In which Ruth heads to the deep south of Englandshire

The Scottish Episcopal Church is quite generous with clergy holidays, I think. We get 4 weeks and then the inside of a week (not Sundays) after Christmas and Easter. I guess that covers the 10 days of public holidays that we miss. Then of course we have a retreat and clergy conference and possible continuing training which of course our little flocks think of as holidays because we’re not there but we know better. So it gets to a point when they say, “Oh, so you’re off on holiday AGAIN?” and at that point we think we’d better not mention that we are still due a week off this year but daren’t take it!

Anyway, I did take one of those weeks and did a bit of pottering around the house and then went down south to stay with old friends at Bracknell. It was lovely to catch up with them and be taken out and about in  a lovely part of the country. This time we did Reading, Ascot, a Harvest Supper and a local garden. Nice shops, nice canal, nice dresses and hats, nice sausage rolls, nice knot garden.

I was also asked to celebrate at the Family Service at Holy Trinity, Bracknell. It is a strange thing celebrating in another church, especially when you are not familiar with the liturgy. Just as you think you know this bit there is a slight tweak to throw you off course. And I foolishly believed the chalice bearer who told me to consecrate more wine when it looked like there were only two more people waiting. Perhaps there are more in hiding, I thought, as I said a quick prayer over the flagon he’d lead me to. There was a whole lot of wine to consume at the end of that mass. But apart from that it all went terribly well and my celtic blessing made at least one woman cry. (I think that was in a good way.) Of course the microphone switch was the opposite way round from our one in CC so there was a bit of thinking I was off when I was on and thinking I was on when I was off but we get there in the end. (That’s another thing in the church that should be universal, like curtain fittings in rectories.)

Then last week they dropped me off at the Henry VIII Gate of Windsor Castle as I took part in the Clergy Consultation on Believing in Baptism at St George’s House.  This year I was asked to be a Facilitator for my little group which was fun. My brain was given a good old workout with some Augustine, Calvin and Barth as well as some New Testament and the obligatory poetry (all quite good this time, I’m glad to report). We dealt with some meaty issues too, like What is Original Sin and What is the Soul? And we considered what the church would be like if we did away with Baptism. This all lead on to discussions on when a child should receive communion and what was Confirmation for? I also picked up some nice ideas for playing around with liturgy. But sshhh don’t tell the Bishop. And we had a lovely time in Canon James’ newly refurbished house in the cloisters with a glass of rather nice plonk.

The choir in the chapel were on good form and while some complained that we didn’t get to ‘join in’ at Evensong I was quite happy to sit and let the music wash over me. It is not often you get to sit among some wonderful singers belting out Tallis. The Eucharist in the morning was in my favourite little chantry chapel with the cutest unicorn to ponder.

So all in all it has been a good break. I met some super people, I saw some wonderful things, I heard some glorious music and I was well fed in the dining room and at the Eucharist.

To Windsor Castle and back again

Last week about 30 clergy gathered in St George’s House in the grounds of Windsor Castle for a Consultation. I was amongst them, for if you’ve been on one Consultation (and I have) you want to go again and again… Of course the Consultation itself is always worthwhile, but then there is also the actual ‘staying in a castle’ and eating fabulous food and worshipping in St George’s Chapel that makes it all the more special.

The theme of this Consultation was Theology and Funerals – and you know how I love a good funeral. It was led by the Rev’d Canon Dr James Woodward and the Rev’d Dr Canon Hueston Finlay who is the Warden. Each day there were other speakers but I can’t tell you who they were or I’d have to kill you, but let’s put it this way – one of them was to be heard on Radio 4 this morning so by that you can assume they were of a pretty high calibre. We also did some study in groups and that is how we network and hear others’ stories which is one of the best bits. Oh, and there was some poetry too. Eek.

On the first night we had a tour of St George’s Chapel by one of the Military Knights of Windsor who was just a wee poppet. And of course I fell in love with the cutest little unicorn on the tomb in the chapel where we had the morning Eucharist. Sadly I wasn’t allowed to take a photo but I’m hoping that some dear person might do that for me sometime soon… Our Consultation was weaved around the daily offices and there is something rather splendid about saying those with others when you are used to doing it on your own. (Although the speed of the eucharist some mornings was a little alarming!)  And Choral Evensnog with choir was always soothing and soaring. Oh to live near a cathedral and have that every day…

We also had a trip one day into Windsor Great Park to see the Royal Chapel which is where HM usually worships. It is a delightful little parish church and the Vicar was a hoot, desperately looking for jokes to amuse HM. (She likes a joke and Mattins, by the way.) That job will be available next year but I don’t think I’ll be applying…

Of course it all passed too quickly in a haze of pre-dinner G&Ts, smokes in hidden places, scorching weather and blustery days, jokes and stifled giggles (well you really shouldn’t mix up ‘immortality’ and ‘immorality’ at a Memorial Evensnog!), cooked breakfasts, delicious food, scampering up to a Canon’s residence for vino, and conversations about death and resurrection.

I’m already looking forward to the next one…



The Church of the Good Shepherd

As this is the last day of my holidays I decided to go to the Church of the Good Shepherd at Murrayfield and then pop along the road to visit Papa in the Twilight Nursing Home.  (It’s not really called that but The Tower always smacks of punishment somehow.) As they don’t have a website (how can any church NOT have a website these days?) I had to rely on the red book to give me the service time.

It is a pretty little church with lots of rather nice features. Smiley person handed me the pile of papers and hymnbook but no conversation. A sign told me to sit at the front but nobody seemed to pay much attention to that so although I was five rows back there was just one person in front of me. A couple came to join me at the end of my row, but i was left pretty much to myself. The theme was Sea Sunday so the hymns were particularly trad and masculine in flavour. Mass setting was St Thomas and the choir of five did a little descant at one point. The sermon was preached by Brenda, the Deacon, and was fine. No communion hymn but the organist played something instead and those behind me had a good blether.

At the end of the service the woman beside me asked if I usually attended diocesan conferences because she thought she recognised me. So we had a nice chat about purple things and her gorgeous handbag which came from Skye.  She was very friendly. I think the congregation went off to the hall for coffee but I had a quick word with Fr Dean and then scooted off to see dad.

One thing that did catch my eye was the rather gorgeous hand movements that Fr Dean did at the Epiclesis. Thumbs were crossed and hands fanned out (like a bird) and then swooped out breaking the link and moving divinely into hands oran position. It was really rather nice.

In St George’s Windsor we never had a Blessing once (and I never found the Epiclesis on the people at all) so it was nice to finally finish with a blessing before being sent out. What’s that all about anyway?

And now I have the rest of the day to catch up on TV I missed while away, a little reading perhaps (def not poetry!) and then back to work tomorrow. First job will be clearing the desk. Etc, etc.

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.

Windsor – part 1

On Monday I flew down to Heathrow and then on to Windsor Castle for a Consultation on Pastoral and Practical Theology. (That’s a ‘course’ to you and I!)  The programme has been so full, and the craich so good, that I haven’t had time to blog and have only FBed and Tweeted on my phone.

My room is in St George’s House which is just behind St George’s Chapel. The view is amazing (photos to follow). We all have to wear security passes which let us through the gates without being molested by the many polis on duty, not to forget the poor guard who has to stand to attention all day long. Of course they do change the guard – accompanied by brass band – which is a lovely distraction to the many lectures.

Worship is in the Chapel – Mattins at 7.30am then Mass in a Chantry chapel at 8am. Choral Evensnog in the evening is just heavenly, if a little bit of a spectator sport. All male choir of course. All male everything, in fact. Not a priest-who-happens-to-be-a-woman in sight. But the clergy are gorgeous and delightful and I already have a crush..!

Day 1 was on pastoral and practical theology.

Day 2 on poetry – especially Philip Larkin. I struggled a bit on Day 2.

Day 3 on Feminist Theology with Zoe Bennett which was fabby.

We have groups too which meet a couple of times a day to discuss certain topics and they are useful. And in between there are coffee breaks looking over the castle walls; the most incredible food; a rather nice loyalty bar; and great company.

Time to go and work some more… more later.