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.

Windsor Consultation October 2014

Every priest needs to nourish their own heart. Sadly, this is something that some of us are not good at doing. And we can be even worse at nourishing one another. I mean, if we don’t manage to look after ourselves, how can we make time to look after one another? We concentrate all our time, energy and prayers on our little flocks that we leave little time for caring for anyone else, including ourselves.

DSCF0007One of the ways we can do that is in Continuing Ministerial Development and most years I head south to Englandshire for a Clergy Consultation in St George’s House in Windsor. It all began when +Brian suggested I might benefit from attending a Consultation when I was looking for some more study. I’d thought about doing the MTh but couldn’t find the time for it, so doing a summer school or annual chunk of study seemed perfect. Over the years I’ve really enjoyed the courses in Windsor and benefited from meeting other clergy from around the UK.

This year the title was Nourishing the Pastoral Heart and was all about how we, as clergy, care for ourselves. The weather didn’t care much for us, it has to be said. with wind and rain featuring heavily. Much like home really. I had a good, fun home group in which to go over the talks we’d heard. We also shared stories of pastoral encounters which had stayed with us and offered advice and support when we could. We vowed to take days off every week, knowing that we probably won’t but know, without doubt, how important they are. (And not to be used for visiting sick parents either.) Although how my clergy friends with umpteen parishes manage, I don’t know.

One of the most wonderful bits about going to Windsor, for me, is taking part in the daily worship in St George’s. Yes, some of it is alien to me (all male choirs, evensnog in which we only get to say the Creed, and a slightly different liturgy – just different enough to make you think it is the same but then it trips you up) but then, as I’ve been over the years I have come to really enjoy it. Yes, I don’t get to say a thing at Evensnog but what a treat to sit so close to a wonderful choir and soak up the music. This year the morning Eucharist was moved out of the chantry chapel with my favourite little unicorn but it was a bit of unicorn Windsora squash and having it in the nave meant glorious views of the west window and who can resist gazing up to beautiful fan vaulting? It is all terribly macho of course. Let’s hope the next Canon is of the womanly variety.

The food is glorious, the afternoon cakes divine, the wine much appreciated, and we were always cared for by the staff. (Thank you to the lovely lady who stood waiting for me to appear for breakfast with a mug in her hand to present to me, so that I didn’t have to cope with the breakfast china tea cups and saucers!) And then there is my dear friend Canon James who provided humour and love in equal measures.

The Dean tried, yet again, to convert me to a love of poetry and almost succeeded. Although I still think that when I’m feeling low I will not rush to some sad poetry to help me sit with the pain but will phone a friend instead.

I came home, tired but refreshed, and promising to try and care for myself more.

Clergy Photo 2014

In which Ruth ponders failings

Look – I’ve been a priest a long time, and I know a couple of things. And the one thing I know for sure is that if I don’t accept my own, well, defects – if I’m not willing to see them clearly as part of me – I sure as hell can’t accept anyone else’s.

Michelle Blake, Earth has no Sorrow, p94

I was reading Kate’s blog this morning and this quote came to my mind. Kate writes so well about falling and failing and we all do it (and not just clergy). But the incredible thing is that although we find it so painful, especially when it is done in public, it is often on those occasions that our wee flocks love us most. “Thank goodness, she’s just like us!”

This Lent I am trying to look at myself and my defects, and Lord knows there are many. Self-awareness is so important in our job and my little flocks will tell you how often I scream that I am an attention-seeker and control-freak. (I always reckon its best to let them know first before they start whispering about it in corners!) And if I know my own failings and can learn to love them as part of me, and that I’m still loved by God despite them, then I can love others as well. Well, that’s the plan anyway.


In which Ruth has a holiday and then doesn’t

So this week I tried to use up the last of my annual leave. There were still 6 days lingering and for the past few years I’ve lost a few of those and I was determined that this year I would get them all. This was the only week which didn’t have some important diary dates and thus it was crossed out with a big bold purple cross in my Parson’s Pocketbook. (I would have 20131129_172852done a similar thing with my Google Calendar but I’ve never really quite got the hang of it. Instead I got the word HOLIDAY printed in small orange letters at the top of each page. Not the same as a big purple cross. At all.)

On Monday I shared with my Facebook friends that I did have a few tasks to complete before the holiday could begin. Things like 2 sermons, ironing, housework, expenses, read the book group book, Income tax return… that sort of thing. “Oh no you don’t!” they all screamed. “Those are not holiday things to do!” they chided. “And when do you suggest I do do them?” I muttered darkly.

For its all very well to say that our day off should be a day off where we lounge around in our onesies reading trashy novels or watching QVC in the morning, before staggering to the phone to order a carry-oot. Yes, that’s all very well if you have a Housekeeper, Secretary, Team of Clergy and Lay assistants and are up to date with all your paperwork. NOT IN MY WORLD, IT AIN’T.

Most priests I know have to use their day off for a quick hoover, some washing and ironing if you’re lucky, visit the elderly parents and then fall asleep in front of the TV missing the end of a particularly gruesome autopsy. Well, that’s my world anyway. And thus the holiday began…

I whizzed round with the hoover, skooshed a bit of polish in the air and flicked the duster over the mantlepiece in the lounge. Got slightly waylaid when I thought it might be nice to move the furniture around so that it is cosier in winter. Got some moved before my bad back screamed to me “Stop!” and I gave up. Decided I’d done enough housework. Left the room half done and thus it has remained.

Thought I might finish my new Phil Rickman book, The Magus of Hay, before starting on the Impbook group one but as soon as I sat down, it began.  For this next bit you have to imagine a small impish creature sitting on my left shoulder with a particularly wicked glint in his eye. Thus he whispered as I read my book…

So have you done your sermons then?
And you hadn’t forgotten its Advent 1 on Sunday and you need to prepare the Candle prayers?
And who is doing the greenery this year? Remember H cut through her tendons at that particularly bloodthirsty Craft Group. She can’t do them.
And the Carol Service… have you decided what carols you’re doing? You know you need to let the choir leader know before Wednesday. They have to practice, you know.
Remember that purple cloth you took to the clergy conference? If you want to use that again you’ll need to get rid of all the wax. And while we’re on about that, there is a pile of ironing lying through there.
What about the Income Tax? If you don’t get it in before December your accountant won’t be pleased. “I’ll do it every week so there’s not so much to do,” you promised last year. Ha!
And while you’re thinking about the Advent Candles and what you’re going to do, don’t forget to let the pew-sheet person know before Thursday so she can add it on.
While we’re talking about the pew sheet, did you give her the notices too, and the sick list? Wouldn’t it be easier if you did them yourself in Advent with all the extras? Well you’d better tell her then.
Ah Advent! Usually you do a little something extra. You haven’t done a little extra for a while, have you? What with those two other churches you’re looking after, you’ve made excuse after excuse. What about Compline? People like Compline. That wouldn’t take long to organise.

I turned over my page. The Magus of Hay was going to have to wait.  Would it be possible to get it all done in one day and then I could relax? Because I sure as hell couldn’t relax and read with my feet up while that little imp reminded me of all the things I had left undone and those things which I ought to have delegated and hadn’t because Lord knows everyone else is busy too.  The despair was overwhelming. (Ok, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. But it was rather spoiling my book.)

angelmanAnd then it came to me! (I like to think there was a lovely angel on my right shoulder nudging me with his big fluffy wings for this bit. Cute, huh?)  How about if I didn’t take my holiday? How about if I just got on with all the work that had to be done but didn’t tell a soul that I wasn’t on holiday? What if I left the answering machine on and let someone take my midweek service, and just cleared the decks for Advent? Genius! I can’t tell you how happy that made me feel on Monday night when that decision was made. I could go back to work! Yay! (Did I mention I love my job?)

So it came to pass. It is nearly all done too. Well, except the ironing, and the Income Tax return. Oh, and the expenses. But I do still have tomorrow.

I will get those holidays back some time. Perhaps in Advent, two at a time. Or perhaps in January after my post-Christmas breakdown. But you know it is a small price to pay for the good feeling I have today. I think I’m nearly ready for Advent. Isn’t that what its all about?

Postscript… just as I finish typing this Son No 1 phones to ask if I can help him move the last of his stuff to the new flat tomorrow. He has a bad back too. Ach there’s no rush for that Income Tax Return, is there?

(As an aside, the Magus of Hay was rather disappointing.)

How to tell you are in Holy Week

You might be wondering if your priest really does know it is Holy Week. Let me tell you how you can tell…

  • if she is eating Coco Pops for lunch because she didn’t get shopping last week due to the lack of a day off;
  • if she is eating Easter eggs, bought 3 for the price of 2 several weeks ago, for dinner for the same reason;
  • if the deodorizer on the cat litter tray is failing to do its duty;
  • if the dust all over the house is causing everyone to have allergic rhinitis;
  • if by Good Friday she is scraping mould off bread and slamming it in the toaster willy nilly;
  • if her desk is defeating the laws of gravity where piles of book lie stacked at a tilt and papers remain unfiled;
  • if she spends three hours, not in the Garden of Repose, but searching for the meditation that she wrote for it several weeks ago and filed it under either Liturgy or Good Friday or Sermons or Holy Week or…;
  • if the supply of black clerical shirts is so low that she is reduced to wearing a poly-cotton one that chokes her and turns her face puce;
  • if the hairdresser appointment had to be cancelled because of a last minute crisis and she is reduced to holding her head upside down, blasting it with Elnette and hoping that will do (it won’t 15 minutes later, I can tell you that now);
  • if the supply of Rescue Remedy is getting very low and she is glancing nervously at the cooking brandy;
  • if the last newspaper article she read was when someone posted on Facebook a story about a vicar and a potato;
  • if she decides purple socks will just have to do instead of black (likewise with bras);
  • if the thought of putting a transfer straight on a Paschal Candle reduces her to tears;
  • if the Mint Imperials are running low;
  • if she wakes up screaming at the nightmare when nobody turned up for church cleaning and decorating on Holy Saturday;
  • if her nails are still scarlet from Palm Sunday (now chipped) and not appropriate for the season at all;
  • if her bottom lip quivers at the slightest criticism;
  • if no articles have appeared on her blog for weeks, or suddenly there is a flood of them as she finds them suitable for procrastination;
  • if her adrenaline keeps her high as a kite from 5.30am on Easter morning until the last champagne quaffer leaves at lunch time when she collapses in a big lump in her recliner and vows to be more prepared next year.

That’s how you can tell if its Holy Week.

The holiday is over

It is not really a holiday, this week after Easter. For clergy it is merely a week to recover, to go to bed at a normal hour, to tidy up the detritus from so many services, and to come back down to earth. For me it was also a week to partially recover from a virus of vomiting which struck just before the Saturday Easter Vigil (and continued throughout it too!) It is still lingering just enough to remind me of its presence.

So what did I do? I read and slept and caught up on TV and slept. And ran to and fro to the bathroom, but that’s more knowledge than you needed to have. Speaking of which, I also met with the plumber again, who is now on the congregational roll for he comes to church more often than some members. I did very little, in fact. And I still haven’t found my Easter cards to send but I know they are here somewhere.

And I remembered and planned. I remembered the services in Holy Week and the comments from my little flock. I remembered which bits worked and which bits need changed next time. I remembered little flocks-of-old and Holy Weeks gone by. For each one teaches me something of the mystery of the Passion. And I planned. I planned for next year and we might do it differently. I planned (in my head but not on paper yet) that I would make lists for each service and what I need to take with me to set up. Now if someone were to write a book that had the practicalities needed before each church service, I’d buy it like a shot.

Now today it is back to work. To prepare for tomorrow’s services. To write sermons and look out props. To finish off the study tidy up. Is it too late to send Easter cards, do you think?


I found this on my romp around the Blogs this morning and it made me smile – a lot. It has never happened to me (yet) but this is the stuff clergy nightmares are made of.

Welcome – USA style

I belong to an e-group, mostly made up of clergy, who discuss the lectionary readings each week. There is another e-group where we discuss anything and everything concerning church and politics and prayer and stuff. Membership is made up of people from around the world but mostly in the USA, Canada, Australia and UK.

This past week someone was asking for advice on what to put in a welcome pack for clergy when they move into a new parish. The responses have been coming in thick and fast. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Rectory cleaned and decorated in neutral tones;
  • Rectory garden tidied and notes left on soil details, problems and successes with garden; any veg grown, where snow shovel is kept, etc.
  • Odds and ends box full of picture hooks, tacks, tape, string, marker pens, etc.;
  • Freezer full of casseroles, soups etc;
  • Fridge full of milk, water, sandwich fillings etc;
  • Cupboard with necessaties until shopping can be done (bread, tea, coffee, bottle of champagne! etc);
  • File of local info (day that bins go out, best local carry-outs, recommended garage, petrol station, post office, map of area and parish boundaries (some even mark on map all the congregation members!);
  • File of rectory appliances including meter readings (and where the meters are);
  • File of parish info (congregational roll (including who is related to whom), welcome pack for laity, past 6 months worth of magazines, recent accounts and AGM reports, hymn book(s) and mass setting(s) used, etc.

I was quite impressed with the amount of work that goes into welcoming a new priest. Pity Mission 21 didn’t address that concern.

Now over to you clergy out there… What do you wish you’d known or had when you started?  Want to share any horror stories?

Mission & Ministry and a single bed

The M&M committee spent 24 hours in the beautiful Whitchester discussing all sorts of things including how to improve clergy morale. We think we’ve come up with a great idea but you’ll have to wait to hear about it. But it is very exciting.

I don’t know why but it is so much more productive for Committees and Boards to go away to work. (Unless you go to the Quality Hotel in Perth, that is.) But there is something about different surroundings, comfy chairs and good food to make it all the more appealing and conducive to hard work. Not to mention the fact that a wee glass of vino helps us get to know one another better. Whitchester (just outside Hawick) is certainly comfy and the food is wonderful. The bedrooms are gorgeous and chintzy and really my only complaint was the single bed. I know not why, but I just can’t sleep in a single bed so I spent most of the night tossing and turning in a three-point-turn kind of way.

I’ve booked St Mark’s in for a silent retreat next June but this time I’m having the room with the double bed. So there.