Monthly Archives: April 2011

Easter Sunday Seals…

It is only now that I feel awake enough to reflect on the highs and lows of last week’s Holy Adventure.  When you are in full-time ministry and hit the busy liturgical times of Christmas and Easter, time seems to take on new meaning. 

It is amazing the amount you can fit into one day that, unsurprisingly, only has the same 24 hours in it as it did the week before.  Suddenly, time expands and every minute of every hour is squeezed full of services, running around preparing for services, visiting people who inevitably need it during the mad season and generally ensuring that all is running to plan.  But there is a down side to this.  After the extremes of emotion that this season of liturgical worship encompasses, there is a point where the church is empty, people return home to their families, the candles are blown out and there is nothing left to do.  All is done.  All is complete.

It is at this point that the weight of ‘perfection’ ministry is felt.  After holding it all in, holding everything together and holding all up, clergy let go and face the reality that God is a hard taskmaster.  Utter, complete and total exhaustion results.  The kind where all you can do is crawl back under the duvet and pray that it passes.  Once this does, and it always does, then there is time to think, to pray and to reflect on what worked, what didn’t work and what could be improved on for next year.  Because – that is the joy of our liturgical calendar – we get to do it all over again next year!

So having now reached the point where I can hold a semi-coherant conversation with my nearest and dearest, where I can sit down without falling asleep and, where I can actually enjoy a glass of wine without it leading to a catatonic state of deep unconsciousness, I am writing my blog on the good and bad parts of my Holy Week.

This was my first experience of running the show on my own.  The joy and the freedom!  What I didn’t expect was that I actually managed to enter in fully to a wholly authentic experience of journeying with Christ towards his cross. 

My Anglican tradition for Holy Week has been full in the past of doing the right thing – making sure that each day is full of deeply poignant moments of the last days of Jesus’ life.  In the Anglican church we do this very well with various proper liturgically correct services such as Maundy Thursday stripping of the sanctuary to the Good Friday afternoon vigil.  Followed by the madness of making the church clean and ready to receive our Risen Lord and the glorious singing of the Exsultet as we welcome the Light of the World back into the World for Easter Eve and Easter Day.  All very jolly good and wholesome meaningful liturgical stuff.

But this year, having the freedom to do as I pleased, I did it differently and found that I was closer to the reality of the Sacrifice and Risen Lord than I have ever been before.  Without the constraints of having to do certain services in a certain way I was freed to let my creative senses flow for my small, faithful borrowed flock.

So highlights and lowlights — sharing the Sedar meal with laughter and plans for what we should do in the community over the following year.  Then walking the labyrinth on Good Friday, actually walking with Christ towards his cross.  Washing my hands with Pilate, carrying Christ’s Cross with Simeon, glimpsing Christ through the crowd with Mary, feeling the weight of the nails as they pressed into my palm, and finally, finally seeing the Cross at the centre but being able to light a candle to remember that our light of the world will never go out.

After the labyrinth, sharing the two hour vigil in a packed University Chapel full of sceptics and faithful.  Full of memories and of pain.  Full.  Then on to Easter Saturday morning.

Tradionally, a day when the church is stripped clean, washed down and polished to within an inch of its holy heart.  But my church was full of the Greek Orthadoxs all day celebrating their easter, so I couldn’t get in.  They were still there at 8.30pm so nothing could be done.  and that, on reflection was exactly right.  There was nothing to do.  It took going to the Church of Scotland Quiet service on Saturday morning to remind me of that .  He is dead.  The grave was closed.  The Sabbath had come.  There was NOTHING to do but wait.  No busyness, no cleaning, no preparation just weeping, grief, and waiting. 

So what did I do?  Well, the tradition in our family after a funeral is (funnily enough) to go shopping.  I still have the top that I bought the afternoon of my mother’s funeral.  So I went shopping.  Wandering round Union Square shopping centre with all the rest of the world it seemed, reminded me that for most people, like after any family funeral, the world carries on.  The world shops, breaths, laughs, eats and drinks. Life Goes On.  That is good and that is healthy.  But part of me wanted to stand there and shout out – ‘Don’t you know he is dead?’ That was a low for me.

But, of course, our story doesn’t end with a death.  It ends with life restored to all and for all.  So life began again for me walking in the early morning sunshine the Ecumenical  Walk of Faith through Old Aberdeen at 7.30am on Easter Sunday Morning.  From the gift of seeing seals sunbathing on the Donside Riverbank to wishing the odd early morning dog walker ‘Happy Easter’ followed by a magnificent bacon roll at the Church of Scotland.  It was a beautiful and holy start to the best day of the year.  Then on to sharing Easter Communion with a full church and singing glorious Easter Hymns in a church filled with daffodils, laughter, Christmas Presents (!) and light. 

God is good, he is a hard taskmaster but God is Good.  Exhausted but elated my highs and lows of Holy week have been worth every single bruise, strained muscle and blister from walking to see Holy Sunday Seals.  Can’t wait for next year…

Easter Blessings

Holy reasons to be miserable, one, two, three…

I found myself undertaking a bizarre shopping experience during this Holy week.  Normally, not one to shy away from any type of shop, I am rather hesitant about entering our local B&Q.  Too many gardening and DIY implements for my liking that always leave me feeling profoundly inadequate and a little depressed.  Well known in my family for my ‘black fingers’, I have even finished off the odd plastic plant due to watering it by mistake and causing mould to grow.  So I do not choose to go into these places lightly.

However needs must.  To appease my ever creative urges I had decided in my infinite wisdom of being a Priest-in-Charge for a whole 5 months, that this Easter I would give my Church something special to remember and a little bit different from the normal liturgical practice. 

Never one to be found during Holy Week scrubbing the altar steps with vinegar and bitter herbs, or spending Good Friday prostrated in front of the altar while someone sets light to their handbag (that is burning holy incense to the secularly confused), finally I had the power to choose how to spend Holy Week.  I also have the luxury of serving a church that has had very little liturgical practice in recent years.  Basically, I had free reign to do what I liked this week without the constraints of fixed pews and  ‘well we usually have 25 services in Holy Week at least’…!

So it was with joy that I planned a Sedar meal for Maundy Thursdayevening after our stirring Chrism Mass in the Cathedral.  It was a shame that hardly any of the clergy turned up for the most moving and profound moment of fellowship in our liturgical year.  However, our Sedar meal that night was educational and satisfying, both theologically and bodily.  My husband can cook a mean 7 hour slow roast lamb.

My other plan was to do a labyrinth for Good Friday morning before the two-hour vigil at the University Chapel.  So we set up the Church on Maundy Thursday afternoon.  Laying out the labyrinth with masking tape took my poor long-suffering husband and daughter two hours.  Well, he was the one who came up with the design!   

Five stations, highlighting the most poignant parts of the Stations of the Cross with symbolic actions to do in each, marked the way of the journey.  From washing one’s hands like Pilate, to carrying a pebble to the centre (representing helping carrying Jesus’ cross) to make a Cairn of love in front of the Cross at the heart of the labyrinth, it was all good, holy and meditative stuff. 

My fourth station was to be the moment of the crucifixion.  So to get back to my shopping tale, I found myself in B&Q on Holy Wednesday in the scary and  intense ‘Nail’ aisle.  I spent ages weighing and feeling the size of the nails.  Long, short, thick, thin, pointed and so on.  Which would be most effective for the job, I wondered?  Then, as I was weighing two nails in my hands, I had one of those moments when you can see yourself from the outside.  And I stood there and started laughing.  For once, thank God, there was no helpful manny around to see if I needed any advice.  Can you just imagine the conversation? 

B&Q Manny:  ‘Do you need any help today madame?’

Me:  ‘Yes thank you kind sir/lady, I wish to purchase some nails.’

B&Q Manny: ‘What will you be using the nails for?’

Me: ‘Crucifying someone, which ones would you recommend?’

But, blessedly, I escaped that potentially tricky encounter, judged some huge and vicious looking nails to be the ones that would do the job  most efficiently, and went on my way to gather the rest of my props.

On Maundy Thursday, after the Sedar meal, the folks asked if they could walk the labyrinth as it was there and ready.  By their emotional reactions on leaving the labyrinth, they obviously found the process deeply moving.  Even if they were doing it a day early, it seemed a perfectly natural conclusion to the meal. 

Those who came on Good Friday morning, found the church bathed in sunshine while they walked a path of darkness and pain.  One lady said to me afterwards in tears, that it was nice to be able to have permission to be miserable for once. 

At Christmas, convention says that you have to be happy, whereas Easter is a more cathartic  time when all emotions are allowed to come to the surface – both happy and sad.  And, of course, the antidote to it all is chocolate, worship and resounding choral belting out of  that fabulous Easter hymn:  ‘Jesus Christ has Risen today’.

Today is Easter Saturday.  The world holds its breath in that in-between time of the now and the not yet.  Tomorrow, the sun will rise, the tomb stone will be rolled away and the emptiness found within will transform our lives.  Misery will be replaced with joy as those cruel nails no longer have any part to play in the greatest gesture of love the world has ever known.  

If you only have the time this year to go to one service in Church, make it tomorrow.  For what you will find there are the answers to why we do what we do and who we do it for. And, if you are very fortunate, there may be the odd chocolate egg or two to hunt down…

May you know and be blessed by the love of your Maker this Eastertide.

Unholy Holy Week

I woke up early on Palm Sunday morning, (after being up twice with the puppy from hell during the night), with Jesus’ words in the Garden ‘Lord, Let this cup pass by me’.  I was profoundly miserable and tired.  Holy Week and all that it brings with it – the mammoth services, the intricate details of the liturgy, the making sure that all is done correctly and smoothly – lay before me like a huge unwanted behemoth.

So I began Passiontide with unholy thoughts of pulling the duvet over my head, staying in bed, eating chocolate and pretending to ignore the world for the whole week.  But when you are the Priest that is simply not an option for Easter or for Christmas.  I often joke that I didn’t read the small print on my ordination Licence about having to work over Easter and Christmas.  That secular sense of unfairness that I have to work very hard while the whole world basks in Bank Holiday sunshine and merriment had overwhelmed me once again.

And then.  And then, I remembered that I had to be there.  So I got out of bed and began my day.  From the moment I got to the Church I was hit by signs of God and his sense of Humour.  ‘Yes, Samantha. This is why I have called you to do this job.’  I felt Him laughing at me.  The warmth of my Congregation who are so grateful to be doing Holy Week properly again, combined with the most amazing unrehearsed Dramatic Reading of the Gospel (where I only had to read Judas as people where falling over themselves to offer to read parts AND we had a female Jesus!), reminded me why I do what I do and who I do it for. 

There was a moment in the reading of the Gospel when Jesus died.  The whole church was still, even Baby Elizabeth.  My heart stopped.  I breathed again and the narrator carried on with her story that never becomes old by its retelling. God was present and with us.

The day carried on.  Lunch out with Robina and Scott across the road, gazing at the Sunshine and, again, wishing I was on the beach.  And so we moved on to the climax of our Palm Sunday at St Ninians and for Seaton.  As part of my efforts to make our Episcopal voice heard in Seaton and Donside, we have entered into joining the Ecumenical Donside Christian Partnership of churches with aplomb!  

So on that afternoon 10 local churches and their representatives began a Palm Sunday afternoon walk from The Mission Church.  Waving branches we walked through Old Aberdeen to St Machar’s Cathedral  for prayers and then on through the stunning Seaton Park.  Up to the walled garden for a brief meditation and then down to St Ninians for a short service and bun fight. 

From the astonishment that so many people had turned up, to the symbolic and moving moment when the Roman Catholic Priest said prayers at the foot of the Nave in a Church of Scotland ‘Cathedral’, God endlessly surprised me that afternoon.  Then we walked back to St Ninians to find my lovely ladies furiously buttering hot cross buns as more and more people began to fill our Church.

I stood at the lectern that afternoon and looked out at a full Church.  Full of many different people, with different ethnic backgrounds, of different ages and having different ways of loving our Lord.  And my heart sang and gave thanks.  I retold the Palm Sunday story through our own eyes and prayed for Seaton.  God was present and with us.

There is hope in this part of Aberdeen.  In amongst the deprivation, the drug abuse, the feral kids and the unemployed/unemployable despair.  There is hope.  There is hope because the Churches can come together and find a meeting point in order to build the Kingdom of God here in this place and this time.  We have begun. God is present and with us.

So my Holy Week began with unholy thoughts, but, my goodness me, I am ready for some Holy ones now.

Blessings

Clashing Curates

I am currently working in a grey zone with regards to the Church.  I have not quite finished my curacy, am not quite a Rector but am Interim Priest-In-Charge at St Nins and, basically, am classified as the Bishop’s Curate till September.  So, technically, I am still in my training and formation period of authorised and ordained ministry.

This means that I attend our Diocesan Curates Support Group as part of my Continuing Ministry Development (CMD). Yesterday, we had an informal lunch and reflective session at one of the Curate’s homes.  There were only three of us but it was good.  The Curate is married to a priest who will be celebrating 50 years of Holy Orders in September – his Golden Jubilee!  What an accomplishment and how much experience has been gained in those many years.  So it is always a joy to discuss ministry and life as a priest with someone who has seen it all, done it all and heard it all.

What struck me yesterday, apart from how fabulous their Coronation Chicken and my brownies were, was that we are very blessed with our Church.  In the SEC all styles of worship and approach have a home and are accepted.  From the very low laid back to the more catholic than the Catholics approach, we all have a place, we are all tolerated and, for the most part, I pray that we are all welcomed.  There really is an Episcopal/Anglican church out there to suit everyone.  I simply love that about the church God has chosen for me to commit my life to serving.  It means that with all my quirky human faults, I am licensed to be a priest in a church that doesn’t bat an eyelid about red shoes and matching red nail polish on a Sunday morning. 

We got into quite a heated debate about when a priest is celebrating the sacraments how much of that priest’s personality should be on ‘display’.  From the staunch line of  ‘ absolutely nothing of the person should be revealed’, to the relaxed ‘we are human and we bring our humanity with us to God’s table’, the views were wide apart.  And yet, over brownies and Quiche and wine, there was laughter, common ground and trust.

I have probably opened a can of worms with this post, but each priest and each member of the church bring something different to worship every week.  We are all changed by our lives during the week.  I celebrate the fact that on a Sunday morning we can lay it all at God’s feet and simply pray ‘thank you for loving me as I am’.

Blessings

Eggs and Ecumenism

I grew up on a small Island off the south of England called Guernsey.  We were sent there when my dad was promoted by the Bank from mere Auditor to Bank Manager.  It was a fab place to grow up and I still consider it to be home. 

Guernsey is split into 10 Parishes, but within the 22 square miles of beautiful rock, sea, sand and fields, every religion and church is represented.  So I am always astonished by the lack of Ecumenism within  Scotland and England.  On my Island most of the churches and faiths worked very hard to work together – it is tricky if you don’t in such a small space.

As an incomer (once again) to Scotland and now working in ministry, I have an insight into what it is like to both be the parish church and not.  With the Church of England (CofE) we have automatic ownership of the parish and all souls therein.  With the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) we do not.  That is the right of the Church of Scotland.  This is very simple.  It never ceases to amaze me the shock that clergy coming up from ‘down south’ encounter when they realise (usually belatedly) that they are no longer King /Queen of all they survey. 

For me, training as a Priest within the SEC, whilst having the heart of a conservative Church of England Evangelistic lass, has been challenging.  I have always approached working within a parish, any parish, with openness and humility.  We are here to worship and serve the same God.  We just do it differently on a Sunday morning.  That is okay.  That is positive and good and effectively serves the wide variety of people who witness to having Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

Yesterday, we had a joint ecumenical Easter service at one of our local Sheltered Housing homes.  With Rev Elsie, her assistant Janet and various volunteers from both the Church of Scotland (CofS) of Seaton, St Mary’s, and St Ninians, the SEC of Seaton, we gave the folks a good snapshot of the last week of Jesus life.  There was singing, laughter, meditations, prayers and of course tea, cakes, easter cards and creme eggs.  It was good. 

What Elsie and I have got working in Seaton is, well, working.  We work together in the Primary School, at the University and at the Homes.  We work well because we actually like each other and have found common ground of friendship and trust.  I am very fortunate.  I have worked in some parishes where this has not been the case and it is so sad.  We can do so much together and are stronger than if we are apart. 

The main point for me is what kind of message is our effective working together giving to the local community both churched and unchurched?  I pray that it is a positive one and that our joint working relationship in Seaton will help to continue to build the Kingdom of God here on earth.  That may be a grand sweeping statement, but it is, in fact, what we are charged to do as Christians.  

Of course, the fact that chocolate, cake and laughter are involved in the process never hurts. Just a shame they forgot the Champagne.

Blessings

Praying for Vandals

Every second Tuesday afternoon we hold a craft club in the Church for anyone who is interested in exploring the delights of Crafting for God.  Mostly it is us knitters, card makers and the odd male painter who sneaks in from time to time.  Yesterday Robina (my ever patient 13-year-old daughter) joined us and spent the time happily listening in on the chat and painting her picture.  Unfortunately, I did not get much of my prayer shawl knitted due to the fact that I had to go round the corner to our brand new Community/Primary School/Police Station to report a crime.

Some helpful person(s) thought it would be a jolly whizz to try to remove one of the light fittings, boot in the Red front door of the Church ( leaving a lovely imprint of a size 10 Dr Marten boot) and carve Jesus’ initials as well.  At least that is what I think they were trying to write.

So off I trundled to the shiny new police station – couldn’t get in the front door because the new door bell was bust – and duly reported my crime.  I don’t know about any of you but whenever I speak to a policeman I immediately feel guilty.  I suppose that might be from having a naturally guilty nature and one where I simply cannot lie to anyone in authority. 

This is due to the fact that my Grandfather was a Police Inspector with the Thames Division of Metropolitan Police in London.  His claim to fame was that he set up the Police Diving unit back in the 1960s, but that is a tale for another day.  What my Grandad Fred did was to install within me a healthy respect for those with the power to lock you up away from family, friends and a continuous supply of chocolate.

Anyway, this lovely PC took my statement, was very helpful and didn’t lock me up.  Now all I have to do is sort out the mess through the insurance company and get the lighting fixed so that some poor member of the Seaton Community doesn’t end up electrocuting themselves walking into the church.  What a wake up call and stirring of the Spirit that would be.

What else?  Oh yes, as a priest my calling is one to prayer.  So I will pray for the vandals whose lives  are so empty they are reduced to hanging round churches for fun on a Friday night.  Back in my youth that used to be called ‘attending the Youth Group’.  Now all they find is darkened windows and locked doors.  Times change and not always for the better.  Prayers also for discernment as to what to do next, I think.

Blessings.

In the Beginning…

Dear Reader

Good Morning World.

My name is Samantha and I have finally begun to fulfill a promise to blog that I made to myself on my 40th birthday in January and to my congregation in March.

I have no idea what I will be sharing with you all over the coming days, weeks and months as I reflect and laugh at the world around us. 

If you want to know more about me look at my profile as it says it all.

Happily married with one daughter and two doggies, my life as a priest and chaplain, wife and mother is varied, challenging, exciting, tiring and inspiring.  I hope to share some of my frustrations, my loves and my faith with you all.  The fact that you are reading this post is great otherwise I will be typing to myself.  So thank you.  At the beginning of this journey, thank you for reading and for putting up with my little frustrating habits.

Speaking of habits, this year for my Lenten penitence I decided to give up consumerism.  Usually, I give up something nice and tasty (one of my main food groups), something beginning with C – cheese, cake, chocolate, crisps, curry, cola, etc, you get the idea.  This year my C was Consumerism.  But, dear reader, what a disaster that choice has been. 

Giving up buying stuff has been much, much harder than I ever imagined.  And I have totally failed even though we still have a few days of Lent left.  From buying a very expensive Puppy (Mungo) who was instead of a family holiday this year, to buying the latest Nora Roberts, Chasing Fire, (and I will review that at some point), I love to read complete nonsense, it has been a Lenten disaster!

But do you know, I am not really that concerned.  The object of this exercise was one not only of restraint (which has been moderately successful) but one also of breaking habits.  Why do we buy the things we do?  Why do we waste our money on unnecessary items?  Now, I know all my girlfriends out there will laugh out loud and insist that handbags and shoes ARE necessary and I wholeheartedly concur.  BUT I have actually begun to feel guilt again at wasting my money on things I don’t really need but merely want. 

I had fallen into that numbness trap of thinking that frittering my money didn’t really matter.  I know there are starving peeps in this world, I know there is despair and hopelessness and war and poverty.  I know this.  But I hadn’t FELT it in a long time.  This Lent I have begun to feel again.

Perhaps a lesson has been learnt.

That’s all for now folks, I have puppy to feed, a daughter to wake, Easter plans to finish and a bank account to balance, life is full and for that I give thanks.

Blessings

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