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

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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

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?

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.)

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

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