Wednesday, 10 August 2016
Homily for a hedgehog: a day in the life of a rural minister
pastoral care of hedgehogs.
Unusually, for this particular Scottish summer, I awoke to a blue-filled sky. A day working up in the hills in this remote rural charge awaited. By the time I hopped into the minister mobile, the blue had been replaced by deeper shades of grey once more, but all was well - I had slung my summer jumper into the car, alongside the guitar, music book, and diary. Sister Maria would be proud: a little later, the hills would indeed be filled with the sound of music, but before that particular music rehearsal for Taize worship, I had a pastoral matter to attend to...
Quickly nipping into my own local village coffee morning to wave at folk and grab the briefest of natters, I then headed up the back road to the hills. As usual, passing beyond the second cattle grid, mobile signal cut out and I was cut off from contact with the wider world. 'Virtual' existence would only be restored once I came back past the same cattle grid on the way down. Along I sped, up the winding road, past loitering sheep on heather-filled hills, and the occasional prospector panning for gold in the shallow, swift-running burn. After cattle grid number four, as the road turned again, I kept a beady eye out for the local red kite. No sign. It obviously knew the heavens were about to...open.
Minister mobile turned into the village, through the deluge, and crept up the main street, edging me closer to the important pastoral visit. The car glided up the long, red chucky-stone drive to the centuries-old house. Crunching along the stones to the doorway, I could already hear the fluffy, four-pawed inhabitant of the house barking a greeting. Door opened, flash of waggy brown and white tail... Smiles with the two-legged inhabitants, who ushered me into the small room to meet 'Blossom'...or possibly 'Clyde'. It must be tricky to be a hedgehog with an identity crisis. Trickier still, I suspect, if you're a wee orphaned baby hedgehog with a gammy back leg.
Gently - and gingerly - I held the small hog in the palm of my hand. We took it outside, to a special enclosure, with 'assault course', along with some chopped up chicken and strawberries. The fluffy pal who'd greeted me earlier watched over proceedings carefully. My task was to hide said bits of food for our wee hog to hunt down - part of its life-skills building. Wee hog was then released into the pen, snuffling and sniffling, and having a wander. It is quite a magical thing to see a wee beastie working out how to make its way in the world. After twenty minutes of hog-training, the small and unutterably cute soul was back in the palm of my hand, being walked back to the big house. I'm sure we bonded and made some kind of pastoral connection. At any rate, I was reminded briefly of St Francis, and his kindness to animals...he preached to the birds; I pastored to a hedgehog.
Have I ever said how much I love the randomness of rural ministry?!