In which Ruth ponders Passiontide

Tomorrow we enter Passiontide. The statues will be draped with purple cloths and my heart will soar. Yes, I know it is meant to take away any distractions but I love the shape and colour of those purple bags. That one hides the processional cross – a fleurette cross, I learned recently. That one covers the crucifix which looks over me as I preach. I feel its presence still. I can almost hear the solemn pounding of a drum as the build up to Holy Week begins.

A scream rings out. It was me! I’m sure if my GP was to look back through my notes he’d find that I visit round about the same time every year telling her/him that I can’t sleep, I’m really stressed, I’ve come out in a rash, I can’t breathe. One day they will suss that there is a pattern to this and they will wisely nod and say, “It’s okay Ruth. It is just Holy Week coming. You’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. Practice mindfulness, make a list (many lists), pray for your photocopier and all shall be well.”

It is also at this time that I want to make my little flock promise that they won’t miss a single service. The drama of the most wonderful story is about to unfold before your very eyes and you really don’t want to miss any of it. If you miss a bit it would be like someone had cut a chapter out of that fabulous book you’re reading, or had removed all the blue bits from that intriguing jigsaw. Please promise me you won’t miss a bit of it.

There will be much to feed you. Processions with palms, a pilgrimage of Stations, silence and music, study and chatter, feetwashing and a shared meal, drama worthy of the greatest theatre, and a gruelling three hours of Passion. And hot cross buns too!  All of this we must undergo before we can truly ‘get’ the joy of Easter and the Resurrection.

I’m excited that this year we also have the Bishop visiting on Holy Saturday to baptise and confirm. Some of my little flock have said they’d like to affirm the vows they made at their own confirmation because of the Pilgrim Course we’ve been doing. I well remember my own Confirmation classes with Fr Emsley… there was much Church history, as I recall. But at Candlemas I felt like a nun making solemn vows to promise something beyond my comprehension. And it is still beyond my comprehension…

Cross purple cloth

Baby Annabelle’s baptism sermon

Annabelle, I don’t think you are going to understand what I am going to tell you this morning.
But I hope your mummy and daddy and granny and granddad and uncles and all the rest will remember a wee bit of it and tell you from time to time.

Because today I want to tell you that you are unique.
You are special.
Of all the people who have come and gone on the earth, since the beginning of time, not ONE of them is like YOU!
No one’s hair grows exactly the way yours does.
No one’s finger prints are like yours.
And just like your fingerprints, your lips have little markings on them, little grooves in the skin … and everyone has a different pattern, so no one’s lips are like yours.
No one smells just like you.
And no one’s eyes are just like yours.
No one is loved by the same combination of people that love you – NO ONE!
No one before, no one to come.

YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY UNIQUE!baby footprints pink

And as you grow up I want you to enjoy that uniqueness.
You do not have to pretend in order to seem more like someone else.
You weren’t meant to be like someone else.
You do not have to lie to conceal the parts of you that are not like what you see in anyone else.
You were meant to be different.

And if you did not exist, there would be a hole in creation, a gap in history, something missing from the plan for humankind.

Treasure your uniqueness.
It is a gift given only to you.
Enjoy it and share it!

So many people these days feel like they are nothing more than a number on a computer card somewhere in a government file.
But God says you are more than that.
You’re a special design.
You were made special.
Because that is the way God created you.

You are different.
You are not just a number.
And because you’re different … YOU are important.
Maybe not important to the government but you are important to God.
Because He is the one who designed you.
He is the one who made you different.
He is the one who made you unique.
(Along with your mummy and daddy of course.)

Scientists have only just recently discovered how unique and special each one of us is — how special you are.
But God has known this all the time.

God knows all about you.

She knows what you need.

She knows what you feel and what you think.

She knows exactly what you have done.

And She loves you in a way that is only for you.

Because God made you special, She has a special interest in you.

Her love is for you and it is special.

Her plan for you and your life is unique too.

It’s special.

That’s something worth thinking about.

I have a little present for you.zebras
It is a zebra.
Because recently I found out that all zebras are unique – just like you.
Each zebra has different stripes so mummy and daddy zebra can tell which is their baby in a crowd of baby zebras.
Each baby zebra is unique and special.

So mummy and daddy Gray have the job of telling you all about the stripey zebra and why it is unique.
And they will also tell you how special you are, because that’s what mummies and daddies do too.

And to finish I have another surprise.


Because each bubble is unique too.
There are no two bubbles the same.
Each one is a different size or shape or colour.
Each is special.
Each is unique.

Just like you.



Baptism of baby Sam

A few weeks ago, baby Sam was baptised at Christ Church. Baby Sam is one of our own babies. That is, Sam is not from a family who have asked for baptism and we might never see again. Sam’s mum is on the Vestry and sings in the choir with her mum and her nan. Four generations of the one family and the most glamourous nan you’ll ever see anywhere!

I don’t usually allow photographs during the service but I gave in for this one. And I’m glad I did. For if I hadn’t we wouldn’t have seen this beautiful photograph of baby Sam and the candle.

In which Ruth heads to the deep south of Englandshire

The Scottish Episcopal Church is quite generous with clergy holidays, I think. We get 4 weeks and then the inside of a week (not Sundays) after Christmas and Easter. I guess that covers the 10 days of public holidays that we miss. Then of course we have a retreat and clergy conference and possible continuing training which of course our little flocks think of as holidays because we’re not there but we know better. So it gets to a point when they say, “Oh, so you’re off on holiday AGAIN?” and at that point we think we’d better not mention that we are still due a week off this year but daren’t take it!

Anyway, I did take one of those weeks and did a bit of pottering around the house and then went down south to stay with old friends at Bracknell. It was lovely to catch up with them and be taken out and about in  a lovely part of the country. This time we did Reading, Ascot, a Harvest Supper and a local garden. Nice shops, nice canal, nice dresses and hats, nice sausage rolls, nice knot garden.

I was also asked to celebrate at the Family Service at Holy Trinity, Bracknell. It is a strange thing celebrating in another church, especially when you are not familiar with the liturgy. Just as you think you know this bit there is a slight tweak to throw you off course. And I foolishly believed the chalice bearer who told me to consecrate more wine when it looked like there were only two more people waiting. Perhaps there are more in hiding, I thought, as I said a quick prayer over the flagon he’d lead me to. There was a whole lot of wine to consume at the end of that mass. But apart from that it all went terribly well and my celtic blessing made at least one woman cry. (I think that was in a good way.) Of course the microphone switch was the opposite way round from our one in CC so there was a bit of thinking I was off when I was on and thinking I was on when I was off but we get there in the end. (That’s another thing in the church that should be universal, like curtain fittings in rectories.)

Then last week they dropped me off at the Henry VIII Gate of Windsor Castle as I took part in the Clergy Consultation on Believing in Baptism at St George’s House.  This year I was asked to be a Facilitator for my little group which was fun. My brain was given a good old workout with some Augustine, Calvin and Barth as well as some New Testament and the obligatory poetry (all quite good this time, I’m glad to report). We dealt with some meaty issues too, like What is Original Sin and What is the Soul? And we considered what the church would be like if we did away with Baptism. This all lead on to discussions on when a child should receive communion and what was Confirmation for? I also picked up some nice ideas for playing around with liturgy. But sshhh don’t tell the Bishop. And we had a lovely time in Canon James’ newly refurbished house in the cloisters with a glass of rather nice plonk.

The choir in the chapel were on good form and while some complained that we didn’t get to ‘join in’ at Evensong I was quite happy to sit and let the music wash over me. It is not often you get to sit among some wonderful singers belting out Tallis. The Eucharist in the morning was in my favourite little chantry chapel with the cutest unicorn to ponder.

So all in all it has been a good break. I met some super people, I saw some wonderful things, I heard some glorious music and I was well fed in the dining room and at the Eucharist.

Holy Week and Easter at Christ Church

Alleluia! He is risen!  And what a lovely sound it turned out to be when all the Alleluias were waved in church yesterday. We had buried them at the beginning of Lent – some smallish pieces of white paper with ALLELUIA written on them. They were put in a box and tied up with a bow because we know those Alleluias like to escape when they can. But lo and behold, yesterday they had been transformed into 100 brightly coloured enormous ALLELUIAS which everyone had to wave whenever we said the word. I just didn’t expect the sound. It was like kites cracking, paper snapping, wind rustling in trees, a cacophony of sound.  And the two who were the best at waving their ALLELUIA won a Fair Trade Real Easter Egg. (It would have been three if I hadn’t scoffed one earlier in Holy Week!)

But let’s go back a bit to the beginning of Holy Week. Here in Falkirk there is a tradition of doing Holy Week ecumenically. I shall confess that I struggle a bit with this. Partly because I have been used to doing it on my own and there is nothing quite like the continuity of one person leading you through the journey that is Holy Week. This year I had Maundy Thursday to do, and the Vigil on Sat night.

Maundy Thursday worked well, I think. The problem last year was where to put the Altar/Garden of Repose and I put it on the Requiem Altar which meant the ecumenical choir had to move out of the side chapel and into the pews. This year I had a dream that it was under the high altar – as the crib is at Christmas – so we tried that and it worked well. There was a lovely ‘Ta-Da’ moment at the stripping of the altars when the frontal was removed to show the garden and once the candles were lit it looked divine.  And there is always that lingering smell of Geranium oil which I put in the footwashing jug. However, I can’t get people to stay.  Three of us did for a while but the ecumenical choir marched out as soon as the last hymn was sung, some not even looking at the Garden of Repose. Everyone else followed. Need to work on that next year.

Last year I did the 3 hours on Good Friday but this year someone suggested we do it ecumenically too. I agreed. As it turned out it didn’t really work out because one was ill (not his fault) and I couldn’t fill the other spaces. However we did use The Nail by Stephen Cottrell which was fantastic and well received. And there is nothing quite like 3 hours worth of Passiontide hymns. Aren’t they the best?

This year I also changed the Saturday Vigil because I did it last year and I just don’t think people get that this is the first mass of Easter – at 9.30pm in the evening.  I decided to do an early morning Vigil at 6am so that left me with the problem of what to do on the Saturday night. If I’d thought sooner I would have cancelled it because really there is no liturgy for Holy Saturday but they were all expecting something. In the end, I did three short meditations on Waiting, on Judas, and on Mary interspersed with some music to listen to. (Arvo Part’s Fratres for Strings and Percussion, Alison Moyet’s When I Am Laid In Earth, Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater (Michael Chance) and a lovely Jewish song which is so haunting.) The church was in darkness and it got darker until I could hardly read the words.

So with less to do in Holy Week you’d think that I had a pretty easy time. But no! Who was the mug who accepted an invitation from BBC Radio Scotland to make four programmes for their New Every Morning slot?  Four scripts needed by Good Friday, in fact. AAgghh. Won’t make that mistake again!

Then yesterday we had a baptism of baby Ruaridh before his family move abroad for a couple of years. It was absolutely glorious to have some lovely visitors in church, to have the baptism, to soak everyone with water after, and then Bucks Fizz in the hall while the children went on the Easter Egg Hunt.  Baby Ruaridh was the perfect baptism baby – sound asleep when I was handed him, opened his eyes when I tucked him under my oxters, looked startled by the water but then cooried down again and went back off to sleep.  I suspect I actually peaked at the 9am service but with the help of some Berocca Boost we made it through all three services before I really had to sit down. And slept. And slept. (And missed the baptism party – sorry.) And woke when #1 Son arrived to stay at dinner time.

This holiday week I shall tidy the house, fill the cupboards, and then sit down with a good book or three. I do love Easter but it is quite exhausting. But worth every minute.

Water, water everywhere

Glorious Sunday, if a little wet.  No, not the weather but the content of the service.  First of all we had Bishop Brian to bless the new Wyvern organ – and Andrew the organist as it happened. There was water everywhere! Thereafter we had some great hymns and some rather nifty footwork for the last hymn’s last verse (O praise ye the Lord!).

Then we had the baptism of baby Callum which was a glorious event for family,  friends and congregation who are so fond of D & K.  Callum was not too chuffed about hanging upside down over the water, but that may have been because there was a shark bobbing about in the water. (You had to be there.)

You know, it was just such a great service and why weren’t you there? You missed a great gig. It is always good to have the Bishop in attendance and yesterday was no different. He is so cool.

Then later on I ventured up the hill to the Robin Chapel to preach at Evensong. Forgot that it was Evensnog so missed a chance to wear choir dress and my academic hood. That’s the one with a bit of fluff on it, as one young server once pointed out. (The ‘fluff’ being fake ermine.) And one of my little flock came along to swell the ranks which was lovely and I felt very supported.

It has been a busy old weekend full to the brim of church and my To Do List is piling up with things that have been shoved aside.  So I promise to get on with them now.

Baptism in stereo

Yesterday at St Mark’s we were baptising two cousins of the Rostron clan. It was a joyous occasion with a church full and so many well behaved children too. Not a peep was heard throughout the whole thing.  As there were two babies Bishop Alan and I took one each and did the whole thing in stereo-ish. Not easy to choreograph, I have to admit. Well you don’t want them banging heads over the font, do you?

Some good baptism hymns sung and a flying exit to God is our Strength and Refuge (Dambusters tune). It was  just one of those really joyous occasions when everyone was happy and didn’t want to leave at the end.

What’s in a name?

A long, long time ago, when I worked for the Rock Trust, I came across a minister with a very funny name. No, I will not mention it here just in case he is not aware of how amusing it is. It was a quiet afternoon, if I remember correctly, and we spent the next wee while sharing amusing names. For example, I was at school with a girl called Hazel Nutt.  And so it went on… and on… and on… My, how we laughed. I wrote them down and over the years I have added to my list. Now, whenever I am feeling low there is nothing quite like getting the Funny Names List out and having a good chortle.

Imagine my delight to discover that there is now a book of these names: Potty, Fartwell & Knob by Russell Ash. And what a delight it is. Thousands and thousands of amusing names to titter over. Want to hear some?

Fanny Farty

Annus Bumphrey

Gayman Rackstraw

Charity Clap

Min Spiess

Mary Scarey

Thigh McKay

Minniehaha Smith

Nicholas If-Jesus-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebon (son of Praise-God Barbon)

and a whole host of Emma Royds etc.

Bliss! Baptisms are going to be such fun from now on. What suggestions I shall have.

Baptism photographer attacked by priest


THE parish priest of the South Brisbane St Mary’s Catholic Church will fight allegations of assault after an incident at Sunday mass.

Fr Kennedy is alleged to have knocked a mobile phone camera out of a man’s hand during the service.

Speaking on behalf of Fr Peter Kennedy, parishioner Karen Walsh unequivocally denied that Caboolture man Richard Stokes had been assaulted when Fr Kennedy tried to stop him taking photos of a baptism.

“The shots had children in the frame and were unauthorised,” Ms Walsh said.

Mr Stokes and several supporters marched from the church to the West End police station afterwards to file a complaint. Mr Stokes was not injured and police are regarding the incident as “minor”.

Ms Walsh said the incident had “nothing to do with previous disagreements”. She was referring to how Mr Stokes had written to the Vatican and the Brisbane Archbishop campaigning for Fr Kennedy to either follow church protocols or be removed from his post.

It is understood Mr Stokes was taking the photos because he was outraged the baptism was being conducted by a priest not wearing a vestment.

Mr Stokes was not available for comment yesterday.

I have felt like doing the same to many a photographer. However, you will always see me baptising in the proper vestments even if it means having a baby slip off my hip because of competing silks. One young child suggested I put velcro on my chasuble and velcro on the baby to prevent slippage.

What not to say at a Baptism

I learned today that you do not say to a two year-old who is reluctant to put his head over the font:

“Don’t be scared. It’s just like getting your hair washed.”

The screams and wriggles that ensued and the gasp from parents told me that hair washing is not popular in that household. Ah well, you live and learn. The deed was done in the end, but not prettily.