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.

 

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

The Vestry Away Day

I’ve always encouraged Vestry Away Days. However, I can tell that they’re not always as enthusiastically met as I’d hoped. I know that when you work 9-5 Monday to Friday the last thing you want to do on a Saturday is go off with a bunch of churchy folk and talk even more church than you do at Vestry meetings. And I realise that not everyone is as mad about the church as I am. So I was very conscious that there may have been a few wee grumblings about our Away Day yesterday. But not on the way home, I am delighted to say.

Over the years I’ve taken some myself but I know its always better if I can get a facilitator to lead the day. An outsider always brings something fresh to the proceedings. Usually this means sitting down with that person and discussing what we hope to get out of the day. This year I sent out an email asking the Vestry what they wanted from our Away Day. I got two replies. And one who said all she could think of just now was boilers. (She’d been having a tricky time with the Gas Board, I seem to recall.) Like I said, they are busy people. So I sat down with our lovely Facilitator Claire, and told her what I hoped we’d get from the day. She came back to me with a plan and after a little tweaking it looked all good.

I know that my Vestry are busy people. They are all folk who are doers. This is a bonus in a Vestry, let me tell you. And a lot of their ‘doing’ involves food. They bake for our Afternoon Tea Services for the housebound and elderly, they cook for our Soup and Pud Lunches, they provide food and crafts for our Sales. They are always doing. So when Claire said she’d provide lunch as well for our Day, so that they could be served instead of serving that seemed just right.

So we headed east, I think, and arrived for coffee and cookies and looked around the hall where areas were marked out for worship and inspiration and writing. In the morning we thought about what was good in Christ Church, what we loved about it, where God was in it and in our community. We did this by praying, by walking, by drawing pictures, by talking and by scribbling thoughts down. We sparked off one another and one thought led to another.

Lunch was homemade soup and homemade bread and the conversations continued. Then we looked at how we could 2015-02-28 14.51.00share our enthusiasm about Christ Church with our community. Small groups went off to talk about our new Noticeboard, the Website, the Church appearance, and PR. We came back brimming over with ideas ready to be put into action. Then came the delightful Kelpie-shaped scones with jam and clotted cream. I don’t think there were any left over. We finished by going over to church for a Eucharist where we served one another the bread and wine.

On the way home one person said she really wasn’t looking forward to the day and had swithered about calling off. But she was so glad she hadn’t as it had been fun and she felt really inspired. There were lots more positive comments – especially about all the hard work our facilitator had put into making the day a success. And of course we all got to know one another just that little bit better too. And I can’t wait to get all our many flipcharts back all typed up so that we can begin the work of being Christ Church in Falkirk.

Remembrance Day sermon at Christ Church Falkirk 2014

Last year you might remember we managed to find out a lot of information about the men from Christ Church who fell in the first World War. The ones whose names we read out at the beginning of the service. I had hoped to do the same with those from the Second World War this year but unfortunately the only church magazines cover 1940 and 1941 and there are only a couple of names mentioned.

There is one person I do know about, however, and he has been keeping me company on my desk for the past few weeks since Gill passed on an envelope to me. Let me introduce you to David Millar, Gill’s brother whose name we read out earlier. He was a Leading Aircraftman in the RAF and died in 1942. More of him later.

So although I didn’t find out much about all the names on our War Memorial, I did find out a little of what life was like here during the war and I’d like to share some of that with you now.

In June 1940 the Rector Ivor Ramsay wrote in his letter:

‘Strangers approaching Falkirk by all different roads can hardly fail to notice a series of indicators, newly set up, directing them to the First Aid Post, and if they follow out in that direction, they will come to Christ Church, for as we know, our Hall is an ARP Depot, and the recently-built, well equipped First Aid Post is on Bell’s Meadow just at the foot of the rectory garden.’

ARP stands for Air Raid Precautions and the ARP Depot would be where the Air Raid Wardens hung out. It was their job to enforce the black-out and help people into the shelters when there was an air-raid. They kept the registers of the area and were often accused of being nosy busybodies because of the enforcement work they had to do. However, if there was an air-raid they had to patrol in pairs putting themselves at risk of falling masonry and shrapnel. They also carried out immediate first aid and put out small fires until the Fire Brigade arrived. And they were not only men – one in six were women. Judging by the amount of activities going on here in Christ Church they were certainly kept busy.

One magazine article at the beginning of Lent made me smile. It began:

Lent will soon be here, presenting the age old problem: “What shall I serve today?”  And the answer?

The answer is PEAS. With a protein equal to meat, peas are a most sustaining food. 1 lb of peas is equal in food value to 1 lb of prime beef. Those of you who may doubt this statement should turn to the Book of Daniel 1:15. Read how the band of young men who ate nothing but lentils (peas and beans) ‘were strong and ruddy withal’ and excelled their meat-eating rivals in bouts of wrestling, running and leaping. Peas, we are told, are the oldest green vegetable known to man. And they are one of the few green veg that children really like. The magazine then went on to provide many recipes for using peas:

A Delightful Vegetable Soup
Salad Polonaise (beetroot, cold tatties, tinned carrots, and PEAS covered in salad cream with horse radish)
Vegetable Salad (with PEAS)
Scrambled eggs (with PEAS)
Poached Eggs (with tomato and PEAS)
Boiled Fish with PEAS

And if Peas don’t suit you, you could always try Ovaltine. If food rations have run out and if you are run down, then Ovaltine is the thing for you. You don’t have to drink it either, you can add it to practically anything and it will give you all the nutrition you need.

Another letter from the Rector spoke about evacuees. He had received a letter from a man who was evacuated from London to Falkirk in 1939 who had joined the Air Force and written to Mr Ramsay:

“Many thanks for the real welcome I received at your Church, to you for the book of prayers that I use morning and evening, and indeed to your whole congregation for the parcel just received. I am thoroughly enjoying life here, and I feel that I am now beginning to pull my weight in this fight against evil… I hope one day to return to Carronvale and renew my membership in your family of exiled Sassenachs!”

During the war time many English people found themselves north of the border and were welcomed into Christ Church, St Mary’s Grangemouth and St Andrew’s Dunmore. Those connections stayed even after they moved away again with parcels being sent, and much knitting done by the ladies of Christ Church which was sent out to the troops.

I also learned that Toc-H met in the Song School, now the St Andrew’s Chapel, on Monday nights. At every meeting they lit their oil lamp and said the words we began our service with today: They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn… Then silence was kept as they remembered the Elder Brethren. I’m not sure if the sister organisation The League of Women remembered the Elder Sisters or not. I did love their motto though –

Service is the rent we pay for our room on earth.

There was also a Fellowship of St Catherine of Siena who met in the Song School on Wednesdays. In fact, there was not a night when something wasn’t going on in that Song School – Guides, Scouts, and umpteen other organisations, including breakfast between services on Sundays. The Fellowship of St Catherine of Siena seemed to mostly knit comforts for the Forces and entertained the Troops by singing and performing plays.

At Christmas every member of Christ Church who was in the Forces received a pair of socks and a postal order from the congregation. I also learned that evening services had to be brought forward to the afternoon because it was going to be too expensive for black-out curtains for church. They did have lots of activities in the hall and in fact one night they were raided by the police at 1am after a Whist Drive and entertainment to raise money for soldiers. But a few months later there was a thank you to the Misses Gray-Buchanan for providing curtain material for church and for the Mother’s Union for sewing them. In fact each magazine had a thank you to what must have been each member of the congregation for donating something to the war effort. Everyone was pulling together, sewing, giving money, knitting, and sharing resources with one another to eke out rationing.

In November 1941 we contributed £25 to the Diocesan Fund which was one of the largest sums donated. That is really impressive for this church – to outdo most of the large churches in the diocese.

Ivor Ramsay finished his letter in 1940 with this:

To the First Aid Post – The final word of that direction should remind us of the present urgency, when everyone must be at the post of duty, wherever that post may be. As the indicators in the streets of Falkirk point towards Christ Church, so the church should inspire us all to regard our post of duty, whether in the Forces or at home, as a sphere of Christian witness. At a post of dangerous duty, before going into action in Flanders in 1915, there was formed the Silent Fellowship, that is now called the Mighty Million, to help people to put their faith into their work. Its members are bidden to hold fast to the faith that in our struggle for the freedom of mankind, we must and will prevail to discourage the spreading of rumours and to refuse to be unduly alarmed by any setbacks; to be thoroughly efficient, whatever our job may be, and to give our whole energy to the cause of freedom without counting the cost; to forego any selfish indulgences which may undermine the morale or waste the goods of the nation; and to make unity of the freedom-loving peoples a reality by being friendly and helpful to everyone.’

Perhaps we can hold to that message still today: especially to give our whole energy to the cause of freedom and peace on earth.

I did say I would come back to Gill’s brother, David Millar. I have here the telegram his father received on 1 February 1942.

Regret to inform you that your son 574130 Leading Aircraftman David Millar lost his life on the 24th January 1942. Cause of death to follow when known. Letter follows. Please accept profound sympathy.

and the letter read:

Dear Sir

It is my painful duty to confirm my telegram of the 26th January 1942 in which you were informed of the death of your son, No 574130 Leading Aircraftman David Millar, who was killed at 1.30pm on the 24th January 1942, and buried at 2pm on the same day at the place of death. The cause of your son’s death is not yet known by me, but the question has been taken up with Headquarters, Royal Air Force, Middle East and the information will be transmitted to you immediately on receipt in this office. The Air Council desire me to express their sympathy and deep regret at your son’s death in his country’s service.

I am,
Dear Sir,
Your obedient service
H W Saunders
for Air Commodore

Let me now finish with a Prayer for the Departed from the book of prayers given to every sailor, soldier and airman:

O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive; look favourably on the souls of the faithful departed, and grant them remission of all their sins; that, being loosed from the bands of death, they may attain unto life eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Remembrance Requiem altar2014

Lost and Found

I’ve been going through our old church magazines from 1941 looking for information of those who died in WW2 for our Remembrance Sunday service. I have found all sorts of information, not least the following…

Various things are left in Church from time to time – gas-masks, umbrellas, scarves, gloves, handbags and the like – but  a month ago a worshipper, whether of the Forces Parade or of our own flock, left some false teeth! I have lacked the courage to mention this among the Church Notices, though I have asked various people if they are quite sure that they didn’t leave their teeth in Church.  I shall put them now in a little box, and leave them on the table near the electric switches at the door, and I hope that the rightful owner will come and take them for comfort’s sake.

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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In which Ruth ponders the saints of Christ Church Falkirk

W is an altar server at Christ Church. He’s been a server for about 60 years and is the most reliable of souls. In fact, it was only when he developed a heart condition a few months ago that he was unable to carry on serving. But after a few weeks at home and then in the pews he was back again waving a thurible about and pottering around the altar looking after things, albeit with a bit of a shake. W used to be an electrician and was a great handyman around the church and rectory for many years, fitting lights and showers and ovens and such like. But it came to pass that W just wasn’t able to climb ladders as he once did and we now have to outsource our electrical needs.

This week Christ Church is celebrating its 150th anniversary and there is going to be a big do on Saturday. Three bishops are coming, along with all the other guests. (Two bishops were once curates here – Bishop Bob of Aberdeen & Orkney, and Bishop Douglas, retired of Argyll & The Isles.) Of course we want everything looking spick and span for the great day and one of the jobs needing doing was fitting some new light bulbs in church. This involves a climb up a very tall ladder (Health & Safety Office look away now!) and we are running out of fit volunteers to do this kind of job. So we had to call in our local lovely electricians Robertsons to do the job and they did a grand job too.

I was telling W when we were setting up the altar on Saturday when he was in doing sacristy stuff. “I really miss not being able to do all these jobs for church,” he said. And it was said in such a heartfelt way. That made me think of all the folk who now make up most of our little flock who used to be active members, sharing their skills to keep the wheels turning. The joiners and electricians and metal-workers and bank managers and everyone who brought their ‘transferrable skills’ to be used at Christ Church. For 150 years those people have kept the Episcopal presence in Falkirk and shared their expertise as a form of ministry. And how frustrating they must now feel that they can’t do it any more.

Do these once-upon-a-time movers and shakers sit in the pews and wonder what we’re doing with their legacy? Like W, do they all wish they could do more? It must be really hard for them. Frustrating, possibly. I came to the conclusion we really must treasure them all the more. We had a funeral last week of a lady who, with her late husband, had been really involved with Christ Church in their younger days. Without them all Christ Church just wouldn’t be the church it is today. At our 150th anniversary it is to them we must give thanks.

W doesn’t realise, of course, how valuable he still is at Christ Church. He serves at the altar, he does the Sacristy on a rota and helps as Sidesperson when he’s not doing everything else. His lovely wife does the altar linens too and without them we’d be lost. W had a fall yesterday coming out of church bringing back lovely starched fair linen cloths. Not serious but it gave them a fright.

So let us give thanks for W and all those whom we sometimes take for granted. And let us pray for a speedy recovery for W, that he may be fit for Saturday’s celebrations.

altar server prayer

Remembrance Sunday at Christ Church Falkirk

remembrancesunday2This is my sermon from today. We each had a small card with the name of one of the WW1 names from our War Memorial on it. The whole congregation read out the names they had, and I did the ones from WW2. At communion they brought the cards up and then took them to the Requiem Altar where the wreath was and laid it down with a candle on top.

On the 11th of November 1918 Private Arthur Wrench of the Seaforth Highlanders wrote in his diary:

I think it is quite hopeless to describe what today means to us. We who will return to tell people what war really is surely hope that 11 am this day will be of great significance to generations to come. Surely this is the last war that will ever be between civilised nations.” If only it had been the last war. Sadly not.

We have come here today to remember all those who have fallen in wars present and past.  Some of you will have a personal memory of losing a member of your own family or friend, but for many of us it will be an inherited memory, passed on from one generation to the next.

It is 95 years since the Armistice was signed at the end of the First World War. Since then there have been many more wars.
In Germany, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and still it goes on.

But let us go back to that First World War for a moment. The war to end all wars. You were each given a name when you came in. The name of someone from Christ Church who died in the WW1 and we’ll come back to them in a moment.

You’ll know that we have been clearing out the St Andrew’s Chapel downstairs and sorting out all the archive material.
One of the things we found were a series of church magazines bound in book form dating back to 1915. In the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed looking through them and noticed that this first volume covered the war years, missing out 1914.

There are short fictional stories about soldiers seeing angels, and women waiting for sons.

There are articles about work parties knitting socks, gloves and mufflers… until the wool ran out. The Mothers’ Meeting sent eggs to Wallside Military Hospital (at Camelon). The collections for prisoners of war in Germany. The volunteers who worked in the War Hospital Supply Depot in South Broomage Road, Larbert, where they rolled bandages and made sphagnum moss dressings.

And then there is the memorial itself. In one issue in 1916 an article said:

It is most natural that in these sad days of bereavement and loss, lit up as they are with daily deeds of splendid courage and heroism, numbers of parents and friends of those who fall in battle should desire some memorial to commemorate the glorious sacrifices made by our men.

Already all over the country war shrines, calvaries, and wayside crosses, mural tablets, and other kinds of memorials have been dedicated in honour of the men who have laid down their lives. 

But the war is not yet at an end, and in many congregations there is a disinclination to do anything in this direction until peace is declared. We imagine this is the view taken by the majority of our congregation at Falkirk, and it is quite a sensible line of action, considering the character of our flock and the needs of the Church in this district.

It requires some hard thinking to determine what would be the best thing to commemorate the share that Christ Church has had in this war.

Our roll of honour compares very favourably indeed with that of other congregations, and a considerable number of our men have now paid the supreme sacrifice.

The Bishop of Lewes recently expressed the hope that war memorials, of which there would be a large number before long, would be united memorials and not single ones.

Rich and poor, he said, had all done well.

They had all given their sons their best; rich and poor had fallen side by side, and as in the Church they knew no difference between rich and poor, let their memorials be united ones. 

Then their churches would have memorials worthy of the great sacrifices that had been made, and would become what they had been in the past – records of our history going back hundreds and hundreds of years.

No sane person would quarrel with sentiments of that kind.

The relatives and friends of several who have already fallen could not possibly afford to spend much money on memorials.

None of us who are left with hearth and home which those men, by their willing sacrifice, have died to preserve, would feel that anything mean or shabby could represent our gratitude for their services to King and country, and moreover we ought to aim at doing something which we think would perpetuate what they themselves, had they lived, would have been most eager to accomplish. From what we know of many of those whose names are now inscribed in the golden roll of honour, we fancy the idea of advancing the Kingdom of God in the world would be the best memorial they could have. ..

In fact, we learned at Doors Open Day that Christ Church had the first War Memorial in Falkirk.  And it had never occurred to me when I’ve seen lists drawn up like this in many churches across the land, in beautiful calligraphy, that they were listed together so that there should be no difference between rich and poor. No glorious marble plaques for the rich. No unmarked graves for the poor.

But what of the people? What of those men of Falkirk and around, these names we read out each year?  I’ve always wondered what their stories were and now because of the magazines I can tell you a little about some of them.

Arthur Kennard is our first. As a Lieutenant Colonel he left for France on 9 September 1915. At the battle of September 25th he was soon rendered hors de combat, having been gassed and wounded in the thigh with shrapnel. He was said to be making satisfactory progress but later he died.

Then Sergeant Alexander Smith, Laurieston, who was home wounded after the battle of September 25th, was reported back again at the front and keeping quite fit. However, he was tragically killed in action not long before the armistice was signed in 1918. His passing away, like that of his brother Thomas the year before, brings home to us the nature and extent of the sacrifice of this war.  Both of them were fine sportsmen, who played the game always. Both were very articulate as to what they would do to forward the Church’s life and work if spared to come through this war. As soldiers they were regarded as splendidly heroic, and it was their Christian manliness that made them so attractive to all who knew them.

Private Archibald McNab, Cameron Highlanders, was also killed in the great rush on September 25th.  He had written some weeks before giving thanks that his four children were baptised (the youngest of whom was born quite recently).

Dr and Mrs Duncan Fraser received official information of the death of their youngest son, Sergeant Donald Fraser, 5th Lochiel Cameron Highlanders, who also was killed on Sept 25th. Sergeant Fraser (popularly known as Reggie) enlisted at the beginning of the war, was wounded on June 30th, and rejoined his regiment six weeks later. He was educated at Blair Lodge, Edinburgh, for the legal profession. An all-round sportsman and genial companion, with a promising career, he will be much missed in this district where he was immensely popular.

Private John Mackinlay is reported as wounded and missing since Sept 25th. His name on the list must mean that he is presumed dead.

Company Sergeant J Dougall, DCM, Canadian Regiment
and Sergeant Thomas Smith are seen on leave in 1915, both looking in the best of health. 
Later it is reported that J Dougall is wounded in France.  In 1916 we hear that he has been missing for some weeks, then months.

In 1916 on 30 September,  Private Jack Bishop, 1st Battallion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, from West Carron, died in the Balkans aged 19 years.

Private George Fargie, 2nd Royal Scots, goes missing in 1916 for some weeks. The following year he is reported killed in action.

Staff Sergeant J F Whincop, ASC, died of malaria in the Balkans in 1917. Mr Whincop. a devout member of the congregation, was in every respect one of those splendid types of men who during this war have paid the great sacrifice for us. To his widow and little daughter we offer our deepest sympathy.

Thomas Smith, Charles Barron and John McCulloch are all killed in action in France.

Private Arthur MacLachlan, Canadian Regiment, and Lance-Corporal Charles Napier, A&S Highlanders, are also reported dead.

William Mills, RNR (an old choir boy), falls in action in 1917.

 Captain  Henry Ison, a man whom all at Christ Church deservedly respect, is reported to be on the high seas  in 1916 bravely facing all dangers. Then the following year the magazine tells us he was torpedoed at sea. Captain Ison was essentially fearless and patriotic as a man, and a very staunch churchman. Throughout this community and beyond he was loved and respected. On the high seas he acquitted himself with great distinction, and it is gratifying to learn that a posthumous honour from the Admiralty is to be conferred upon him.

 And an unnamed young man, one of our Church lads from Polmont Institution – a Lance-Corporal – was killed in action on 21 March. He belonged to Aberdeen which is probably why he was not on our list, was confirmed at Polmont, and left the Institution with a very good character.

In 1918 Private Alex Baird (10 Pleasance), goes missing. Later it is reported that it was only a few months since he was home on leave and looking in the best of health. He was taken prisoner in March, and wrote a cheerful letter to his parents, mentioning that he was wounded in the thigh and that he was being well treated in the German hospital. The War Office intimation of his death states that he passed away a few days after writing that letter, and it is presumed that he died of blood-poisoning. To his father and mother and relatives we offer our deepest sympathy. Death is a necessary end, but “The fittest place when man can die is where he dies for man.”

Sergeant William Laird, 7th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, was killed in action in 1918, the son of Mrs Laird, 1 Silver Row, Falkirk. One of his officers, writing to his mother, expressed the deep regret of all the company in losing such a cheery and gallant soldier who was so much beloved by all the men.

Private Thomas Black, Scots Guards, whose wife resided at Thornbridge, Laurieston, was killed in action in France on 11 October 1918. Aged 29, Private Black, who was a moulder in Laurieston Foundry, enlisted in 1914, and was gassed in France in the early part of 1915. Thereafter he was sent home to work at munitions, and returned to Laurieston Foundry where he continued to work at his trade until in April this year he was called up a second time for service. He proceeded to France on 24 August 1918. He leaves a widow and child.

Mrs Finnie, 33 Kerse Lane, Falkirk, received intimation that her husband, Private David Finnie, A&SH, died from pneumonia at No 50 General hospital, Salonica, on 9 October. Private Finnie, who was 37 years of age, served in the South African War, for which he held two medals with bars for the various engagements in which he took part during the period of two years and nine months when he was in South Africa. When the present war commenced, at which time he was a carter with the late John Gardner, builder, Falkirk, he enlisted in his old regiment on 23 August 1914. In May 1915 he proceeded to France and after eleven months’ service there he was drafted to Salonica where he had since been serving – a period of three years. It was a great joy and relief to him when he heard that his five children had been baptised at Christ Church.

Of the other twelve men I know nothing.  But we can rest assured that they were known to God. Rich and poor, they were known.  They died somewhere in a field, in a trench, in a hospital. They may have died alone.

But they are never forgotten.

Here in Christ Church their names are read aloud each Remembrance Sunday.  Here they are remembered and prayed for.  Here we listen to their stories.

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not wear them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

we will remember them.

We will remember them.

In which Ruth steps back in time

You know how there are some jobs that just keep getting put to the bottom of the list?  Those jobs that you think would be better done when the weather is warm. Those jobs that require more than one person and you just never get it together. Oh so its only me then.  So when I came to Christ Church my plan was to sort out all the archive material, some of which was in the St Andrew Chapel under the church, some in a cupboard in the small meeting room, and some in a cupboard in the rectory. And that doesn’t begin to include the many folders which live in Vestry (past and present) members’ homes.

Yesterday was the day when it actually happened. The boxes were all brought in and the new fire-proof cupboard lay empty and waiting. Of course what I should have done was find out first what archive material we are obliged to keep. How many letters of confirmation for the Licensing of a Rector in 1963 do you actually need to keep? How many copies of the order of service, the detailed plan of where everyone will sit, the choice of hymns, and the service booklet? How many gas bills, interesting though they are? There are boxes and boxes of Financial stuff which was just too much for the new cupboard and have had to go back to the chapel. Interestingly there are hardly any Vestry minutes.

The problem was keeping on working and not stopping to read out what little gems we’d found. Old photos of old faces. Piles of correspondence about the old organ. Annual returns when the congregational roll numbered 400+ (we’re now at 120). Old liturgies for extra services. Boxes of cards with stories of people. But the most difficult thing of all was not to read all the old church magazines. They go back to 1915 and are a treasure trove of Feasts kept, recitals heard, gifts made, and clergy’s musings. I can’t wait!