In which Ruth attends HM’s Garden Party

Her Maj comes to Scotland a few times a year but the event that those and such as those look forward to most is the annual Garden Party. This year I was invited (because one of my little flock is now Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Falkirk and one of his duties is to decide who gets invited) and it was an honour. However, I shall whisper to you, dear readers, that I am anti-monarchy, a good socialist at heart (if not always in practice!) and will only be happy when there is a Stewart/Stuart on the throne once more. But sometimes it is an honour to be asked and you have to be selfless and think of it as networking. Am I convincing you? Nah, okay I’ll shut up now.

But you do want to hear all about it, don’t you? First there is the invitation which comes in a gloriously thick envelope, thicker than any envelope you’ve ever seen. So thick in fact, that your letter opener is not sharp enough to slice through. It comes with instructions on what to wear (woman may wear trouser suits – gee thanks), what to do and what not to do. Bring two forms of ID, park here, toilets are there, no medals (drat! had to leave Our Lady’s Miraculous Medal behind).

Now I knew I was going to wear my clerical collar (black shirt of course), black trousers, blackAlegria Paloma shoes shoes (patent funky because I just couldn’t be so sensible) but what to wear on top? What jacket would be suitable for a sunny summer afternoon in Edinburgh? Especially when you don’t feel inclined to spend a lot of money. In fact as little money as possible. Enter eBay and a lovely silky purply duster coat for £1.50 so a bargain too. OK I had to buy a new button when the dry cleaner destroyed it and stick up the hem but still a bargain.

Then there was the rain. Well first there was my hair. My hair which was due a haircut but seemed to be holding up quite well with the use of very strong hairspray. Very strong indeed. And you know how it is? I think I’ll get away without getting a haircut too, you say to yourself. Jolly good. And then there comes a day, 3 days before the garden party when your hair grows an inch overnight and flop. Suddenly it has become too long all over and no amount of spray glue will hold it aloft. Luckily the lovely Tracey at HairDotComb could fit me in on the morning of the party. But that’s always a risk too, you know? Because sometimes the day of a haircut is not the best day for it to be seen in public. Sometimes you have to ‘fix’ it yourself before you dare let anyone see it. I did not have that luxury but thankfully all was well and Tracey excelled herself.

wind-and-rainBack to the rain. And the wind. And the cold wind and almost horizontal cold rain. The kind of day when you want to wear your Jack Murphy with fleece lining. But no, we need to look glamourous and summery so I had a genius of an idea… I would wear my thermal simmet! But what if it got miraculously sunny and I ended up melting in the heat? Well that wasn’t going to happen, was it? So thermal vest it was, thus allowing me to look summery-ish while keeping toasty warm. And the umbrella of course. Luckily I had a purple and pink spotty one which set off my outfit beautifully, although I do say so myself.

Why was I worrying? Lord knows because you should have seen the sights I saw! Streaky fake tan, tattoos, alarming hats and fascinators galore (never quite so glamourous when soaking wet – there is nothing so alarming as a wet feather), grass-covered platform shoes, much body piercing, sinking stilettos. And that was just the men! Actually the men weren’t much better. Some were in cream linen for heaven’s sake. Now what is formal about cream linen, I ask you? And kilts of various hues and lengths. Boys, there comes a time when your tummy is so big it is lifting your kilt well up at the front. You can’t see your knees and thighs glinting in the rain but we can and its not nice. Oh how I love people-watching. And sporran-watching. That’s a whole lot of fun.

I didn’t see Her Maj. Two gay male friends told me she was wearing light blue or peacock. No, no, cried the women. It was mint green. So much for gay stereotypes! I stayed in the dry tea tent eating little cucumber and mint sandwiches and passion fruit tarts. Delicious. Although how one is meant to eat when one is balancing a cup and saucer in one hand and a tea plate in the other is beyond me. I hired a Rector’s Tea Cup Holder for the duration and he was jolly good.

So apart from the people and the bad weather, what else did I notice? After all there were Women wecandoitabout six thousand people there. You know how sometimes you just have a wee think about gender issues and you start to notice… Well perhaps you don’t but I do. And that’s when you notice the role that women play in these royal events which may seem all the more surprising when we have a woman on the throne. First there were the bands. Many military bands were playing throughout the afternoon. I didn’t see any women playing in them. Then there are the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen’s Bodyguards in Scotland. I can’t find out how you get to be an Archer but it seems to be mainly lawyers and bigwigs from Edinburgh. You have to be invited. Not a woman amongst them. There were some antiquated order of constables too in old fashioned uniform with truncheons aloft – all men. I did see one police officer who happened to be a woman who was directing traffic. And the women serving the tea and buns, of course. But mostly the women were there to serve food or look pretty. Welcome to the nineteenth century. Sigh.

So my first Royal Garden Party is over. I met some old friends, missed a whole host of others. The Queen eluded me but I saw some sights. There was a long purple coat with tartan cuff which I coveted on a very elegant lady. I was fooled by many Presbyterians in purple clerical shirts who I thought were bishops. And I laughed a lot in good company. (Even better was supper at The Steading on the way home and large Bombay gin!)

In which the Church of England does itself no favours

It has not been a very good week for women in the Church of England. Actually, let me rephrase that… it has not been a good week for anyone in the Church of England. Their synod met to decide whether women priests could be bishops or not. They voted not. Well, actually they voted yes, but because they needed 2/3 in each house and didn’t get the majority in the House of Laity, it fell. Of course, it was a silly vote to be having really because if you allow women to be priests then there really is no argument against them being bishops. Some fundamentalists will argue that the bible speaks against women as leaders in the church, although quite what a priest is if she’s not a leader is beyond me.

Now we in Scotland have already addressed this issue. When the ordination of women went through our Primus at the time was Richard Holloway. He was a kind of ‘take it or leave it’ kind of guy. Support women or leave. And a handful did. A few more stayed and grumbled a bit and one or two went over to the Ordinariate recently but you could count them on the fingers of two hands really. In England they weren’t brave enough to say ‘like it or lump it’ and they allowed flying bishops and all sorts of panderings to those who couldn’t accept women in the church. It led to some awful situations and a hideous concept known as the theology of taint. I can’t even bring myself to explain what that means.

So this week the Church of England has found itself in all the newspapers and on every talk show. For all the wrong reasons. It has appeared to be completely irrelevant and out of date. People who don’t go to Church are bewildered at those who do. Why on earth would you go to a place where such inequality exists? (And let’s not start on the gay issue.)

I used to be against the ordination of women. When I first joined the church it was one of those bells and smells ones where Father knows best. Father told me it was wrong and I believed him, like many others. You see, I didn’t think for myself or read anything – I just accepted that Father told the truth. Perhaps there are still people who believe the same because ‘Father’ told them.  But in time I changed my mind. I read and I listened and I met women who happened to be priests. And I couldn’t really say that the Holy Spirit had not called them. How could I? How could I say to them that they must have imagined it? I mean, there were some seriously holy women out there. Of course, talking to my friends was all the more difficult but in time it all became well, all manner of thing became well.

This week I didn’t sign the petition which was going around before the vote took place. I didn’t sign it because it would not have brought about an equal footing for women bishops. Now that the vote has failed, I am sad. I am sad but in a way I am also hopeful. Hopeful that this time the vote will be reconsidered and that all shall be well. This time it needs to be exactly the same.

And perhaps the Church of England, and all churches, will look at how they elect their Lay Representatives. I know in our own church the same person has done it for years. Nobody else wants to do it. Nobody else wants to sign up to a job which requires going to Synod and Area Councils. I don’t know why – I would have loved to do it when I was new in the church, but was too frightened to stand against a man who’d been doing it for donkeys years. When I came back to this Area Council after being away for five years, it was the same people who were Lay Reps for the churches. And if you look around you at Synod you will see that the average age profile of those lay representatives is certainly well over 60. Perhaps we need to be a bit more careful in future when electing our representatives. We only have ourselves to blame. (Our own Lay Rep is lovely by the way, if she’s reading this!!)

This week I pray for all my friends south of the border. I pray for all those women who are in positions of leadership already and who might have been considered suitable for nomination.  I pray and I weep at the unholy mess.

College of Preachers Day

Yesterday I was taken from my sick bed to Cramond Kirk for a day on Preaching Luke held by the College of Preachers. There were some very high calibre speakers: Larry Hurtado from New College Edinburgh; David Day and Kate Bruce, both from Durham University I think.  Larry did the biblical stuff about Luke and it took me back to my days at New College. David Day wrote a book on preaching which I read when I was first ordained and he has a wonderful sense of mischief and humour so it was a delight to listen to him.  He spoke about the Good News bits and the Tricky Bits. Kate Bruce spoke about Narrative Textual Analysis and Preaching Parables. It is so rare to hear a woman speaking about preaching and to hear a woman preach that I was in seventh heaven.

Which has made me ponder… why do women and men preach differently?  Or perhaps you don’t think they do? Let’s have your comments…