Whitchester Parish Weekend

In all the churches I’ve been rector, I’ve led silent retreats. They have never been over-subscribed but usually appreciated by the dozen or so who do attend. Even those who have never been silent before often become devotees and persuade others that they should try it. Readers will know that I myself struggle greatly with silent retreats. There are probably more blogs about my catastrophes than any other topic and I invite you to go seek them if you want a laugh. However, I do find that leading them is not quite so difficult for me – probably because I get to speak and listen and have enough in the organising to keep me busy.

Since I’ve been at Christ Church many have said that they wouldn’t come on a silent retreat and that’s fine (and quite understandable). And often the feedback after a retreat is that people just wished they had got to know one another better. Mind you, I think you can find out a lot about folk watching them in silence but that’s another topic… So this weekend we had a Parish Weekend. Not a retreat. Not silent. Just a weekend for us to get to know one another, enjoy conversations, and have fun. Hopefully.

We went back to Whitchester Christian Guest House just outside Hawick because they are trying to encourage more visitors and it is a lovely house. A bit too close to nature for my liking but I know others like that sort of thing. I’d planned to go from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon so that any who worked could join us. The majority were probably in the 70-80 age group but that was offset with one family with 3 year-old Eleanor. I’d planned on worship morning and night, and took along some crafts for those who didn’t want to go out hiking or whatever folk do when they go off into nature.

Unfortunately it rained all day on Saturday and although some did go out (mostly looking at overpriced cashmere) the rest of us learned how to do encaustic art and produced some masterpieces. We also made our own labyrinth which took up most of the day but everybody painted at least one leaf on the fabric. It can now be used in our own church – or if you would like to borrow a 12′ square labyrinth, do let me know.

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Worship didn’t go as well as I’d planned because I’d printed the booklets incorrectly. Page 1 was at the beginning and the correct way up, but Page 2 was at the back of the book and upside down, and so on. It was a test of ingenuity and caused some pauses in unexpected places as some shuffled back and forth with puzzled expressions. On Sunday we had a Eucharist to remember the beginning of WW1 and everyone was invited to bring a flower from the garden and lay it on the altar. (We’d pretty much got the hang of the booklet by then!)

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The only problem was nature, and I feel just a little smug about this. Breakfast was delayed by some time while the staff leapt around the dining room with a net trying to catch the two bats who had swooped in. At night they were back and forth like busy bees and this rector certainly did no wandering about outside after dusk.

We had a lot of laughs and did indeed learn more about one another. Perhaps every alternate year we ought to forgo the silence and just have fun instead.

In which Ruth goes into the labyrinth and comes out again

My old church in Bathgate was hosting a Labyrinth Day today so I popped over this morning to have a wee wander. I think the last one I walked was actually in Chartres Cathedral many years ago, although I had done some here before that.  This one was made by the congregation at Comely Bank and their rector Rev’d Frances had brought it over.


In the meeting room there were tables laid out with a wooden one (with or without marbles), sandy one, a pewter one to trace with your finger, and lots to colour in or just look at. And as ever the colouring in was very popular with child and adult alike.


I had completely forgotten how long it takes to walk the labyrinth. It always seems much longer than you think. I tried to walk it slowly and meditatively which is not my normal pace. Not that I am a sprinter, you understand! My mother always said I plodded rather than walked. I paused at all the corners and junctions to think about all the times I have to make choices. The joy of the labyrinth is that there is only one way to go. God’s way. As I got to the centre I stood barefoot and tried to let go of all that weighs me down. No, not my hips. All the ‘stuff’ I carry around unnecessarily – the petty bits and bobs that wander around my head when I try to sleep, the little worries of which I can do nothing, the things that don’t concern me but I have to put my tuppence in… all that kind of thing. I was also carrying in the concerns of a friend and was delighted to leave them at the centre and hand them over to God.

Our text today was the Road to Emmaus and the lovely Morag had baked a loaf of bread. The smell was tantalising as it came out of the bread mixer and the children ran round offering us a piece while it was still warm just as I emerged from the labyrinth refreshed and renewed. (Heartburn to follow.)

And they recognised him in the breaking of bread. 

It really was a lovely peaceful morning. Meeting old friends, laughing over felt-tip pens and crumbs of bread. I really should look after my own spiritual life better. Feed myself.

I’m going to get Frances to bring her labyrinth to Christ Church soon and hope we might make our own at our Parish Weekend in August.

Je done Paris

Bonjours mes amis. Back from Paris, très fatigué. But what a jolie time we had. And, you know, you can survive in Paris speaking only Franglais. Thank goodness for that Miles Kingston book that I used to have in the toilette.

I could do a day by day account of our trip but do you really care? Thought not. So let me tell you what we saw instead.

Walking tour of the Marais
Open bus tour of the sights (bit chilly so I went downstairs and saw the bottom of everything instead)
Visit Musee Marmottan (private collection of Monet) – how many lilies can one admire? Did enjoy the collection of illuminated manuscripts though.
Musee de Vin and wine tasting lesson. I failed. Blame it on the throat sweetie I had just finished.
Visit to Sainte-Chapelle with the most glorious stained glass.

Sainte-Chapelle rose window

Sainte-Chapelle rose window

Visit Conciergerie and glad I was not imprisoned there. Lovely wee chapel of Marie Antoinette.
Visit Sacre Coeur – many, many steps.
Trip down the sewers – bit whiffy and not terribly exciting unless you’re into that kind of thing.
Visit to Musee Quai Branley – très moderne museum of the world (except Europe) which I bypassed and went for an expensive coffee instead.
Fun evening in Nos Ancetres les Gauleois (lots of raw veg and much singing).
Illumination tour and saw the Eiffel Tower flashing.
Trip on Bateau Mouche and saw the sight on the Seine
Visit Notre Dame – oh dear. Not a holy place at all and many illegal photos taken by thousands of tourists. But did adore the relics of the Crown of Thorns and a piece of the true cross – allegedly.
Visit the Latin Quarter and found St Severin (thanks to Raspberry Rabbit). Adored the fan vaulting and live organ music.
Popped into St Julien le Pauvre and adored the icons.
Evening at the Moulin Rouge – many small boobies and not enough naked men. Pretty spectacular though. Loved the swimming pool that came up full of anacondas and a swimming beauty.

Moulin Rouge

Day trip to Chartres and hilarious, yet informative, talk by Malcolm Miller. Love, love, love Chartres. And as it was Friday the labyrinth was uncovered so I walked it. Wondered at the story of the two women snogging in the middle of it. Sweet.

Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

Visit to Opera de Paris Garnier (where ballets take place, not opera). A giant wedding cake really and surprising ceiling by Chagall. Much red velvet and marble (cool for swollen feet).
Visit to La Madeleine (church dedicated to Mary Mag) with no windows and not like a church at all really.
Wander through the ground floor of Galleries Lafayette and worshipped at the god of mammon’s feet. Luckily looked up and saw the ceiling.

Ceiling of Galleries Lafayette, Paris

Ceiling of Galleries Lafayette, Paris

Lunch at Les Printemps (another expensive department store) on the roof with great views of Paris.

And that was it really. In between, of course, there were glorious meals (loving Croque Madames) and much, much hilarity. I was even given my own relic from Bruce on the last night party but suspect it was just a chicken bone. Weather was fab and the sun shone on the righteous – and us.

And not one photo of the Eiffel Tower either.


Glorious Epiphany yesterday – yes, I know it should have been last week but in my defence, I was not the only one. Andrew was on the organ so the music was divine.

Then after the service we had to clear the whole church of chairs, pews, the lot ready for Fidge and her labyrinth. For those of you who don’t know, the Labyrinth is based on that in Chartres Cathedral but in this case painted on canvas rather than in gorgeous tiles. A Labyrinth is not a maze – it has no wrong turns or dead ends. It is one path with twists and turns (like life) but we all end up at the same goal – the middle.

I hadn’t done it before although I have read a lot about it and spoken to people who love it. What I didn’t know was how long it would take to walk it. I took my time and had a few prayerful pauses but it took me an hour to do. I was exhausted at the end and my back was killing me. Hard to focus when you hurt. However, I tried to focus on bad things in my life on the way in and good things on the way out.

But you know, it didn’t really work for me. Maybe it was because I was tired and sore. Maybe it was just a case of not really being able to concentrate on it fully. Maybe it was because I am not great at silent prayer. I think if I had had a leaflet with things to focus on at each turn I would have done better. Might try it again one day when I feel fit and more prayerful.