In which Ruth ponders the housework of ministry

Following on from my musings on ministry (last blog post) I came across this quote from Kathleen Norris’ book The Quotidian Mysteries. This spoke to me today.

I found it remarkable – and still find it remarkable – that in that big, fancy church, after all the dress-up and the formalities of the wedding mass, homage was being paid to the lowly truth that we human beings must wash the dishes after we eat and drink.  The chalice, which had held the very blood of Christ, was no exception. And I found it enormously comforting to see the priest as a kind of daft housewife, overdressed for the kitchen, in bulky robes, puttering about the altar, washing up after having served so great a meal to so many people. It brought the mass home to me and gave it meaning. It welcomed me, a stranger, someone who did not know the responses of the mass, or even the words of the sanctus. After the experience of a liturgy that had left me feeling disoriented, eating and drinking were something I could understand. That and the housework. This was my first image of the mass, my door in, as it were, and it has served me well for years.

A photo illustration shows a priest cleaning the Communion vessels inside the chapel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' building in Washington Oct. 24. At the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion will no longer be permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses in the United States. (CNS photo illustration/Bob Roller) (Oct. 24, 2006) See SKYLSTAD-VESSELS Oct. 24, 2006.

In which Ruth ponders the M word

Some people in the church love the M word. They want to talk about it all the time. They want committees devoted to it. They want to throw piles of money at it to make it work. They want conferences and books and weekends away all dedicated to that M word. They reckon that if we’re not doing it, then the church is going to die.

So what do you think about the M word? Are you for or against? Do you love it or do you give an inward shiver every time you hear it? And you will hear it. There is no getting away from it. The M word is here to stay.

Mission. Of course. Mission is the word on everyone’s lips. If you’re not doing it then you have no life in you. Some dioceses have programmes dedicated to it. Everyone has to sign up and everyone has to share in buzz groups and pledge to do this, that or the other because if you don’t… dum, dum, dum… then surely the church will perish.

But what if you didn’t like the M word? What if you prefer another M word? What if you dreamed a dream that one day nobody would throw all the money in the diocese into M, but into your favourite M word? (Let’s call it M2.)

Ministry. Of course. What if all the money was ploughed into selecting and training and supporting and caring for fabulous priests who were so inspirational that they didn’t need to use the M word?  Those priests would love liturgy so much that people would be transformed by it. They’d literally be so moved that they’d want to tell their friends about it and bring them along for a slice of that loving. Word would spread and soon everyone in town would be wanting a bit of the action. They’d want to do some of that M2 word themselves. Because they realise that the M2 word was what it was really all about.

Today a lot of my friends are out marching at Gay Pride in Glasgow. They are wearing badges and carrying banners, proclaiming to anyone who hears that the Scottish Episcopal Church welcomes them and loves them. You might call it Mission. I call it Ministry. Because my job as a Minister of Religion (at least that’s what my Tax Office calls me) is to welcome all and to love all. That is my ministry. That is our ministry. Yours and mine.To proclaim a church for all.

When I first went to church (and that was in my late 20s) it was not because of any Alpha Course or Poster or Notice in the local paper. But more importantly, the thing that made me stay was the Mass. It was every part of that liturgy: the music, the Confession, the theatre, the stories, the food for the journey, the people, and yes, the priest too. Those were the things, most of which I didn’t understand, which made me want to go back and learn more. I went with a friend and I made a thousand more. It made me want to do that M2 word every hour of every day.

And it still does. But I do wish folk would stop banging on about that M word. Just sayin’.

holding hands elderly

Homeless in Falkirk? Forget it.

We clergy who live over the shop (ie next door to the church) are used to callers. These can vary from photocopier salesmen (yes, all men) to those men (yes, all men) who have some tarmac ‘left over’ from a job down the road that they could use to pave my carpark at a very reasonable rate to those who need something. The latter are in the majority. The ‘something’ they need can vary too. Usually it is money.

begging-cup1Each week I probably have about 5-10 callers who need money. Money for electricity cards, for food, for baby food, for train fares because a close relative has died far, far away, for phone cards for that urgent phone call, for all manner of things. All of them look down on their luck and some are more sober than others. Some are so stoned they can hardly stand or speak. All of their stories begin with “This is the God’s honest truth” and often it isn’t.

It is a tricky situation. They have come to me because they believe that as a representative of the church, I will not say no. That as a representative of the church, my job is to help those less fortunate than myself. But usually I suspect that the money I might give will be spent in the local off-licence or junkie. Perhaps you think that this is okay. That it is their choice and that the good Samaritan gives without question. I don’t believe I’m a very good Samaritan. And I don’t often have any money anyway.

The stories they tell are sometimes long and elaborate. They are often heartbreaking. Remember I used to work with homeless people and I’ve heard some of those stories before. Some, I know, are tall tales. Tales spun out of desperation for the alleviation of their addiction. Tales which I often admire for their creativeness. Sometimes they tell me they have a faith or are born again and that this should count for extra consideration. Some want me to let them in so they can tell their story in peace.

My Vestry are concerned for my safety. Not long after I came here a man tried to kick my front door in because I wouldn’t give him money. I now have locks and chains and a sign on the door which says I don’t give out money. I feel bad about that sign in my door but I know it is for my own safety. I do give out food and drinks. I make cups of tea and fill bags with food which might fill a gap. I refer folk to the Salvation Army up the road who provide hot meals, clothes and washing facilities, and give out food parcels when the Foodbank is closed, but often people come to my door when the Sally Army are closed or at the weekend. And often they tell me its not food they want, its cash. I wonder what other clergy do?

Early on Sunday evening a man came to my door called David. He wanted me to pray for him. Now that I can do. But first he wanted to tell me his story. He wanted us to go somewhere, perhaps the church, where he could tell me what he wanted me to pray for. David is from Lithuania and his English wasn’t very good. He was tall and looked quite clean, with a small backpack and an umbrella. There was no smell of drink and no signs of drug abuse. I asked him to tell his story on the doorstep which didn’t please him but he reluctantly agreed. He’d come over for work which was promised but didn’t materialise. He was sleeping rough in the park when he was beaten up and had spent four days in hospital. (He showed me his hospital wristband, his bruises, his loose teeth.) I think he wanted money for a phone card but I truly didn’t have any money in my purse. He wanted food and coffee and I gave him some and I prayed with him. On the doorstep. The hospital had given him clean clothes and the backpack but no socks and he wanted some but mine were too small. “No man?” he asked incredulously. He wanted me to write down the name of the hospital because he was to go back the next morning at 9am for a follow-up appointment about his ribs, I think. Translation was not easy. (The hospital is over 4 miles away.)

In my heart I knew I should have done more for David. But where could I take him? There is nowhere in Falkirk which does emergency accommodation. And would I be brave enough to get in my car with a 6′ man and drive anywhere? I ended up suggesting the Roman Catholic church because I know they have a big Presbytery and there are plenty men around. But I should have taken him myself. I was too scared.

Yesterday I phoned the local housing department and asked what I could have done. They said he wouldn’t get a house anyway unless he comes from Falkirk or unless he could pay. “No point in giving a house if they can’t pay for gas and electricity,” they said. There are no hostels in Falkirk, no places where someone can sleep out of the cold and rain. Their advice to me was to phone the Lithuanian Embassy in London. “Nothing we can do if he’s come here with no return ticket.”

So my question is: what do you do? If you don’t live in a big city with hostels and temporary accommodation, where do you refer people to? Because nine times out of ten, they come in the evening or at weekends out of office hours. I sometimes suggest the Police but I’ve never had anyone take my up on that suggestion once. They may say they’ve been there already, but often I suspect it is the last place they’d go. In retrospect perhaps I should have phoned the police about David.

He’s still in my mind and my prayers. What would you have done?

feet poor

In which Ruth ponders General Synod 2014

I seem to be the last of the Pisky bloggers to get around to writing about General Synod this year. I’ve been off Synod for the past two years after many years on, so this was an exciting return for me. For I do love General Synod. I love meeting up with Provincial pals who we see less and less these days. In days gone by there used to be Provincial Conferences where we all met up and made new friends, shared stories and ideas, socialised and partied. Sadly we don’t have them any more so there is less opportunity to meet with folk from other dioceses. Of course, I don’t just love Synod because of my social life, it is also an honour and privilege to be someone who plays a small part in the future planning of our wee Church.

There are other good reports on Synod over on the following blogs: Kelvin, Beth, Malcolm, Samantha and Christine. I notice that Chris didn’t like the seating at P’s & G’s, our first time venue for General Synod. We followed the model we use at our Diocesan Synods where everyone is seated at round tables (8 to a table allocated randomly). To begin with I wasn’t sure about that either – especially as I didn’t get to sit with my old pals in what was strangely known as the ‘naughty corner’. However, it means that I have met new people with whom I would probably never have spoken and it also allows those who never would have the courage to speak at Synod to have a say in the small group discussions. And instead of itchy horsehair cushions in pews with no leg room, I much prefer comfy chairs and tables on which to put the copious quantities of paper which go along with Synod business. However, I agree that it did make a faff of voting because the tellers couldn’t easily count when we weren’t sitting in serried ranks.

At my table I think every diocese was represented and we also had the delightful company of Bishop Bob of Aberdeen, past curate of Christ Church Falkirk, so it was good to catch up with him again after our recent 150th celebrations. I also had the joy of meeting Fr Simon of Argyll & The Isles, complete with ponytail and monocle. We Piskies certainly do style and eccentricity in equal measure.


But what about the business? Well, we had the usual reports from Committees, some more exciting than others. You want to hear about the exciting ones, don’t you? Well, Bishop Kevin brought us up to speed with the new Scottish Episcopal Institute which replaces Tisec, our current model of training ordinands. It was such an enthusiastic presentation and our prayers are with Rev Dr Ann Tomlinson who will be the new Director. We were told that the new Institute will have cost implications of course and I feel passionately that we must invest as much as we can into training our clergy. Bishop Kevin pointed out that if every member of the SEC were to give an extra £10 per year we could cover it. How easy would that be? I sprang to my feet and threw my last tenner in the air to kick off the collection. (Then Synod told us we can’t have impromptu collections and it all deflated rather suddenly, which was a shame. However, reluctantly, they did allow a retiring collection after Evening Prayer which produced £200 so that’s a start.)

The most contentious issue was the subject of equal marriage. We are not allowed to talk about it in Synod. Even though it will become law in Scotland later in the year, our Church thinks we should take our time. You see, we are not to be trusted to talk about it in Synod because we might say hurtful and triumphalist things. This has apparently happened in the past and some folk don’t like it. (Not when I was there, it has to be said.) So instead the Church held a conference in Pitlochry a few months ago where specially invited folk, from both sides of the debate, were invited to listen to one another in a nice friendly way. And they did. It was all about the listening. And we were told at our pre-Synod meeting that people who’d never talked to one another before became friends. I don’t know who these people are that don’t talk to one another are, because I talk to anyone. I even talk to people I don’t agree with on many subjects but that doesn’t mean to me that we can’t be friends. It would seem that not everyone feels like me. Gosh. At our pre-Synod meeting we heard about these enemies who’d become friends which was all rather lovely and how Pitlochry had given them a nice space to listen to one another. They were quite evangelical about it, in fact. Not so good at listening to those who hadn’t been there, mind you.

I was one of the people who signed a Rule 10 motion to ask that it could be discussed at Synod. It has been one of those subjects that we’ve never really been allowed to talk about. For years we’ve talked about not talking about it. So I thought that Synod ought to get the chance to talk and listen. Those who make up the agenda thought not. We are to follow the process mapped out at Pitlochry where the lovely way to talking and listening has to cascade ‘down’ (yes ‘down’ to us mere mortals who didn’t get to go – and yes, I asked if I could but was refused) to Area Councils and churches. We still haven’t been told how or when that will happen, btw. The Rule 10 motion needed 2/3 of Synod to agree and although we got a majority it wasn’t enough. You can read more about this in the comments on Kelvin’s blog. I thought it quite interesting that Kelvin wasn’t invited to take part especially as he has probably been most vocal about this issue in the past and is an out, gay priest. I also have campaigned on this issue for many years but wasn’t invited. Interesting that the three big evangelical parish priests were all invited. Hmm. Even one of them came to me after and said it wasn’t fair.

So instead of discussing it openly and having it minuted, we were to discuss it in our table groups. I felt very uneasy about that, as did many of my gay friends. It was like we were to talk about my colleagues’ sex lives, because that’s what it boils down to, in little secret huddles where nothing would be minuted. What made it even more difficult was that I could see some of my friends in tears in their groups, and some deeply upset and angry. It was a horrible experience. Then we all had to write a secret letter saying what our hopes were about this subject and put it in an envelope, then pick up someone else’s to keep. That felt very manipulative and contrived.

What was interesting was that so many people came up to me and my friends after to offer support and ask what had gone wrong. I’m not gay but I guess people know I support justice and have many friends who are gay, and even some Bishops were asking what it was all about. And as I said before, some of my ‘evangelical’ friends were lovely about it too. All in all, it was not very nice. And I still don’t know how this Cascade is going to happen other than we will talk (again) about it at our Diocesan Synod meeting in November. Nobody knows when we will ever get to talk about it in Synod and take a vote – perhaps next year or the year after folk were saying. Perhaps.

And what else was discussed at Synod you might wonder? Statistics gathering, budgets and finance, moving Saints days, and the other usual business. My blog wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the worship of course. I believe that as P’s & G’s were hosting the Synod they were asked to offer Evening Prayer in their own style of worship. I’m all for variety and in the past have learned some fabulous new hymns and mass settings at Synod. You won’t be surprised that the music in the evening was more of a modern style with a praise band. The sad thing about it was that we weren’t taught the tunes first, as we were with other new stuff. And the screen which contained the words of the songs didn’t always match what we heard, but that was a minor blip.

So it was a funny old Synod really. Looking back a week later I remember the trams (yes, I did the Park and Ride thing on the new trams) and the tears. I remember mirth and monocles. I remember passion and psalms. I remember voting and vetoing. I remember friends and fencing (you had to be there!)


In which Ruth ponders the life of an Interim Pastor

I am about five months in to being Interim Pastor at Grangemouth and Bo’ness, my neighbouring churches. Their rector retired at Harvest time last year and they have been my foster-flock ever since. It is the first time I’ve ever done the job so there has been a bit of learning together along the way.  Unfortunately it was only this week that I found the guidelines for the vacancy were lurking on the SEC website all along. Pity nobody told me about them earlier!

It has been lovely to meet some new folk, and to get to know some better. For years I have met the Lay Reps at our Area Council meetings but there are not really chances to get to know one another. I now know who to go to to get the best cupcakes in Grangemouth. (PS I cupcakesalready have my own source in Falkirk of course!) Many moons ago I was rector of Linlithgow and Bathgate, another joint charge, and they were very different churches. My observations so far have led me to believe that this is true of Bo’ness and Grangemouth too. Quite different little churches, each with their own style and character.

The guidelines state that I should be with them about once a month taking the service on Sundays and I have managed to do that so far. I have also chaired all the Vestry meetings because we are still using them to cover some of the preparation for the Congregational Profile. Once we are at the advertising stage perhaps I can take more of a step back. We have also met for longer meetings to go through the process of looking at what kind of new rector they would like.  Sadly the weekday services have had to be reduced to monthly and the early morning service done away with all together. This is mostly because it is so hard to get cover for churches outwith Edinburgh. You’d hardly believe it only takes 20 mins to drive out on a Sunday morning. Sometimes we’ve had to have joint services and at other times I’ve had to say “Come to Falkirk if you want!” and some have.

Working on the Congregation Profile has been a very interesting exercise. For a few weeks I encouraged both congregations to write up what kind of priest they would like and then we went through the list together. I imagine it is a bit like doing the profile for online person specmatchmaking – good sense of humour, family man, good communicator, healthy, own teeth (no, that was a joke), good with children, good mediator (blimey! what do they get up to, these Christians?), good preacher, good at visiting – all the sort of stuff you’d expect. Sometimes these lists look as if they really want Jesus as their next priest, or the Archangel Gabriel if JC is not available. They have to be paragons of virtue, these men (and yes, we’ve had that put on the list too!) and prepared to work 100 hours per week by the sounds of things. We do all make unreasonable demands on our rectors.

Of course these little flocks want the best. They want someone who will invest time and love in them. They have high expectations and so they should. So they should dream of the most perfect priest. They are elderly congregations with one or two young people being nurtured children in churchand loved as much as they can, but that doesn’t stop them wanting someone young to be their pastor, with energy and liveliness. They want someone who will bring hoards of children and young families into their midst so that their future is guaranteed. Sadly, life is not like that. Clergy don’t usually bring loads of young families into church, nor do they bring in children. The people who already come to church are the ones who do that but they just don’t get that yet. All the statistics I’ve heard on Back to Church Sunday are that people come to church with a friend or family member. Nobody comes because they met a priest. And where is this encounter meant to happen? Are we expecting our clergy to go round the community knocking on doors? When are they going to do that, for heaven’s sake? So my job is to help these little flocks think more realistically about what kind of priest would be good for them. Sadly, sometimes there isn’t even a choice but let’s not go down that road yet!

I have noticed before how liturgy is dictated by the geography of the building. Neither of my foster-clocks have Altar servers so we muddle along keeping an eye out for collections approaching and frantically searching for the big brass plate! At Bo’ness they have only recently pulled the altar out from the wall to make it west-ward facing. Now if someone could just take 6 inches off the width of the altar that would be lovely and I wouldn’t have to take a big deep breath before I squeeze in between the credence table and the altar. It is not a good look! Yet the altar and credence table at Grangemouth and miles apart and you end up running back and forth up and down the step until you’re quite out of breath. The pulpit at Bo’ness is also for a very skinny person so that will have to be taken into account when they do the Person Specification – Clergy of Dress size 10 or Waist 32 need only apply! old lady heatingOne great selling point must be the heat in both churches, unless you are menopausal of course! You could worship in a t-shirt all year round here! No need to bring your own hottie.

So there we have it – the interregnum so far. This week I had a meeting with my own little flock and someone said, “It feels as if we are in an interregnum too.” Of course I am not around as much, not there every week to see who’s missing or hear the latest news. That made me sad so I baked a squishy chocolate cake for them to make up for it. Handed the cake tin to one of my little flock and he turned the tin upside down and ruined the lot. Such is ministry!  It is eating squidgy choc fudge cake topping from the bottom of a cake tin with a teaspoon. That’s life!choc cake

Glug glug glug

It is at this time of year, and usually about this time of week in particular, when clergy around the world start to sink.  Glug glug glug…

The lists have been made. And the sub-lists have been added. Highlighter pens may or may not have been used. On the lists there are things listlike “ORANGES – find out how many last year – ask for discount? – did I ask someone to make Christingles?” And “SERMONS X 5 – Midnight, Day, St John, Christmas 1,… what was the other one for?” Sometimes the lists get so messy they have to be re-written. This is a form of procrastination and is allowed. It is also permitted to put things on the second list that have already been done and which can be ticked or struck off straight away giving a huge amount of satisfaction. And the list is on paper, and on my computer, and on my phone, and on my iPad – and the list doth follow me everywhere and doth haunt me in the day and in the night.

Clergy live a kind of schizophrenic existence at this time. It is still Advent, yes. The church is purple, the music is Adventy, the end-times are being pondered.  Then clergy sit at the computer and design the Christmas Day pew sheet and write the 1st Sunday of Christmas sermon. We type out the Christmas carols and like the earworms they are, they get stuck there. No! It is still Advent! Back and forth we go in that twilight world which is Advent but nearly Christmas and the shops and radio stations would have us believe it is nearly over, not just beginning.

Xmas inviteCards and invitations come in. Even the most extrovert of extrovertish party animal balk at these invitations. Collects are sought, nice blessings filed and can’t be found again, memories are stirred with faint rememberings of brilliant ideas for Crib services… but just out of reach. Filing cabinets are emptied, and paper litters the floor along with wrapping paper, nativity ducks, enough tealights to seriously worry the Health and Safety Officer, and a crown of thorns. (How the heck did that get there? And where can I put it so I will find it in Holy Week?)

Voile! I forgot the Voile! Where’s the list?

And in the midst of the chaos we dream strange dreams of angels and camels and a determined young girl. And we ponder what life would be like if we were struck down with a mystery illness that required us to take to our beds for a fortnight and be unable to lift a finger. And then we realise that we couldn’t bear to be anywhere this Christmas but here, with our little flock. Then the sinking feeling starts to go, and a bubbling up begins. The baby Jesus will soon be here! Isn’t that glorious?

Hang on a mo… the baby Jesus! Where the heck is the baby Jesus? Is he even on the list?

Who cares about the elderly and alone?

I worry about the elderly. I especially worry about some of the elderly in my own little flock. I worry about the ones who have no family.

My own grandparents had children to care for them when they became frail. None of the children lived too far, or if they did they visited regularly and kept in touch. Grandchildren visited often – often against their will it has to be said, but that’s another story. We didn’t have a choice in the good old days.

But what of the elderly who have no children?  In the past month I’ve had dealings with two such people. One was a lady who had no relatives except a distant nephew from whom she was estranged. She had dementia and was in a care home. I visited her but she had no idea who I was and it was difficult to find out any of her story because she was confused and gave all sorts of variations.  Her family had all died in a plane crash, or all died at sea – one of the two, she told me. And then people at church would tell me her family lived in Falkirk all their lives! She had made arrangements for her funeral though, although nobody knew this until after she died. The only people at the Crematorium were carers from the Home and some members of Christ Church. There was little story to be told of her life and loves. Known to God alone.

The other person is a lady from Christ Church who is in hospital at the moment. She lives in a rather nice Abbeyfield Home near the church where she says nobody talks to her. At 93 she knows her memory is going and she gets forgetful, but she always has a smile and a mischievous look in her eyes. Last year she told me some hair-raising stories about her time during the war in Egypt. Her beloved husband is dead and she has no other family. Last week she had a fall and broke her pelvis so is in our brand, new lovely hospital. There she lies in a room on her own, not really knowing what is going on because her doctor is a ‘foreign gentleman’ and she couldn’t hear what he was saying.  Since her admission she has gone down hill rapidly and visitors now tell me she is unresponsive and almost unconscious. Nurses tell them it is just because she is on heavy pain medication. Our little flock are great at looking out for her and have brought her flowers, sweeties, magazines, cards, fruit and toiletries. They all lie around her unopened. When I visited her on Sunday the nurse roused her and she muttered “Oh I’m so glad to see you!” before lapsing back into a deep sleep holding tight to my hand.

I sat with her for a while, praying and watching. Sometimes that is all we can do. I glanced at her charts lying on the window sill where it says Alert every day. Alert? Visitors for the past seven days have found her asleep and unable to be roused. When is she alert? First thing in the morning? A nurse brings in a drip of fluids but because I am saying the Lord’s Prayer she backs out again, never to be found again. I ask other nurses if I can speak to someone about her but her named nurse is busy elsewhere. I wait for 30 minutes before I have to leave.

So I am left worrying about my little poppet lying in bed with no family to enquire about her. Several times I’ve tried to find a nurse to speak to but have been unable. Phone calls all elicit the same response – “She’s doing fine, very well.”  Her next-of-kin is listed as a woman nobody knows. I worry and I don’t know what to do.  How awful to be alone with nobody to speak up for you, nobody to tell her story, nobody to tell the medical staff what she is like, nobody to tell them that she doesn’t like potatoes or chicken but she loves cakes and a wee glass of wine.

As clergy we used to be able to wander hither and thither in hospital, our dog collars gaining us entry to wards at any time of the day or night. That is not the case any more. Ward doors are locked and buzzers seldom answered. “Lunch time is protected time for the patients” I’m told.  “But I could help to feed them while the food is still warm,” I mutter to frosty faces. Many times I’ve had to give up on visiting because I couldn’t gain access to the ward and couldn’t come at the visiting times.

Any clergy out there found a way around this?  I guess I should be trying to find the Chaplain.


Vocations and stuff

Have I told you that recently I have joined a team of Vocations Advisers in our diocese? There were five of us, now four because one has been made a DDO (that’s Diocesan Director of Ordinands for the uninitiated in churchy-speak). It is all very new to us and the diocese so nobody is quite sure what we will end up doing but at the moment we are doing lots of talking and planning. In time we hope to do more listening, obviously. I think the plan is that people who think they may have a vocation or feeling that God is wanting them to ‘do something’ will come to see us first to explore those feelings. Somehow it will be our job to help them discern whether this ‘calling’ is something which requires ordination or can be done as a lay person. If we think it is a calling to ordained ministry then we will pass them on to the DDO, but if not, then we can take things further… Well, I’m not exactly sure how that will develop but in time I hope all will be revealed.

Last week four of us set off for Durham for the National Vocations Advisers’ Consultation which was held in the College of St Hild and St Bede (more of that later!) We found ourselves among people from the CofE who have been doing this job for many years so there was lots of experience around us.  There were some great speakers and what a delight to see quite a few young clergy amongst us.  In fact, I hadn’t realised how starved we are of young clergy in the SEC until I saw these fresh-faced young things grooving about. (Now that has dated me immediately. Grooving? Who says ‘grooving’ these days?)  Of course we have had some young people going forward for selection but they all seem to be told to go away and get some experience first. This is rather amusing considering that most clergy there in their 50s and 60s had been ordained in their 20s. And I’ll bet they had less ‘experience’ than the young people we now send. Anyway, I digress…

I have also come home thinking ‘how on earth did I get through’? Periodically in my life I go through phases of pondering this very question. Sometimes I feel as if I don’t quite tick all the boxes when I look around me in clergy gatherings. Someone, somewhere must have taken an awful risk the day they met me – or had a great sense of humour. But if I met someone like me, I wonder how I would feel about putting them forward? So I guess we have to be open to the Holy Spirit because at the end of the day it is She who really makes the decisions.

It was quite a full programme at the Consultation beginning with devotions at 7.30am. Jings. All led by men until the last day when we had the lovely Sister Bev of SSF leading Morning Prayer. There was much climbing of hills, Durham being even hillier I think than Edinburgh. Down to the chapel and breakfast, then up to the talks and bed. Up and down the hills we went, getting lost quite a lot on the first day. I tell you, you wouldn’t want to be a disabled student at the College of St Hild and St Bede.

On the last day we had a tour of Durham Cathedral and mass at the high altar. Durham is surely one of my favourite cathedrals. It is so butch and solid. And I love the wooden Mary in the Galilee Chapel (see pic above).

Of course I hadn’t realised that student accommodation doesn’t mean en-suite these days. So yes, dear reader, this involved much wandering about in the corridors in the middle of the night hunting for the one door among many which had WC on it. (It also had the one bath with shower hose attached.) Of course I hadn’t taken a dressing gown with me so I had to do the scampering about with my eyes closed so that nobody could see my glam night attire.  (You know the theory that if you can’t see them, they can’t see you?)

My bed was of the metal folding-up kind. In other words – a camp bed. How ecclesiastical! But the noises it made if you so much as moved an inch were far from camp. It groaned and squeaked in an alarming fashion. The walls of course, were paper-thin so the snoring could be heard five rooms away. My snoring, that is. One has to assume that these students do not have sex.

The food in the canteen was copious and just fine. The coffee was shocking and from a machine which gave out warm water when you pressed the Decaff button. I was told then to use a sachet of instant stuff which wouldn’t dissolve because the water wasn’t hot enough. And no mugs either! Bloody cups and saucers. I’m sure my humour wasn’t improved by the dehydration I must have been suffering.

Apart from that it was great and I can’t wait for the next one in two years time.

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.

11 years ago today…

On this day, the Feast of Ss Peter & Paul, I was ordained Deacon at St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth. At this moment I think I was returning from the strangest pre-ordination retreat ever (at the Bield, Blackruthven) where I stayed in the house with the family and some large dogs. I don’t remember much about it, except that I’m sure that the Priest there seemed to be putting me off rather than encouraging me. I know I did not swim in their lovely swimming pool although I was encouraged to borrow a ‘cossie’ and do so. I do remember hanging out with some friends who were also there on an overnight conference and getting into trouble for not keeping silence. (‘Twas ever thus.) Yes indeed, it was strange.

When I left I went back to my garret, above the Bishop’s Office, to get ready for the final rehearsal at the Cathedral. I remember my new shirt was inky black, my collar hard and strange around my neck, my new trousers and blazer were black – as were my shoes, of course. (But you knew that.) I was excited about seeing all the friends who were coming and who had supported me through some difficult years of study. And I was nervous about the ceremony and the promises I would make. I didn’t know this Bishop as well as I knew my old Bishop in Edinburgh, and had already embarrassed myself (and him) by calling him Darling. Something which he referred to in the service, and became known to me as Bishop Darling for ever after!

On that occasion I was the only Deacon being ‘done’ so I had got to choose the hymns myself. They were: Sing we of our Blessed Mother; I heard the Voice of Jesus Say; Come Holy Ghost, our Souls Inspire; Who is this so Weak and Helpless; Let all Mortal Flesh and Soul of my Saviour; Tell out my Soul. The mass setting was Mozart’s Coronation Mass and many of my home parish choir at St Michael & All Saints had come to join with the cathedral choir to make a big noise. And my Parish Rector, Rev Kevin Pearson (now Bishop Kevin)  preached gloriously – and told that awful joke about the mice with skateboards in heaven.

I was going to say that was the beginning of my ministry, but of course it wasn’t really. That had begun long before and been nurtured by some very good people. So today I give thanks for them all. You know who you are. I’m still not quite sure how I got here but I do know they’ve been the happiest 11 years of my life. Mostly!