Welcome to our Church. But do we really mean it?

I came across this Welcome notice from a church called Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community. I don’t know where it is but I’m assuming in the USA. If I suggested this to our Vestry here at Christ Church I’m not sure what their reaction would be, but I’d love to have that conversation and may just do that!

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, *NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

*National Association for Stock Car Racing

There are a few things I’d like to add. Things like:

  • We welcome those who are bi, straight, not quite sure, transgender, cross-dressers and all shades in between.
  • We welcome those who are bi-polar, down or up, bewildered, confused and don’t remember what day it is and thought you were coming for a coffee morning.
  • We welcome those with purple hair, those who can’t stand for long, and those who weep at the slightest thing. (We provide hankies too.)
  • We love to welcome those who shuffle on their bottoms or who have just learned to walk and want to explore every nook and cranny of this dusty old building. We rejoice at those who can hurdle down the pews and shuffle all the hymn board numbers out of their box. We laugh with those who find the safety torch and shine it swooping on the starry ceiling.
  • We extend a special welcome to those who promise only to come at Easter and Christmas, to those who come only for the great passages of rite: baptisms, weddings, Confirmations and funerals. We will even give you some bread and wine too if you want.
  • We welcome you if you answer rhetorical questions during the sermon, if you clap spontaneously, and if you fall asleep and gently snore.
  • We will give you such a special smiley welcome if we need to get the ramp out for your wheelchair, or open the double doors for your buggy. We don’t mind walkers, zimmer frames, or clattering walking sticks. And if you can’t hear very well we promise always to use the loop system. We welcome those who can’t see very well and can give you large print copies and even braille.

Anything you want to add?

In which I reveal what I have been reading and watching

My summer holiday has arrived and with it more torrential rain. I have the central heating on and a fleece. 50 shades of grey have been the colour du jour of the sky for many a day now and my holiday alarm has not kicked in yet and I’m still awake at about 7am. But I have been able to make inroads to my whole bookcase of unread books, so that’s a good thing.

I read The Lewis Man, follow up to The Blackhouse which I’ve just read, by Peter May. Set on the isle of Lewis they tell the story of a policeman in Edinburgh sent to his home town in Lewis to solve a crime. Both are excellent books especially if you’re interested in that part of Scotland. The stories are both tied up with the past and the second book reveals more of Fin’s childhood growing up on Lewis. Looking forward to the third one in the Trilogy.

Just finished The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre. Not sure who recommended this one to me or where I read about it, but it is a novel about sexual abuse in Canada in the RC church. It tells the story of Fr Duncan, a priest who works for the bishop flushing out clergy who have misbehaved. Of course Duncan has his own secrets too and they are revealed as the story unfolds. In fact, it seems that everyone in the book has secrets. At times it is not a pleasant book to read, and the Church doesn’t come out of it very well. Nor should it, I guess.

Yesterday I went to see The Angel’s Share at the cinema which was good. Quite harsh in some ways, but that reflects the lives of the young men doing Community Payback, who are the anti-heros of the film. Language is choice but amusing. The film has a bit of  Whisky Galore about it.  There are some very funny bits in it and the ending will warm the cockles of your heart.

In a few days I shall be off to Orkney to explore all sorts of things. My faithful Kindle shall go with me, all bulging with unread material. More later…

Ordained to be a …?

I’m often asked what I love about my job. And I often reply, ‘How long have you got?’  There are so many things I love about my job, but listening to peoples’ stories must be up there. Those often take place around the big rituals in our lives: birth, marriage and death. Worship is pretty cool too, and playing with it is even better. You know, making it more visual or thought-provoking. I’m a people-person, in case you hadn’t guessed, and I get my energy from being with people so there is plenty of that too.

However, when I was first ordained as a Deacon I did think that I had been ordained to be a janitor. Being a Curate in a cathedral involved a lot of ‘opening up’ and rearranging chairs. These past few weeks have seen a bit more of janitor-work as we have had big problems in the church and rectory with gas and plumbing. In fact, I have pretty much been housebound for practically a fortnight waiting in for various tradesmen. I’ve opened up bits of the church and boiler house and found things I never knew existed. The amount of coffee and tea I’ve made on an hourly basis must qualify me for any job going in the finest hotels. (Jaffa Cakes are a firm favourite with Scottish Gas.) I’ve discussed churchy matters while peering into sewers and listened to tales of lapsed churchgoers while watching the tree roots grow into pipes.  I’ve shared my downstairs loo with men on water pills (which involved long medical conversations) and now I need to mop the floor badly.  (That’s due to mucky boots by the way, not poor aim.)

I’ve quite enjoyed it actually. They have all been very pleasant and helpful and one DynoRod man even gave my oily drive a good high pressure skoosh with his hose. I’ve had great theological discussions and the mission opportunities have been many and various. But it made me think that if I didn’t live next door to the church how different it might have been. In fact, it would have been a pain in the neck I reckon.

My own little flock have not been visited for a good while now and although phoning is fine it is not quite the same. I’m hoping that by next week it will all be back to normal and I can cut back on my milk and sugar and biscuit purchasing. Thanks be to God.

Art and Spirituality Parish Retreat

So, no sooner am I back from the Clergy Silent Retreat and rejoicing at noise and blethering willy-nilly, than I take some of my little flock (and some of my neighbouring little flock) on a silent jaunt back to Whitchester. This time I was leader (let’s hear it for leadership in the church!) so I got to do some talking and lead worship so that was fine. I was staying in the Buccleuch Suite which is rather grander than the other chintzy rooms with a huge white leather sofa and TV. The sofa is so that one can meet with Retreatants for spiritual guidance, I’m guessing, but it is the slippiest sofa you ever sat on. In fact, I found it perfect for afternoon naps. Unfortunately the TV only seemed to get BBC1 so my plan to get away from all aspects of the Queen’s Jubilee rather failed as they seemed to have it wall to wall all weekend. That’ll teach me.

In between talks I did manage to catch up on some more reading in the delicious recliner in the ‘sitootery’. What did I read? Well thank you for asking. I read Jesus Freak by Sara Miles which is a kind of follow on to Take this Bread. In fact, I didn’t enjoy it quite so much because it did rather go over the same ground. However, if you’ve not read the first one so recently, then I’m sure you’d enjoy it more. It is more theological and reflective I think. But you still come away from it thinking what a crap Christian you are inspired and refreshed.

I also finished How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran which is one of the funniest books I’ve read for a long time. Every man, woman and child should read this book. (But probably not on a Silent Retreat as there is a risk you will get pains from trying to stifle sniggers.)

My GP is encouraging me to read Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn which is kind of a study in the Sacrament of the Present Moment for non-Christians but with the Buddhism taken out. Does that sound complicated? Well apparently many medical people are now using this method of relaxation for patients who suffer from stress, chronic pain, obsessive compulsive behaviour, etc. (I’ll leave you to decide which category I might fit in to!) It all seems jolly nice and worthy but I’ve only just started so I’ll let you know how I get on.

I also managed to squeeze in 37% of The Private Patient by PD James on the Kindle. Its ages since I read any PD James and I’d quite forgotten what a great writer she is of that genre. And yes, I do have a wee crush on Inspector Dalgliesh. Now I’ll need to finish it quickly before I forget the plot. (Or lose the plot.)

But what about the Retreat, I hear you cry? Well it was on Art and Spirituality and we looked at four paintings with a bit of history, a bit of meditation and a bit of pondering. The feedback was good but the talks could have been a bit longer, I’m told. (Note to self – don’t start writing the material just a week before you leave on retreat.) Music at mealtimes didn’t go down terribly well. Someone, who shall not be named but you know who you are Ian,  said he wanted to take out a shotgun and kill the Swingle Singers singing Bach. How can you not love them? I don’t know. It seems that behind my back there was much silent rejoicing on Sunday at breakfast when the power went off and I couldn’t get the CD player to work!

We arrived to glorious sunshine and enjoyed sitting outside with the noise of the countryside deafening us all. Yellow birds, pink birds, bumblie bees, dogs, pheasant (not turkeys I’m told), sheep, lambs and cows. What a racket! The second day was dull and cold so I made a log fire which whiled away an hour or so keeping it stoked etc. Our last day was sunny again. There were some moths (one was squished with a copy of Christianity Today) and a few bats. It is nice to be home.

7 Up … 56 Up

There is a programme on TV just now called 56 Up. I could be taking part in it. For I too am 56 just now. (Pause to allow you all to gasp with horror… “Surely not, Ruth!”) I have followed it every seven years although I’m not sure that I did watch the very first one when I was seven. So I wondered what I would have had to say every 7 years of my life.

Age 7 – Mum, my sister and I had just moved to Valleyfield Street, Tollcross in Edinburgh and I was walking to James Gillespie’s Primary school over the Meadows by myself. I remember school milk and begging to get a letter to excuse me from it, as it was warmed by putting the crate next to the fire in the classroom. (Yes, a real fire.) If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d probably say ‘A man’. I was a tomboy who played with cars and never with a doll. Hobbies: reading Enid Blyton; collecting comics; buying jokes and disguises from joke shop.

Age 14 – Still in Valleyfield Street and still at James Gillespie’s, but this time the High School (all girls). I may have started smoking and other such rebellions (short skirt, multiple badges on blazer, etc) but boys were still a mystery. There was a school trip this year to Switzerland along with boys from Boroughmuir School and I could barely speak to them for shyness. Was feeling drawn to dentistry and medicine but as I couldn’t do science this was looking less likely. Hobbies: reading; movies; music of Marc Bolan and David Bowie.

Age 21 – Still in Valleyfield Street with a husband and two babies. Dreams of being an actress have had to be put on hold but the dream is still there. Convincing myself that having children at a young age means that I’ll still be young enough to have fun when they are grown up. Have worked in the bank and now part time Auxiliary nurse at Simpsons hospital. (As close to medicine as I ever got.) Eldest son is hyperactive and proving to be a bit of a challenge. Nobody agrees with me that it might be related to artificial colouring. Hobbies: knitting; reading.

Age 28 – Divorced and living in Brougham Street, still in Tollcross. Rebellion is my second name. Working part-time in a Cocktail Bar and having lots of fun. Dabbling in New Age spirituality and reading lots about Native Americans and Shamans. Dreams of being an actress have been shelved. Both boys are at Gillespie’s, which is now co-ed, and it is very weird being summoned to the head teacher’s room when I spent so much time outside it in my childhood. Hobbies: reading; Bach flower remedies; crystals; Shamanistic drumming; crosswords.

Age 35 – Still in Brougham Street, but have my own business making and fitting self-adhesive signs with Jenners as my biggest client. Loyal member of St Michael & All Saints across the road from my flat. Have been Confirmed and now read, do intercessions, on coffee rota and help run the Youth Group. Still trying to integrate New Age spirituality and Christianity but finding some Christians rather hostile to the notion. Against the ordination of women because ‘Father says so’ and rather a spiky Anglo-Catholic in love with ritual. Learning how to be an Altar Server – first time for women in our church. Passionate about Cursillo (renewal movement in the church). Hobbies: reading; church; cross-stitch; making jewellery.

Age 42 – Have been made homeless and am now living in a council flat in Hyvots, Edinburgh. In my second year at New College, University of Edinburgh studying Divinity and in my first year of Tisec (Theological Institute of SEC) training to be a priest. Working part time for The Rock Trust working with young homeless people. Still dream of being an actress but wondering if priesthood will fulfill at least some of those desires (standing up and showing off in front of an audience). Not able to watch anything on TV except for Casualty once a week because every night is revision night. Loving it! Hobbies: church; theology; reading fiction during holidays; exploring churches.

Age 49 – Living in Linlithgow as priest-in-charge of St Peter’s & St Columba’s Bathgate. Have been curate in Perth but glad to be nearer home to visit sick parents. Dad is in a Care Home in Edinburgh and Mum has been diagnosed with cancer. Juggling two churches is hard work (12 hours days not unusual) but loving being a parish priest. Surprised at how much I love working in a small town where everybody knows your name and stops for a blether in the High Street. St Peter’s has just been redecorated in shades of lilac. Also working as Diocesan Co-ordinator of CMD 1-3, General Synod member, on Mission and Ministry Committee and Board, and on I&C Board. Hobbies: reading; romping round churches.

Age 56 – Now in Falkirk at Christ Church, having done nearly 5 years in Portobello, Edinburgh. Only serving on one committee now – I&C but about to serve as Diocesan Vocations Adviser. Blogging seems to keep the attention-seeking actress in me amused some of the time but I have learned that it is not always wise to blog everything. Looking forward to living on my own some time soon (one son moves in as the other moves out, and so on and so on).  Hobbies: knitting prayer shawls; reading my Kindle; blogging.

So there we have it. Looking back it seems as if there is no clue to what the next seven years will find me doing. I seem to leap from one thing to the other, changing opinions willy-nilly as I go. Ah, ever fickle and flighty. So where will I be in 7 years, I wonder?

Carlo Caretto’s Love Letter to His Church

I came across this on someone’s blog today. I like it.

How much I criticise you my church and yet how much I love you!

You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe you more than I owe anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.

You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in the world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful.

Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face – and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your arms!

No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.
Then too – where should I go? To build another church?

But I cannot build another church without the same defects, for they are my own defects. And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough. I know better!”

The Church of Noah

Just came across this wonderful ordination prayer. I share it with you because it is true.

You think you have been ordained to the Church of Jesus Christ? No! You have been ordained to the Church of Noah. And in your church you will find some asses. You will find some pigs. You will find some snakes. And, the Lord willing, you may find some sheep. But they are all worth saving.

Sharing ideas

Remember when you were a curate and full to bursting of fresh ideas and plans for what you’d do in YOUR church? Remember the dreams you had, the plans for creating visual extravaganzas because you are a visual person and not a word person? Remember how some of them worked and others fell flat? Such is ministry.

I was showing my little church to a friendly curate last week and she asked where I got my stand-up letters from. Then it occurred to me that others might be interested too. They come from Hobbycraft and are 3D brown paper mache and stand about 8″ tall and are £1.99 each. I paint them with acrylic paint (2 coats) and they look wooden and quite substantial. At my old church they stood on the side altar, but here they are on a table at the door with tealights in front of them. Everyone remarks on how welcoming it is.  I have different words – REPENT for Lent, ADVENT, EMMANUEL and ALLELUIA for Easter. I might do a REMEMBER for November this year. Lent and Advent ones are painted purple (of course) and Easter and Christmas are gold. The candles definitely enhance them.

Perhaps you can think of other words to do? (Keep it clean please!)  Or any other visual ideas to share?



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?

Episcopal Election

Here is the latest news of the Diocese of Edinburgh’s Episcopal Election:

The Preparatory Committee met last week to consider the applications submitted for the role of Bishop of Edinburgh.
A number of applicants have been invited to attend interviews, which are to be held on Monday, 12 December and
Tuesday, 13 December.  The names of those selected to be Candidates at the Electoral Synod in February will be
announced on Tuesday, 20 December.

Please continue to pray for all those involved in the Election process.

I would also ask your prayers for those who already know they have not been successful, whose calling has not been recognised and affirmed.