Iain Macritchie becomes priest in charge at St Michaels
It was lovely to be at Iain Macritchie’s ‘seating’ as Priest in Charge at St Michaels and all Angels Scottish Episcopal Church in Abban Street yesterday evening. The Bishop, Mark Strange presided. There were a number of us from Hilton in the congregation.
I hadn’t ever been in St Michael’s before, and what struck me as I walked in off the dark street was the loveliness of the symmetry and decoration of this gem of a building, warm, sensitively lit with many bright candles burning. As I sat down, the thought came to mind ‘This is like heaven.’ There was beauty in every part of the service – the singing, the liturgy, the prayers.
There was such a sense of love and quiet joy about the proceedings. Bishop Mark preached without notes on the Old Testament and Gospel readings for the day. The earlier reading described Jonah preaching against the sinfulness of Nineveh, the people’s response in repentance, and God’s decision to spare them judgement. It reminds us, said Mark, of the forgiveness of God, who is always ready to respond to us when our hearts reach heavenwards.
He spoke about the love which prompted the initial outreach work by the cathedral congregation on the other side of the river to where St Michael’s now stands in Abban Street. It was always the intention, he said, to reflect the loveliness of God in the loveliness of the building. The very poor people the church was working with were prompted to listen to the God who speaks.
When better housing was built on the west bank of the Ness, the church moved too, like the ‘tent’ in which the Jewish people worshipped during their wilderness journey. The church, and by implication God, accompanied the people, divine love walking with them.
And the New Testament reading described Martha and Mary disputing which of them had the better role – sitting listening to Jesus, or working in the kitchen. Iain Macritchie, Bishop Mark told us was a ‘Mary’ – a reflective contemplative soul – while he, the Bishop, was more of a do-er. Through Iain he would be reminded to have something of Mary in his heart while he in turn would encourage Iain to develop his Martha skills!
I loved the service. At times though, I felt that inner bar of disconcerting fear which I tend to associate with darkness, and so when we were repeating the creeds and the liturgy I found myself repeating the words ‘Jesus Christ’ with vehemence, signifying my choice of light.
I loved watching the Bishop leaning firmly on his staff with its distinctive curved head. It reminded me of what it symbolizes – the bishop’s role as shepherd, pastoring his people, his best actions an expression of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We focus so much on personal resilience and independence, and these are good in many ways. But we are still simply God’s sheep, and sheep need shepherding, and that staff reminded me that the Good Shepherd is always present.
And when the Bishop called us forward to receive communion, he said ‘God says all are welcome.’ So often ‘guarding the table’ leads pastors to say ‘If you love the Lord you are welcome’ or words to that effect, but here Bishop Mark was reminding us that all who want to come are welcome. And that statement gave me an affirming sense of inclusion and acceptance. All are welcome!
And the fact that we were invited to walk forward and receive the wafter one by one from the Bishop enabled me, at least, to make a response to that invitation. ‘Yes God, I’m coming, you bet I am,’ and each step along this red carpet was a symbol of my choosing the embrace of your acceptance, symbolized in the Bishop’s warm eyes.
There was in the congregation a young lady in a wheel chair who wouldn’t have been unable to reach the Bishop because of the chancel steps. Now she could have wheeled down the aisle to the steps and met the Bishop there, and perhaps some disabled people would have wanted to do that, or to ask for a ramp, and I get that, totally. But what the Bishop did was to come from where he was right down the aisle to where she sat, and gave her the wafer. It was, for me, another lovely symbol of God coming to us, meeting us where we are, reaching out to us in grace.
At the end of the service, a representative of St Michael’s welcomed Iain, and said they appreciated three things about him and his ministry in particular. Firstly, the quality of the music he was introducing to them, with its Celtic and Gaelic flavour. Secondly, his humanity, warmth and empathic sensitivity. And thirdly, his sermons, spoken without notes, but so helpful and encouraging; using vulnerable self-disclosure but somehow always in such away as not to alienate those whose experiences were different to his, but to include them.
These are the qualities those of us who are privileged to know Iain see and value in him. The congregation of St Michael and All Angels are very fortunate in their new priest.
And after the service there was tea and coffee and cakes in the adjacent hall, and again that sense of acceptance and love. It was a very significant evening for those of us who were present, and Iain is in our hearts and in our thoughts and prayers as he continues this new ministry.
As I went through to the hall, one of the team was methodically snuffing out the candles around the altar. But there was a light shining in the church that night which will never be extinguished.