What are we saying?

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

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

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

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

In which Ruth looks back on her last Holy Week here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To all clergy before Holy Week

Dear friends

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

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

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

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

These things you will worry about.

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

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

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

Love and prayers

Ruthx

do-not-worry

A daily Lent blog

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

William Dyce Christ as the man of sorrows

Death is not the end

2016 has had a sad start for me. At the end of 2015 three members of my little flock died. Each one of them was shocking and heart-breaking.

G died first. I had been visiting her for over five years since I’ve been here, taking her communion in her wonderful top-floor flat with views of the Ochils. G had a wonderful sense of humour and we shared a love of the same authors so got on well right from our first meeting. However, a stroke and then the loss of sight through macular degeneration left G deeply frustrated and unhappy. When her beloved only son died earlier in the year she felt she had nothing left to live for. G only had a granddaughter left but she lived in Glasgow and we never met. The first we heard of her death was when it appeared in the newspaper. We had talked about her funeral, G and I, and I knew that she wanted a simple service of the Committal. She wanted no eulogy, no hymns because she thought nobody would be there. When you get to your nineties there are not many friends left. No matter how often I told her that friends from church would be there she was convinced that there was no point in anything ‘fancy’. We agreed on a simple service. Perhaps her granddaughter didn’t know she was a member of Christ Church. Perhaps she was convinced by the Undertaker that they could take care of it all. So we gathered in the Crematorium, we friends of G, and listened to the Undertaker read two poems and say one sentence of the Committal. It was terribly, terribly sad.

A few weeks later I got a phone call to tell me M had died suddenly, found beside her bed. I’d seen her the day before bustling along Kerse Lane heading into town as she did every day. For M loved to shop. She loved to buy presents for all her family, friends and for me. Flowers Molly 2011 She looked well the day before she died. Her death was sudden and a shock. M had a large and loving family who grieved deeply at her death. Her funeral was on Christmas Eve in church and then at the Cemetery. The church was full and there were tears and laughter. M used to do the flowers for Christ Church and I know there was great concern that we should do her proud with a glorious display. It was a difficult funeral to take and I think that was partly because I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see her again with her full head of chestnut hair, even in her 80s – and  it was all natural, unlike my own! I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t get more tipsy glasses or a request for fluffy polar bears in the nativity. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see her every Thursday at Mass and be greeted with her eternal optimism.

Then there was the death of B, another huge shock. B had recently been diagnosed with cancer but it was treatable and was certainly not going to get him down. B was a character, a very private man with a loving wife, with a caustic sense of humour who never failed to make me laugh. He was People’s Warden all the time I’ve been here, loved opera and theatre, and more than anything loved to entertain with food. Afternoon Tea for the CHURCHCHRIST.RP.SERVICE.21housebound were catered for with bone china tea-sets, tiered cake plates and real linen napkins, flowers on the table, all thanks to B. His platters for the Quiz Night were famous and wherever there was food to be served, B was at the forefront organising it. After just one round of Chemo, B caught pneumonia of the worst kind. The kind which is resistant to any antibiotics. So just a few weeks after his diagnosis and after just one week of chemo he was taken into hospital, then ICU and then a few days later on the day before Christmas Eve we sat at his bedside while all the life-support was switched off. Too soon. Too soon. Again another shock that we wouldn’t see him again, taste his little amuse bouches. His funeral was the first I took in 2016 on the 6 January and we catered for his funeral tea in his memory. The joy of Epiphany was overwhelmed with sadness. A star had fallen from our skies.

Three lovely people gone. Each one a beloved child of God. Each one unique and each one a character. Each one missed by us all.

And then this week I began my post-Christmas holiday. I was tired. Tired of death. Tired of being strong and carrying on when all I wanted to do was sit down and weep. Tired of loss. Tired of shock. I knew it would be a holiday of sleeping and reading and thinking back over these few weeks of great loss. I didn’t want to go away. I just wanted to coorie down and wallow in sadness.

bowie_aladin_sane_1000pxAnd then David Bowie died. Not a man I knew, but a man I had adored since I was a young teenager. A man whose music was the soundtrack to my life. A man who shocked my parent’s generation but who thrilled us. A man who cared nought for gender or rules and no, I didn’t understand all of his music and lyrics but I loved them all the same. I know them all still. My boys grew up listening to his music and also know and love him. That made me strangely proud. Memories of listening to his LPs on our little record player over and over again, of dressing like Aladdin Sane at the local disco, of dancing a strange dance to Rebel Rebel with my first boyfriend at a wedding, of wishing I had straight hair so I could have mine cut like his, of crying at Murrayfield when he walked on stage in that blue suit on the Serious Moonlight Tour. And I didn’t even know he was ill. I was totally unprepared for his death. I found a radio station playing all of his music and I sat in the kitchen all day and listened and sang along. Why on earth was I so moved by a pop-star’s death? Because so much of my life had been accompanied by his music. Because he had been theatre and a legend for me.

Then two days later Alan Rickman, the actor, died. Another shock. Another person whom I admired and watched avidly. That voice, that intonation, that humour. I seldom cry at movies but I did at Truly, Madly, Deeply. And his death seemed like the final nail. Too much death. Too much shock and loss.

It has been a sad year so far. Yes I know each one will live on in my memories. I will never forget G and M and B. We will keep on telling their stories. And Bowie will continue to be yelled (I won’t say ‘sung’) along to in my car and whenever I hear him. I might even make a Spotify list of my favourites. And I think I may watch all of Alan Rickman’s performances again and laugh at his Slope or Snape. Dead but not forgotten.

Christmas past and present

So, as ever, one of my New Year Resolutions might be to blog more and as thoughts of Christmas past and present have been whirling round my head for the past week, let me share them.

My childhood memories are of desperately waiting to go through to the lounge to open those parcels under the tree. Dear old mum loved to have a long lie so there was always the worry that she wouldn’t want to get up and let us in to the lounge. And my sister Carol would never go in first in case Santa was still there so we hovered in the hall coughing loudly. Eventually mum got up and gathered her notebook and pencil to record everyone we opened, taking turns but peeking through gaps in the wrappings to get a hint of what was therein. Of course Carol knew most of hers already for she had been snooping in the top of mum’s wardrobe for weeks but I was always happy to wait for the surprise.

After the pillow cases were emptied and the tangerines and shiny Macintosh Red apples discarded in favour of Selection Boxes and chocolate treats, and the wrappings put in the bin, the serious work of reading or playing began. After breakfast, and I don’t remember what we had but it certainly wasn’t anything resembling smoked salmon, we had to get dressed for Christmas lunch. This was a grand affair when Dad came to pick us up andCafe Royal we opened more presents before heading off to the Cafe Royal where Grandma, Barbara, his current wife, and Lesley and Joanne (our half-sisters) all gathered sharing lists of what we’d got.

The Cafe Royal was probably the most grand restaurant in Edinburgh in those days and we’d always have a table in the Crown Room. There would be luxury crackers to pull and beautiful gifts for the women. That’s when the serious eating of smoked salmon began although I do remember Dad occasionally have scrambled egg on toast if he’d been overdoing the dining out. Dad was always adamant that both families and both wives got on and Mum and Barbara went along with it and did indeed seem to get on although, looking back, it can’t have been easy for mum to be brought face to face with the newer model.

When I became a mum of two little boys some traditions remained the same. The pillow case became a proper Santa Sack but the orange and apple remained and the notebook always came out to make a list ready for thank-you letters. Mum came to us for Christmas and helped make lunch, a more informal affair round the dining table with no white-aproned waiters in sight. Breakfast might be smoked salmon and a wee Croft Original sherry, or maybe a bacon roll.

Then ordination changed all of that. The boys were growing up but still around but Mum died in 2006 and I was left to make the food myself. Friends who know me will also know that cooking is not one of my gifts. Heating things in a microwave is my gift but cooking things and having them all ready at the same time is definitely not one of my gifts and charisms. And I was exhausted. I was so busy in the week leading up to Christmas that I sometimes didn’t get to the shops until the last turkey was gone and there was not a potato to be found.  One son was a fussy eater and the other had cordon bleu tastes so there was never an agreement on what we should eat. One year I remember a fridge full of lobsternibbles and savouries and only a lobster platter from Marks and Spencer as a main course.

For a few years it fell to Son #1 to make the food but as he and Son #2 had often been up late drinking the night before they never felt like cooking or eating until about 7pm. By that time I’d done about 14 services over the past few days and made so many bacon rolls to see me through I never felt like eating and was ready to go to bed by 6.30pm.

Then Son #1 decided he’d rather have Christmas with his new partner, and who can blame him? And we were left, the two of us, who really didn’t like the same food as each other. He didn’t want to get up early to open presents before I went off to do the Christmas day services but I was desperate to see what Santa had brought. No sherry for breakfast when you’ve got the Holy Mysteries to see to and bed was only a few short hours before. Midnight Mass can really up the adrenaline levels and it takes hours for me to come back to earth after the high. No sleep for me before about 4am. And so I come back from the Christmas Day eucharist and Son #2 is still in bed and reluctant to leave his cosy pit and share the love of the baby Jesus.

A few years ago we made a splendid decision to have a Chinese carry-out for our Christmas meal. I can’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before. It was the perfect solution for we both loved Chinese food and I didn’t have to cook it. And it worked beautifully. Until last year… the Chinese restaurant decided to close for Christmas Day. We phoned every Chinese carry-out in town and not one of them was open. That year we had a plateful of chipolatas and some sausage rolls. Oh how we laughed.

This year I actually planned ahead and no Chinese restaurant could be found. I asked Son #2 what he’d like instead and he said the only meal he could remember that I’d ever cooked which was edible was a slow-cooker stew so that’s what we had. I put it on after the Midnight Mass and it was really tasty at 5pm. (The veg were pre-packed and the gravy came from a bottle.) This was also the Year of the Lindt overload as I’d casually lindor-003.jpgmentioned my love of Lindt chocolate and I received rather a surfeit. 8 boxes in fact, not to mention the Thorntons boxes of chocs. That did nicely for breakfast and lunch.

What I failed to do this year was get that old notebook out to write down the presents for the thank-you letters. So thank you, dear friends, for all those lovely presents. I love them all, even if I can’t quite remember who gave what.

Ordination really messes with your Christmas folks. Unless you have a lovely spouse who happens to enjoy taking care of that kind of thing, it can be a messy business and a stipend doesn’t quite stretch to dining out in the Cafe Royal, although I hear its not quite the same these days. So spare a thought for the poor children of clergy who don’t get to open presents at a reasonable hour and have to eat stew on Christmas day after mum has snored her way through the afternoon movie and is ready to go back to bed at 7pm.

In which Ruth ponders church rotas

Mother Lynsay over at Penicuik and West Linton asks on Facebook whether any church has done away with church rotas. She asks if it is possible to ask those who turn up to read, welcome, serve coffee etc. Oh what a thought! In fact I’ve done nothing else since she mentioned it this morning. Imagine a church without rotas! Here are some of my thoughts:

You could do a first-come-first-serve kind of thing. All the jobs are written on cards and put in a basket and first through the door gets first choice – or lucky dip. But then I thought that it could mean most folk would come even later than they do at the moment, joining in at the end of the procession to avoid the last job in the basket.

It would be fine for readers and might mean some folk read who don’t at the moment because they’ve never been confident enough to put themselves forward. When I first came here I didn’t have any readers at the midweek service so asked old John if he’d like to do it. He was so chuffed. Just delighted to be asked because nobody had before. So much so, that he’s done it every week since. And proudly so. It would be good in the rota-less church to hear more voices.

Intercessions might be harder because I know some people take weeks to prepare them at the moment. We only have a handful of folk here who do them because most folk think they couldn’t possibly write meaningful intercessions. Even though I’ve said you can read them straight from our blue book where there are perfectly adequate prayers, it seems a step too far for most folk. I love it when people have read the lessons for the day and woven the theme into their prayers. And I love that each person brings their own interests to their offerings: Dav always prays for animals; Matthew for all the saints of the week; Tom for our friends in Nyakinoni, etc.

Getting volunteers for Sidespeople would be greatly needed as we don’t have many who do that. I don’t know why folk here are reluctant to help out in this role. You smile, you hand out pewsheets, you ask someone to bring up the elements, you help folk up for communion and you tidy up at the end. What bit of that puts people off, I wonder? Imagine if everyone HAD to take a turn. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

welcomers

Serving at the altar could be interesting as you do need to be there early to set up and get things organised. And the choreography might put some folk off. Perhaps leave that one on the rota.

Coffee would be good to go rota-less here as we are down to a handful of folk who’ll do it. If we provide the milk and biscuits (which we do) and have someone set up (good old John does that every week) then why not ask for volunteers on the day to go and make a pot of tea and pour out instant coffee then fill up the dishwasher after? Never understood why everyone doesn’t take a turn at that one.

Flower rota? That could be fun. A card could say ‘Next week you have to bring one flower/one piece of pussy willow’ and then shove them in oasis. It could work. No fake poinsettia though! And no tulips – I have a phobia.

flowers in glass

Chalice bearers here are all licensed by the bishop so that could be tricky to hand out on the day. And I know some of them dress up for the part and wouldn’t want to be caught out on a trackie and old jumper kind of day. It’s a serious job, that chalice bearing, and you want to look your best.

I think we’ll keep the organists we have on a rota. That would be a step too far. Although who knows what hidden musical talents lie out in the pews? A secret saxaphone player, an old trumpet blower? Ooh I do love a trumpet at Christmas and Easter.

I know the Holy Dusters would love to have more volunteers but it is not done on a Sunday. Actually, having said that the first one through the door for the early service does often have to get the duster and hoover out to deal with falling plaster but that’s usually me or my server. But I rather like the idea of everyone HAVING to take a turn at church cleaning!

cleaning_sunday

Perhaps a rota-less church could work. Perhaps not for all the jobs but its worth a thought…

 

 

 

Remembering

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