Notes for the sermon given by the Rt Revd Michael Henley at the 40th Anniversary celebration at St Margaret’s, Rosyth on 15 November 2009.
I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be invited to preach on this 40th Anniversary. It is truly a pleasure to be with you this morning.
Rachel and I were in Rosyth on three occasions, and indeed our first daughter was born here. I was chaplain of what was then an artificer engineer training establishment HMS Caledonia, and then Chaplain of HMS Cochrane and the Dockyard on two separate occasions before finally becoming Chaplain of the Fleet.
St Margaret’s was originally a green tin tabernacle – a nissen hut in the dockyard – but with the expansion of the married quarters the MOD took the wise decision to build three new churches at what was effectively the crossroads of the then naval community, and thus St Margaret’s, the upside-down boat, was born and I had some input into its design, asked by the then senior Chaplain John Marks and later Ambrose Barcroft.
The only item that was transferred from the tin tabernacle was the pulpit – the stern of a sailing man’o’war – sailing away!!!
I was invited back for its dedication and, as I have said thereafter, twice had the enormous pleasure of being its priest. In which, over two appointments, I had the support of so many naval friends and civilian members, most of whom had naval or dockyard connections, and also a number of assistants. To evoke a few memories: Vera and Harry Jenkins the principal of the apprentice training school and long-term so‑styled People’s Warden. Eve Denning, Joan Groves and Mary Kidd, guider and a Methodist who became such a focal point in the life of St Margaret’s and its choir. And Virginia Osborne, the very faithful organist.
From the Navy there were, in no particular order, the Squires, the Warsops, the Whites, the Vallings, the Ridleys, the Slaters, the Wilkes, and the Hardings.
I suppose the major difference between then and now was that then a strong sense of community prevailed, based on the establishments and shlps based here and the large married quarters. Today the Navy seems much more dispersed and some of the feel of community life has disappeared.
In my two appointments I had the support from some wonderful assistants, whose real job was to look after the small ships (Mine Counter-Measures and Fishery Protection), but between us and with the help of Tom Dennison (Inverkeithing and first Non-Stipendiary Minister of the Scottish Episcopal Church) we maintained a daily communion service. Again they are names from the past: Richard Thomas, John Rawlings, Steve Pickering, and Mark Jackson, one of the characters of the Chaplaincy. It was he who amongst other things procured the sculpture of St Margaret.
I little realised on my appointment to Rosyth that one of my major responsibilities as Chaplain was to oil her once a fortnight to preserve and her from the central heating!! To update you, she is no longer in Faslane but in the chapel of St Margaret’s Hospice Yeovil, and the image you have on your invitation card is now the logo for hospice care in the SW of England.
I loved St Margaret’s, and one of the hardest and most difficult decisions that I had to take early in my episcopate was that the then congregation would be unable to afford the upkeep and maintenance of a building which had inherent design faults. And so the links to your current home began, which eventually developed into a partnership. For which I thank God.
But briefly to the real Margaret: an Anglo-Saxon, the consort of King Malcolm and of course closely associated with this part of Scotland and Dunfermline in particular. Apart from being the mother of eight children, she is rightly credited with transforming and reforming Scottish culture, the Scottish Church and the very Scottish nation itself. She ensured that institutions were about people and she provided relief for the hungry and the homeless. Those beliefs remain very much at the heart of the ministry and missionary outreach of our church, the Scottish Episcopal Church, today.
Rachel and I had lunch with Roger and Mary Devonshire last week and he reminded me that the church was not about buildings but people. Thank you for being the people of St Margaret’s, for keeping the faith and in so doing being faithful. God bless you.
Even Bishops get things wrong sometimes. Mary Kidd has pointed out that she was involved with Scouting, not Guiding, at St Margaret’s: her only involvement with the Guides was to send her daughter each week, then get roped in for badge testing!