When Derek and Louise’s family asked me to speak at the service today about Louise’s life in our Balerno church and community, my first emotions included fear, honour and an overwhelming sense of responsibility in trying to get this right. However, pretty soon I had to laugh – Louise has been going on at me for years to take another step into ministry and it is ironic that in this service I am speaking in front of many ministers, including the Moderator and nearly the whole of the Edinburgh presbytery. She always was someone determined to get her own way!
It is hard to believe it is just less than 5 years since she became minister here in Balerno. It will be almost impossible to encapsulate the impact Louise has had on our church family, our village life and our wider community in just a few minutes. The fact that so many people from different walks of life and of all different ages are sitting here in the church sanctuary, in the Ogston Hall, in St Josephs and in the High School remembering someone they called friend is a more powerful tribute than the few words I can bring.
Louise’s ministry in Balerno started here when she was inducted as minister in April 2010. She used to say that she couldn’t believe God made it so easy for her to find a charge so perfect a fit for her skills, her family and her vision of the church. What is clear is that God knew what both Balerno and she would need for the years to come. Her impact in the church was felt immediately – engaging preaching; wise leadership; peace keeping diplomacy and a unique ability to identify, nurture and encourage the gifts of those in the congregation meant we were blessed to be in a church where people wanted to be. As well as supporting that which was already here and valued in church, Louise continually strived to find different ways and means to allow people of every age and stage explore their own sense of the divine whoever and wherever they were.
But Louise was never one to limit her ministry, herself and her leadership to bringing people into the church sanctuary. What has made her so unique, so loved and so effective was her conviction that church is much, much bigger than a beautiful place of worship. For her church really is something without walls – built by people, through people and for people. She had a burning desire to take herself and lead her church out into the community – for she loved people of all ages, people from all walks of life, people with lots of faith and none. Those of us from Balerno know that there is nothing worse than trying to do a quick shop in Scotmid as we always meet someone we know. Going into Scotmid with Louise required one to take a deckchair with you as she met and greeted everyone by name, asking after their family, holidays, health and lives in a way that made all know that she valued and cared for each and every person she met.
That desire to know and share God’s love for people whoever and wherever they are became one of the defining elements of Louise’s time with us. Although she inherited the St Joseph’s development project, few would deny that it very quickly became her baby. Her control freakishness meant she was involved in everything from the choice of table cloths to choice of decor to the design of logos. But most importantly she inspired us with her vision of the church buildings being the centre of community – a place where everyone and anyone could come, be welcomed and share in the sense of being at the heart of a village with a beating and vital spark.
Louise personified how community and church life combine in this place. She had lunch and meetings in the Mill Café; she had her 40th birthday party in the St Josephs’ hall; Tom had his Star Wars film party in the Ogston Hall. She created and led the chill at church youth group, she supported the Music Festival and she enthusiastically championed the launch of Balerno Village Screen. She went to cocktail nights and dinner discussions; women’s guild events and mothers and toddlers groups; fair trade days and tattie days; dementia cafes and discos; jubilee parties and pilates – all these things sat here cheek by jowl in a wonderful and eclectic mix. Louise was the one connecting factor that went to every single one of these events and many many more.
But Louise’s reach was not just limited to events booked into church halls. Her involvement in the community reached out from here into our local schools and organisations – chaplain to both Dean Park primary and the High School where many of you sit now, she was also a well kent mum at the school gates, engaged in the ferrying to and fro of children from beavers to football to art club; helping at PTA events; and crying at nativity plays. She was loved and respected by children of all ages, many of whom are here today. She never patronised, never preached – instead she showed them that a person of faith can be fun, friendly and approachable in a way that I expect will live with the children of this village for the rest of their lives.
But it’s fair to say that while each of us is sitting in a space that was invigorated by Louise, we are all also surrounded by a landscape that invigorated her. Everyone knows how Louise loved to run in these hills. Running here brought her a sense of freedom, a sense of herself, a sense of true friendship with those of us who ran with her – and I think it also helped her find a sense of God. But being Louise, the running was never just for her and many of her running achievements including, of course, her completion of the Edinburgh Marathon were undertaken with more thought of others than herself. She joked with me after diagnosis that while she couldn’t do another marathon, at least she could fundraise by asking for donations to the St Joseph’s development at her funeral – she never, ever stopped thinking of others before herself.
Her love of Balerno is attested to by the fact that she wished her beloved Derek and adored Tom to remain with us now. We owe it to her to give them the love, respect and welcome that she showed to each and every one of us. While they will always be Louise’s son and Louise’s husband, to us they must, will be and are Tom and Derek.
And now we face life in Balerno without our friend Louise. But now she is woven into the very fabric that binds us together as church, as friends and as community. So every time you worship at a service here; every time you go to a film screening in the halls, every time you do some disco dancing in St Josephs; every time you meet friends in the Mill; every time you go for a walk or a run in the hills; every time you see a neighbour and call them friend, know that she is still with us and will be evermore.
Ishbel Smith – 28/2/15.