In which Ruth ponders the life of an Interim Pastor

I am about five months in to being Interim Pastor at Grangemouth and Bo’ness, my neighbouring churches. Their rector retired at Harvest time last year and they have been my foster-flock ever since. It is the first time I’ve ever done the job so there has been a bit of learning together along the way.  Unfortunately it was only this week that I found the guidelines for the vacancy were lurking on the SEC website all along. Pity nobody told me about them earlier!

It has been lovely to meet some new folk, and to get to know some better. For years I have met the Lay Reps at our Area Council meetings but there are not really chances to get to know one another. I now know who to go to to get the best cupcakes in Grangemouth. (PS I cupcakesalready have my own source in Falkirk of course!) Many moons ago I was rector of Linlithgow and Bathgate, another joint charge, and they were very different churches. My observations so far have led me to believe that this is true of Bo’ness and Grangemouth too. Quite different little churches, each with their own style and character.

The guidelines state that I should be with them about once a month taking the service on Sundays and I have managed to do that so far. I have also chaired all the Vestry meetings because we are still using them to cover some of the preparation for the Congregational Profile. Once we are at the advertising stage perhaps I can take more of a step back. We have also met for longer meetings to go through the process of looking at what kind of new rector they would like.  Sadly the weekday services have had to be reduced to monthly and the early morning service done away with all together. This is mostly because it is so hard to get cover for churches outwith Edinburgh. You’d hardly believe it only takes 20 mins to drive out on a Sunday morning. Sometimes we’ve had to have joint services and at other times I’ve had to say “Come to Falkirk if you want!” and some have.

Working on the Congregation Profile has been a very interesting exercise. For a few weeks I encouraged both congregations to write up what kind of priest they would like and then we went through the list together. I imagine it is a bit like doing the profile for online person specmatchmaking – good sense of humour, family man, good communicator, healthy, own teeth (no, that was a joke), good with children, good mediator (blimey! what do they get up to, these Christians?), good preacher, good at visiting – all the sort of stuff you’d expect. Sometimes these lists look as if they really want Jesus as their next priest, or the Archangel Gabriel if JC is not available. They have to be paragons of virtue, these men (and yes, we’ve had that put on the list too!) and prepared to work 100 hours per week by the sounds of things. We do all make unreasonable demands on our rectors.

Of course these little flocks want the best. They want someone who will invest time and love in them. They have high expectations and so they should. So they should dream of the most perfect priest. They are elderly congregations with one or two young people being nurtured children in churchand loved as much as they can, but that doesn’t stop them wanting someone young to be their pastor, with energy and liveliness. They want someone who will bring hoards of children and young families into their midst so that their future is guaranteed. Sadly, life is not like that. Clergy don’t usually bring loads of young families into church, nor do they bring in children. The people who already come to church are the ones who do that but they just don’t get that yet. All the statistics I’ve heard on Back to Church Sunday are that people come to church with a friend or family member. Nobody comes because they met a priest. And where is this encounter meant to happen? Are we expecting our clergy to go round the community knocking on doors? When are they going to do that, for heaven’s sake? So my job is to help these little flocks think more realistically about what kind of priest would be good for them. Sadly, sometimes there isn’t even a choice but let’s not go down that road yet!

I have noticed before how liturgy is dictated by the geography of the building. Neither of my foster-clocks have Altar servers so we muddle along keeping an eye out for collections approaching and frantically searching for the big brass plate! At Bo’ness they have only recently pulled the altar out from the wall to make it west-ward facing. Now if someone could just take 6 inches off the width of the altar that would be lovely and I wouldn’t have to take a big deep breath before I squeeze in between the credence table and the altar. It is not a good look! Yet the altar and credence table at Grangemouth and miles apart and you end up running back and forth up and down the step until you’re quite out of breath. The pulpit at Bo’ness is also for a very skinny person so that will have to be taken into account when they do the Person Specification – Clergy of Dress size 10 or Waist 32 need only apply! old lady heatingOne great selling point must be the heat in both churches, unless you are menopausal of course! You could worship in a t-shirt all year round here! No need to bring your own hottie.

So there we have it – the interregnum so far. This week I had a meeting with my own little flock and someone said, “It feels as if we are in an interregnum too.” Of course I am not around as much, not there every week to see who’s missing or hear the latest news. That made me sad so I baked a squishy chocolate cake for them to make up for it. Handed the cake tin to one of my little flock and he turned the tin upside down and ruined the lot. Such is ministry!  It is eating squidgy choc fudge cake topping from the bottom of a cake tin with a teaspoon. That’s life!choc cake

Prayer for Sandy Hook School, Newtown

Loving God,pieta
as our tears fall

and the world watches with horror

and mothers’ arms lie empty,

we pray for your children who have died.

We pray for all who lost their lives

in Sandy Hook School

and for all who mourn them.

Keep watch, dear Lord,

with whose who work or watch or weep this night,

and give your angels charge over those who sleep.







Did I mention that I went to see the Avengers last week with Son #2? I think he misled me. There was no sign of Steed or Purdie, no high kicks, no wonderful hairdos. Actually there were a few high kicks from a bunch of super-heros in 3D which involved involuntary ducking from the older members of the audience. I was a bit disappointed with the 3D. It was a bit forced, I felt, and I actually felt that I would have enjoyed it better without it. Son #2 was terribly excited with it all while I thought it was okay. He’s owe me one now. I need to find a real slushy or religious movie to take him to.

What else did I get up to last week? Well there was the visit from the local S1 class for a romp round church looking for Christian symbols. I usually enjoy these sessions muchly but this one was a bit tricky. There was a lot of hostility and the teacher said that many of them hadn’t wanted to come because they were ‘scared’ of churches. Gosh. What’s that all about? One delightful child smashed a priest’s host (unconsecrated) into smithereens for a laugh. I was surprised at how angry I felt at that. I do know that I could never be a teacher, that’s for sure.

I finished the second in the Hunger Games trilogy: Catching Fire. Not quite as exciting as the first one, but good all the same and I just had to download the third to my Kindle straight away. I’m looking forward to discussing it at the book group next week. I’ve also been reading Take This Bread by Sara Miles… finally. This is one of those books which has been lying around for ages and I’d never got around to reading it. But when friends start to rave about her follow up then you just need to get down to it. Of course it is brilliant and is covered in pencil marks and I’ve put quite a few quotes into my Journal. It shall go with me on retreat, along with Jesus Freak.

The rest of the week seems to have been taken up with sickness and grieving – post funeral visits and hospital visits. These are some of the best bits of my job. Listening to stories and just being there.

And now we have arrived at departure day for the Clergy Silent Retreat. *sigh*  I know, I know, why do I do it? Why do I keep going on silent retreats when I know I am going to struggle so much? Well the thing is, that I do need silence from time to time. Even extroverts can cope with some silence. But that’s just it. Some silence. I need a partial silent retreat really so that I can blether too.  I often plan what form that would take but never get around to doing it. So I hover around outside having a fag and trying to catch people’s eyes just to make a connection. It was fine when a certain clergy friend used to go with me and we could scamper off in the afternoons to Melrose or some other such delightful Borders town for a look round the shops and a blether.

I shall be taking my phone and netbook and may blog, tweet or facebook. At least I can talk to someone that way. But I seem to remember that the wi-fi is not very good nor is the phone signal. Pray for me, dear friends. Pray for me and I shall for you.



Liturgical Question

While it is often lovely to have children in church and something to which most clergy will aspire, there can be something unnerving about the questions they ask. When I have the local S1 class in to scamper round church I enjoy it all, including dressing them up and acting out a service, but my heart always sinks at the Question Time. Well who wouldn’t risk making up something just to save face? But when the RE teacher is standing there – and you know he goes to church – you can’t really risk it. So far, I’ve managed to bluff my way out of anything too tricky.

Last Sunday one of our own teenagers asked me a question which has left me pondering… We’d done the Gaudete thing, and the pink thing, and the mood lifting thing. And then she asked me why we didn’t veil the crosses during Advent?  “I mean, he’s not born yet so how can he be on a cross?” she asked. “Why don’t we focus on the nothingness of Advent like we do at Lent? Why don’t we veil everything so we can just think about him about to be born and have no distractions?”

Why indeed? Anyone know?

10 Commandments for the 21st century

So if you were asked to come up with some new commandments what would you want to add? I mean, does coveting your neighbour’s ass really mean much to your average God-seeker? I’ve just spent an enjoyable hour or so checking out the entries in the competition held by the York Festival of Ideas. School children were asked to consider the relevance of the 10 Commandments and then come up with some for today.

Here are some of my favourites:

    • Do not comit animal crulty.
    • Regulry do exercise.
    • Wear a helmet.
    • Renew your license when needed.
    • Do not drink and drive.
    • Do not discriminate against anyone, whether it is in person or in cyberspace.
    • Be happy with your body.
    • Honor your mum and dad by bringing them a cup of tea every morning.
    • Wear a chearfull smile. 🙂
    • Don’t not smoke.
    • Don’t harm people physically, mentally or emotionally.
    • Recycle more.


Plan B – Further Thoughts on Faith

As part of my Lenten discipline of not reading fiction, I have just finished my second Anne Lamott book: Plan B – Further Thoughts on Faith. I read Travelling Mercies a wee while ago and loved it but this one wasn’t quite in the same league. Oh, it was easy to read, a few ‘ah yes’ moments, and a few smiles but not the ‘laugh out loud’ that I had with the first one.

This book reads like a series of essays on different topics and much of it features her family. They are chatty books, the kind of topics you might discuss in the pub over a glass of wine. She seems like the kind of person I’d have as a friend.

Here’s a bit I liked…

…I had been going up on Mount Tamalpais to walk and be quiet and pray nearly every morning for years. I started to do this because I had heard that Jesus did so, although my friend Father Tom recently clarified this. He said that we are not sure whether jesus actually did this; people had to explain Jesus’ absence by saying he was going up to the mountain to pray, but for all we know, he went off and had a few beers. Then he may have gone bowling, slinging the ball bitterly down the alley until he felt better.

“What would he have done with thirteen-year-olds?” I asked Tom.

“In biblical times, they used to stone a few thirteen-year-olds with some regularity, which helped keep the others quiet and at home. The mothers were usually in the first row of stone throwers, and had to be restrained.”

I wrote this down and taped it to my wall… Every parent who saw it laughed and felt better; nothing helps like letting your ugly common secrets out. And it came in handy during a recent fight.

Spill the Beans and Mucky Paws

For those of you out there who are interested in creative liturgy, do you know about Roddy Hamilton and his wonderful blog? There is a Scottish/Iona kind of theme going on with all sorts of great ideas for visuals and all age services. You can download Spill the Beans free which gives ideas for Lent Year A for those struggling with small numbers of young people and trying to create an All Age service.  And if you look in the right column you will find a way to subscribe to monthly Mucky Paws which is full of creative ideas.

Thank you Roddy – and for not charging for this great resource!

All Age Eucharist – Epiphany V

We don’t have a lot of children here at Christ Church. We would like to have some more but for now we rejoice in our teenagers and welcome any little grandchildren when they come along to visit. I think when I first came here the thing that people wanted most was more children. As Morag Buxel, the Diocesan Youth Officer, famously said at last year’s Synod, “If you want more children in church, it is up to you. Procreate!”  That didn’t go down terribly well with our Vestry, not many of them being of child-bearing age! At Christmass we did put on a Christingle Crib Service and there was a good number of grandchildren and other youngsters who came along. This gave us the confidence to try a monthly All Age Eucharist, the first of which was on Sunday.

The liturgy I used was cobbled put together carefully when I was at St Mark’s Portobello (with the approval of our beloved Bishop) and is simple and easy to understand. (In fact, one adult said to me that if we used that Creed every Sunday she’d be a lot happier and could actually join in!) All good, so far. But the thing that causes me most angst is the sermon. It can take me days to write something creative and memorable – and I know I don’t always get it right. In fact, I’m sure they are often remembered for what went wrong rather than the message I was trying to put across. It is agony for me. Agony, I tell you.  Then I came across this quote by M Craig Barnes from The Pastor as Minor Poet:

No one in the sanctuary should be more excited about the Sunday sermon than the person in the pulpit… If the preacher isn’t thrilled by the sermon, why should anyone in the pews care about it?.. The unspoken secret to great preaching is that no one should enjoy the sermon more than the preacher.

OK, so I’ve got a bit of work to do there then!

But the great success of Sunday’s service was the last song by Fischy Music.  I know that many adults are too embarrassed or reluctant to join in the actions with some choruses, but somehow Fischy have got it just right by using Sign Language. So we all sang along heartily to God Knows Everything and everyone left with a huge smile on their face. And, as a bonus, I’ve learned that some of our young people already know Fischy Music from school so I may well be getting them up to teach them in future.

And before we know it, we will have all the children up at the altar with candlesticks, crosses and thuribles. Well, that’s my hope anyway.

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.

Looking for symbols in church

This afternoon I entertained 20 S1 pupils (12-13 year olds) from the local secondary school. They came into church armed with a work sheet instructing them to look for symbols of Christianity in church.

  • Draw the three symbols on the panels of the pulpit.
  • Draw the symbol on the cloth which hangs over the pulpit.
  • The cushions on the floor are called …………….
  • What type of cross is on the wall above the pulpit?
  • What colour is the cloth that covers the high altar?
  • On the plan of the church, mark the position of: the font; the pulpit; the eagle lectern; the altars; the hymnboard; the organ; organ pipes; choir stalls; notice board.
  • Draw the symbols you see on the front of the high altar.
  • What do you see on the ceiling of the chancel?
  • Name the 2 saints in the window at the back of the church.
  • Stand in the nave and look up. What does it remind you of? (Clue: think of the name ‘navy’)
  • Which version of the bible do the congregation read in this church?
  • Draw any other symbols you see on banners in the church.

As they were scampering about I had a look at the worksheet myself and realised I hadn’t actually had a close look at some of these things myself. I think probably because it has been so cold that I haven’t really spent a lot of time in church having a good rumage around and adoring all the bits and bobs. I know I need to have a good clear out of the drawers in the sacristy and sort out the maniples and stoles that lurk therein. There is some nice stained glass but I haven’t scrutinised it closely yet (but I fear I shall never again find a camp David and Jonathan one again).  And the congregational bibles, which are not used, are not of a version I would have chosen, that’s for sure.

After the little tykes had done the worksheet, we had a walk through what we do on Sunday. We dressed up a Crucifer who led the ‘choir’ and ‘priest’ down the aisle and we walked through all we do. We sat, we knelt, and we stood. We shook hands and we discussed how the money could go in the bag but not be nicked back again. Funny, the things kids notice. The ‘priest’ took to it like a duck to water and scampered up and down the pulpit stairs with more energy than I ever do.  Only 2 of them had heard of the Lord’s Prayer and they only managed to get half way through. Oh dear, but that did depress me. I think back to my old Junior Church and how even the little ones were taught to say it at night (and didn’t like the modern version at all!)

Questions they asked me at the end: why is the lectern an eagle? Can I take a photo of it cos it’s cool? Why are some words in the window in Latin? Are there any symbols in the [rood] screen?  (I think I got them right.)

Another batch tomorrow and then again next week. I can’t wait!