In which Ruth looks back on her last Holy Week here

Holy Week is always emotional, exhausting (physically and emotionally), heart-breaking, agonising, messy, grumpy-making at times, and makes you dwell on loss when you’d really rather not. This was all especially true this year as it will be my last here as Rector of Christ Church Falkirk. All through the talks and discussions on the first three days of Holy Week I was so conscious that this would be the last time I’d prepare Holy Week services and try to find something new to say. But the longer you stay with a little flock, the more you get to know them and it becomes easier to ‘pitch’ the sermons, meditations, talks.

eye tearOne of the paintings I used at those first evening services was this one which I think is by Van Eyk. It is so beautifully painted, the detail so fine and realistic. I don’t even know whose eye it is. Anyone out there help? But the tear made real for me how hard it is to leave people behind and move on. When you live and work with a congregation, you get to know them so well. More than in any other job I think. You know their secrets, their hopes and desires, their weaknesses and strengths. You are emotionally involved with them and that is so hard to walk away from. So there have already been tears and I’m sure there will be more as the time comes for me to sever that tie.

On Maundy Thursday we usually wash feet here at Christ Church. They didn’t when I first came – they did hands, I think. But the bible says he washed their feet so that’s what I do. Well that’s what I usually do and it is incredibly moving (and painful when you’re an old woman who’s more than a little overweight!). But a few weeks ago I thought I was having a heart attack. It was all very dramatic and an ambulance was called and needles were plunged into my chest in case it was air in my lungs. It was none of these and I later found out I had costochondritis which is inflammation of the cartilage in my ribs. Not serious, not life-threatening, just very painful and annoying especially when you catch a cold after and sneezing and coughing feels like your ribs are broken! It won’t last for more than a few months (I hope) but I knew I couldn’t wash feet. So it had to be hands. And I know these hands so well from coming to the rail for communion. I know their hardness, their softness, their arthritic bumps and gnarls, their favourite colour of nail polish and all. I will miss those hands.

Then on Good Friday we walked the Stations of the Cross together which we’ve done often over the five and a half years since I came. Each time the journey has been different and moving and this was no different. Even the Stations themselves, given just a few years ago in memory of Fergie who used to sit in the back row and sadly died, were a reminder of the funerals I’ve taken here.

Nelia Ferreira No More The Passion of ChristFollowing that, we looked at many images of the Crucifixion to which I had written meditations. Oh that was hard. Hard to write and hard to say. Another image comes to mind, and it has tears too. It is by Neila Ferreira and is called No More, I think. Mary looking at her son on the cross and stifling a sob of agony. And that’s what I did too as I read these meditations. It is so hard to let go.

And then we went over to the hall to break our fast and scoff hot cross buns as we do every year. And nobody feels much like being jolly and chatty because of what we’ve just been through together.

On Holy Saturday we cleaned and polished and put the church back to some semblance of order for our Easter celebrations. It would be the last time I put the piggy bank under my prie-dieu, put my favourite altar cloth with the beautiful old embroidery on the altar, hoovered the plaster from the crumbly roof. All the wee things that are particular to this place. As I looked at the flowers being displayed I had a wee smile thinking of all the tulips they’ll have once I’ve gone, not having to worry about my phobia for the wretched things.

And then my alarm went off at 5am on Easter Sunday and there was a huge candle to be lit (after several unsuccessful attempts – again!) and a new Exsultet to be proclaimed, and bacon rolls to be scoffed. And I wondered what my new church will do in Holy Week and Easter and how they will celebrate the Resurrection. And in between the services one kind soul topped up the oil in my car and noticed the tyres needing inflated too so did that. Who will do that for me when I go?  Then the Easter bonnets2016-03-27 10.14.09 started to arrive and I dreaded having to choose the winner and those who wore them were glad of the protection when I got out my pump-action water pistol to make sure everyone got a soaking when they renewed their baptismal vows. And the children tooted their tooters for the Gloria all the way through the service and that was just fine. And our little table-altar with candles and chalice and paten was put in the children’s area and I watched them play with it throughout the service and gulped again at the thought that I wouldn’t be here to watch them grow up.

Then in the afternoon our frail elderly and housebound arrived for the Afternoon Tea service and I was accosted over and over again with shouts of “I’ve heard you’re leaving us! How could you?” And that was hard too because I won’t be here for the end of their stories, these lovely folk I’ve taken communion to in their homes. That Sunday was probably the last time I’ll see some of them so that was emotional.

And then I slept. I slept off and on in my chair and I ached. All clergy ache all over after Holy Week and Easter. I’m told its the same feeling you have if you run a marathon. I’m not likely to be able to compare but someone who has, says its just like that. And the rectory is a mess and there are no clean clothes and no food in the fridge and now I have to think about packing it all up. So that’s why this has been an especially emotional Holy Week. Oh don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some laughs. (Not in Holy Week, but throughout my time here.) More than some, actually. Lots. They’ve groaned at my bad jokes like nobody else. So it will be with a mixture of tears and laughter that I will remember my years at Christ Church Falkirk.


Leaving (part one)

Leaving is never easy. Leaving a place where you have been really happy is not easy at all. For the past few weeks I’ve been going round all the housebound people to say goodbye and there have been tears and good memories. Last night we had a leaving party at St Mark’s.

Paul picked me up (so that I could have a wee drinkie) and when we arrived there was Caroline at the door with a glass of something white and chilled telling me that she had been appointed to look after me. Then as I moved into the church the sound of clapping rather took me aback and in fact it was a few moments before I recognised all these people. Why did I not recognise my own little flock? Because most of them were wearing purple wigs! Or purple clothes. Or purple dyed hair. Or purple make-up. What joy!

Bridget and Lawrence treated us to some fiddle music, and later I think I remember some Glee numbers. The girls did a pom-pom (aka discarded wigs) dance routine for me. The wine flowed, the buffet fed us, and we blethered and blethered. Nicola gave the most amazing speech and tried to convince me that when she had looked up ‘people who love purple’ in Google it had told her they were ‘people who liked to be in control and the centre of attention’. (I think she made that bit up.) And I was presented with a Peter Howson print of the Last Supper which I love. (Judging by some of the faces, it was not to everyone’s taste!)

It was such a fun night and I will miss this little flock so much. Two more Sundays to go before I make my curtain call…

Moving on

Today I announced that I shall be leaving St Mark’s in about 3 months to go to Christ Church, Falkirk (subject to Disclosure, of course). La Holy Spirit has been nudging me gently in that direction for a wee while now and you don’t mess with her. There were tears and joy (in Falkirk, I’m told, as they heard the news too).

We have achieved a lot here in Portobello these last 41/2 years. We’ve grown in numbers and more importantly in spirituality together. And, as our visitor this morning (who found us via the internet, btw) said: ‘what a friendly church!’

So my prayers now are for the next priest who comes here to continue loving this adorable wee flock. Will you say one too, please?

Saying Goodbye

Wonderful leaving do at St Peter’s last night. We gathered together in a packed church with all my friends and ecclesiastical neighbours. Lovely, flattering and I’m sure undeserved, words were spoken and gifts were given: a beautiful print of Linlithgow Cross, a memory book of my time here (the best!), a generous cheque and other wee gifts. There was a fabulous cake with purple icing and a very funny story to go with it.

Such a wrench to say goodbye to so many wonderful people.

busy bee

I can’t believe I am half way through my last week here. It has just flown by and I have not even had time to blog or check all the other blogs which I read. My ‘To Do’ list is growing by the minute, but the minutes are decreasing rapidly and I just know I am not going to get everything done. Getting round town is becoming more and more difficult too as people stop me for a farewell chat. I can’t just pop in to the Post Office now to redirect my mail without conversations with the woman behind the counter and a man who once heard me speak at the local Rotary last year.

However, it has been a week for good news too. My friend Kelvin (see the link to his blog at the side of this one) has been appointed the new Provost of St Mark’s Cathedral in Glasgow. This is great news and I’m sure the cathedral will grow spiritually and in all sorts of exciting ways in his tender care.

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Last night I had my leaving do with St C’s at the Fairway Hotel. There was a good turnout – better than many Sundays! WE had a lovely meal and nobody had to do the washing up which was nice.

Jim said some kind words, and then we were visited by an old priest by the name of Rev’d Lightbody (aka Duncan in a droopy moustache and alarming Elvis wig). He made a hilarious speech interspersed with snippets from songs and I haven’t laughed so much in ages. I had had a few glasses of vino so can’t quite remember all the songs featured but I do know that ‘Purple Rain’, ‘I want to break free’, and ‘Fat bottomed girls’ featured. The last referred to our Egyptian dancing evenings and not my own physique – but it could easily have done!

My little flock have also bought me a wonderful coffee table with drawers to hide all sorts of rubbish. So whenever I look at it I shall remember St C’s. John and Pat also gave me a beautiful cross which splits in two, and I shall wear it with pride.

I’m leaving

Read in last week’s Church Times…

A vicar announced to his congregation that he was leaving the parish – “not because I am in dispute with the wardens, or at loggerheads with the organist.” Far from it. “I am going because Jesus called me here, and he is now calling me somewhere else.”

As he sat down, the curate announced the final hymn, which was sung with extraordinary gusto: ‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’