Head above the pulpit…

So. Here I am back again writing my blog after a wee break. Of about 2 years or more, but life has been rather hectic. But no doubt I will be telling you all what has happened in my life and the Ferguson clan over the last few years in various blogs in the days, weeks and months to come. Suffice to say I am still here, still a priest and still in Aberdeen. But not for much longer!

God has plans for us it seems and so it is off to the the southern realms of Angus as I have been appointed Rector of Montrose and Inverbervie from September. So the next couple of months will be spent resting, packing, finishing and getting excited about my new charges whilst saying fond farewells to the old.

Change is good and change is coming. But for some of us change doesn’t happen quick enough. This past week I have been in Edinburgh at our Church’s General Synod. It was the usual state of play. Lots of talk, lots of coffee, lots of meeting old friends and lots of behind the scenes chat.

There was also a lot of listening happening. Listening in our new venue P&Gs church, on our round tables of fellow pilgrims. So what did we hear?

Let me tell you a story…

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, in the age when no one knew whether Boy George was male or female (especially my mother), when the most important item in my wardrobe was my white stilettos, when all I ever aspired to was to bear the offspring of either Harrison Ford or Michael J Fox (either would have done), I met a boy. This boy was part of a group of young adults attending a trip to Taize.

I fell madly in love with this boy but alas it was not to be. For after a wild unsuccessful teenage love affair, this boy and I decided overwhelmingly that he was gay. I shall spare you the details. But this wonderful boy and I remained good and close friends for many years.

So it was with joy that in 1990 I attended his Ordination to the Diaconate at Winchester Cathedral. But. Two years on after my friend had to leave his beloved church after being bullied and hounded out of his curacy. All because he is gay. I watched the church I love destroy my friend. And my heart broke.

Now many many years later I am in a position to heal that hurt. For many of my lesbian and gay friends this is far too little far too late. But.

Last week what we did at General Synod was finally acknowledge in public and aloud and on record that our bijou Church is now ready and willing to talk about these issues. To debate them and to potentially change our canonical rules to finally grant equality and justice to those for whom it has been a long time coming.

Many many friends out there are angry right now that our church was not brave enough to take matters further last week. To them anything I try to say to justify our synodical processes will seem trite and patronising so I won’t even enter into debate. For I hold them in high esteem and can see the genuine pain they are in. But.

All I would say is that we forget that we live in a democracy. We take it all for granted. We forget how far we have actually come in society and in our churches. Thirty years ago it would never have occurred to me that I could be a priest. Thirty years ago my gay friend lost more than just his faith when the people he served hounded him out of his vocation all because he fell in love with a man. It may not be working the way many people wish, but it is the only process we have.

We have begun. We have begun to catch up with God. We will get there, together, as a whole church and we are doing it the best way we can. There is no happy ending, there is no magic wand to wave it all and make it so. The law of the land is changing and the church will too whilst keeping to the Gospel and affirming that everyone is equal and fully loved by God, just as they are. Thirty years too late for some. But for others the hope that wasn’t even a possibility is now a reality. Stay with us, stay close and let us keep moving forward together.



Clothed in love…

We all have our own personal amour that we wear day in, day 0ut, to protect us from the pain of life. 

For some of us, regardless of what is happening in our personal lives despair or delight, we wake up, put on our lipstick, don our heels, battle with our hair straighteners, and with shoulders back, go out and to take on the world. (Even sometimes the men as well…!)

We put on the amour of ourselves every morning for battle with the world.  And those are just the good days…

Sometimes, the good days are replaced with the slightly more challenging ones.  And then, sometimes, these days are totally smothered by days of darkness.  Not even painting one’s nails red and buffing the red shoes can protect one from days when the light is dim.

This past week has been one of darkness and of light.  I, reluctantly, went on Retreat to spend quiet time with God as She was getting a bit antsy about always being last on my daily to do list.  I take a retreat this time of year as it is the anniversary of my ordination to holy orders on 14 September.

I went this year rather reluctantly to the place that I normally feel is my spiritual home, my sanctuary, my hiding place – The Bield at Blackruthven, Perth. http://www.bieldatblackruthven.org.uk/The_Bield_at_Blackruthven/Welcome.html

This is such a special place, not least because of  the warm welcome of  friends, the good food, comfy sofas, warming fires, labyrinth in the meadow, adult sized swings in the orchard and swimming pool hidden through the courtyard garden.  It is the sense of soul-ease that I receive the minute I drive into the tree-lined driveway that is enough to relieve any stress I have brought with me.

Usually, I cannot wait to get to this place of rest and renewal.  However this time was different.  Life has been very demanding and stressful over the last 6 months – taking on a new church, financial pressures, worries about daughter of mine, hubbie’s eternal and never-ending back problems and being so far away from me during the week – all a bit much really.  I have managed to keep going, putting on my armour, day in day out, but the energy required to keep doing that was increasing whilst my light was decreasing. 

I realised last week that if I stopped for one moment, got off the merry-go-round of my life, I was worried that I would not be able to get back on it again.  But off it I came, reluctantly.  That voice in my head saying:

God is with you,

God loves you,

For God’s sake…stop…

So I came to the Bield and I stopped.

I arrived, unpacked, took off my lipstick, my clerical collar, my jewellery, my armour…

I sat in their beautiful simple chapel and said to God, “well you have got me here, now what …?”

And I waited and I waited.  And it wasn’t until I agreed to do the retreat silently that I finally heard God’s voice that I have spent the last few months trying to drum out with the mad rhythm of my life.

Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will refresh you…

So I found and listened to the still small voice of calm within and without, with the help of the wonderful staff there and my friend and Holistic Therapist Gail (fab massage not to be missed!) 

I had forgotten who is in control of my life. I had made my armour my reality.  I have now remembered the person beneath the armour who needs to be loved and nurtured herself.  The only clothing I need now is to be clothed in love and so my friend, do you. 

Take of your armour if you dare and clothe yourself in God’s love…

Let Go Let God

But only if She does it on my terms…


Secrets and strangers…

It struck me the other day how complete strangers seem to know all about our hidden, deepest, darkest secrets.  It is quite scary how many people outside my immediate circle of family and friends know about my most intimate traits.  I realised this when, in between the usual churchy stuff one fills one’s day with, I did the following…

Went to my local pharmacy to collect the huge bag of drugs I seem to have to inhale into my body every day just to keep it upright and moving.  So now the lovely young lass behind the counter knows all about my body’s quirks and failings…I won’t bore you with those intimate details, but she knows…

Returned, under advisement, via 2nd Class Mail at my local Post Office, my QVC bought-whilst-merry (!) purchase, so now my charming Postie knows I like to waste my money on the ROYAL MAIL and shopping channels and how I spend my enforced single evenings whilst not at Vestry meetings or praying…

Went to Asdas and had an interesting chat with the checkout girl about the lack of my day off, what rubbish I was eating for my lonely- heat-it-up-in-the-microwave-meal-for-one tea, what brand of deodorant I use and my current craving for milkyways…she too was to work the weekend, although she would be paid well for it…

Went to Staples to photocopy the monthly Church newsletter and was asked all sort of intimate questions just to get a loyalty card…who knew that my maiden name would still have power and an airing 18 years on…

Answered my door to the Next Directory Lady who knows my latest fashion addiction to plimsols is not really under any kind of control…

Went to buy my lunch at Subway where the lovely student now knows how I like my meatball subs…extra cheese, hold the salad, why spoil a good thing?

Went to John Lewis to buy some wrinkle creme and had an interesting educational conversation about how my wrinkles were deepening (due to stress or lack of sleep or both) and how I could ‘change and adapt my lifestyle to improve my skin’s elasticity’ which sounded rather painful and tiresome.  The creme was way too expensive so I came away with tester to try (cheapskate, I know, but I am on a stipend!)… but we did also discuss why the churches were emptying whilst the shopping centres were filling up on Sundays…ah, yes the Gospel according to TK Maxx had yet another airing…

Went to the library to apologise, once again, for the returned books and their accompanying puppy teeth embossing.  Realised that yet another complete stranger now knows my hidden passion for stories about murders, sex, ghosts and religious conspiracies…(anything to take me away from the real world for an hour or two) and how, when borrowing them in a dog collar, this could look suspicious unless I claimed it was research…?

And that was my day, sharing my secrets with strangers whilst bringing God to the homebound, speaking about God to other God botherers and putting the world to rights by writing my sermon.  Strangers who now know more about me than I do about them.  

Surprisingly, I feel reassured by this in a weird way.  I don’t feels threatened or worried about the kind of power ‘knowing’ my inner secrets could potentially give people. They were, and will remain, strangers. For me it felt as if God was in all those people I met and that God was looking after me through them.  To them, I was probably a mere blink of black in their day.  But, hey, they now know far more about the human foibles of a priest that they ever probably needed or wanted to! 

Who now knows your hidden secrets?  Have a think over your day…


Dog is God spelt backwards…

(A shorter form of this article can be found in the Summer Edition of INSPIRES – the Scottish Episcopal Church’s magazine – please subscribe for this excellent publication here: http://www.scotland.anglican.org/index.php/news/inspires_subscription_form/)


In this world, there are two types of people when it comes to pets.  You either love them or hate them.  I have found that there is little middle ground as the umbrella of Anglicanism is not prevalent in this forum.  And, within those who love pets, there are several variations.  Dog or cat, warm bloodied or cold bloodied, reptile or arachnid.  People’s preferences are bizarre and extreme.

I am a dog person.  I was a cat and dog person for the first 18 years of my life, but, after 18 years of wedded bliss to a man who is firmly in the dog arena; I am now a dog person.  My first dog, who owned me as an adult, was a West Highland white terrier called Perry.  He was a wedding present bought a mere two weeks after the marriage was consummated in law and in all other ways.  I was not prepared to live in my new married quarter without a pet.  However, Perry was the most difficult and challenging dog I have ever had the good fortune to encounter.  And I loved him with a passion that surprised my conservative, English, repressed soul. 

Our move to Aberdeen, where I was to be Curate, proved too much for the old boy and Perry passed away a week before Christmas, 2009, at the grand old age of 15 and a half.  Arthritic, incontinent (thank heavens for doggy nappies), grouchy and toothless, we loved him to the end.  And a hole in my heart, created on that snowy Thursday in December, has been waiting to be filled ever since. 

This year we decided, as a family, that it was finally time to fill the space that Perry left.  Something was missing and it wasn’t Perry anymore.  We have another dog, Mason, whose breed goes by the grand title of a ‘Dundonian Pound Dog’.  Loving but simple, Mason is, in many respects, ‘a bear of a very small brain’.  He is 10 years old this year and beginning to feel his age, although none of us would dare mention it aloud.  But the unspoken thought in all of our minds was what happens when Mason passes on to join Perry in the great Puppy Park in the sky?  Being left without the joy of a dog was not an option.My Boys!

And so we decided it would be either a holiday or a puppy this year.  The puppy idea won.  After saving up and being alerted by email of the single male Westie puppy born in Scotland this year, we prepared ourselves for the arrival of St Mungo of Glasgow.

The first moment I met Mungo when he was 5 weeks old is one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.  The breeder put him in to my arms sleeping.  Actually, he was snoring his little head off but that didn’t matter.  All of a sudden, he opened his tiny black eyes, looked right into my soul and my heart grew a little bit bigger.  I cried.  I remembered all the love I had felt for Perry and all the pain of his leaving us.  And the edges of that hole in my heart began to slowly knit together and heal. 

Of course, nothing can prepare you for the arrival of a tiny 8 week old bundle of white fur, no bigger than your slipper, who takes over your heart and your home.  Having a young puppy is similar to having a new baby in the house.  The great thing is that they grow up quicker and become house trained in a matter of weeks (God willing) rather than years.  The first two months of Mungo’s arrival are now a blessed blur of disturbed sleep, copious amounts of carpet cleaner, constant mud being hovered up and non-existent flower beds. 

Being a Priest, naturally, I try to reflect theologically in everything I do, think, feel or buy.  Having Mungo is no exception.  I have had many sleepless nights with this ‘precious’ being to think about what the spiritual lessons are to be learned from owning a puppy, or indeed any pet, that captures you body, mind and soul.  For me it begins simply with this.  Dog is God spelt backwards. 

It seems our furry friends can teach and show us all about our maker without saying a word.  The language of love does not need words, it needs action and trust.  So what exactly has my tiny white puppy taught me?  That life is far too short.  Especially the ones that have a maximum lifespan of 16 years.  If I am blessed by a long life, I expect I will be owned by about 4 or 5 dogs over that time.  That is a lot of expected heartache when it comes to saying goodbye, but the joy of saying hello for those few years are so worth it. 

For me, life is empty and meaningless without the wagging tails and overwhelming love shown by my dogs on my return from ‘the great outdoors’.  We have to learn to enjoy and love those who are precious to us in the moment of now, not in the moment of tomorrow or of yesterday. 

Of course, dogs love you no matter what you do to them.  Be it the dreaded bath, the wonderful walks, the tasty tummyclock time, the unavoidable trips to the vet or the abandonment of the kennels.  Dogs love you and forgive you unconditionally before, during and after all of these moments in their lives as well as all the mundane ordinary times in between.  You are theirs, they are yours.  Dog is God spelt backwards.

Owning a dog is good for body and mind as well as the soul.  Walking my dogs and seeing them run free with wild joyous abandon is one of the most important times in my day.  It keeps me fit, gets me outside and allows my mind to wander in prayer, praise and thanksgiving for our maker. 

Life is also about being naughty and, sometimes, getting away with it.  But every time Mungo rushes in from the garden covered from head to tail in mud with half my bulbs hanging from his mouth, he knows he will get a telling off.  He also knows that after a smacked nose, a bath and warm towel, I will forgive him and love him still.  God is dog spelt backwards. 

There is nothing on this earth that compares to the freely given unconditional love of my God and my dogs.  I know I am loved as I am.  To them, I don’t have to be important and I don’t have to be dressed in fine clothes for them to be with me.  It doesn’t matter what car I drive, what house I live in, how much money I have or what church I attend. 

My Dog, my God, loves me as I am without wanting anything in return but my love and my time.  To understand God’s overwhelming loving forgiveness in action, adopting a puppy is a great beginning.  You may just want to invest in shares in puppy pads and a puppy crate first though!

Wanted! Agents for the X Factor of Grace…

This month has been a busy one already.  From weddings to baptisms, it seems August is full of wonderful ministry opportunities and the chance for me to be dressed in glorious red. 

Every priest knows that we only get one chance to spread the word at these events.  Many of us use the mission opportunities that are opened up at funerals, weddings and baptisms to the full.  When else to you get a chance to remind peeps about God and JC?  These peeps are often only coming through our doors or into the Crem for one reason only – duty, to the one who died, is getting married or being baptised. 

Duty seems to be an old-fashioned word that has raised its head once again in our Nation’s psyche along with other ancient words such as trust, respect, responsibility and honour.  After the appalling behaviour of some members of our communities, it appears that people are suddenly asking what are the reasons behind this sudden appearance of anarchy in our normally sedate British existence.  But this is not sudden. 

The actions of a few represent the unspoken frustrations of the many.  I do not condone the violence, the criminality or the sheer mindlessness of these people.  I pray that they receive the penalties that are due the crimes they have committed.  But when we live in a secular world that awards self and self achievements over responsibility and altruism to others, what else can we expect?

I wonder where are all the church and faith leaders in this?  Why aren’t we hearing from them on our news reports and in our papers?  If this isn’t an opportunity for the faiths to claim back morality for our ‘broken and sick’ society, then I don’t know what we are preaching about week in week out. 

I work for a bloke who professes love in action.  This is tough love that requires committment and responsibility to all those around us.  We have been preaching in our emptying churches for hundreds of years about the effect that putting self above others can create.  We are witnessing this on our streets and in our local shops right now.  It has to stop.  It is time for us to take back control and provide guidence over what is right and what is wrong. And we are witnessing pockets of that through communities waking up, remembering what being a part of community means and getting out to heal their damaged streets together with brushes and bin.

So did I preach at my baptism on Sunday about right and wrong and how broken our society is?  No.  That is not the way to do it.  People do not want to be told what to think or feel or do anymore.  They have no reason to trust those in supposed authority above us or even give them air time.  So we have to start claiming back that integrity, we have to begin to earn our place to be trusted again. 

By the use of ‘we’ I mean the police, politicians, priests, press-people and bankers etc.  Those in our society who have perceived authority but are trusted the least.  What can we expect when their actions are revealed to a world that now revolves around 24 hours instant news.  There is no where to hide anymore. And rightly so.  From Looters to Parlimantary Profitiers, we have to come out from the shadows, apologise, pay the price and be humble by living the truth.  It is the hard way, but then JC never said it was going to be easy.

I talked on Sunday to my lovely family, who I hope to see in church again, one day, that we in the church are Agents of Grace, we are not Judges of it.  Too many of us judge before really looking at who and why we are judging.  I will never say no to anyone who wants baptism, marriage, holy communion etc.  I have no idea what impact my opening of God’s love to that person will take them in their lives and frankly, that is not something I should be concerning myself  with.  That is up to them and God.  It is none of my business.  I have my relationship with God and I am opening a door for them to begin theirs. 

So no preaching about sin, no damnation of those who have looted, raped, murdered and pillared in our society.  Each will account for his/her actions in this world to those who maintain law and order in our society, and each will also account to his/her Maker in the next.  This World is not broken, our attitude towards it is.  We have forgotten who matters and have placed ourselves upon the altar of worship.  It is time for those in the Church and other faiths to stand up and remind people that they are loved.  For it all is simply about love.  Love of others, love of self and love of God.

The world will go on, weddings, funerals and baptisms continue.  The daily life of worry and strife never ends.  But there is a better way to deal with all of this and we, epecially those of us in the church, have a duty to begin singing our song of love once again.

But only if it is on X Factor…


Ageing Tardis Tottie and teeth…

If this blessed rain wasn’t enough to make us all depressed, I am now officially 40 years and 6 months old.  The weather has been rubbish and the summer a complete wash out.  If I don’t get some sun soon, by January I will be counselling myself.

Thinking about birthdays today as it is my Sister’s 37th – Happy Birthday Charlotte – and it would have been my Mum’s 64th (!).  Now having made it half way to 41 years young,  I thought I would reflect on my four score years on this earth.  Someone, joyfully, recently reminded me that I was, in fact, actually now in my 5th Decade.  You will appreciate that they are banished from the Christmas email list, forever.

In an article in the Daily Mail the other day, (I know, I know, it is my dirty little secret like my voting Tory), I read about the 30 telltale signs that show you are getting really, really old. Again, depressingly, I seem to cover about 27 of them.  Here are just some of my favourites: 

Falling asleep in front of the telly (who doesn’t as it is so boring apart from Deadenders, Dr Who and Torchwood), developing a fondness for sherry (who can do any housework without a bottle or two?), forgetting names (compulsory in my job), choosing clothes and shoes for comfort not style (again, compulsory with my job), moving from Radio 1 to Radio 2 (…!), ears growing bigger and hair sprouting everywhere (thank God for the miracle of Waxing!).

The most depressing one on the list was joining the National Trust…which we recently did. These are all signs I am growing older and that I have to accept certain realities in my life like:

1.  I am never going to be Tardis Tottie (a Dr Who assistant).

2.  I am never going to sing lead in a West End musical.

3. I am never going to have a flat tummy, ever.

4. I am never going to be one of those women who go away for an impromptu romantic weekend with just my credit card in my back pocket.  I now need the kitchen and bathroom AND en suite sinks packed in my several overnight bags before I can even entertain the thought of leaving my home for any length of time.  I mean what if the Rapture happens whilst I am away?  I will sooo need my emergency set of small screwdrivers and novelty ice-cube trays then…

5. I am never going to be able to go out for a sherbet (or sherry) or two again or be able to laugh without my Tena Lady firmly applied…(that is a girl thing boys, although I am sure they do boy ones as well.)

Hmm this getting old lark really sucks. However, there ARE positive plus points:

1. I can now say with authority – I am 40 don’t you know!

2. I do not have to answer to anyone (apart from my Bishop) or explain or apologise about the colour of my hair, nails, lips or toes.

3.  I can buy booze legally in the supermarket, laugh out loud when the girl asks my age and can drink said booze without falling down within three minutes.

4.  I do not have to save anything ‘FOR BEST’.  At my age, why wait?  That includes best knickers, best bras, best handbags, best albs, best stoles etc

5. I can drive and be insured without the cost of it creating another national debt crisis.

6. I don’t have to explain to anyone why I like Wham.

7. I can sing and dance along to the music in the supermarket and not feel embarrassed, even if my daughter does disown me.

8. I am proud to have handbags that are older than my daughter and my marriage.

9. As I am getting older, I can blame the fact my body is constantly breaking down due to my age rather than the fact I am fat.

10.  Mostly, I can have fun and relax because I have seen it all at least once before and know that life will carry on, all will be well and there will always be another boy band to replace the last one that broke up.

So getting older isn’t all that bad, in fact 40 is now the new 30.  Roll on 50 I say. 

At least, I still have all my own teeth, for now…


The Boss, boundaries and ‘ealth n safety’…

It is always interesting working for a boss who is silent, pretty much, all of the time.  It is frustrating, annoying, breathtakingly awesome and an unbelievable honour.  It is also an immense privilege being paid to pray, to visit, to drink tea, eat biscuits and to spend most of my waking day doing what I am passionate about –  talking about God. 

This role is a long way from my many previous forms of employment.  Those, as an administrator, mainly consisted of having my boobs stared at (a lot), making coffee (a lot), moving one bit of paper from one side of the desk to the other, organising my boss’s mistresses and collecting his dry cleaning.  I did have an interesting job once  as PA to the woman who manages ‘romantic introductions’ for our British and European aristocracy.  It seems even bluebloods need a hand when it comes to meeting the one and only…

After my recent ‘holiday’, this week it has been back to work as normal.  But, once again, I question what is normal.  I have discovered, as I enter the second half of my life –  the Boss willing –  that I actually work better without timetables, time frames, deadlines and routine.  Very far from working only one day a week, (Sundays) that people seem to assume us clergy peeps do, like most who work from home I seem to have fallen in to the trap of working 24/7.

However, for the first part of my working life I was mainly an office bod.  9am to 5pm with a couple of hours commuting either side, Monday to Friday, constituted my working day.  I knew where I had to be, when I had to be there, what I had to do whilst there and that, most importantly, when I left at the end of the day, that the job would stay behind in my neatly organised filing trays. 

 Very rarely did I bring work home.  Very rarely was I contacted about work at home (unless I was poorly, having a duvet day or sleeping off a hangover). Very rarely did I work at weekends, bank holidays, Christmas or Easter.  And, if I did, the financial benefits for doing so made it very, very worthwhile.

What I am describing here is the normal life that millions of us live every day.  The life of a clergy person is so different.  When I was first ordained I really didn’t quite ‘get’ the difference.  The difference between ‘being’ and ‘doing’.  After three years and a lot of heartache, I do now.

 As a clergy person, I work for a Boss who has no structured opening hours, no sense of personal boundaries, does not understand the concept of life/work balance and who, frankly, has never heard of Employee health and safety guidelines.  Actually, that reminds me of one or two of my previous bosses but the difference is that I didn’t vow to obey them in front of my family, friends and Bishop.

And so my week, ‘being back to normal’ has, as usual, consisted of me running round like a mad person trying to multi task, being in a thousand places at once and trying to keep the world happy.  Even now, whilst writing this blog, I am simultaneously finishing my sermon, tending to my sick daughter who is languishing on the couch with an upset tummy, separating my dogs who have decided that they really don’t love each other today, emptying the washing machine AND trying to explain on the phone to the Nigerian chap that he cannot use my church as a meeting point for a Spiritualist Centre.  At least I assume the Bishop would say ‘No’.  Must ask him next time…

So life returns to normal in all its glorious madness.  However, I am beginning to learn ‘boundaries’ after 3 years living within this maelstrom.  I am. Truly. I have to, otherwise I will have no husband, no relationship with my daughter and no fingernails left by the time I ditch my collar for my stairlift.  So far I have come up with not answering the telephone after 9pm, not answering the door unless it is the Next delivery lady, not checking my emails (or facebook) the moment I unglue my eyes in the morning and NOT to work more than two of the three sections in my day.  Oh yes, and to always, always take my day off…even if it means I spend it doing the housework or filing my bank statements. 

But do you know something dear reader?  Shall I share with you a little secret?  I am more alive now than I have ever been.  I am more aware of the glory and wonder of my Boss and His created world than I ever was when I was sitting at work at my lovely organised desk wondering what colour post-it-note next to use.  I am alive and I have the best job in the world.   

So what makes you get up in the morning? What makes you put one foot in front of the other and keep moving?  If it isn’t something that makes your heartbeat within your body, that makes your soul sing or simply makes you feel, then maybe it is time to look again at your life.  It is never too late to change.  It is never too late to become the person my Boss, and yours, made you to be. 

I am just sorry it took me 30 years to finally hear the call that my Boss had been trying to connect me to for all of my life.  Those were not wasted years, but I do regret all the times I was bored and frustrated.  As I have said before, Life is far to short.  As that famous prayer goes, if you can change it, The Boss grant you the courage to change it, if not, then ask for the serenity to bear it until you can. 

All things really do work together for the good of them who love God…which reminds me I really must get back to that sermon and really must colour coordinate my prayer post-it-notes…


Holidays, walking frames and God’s dogdy hearing aid…

So this is me back to it after two weeks of holiday.  But it was not really a holiday in the strictest sense and I firmly believe that the cosmos still owes me two weeks in the South of France.  I await in hope…

14 hours in a hot car with hot carsick child, hot and backpain stricken Hubbie, two panting hot carsick dogs and a cool box filled to the brim with enough boiled eggs and ham and cheese rolls to start our own Subway stall.  This was just the beginning of our two weeks of family ‘togetherness’ as we drove down to Kent to visit family and friends in order to check they were still breathing, and whether the wills have been written…

Well, we, and the struggling car, survived the journey and it was an interesting two weeks. ‘ Interesting’ is such an interesting word I always think.  It covers a multitude of meanings, but I tend to use it to describe something that I am usually not happy about or want to politely share my dislike of something.  So yes, our ‘holiday’  this year was interesting. 

Filled with visiting my sick grandmother in hospital, having the joy sucked out of us sitting in the dark, hot and stuffy mother-in-law’s hermetically sealed front room (she doesn’t believe in opening windows); wandering aimlessly round the massive Bluewater shopping centre with no money; eating lots of naughty things (mainly Krispy Kreme doughnuts which, quite frankly, are manna from heaven with chocolate sprinkles on top); drinking far too much to counteract the humidity and heat of the mid-Kent scorched landscape (in tiny glasses as my mother-in-law does not possess anything larger than a sherry glass); trying to prevent Mungo puppy from poohing and weeing all over my mother-in-law’s door mat or from jumping in her pond and scaring the fish (all unsuccessfully);  and generally catching up with family who probably rather wished we had not bothered.

In fact, the above list seems rather like the deadly sins all encapsulated within my one holiday of the year.  How depressing.  And depressed I was.  My hubbie and I NEVER argue.  I know this sounds impossible but we simply do not disagree verbally and loudly about much at all.  This has been the balanced state of our relationship for nearly 21 years.  But this trying ‘holiday’ bought out the worst in all of us and argue we did.  Bang goes our record.

There were, however, some highlights and gasps of life to sustain us.  Visiting the V&A museum and spending time with my friend at her bars – Dion’s – in London.  Going to see old friends from RAF Leuchars in Guilford and eating BBQ and drinking too much bubbly outside in the rain.  Celebrating an astonishing 18 years of married wedded bless with my Hubbie at Waggamamas and then sharing a roast beast  with the sister-in-law and their brood.  And, of course, not having to take my grandmother’s funeral…there were moments of joy and relief.

There were very few churchy moments.  Dog collar was not put on once.  The nearest I came to visiting a church was sitting next door to St Paul’s Cathedral, sipping Sangria, whilst the hubbie and daughter braved a few minutes of choral evensong. 

Prayer, however, was constant.  Mainly to get my Nan out of hospital before she learnt the personal geneologies of the poor sufferers in the entire ward.  But also in the form of prayer-arrows to God, trying to get Him to turn His hearing aid up, as I am sure He could not hear my pleas for the Eurolottery win and a helicopter to St Tropez…

And so we returned home.  A long, long journey back north praying the car would make it and, again, eating our body weight in ham rolls whilst listening to yet another Piers Anthony audiobook.  Combined with a quick stop on the way for lunch (not a ham roll) to check on my sister, her children and ailing father, who are all, I am glad to report, still breathing.

So now it is back to normality.  Whilst I have been away, one ex-member of the church died, one member has become a widow and one has left the church in a huff.  All normal and part of the course.  So normality, or whatever in my life passes as normal, resumes.  

My Nan is now home from hospital fighting off the carers with her brand spanking new shiny walking frame and will probably out live us all.  The great-grandchildren are queuing up to put go-faster stripes on it along with Disney Stickers (maybe that is my Aunty though) and taking turns on the stairlift.  She is, of course, charging them 2p a journey.  Pensions don’t go far these days it seems.

Off now to try to scale the ironing mountain, discover if I have a car back seat under the layers of dog fur, dust off the dog collar, crack open the prayer book and tackle the depressing pile of bills I have neatly stacked on my desk in alphabetical debt order.  The suntan lotion has been returned to the back of the medicine cupboard for another year, (as yet unopened), and the passports that were hopefully packed, ‘just in case’, will be returned to the safe. 

Where will we go next year?  Answers on a postcard please, as that is as near to the exotic as I seem to get these days…


Mothers and memories…

Today is the 21st Anniversary of my mum’s death.  Her name was Robina Hillary Pamplin, nee Bickerton.  Known to all as ‘

My Mum

Robina Hiliary Pamplin, 'Bobby' - my Mum.

Bobby’. She was born on 8th August 1947.  Mum was 42 years old when she died suddenly on Saturday, 23rd June 1990, at 4.10pm, because of an undiagnosed brain tumour.

I was 19 at the time and having a ball being a typical student at Bristol doing my Social Science degree.  I was actually suffering from a rather bad hangover that day due to a couple of school friends joining me for a Friday night out in glamorous Papillion’s nightclub in downtown Bristol. 

The incessant banging on my student digs door  from the Porter that lunchtime did nothing to ease my aching head.  But he informed me that there was a phone call from my Dad down at the Security lodge.  Of course this was back in the wonderful quaint days before mobile phones, when there were pay phones everywhere and phone cards were the latest thing.  So I hurriedly got dressed and took the call.

 Get home now. 
With those three words my whole world stopped.  My life’s journey since that day began with those three words.
The rest is a blur, grabbing the first train to Paddington and talking about my mum with my flat mate Elaine.  She came with me after convincing me that driving home was not, perhaps, a good idea.  Being collected by my Grandparents and sister, shocked, pale, snappy and terribly sad.
Arriving at the hospital, seeing all the family gathered, hysterically crying in the waiting room.  And then.  And then walking into that side room, seeing my beautiful mum with a catheter in her mouth, her hair spread on the pillow, pretty nighty on and all the strain of the previous 12 years removed from her face.  I sat down, held her hand, told her I was there, that I loved her and that it was time for her to go.
With her husband and daughters by her side, 10 minutes later she slipped away quietly, silently and in no pain.  She had not regained consciousness since her emergency surgery earlier that day to try to remove the tumour they had only discovered the day before.  It had been growing for 5 years and was the size of a cauliflower.  Mum was being treated for sinusitis and migraine.  She never complained although the pain she must have been in sometimes would have been unbearable.  She had waited for me to say my goodbyes and my promises to look after everyone and then she left us.  The moment she died there was an almighty rain and hail storm and then the sun came out.  She had gone.
I went back to the visiting room, told the family and did something that I had never done before or since.  I lit a cigarette up in front of them and smoked it.  Unheard of in hospital today, but then it was a different world.
I was 19.  I had the world at my feet, I was invincible, I was loved and I thought I knew it all.
My mother was 42, 2 years older than me now.  She was funny, wise, compassionate, forgiving, full of faith, loving and generous.  She had a temper on her that came with an ability to be an excellent shot with whatever came to hand.  She had a smile that would light up the room and a dirty cackle of a laugh that would make even the most sad person laugh with her.  She was my mum and I love her.
21 years is a long time.  And yet it seems like yesterday.  From preparing her funeral, over 300 hundred people would attend, to reading her favourite biblical passage from Ecclesiastes whilst standing in front of her coffin.  On that cold June morning, in the church were she had been born again and confirmed as an Anglican, the future for me in ministry was begun. 
But the day she died was the day I stepped away from mine and her christian faith.  How could I even talk to a God of love who had taken my mother away from me so suddenly?  I didn’t talk to him for nearly 7 years until I fell pregnant with my daughter and there were complications.  He was there for me then as He has always been.  Waiting until my grief, my anger and my loss had lessened.
So it is 21 years on.  Life changed in a heartbeat for me that day.  I stepped away from God, I left my degree mid way, I met my husband and the rest is history.  I am now here doing what I love and am very blessed by my long-suffering husband and beautiful daughter.
And so I type this blog in tears for all that my mother has missed over the last 21 years.  The birth of her three grandchildren, her daughters weddings, our graduations and the next stage of our life journeys.  I know she is proud of us all and that she loves us all, that she is in Gods peaceful love now. 
My mother was someone I wish I had known better, had told her how much I loved her more and who I will always admire and emulate in all I do.  Tell your mother, if you are still blessed with her here today, that you love her.  Life is simply one gin and tonic party between funerals.  You never know when it will end for those you love.  So tell them you love them today.

Winter in Summer…

On this grey raining Summer’s day, may I wish you every blessing for a Happy Summer Soltice.  Mind you, it is downhill all the way now to Christmas, the nights will start to draw in and the world has turned another seasonal corner. Will we in Aberdeen notice?  I doubt it…

Even though it is officially now Summer our Church’s year is a very strange one.  Liturgically, all has gone quiet now and we begin in many respects the ‘fallow’ part of our calendar.  And so for us in ministry it is that weird ‘winter in summer’ period.  While everyone else is usually on holiday over Christmas and Easter, these are the busy times for those in ministry.  During the summer, however, it is a period to rest and reflect on what we have done over the year past and what we will do better in the year ahead.

And so the Universities are finishing with graduations this week – congratulations to all students who will be moving on from one stage of their life journey to the next. Don’t worry, real life with jobs and mortgages isn’t as scary as it seems – you will survive and may even enjoy it!  The school’s are winding down for the long summer break ahead and parents are desperately scratching their heads, wondering what to do with their kids that is cheap over the long holiday weeks.  Elsewhere, those, who can afford to, are packing their cases, eagerly anticipating  and counting down the sleeps for a couple of weeks rest and renewal in the sun, somewhere, anywhere.

And in the churches it is the same.  People go on holiday so numbers will be down.  There are no key liturgical festivals to prepare for and so we await to greet the odd ‘grockle’ (tourist) who arrives on our doors looking for a vaguely recognisable Anglican service whilst they visit our grey rainy shores.  Life goes quiet and there is a simple kind of peace that descends during this season of rest.

But as we all know the busy time will come again.  Plotting for Freshers week has begun, Autumn term school assemblies, lessons prepared for and services planned.  Sermons written, hymns chosen and prayers prayed.   Even during the quiet time, there is still preparatory work to be done and the Church’s ministry to the faithful flock continued.  Life and God’s service never ends. 

I dream about retiring sometimes, of being able to end the madness and alight from the ministry merry-go-round.  But I know that I would miss having the rhythm of my year to sustain me.  I enjoy the busy times but, dear reader, my goodness me I need the restful periods as well.  We all do.  So in whatever plans you have for the next couple of months, I pray that you will get some rest whether it is enjoying the 24hour food on the Cruise ship, sunning your white bits in Spain or, as we will be doing, visiting the relatives to check they are all still breathing.

I will try to blog during this rest-filled time, as, sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing (apart from chocolate)…


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