set in the village of Three Pines (which is a bit like Midsomer where a small village is struck by a million murders a week, or so it seems). I think reading them in order is essential because the you get to know the characters gradually and that knowledge is so important to the storyline. There are three stories going on in this book, one linked closely to the previous book which is another reason to read them in order. The next book A Trick of the Light is set back in Three Pines and revolves around the art world and also continues the development of all the characters we know and love. I loved this book especially the Alleluia moment at the very end, which will mean nothing if you’ve not read the others. I’m not sure exactly why I love these books so much. Usually I prefer something much more bloodthirsty but I think they create such visual images for me, and who could resist the descriptions of the wonderful food? And there are some lovely spiritual messages in them, although they are not overtly religious.

the beesNow the next book is highly recommended – The Bees by Laline Paull is a most extraordinary book, full of religion and fierce courage and feminism and spirituality and… bees. You will never look at a bee in the same way again, and if you’re not a huge fan of bees then you will be by the end of this book. If World Book Day was giving away this book I would beg to take part and thrust it into everyone’s hands and plead with them to read it. If I say it is a bit like Watership Down I don’t want to put you off if you don’t like books written from the perspective of a creature, but it is worth trying something you might not normally read. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, born into the lowest caste of bees, only fit to clean. But Flora is different. She is a fierce bee who wants to learn, to explore, to challenge the hive’s mantra of ‘accept, obey and serve’, and she does with exciting consequences. Some have compared this book to The Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale but it is much more. I really couldn’t put this book down.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne was another Christmas book which I’d wanted to read since I heard the author speak on radio of his reasons for writing the book. I was a huge fan of his Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but this is much more adult and set in Ireland from the 1970s to the current time and explores the child sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a sad book and makes uncomfortable reading, but there is honesty and truth within it which makes it a must-read. If you are in any way concerned about the celibacy issue then this will confirm all your suspicions. And it highlights starkly the loneliness of ministry which many clergy suffer. It is a novel which surprised me and at the same time made me very sad.

So there we have it. My post-Christmas reading list. I’m trying to squeeze in the next Louise Penny one before I go back to work tomorrow. Greedy, or what?

glowing-book

New Year Revolutions 2015

Jumping on the blogging bandwagon of making some New Year resolutions (though Revolutions sounds more fun) for 2015. You should know that I am not very good at keeping them, however. Last year, or was it the year before, I made a resolution not to buy any more books until I’d read the all the unread ones I have. That lasted until May. And I still have a 6ft bookcase outside my study which is positively bulging with unread books. So that brings me to my first revolution:

books and coffeeReading
This year I shall put in my diary some time for reading. For the past few months it has taken me 4 weeks to read our book group offering and occasionally I can fit in another one but I read two pages in bed and fall asleep. As for reading theology and books to feed sermons… pathetic!  So this year I shall put some time blocked out in my diary and not feel guilty at all about reading. Which leads me neatly on to my next one…

Sabbatical
From 14 April to 14 July I shall be taking my first Sabbatical. 12 weeks of time away from the parish to restore, refresh and renew myself and ministry. For years I’ve wanted to put together a Lent Book/Blog using a piece of art each day with a meditation. I am a visual person and really look forward to gazing at lovely paintings and matching them with meditations for the 40 days of Lent. I’ve taken some advice and have been told New York and Washington are the places to go to see great art so that’s where I’m headed. Then perhaps some time in Gladstone’s Library for putting it all together. My Bishop tells me there must be some rest in there too and I’m not arguing with that. Of course this is all dependent on getting some Grants to help finance it so if you know of anyone who can help…

Health and Fitness
I know! Can you believe I even have considered including this? Last year was not a great year for health but was much improved when I was sent for Pulmonary Rehab at the hospital. 6 weeks of exercise and diet left me feeling so much better and my plan is to carry on with that in the new year. I’ve been referred to the local gym and some lycra may even be purchased. Steady, Ruth! I also have liver disease (of the non-alcoholic kind, she quickly added) and was given a scary warning about losing weight (not before time, I may add) so I need to continue to eat cottage cheese and resist all cakes and biscuits on church premises. I will need your help in this, so if you see me reaching for a wee slice of malteser cake you have permission to smack my hand.

Miscellaneous
I’d like to say I will spend more time keeping my study tidy and organising it better, spending more time visiting family and friends, learning how to crochet, avoiding wasting time on stupid computer games, spending less money on purple Purple-Leather-Handbaghandbags (how many purple handbags does one woman need? really?), making time for mutual support with clergy friends, tidying up my computer files which have been desperately needing doing since I got new computer and can’t find anything, blogging more on topical issues, not leaving my tax return till the last minute, etc etc. I’d like to do all these things but suspect they are an annual hope which take more effort than I’ve ever given. Maybe this year… Oh, and stopping smoking again. Yeh that.

The Entire Bible

There’s been a Facebook post going around which is just too good to lose.

HOLY BIBLE: the TL;DR version (too long; didn’t read)  BibleBirds-300x297

GENESIS
God:  All right, you two, don’t do the one thing.  Other than that, have fun.
Adam & Eve:  Okay
Satan:  You should do the thing.
Adam & Eve:  Okay
God:  What happened?
Adam & Eve:  We did the thing.
God:  Guys…

THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
God:  You are my people, and you should not do the things.
People:  We won’t do the things.
God:  Good.
People:  We did the things.
God:  Guys…

THE GOSPELS
Jesus:  I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live.  Don’t do the things any more.
Healed people:  Okay!  Thank you!
Other people:  We’ve never seen him do the things, but he probably does the things when no one is looking.
Jesus:  I have never done the things.
Other people:  We’re going to put you on trial for doing the things.
Pilate:  Did you do the things?
Jesus:  No.
Pilate:  He didn’t do the things.
Other people:  Kill him anyway.
Pilate:  Okay.
Jesus:  Guys…

PAUL’S LETTERS
People:  We did the things.
Paul:  Jesus still loves you, and because you love him, you have to stop doing the things.
People:  Okay.

PAUL’S LETTERS PART II
People:  We did the things again.
Paul:  Guys…

REVELATION
John:  When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things.  In the meantime, stop doing the things.

THE END

The 12 cats of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas when I brought home my tree
My 12 cats were laughing at megrumpy-cats-christmas-cards

On the second day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the third day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the fourth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the fifth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the sixth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the seventh day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the eighth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
8 shattered ornaments
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the ninth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
9 chewed-through light strings
8 shattered ornaments
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the tenth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
10 tinsel hairballs
9 chewed-through light strings
8 shattered ornaments
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the eleventh day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
11 broken branches
10 tinsel hairballs
9 chewed-through light strings
8 shattered ornaments
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the twelfth day of Christmas I looked at my poor tree
12 cats a-climbing
11 broken branches
10 tinsel hairballs
9 chewed-through light strings
8 shattered ornaments
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands

and my 12 cats laughing at me!

(Source unknown)

In which Ruth goes to the gym

Yes, I bet those are words you never thought you’d hear from my lips. For the past six weeks I have been going to the gym. Gasp!  But not just any gym, oh no. This is a very special gym – a gym for old fat and skinny folk who have lung problems. I was referred by my doc some time ago because I have asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) which gives me lots of chest infections and breathing problems. When the physio suggested that this gym might be a good idea, I laughed. I laughed and laughed and coughed. Me at a gym? And you’re laughing too at the very thought, aren’t you? I can sense it.

Gym cartoonI use my car for everything, even driving about half a mile to get to the car park in town when anyone could walk there in minutes. In my defence this is because cold air and wind sets me off coughing and is bad for asthma and being so fat makes it exceedingly hard work. And then it becomes a vicious cycle – fat people don’t walk, right? And waddling is never attractive. But I was assured by the phsyio that there would be other people at the classes in the same boat – we’d all be wheezy, clutching our inhalers, and many would be overweight because of the lack of exercise and overuse of steroids.

So on 4 November I set off for the hospital gym clutching my bottle of water in ‘comfortable clothes and flat shoes’ with more than a little apprehension. The gym part would take up an hour and then we’d have a talk for half-an-hour when the second group would join us and then they’d stay on for the gym when we staggered off to our cars, wobbling on achy legs and wheezing like old crones.  I looked around my group and discovered that I was in fact the only overweight one apart from one man with a big belly which might have been a hernia. (The second group had loads of plump ladies, many of whom brought their own oxygen tanks, which beat any attention seeking I might have been planning.) My group was full of painfully thin old women with deep husky voices and smokers’ coughs. I was the youngest by about 20 years. We were nervous and shy with each other and very unsure of what this gym was going to entail.

Ruth the Physio had us sit in a circle for warm-up first. Tapping toes, stretching lunges, rolling of heads and marching on the spot and we all joined in awkwardly. This was all accompanied by disco music (which I will never hear again without starting the warm-up routine) and soon we learned who had rhythm and who did not. We also discovered that some just couldn’t do the exercises on the spot but traversed across the circle. Nobody got smacked in the gob which was a miracle really. After warm-up, we were shown the 14 exercises we would be expected to do each session: lifting weights; cycling; squats; steps; treadmill; wall presses; goalie (the most embarrassing one where you stand with your back against a wall, crouch and put your hands on your knees and then stretch out to the right as if catching a ball, back to knees, and then repeat to the left sliding up and down the wall as you go); etc. We were to begin with 10 of each and 2 mins on bike and treadmill and mark them on our sheet. On duty were Ruth the Physio and a scary pulmonary nurse who kept an eye out for bad wheezing and were ready to gently encourage us.

I began the 12 sessions with the remnant of a bad chest infection and was coughing like a dirty old woman. Several times I had to stop and have a good old cough and splutter and that’s when I learned that exercise is good for getting phlegm up. Yes, phlegm. A revolting word for something which we all get from time to time. I feel as if I am now an expert on the wretched stuff. But by the end of the first session I had managed all 14 exercises and had time to sit down and wheeze before our hour was up. I had quite a sense of achievement.

Then two days later we had to do it all over again but this time we had to increase the exercises a bit. We tentatively spoke to one another getting to know what our health problems were, and helped one another figure out how the bike worked and how to lower the seat. We stopped being quite so embarrassed about swinging our arms and sitting down and standing up at the same time. We learned that some of the weights and poles were heavier than others and all opted for the lightest ones. We learned that Jessie was too scared to go on the treadmill and preferred to walk up and down the gym floor. We encouraged one another, asking how long we’d managed to cycle for, and comparing heart rates.

The talks were all different and aimed at our health problems, and some were more useful than others. We learned about Gym smugour lungs and how they work or don’t; about diet and stopping smoking; about benefits and deep breathing; about exercise and relaxation. We took home DVDs with Angela Rippon encouraging us to exercise from our armchairs and CDs with a man speaking gently to us encouraging us to chill out. (No, I have never played the DVD nor listened to the CD but that will come as no surprise to you.)

After my first session at the gym I had an appointment in another part of the hospital for a check-up for my liver. I have something called PBC (Primary Billiary Cirrhosis) which was picked up in a blood test 5 years ago and for which I take four enormous pills every day and mostly ignore except for annual blood tests. But at this appointment I had a new kind of scan and found out that my old liver is not very wobbly at all. Wobbly livers are good, it would seem. Mine was like a lump of tough old gristly liver and riddled with fat. This is serious, you have NAFD said nice consultant. (I think this is Non Alcoholic Fatty Disease – NON Alcoholic, please note!) You must lose 4 stone. 4 stone! Just like that. (Not before time, I may add, but it still came as a bit of a shock.) However, it did seem fortuitous that I should be going to the gym at the same time as starting the radical diet.

And now here we are in my last week of hospital gym approaching my 12th session. I now cycle 10 mins and stride out on the treadmill with a gradient too! My cough has all but gone and I have lost 9 lbs. On Thursday at our last session I will be filmed for some new promotional material to encourage others to try the gym, and even heard myself saying yes to an introduction to the local gym where I’ll get a discount and can go exercise with the big boys and girls. I know! Who’d have thunk it?

I’ve made some friends too and you will be delighted to know Jessie now toddles along on the treadmill, Mary had her cataracts done and it was a great success, and Roberta is worried that it might not be a happy Christmas for her. And I can run up the stairs of the rectory and now speak when I reach the top. And I can walk into town, albeit with a scarf over my mouth, without having to stop several times and lean on the wall. Result!

And that, dear reader, is why I haven’t had time to blog for the past six weeks. It has taken quite a chunk out of my diary and I’ve had to work extra hard to catch up at this busy time of year. Will I go on to the ‘real’ gym? Who knows? Watch this space.

old-women-at-the-gym

Ian Innes MBE RIP

A few weeks ago my Uncle Ian died. He was my day’s elder brother (by one year) and they were very close. Ian and his wife Marie lived in Headingly, Leeds and used to come up several times a year to spring Dad out of the Twilight Home for the Bewildered and take us all out for a lovely lunch. Ian and Marie were great characters, having lived and worked for many years in Kuwait, with great stories and love for us all. We always enjoyed their visits.

Sadly, just over a year ago, Ian was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Last year was their last visit to Edinburgh and it was shocking to see how quickly he was forgetting things. There was dad with dementia who hasn’t improved or got worse really since his diagnosis 14 years ago, and within months Ian was forgetting us so quickly.

Ian’s wife Marie is a Roman Catholic and decided that they should move house into sheltered accommodation where they could have help on hand. Marie’s church is a convent which has rooms and all the help she needed so they moved in there. But within six months Ian was too much for her to look after and he had to go into the Nursing Home part of the convent where she could visit him every day.

Then he died peacefully with Marie, nuns and a priest by his side. It was a comfort for Marie and I’m sure for Ian, if he was aware. My sisters and I and my youngest son were able to go to the funeral last week which was held in the chapel of the convent. Marie had told her priest, Fr Dan, that I too was a priest and he asked if I would like to take part in the funeral. It was a generous ecumenical offer and so I took my robes.

Fr Dan and I met the coffin at the door of the convent and I noticed that all the nuns had come to watch and pay respect. We processed in with the coffin behind us and as I turned I realised that it was not the undertakers wheeling the coffin in but four of the eldest nuns. It was really so beautiful to see. The chapel was full with standing room only, Marie was brave and dignified, and the overwhelming scent of lilies were in the air. I had been asked to do a reading and the Commendation which was an honour and privilege.

After the funeral the family went on to the Crematorium while the guests tucked into the ‘purvey’ waiting till we returned. At the Crem Fr Dan asked if I would do the prayers. He really was exceedingly gracious to me and I know it meant a lot to Marie.

It was good to leave Marie knowing that in her mourning she will be looked after and cared for my the clergy and nuns in the convent.

Our journey home by train was a complete and utter disaster, but that’s another story!

Rest in peace, Uncle Ian. May the angels lead you by the hand into paradise, a place where there is no more sorrow.

DadIan 2009

Ian on the left and Dad singing, I think, on the right!

Remembrance Day sermon at Christ Church Falkirk 2014

Last year you might remember we managed to find out a lot of information about the men from Christ Church who fell in the first World War. The ones whose names we read out at the beginning of the service. I had hoped to do the same with those from the Second World War this year but unfortunately the only church magazines cover 1940 and 1941 and there are only a couple of names mentioned.

There is one person I do know about, however, and he has been keeping me company on my desk for the past few weeks since Gill passed on an envelope to me. Let me introduce you to David Millar, Gill’s brother whose name we read out earlier. He was a Leading Aircraftman in the RAF and died in 1942. More of him later.

So although I didn’t find out much about all the names on our War Memorial, I did find out a little of what life was like here during the war and I’d like to share some of that with you now.

In June 1940 the Rector Ivor Ramsay wrote in his letter:

‘Strangers approaching Falkirk by all different roads can hardly fail to notice a series of indicators, newly set up, directing them to the First Aid Post, and if they follow out in that direction, they will come to Christ Church, for as we know, our Hall is an ARP Depot, and the recently-built, well equipped First Aid Post is on Bell’s Meadow just at the foot of the rectory garden.’

ARP stands for Air Raid Precautions and the ARP Depot would be where the Air Raid Wardens hung out. It was their job to enforce the black-out and help people into the shelters when there was an air-raid. They kept the registers of the area and were often accused of being nosy busybodies because of the enforcement work they had to do. However, if there was an air-raid they had to patrol in pairs putting themselves at risk of falling masonry and shrapnel. They also carried out immediate first aid and put out small fires until the Fire Brigade arrived. And they were not only men – one in six were women. Judging by the amount of activities going on here in Christ Church they were certainly kept busy.

One magazine article at the beginning of Lent made me smile. It began:

Lent will soon be here, presenting the age old problem: “What shall I serve today?”  And the answer?

The answer is PEAS. With a protein equal to meat, peas are a most sustaining food. 1 lb of peas is equal in food value to 1 lb of prime beef. Those of you who may doubt this statement should turn to the Book of Daniel 1:15. Read how the band of young men who ate nothing but lentils (peas and beans) ‘were strong and ruddy withal’ and excelled their meat-eating rivals in bouts of wrestling, running and leaping. Peas, we are told, are the oldest green vegetable known to man. And they are one of the few green veg that children really like. The magazine then went on to provide many recipes for using peas:

A Delightful Vegetable Soup
Salad Polonaise (beetroot, cold tatties, tinned carrots, and PEAS covered in salad cream with horse radish)
Vegetable Salad (with PEAS)
Scrambled eggs (with PEAS)
Poached Eggs (with tomato and PEAS)
Boiled Fish with PEAS

And if Peas don’t suit you, you could always try Ovaltine. If food rations have run out and if you are run down, then Ovaltine is the thing for you. You don’t have to drink it either, you can add it to practically anything and it will give you all the nutrition you need.

Another letter from the Rector spoke about evacuees. He had received a letter from a man who was evacuated from London to Falkirk in 1939 who had joined the Air Force and written to Mr Ramsay:

“Many thanks for the real welcome I received at your Church, to you for the book of prayers that I use morning and evening, and indeed to your whole congregation for the parcel just received. I am thoroughly enjoying life here, and I feel that I am now beginning to pull my weight in this fight against evil… I hope one day to return to Carronvale and renew my membership in your family of exiled Sassenachs!”

During the war time many English people found themselves north of the border and were welcomed into Christ Church, St Mary’s Grangemouth and St Andrew’s Dunmore. Those connections stayed even after they moved away again with parcels being sent, and much knitting done by the ladies of Christ Church which was sent out to the troops.

I also learned that Toc-H met in the Song School, now the St Andrew’s Chapel, on Monday nights. At every meeting they lit their oil lamp and said the words we began our service with today: They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn… Then silence was kept as they remembered the Elder Brethren. I’m not sure if the sister organisation The League of Women remembered the Elder Sisters or not. I did love their motto though –

Service is the rent we pay for our room on earth.

There was also a Fellowship of St Catherine of Siena who met in the Song School on Wednesdays. In fact, there was not a night when something wasn’t going on in that Song School – Guides, Scouts, and umpteen other organisations, including breakfast between services on Sundays. The Fellowship of St Catherine of Siena seemed to mostly knit comforts for the Forces and entertained the Troops by singing and performing plays.

At Christmas every member of Christ Church who was in the Forces received a pair of socks and a postal order from the congregation. I also learned that evening services had to be brought forward to the afternoon because it was going to be too expensive for black-out curtains for church. They did have lots of activities in the hall and in fact one night they were raided by the police at 1am after a Whist Drive and entertainment to raise money for soldiers. But a few months later there was a thank you to the Misses Gray-Buchanan for providing curtain material for church and for the Mother’s Union for sewing them. In fact each magazine had a thank you to what must have been each member of the congregation for donating something to the war effort. Everyone was pulling together, sewing, giving money, knitting, and sharing resources with one another to eke out rationing.

In November 1941 we contributed £25 to the Diocesan Fund which was one of the largest sums donated. That is really impressive for this church – to outdo most of the large churches in the diocese.

Ivor Ramsay finished his letter in 1940 with this:

To the First Aid Post – The final word of that direction should remind us of the present urgency, when everyone must be at the post of duty, wherever that post may be. As the indicators in the streets of Falkirk point towards Christ Church, so the church should inspire us all to regard our post of duty, whether in the Forces or at home, as a sphere of Christian witness. At a post of dangerous duty, before going into action in Flanders in 1915, there was formed the Silent Fellowship, that is now called the Mighty Million, to help people to put their faith into their work. Its members are bidden to hold fast to the faith that in our struggle for the freedom of mankind, we must and will prevail to discourage the spreading of rumours and to refuse to be unduly alarmed by any setbacks; to be thoroughly efficient, whatever our job may be, and to give our whole energy to the cause of freedom without counting the cost; to forego any selfish indulgences which may undermine the morale or waste the goods of the nation; and to make unity of the freedom-loving peoples a reality by being friendly and helpful to everyone.’

Perhaps we can hold to that message still today: especially to give our whole energy to the cause of freedom and peace on earth.

I did say I would come back to Gill’s brother, David Millar. I have here the telegram his father received on 1 February 1942.

Regret to inform you that your son 574130 Leading Aircraftman David Millar lost his life on the 24th January 1942. Cause of death to follow when known. Letter follows. Please accept profound sympathy.

and the letter read:

Dear Sir

It is my painful duty to confirm my telegram of the 26th January 1942 in which you were informed of the death of your son, No 574130 Leading Aircraftman David Millar, who was killed at 1.30pm on the 24th January 1942, and buried at 2pm on the same day at the place of death. The cause of your son’s death is not yet known by me, but the question has been taken up with Headquarters, Royal Air Force, Middle East and the information will be transmitted to you immediately on receipt in this office. The Air Council desire me to express their sympathy and deep regret at your son’s death in his country’s service.

I am,
Dear Sir,
Your obedient service
H W Saunders
for Air Commodore

Let me now finish with a Prayer for the Departed from the book of prayers given to every sailor, soldier and airman:

O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive; look favourably on the souls of the faithful departed, and grant them remission of all their sins; that, being loosed from the bands of death, they may attain unto life eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Remembrance Requiem altar2014

The Wall by William Sutcliffe – Book Group questions

Occasionally we choose a book for our Reading Group for which I can find no questions on the internet. It really helps the conversation if we have some questions to focus our discussion. Here are some questions I’ve come up with for The Wall by William Sutcliffe. Feel free to add any more suggestions in the comments.

THE WALL by William Sutcliffe

Is this book something you would normally read?  Did it win you over?

The book is written for young adults? Did that put you off?

The author says: “What I actually wanted to do is write the story of a kid brought up living a fantasy who happens across reality. For me, that was a lot more interesting.”  What is the fantasy about Joshua’s life?

The author is himself a Jew, so why do you think he wrote a book which was quite critical about Israel?

Did you find the story believable?

Why do you think he chose a young boy to be the main character and not an adult?  Joshua is 13 – the age a Jewish boy comes of age – so do you think he grows up in the novel? In what way?

What did you think about Joshua’s mother? Did you think she was weak?

What about his step-father?

Were there any bits you didn’t like?

It took great courage to go through the tunnel. What gave Joshua the courage to go again?

Did the life of Leila and her family shock you?

Why do you think Joshua took over looking after the olive and lemon groves? What were his motives? Did he make things worse or better for Leila’s family?

The author said “But it was really important to the authenticity of the book that it wasn’t a ‘everyone can be friends across the barbed wire’ kind of story. I guess I have an optimism about people rather than politicians – and a belief that most people want to live ordinary lives in peace.”  Do you agree?

What did you think of the ending? Was it what you expected?