Look after yourself

Three weeks ago I got a cold. Not flu. Just a stinky cold with a runny nose, a lot of sneezing and then some coughing too. I’ve been put on steroids long-term for polymyalgia rheumatica so that may have helped lower my resistance to germs and this nasty virus really went to town. And then the coughing began. All night long, I coughed. Like a dirty old man, I coughed. It was only when sitting upright and perfectly still that I managed more than a minute without coughing. This made for long nights.

But colds happen. And we work through it, right? We carry on regardless, sipping our Lemsip, swallowing the pills, and we keep on passing it on to others because it doesn’t seem right to give up at first sight of a mere cold. But after three long nights of not sleeping and when the asthma/COPD had kicked in I gave in and had to phone the out-of-hours service NHS24. It was 2am and they were jolly nice and sent a lovely Irish doctor out to bring me a nebuliser which has done the trick in the past. Its the equivalent of 25 shots of Ventolin via a face-mask and is like breathing fresh mountain air but more invigorating. (That’s probably because of the adrenalin in it which can make me a bit jittery jangly.) The nice doctor also got me started on heavy duty doses of steroids and told me to get in touch with my GP if I thought I needed antibiotics. So far, so good.

And I carried on working. A bit. I did a wedding rehearsal and some admin and a quick visit to the church party before I finally gave in and said I couldn’t do Sunday. This was mainly because my voice was going and the cough was not improving. So my dear sister took me to the doctor on the Monday because she didn’t think I should drive myself. She was probably right. My GP took one look at me and sent me to the hospital with a letter. “But I probably just need another go at the nebuliser!” I croaked. He thought they ought to make that decision.

2016-11-07-16-14-03The hospital were lovely. They did indeed give me a nebuliser. And another. And another. And then decided I really ought to stay in and have them through the night. This was not in my plan. I had a wedding coming up at the end of the week which was very important to me (and to the happy couple too, it has to be said). I had things to do. Advent liturgy books to prepare, AGM to plan, pew sheets to do, a talk on art to go to, services to take, and a whole host of other things. But no, I was to stay and breathe fresh mountain air and take lots of pills and get better first. Only I didn’t. Another night in hospital. And by this time I had horrendous pain when I coughed from strained muscles so was put on some nice painkillers too.

Now let me tell you about the ward I was on. I should have been transferred to the Respiratory Ward but they were full. So I was kept on the Medical Assessment Unit which is really a temporary ward until people are moved on. It is next to A&E and goes like a fair. In my ward there were 5 beds and I was the youngest by a considerable mile. And they came and they went and I prayed through the long nights for M who was bewildered and needed to organise everything on her trolley a lot; for E who had just been told she had cancer again and her pain was just awful; for M2 who slept a lot with her mouth open and I kept thinking she’d gone; for M3 who came and went so quickly I never found out what was wrong nor where she went; for others who’d lost their appetite and not even jelly would tempt them. I watched them all and their visitors and we all smiled when M’s granddaughter entertained us with songs and innocently amusing questions. My son came at night after work and I was sharp with him because he took so long coming. And I apologised to him too.

And then another visit from a Consultant who suggested a stay until the weekend. I explained about the wedding in 2 days time and how I really couldn’t cope with staying any longer and not sleeping. It was very busy and noisy at night. Reluctantly he agreed to let me home into the care of the Community Respiratory Team who would come in every day to check me. And I got home. And my sister shopped for me and the CRT came in and measured my oxygen levels and brought me my own nebuliser to use 4 times a day. And my congregation told me not to worry about services and that they’d cover and I should just get well enough for my friend’s wedding.

2016-11-12-18-05-05On the day of the wedding I knew I couldn’t drive to Falkirk but the bride’s witness came and gave me a lift. I took the nebuliser and painkillers just before the service. My voice was croaky but the microphone picked it up sufficiently to be heard. The service was by candlelight and the church was full. The temperature rose and rose and by the time we got to the end of it I looked like a small damp rag. But we made it! Yay! I even made it to the reception for one and a half courses before the nice woman who’d given me a lift came and told me she was taking me home again. And the next day I slept. And slept some more. And someone else took my service here and that was just fine. And still I had no voice.

This past week has seen some improvement. I still have no voice but it is getting a little stronger each day with the help of gargling. (If you are on Facebook you could entertain yourself by watching them.) I do an hour in my study and then I rest for two. I’ve had to cancel a special Remembrance Day service I’d planned and was so disappointed about that. I’ve had to cancel meetings and appointments. I’ve been frustrated at being off sick for so long and now I’m getting bored which is probably a sign that I am getting better. The physio from the CRT say my lungs are still crackling but I am getting better so everything is now being reduced gradually. Today I managed over an hour at our Church Fair and everyone was very understanding. Tomorrow I won’t take the service but I shall chair the AGM with a croak and a prayer. And I’ve knitted 4 eternity scarves which made £20 for the sale. (My hands were too shaky to paint and I can’t concentrate on reading.)

So the moral of my story is… look after yourself. Right at the beginning of any kind of cold or virus, stay in and care for yourself. Don’t soldier on. Don’t spread it around. Don’t think you can do it because the payback may be more than you can bear. Be good to yourself.

And thank you to all who’ve looked after me.


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.

In which Ruth ponders pastoral care surprises

The phone rang.

“Rector, I’m just letting you know that my sister E has been taken to hospital. It’s not looking good. They’ve withdrawn all food and antibiotics.”

I’ve been visiting E since I came here five years ago. In all that time we’ve never really had a conversation although she receives communion in her Care Home every month. She had a brain tumour over 20 years ago and is not able to communicate well, but she often has a smile and we know she appreciates receiving the sacrament. I tell her brother I’ll go up to the hospital first thing.

To tell you the truth, I’m not feeling great myself. Ropey asthma and maybe a virus beginning. Slept for 10 hours the night before and feel achy all over. Figure whatever I’ve got won’t do E any more harm. Jump in car with oil and wee bookie and head off.

lost-directionForget that there is a road closure so get caught in traffic jam on temporary lights and follow diversion signs which take me up a road I’ve never been before. Lose diversion signs and keep driving until I end up at the Falkirk Wheel. In a carpark I never knew existed. Go back and try to find where I should have turned off. Miss it and end up at some high flats. Drive around until I find the canal and follow it until I find a road I do recognise and finally reach the hospital. Not a carpark space to be found and I join those circling round and round looking for likely suspects about to leave. Spot a space and some idiot drives up the one-way road the wrong way to beat me to it. I spit feathers.

By this time, a journey which should have taken me 15 minutes has taken an hour and I am not well pleased. Find a space at the furthest point from the hospital and head off uphill, inhaler at the ready. Reach hospital, puffing and wheezing, and discover E is in the farthest ward possible. Of course she is. Think to myself that at least this will give me plenty steps on my Fitbit (measures the exercise I take each day) only to find the battery on it is dead. Of course it is.

Get to E’s ward and there she is asleep. I take her hand and gently tell her I’m there. She opens one eye and looks distinctly miffed at being woken up. ‘It’s Ruth,’ I say, ‘from Christ Church. Would you like communion?’ E throws my hand away and closes her eye. I take her other hand. ‘E, it’s Ruth, shall I say some prayers with you?’ She pulls her hand away and puts it under the covers. The other three ladies in the ward look at me over their magazines and sip-cups and wait to see what I will do.

Undeterred, I go into my bag for the oil of healing. It isn’t there. Of course it isn’t. It is on my car seat. So I sit down and pray. I pray for E. I say the Lord’s Prayer and she opens an eye again. But she doesn’t wave me away. I sit and breathe and pray some more. This is grand, I think. I’m feeling much better now. I make the sign of the cross on E’s forehead and I think we both feel a wee bit calmer now. Well I know I do.

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

A little hospital encounter

The placeFalkirk Community Hospital

The Cast A caring, slightly weary priest and a little old lady

The Script

The conversation thus far had established that little old lady was rather confused and had lost her memory. She had no idea why she was in hospital, didn’t know if she had a doctor, had no recall of any visitors, and was freezing cold. I offered her my purple cashmere fingerless gloves to try, which she popped on, tucked under her oxters and that was the last I saw of them. The conversation finished thus:

Priest:  Is there anything I can bring in for you?

Lady:  (silence)

Priest: Anything at all you need?

Lady: (silence but looks heavenwards as if thinking deeply)

Priest: You know, toiletries? Biscuits? Something to read?

Lady: (silence but really concentrating now)

Priest: Nothing at all? Not even a drink?

Lady: (with sly smile) Oh a glass of wine would do nicely.


A true Episcopalian! Bless her.

Windsor – part 2

Days 3-5 passed in a whirl of lectures, food and group work. Much discussion took place on the differences between our churches, ie CofE, SEC and Church of Ireland. The Irish and I found ourselves with more in common than we’d imagined. We certainly don’t do as many weddings and funerals. What did surprise me was the fact that most of the English clergy liked being part of the established church. But I still think that the way we elect bishops is better.

The pattern of worship grew on me too. To begin with it all seemed to me to be very traditional, patriarchal, and perhaps regimented. There were a lot of prayers for the Queen and the Knights of the Garter and not many for the poor and the homeless. But then I kind of came round to the whole notion of what it is to be a Royal Peculiar and the community that it serves. And it is a community. Almost a monastic community.

Canon James, who led our Consultation, was really rather wonderful and incredibly hard-working. Pastoral care is his thing, right enough. In our own diocese we have spoken about care of clergy a lot recently, and I have come away feeling really rather cared for.

Here are some pics.

St George’s House, where we stayed is the pink building ahead. I was in a room on the second floor. To the right is St George’s Chapel where we worshipped. Ahead is the castle. To the left is the houses where the choir live, I think.

The view from my window. the building straight ahead behind the tree is the Vicar’s Hall where we had most of our meetings.

St George’s Chapel. No photos allowed inside.

A day of encounters

Wouldn’t you know it?  You sit bemoaning the fact that you’ve nobody to talk to except poor Son #1, who has taken to locking himself in the Ann Frank suite, when everyone calls at the same time.

So thank you Fr A & A who popped in for a coffee at the same time as my CMD 4+ interview with the lovely C.  But with the Pisky church it didn’t take long before we were all chatting about mutual friends and events.  My interview went well and I remembered most things I wanted to ask for in terms of ongoing training. Only a dozen emails were needed after to add to the list.

In the evening I was ministered to by Nikki who was really practising on me if truth be known. Nikki does degrees and doctorates like other people do shopping lists and she is also training for ministry in the Church of Scotland. I was ‘Sick Visit No 9 who Will Not Let Me Go’.  We analysed the church(es) as you do, caught up on who’s doing what to whom, and reflected on ministry.

It was such a lovely day full of people. And today I am setting off for Pitlochry for our clergy conference. I wasn’t sure whether to go or not, being off work as I still am, but have decided that my mental health is at risk if I don’t. Our speaker this year is Ann Morisey who I have heard before and was very impressed. And it’s not like the conference is hard work – some worship, some listening, some talking, some eating, some walking and some drinking. I might give the walking a miss.


Managed to get to church yesterday for our AGM. It was hard not being in control of it but Ian, the Vestry Secy, did a very good job and there were no questions, just thanks. Our report book ran into 24 pages this year so there is a lot going on at St Mark’s, and our giving has gone up by £10,000 (with another £7-8,000 to be claimed in tax through Gift Aid) which is just amazing really.

Son #1 has been staying with me supposedly looking after me, but I fear it has been the other way round. His essay is due today so I may get back to normal after that.

Dinner last night was spent at Raspberry Rabbit‘s who came and picked me up, despite the most horrendous traffic diversions, took me to Penicuik and brought me home again replete. It was a veritable feast and what a Christian thing to do! Oh, and the Bishop phoned to see if I was okay too which was a nice pastoral thing to have happen.

So, how are the eyes? Well they are still a bit bloodshot and today I am managing so far without the sunglasses. (But its only 7.30am!) The biggest problem is that I have no reading glasses to wear until I can get my eyes tested later this week. So this message was brought to you by a vivid pink sparkly pair of ready-readers and my nose 3 inches from the screen. But I can see perfectly as far as the eye can see. And all in glorious technicolour. A miracle!

Pastoral apology

I love being a priest. I love people and I love hearing people’s stories. I can even cope with those ‘difficult’ people that we all come across from time to time. I know how to work round their more negative traits and try to turn them into something more positive. And on the whole I am a pretty cheerful person – glass half full and all that.

But – and there had to be a ‘but’ – there is one woman who really gets on my nerves. She is in the same Care Home as my dad and is always sitting next to him when I visit. She is a lonely woman with no family or friends and just the sort of person a priest ought to be able to offer comfort and a listening ear to. And if I was a visiting priest I would. Honest, I would.

But for some reason I find I am unable to be my normal happy sparkling self. You see, she talks non-stop in a whiny voice about herself and how lonely she is and how ill and how cold etc. Then she asks you what you are doing and saying and constantly interrupts. It is impossible to hold a conversation while she is in the room because of her interruptions and the fact that she wants to hold on to your hand. I don’t know what it is about her but she really, really makes me grit my teeth.

You know I read this back and I feel awful. She is exactly the kind of person I am called to love. And I would at any other time, really I would. But when it takes away my precious time with Dad I just can’t do it. And maybe it’s about guilt and the fact that I don’t visit him as often as I should.  So when I do visit I want our time together to be free and uninterrupted.

My sisters have the same problem with this lady, as do the staff. And when I hear on the news today that some Lord had complained about nurses in hospital being uncaring then I get a small glimpse into their world. So what we do is ask Dad to come with us to the visiting lounge or his bedroom, but sometimes he doesn’t want to move and often she will follow or complain loudly that she is being left alone.

So I guess that’s my confession to you, dear readers. My own penance is to pray for her and to try and be nicer to her next time but if you’ve got any other suggestions, feel free…

Btw, it has taken me an hour to pluck up the courage to post this and expose my spiteful nature to all of blogland!