RIP Alistair Alpin Innes

When I was ordained one of the first things my dad said to me was: “Jolly good, darling. Can I book you for my funeral now? Is it free to family?” (Actually it’s free to all but don’t tell him that.) For seventeen years he’s been in a Care Home with dementia and over the years we have chatted about his funeral. He’d chosen his hymns: Courage Brother Do Not Stumble and the Lord’s My Shepherd. The first one we’d never heard before but I understand it is well known in CofS circles. Dad used to sing it in the choir at Howgate Kirk in his youth and promised he’d sing the bass line from his coffin. The organist at the Crematorium said she’d play loudly and sing a long, which she did. Vigorously. We’d written down his life story as he remembered it and this is the eulogy I gave yesterday:

On the 11th April 1929 Alistair was born in Polmont to Georgina and John Innes. He had an older brother Ian, now deceased, and a younger brother Ronnie. A few years ago we all asked dad for his memories and his life story but bearing in mind he had dementia, we can’t verify all of the facts as you will hear them. If you knew him, you will know my dad was not averse to telling a good story so there is a chance that some of this may be entering the realms of fantasy but we think it is true.

His father taught at the Borstal in Polmont and then moved to be Head of the Wellington School near Penicuik. Dad remembers Penicuik seemed huge compared to Polmont. He passed his 11+ and went to Lasswade Senior Secondary and I asked him what he wanted to be when he left school. “Free of school!” was his reply. He proudly told me he started smoking at the age of seven, and pinched apples from the Headmaster’s garden and came close to being expelled for smoking in the back of the Latin class. He loved cricket and rugby and in his 4th year was made Captain of the Rugby Team. It was at school that he met my mum, Isobel, and they started going out together. I think that involved her mostly standing on the edge of a field in Penicuik watching him play rugby.

Dad and tiger moth 1952When he left school he did his National Service, first at Glencorse Barracks where he could go home every night, and then Aldershot for basic drill and then Southampton in the Royal Army Medical Corps where he trained to be a Physiotherapist. After his National Service he joined the RAF in Cranwell for officer training as a pilot and was posted for two years to Rhodesia, Kenya and Nairobi where he flew Chipmunks and Harvards. However he was invalided out for flying a plane upside down without a seat-belt, fracturing his skull and thereafter blacking out when he reached a certain height.
He loved being in the RAF – they were some of his happiest memories – and met Princess Margaret when she attended the passing out parade. Dad was delegated to dance with her, which he did – a quickstep, we’re told.

In 1954 he married my mum Isobel at St Mungo’s church in Penicuik. She worked as a mum and dadNursery Nurse in Edinburgh and he would pick her up on his Matchless motorbike and take her home for lunch and back, all in an hour! No helmets in those days and they were once stopped by the police and dad was given a ticking off for going so fast with a pillion passenger. He also once took a corner too tight and they crashed. His bike ended up in a ditch and mum on the verge. She put out her hand for him to help her up but he ran straight past her to his bike. In his defence, he did say he thought it might burst into flames.

He went back to the Wellington briefly to keep his friend Bob Crocket’s job of PT Instructor open for him when he went off to get his qualifications. Dad teaching PT! Imagine that!

There now follows a long list of jobs, not necessarily in the right order…
He went to work with the British Engine Insurance Company as an Underwriter. Then he became an apprentice Quantity Surveyor for two years but never finished his qualifications. He worked for Procter & Gamble, joining as a Rep so he could get a car, but they gave him a Ford Popular which he said he hated. With his friend Dougie Crombe they left and set up a business Innes and Crombe in Stafford Street selling costume jewellery and Scottish goods. According to my birth certificate I think I was born then when mum and dad lived in a flat in Morningside which coincided with him getting the new Ford Anglia which he loved. He joined the Scotsman as an Ad Manager where he met a lifelong friend Ali Ross.

Mum, Dad and I moved to Kingsknowe and they quickly made friends with the neighbours. My sister Carol came along and the family seemed complete. Then Dad met File 11-04-2017, 20 50 54Barbara at the Ideal Home Exhibition in Aberdeen and fell in love again. Mum and Dad got divorced and Dad insisted that his old family and new one should all get along. So Dad took my mum along for lunch on the day of their divorce to have lunch with Barbara at the Caledonian Hotel. Mum said that neither she nor Barbara could eat for nerves, but Dad tucked in to his beloved smoked salmon and kept the conversation going. And Mum and Barbara did indeed become good friends.

By this time Dad had found a new interest – advertising – and he worked for Nevin de Hurst in Walker Street. They moved to Kilmaurs Road in Newington and Lesley and Joanne came along. Lesley spent a lot of her early years in a plaster cast to keep her hips in place and he’d gaily swing her from the bar between her legs. Not recommended by the hospital, by the way.

Dad was asked to open a new branch of Dixon Compton, part of the Saatchi Group, in Leeds. They moved to live in Knaresborough and my sister Carol remembers going down to visit during the holidays and dad picking us up in an old Humber Super Snipe.
“Do you want to go faster?” he’d say.
And we’d shout “Yes!”
“Then hold on to your tin hats, put your feet in a sand bucket and I’ll tell you a story about the desert,” he’d say as he put his foot to the floor.
“And don’t tell Barbara!”
Carol says we reached the giddy speed of 105mph, all sitting on the bench front seat with not a seat belt in sight.
The family moved back to Currie when dad took over Dixon Compton Advertising Agency in George Street. These were his hey days, his cars became bigger and faster. Oh how he loved his cars. His business entertaining took him most days to the Café Royal and he was always a very generous host.

Eventually he opened his own business in Rutland Square doing advertising and File 11-04-2017, 20 52 30marketing. His clients included Peter Scott Knitwear, the Borders Development Agency, Glayva (Oh how we had fun making up Glayva cocktails for that one!), Head and Shoulders and the rumour is that Dad came up with the phrase ‘Pick up a Penguin.’
Lesley has memories of going to do secretarial work for him there. Unfortunately Dad was a little too trusting with people and his company folded when the Accountant was rather creative with his finances.

Undeterred Dad planned his next venture – and there were many. Waterless toilets featured heavily, I seem to remember. He’d meet someone in the pub who had a good idea and off he’d go on his next new business opportunity. For a few years he worked for his friend Blair at Edinburgh Cameras; and his son-in-law doing anything and everything from putting up suspended ceilings to marketing the business. Dad and Barbara separated and he moved into a flat in Haymarket.

Then in 2000 after a series of mini-strokes he had a big stroke – just the week before my finals at Edinburgh University. Quite quickly he recovered physically but we noticed that things were just not quite right. He’d had to give up his driving license when he had the mini strokes but he seemed to have forgotten this. “I’ve left my car in the car park,” he’d say when we visited. “The keys are on the dashboard.”  “No Dad,” we’d say. “You sold your car, remember?” But he never remembered that. And every time we visited, every single time, the subject of his car came up. Right up until he lost consciousness two weeks ago he was asking Joanne where his car was and did she have the keys. “They’re right here, dad,” she said. “In my bag.” And he’d relax.

He was diagnosed with vascular dementia and we realised that he wouldn’t be able to look after himself again. He went into the Tower Care Home at Murrayfield where Steve then Veronica became his Care Worker and he settled in. His short-term memory was gone, he kept forgetting his mother was dead, but he seemed quite happy. He did escape once and was found at the Ellersly Hotel across the road, having ordered a large gin, and reporting his car had been stolen. Luckily one member of staff recognised him from the family meals we had there and he was escorted back to the Tower.

File 11-04-2017, 20 50 33A few years ago the Tower closed and Dad moved to Drumbrae Care Home. Sadly, a few weeks ago he had a fall and broke three ribs which brought on pneumonia and he was taken into the Royal but it was too late and nothing could be done. He died peacefully on the 8th April, just three days short of his 88th birthday.

Really we lost our dad seventeen years ago when he had that first big stroke.
We lost his ‘life and soul of the party’ personality;
his loud infectious laugh;
his ambition and determination to be successful;
his short-term memory;
his unfailing generosity.
But occasionally we got glimpses of his wicked sense of humour as he continued to crack jokes and make cheeky remarks at inappropriate times.

Our dad was always late, never remembered a birthday unless one of his wives reminded him, and often forgot our names and we were introduced as Daughter No 1, 2, 3 or 4. He was a romantic, loved all women and was an outrageous flirt, to our eternal embarrassment when we were young. He loved his daughters, I have no doubt of that, and would have preferred that my sister Carol and I had daughters instead of sons.
He never really knew what to do with his grandsons Craig, Gareth, Davy and Stevie but I know he loved them and always asked what they were up to. Then Joanne produced his beloved granddaughter Hannah and he was over the moon. He had two precious years with Hannah as a baby before he had his stroke. Joanne remembers that he’d often arrive at her house, mid-afternoon, when she was still in her pyjamas, saying he was ‘just passing’ (which he wasn’t) and he would take over and send her off for a shower in peace and quiet. Hannah and Dad adored each other.

Our Dad had a passion for:File 11-04-2017, 20 49 08
classic cars;
classical music;
good old fashioned manners – he always stood up when a lady entered the room – it just took longer lately;
smoked salmon;
gin (with just a dash of water);
his elder brother Ian, who was also his best friend;
and the finer things in life.
And of course he will live on in all of us who follow as we each have inherited some of those genes, and I’ll leave you to work out which we each have.

He battled illness over the past seventeen years and bounced back time after time, against the odds. From his hospital bed he would grin and say, “I’ve got more damage to do yet.” But this time it was just too much, even for him.

Alistair Innes, our dad, a much loved father, brother, grandad, uncle, and friend to many of you. Today we are here to say goodbye to a man who touched all of our lives. So let us give thanks for dad’s life, and look forward with hope to what is to come. Eternal life.
This is the hope that we hold, and it’s in this hope, that we commend his soul to God, who created him in love and now receives him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And now in a moment’s silence I ask you to bring to mind your own memories of Alistair, and give thanks for his life and love…

An Ash Wednesday story

Last week, on the afternoon of Ash Wednesday, I went to visit D. I was taking her communion at home because she has been housebound since October when she had a fall. She can now walk around the house and back garden but she has lost her confidence in going out the front door. She has been waiting for months for a 3 wheel zimmer thingy but the wheels of the Social Care Dept seem to grind rather slowly. (Yes, I’ve written about her before and she still hasn’t had a bath or shower but is making do with a ‘dicht’.)

As it was Ash Wednesday I thought I’d take some ash along with me and use some of the liturgy we’d used in the morning. (Transporting ash is not easy, let me say, and I forgot the lemon.) We sat in her lounge looking out on to the garden where St Francis and a stork look down upon the pond. D is a third-order Franciscan, living a Franciscan way of life in her own home. She is eternally optimistic and never complains and I see St Francis in her every time we meet. After the service we spent some time in silence listening to the birds outside and then D said she wanted to get something. She came back with a bible and opened it up to the front cover. Then she took her thumb and rubbed it on her forehead and transferred the smudge of ash into the front page of her bible. There on the cream paper were rows of black and grey smudges from Ash Wednesdays past with the year underneath. One year there was a bit of paper stuck in with a smudge on it because D had been away that year but she didn’t want to miss it.

It was a beautiful sight, those rows of smudgy crosses. They represented all the prayers for repentance, the reminder of ashes of hopelessness. Remember child that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Some were quite dark, some barely visible. Thumbprints of ashes past.

I came home and did the same in my bible.

Look after yourself

Three weeks ago I got a cold. Not flu. Just a stinky cold with a runny nose, a lot of sneezing and then some coughing too. I’ve been put on steroids long-term for polymyalgia rheumatica so that may have helped lower my resistance to germs and this nasty virus really went to town. And then the coughing began. All night long, I coughed. Like a dirty old man, I coughed. It was only when sitting upright and perfectly still that I managed more than a minute without coughing. This made for long nights.

But colds happen. And we work through it, right? We carry on regardless, sipping our Lemsip, swallowing the pills, and we keep on passing it on to others because it doesn’t seem right to give up at first sight of a mere cold. But after three long nights of not sleeping and when the asthma/COPD had kicked in I gave in and had to phone the out-of-hours service NHS24. It was 2am and they were jolly nice and sent a lovely Irish doctor out to bring me a nebuliser which has done the trick in the past. Its the equivalent of 25 shots of Ventolin via a face-mask and is like breathing fresh mountain air but more invigorating. (That’s probably because of the adrenalin in it which can make me a bit jittery jangly.) The nice doctor also got me started on heavy duty doses of steroids and told me to get in touch with my GP if I thought I needed antibiotics. So far, so good.

And I carried on working. A bit. I did a wedding rehearsal and some admin and a quick visit to the church party before I finally gave in and said I couldn’t do Sunday. This was mainly because my voice was going and the cough was not improving. So my dear sister took me to the doctor on the Monday because she didn’t think I should drive myself. She was probably right. My GP took one look at me and sent me to the hospital with a letter. “But I probably just need another go at the nebuliser!” I croaked. He thought they ought to make that decision.

2016-11-07-16-14-03The hospital were lovely. They did indeed give me a nebuliser. And another. And another. And then decided I really ought to stay in and have them through the night. This was not in my plan. I had a wedding coming up at the end of the week which was very important to me (and to the happy couple too, it has to be said). I had things to do. Advent liturgy books to prepare, AGM to plan, pew sheets to do, a talk on art to go to, services to take, and a whole host of other things. But no, I was to stay and breathe fresh mountain air and take lots of pills and get better first. Only I didn’t. Another night in hospital. And by this time I had horrendous pain when I coughed from strained muscles so was put on some nice painkillers too.

Now let me tell you about the ward I was on. I should have been transferred to the Respiratory Ward but they were full. So I was kept on the Medical Assessment Unit which is really a temporary ward until people are moved on. It is next to A&E and goes like a fair. In my ward there were 5 beds and I was the youngest by a considerable mile. And they came and they went and I prayed through the long nights for M who was bewildered and needed to organise everything on her trolley a lot; for E who had just been told she had cancer again and her pain was just awful; for M2 who slept a lot with her mouth open and I kept thinking she’d gone; for M3 who came and went so quickly I never found out what was wrong nor where she went; for others who’d lost their appetite and not even jelly would tempt them. I watched them all and their visitors and we all smiled when M’s granddaughter entertained us with songs and innocently amusing questions. My son came at night after work and I was sharp with him because he took so long coming. And I apologised to him too.

And then another visit from a Consultant who suggested a stay until the weekend. I explained about the wedding in 2 days time and how I really couldn’t cope with staying any longer and not sleeping. It was very busy and noisy at night. Reluctantly he agreed to let me home into the care of the Community Respiratory Team who would come in every day to check me. And I got home. And my sister shopped for me and the CRT came in and measured my oxygen levels and brought me my own nebuliser to use 4 times a day. And my congregation told me not to worry about services and that they’d cover and I should just get well enough for my friend’s wedding.

2016-11-12-18-05-05On the day of the wedding I knew I couldn’t drive to Falkirk but the bride’s witness came and gave me a lift. I took the nebuliser and painkillers just before the service. My voice was croaky but the microphone picked it up sufficiently to be heard. The service was by candlelight and the church was full. The temperature rose and rose and by the time we got to the end of it I looked like a small damp rag. But we made it! Yay! I even made it to the reception for one and a half courses before the nice woman who’d given me a lift came and told me she was taking me home again. And the next day I slept. And slept some more. And someone else took my service here and that was just fine. And still I had no voice.

This past week has seen some improvement. I still have no voice but it is getting a little stronger each day with the help of gargling. (If you are on Facebook you could entertain yourself by watching them.) I do an hour in my study and then I rest for two. I’ve had to cancel a special Remembrance Day service I’d planned and was so disappointed about that. I’ve had to cancel meetings and appointments. I’ve been frustrated at being off sick for so long and now I’m getting bored which is probably a sign that I am getting better. The physio from the CRT say my lungs are still crackling but I am getting better so everything is now being reduced gradually. Today I managed over an hour at our Church Fair and everyone was very understanding. Tomorrow I won’t take the service but I shall chair the AGM with a croak and a prayer. And I’ve knitted 4 eternity scarves which made £20 for the sale. (My hands were too shaky to paint and I can’t concentrate on reading.)

So the moral of my story is… look after yourself. Right at the beginning of any kind of cold or virus, stay in and care for yourself. Don’t soldier on. Don’t spread it around. Don’t think you can do it because the payback may be more than you can bear. Be good to yourself.

And thank you to all who’ve looked after me.

How much do we care for our elderly?

D is 90. She is a Franciscan tertiary who lives alone simply and with a good network of friends. She is very independent and sharp as a tack, with few health problems considering her age, and volunteers regularly at a centre providing care for the elderly. (She didn’t think of herself as elderly!) That is, until a few weeks ago when she came downstairs in the morning and opened her curtains, got a sharp pain above her hip and fell, hitting her coffee table on the way down. Luckily she had her phone in her dressing gown pocket so was able to call a neighbour, who phoned an ambulance and left her lying until the ‘experts’ came. She was taken into hospital and admitted to the Acute Assessment.

Her next of kin phoned a church member so we knew about it straight away and I popped in to see her the next day. (No visitors, she’d said, because she didn’t want to be a nuisance but I told her I didn’t count.) They said she was a bit dehydrated but they sorted that quickly but nobody seemed to know why she’d fallen. Without doing an x-ray they were certain it was not a broken bone so they treated her with painkillers. Physios came and helped her with some exercises and tried to get her walking but she really had quite a lot of pain and had lost her confidence. With the zimmer she could manage but didn’t cope well with a stick. So they kept her in for about a week before discharging her with a zimmer. She still didn’t know what was wrong with her.

A friend came to take her home to a dark and cold house with no food in the fridge. Since then (over two weeks ago) she has seen a nurse every morning who comes to put a patch on her hip for pain. That’s it. Until 2 days ago when a trolley arrived she was unable to feed herself because she had no way of carrying food or drinks from the kitchen to her seat and couldn’t stand for any length of time in the kitchen. D’s neighbours and friends had to come in several times a day to make food for her. The hospital had also arranged for a cushion which came with the trolley. It was covered in plastic and sweaty to sit on. D has had no other help.

When I was visiting yesterday I discovered that D has not had a shower since she got out of hospital because she is unable to climb into her bath. She has had to make do with a wipe down herself. She still has awful pain and is stuck sitting all day on a cushion on a low couch watching TV. She has never been given exercises to do at home, nor does she know what is actually wrong with her. No x-rays, no scans = no diagnosis.

Then this morning I heard on the radio that the NHS is cutting back on unnecessary treatments which cost money. One of those unnecessary treatments is x-rays for lower back pain. And I bet if you’re 90 you’re even less likely to get one.

holding-hands-elderlyD doesn’t appear to have a Social Worker, Occupational Health worker, Care assistant, anyone to whom she can phone and ask for help. The nurses who come in the morning (seldom the same one) only have been told to put her patch on and that’s it.  Her GP comes back from holiday tomorrow so she is going to try her. We’ve helped her write down all the questions she needs to ask. Like: who will help me have a shower? can I get a chair to help the pain? are there other aids which might make life easier for me at the moment? what is wrong with me and how can I help it improve?

D is fortunate in a way. She has a community of friends from church and the Franciscans, as well as some super neighbours who can pop in and do shopping and keep her company. What she really wants is her independence back. And she wants to know what’s wrong with her and will it get better. It’s the not knowing that causes worry and sleepless nights.

But what about the other folk, I’m left wondering? What about those without communities of support? What about the forgotten ones sent home from hospital with no way of feeding or bathing themselves? More cutbacks means less care and more vulnerable people. Its just not good enough. And it makes me very sad and more than a little angry. I love the NHS, I really do. I’ll defend it to the end and I’d pay more taxes if I knew the money was going to the vulnerable and not management. But why are we not getting something as simple as communication right? I know there is help out there but I just don’t know how to access it for D.

I did a funeral on Saturday for a lady who was ill at home for a long time, cared for by her husband. He has about 30 items they have been ‘loaned’ over the last year to help her: a reclining chair, toilet support, cushions, hospital bed, rails, grabbers etc. He wants them taken away now for someone else to use. They can’t say when that will be. I’m tempted to hire a van and just get over there and fill it up for D.

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.

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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.