Yesterday evening, as the rain poured down and the darkness was more Octoberesque than midsummer, we were having a ball in the restored splendours of St Augustine's, Dumbarton. Kenny's anniversary bash was the most wonderful mix: a High Mass (singing everything that moved), Eastward-facing at the high altar (you can see the nave altar in the foreground), clergy everywhere. Fr Dougal twinkle-toed about with the thurible, Kenny sang dead in tune (they don't always, you know - it's interesting when the Sanctus begins in a completely different key from the preface), Fr Alex read the Gospel in his gorgeous dark-brown voice, and Mr B played what Kenny described as the "difficult bits" - the accompaniement to Merbecke - and sang the verses in the Taize psalm. There wasn't a dry eye.
Meanwhile, Mrs Heathbank and I were bashing out the Merbecke with a will - because they don't do the 1970 Liturgy in St Aug's any more, let alone sing Merbecke. This, after all, was a 1970s occasion. We even sang a couple of trad hymns, albeit with a praise band. But never think the evening was staid: during the communion we had a couple of country and western numbers - holy words, but definite C & W. I'm sure the celebrant's shoulders were shaking as he cleared the altar. Maybe that's why high altars are so far from the congregation. And at the end, Kenny seemed to skip from the sanctuary - but maybe he was just catching up with the procession.
It was a great night. There was the usual St Aug's purvey afterwards, including some very pleasant wine in delightfully large glasses, and many old friends to greet. I feel very much at home in St Aug's - the welcome is always warm and affectionate, and I feel like an old friend. Kenny leaped onto a chair, ostensibly to thank everyone but probably to show off his good suit. The noise level was extraordinary and the heat intensified, but no-one was bothering. People were hugging in greeting, hugging in farewell. Magic.
And then we had to dash. It was 9.45 and we had 45 minutes to drive to the last ferry home. Thanks to the sudden incontinence of one of our number, we only just made it: we were grateful to the miscreants who were taking up the attention of the local constabulary (4 cars' worth) on the Erskine Bridge. The ferry hurtled across in half the usual time (last ferries always do) and we were home by 11pm.
It fair took me back, this high mass. This is what drew me into the Episcopal Church just over 30 years ago, and when the liturgy is used absolutely formally with all the dignity and ceremony of the church it still has the power to transport. Last night wasn't just Kenny's celebration, for I was celebrating too. I think we all were.