Monthly Archives: June 2011

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)…


Normal Service with Holy Gift Bags…

Back to normality this week – or as normal as life in ministry can get.  After a few days away in Edinburgh last week attending our General Synod, it is time to get back to the holy grindstone and sharpen up for our service to God. 

Last week’s Synod wasn’t one that will go down in memory as one of the greats, I have to admit.  Yes, I got to stand up and speak (for only the second time in four years in front of the great and the good representatives of our wee church), but I was left with feeling a bit out of sorts – not least because of a dose of food poisoning on Saturday morning.  Travelling home with a dodgy stomach by train was a delight I thought I had given up with my twenties.

Synod is an ideal opportunity for a wide range of people to gather from across the Province to discuss matters and policy pertaining to our Church’s structure, polity and belief.  And yet I came away last week feeling as if we had forgotten what we are actually there to do.  Two and a half days were spent in worshiping together, debating together and discussing together the issues that are important to the world and to our church.  And discuss them we did, but as ever, there was not enough time or space to really get into any depth those areas which we are called to work within.  Frustrating.

One part of Synod which is always a joy is the fellowship though.  Getting together with friends and colleagues who you only see once a year is a blessing.  I cherish the laughter, the friendship and the graciousness of Synod every time I attend.  It was a privilege to be there and one not to be taken for granted.

So now it is back to reality for me.  Sunday was spent celebrating Pentecost in all it red-ness and cakey-ness as well as taking the message of the Birthday of our Church out to the local Sheltered Housing complex for a service in the afternoon. And yes the red shoes came out to play, as did the red nails, the red lippy, the red bag…

At our little service, I shared with them what was in my ‘Holy Gift Bag from God’ because all birthday parties end up with a Gift bag.  My lovely old peeps seemed to be quite disappointed when there was no bottle of Gin in my bag.  However, there was plenty of chocolate (naturally), the odd pillow(representing my bed), bottle of water (for the sea), my bible (spiritual leatherman tool) and my Ipod(prayer support).  How that all links in to the gifts of the spirit – well you will just have to come along and hear me preach it another day…

All went home happily afterwards with a large slab of beautiful birthday fruit cake baked for us by my Ecumenical Partner in Crime – St Mary’s Church of Scotland – and I went home via the hospital for a visit to a sick member of our church. Ministry can be like that sometimes – from cake to care in a matter of moments.

So life is back to normal, as normal as it can be.  We wait for the phone to ring, the letters to drop through the mail, the emails to be deleted or dealt with and visits to be done.  Off now to share the wisdom of being married for nearly 18 years to a lovely young couple who will join me in the delights of married life next month when I marry them. 

How do you prepare a couple for a life together?  Easy. Tell them to say that they love each other every day, make sure they forgive each other before bedtime and always, always hide the bank statements…


The Misplaced Guilt of Should be’s…

There is always something else that I should be doing. 

I should be, at the moment of writing, at the Craft Club that we run fortnightly at St Ninian’s.  I should be knitting and drinking coffee and eating biscuits with my lovely flock whilst waiting for the Lady from Health and Safety to do her annual visit. 

 I should be…but am at home waiting for a manny to come and fix my broken  boiler instead.  Having no heating since Sunday has been interesting.  But I am thanking God for immersion switches and the fact it is not January.  With a sense of the Blitz spirit drummed into me since birth, I have simply dug out the vests and thermals once again (that I only packed away in the depths of my wardrobe last week), dusted off the hot water bottles and stacked up the blankets.  This is Aberdeen after all.

So I should be at my Craft club but I am doing this instead.  I am writing my blog.  I should be writing my sermon, reading synod papers, getting ready for the Vestry meeting tonight, planning our attack upon the students for Freshers week this year and so on.  I should be…

Don’t you find that there is always something else that we should be doing whilst we waste our time doing something else?  And with that ‘should’ comes the guilt.  I don’t know if it is because I am a woman and a priest but guilt does come rather naturally to me and I suffer from it dreadfully.

I feel guilty very easily, always have done, but the angst and energy it has cost me over the years is probably beyond the realm of normal.  And yet I have had to  learn to let the guilt go or I suffer from it emotionally, physically and spiritually.  It is amazing how tiring and draining feeling guilty can make us. 

I suppose that the joy of maturing and, dare I say it, growing older is realising with some relief that we cannot do everything, be everywhere and please everyone all the time.  There are many things we all ‘should’ be doing but there is only ever one of us (until we all get given clones) and we do the best we can with what we have.  An important lesson to be learned for ministry and in life and one that I am still learning. 

Well, today there is only one of me and, right now, my place is waiting for the Boiler man.  Of course, whilst waiting I should be filling in the time with other more worthwhile pursuits and I will get to them in a moment.  For now all I should be doing is talking to you, dear reader.  If you feel guilty today for not doing the thing you should be doing, take heart.  You are not alone so please be gentle on your unique, special self.

Now that is enough misplaced guilt for one day, pass the biscuits someone and put the kettle on for another hot water bottle.  Mine is tea with no sugar while you are at it, and where did I put my Vestry agenda?  It should be right here…


Holy Meals on Wheels

One of the main parts of my job is to take God to people. 

This is done in various guises but mainly by simply sitting in someone’s front room drinking coffee and eating biscuits, (and there is a lot of this) whilst wearing my dog collar.

I am there as God’s representative, even whilst drinking coffee and eating biscuits, mainly chocolate ones I must confess. 

The reality and priviledge and burden of this used to catch me unawares in the early days of my ordained ministry.  I would often forget I was wearing the collar and never even mention the Big Boss once, let alone offer a prayer!  I remember now by always offering a prayer of thanks for the food presented to me, always on the decent china and always with a linen napkin.

So I am God’s representative in the flesh for many housebound and lonely people that I meet as part of my congregation or even simply in the street.  It is something that I have to remember and so moderate both my language and my attitude accordingly.  Wearing a clerical collar can occasionally be a curse but is always a blessing.  It the often the key that opens up discussion for people and, on one occasion, actually prevented me from being beaten up.  But that is a story for another day.

One of the most important parts of my pastoral ministry of visting  is taking the elements of Bread and Wine, Holy Communion, to those who are sick, infirm, housebound and dying. The elements that I have blessed in Church at the previous Sunday service. 

I view this part of my ministry as delivering ‘Holy Meals on Wheels’. 

At one point I did consider writing a Masters dissertation on the theology behind Home Communions.  Looking indepth, with actual case studies, what we are actually doing by taking communion by extension out of the church from the Sunday service to those unable to participate.  But, as ever, the lack of money prevailed and that idea, like so many of my other great ones, has been shelved for the time being.

But, every time I take Home Communion to someone, I ask myself three simple questions:

1. What did they get out of my visit?

2. What did I get out of my visit?

and, most importantly,

3. What did God get out of our visit?

I don’t always have the answers I would like and am constantly surprised by God. Even if I get very little out of a visit apart from a full bladder, God is always there and is at work for that person.   

As priests we expect every pastoral visit to be one where the problems we are presented with are easily solved – either by listening to the person or suggesting a practical answer.  But there are no quick fixes in this game, and my pride and arrogance about this has got me into trouble several times.  We can’t fix everything, only God, in time, can and will.  I really must learn to leave it to Him sometimes but it is very hard, I am a woman after all. 

Last week, I took my usual monthly Home Communion to my lady that I have been visiting for the past 3 years.  She is housebound and, while she has a fantastic family, she does like to have the contact with her church through me.  Luckily, this lady is not one of the many people I have visited in the past who claim to be housebound but on arrival, you discover they are off at the bingo!

No, this lady is a christian, a gentle woman who has had a lot to deal with in her life and does so with grace and dignity.  During our short 15 minute service I shared the Gospel story about the Road to Emmaus with her.  As I looked up after reading it, her eyes were filled with tears of wonder and amazement. 

‘I have never heard that story before’ she cried.  ‘Thank you.  Those men were walking in the wrong direction and Jesus walked with them and didnae tell the off!  I have felt like that many times.  He also took the time to have food with them.’

He took the time to have food with them.  We do so much more than simply extend the hand of the church to those unable to reach its doors by sharing our weekly holy communion with them.  We are truly bringing holy meals on wheels to the very people who need to hear that they are loved by their maker.  That they matter enough for some strange female cleric to take an hour out of her ‘busy’ day –  ‘Oh Reverend you have far more important things to be doing than visiting me..’ – to visit and sit and listen to them and their stories.

He took the time.  Jesus did and we do so too.

Wonder if I can get sponsorship for a van with ‘Heavenly Holy Meals on Wheels’ painted down the side?  Offers anyone?


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