Death is not the end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An altogether quieter funeral

Today is the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. I was not a fan but I’ve always been taught that ‘if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.’ I don’t always manage to hold to that tenet but today I shall.

holding hands elderlyToday instead, I shall think of Ivy. Ivy was an elderly member of this congregation. Ivy was lost. I mean that when I first came here Ivy was not at home and we had no contacts to find out where she have moved to. I think it took a year to find her in a local care home. She was estranged from a nephew, the only member of her family left. By the time I got to visit her she was very deaf and had dementia so could not understand who I was or why I was there. We held hands instead.

Ivy died a few months ago and we learned from her lawyer that Ivy had planned her funeral, chosen her hymns, and even sending a car to the care home to pick up any staff who’d like to come. I think about 8 members of staff came which was pretty impressive, I thought. The only other people there were members of Christ Church, many of whom had never met her but knew her name from the prayer list. Usually at a funeral my homily tells the story of the deceased for it is there we learn all the things we wish we’d known before they died. I do this in the hope that we do tell the stories before its too late. But sadly, for Ivy there was little information. And even better, the stories we did have all conflicted with one another. One story was that she had lost her hearing during the war. Another that she had contracted measles as a youngster which left her deaf. Another that she inherited it from her mother. And her parents died either in a plane crash, or on holiday, or when they moved to Falkirk. I think Ivy enjoyed telling stories. And I’m told she did it well.

Later the lawyer contacted us to say that Ivy had left all her money to Christ Church. Ivy loved her church and I think it became her family. She had no children of her own and she felt that the relatives she did have were only ‘friendly’ because they wanted her money. Ivy was very fond of a previous Rector and knew that if it weren’t for the church she wouldn’t have any friends at all. The lawyer did tell us that it probably wouldn’t amount to very much. Ivy didn’t own her own home so it would be just savings after all the other agencies had their cut.  The lawyer also said that there some personal effects which were to come to us.

So this week, before the Vestry meeting, we gathered to look through the contents of an old suitcase and a large brown box. It was full of VladimirTretchikoffChineseGpaintings which were done by Ivy’s late husband. Mostly they were copies of other paintings, including a ‘Renoir’ and the ‘blue lady’. But there were also some of flowers and landscapes. One of the portraits had us guessing who Masel was until someone pointed out it was a self-portrait. (Get it?!) There was also an album of cigarette cards, full sets. And an album of photos and cuttings from the newspapers of events that obviously meant something to her. And of course, there was a photograph album and that is the saddest thing of all. We don’t know who the people are and it seems so hard to just throw them away. The paintings can be sold at the summer fair, the cigarette cards perhaps sold, but the photos which tell Ivy’s story lie on the meeting room table waiting their fate.

Any suggestions what to do with them?

So today while the country focuses on a very large funeral which costs a lot of dosh, let us think of Ivy. A woman who was someone in her day and ended up with dementia. By circumstances alone, Ivy ended up alone with just a few visitors and a few mourners. I wish I’d known her before she became bewildered. May she rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

Happy Christmas!  For yes it is still Christmas – 12 days of unremitting joy, remember!

It has been a Christmas to remember here at rainy Falkirk. First there was the cough to end all coughs. That’s the cough that sounds like a 60-a-day old man has moved into your chest. Of course, being ciggy-free these days it is rather annoying to have a smoker’s cough but I’m told this is normal. The cough then developed into a bit of a cold and sore throat and I spent one service at least sounding like a cross between Eartha Kitt and Marlene Dietrich. Not that I’m one to dwell on my illnesses, as you know dear reader, but it has all been rather traumatic accompanied as it was by dreadful fatigue. But we soldiered on. The show must go on and adrenaline is a great medicine.

Then there was the deliciousness of the church. Last year we were inspired to put some fairy lights on the rood screen, and jolly nice it was too. In fact, we sent a small boy climbing up it to fix them but don’t tell the Health & Safety Officer. This year we have had some lovely purple voile drapes around the window behind the altar. I thought it added something to the Advent ambience but not everyone agreed. Sometimes silence can say it all. I was going to replace them with gold and white drapes for a bit of drama at Christmas but my head server looked at me witheringly when I suggested it, and muttered something darkly. I took that as a “not over my dead body”.  So instead I put some fairy lights round the window!  And draped the inside of the altar with purple velvet and put some twinkly lights in there too so that it looked like a starry night in Bethlehem for the background of the crib scene. Gorgeous! It fair took the breath away. And there were some tears when my little flock saw it. (I think they were good tears.) I was just a little concerned that it had a hint of Las Vegas about it, but I think we got away with it. Flashing lights would have been a step too far. Even I know that! (Photo to follow)

rubber duck nativityThe Christingle service was a great success with quite a few new visitors. (Hurrah for an up to date website!) The rubber duck nativity went down a treat and was probably the star of the show. They looked lovely bobbing around in the font but after a while we noticed that some of them began to tip over and looked like they were drowning which was not such a good look. The Virgin Mary Duck held out though and proudly floated upright till the end. Go girl!

The weather here in Falkirk has not been the best over the Christmas period. In fact it has been rather damp. This has led to water coming through into the utility room and flooding the floor. Really feel that this rectory should have come with a live-in plumber. I now have a hole in the ceiling and was told to do a raindance and watch what happens. Don’t you love 21st century plumbing techniques? However, it has proved that it is indeed rain water that is coming through and not burst pipes or leaky radiators. Cue the Roof Man. However, on a more interesting note we have discovered that there is a secret room in the Rectory. While outside looking at the roof and trying to figure out which bit was above the utility room we discovered an extra window with no corresponding room on the inside. So where is it?  A lovely mystery to ponder. You may hear more of this, dear reader. What could possibly be in the secret room?

I have had an idea for next Christmas, which I think shows a stroke of genius. You know how the police have been handing out clip-on bells for old ladies’ purses so that they know if they are being pickpocketed? They do have a sort of sleigh bell sound about them. So I’m thinking we could get a group of them together and make some Christmas music. Jingle Bells obviously. Ding dong merrily on high. The list is endless.

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.

Confirmation at Christ Church

It has been a while since there has been a Confirmation at Christ Church. Unfortunately I can’t tell you how long exactly because the Confirmation Register has mysteriously disappeared. (Before I came, I hasten to add!) Last Sunday our brand new Bishop John Armes visited Christ Church as one of his first duties and confirmed five lovely people: Jim, Eleanor, Rebecca, Alasdair and Sam.

The Holy Scrubbers did a marvellous job of making the church deliciously polished and vacuumed. (In fact, there was a concern that the new Bishop might slide off the Bishop’s throne because it was so highly polished.) The flowers were bonny and the pews were full. What more can you ask? The only slight problem was that I was not in control having had to hand over the reins to the Bishop and my lovely servers but I think I coped remarkably well. I may have looked like a meerkat at some points trying to see that everything was being done, but really I should have trusted more.

After the service, and many photographs, there was a lovely buffet lunch in the hall with a rather splendid cake made by Margaret Lyons. Then Bishop John and Clare had a wee romp round the rectory as it was his first visit here.

It really was a glorious day and thanks to all involved.


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.

Confirmation Classes, past and present

When I first started going to St Michael & All Saints in about 1985 I was very quickly asked if I’d like to go to Confirmation Classes. I really had no idea what they were, but as I was embracing the whole SEC thing, it seemed like a good idea. I had to get my mum to babysit and I’m not sure that she really believed I was going to a church meeting that ended up in the pub. For Fr Emsley was a priest who did his best mission in the Auld Toll Bar in Tollcross over a pint of frothing ale. That part of the evening, I have to say, was much more exciting that the previous class.

I remember there were about 6-8 of us in that class ranging in age from 14-50ish. And I spent most of them hoping that Fr E wouldn’t catch my eye and ask a question. Having no church background or Sunday School memories, I really knew nothing about the bible, the prayer book or the church. Nor was I brave enough to ask in case folk thought I was stupid. It seems ridiculous now. Now I have no qualms whatsoever about asking anything at all. The confirmation classes were long and boring and dry. There was a lot of history, something about miracles in the bible, and then something about the Scottish Prayer Book. I was just glad when it was all over and I realised there was not going to be a test at the end of it.

Yesterday, as I sat with four eager teenagers, I remembered those days and smiled. It is so very different today. Our topic yesterday was the Bible and my plan was to gently introduce them to the notion that some of it might be myth, some might be ‘of its time’ and the importance of contextual study but they were way ahead of me.  We hadn’t got past the Pentateuch when they were telling me how some rules in Leviticus are not obeyed now, so why should the RC church get so het up about equal marriage?  We did ponder sex before marriage and whether that constituted ‘sin’ or not, before somehow moving on to circumcision and why it was sensible in hot countries and how shocking female circumcision was today.

Please let me tell you that I didn’t bring up any of these subjects. They just came up naturally in the conversation and were issues that they wanted to explore in a Christian setting. This group accepted a God of all faiths very easily, and loved the fact that they were Episcopal which meant that they were much more accepting of others than many churches. They like being liberal and catholic.

It really was the most glorious hour I’ve spent in a long time and filled me with hope. Bless them.

We’re doing prayer next week and I can’t wait.

Wedding at Christ Church

On Saturday, while the sun shone and the temperature rose just above freezing, Emeka and Akunna were married at Christ Church. For the first time we hosted the reception in our hall – a buffet for 30 people. Margaret made the cake, another Margaret did the table flowers, yet another Margaret played the organ, Molly did the church flowers, Bob and Lesley (with broken arm) did the food, and Bob, Lesley, Sandie and others served. It was just a great day.

And if you fancy us hosting any of your small events please do get in touch.

A Christmass Tale

OK, so perhaps I ought to have gone over to church a little earlier on Christmass eve. Or perhaps I ought to have communicated better with everyone involved in the service. But lessons can be learned from these omissions and next year I shall try harder.

So there I was, scampering about lighting tea-lights, finding cardboard circles, inserting new eucharistic prayer pages into Altar Book, searching for white vestments, choosing which new Bambino to use to replace the broken-armed One of old and wrapping him tastefully in an old cotta, trying to find an extension to light up the inside of the font with twinkly lights, and telling the myriad of servers what they were to do. Yes, I really should have gone over earlier.

Mind you, it would have been too late to do anything about the service books in which I’d put the wrong hymns. There was a mixture of hymns for Christmass eve and Christmass day so that threw the organist into a tizz because he hadn’t practiced some of them. As a result we had the strangest tune ever for Love came down at Christmas.

The words of the Sacristy prayer escaped me too, so het up was I. But eventually we gathered at the back of the church and the solo of Once in Royal David’s City went swimmingly. And off we went, lighting candles on the way. (Small hiatus but we all made it in the end.) And as I neared the altar I realised that I had forgotten the most important Person… the Bambino. The baby Jesus was still lying on top of the music cupboard all ready to ‘go on’. And as the last lines of the last verse were sung I realised there was nothing I could do but confess all and scamper down to collect said Bambino amidst gales of laughter. What the visitors thought, I hate to think. But scampering (actually for ‘scampering’ read ‘thundering’) down the aisle and back left me a little breathless. Gasping, in fact. Bent over double trying to fill my asthmatic lungs with air which was made all the more tricky when the thurible was right under my nose, is not a good look for a priest who wants to look cool and in control. So I gasped my way through the blessing of the crib in very short phrases. The Bambino looked smug.

We’d also had a bit of trouble with the loop system over the past few days with a lot of interference coming through the speakers. Not being an electrician all I could do was shove all the wires in and give them a wiggle, and thump the top a few times. I even tried switching it off and back on again, which usually works, but to no avail. Earlier in the day at the Christingle service we’d ended up unplugging it altogether which was find as most of those attending had good hearing, being mostly under 75.  However, the same could not be said for those attending Midnight Mass and I thought I wasn’t sounding terribly loud so had to project my voice a little harder. Not easy when your lungs are fit to explode and you can’t find a glass of water for love nor money. However, by the time I climbed into the pulpit to do my sermon I saw the plug lying on the floor where it had been disconnected earlier. It all got a bit better after that.

Well I say that, but in fact there was the small incident with the wafers being cast asunder at communion but I think we got away with that one. And nobody was set on fire which frankly was a miracle with that many candles and tealights. And as the last hymn was being sung I kept casting an anxious eye on the person who had been given the task of popping the champagne. She was so enjoying that last hymn, that she completely forgot. So the choir, servers and I hightailed it down to the back and started to tear open the bubbly as they struggled to sing the descant for that last verse of O Come all Ye Faithful. I think they did terribly well under the circumstances.

So there we have it. All a bit of a disaster with nobody to blame but myself. Now I realise why my old parish priest used to get so tetchy before big services. It was because he wanted everything to be just right. And I was certainly not the best company or the most charitable person before that service either. Next year, I’ll be there much earlier. Or else I’ll get some tranquillisers from my Rector’s Warden.

Merry Christmass everyone!