The Institution of Fr Martin Robson as Rector of St Michael & All Saints

I’m on holiday at the moment (potential burglars please take note this is a staycation) but on my first day I had to go into Embra for the Institution of Fr Martin Robson as Rector at St Michael & All Saints. Lots of clergy and lots of Martin’s little flock filled the pews as the incense began to smoke its way to the rafters. The choir were in good voice singing the Missa Brevis by Rachmaninov which I didn’t know before but really loved the Agnus Dei. And who doesn’t love a good Litany at an Institution? Parry’s I was Glad always brings a tear to my eye too.

Bishop John preached on the danger of little flocks thinking that Father knows best and leaving him to it. I gather Fr John Penman had preached on the dangers of clergy stress the Sunday before, citing Fr Malcolm Round’s article in Inspires, so I think they’ve got the message by now. There’s a good lay team now at St Mike’s so I’m sure they’ll be fine.

As ever, for me, it is lovely to go ‘home’. The smell of incense, the candles, the stained glass, and the feeling of deep, deep prayer all make it a joy. Even the unexpected bell in the middle of the eucharistic prayer (no, not at the Epiclesis!) didn’t spoil my bliss.

My prayers are now with Fr Martin and his family as they settle in to life at Spiky Mike’s.

Photo pinched from Facebook.

Martin's institution 2014


In which Ruth ponders going home

St Michael and All Saints will always be home for me. It was my first church, the church where I grew up, the church where I grew in God. It was the church where I was confirmed at Candlemas, where I sank into my first Holy Week, where I climbed the mountain to all the great Feasts of the Church. It was the church where I was one of the first women to serve at the altar and what a privilege that was, and still is. It was the church where I learned to laugh at religion, and laugh and laugh. It was the church where I first made my Confession and was forgiven and laughed and cried.

Whenever I go back it is like going home. The pews may be hard but they are just the right height for me to sit comfortably. On a good day I can even kneel which I can’t do anywhere else these days. But there is something about the smell of Spiky Mike’s that gets me every time. It is the smell of stones soaked in incense and candles and prayer. And as I dip my fingers in that little glass bowl at the door to make the sign of the cross, I know I’ve come home. I’ve come home and it will be easy to get into that place where you can worship God in comfort and ease. I won’t need to sit and check everything out. I won’t be surprised by anything: be it sudden prayer or unusual hymns. I know how the service will go and it does. I know the Easter hymns will be the same Easter hymns we had when I was there fifteen years ago. I can relax and let go and let God.

On Sunday I was on holiday for my post-Easter breakdown. I’d had a week of reading and relaxing and tidying and pottering. All week I had been wondering where I’d go to church. Go home. Go home. But its a fifty mile round trip. Go home. So I did. And they were all there, those familiar faces, older now with more grey hair. And new ones too, people I didn’t know. People doing the jobs I used to do. I used to read, and do the intercessions and serve at that altar, you know. I’ve preached from that pulpit, you know, and some left and sat outside because I am a woman. I’ve celebrated the mass at that altar, you know. And some stayed away and the thunder cracked and we laughed nervously and I looked out at all those affirming faces and knew it was going to be all right. This is home for me. It is not perfect. It sometimes makes me angry. Sometimes I wish it would modernise a little. Just a little. But home is like that. Home isn’t always perfect.

Spiky Mike’s are getting a new priest soon. Fr Martin will learn to love the sights, and smells and the people just as I do. They were all talking about him on Sunday. What will he be like? Will he want to make changes? Will he love us? And then the conversation quickly changed to the Bishop’s throne and who will climb up to dress it for Fr Martin’s Institution because that’s what Spiky Mike’s think they do best. They make liturgy happen and they want it to be the best for God. (The Bishop’s throne came from a skip outside the King’s Theatre, by the way!)

So I went home. And it is good that home is there for me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’d change a few things if I could. But maybe its just as well I can’t.

StM high altar

My Church Fathers and Mothers

I’ve been thinking lately about the people who have inspired me. This came about when I heard the sad news of the death of John Maitland Moir last week. When I was a teenager growing up in Tollcross, Edinburgh John was a well-kent figure cycling about town on his old black bike in his flowing cassock with long white beard. He was an Episcopal priest who eventually converted to the Orthodox faith in his fifties. (I’m sure at this age he actually looked about 70, or is that just the perception of a young person?) He looked eccentric in his ‘funny’ clothes but he also had the look of a holy man. For a while Fr Gordon Reid of St Michael & All Saints, my home church, allowed Fr John’s Orthodox church to use our side aisle and altar for their services. Then he used a building in George Square near the Meadows, I think. And now the church has grown so much they need a larger building and have just purchased a disused church nearby. A saintly man.

On Thursdays at our midweek service I have been telling the stories of the saints each week in place of a sermon. Some of the saints are well known and others are unknown to most of us. Those often are the most interesting ones! Last week we learned about Isabella Gilmore, Deaconess and had a great discussion about Deacons and Deaconesses and holy women. This week I noticed that the SEC was commemorating Canon Albert Ernest Laurie, late of Old St Paul’s. Canon Laurie is one of those names that is spoken about in reverential tones. Although I’ve never been a member of OSP, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t heard of him even although he died in 1937. He became a Lay Reader at OSP when he was studying theology to finance his studies and was ordained in 1890 and continued to serve his curacy there. When Canon Innes (no relative as far as I know) left Laurie was unanimously elected rector of OSP and remained there for all of his ministry. Imagine never leaving one church for the whole of your working life! Another saintly man, still spoken of reverently, who worked with the poor and had an intense devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He received the Military Cross for his bravery in caring for the wounded at the Battle of the Somme.

RitaSo who are your saintly people? Most of mine are still living so I won’t embarrass them here. But among them are priests, both male and female, conventional and unconventional. There are lay people, eccentric and homely. There are saints in books and whose shrines I have visited and adored. And there are people like Alan Ecclestone whose story I read when at Theological College and would practically have traded in my bible for his autobiography if it had been allowed. And there are many who have been in my little flocks and who serve as models of the faith to me. I still have so much to learn.

So, come on. Who are yours?

Confirmation Classes, past and present

When I first started going to St Michael & All Saints in about 1985 I was very quickly asked if I’d like to go to Confirmation Classes. I really had no idea what they were, but as I was embracing the whole SEC thing, it seemed like a good idea. I had to get my mum to babysit and I’m not sure that she really believed I was going to a church meeting that ended up in the pub. For Fr Emsley was a priest who did his best mission in the Auld Toll Bar in Tollcross over a pint of frothing ale. That part of the evening, I have to say, was much more exciting that the previous class.

I remember there were about 6-8 of us in that class ranging in age from 14-50ish. And I spent most of them hoping that Fr E wouldn’t catch my eye and ask a question. Having no church background or Sunday School memories, I really knew nothing about the bible, the prayer book or the church. Nor was I brave enough to ask in case folk thought I was stupid. It seems ridiculous now. Now I have no qualms whatsoever about asking anything at all. The confirmation classes were long and boring and dry. There was a lot of history, something about miracles in the bible, and then something about the Scottish Prayer Book. I was just glad when it was all over and I realised there was not going to be a test at the end of it.

Yesterday, as I sat with four eager teenagers, I remembered those days and smiled. It is so very different today. Our topic yesterday was the Bible and my plan was to gently introduce them to the notion that some of it might be myth, some might be ‘of its time’ and the importance of contextual study but they were way ahead of me.  We hadn’t got past the Pentateuch when they were telling me how some rules in Leviticus are not obeyed now, so why should the RC church get so het up about equal marriage?  We did ponder sex before marriage and whether that constituted ‘sin’ or not, before somehow moving on to circumcision and why it was sensible in hot countries and how shocking female circumcision was today.

Please let me tell you that I didn’t bring up any of these subjects. They just came up naturally in the conversation and were issues that they wanted to explore in a Christian setting. This group accepted a God of all faiths very easily, and loved the fact that they were Episcopal which meant that they were much more accepting of others than many churches. They like being liberal and catholic.

It really was the most glorious hour I’ve spent in a long time and filled me with hope. Bless them.

We’re doing prayer next week and I can’t wait.

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!

The Consecration of the Rt Rev’d Kevin Pearson as Bishop of Argyll & The Isles

Just back from a glorious two days in Oban (weather not glorious) for the consecration of my dear friend Bishop Kevin. Lots to report on the jaunt but no time yet as parish duties call. However, here are some photos to keep you going. (I’m afraid my new camera does not take good photos and they are not the best quality but you’ll get the gist.)

Bishop Kevin

The College of Bishops and me!

+Kevin and the Dean of Windsor, David Conner

+Kevin and Elspeth dance the night away

Me and the Bishop of Sweden (after she gave me a blessing)

+Kevin with the choir and servers of St Michael & All Saints

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi.

Bach. Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour.

The Jeffcoat Gloria and Glorias soar.

King James Bible. Why?

They eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord: and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thy hand: and fillest all things living with plenteousness. Alleluia.

Dom Gregory Dix – was ever another command so obeyed?

My song is love unknown. Ave Verum. Bread and wine, the Body and Blood. Sweet Sacrament Divine. Of course.

Let us proceed in peace… and the smell of rose petals mingling with incense.

Tantum Ergo. The bell rings. With us. With us.

Hail, Redeemer, King Divine… Angels, saints and nations sing, Praised by Jesus Christ our King. Lord of life, earth, sky and sea, King of love on Calvary.

Thinking of nuns

Finding somewhere to go to church when you are on holiday is always something to ponder. Do you want to try something new, something local, something later, or something familiar? Yesterday I went for the latter and went back to St Michael & All Saints for that instant “Aaaahhhh…” feeling. I don’t quite know what it is that does it so instantly for me. Is it the building, the smell of incense and beeswax, the lighting, the people, the memories (my first church, my Confirmation, etc), the pews (yes the pews are just the right height for kneeling) or just the familiarity and the sense of anticipation that something great is being done for God in this place? Maybe it is a combination of it all and yesterday was no different. I felt safe.  A smile of recognition welcomed me and I knew I could relax.

Of course it was not exactly the same. There are some changes: children chattering with no frosty looks; readings done in a different place without the hassle of moving the Legillium; procession and dismissal slightly different; choir and organ on the other side. But none of that mattered one iota. It was still my taste of heaven.

Then this morning I was chatting with a friend about an article in the Church Times by Sister Rosemary.  Talking about a book Stolen Daughters, Virgin Mothers: Anglican sisterhoods in Victorian Britain she says:

…the great Anglo-Catholic slum-priests who are so justly celebrated and honoured tend to be represented as heroic figures tackling the problems of their neighbourhoods single-handed. It is rarely remembered that they were probably assisted by a small army of Sisters who visited parishioners in their homes and cared for them, ran Sunday schools and mothers’ meetings, and under-pinned all the work of the parish with regular prayer.

In the olden days All Saints had a convent, a hospital and a school. Fr Holmes had January and February off each year. But he is the one who is remembered so fondly. Suspect that wouldn’t be the case if I took 2 months off each year after Christmas!

Bring back the nuns, I say.

And on the Sabbath you shall rest

I don’t think so.

We kept the Feast of All Souls twice yesterday morning, reading out the names of all those known to us who have gone before. It was a long list this year and I could read most of them because most people heeded my plea to PRINT the names of their beloved. The church was still bedecked with skeletons which added a certain je ne sais quoi.

Then it was a mad dash across town to St Michael & All Saints for the celebration lunch to celebrate the restoration of the church. The green carpet is down and looks just spectacular. Red and green is a bold choice for a church but if anyone can carry it off, St Mike’s can. Lots of familiar faces and plenty clergy to hobnob with. Nice to see Fr Tom Cuthell (retired CofS minister from St Cuthbert’s) who is the most catholic presbyterian ever. A long time ago I went on one of his Assisi pilgrimages and have very fond memories.

Back home to see Son #2 off to his new flat in the centre of town, making it much easier for him to get to work. Mind you it looks like there is still a lot of detritus to clear up. Of course five minutes after he’d left and I was just enjoying the peace and quiet, Son #1 phoned and asked if he could come and stay the night. The peace was short lived.

Then back to church for our Alternative Service which had the theme of Remembering. Tisec’s training in ministry with tea lights came into its own. Lots of silence too. Bliss.

And throughout it all we had to take part in the new census of age/gender profile which is happening throughout November. Everyone who comes through the doors has to tick their age group, gender, and whether they are a family or not. There would have been a time when the vast majority would have ticked the over 60 box but no longer.

And finally, for those interested, there are 3 vacancies on St Mark’s Vestry. Names should be in by next Sunday.

Gone home

How about a wee break from the plumbing saga and a little religion?

This morning, as I’m on holiday (ha!), I went ‘home’ to St Michael and All Saints for a fix of old time religion. The Festival Masses don’t begin until next Sunday but we were treated to a little Schubert which warmed my soul no end. Mother Marion preached an excellent sermon on Jacob wrestling at Jabbock and the Anglican Communion. The incense billowed softly (was that Big Aggie I saw?) and the new decor was sublime. Sorry, I forgot the camera but it is red and green which has transformed the reredoses. (Is that the plural of reredos? No doubt the grammar police will tell me!)

Lovely to see old friends and just a pity I had to dash off at the end to get back to the aga saga. I’m still trying to stay positive about it all and looking forward to hot running water again. I am really very lucky, all things considered.