Monthly Archives: June 2012

Working Clothes

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The Meenister’s Log

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Funeral Visit

The Meenister’s Log

The pre-funeral visit was coming to an end, and, saying that I would be remembering the family in my prayers, I got up to leave.

At that point the relict  asked, “Before you go, could we have a word, please?”

“Of course, I’m so sorry, let us pray………” and this was followed by an extemporised prayer, giving thanks for the life of the deceased and remembering the family at that sad time – also for our Church and congregation and especially those who were unwell at that time… and so on”

We must have been standing with our heads bowed for several minutes.

And then – “It wasn’t that kind of word, I was thinking of ….. all I wanted was to ask you if you could give me a hand with filling out this form for my pension”

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Helen Mary Strachan a Tribute by Sandy

Helen was born on 28 October 1953 to Stan and Doris Walker, a longed-for second child to complete their family – her brother, Richard, having been born some years before.

She was born in Ashton-under-Lyne and the family settled in Denton in east Manchester, before moving to Stoke Mandeville where Helen attended Aylesbury School for Girls, and was an outstanding pupil.

She loved Buckinghamshire so much – these were idyllic days – that her ashes are to be scattered there at Monument Hill.

There were many happy memories of her and her Mum attending cricket matches where her Dad and brother  played. Breaks for tea were especially wonderful events  (cucumber sandwiches and home-baking)- not so great was her Dad being called out LBW.

She recalls once going to a match in Slough and, if you’ve ever been to Slough, you will agree with John Betjeman’s poem “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough”

I seem to remember Helen recalling that the only thing of interest to see there was the crematorium!

For a Home Counties lass, it must have come as a total culture shock when, at the age of thirteen, her Dad got a job transfer to Scotland and they went to live in……..Cumbernauld.  Oh the horror!  Helen and her Mum barely spoke to him for months.

However, they moved quite soon afterwards to Dunblane, and Helen attended McLaren High School in Callander.  There she made lifelong friends in Catriona, Ailsa and Lyn.

Because Helen sat Highers, the realistic choice was to go to University in Scotland – and she enrolled for an MA in History at St.Andrews.

And it was there, at the age of 17, that disaster struck: she met me!

We married on 4th August 1973 in the beautiful church of St.Peter and St Paul in Alpheton, Suffolk.

And so at the age of 19, she became a minister’s wife – not something, I’m sure she had in her life-plans.

Our first charge was in Doune, near Stirling.  It was rather strange that every day on the way to school from Dunblane to Callander, the bus passed what was to be our Manse in Doune.

Helen got involved with the Young Wives Group as well as a spell taking the Beavers (the younger cub-scouts) in the village. One particular memory stands out – driving a mini-bus of them to Stirling to see the movie The Transformers.  The noise, the din, the shouting – and the film was just as bad!

It was, of course, at this time, that our two fine boys were born – Matthew and Richard.  The happiest time of her life.  She said that she had never experienced true love until these two came along and she so proud of their achievements and so fond of their respective girls, Peggy and Polly.

The “icing on the cake” however was her “cheeky monkey” grandaughter, Cora.

After Doune we moved abroad to Trinidad for four years and what a life-enhancing experience that was.  She and I loved it, and the friendliness of the people. The first time that our Church Officer, an elderly gentleman named Henry Cordiner, met her (and she was only about twenty-five at the time) he gazed at her in admiration, and said “Why, it’s a baby Ma’am!”

Back in Scotland, we lived in Caputh near Perth, and she loved nothing better than walking our then dogs along the banks of the River Tay which flowed past the bottom of our garden (beat that – says Sandy)

After a comparatively short time there, we moved to our favourite congregation at St.Michael’s Inveresk in Musselburgh and spent eleven wonderful years there amongst so many lovely and kindly friends.

With the family growing up, Helen returned to work – at Waterstones East End in Edinburgh where she combined work with her great passion of reading. I have never come across such a voracious reader.

At her place, at our dining room table here in Dumfries is a book rest which enabled her to eat and read at the same time. Both of us are avid readers and didn’t go out too much – meals out in restaurants were semi-torture for her, as she couldn’t read while having her meal.

She loved being a book-seller and was sorry to have to leave when we moved – yet again – to the Channel Islands for a short while.

And then here we were 13 years ago on the 12th June in Dumfries. Helen loved it here and particularly the surrounding countryside – Mabie Forest and  Rockcliffe being special favourites. And here she found the job she’d always been looking for – as a museum assistant at Robert Burns’ House in the town.  Ironically, Paul who is the curator, and Helen are both from Lancashire – which, I think caused quite a few laughs between them. Prior to this Helen had worked as a Home Carer for a coupleof stints, and found great fulfillment in helping the elderly and disabled.

She was a talented lady. She loved gardening, craftwork, DIY (Helen was the electrician and plumber and house-decorator in the family).  She also tried to keep Sandy from being so feckless over the almost 39 years that they were married – without much success (you know how an eccentric is reluctant to do even the most ordinary of chores – although she put it down to my being “just plain idle”)

And, of course, she loved dogs and particularly her Jack Russell Terriers – Daisy who is the oldest and who snuggled up to her in bed at home following major surgery seven and a half years ago; Tom and their daughter Flora, all of whom  are with us – and are as loud as ever, though somewhat subdued these last few days.

And, let’s not forget the enjoyable years she spent working as a volunteer in the Canine Rescue Charity Shop, where most of the time was spent, I gather, gossiping with her co-worker, Jim.

Let’s close with these words – written in a sympathy card sent to me from one of the Museum staff: She writes: “She was a lovely, clever, funny lady and so compassionate too”

to which we say “Amen!”

(Helen died of secondary cancer at 12.27 a.m. on Saturday, 16 June 2012, aged 58)

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June 24, 2012 · 16:28


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Caerlaverock Castle

The Meenister’s Log

Congratulations to Alan and Ailsa whom I married here today (23 June 2012)

It is a magnificent venue – a ruined castle just outside Dumfries – but largely exposed to the elements.

The weather was comparatively kind – though a bit  breezy and with the odd spot of rain – but a joyful occasion.



I’m reminded of a minister colleague who, a few years ago, conducted a marriage service there in the pouring rain.

He said to the couple (who were both English) at the beginning of the wedding ceremony, “If your forebears hadn’t beseiged this place, we’d still have a roof over our heads and be dry!”

Tact, David?

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oops 2

The Meenister’s Log

(and no it’s not me!)  A colleague – just starting out – forgot to take his Service Book to the graveside.

He, obviously, knew the gist of things, but his mind went blank when it came to the Scripture Reading; nonplussed he said “And as the Apostle Paul wrote….. ” and just made it up, using quasi-King James language.

A children’s address – a former colleague had spent a week preparing it & the kids in Church were enthralled until he turned to the last page of his notes….and there was no last page.  Everyone was slightly bewildered.

A scattering of ashes – this minister had arranged with the funeral director that at the appropriate moment in the outdoor service, the undertaker would discretely appear from behind a tree with the container.  This he did & these things are surprisingly large; my friend, surprised at the size of it, dropped it and, with the lid unscrewed and a breeze blowing the dear departed remains blew all over everybody.

Having had little time to prepare anything for the Sunday Sermon, a colleague feinted fainting when he got into the pulpit.

Wired for sound, prior to a wedding, a friend popped into the loo in the vestry, before going into the sanctuary prior to the ceremony.  And forgetting to switch off the lapel mike, the congregation were treated to a variation on “Water Music”

Having had a riotous time at a Saturday wedding reception, a pal felt so awful on the Sunday morning that he had to have a double Bloody Mary before going to the first of two services.  En route to the second service in his other church, he had to stop at the Manse, for a re-fill.

It wisnae me, honest!   (but I’m sure my friends could tell  you a few about yours truly!!!)

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Maw, Whit if he Ever Gets Oot?

The Meenister’s Log

   Maw, Whit if he Ever Gets Oot?

‘Way up in the far north o’ Scotland, 
   Dressed up in his sporran and dirk, 
Wee Sandy McGrime, for the very first time, 
   Was ta’en alang tae the kirk.

He gaped at the box kin’ o’ pulpit,     His moo near as roon’ as the mune,  An’ gripped at his Maw, as the beadle he saw,     A-lockin’ the meenister in.

The time cam’ for hearin’ the sermon,     An’ feart-like was wee Sandy’s look,  As stoor fairly jumped, when the meenister thumped     An’ pounded his nieves on the Book.

The guid man reached oot, an’ he shouted     An’ bellowed an ruffled his hair,  He cried and he craved and ranted and raved,     An’ waggled his fists in the air.

Wee Sandy was shakin’ wi’ terror,     Fair frantic he looked roon’ aboot,  “Oh, mither,” said he, “wull we a’ hae tae flee,     If ever that mannie ever gets oot?”

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to share with those who can’t be there (typos have been corrected)


click on the above for the Order of Service

The Advent Hymn was her favourite and actually seems appropriate; “Jerusalem” because she was English through and through (the Rev Alan will have to grin and bear it, as he’s of a similar poilitical disposition as myself!)

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St Julian of Norwich


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