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

In which Christ Church Falkirk celebrates 150 years

In 1864 Christ Church Falkirk was consecrated on the 13th of April by the Rt Rev’d F B Morrell, Bishop Coadjutor (eh?) of Edinburgh. The site of the church was given by William Forbes of Callendar and subscriptions to the extent of £1350 were obtained. Episcopalians in this area had been served by St Andrew’s Dunmore from 1850 and prior to that in various meeting places.

2014-05-31 11.53.43On Saturday 31 May we held a Festival Eucharist to celebrate our 150 years here in Kerse Lane. (13 April being Palm Sunday and rather wet so were we glad we’d moved the date for we had the most gloriously sunny day.) The planning for our big day has been going on for about a year, with Gill McMillan at the helm of the planning group. Invitations were handmade and sent to clergy past, Bishops who were once curates, old friends, ecumenical friends, Area Council colleagues, and the great and the good of Falkirk and surrounding areas.  All altar servers were invited to take part – well, you can’t have too many servers in a procession I say. Last year everyone was asked to donate £150 if they could, either as a one-off gift or as a tenner a month, and we raised over £10,000.

2014-05-31 13.27.08Bishop John came to celebrate and we had two old curates there too: Bishop Douglas Cameron (retired of Argyll & The Isles) to preach and Bishop Bob Gillies, Aberdeen and Orkney to read the gospel. Past clergy included David Bruno, Duncan McCosh, Rodney Grant, and John Penman. We had asked folk to bring along old photos of the building and the people and greatly enjoyed reminiscing about the good old days (and laughing at those perms and full heads of hair!) Bishop Douglas’ sermon was pitched perfectly and I know a lot of folk want to read it again so it will go in our next magazine for those who missed it too.

2014-05-31 15.29.08The sun shone, the bishops arrived wearing shades, and our new St Andrew’s chapel was blessed too. This little crypt chapel had fallen into serious disrepair and been used as a workshop by a past priest who was also a handyman and had become a dumping ground for all sorts of rubbish. Over the past few months we’ve had it rewired, painted, carpets laid, furniture gifted by Erskine Parish Church which recently closed, and it is now a beautiful worship space. Lots of volunteers have worked really hard to make it work and I am so proud of them.

Lunch was catered by our local College which gave the students practice to show off their skills and Elaine made us a splendid cake with a gingerbread model of the church. Everyone agreed it was a great day and so good to catch up with old friends. Let’s hope we manage another 150 years.

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Leaving Alexandria

Like the rest of the Scottish Episcopal Church it seems, I have just finished reading Richard Holloway’s memoir Leaving Alexandria.  And what a sad and moving read it was too. Chris has this to say about it over at Blethers.

+Richard was my first bishop – the bishop who confirmed me, and then months later remembered me by name. I can’t tell you what that meant to me, and what a gift that is for any clergy person to have. (I know this because I never forget a face but names escape me constantly.) He was funny and outrageous and just what I wanted in a bishop. But on a memorable Good Friday he came to our wee church to do the 3 Hours and he wept and I’d never seen a priest weep before. It had the most profound affect on me.  He was approachable and not at all remote as I’d imagined bishops would be. So when people criticised him, and some folk in our church did, I’d always defend him. I’d defend him because I’d seen his humility, his struggle, his passion. But I never imagined what struggles were really going on beneath that mitre. That’s why this book has been such a shock and why I find it so sad. I just wish someone could have fixed it, so that he didn’t have to go through that.

+Richard was probably the reason I am a priest too. You see, for many years I was against the ordination of women. The church I went to was pretty much unanimous in that and ‘Father knows best’ after all.  I didn’t question – I just accepted what I was told. A dear friend at church, Robin Angus, was often called upon to speak on radio in the argument against the ordination of women and I was very much of the same opinion. But then +Richard ordained Jane Millard. I met Jane at a Cursillo weekend shortly after and I loved her. And I heard how Robin Angus had crossed the floor at that Synod and given her his father’s missal. Robin said that he was an Episcopalian and as the Synod had voted in favour of women then he must accept it.  He wouldn’t be an Episcopalian otherwise. That’s when I too started to question the status quo. (Not for myself at that point – that came much later.) That’s when I started to read for myself. That’s when I heard about Affirming Catholicism and listened to +Richard and Jeffrey John speak about a catholicism which was not precious and ritualistic for the sake of it, but passionate and daring and aware of the power of great liturgy to transform. It was +Richard and other clergy who changed how I felt about my faith and who made me take the leap from being self-employed to working for a Christian charity with homeless people. And then my path to ordination began in small and hesitant steps.

Had I known that +Richard was going through so many doubts himself about his faith, would that have changed things for me? Quite possibly for I hero-worshipped him. But it was his faith that, despite my background, I could indeed be a priest that transformed things for me.  And later when I heard that he was starting (as we thought then, but now know it was going on much longer) to doubt then I understood. As I understood it, it was the church structures that he was doubting and I could relate to that. But I was at the beginning of my journey and determined to fight for the cause.

On page 300 of his book, +Richard talks about the SEC at that time and this would be the time when he was inspiring me most. I was at university by now, doing the BD, and had just discovered Liberation Theology. +Richard says:

Mission statements were part of the rhetoric of the time, and the one I dreamt up for the Scottish Church seemed to sum us up, though it probably only summed up my own wishful thinking: ‘We are the Church for people other Churches won’t take in.’

Oh my goodness! Isn’t that a church that makes you want to be a part? And I did and then one morning, very early in the morning, I got a phone call from +Richard to tell me I had been accepted to train for the priesthood.  And then months later he asked if I’d like to house-sit for him. He and Jeannie had been invited to South Africa to spend time with Desmond Tutu, and as their wee dog was rather elderly at that time they didn’t think he’d last if he was put into kennels. I had been homeless and was at that point staying in a flat in Hyvots – a not terribly salubrious part of Edinburgh. So for my son and I to go and stay in the Bishop’s house at the West End to dog-sit was really a hoot.  I mean, what other bishop would do that? Don’t you just love him?

This has been a fascinating book for me. As Chris says, when you know the characters involved it makes it all the more special.  When I was house-sitting for him I learned that he kept notebooks full of quotes, prayers, cuttings and from that time I started to do the same. I see that he did it for use in his books for he is a master at recalling the perfect bit of poetry, or movie reference, for any occasion. There are many books that I have read because +Richard quoted from them, although I do still struggle with the poetry.

I do know one thing. I need to read this book again. I need to try and understand his journey better. And I’d love to know what his church should look like.

What qualities do you look for in a Bishop?

For the first time I will shortly take part in the process of selecting a new bishop. Tonight at our Area Council we will start the discussion by looking at the qualities we’d look for in a bishop.

I have worked under 3 Bishops: +Richard Holloway; +Michael Henley; and +Brian Smith. I have also worked closely in parish work with a few retired bishops: +Michael Hare-Duke; +Douglas Cameron and +Alan Smithson. And really you couldn’t get more diverse people than those six. Each has particular gifts and strengths, some led from the front and others from the rear, and they were a good mix of introverts and extroverts.

So let’s start off this discussion with what qualities I’d like to see in my new Bishop:

  1. I think I need a Bishop who is approachable. Someone I wouldn’t be afraid to go to speak about problems or to explore new ideas.
  2. I’d like my Bishop to have plenty (diverse if possible) parish experience so they are aware of the problems we face in the front-line.
  3. And I think a Bishop shouldn’t be afraid to admit their weaknesses and delegate certain parts of the job if they are not up to it.
  4. In my dreams I would like my new Bishop to be a woman but gender (or sexuality) are as irrelevant as hair colour. However, I do need my Bishop to be affirming of gender and sexuality issues.
  5. When I met a Swedish Bishop recently I asked her if she missed parish work and having a little flock to tend. She said that all the diocesan clergy were now her little flock. So I would like a Bishop who is pastoral and really cares about her/his clergy.

Over to you now. What qualities do you look for in a Bishop?


Sinking into ecclesiastical despair

I usually look forward to getting the Church Times. Usually I browse it on a Saturday but often it has to wait until Monday before I can open its pages and see who’s doing what to whom in ecclesiastical circles. This week it took me down, down, down into the depths of despair. There was little within its pages to make you glad to be a member of the church.

There was a report from the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly which I suppose might have lifted my heart, reporting as it did on the continuation of the moratorium on accepting people in same-sex relationships into ordained ministry. It seems that it was a good debate, dealt with sensitively.  Sadly, on the same page, there was a report about an email sent by Colin Slee, now deceased, about a vile meeting regarding the selection of a bishop in which the Archbishop of Canterbury lost his temper, people were in tears, and Jeffrey John missed out once more. It seems that the Church of England process for electing bishops (well, its not really election is it?) is not terribly healthy and makes me feel decidedly queasy.

A few pages on and I came across an article on Clergy Stress carried out by St Luke’s hospital. Stress and anxiety were cited as the most prevalent reason for sickness absence in a survey. It is a stressful job and sometimes you do feel as if you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. It can be isolating, lonely and exhausting. Thankfully I have some really good clergy friends who empathise, sympathise and will share their hilarious stories at the drop of a hat. But I wonder why we don’t cover more about this in CMD and Clergy Conferences.

Over the page and I see an evangelical pastor is slating the Richard Chartres’s royal wedding sermon. This American visitor to our shores complains that it didn’t preach the gospel. (He was speaking to a Men’s Convention – grrr.)  He is unhappy that the Bishop didn’t talk about sin, about repentance, about the Lordship of Christ. I just despair when I read stuff like this. You know, if we can’t respect one another in the Church what hope have we got of earning respect from others?  And no, I shall never ever preach on sin and repentance at any wedding I take.

In my temper I almost overlooked the wee snippet that said that Religious Hate Crimes have gone up in Scotland by 10%. Sigh.

On the facing page there is a picture of an alarming looking man who looks like he’s sitting on an electric chair at a medium voltage and he turns out to be Harold Camper, the radio evangelist who told us all the Rapture was going to happen last week. Why do we even give column inches to this kind of nonsense?

Scotland didn’t make an appearance in Margaret Duggan’s map of Britain again.

Then we get on to the two big main articles: one on Walsingham and the other on Women Bishops. (I could hear my teeth grinding at this point.)

Walsingham is always a sore point for me. A place of pilgrimage and peace for many and a place of hurt and pain for others. I don’t want to delve into this more closely or I get a pile of hate-mail, but being a priest who happens to be a woman means that I won’t go there until I am permitted to celebrate Mass.

The Guide on Women Bishops covers the same old arguments and again I thank God that I don’t work in the Church of England. Some women bishops interviewed talk of it being a non-issue, and about being accepted for who you are in their own countries. Alongside those stories of affirmation there are the tales of the most shocking behaviour at the last Lambeth conference, about being called names, being sent to the spouses group several times, about 100 bishops walking out of a talk on women and human rights, and about not feeling safe. This is absolutely shocking. Disgusting. That this behaviour goes on in Britain in a church I am in communion with. I think not.

So I’ve folded up the Church Times and put it in the recycling bin. Let’s hope something more positive can come from it now.

The Consecration of the Rt Rev’d Kevin Pearson as Bishop of Argyll & The Isles

Just back from a glorious two days in Oban (weather not glorious) for the consecration of my dear friend Bishop Kevin. Lots to report on the jaunt but no time yet as parish duties call. However, here are some photos to keep you going. (I’m afraid my new camera does not take good photos and they are not the best quality but you’ll get the gist.)

Bishop Kevin

The College of Bishops and me!

+Kevin and the Dean of Windsor, David Conner

+Kevin and Elspeth dance the night away

Me and the Bishop of Sweden (after she gave me a blessing)

+Kevin with the choir and servers of St Michael & All Saints

Mitres and stuff

Reading Bishop Mark’s blog this morning and thinking of dear Fr Kevin in preparation for his installation as Bishop of Argyll and The Isles on Friday made me think of mitres. Bishop Mark mentions that he allowed some children to try on his regalia. I remember when I was a curate at St Ninian’s cathedral in Perth, showing some primary children round the cathedral.  I had them dressed up in chasubles and stoles and was explaining what we wore and why.

Now, the diocese of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane has a very fine bishop’s mitre in the safe (not this pic but very similar). It is very heavy because it is absolutely encrusted with precious stones. It was made for a certain Bishop, whose name escapes me for the moment, who was much beloved and all the ladies of Perthshire handed in their unwanted jewellery for his new mitre.  It lies in a tin box (mitre-shaped) with a piece of paper that explains ‘5 Tay Pearls from Lady Dowager so-and-so’, ‘2 Amethysts from Lady so-and-so’, etc. It really is a work of art.

I thought the children would love to see this and had brought it out for them to ooh and ahh over. “Who wants to try it on?” I cried. Hands shot up all over the place. “NO!” screamed the teacher.  I assured her it was okay really, and I wouldn’t tell.  “NO!” she screamed again. I assured her I would hold on to it while they tried it on. “NO!” again. The she took me aside and spelled out the problem…

N… I… T… S.

Cost of Bishops’ houses

Today in the Church Times there is a report on the rising cost of maintaining CofE bishops’ houses. The total spend in 2002-04 was £11 million. In 2008-10, it is forecast to be £21 million. Some of them are Grade listed. Some of them are castles.

Our bishop lives in a basement flat. Nuff said.

(Although I do think he deserves a proper house. I mean, I think I’ve seen him blinking when he comes out into sunlight.)

Walking with the Bishop

Individuals and walking groups from Churches in the Diocese are invited to join Bishop Brian on a Borders Pilgrimage in the Steps of St Cuthbert.  Meeting at the Corn Exchange (in the town centre) in Melrose at 10:45am sharp on Saturday 1st May; visiting Melrose Abbey before setting off for Dryburgh Abbey.  There are two routes one shorter and less steep than the other.  Transport back to Melrose can be arranged.  Please bring a packed lunch.  Further information from Fred Tomlinson (Synod Clerk – 0131 667 6224, ) or Maurice Houston at Holy Trinity Melrose (01896 822626: ).

I shall not be taking part, in case you were wondering if you could walk with me. However, I have no objection to a drive to Melrose and then a wee look round that rather nice handbag and shoe shop and then coffee and a scone somewhere.