Last year, when we thought we had seen the peak of the pandemic, I chose to leave my job in teaching and start a new vocation as a full-time priest. I had been a principal teacher for over 10 years and for the past five years I had also been working as a priest in my local church in Central Fife. Keeping my very high standards of professionalism for my pupils while not letting the pastoral demands of being a priest interfere or being ignored couldn’t have been done without the understanding, encouragement and support of my congregation. As a congregation we are made up of mostly retired people but that doesn’t mean we have finished with working, quite the opposite.
Like many retired people, most of the congregation support their families with childcare, others make a point of visiting elderly and/or lonely, some work in the foodbank, others are part of the elderly forum – while some in my congregation have worked closely with the Community Fund of the National Lottery for the past six years and have secured hundreds of thousands of pounds to transform our modest little church into a community hub build with the needs of the whole community! It is true to say that we are a small congregation, and elderly, but we punch well above our weight, so to speak!
Supported and encouraged by the wonderful people of this congregation, you can see why quitting my teaching job and being their full-time priest was so attractive. Being able to develop our relationships and getting to know more about them has been a delight. The many hours of packing the contents of the church and cleaning everything as we put it in storage. The honour of supporting some as they got progressively ill, visiting them at home or in hospital, learning from their wealth of experience about how to plan their funerals with them and supporting their loved ones after their funeral. Leading the worship in church, crematorium and graveside in a sure and certain faith that we are moving on with life, and death in a proper and loving way, well, it really is humbling.
During the lockdown we have talked often, zoomed, skyped, and tried to remind each other that during this time we are all still here for each other. It has been a challenge; when one lady in the church declined a digital device; she told me, “it will just sit in the corner mocking me because I can’t operate such things”! You learn to accept that some will not feel able to move on so easily as others have and to make sure there is no guilt or obligation to be challenged beyond what they are willing. Throughout my first months they have blessed me with such grace and patience that we are all learning to live closer and more joyfully.
Quite early on I was approached, out of the blue, by a movie producer, who asked for my help in supporting a hermit with whom she is filming a documentary. I immediately accepted and with all appropriate permissions I was able to visit Ken, the hermit, in his home. Sitting with Ken listening to his views on the world, nature, life and death for hours and hours, with the sound of the rut, the hoots of owls and the flicker of candles was enchanting. It is remarkable how well my congregation in Central Fife had prepared me for this unique experience, maybe I’ll tell you more about that next time?
Peace & Blessing
Rev Gerry Dillon, St Luke’s Scottish Episcopal Church, Glenrothes with St Margaret, Leven and St Finnian, Lochgelly