On Holy Ground

In some parts of the Christian church, there is a tradition of welcoming a person into their church on the night before their funeral is held. It is a short and meditative and very lovely service, and it is a time for them to be with the people who knew and loved them best before all the clamour and intensity of the next day. And afterwards, they remain in the sanctuary, safe and sleeping in the company of God and all His angels.

At the end of one such service, the person’s granddaughter told us how much the church had meant to her grandparent and how pleased she was that they would be able to spend this time in this place that they had loved. I thought that that sentiment expressed a great deal of what we might hope a church can be.

There are occasions in the life of the Church when we are told to remember that we stand on holy ground.

Last night at Evensong, I sat down in an old and well beloved building. I listened to the old stories of Michael and of Moses. I heard the familiar song of Mary. I let the cadence of the words wash over me. As the sun set on a weekend of which the best that might be said of it is that my grumpiness was not without just cause, I became aware of the angels carrying away my troubles.

I wonder what we mean when we remind ourselves that we stand on holy ground.

I think that very (too) often it is meant as a way to tell us that this is a place of “don’t”: don’t touch that, don’t run, don’t bring that person here, don’t ask awkward questions, don’t let children talk too loud, don’t laugh, don’t argue, don’t make a spectacle of yourself.

Really?

Nick Page writes an evocative passage about a visitor to Jerusalem emerging from the Lower City into the light and noise of the Temple Mount. About the livestock market and the business deals and the purification places and the chanting and singing and the lively discussions about the finer points of law. A place where all life is to be found.

In that is an idea that I recognise more in the church than the idea of “don’t”.

It is a place where all life is to be found.

Yesterday, as a song was sung about a dragon that once was slain, I found myself thinking about the life that is to be found in this church.

It is a place where I have ceilidhed the night away.

And spirited away six glasses and a bottle of fizz to the sacristy.

And dripped ice cream on the tile.

And cooked sausages on the dying embers of holy fires.

It is a place where I’ve thuribled backwards amid a shower of rose petals.

Where I’ve smiled.

And giggled.

And mourned.

To this holy ground we have welcomed a man who was arrested in Canterbury Cathedral and a bishop who was shunned by the Lambeth Conference.

And a rooster.

And a cat who I had to retrieve from beneath the feet of an organist.

Right in the middle of the sanctuary, we have held AGMs.

And debates and votes and elections and a Parliamentary hustings.

I’ve sat cross-legged on the floor at the high altar wearing rainbow-striped socks and no shoes, and getting silver polish all over everything.

I’ve washed feet and spilled Radox on the floor.

And spilled wax on the floor.

Once, I nearly set the sacristy carpet on fire in the middle of a service.

(It’s a wonder they ever let me back.)

We are the home of musicians and knitters and Tai-Chi and Alcoholics Anonymous.

And, originally, of the LGBT Switchboard.

I’ve had arguments there.

And had my feelings hurt and I’m sure hurt the feelings of others in return.

And loved and I know been loved in return.

I’ve been there in ecstasy and in anger and in joy and in grief, and even when I’ve thought that I’m maybe not quite feeling it.

I’ve been there in the darkness before dawn.

And in the darkness after midnight.

And in the light of day.

It has seen births.

And covenants.

And deaths.

And a resurrection.

A church is not polite society. It isn’t Granny’s front room, where you can’t eat anything sticky or talk about politics or get your shoes on the furniture. For me, it is a place that is loved and lived in and worked in, a little bit battered around the corners, and maybe best described by the Maori idea of turangawaewae: an old word that means our places of being and our places of belonging, the places where we feel empowered and the places that we are connected to, a place of home.

It is the place where we meet Jesus – a Jesus who was fully human and who himself experienced all the wonderful terrible mixed-up spectrum that comes with just being a person. It is where he demands nothing of us other than that we be wholly ourselves, with no masks and no pretences and no need to be someone or feel something that we’re not. It is where we bring the best of us and the worst of us and all the ordinary stuff in the middle too.

Perhaps it isn’t really a wonder that I’m allowed back.

So when you stand on holy ground, remember that. It isn’t an exhortation to mind your company manners, or to keep your shoes off the furniture, or to tie yourself in knots being diplomatic. It isn’t a place where you can do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing or be thought not good enough. It is a place where in the safety of God and all His angels and in the company of the one who knows us best, we can find all of life and call it home.

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Tales From Pride

I Love Martha Jones

As we made our slow way back to where I had abandoned the car, laden with placards and banner and toddler, I was stopped by a gentleman asking whether we were going to a protest.

“No!” I said. “It was Gay Pride!”

He read the text of one of my by now quite soggy placards.

St Mary’s Cathedral: Open, Inclusive, Welcoming

“And, erm, were you protesting it?” he asked, looking hopeful.

“Of course not,” sayeth I. “We’ve been suppporting it.” And, pulling out one of the lines that I’d been using on people all morning when I’d worried that they might think that I was trying to save them, “We’re the good kind of church!”

He didn’t like that at all.

It’s true, though.

And don’t forget about this:

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Pride and the Commonwealth

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For your diaries, there are three events in Glasgow next weekend all well worth coming to:

  • The annual gathering of Piskies at Pride takes place next Saturday (19th July). This year, the parade for Glasgow Pride starts from Clyde Place on the south bank of the river and then heads across the Clyde into the city centre and into Merchant City. If you would like to walk with a group of Scottish Episcopalians, we will be meeting at the south end of the Tradeston Bridge (the wiggly pedestrian bridge) at 9.15am on Saturday. This is a ten minute walk from Bridge Street, which is the nearest subway and is also likely the easiest place to park. If you are at the Clyde Arc (the squinty bridge) or can see the SECC/Hydro, you are in the wrong place.
  • On Saturday evening at 6.30pm, Peter Tatchell is giving a lecture on Human Rights and the Commonwealth at St Mary’s Cathedral. Taking place on Pride Saturday and immediately ahead of the arrival of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, this will be a compelling evening which has been arranged by the cathedral Justice and Aid Network. St Mary’s is on Great Western Road, between St George’s Cross and Kelvinbridge subway stations. Tickets are £5 on the door.
  • Peter Tatchell will be at St Mary’s Cathedral again on Sunday morning, at 12 noon, in conversation with Kelvin Holdsworth. This is one of the Forum events which we hold on occasion, with past speakers including Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of the Episcopal Church of Uganda and Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, known to many more people from his frequent work with the BBC.  The Forum is a free event, as is the glorious Sung Eucharist which will take place beforehand at 10.30am.

To My Cathedral That I Love

I am feeling profoundly grateful for my cathedral tonight.

I could let myself forget so easily that the church that I call home is not what it’s like there out in the Church-with-a-big-C. I could bask in the social justice and good liturgy and real inclusion and fantastic music, and in a willingness to try things and to admit when we get it wrong and when we could do it better, and I could let myself forget that actually for that all to be in one place is a diamond-in-the-rough type thing. I could let myself forget how bloody lucky I got when I almost accidentally wandered through that door.

I put myself through this and I’m willing to put myself through it again year after year because I believe that changing the Church is only ever going to happen from the inside.

But I could not do it if I didn’t have home to go back to on Sunday.

So this is just to say thank you, thank you, a million times and I mean it more than you will ever ever know, for all the people who make that home exist.

Something’s Coming

Pipes! Drums! The King of Glory! Pipes!

I was as giddy as a schoolgirl during the Palm Sunday procession this morning. The congregation had been promised something special. It was to be not donkey nor unicorn nor panda, not fireworks nor explosions nor the borrowing of the great thurible from Santiago de Compostella (I confess to being somewhat disappointed at the latter), but instead the wonderful wonderful lads from Clanadonia piping and drumming the holy rabble in procession.

This video of the procession was taken by the Provost. I am the one right behind the pipers, going, “AMAZING! AMAZING! THIS IS JUST LIKE MAGIC!”

 

For the fact of Holy Week is not long-ago legend or glorious myth, but living history and living our story.

As the Lord rode into Jerusalem on his donkey two thousand years ago so did he today enter in glory into all places in all corners of the earth, and in this place, in our city, how else would a holy rabble in Glasgow greet their Messiah but with our music and our joy?

The same rabble that on Thursday…

But no.

We aren’t there yet.

The thing about this week is that one doesn’t ever know quite what will happen. Just like the disciples, we aren’t sure what’s coming. There will be joy, of course, and feasting, oh, yes, for Passover is coming, and then, well, something big, people are uneasy and there are rumblings, but, really, anything might happen. For who is that man and what has he come here to do? A promise is made at St Mary’s Cathedral every year to those who keep the Triduum with us, those who live the experiences of Thursday and Friday and Saturday and Sunday. A promise is made that if you do that, you will never be the same again. I was told that the first year I kept it and truer words have never been spoken.

This is our story. This is our song.

Hosanna to the Son of David.

And now something’s coming.

And whatever that something is, we will never be the same again.

Dedication Sunday

A church is more than its bricks and mortar, and more than its physical trappings. I know that. But when I got back last weekend I dragged myself out to Evensong, and turning off the motorway I saw the fatter of the two spires on the north side of Great Western Road and something inside me relaxed. Home.

I read this a few years ago, and I thought then that there would be a day when I would want to use it. In the midst of the spiritual and the mystical, let’s not forget the ones whose hands shaped and stacked our living stones.

*

They climbed on sketchy ladders towards God,
with winch and pulley hoisted hewn rock into heaven,
inhabited the sky with hammers,
defied gravity,
defied stone,
took up God’s house to meet him,
and came down to their suppers
and small beer,
every night slept, lay with their smelly wives,
quarrelled and cuffed the children,
lied, spat, sang, were happy, or unhappy,
and every day took to the ladders again,
impeded the rights of way of another summer’s swallows,
grew greyer, shakier,
became less inclined to fix a neighbour’s roof of a fine evening,
saw naves sprout arches, clerestories soar,
cursed the loud fancy glaziers for their luck,
somehow escaped the plague,
got rheumatism,
decided it was time to give it up,
to leave the spire to others,
stood in the crowd, well back from the vestments at the consecration,
envied the fat bishop his warm boots,
cocked a squint eye aloft,
and said, “I bloody did that.”

From Cathedral Builders, by John Ormond

Liturgical Highs

I had written something about my new job. I had planned to look it over this afternoon and let you all know how I’m getting on in the big bad world of F2. I’ll do that later in the week.

Because in the pilot episode of Sports Night, which was the show that Aaron Sorkin wrote before he wrote The West Wing and which you should watch even if you think you don’t like sports, because this was the sports show that was never about sports, not really, Felicity Huffman’s character said, “I love doing Sports Night. I live from eleven to midnight, and the rush is so huge that I don’t come down until three o’clock in the morning.”

If you’ll forgive me overextending what’s already a pretty shaky metaphor, there are some weeks when church is like that for me.

The pews are all full and full of joy. There is Handel, blasting away any lurking hangovers or cobwebs that might have sneaked into the organs, and becoming aware that none of the three sacred ministers have been quite able to resist singing quietly along with the Messiah. There are people from Africa and from Scotland and from every place in between packed in around a font to be splashed with water. There is laughter. There is the Provost and his hat envy, but when he says that the angels, yes, even the angels are having a party, I believe him because it’s true. There is God and there are all these people whom I love.

It is an incredible thing. It is incredible to see, time and time again, grace and glory shining out from this huge diversity of people, this so great cloud of witnesses, who together are united as the Body of Christ.

There are Sundays when I cry. There are Sundays when I can’t keep from bouncing a little bit on my toes. Perhaps the extraordinary thing is that there are Sundays when I do both at the same time.

And the rush is so huge that I still haven’t come down.

Thank You…

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To everyone who came to Pride.

To my LGBT comrades and our straight allies.

To our friends from other churches.

To everyone who carried a banner, or gave out a card, or folded a leaflet, or talked to us or talked for us.

To every single person who is working towards a better Church and a better world.

There’s a reason they call it Pride.

The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You

As we have tried to do in recent years, the Scottish Episcopal Church will be turning out to Glasgow Pride tomorrow. There will be a group of Episcopalians walking together in the march. Meet at the fountain in front of the People’s Palace at 10.30am if you want to come with us — we don’t bite and we have fabulous banners this year. Afterwards, there’s a stall at the Pride marketplace on Glasgow Green with leaflets and cards to take away and you can talk to lovely people about inclusive churches in Scotland, how to sign up for Changing Attitude Scotland, where to find the best cope in Glasgow, and how you can have a civil partnership blessed in church.

If you want to know why Pride is important to me, I wrote about it last year.

If you want to know why Pride is particularly important this year, Kelvin wrote about it in the Herald this week.

Pride Posters

All are welcome tomorrow, come rain or sunshine.

(We’ll be praying for sunshine.)

A New Heaven

Can you smell that?

It’s the sweet perfume of frankincense. It hangs heavy in the air today, a deep haze of smoke all over everything, lingering in my hair and my clothes. The best kind of scent memory.

St Marys Corpus Christi 26

Photography (and fairy lights!) by Gordon Smith

We take Corpus Christi seriously in Glasgow. Last year, just before he threw petals all over everything, Father Vice Provost called it a heritage, and indeed it is. It is who we are and where we come from and what we do. It’s Maundy Thursday, but without the barbarians. It’s what Maundy Thursday looks like on the other side of a resurrection, when we know, in a way that you find yourself not really knowing in Holy Week, that love will always, always be stronger than death.

But not too seriously. Not so seriously that we forget that a Corpus Christi faith is of the God of life and laughter and fabulous unremitting joy.

Bishop Kevin talked last night about celebrating the reality of God’s love, and where better to celebrate that reality than in a place where I have never ever ever doubted it?

There are times and places when the veil between heaven and earth is almost transparent. At sunrise over the Clyde and at sunset on the Thames. In the middle of the night in a room alone with a person who is no longer alive. In the middle of the night in a room with a dozen other people and a person who we are not going to allow to die, not now, not tonight. In the absolute darkness of the Serengeti, looking up at the Milky Way. Every day, in a cathedral on Great Western Road. The mist clears and the veil lifts and we catch a tiny glimpse of heaven.

And in the midst of a shower of roses, listening to the peals of the sanctuary bell, trying not to trip over things, watching the Body of Christ through the smoke, surrounded by the love of God and the love of his people, that heaven feels so close that I think I could reach through the haze of incense and touch it.