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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!

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…

Blessings…

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…

Blessings

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.
 
Blessings

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)…

Blessings

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…

Blessings

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…

Blessings

Red Shoes filled with Holy Popsocks…

Stuck at home over the past few days, or confined to barracks as my hubbie would say, due to damaged ligaments in my elbow, it has been a chance to catch up, to rest and to reflect over the past few months.  In June it will be six months since I started as Interim Priest-In-Charge at St Ninians and my life has changed dramatically.

One thing that has become apparent for me is the fact that I love not being your normal priest.  For a start I am not male.  I am also fairly young(ish) being only 40!  I do not have grey hair (due to copious amounts of blondish hair dye) and I do not spend my life covered head to toe in black.  However, I do have to wear my clerical collar most days due to the fact that people would not believe I am a priest without them.  And, please note, my dog collar shirts are ALWAYS black or navy.  I really can’t be doing with pastels.

What else?  Well I am sure that I upset a lot of people by always having my nails painted various shades of purple, red or pink – depending on the liturgical season naturally.  This also matches the corresponding liturgically correct coloured eye liner as well.  Of course, red lips are a must even if it does upset the Sacristan when she has to tackle stubborn long-lasting lipstick stains on the altar cloth and linen every week.

So I am not a normal stereotypical priest.  Red lips, reddish blonde long hair, red nails and, of course, the red shoes.  There is a story behind the fact that at most important liturgical events I am to be found wearing red shoes.  Hence also the reason for this blog being called Reverently Red.  I would also have loved a red dog collar shirt but felt that the Mrs Santa Claus look really wasn’t working for me.  So the story.

In my home church of St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, St Andrews, Fife, the stain glass window above the Lady Chapel’s Altar depicts a beautiful, serene and virginal Mary, mother of Jesus.  And she is wearing red shoes.  I spent many years, every Friday morning at the Eucharist looking at that window and looking at her shoes.  I am a woman, I always check out other women’s shoes and bags, sorry Guys it is a girl thing.  Anyway, when I knew I was to be ordained and was planning THE outfit what else could I consider but RED shoes?  If  it was good enough for the mother of our Lord, it was good enough for me. 

So that is where the red shoes came from.  However, for my Ordination I also had to consider the underwear for the most important day of my life (apart from my wedding day and the day I had Robina my daughter).  Whilst I won’t go into all the details, have to preserve a modicum of decorum after all,  (I will say that, being a well rounded lady, foundation garments were prevalent) I had to consider the  hosiery conundrum.  Well, what else could I choose but holy tights, fishnets to the uninitiated.  So fishnets have now become another calling card of mine.

From this post you can see that I take a great deal of care and attention to my appearance.  Some may call me vain and proud.  I call it breeding.  But there is another reason that lies behind this all.  If my holy order of priesthood and, by extension, the church is made accessible to one single person because they look at me, see my collar, see my nails, my lips and think to themselves, okay she may be a priest but isn’t scary, looks kind of approachable, someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously, perhaps I could talk to her, then it would have been worth it. 

Jesus wore the clothes of his people, mingled with them effortlessly, was humble and down to earth.  He related to them, came alongside them and walked with them which every way they were going – even if it was the wrong way.  By my amour of red and holy tights, I pray that I am able to emulate my saviour and be with the people who need to hear about His love the most. 

Even if it does look like I have dipped my fingers in the chalice…

Blessings

Longing to belong…

Sam in her new charge (!) - The Little Chapel, Guernsey

I thought, stupidly, that my life could not get anymore complicated or busy.  Silly me.

St Andrew's Cathedral by night, St Andrews, FIFE, Scotland

I thought to myself  just the other day, wouldn’t it be nice to get away from everything for a break for a couple of days somewhere sunny and familiar?  Silly me.

What is the lesson I have learned this week, boys and girls?  To be oh so careful what you wish for. 

Very sadly, an old friend died last week.  Scoop, (Brian Wilson Chalker) was the father of one of my oldest and closest friends.  He was a husband, father, grandfather and brilliant friend.  He was one of the good guys and it is so sad that the world is a Superman down now. 

I was honoured to be asked to take the funeral.  This meant going back home to Guernsey, Channel Island where I grew up in the 1980’s and where  I went to school, The Ladies College, with my closest friends – Jo (Scoop’s daughter), and the third member of our troublesome trio – Jacky. 

The three of us may not speak for months, but the moment we do it is like we are 15 again.  Jacky lives in Guernsey, Jo in London and me in Aberdeen, but, as with all girlfriends, when one is in need the others are there.  And we were there this weekend for them.

So these last few days have been a whirlwind of travel, emotional highs and lows, nostalgia, longing and belonging.  From the two flights that it took getting to the island via Birmingham, to the glorious sunshine that greeted me, I guess I had my wish for travel, sunshine and home granted.  But it was not the way I wanted to come home.  Not at all.

My weekend was spent being with the family, writing the eulogy, liasing with the funeral directors, the church and so on.  And I now have a burial permit for the Island for the next 25 years, which is always handy as there seemed to be quite a bit of willing future trade at the Wake afterwards. 

I managed to get a couple of hours to do the obligatory nostalgic drive round the island, it’s only 21 square miles so didn’t take long.  Every corner, every view, every shop, there was my past.  More poignantly, there were memories of my parents (my mother died the year after we moved back to the mainland), and, more worryingly, memories of teenage angst and unrequited love.

I found myself spending most of the weekend feeling either bereft or determined.  Bereft – for Scoop’s family, and, for all that I had lost the minute my parents decided to leave Guernsey. Determined – to find a way to return home one day, and, to make damn sure I gave Scoop the best send off I could. 

But it was on the flight back to Aberdeen that it finally hit me how sad I was.  Not only was I grieving for a good friend, good man and for a family I love, but also for my own family, for the loss of home. 

Echos of the past and of loss hit again today as I went  back to my home church in St Andrews, Fife, Scotland, to say sad farewells to another close friend’s parent.  I found myself surrounded today in that familliar church by the people who had nurtured and supported me and my family.  First, during my degree and then, during my ministry training. Yet again it felt as if I had come back to where I belonged. Yet again, I longed to go home.

My dilemna now is – which home does God want me to go back to?  For events of the past few days have shown me that this is a decision waiting for me in my future.  St Andrews or Guernsey,? Or can I be really greedy and ask for a return to both? 

I await, as ever, the Master’s reply.  I fear it may be radio silence for the next few years.  But if there is one thing I have finally learned, it is to be ready and open to be surprised by God. I have been overwhelmed by my longing to belong to somewhere familiar and its given me a problem I didn’t realise I had. My wish now, like ET, is simply to go home.  But you know what they say, be careful what you wish for…  

Blessings

Heaven-bound Hedgehogs

Been a busy few days so I will take the opportunity to blog now before life overtakes me again.  Caught up with Vestry meetings, daughter of mine coming down with tonsillitis and possible glandular Fever when she was supposed to be going back to Boarding School, husband disappearing back to work and the needs of my little flock calling.

Not least it has been TV event-filled Bank Holiday weekend.  What with the glories of the Royal Wedding to the vainglory of Bin Laden’s execution and resulting tirades across the globe, it is difficult to draw one’s eyes away from BBC news in case the world changes in a heartbeat, yet again.  However, it was very thoughtful of the American President to let us recover from the wonderful Royal Wedding before giving permission for his storm troopers to do their worst.  Never let it be said that the American people are not a thoughtful and considerate nation. 

So on to today’s joy of elections, referendums and mayoral votes (in England).  Is there anyone out there remotely interested in any of  this at the moment?  We voted at the beginning of the month through postal votes.  I never know where I am going to be on voting day.  And, my hubby, being in Lossiemouth, didn’t want to miss an oppourtunity to exercise his democratic right to vote Tory in the most anti-conservative nation on this planet, Scotland.

Nothing to comment on the AV referendum.  However, I will be glad when all this silly nonsense about changing the system, that has worked for many years, is put to bed once and for all.

Okay enough with politics. 

Maybe some words of advice instead would be in order for our new Royal Bride and RAF wifeee?  As an RAF wifeee of nearly 18 years now I know a thing or two about the life.

So:

1. HRH.  Don’t whine, as I see you are doing already by the headline in the Sun, when they have to go away on detachment.  You get the chance to go to bed when you like, watch Deadenders without the constant whine of ‘DO WE HAVE TO WATCH THIS NONSENSE?’ ringing in your ears.  You can eat chocolate in bed without having to share AND you can have a sneaky glass or two of wine with your mates.  Detachments are the reason that many Service family marriages last. Distance really does make the heart grow fonder and erases memories of annoying habbits.

2.  When he does on away on Detachment, make sure you have the plumber’s, the electrician’s and a handy manny’s number on speed dial.  The minute your Royal Prince steps off this country’s soil EVERYTHING in the house will blow up, stop or start smoking – guaranteed.

3.  Email him a Bluey everyday.  You may have a lot to occupy your mind but believe me they have nothing to think about but sexy underwear, the weather, their next meal and work.  So give their poor under-stretched brains some information from home to satisfy them.

4.  Do NOT attempt any kind of phone sex – the line to the Falklands is very shaky and you only have 30 mins every week to speak to him – so just don’t bother, not worth the effort or expense. (It is £1 a minute for the phone call and I know you are on a budget, shame about the Honeymoon).  However, SKYPE on the other hand…

5. Send him parcels of food and books and fun things.  BUT nothing electrical because this will end up being blown up at the bottom of the runway.  My hubby nearly got a Blues Brothers alarm clock for Christmas but is now in bits over Port Stanley.

6. Don’t get yourself a new haircut – he will hate it and the rows won’t be worth it on his return.  Been there, done that.

7. If a hedgehog strays into your garden at night while he is away and drives your dogs crazy, DO NOT CATAPULT THEM OVER NEXT DOORS FENCE WITH THE SNOW SHOVEL, especially if they have a greenhouse! Heaven-bound Hedgehogs are not a good idea for furthering neighbourly relations.   He will only have to rebuild said greenhouse for the manny next door on his return.

8. Live your life.  Laugh with all your heart when he is away but allow yourself to miss him.  Remember why you loved him in the first place.  But drinking two bottles of Asti on an empty stomach and getting out your wedding album (or DVD) and listening to ‘Everything I do I do it for you’ (or in your case ‘Your Song’) is NOT a good idea.  Not least because of the hangover and the amount of tissues/chocolate/ice cream you get through.

9. Treat yourself – new bag, new shoes, new wardrobe full of new clothes etc.  Why not?  He is away and won’t be checking the bank statements for a while – internet  connection is pants on the Falklands.

10.  And finally, pray.  Pray for his safe return.  Pray for yourself and pray for all whose partners find their way back home in a box draped in the flag of the country that you will one day, God willing, rule as Queen. But don’t greet him at the Airbase, when he flies home, wearing only one of your fancy Burberry macs and the fabulous skin God gave you.  The press are watching, sweetie.

Anything else?  Oh yes, don’t put a boot in your window – it is the old RAF signal for detachment rules (your bloke is away and you are available for male company). Again, the press and your new Grandmother-in-law etc…

And remember, it is only for 10 weeks.  Us mere mortals married to non-officers have to put up with 16 weeks and usually over Christmas.

Right, end of guide for the Princess and off to sort out my new website for the Church.  21st Century here we come.

Blessings

(This blog is for Carol and Scoop, Jo and Dee – thinking of you all and hope  this makes you smile to lighten the darkness – God be with you.)

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