Thursday, 29 January 2015

Community building and working together

At the moment I am reading a lot. There's various blogs, reports, articles, books, daily reflections etc. They are written for a range of contexts (though church is a recurring thread), and prospectives, yet there are a couple of things that are drawing them all together - and it seems a bit more than coincidence.

The recurring themes are:
  • Discipleship - what it is and how to build it.
  • Moving from worship in rows of people listening to one person talk.
  • Importance of intergenerational relationships in building community.
  • And some sort of looking towards a less clergy (or top-down) model of church. (This is a bit more of a hard one to explain, as I do believe in any community, there needs to be leadership, but it's how that leadership is perceived and deployed that, as I read it, is the important thing here).
Now, I must admit, there is an element of 'chicken and the egg' here (oh, it was the egg, there is evidence from paleontology that eggs were around before chickens evolved), as I may be reading what 'agrees' and confirms my standpoint, but some of this did come from a book I was given to read by my supervisor, which I may not have chosen in different circumstances.

Part of what I keep coming back to, from all this stuff I am reading at the moment, is the importance of community. Community does not happen by 1 or 2 (or even a handful of people) leading a service in front of rows of people in a packed church. Do those gathered talk to one another beyond basic courtesy? How do those in the congregation interact with the scripture, the prayers, the sermon? Are they allowed to? How is what does on in worship built up through the congregations lives in the coming week (months and years)? How are the gifts of those gathered discovered, developed and deployed in God's service? In some ways, I a starting to wonder if my role is to work my way out of a job (or parts thereof) as I enable others to do stuff? (Or am I just getting that confirmed?).

In many ways, now I am involved in Messy Church at Airside Kirk, I see that happening in the community that is building up. It's families worshipping God together, and the leaders of Messy aren't the minister and I - it's proper team work. I suppose, it's collaborative leadership in action (121 will be pleased!). Those who come know who the leaders are, as we're showing crafts, or setting up games, or welcoming them, or doing the talk, or leading the music, but there's no distinction between the leaders. We all muck in where needed, take in tasks which we're able to do (or gifted to do), and we all wear our ordinary clothes - jeans and a top sort of stuff. Yes, some there know who The Boss is, as they've been to church at normal Sundays or through her school work, but some don't. And it doesn't matter, because we're doing this as a community, serving the community and, God willing, through building up our relationships with those who come, showing Christ's love working through us. Bottom line is, there's no perception of 'rank' by those who come. (Yes, I know there shouldn't be rank, and that ministers are not above anyone else, but people don't always react that way).

Perhaps, looking longer term (which is a dangerous thing to do, I know), my role is more one of facilitation, getting the congregation(s) I serve to grow and mature in their Christian faith, but with us all working together, sharing together, growing together. Then, if I am called somewhere else or am away for a prolonged period, things will still happen, the church will (and does and should) go on without me.

Maybe part of my call is to work my way out of a job? Or, at least some of the jobs ministers seem to take on, but they don't need to do and, through doing too much themselves, the priesthood of all believers is not reflected. The calling and gifts of all the Christian community are not found, not grown, not nurtured.

And, as for people sitting in rows and listening, I did wonder how that could be 'worked around' in a large congregation. Well, Airside is one. Though sitting in rows for the 'ordinary' (oh, believe me, I don't think there is such a thing there!) Sunday service makes better use of the space, I have introduced the congregation talking to one another on a couple of occasions (once in a children's address and once as the intro to a sermon) and it worked! I wasn't sure how it would go down, but took the risk. Not sure I could do it all the time, in the Sunday morning service, but certainly something I will use from time to time and in smaller contexts too.

I know all of this will feed in (in a scarily short period of time - run around the room with arms in air going arrrrrggggghhhhhh!) to figuring out where I am called to minister. No, I've no idea, but with God's grace and guidance I pray to go where he wants me to go.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Looking to where I may go

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my interim review. This makes sure probation is on track - that there are no major issues and may set new goals/objectives, depending on new/unforeseen/changing circumstances. The bottom line is, that things are confirmed as going well.

At the end of the review, the subject of 'looking for my own place' came up. Though I cannot formally apply until after a positive outcome from my final review, which is likely to take place in late June, it is recommended I have a 'clear' idea of where I may apply once that time comes. Clear? Well, me being me, I need things painted in BIG, HUGE CAPITAL LETTERS, as I can take a while to get the hint.

But I have, on occasion, been looking at the vacancy list on the Kirk website. There are some which seem to have been there for years. Yes, there may be reasons, but I wonder if it's a bit like the property market (especially when things are going well). When a house has been on the market for ages, people assume there's something wrong with it, but it might be perfect. Some of the long term vacancies may be the same. Not that I am saying that's where I will go, but I won't automatically disregard them.

As I look, there's the things which aren't there. Details of how to look at the parish profile without contacting the interim moderator. I only want a neb, not to implicitly indicate interest. In my opinion, if a church has a website, that should be used as a 'recuritment' page as much as direct contact, Life and Work adverts etc. And, if a church doesn't have a web presence, in some shape or form (even if it's a facebook page - and, well, I'm not exactly a fan of that platform, am I?) how does it reach beyond the 'normal' congregation or reach potentially their prefect minister, who lives at the other end of the country, but through looking at their web present can, to a certain extent, get a feel for the church and community. Just a feel, but a feel never the less. I could go on about my opinion of the importance of a half decent website here, but I'll just link to Spot's post on the matter instead.

Today, I looked at the new adverts in the Life and Work. The way most of those are worded, it seems the congregations are wanting an all-singing, all-dancing minister who is brilliant at almost everything. While I am sure that is not the case, on the ground, unfortunately, that's the impression many leave me with. Oh, and if you're going to have a photo of the interior, could it have some people in it, please? Pretty please, with sugar and a cherry on top?

So, do I know where I am going? No. Do I know I need to begin thinking where I am going? Yes, but with as open a mind as I can, trying to pick my way through what's said and what's meant, remembering who I am following and what gifts and talents I have, as they will influence where I am called to serve. With the added factor of Spot also being called to a recognised ministry in the church. Life, it's fun and exciting, and a little bit terrifying too. I go in the assurance I am being prepared for a congregation and community and they are being prepared for me.

Monday, 19 January 2015

God's spirit moving within me

I'm Scottish Presbyterian, so inevitably, I do not do change. Change, that's an anathema, a heresy, come on, let's all say "It's aye been" in a resounding chorus!!!

But I have been changing, and it's brilliant and a little scary all at the same time. The rawness and roughness are fading - I don't think they will ever disappear, as sometimes that's what gives me the 'breath of fresh air' attitude people commend me for (well, most of the time!). I suppose it's the rawness and roughness which were my barriers or my 'shields' as I was perhaps (what do I mean, perhaps - certainly is more like it!!!) concerned I wasn't cut out for this ministry role, that they had accepted the wrong person, that I was nervous of the labels and attitudes other's placed (and will continue to place) on me.

And now I stand, as me, just me. In the knowledge I am really, really, deep down in my soul, called by God to be a minister in his church. I stand in my brokenness, in my wounded state, with a willingness, a desire, a hope, to use that brokenness and those wounds to bind up other's. I know this sounds very deep, and it is deep. I am more and more amazed at how God is working through me, using me and gifting me in ways I could hardly have imagined even 6 months ago, never mind 6+ years ago when I began this part in my faith journey.

Because I have (finally) started to set aside those things which prevented God working through me, fully working through me (which I hasten to add, I believe is an ongoing process, one which will never be finished), my ministry gifts are further released. My preaching has improved enormously over these past 6 months, especially since the end of November, where something The Boss said was a bit of a light bulb moment. And some of the prayers I am writing, well, I write them, then use them for leading worship and even I am stunned at their content. The other week I included a line which said "may our praise and prayers be like sweet smelling incense, wafting up to heaven to mingle with the angels and saints..." If you wanted evidence of God working through people, you couldn't get more evidence than that - I mentioned this to a probationer friend last week and she looked me straight in the eye and asked "What have you done with Mrs G?" It is a very fair point, but one which shows how this acceptance of God using someone like me has allowed me to be so much more open to the Holy Spirit moving in and through me. (Sorry if this sounds like bragging, it's not my intent, I am just amazed at how God is working through me).

Even my interaction with people has changed. This is more difficult to get a handle on, but I find people are no longer wanting to scrape the surface when I am with them, but we enter a deeper place more readily, even among those who I know well and less so. Again, this can only be through God's presence being with me as I go about life.

One major thing I've notice is at training conferences I am no longer concerned that others have greater bible or theological knowledge than I do (and I mean both of those in the very academic sense). I no longer feel 'inferior', but look to the multitude of gifts we each have and how amazing it is that God called all of us to minister for him, because of our gifting. My gifts are just as valid as everyone else's. I do take a while to get the hint about these things, but I've got there in the end!

The journey continues, but it couldn't be more the right path, for me, if it tried. Of that there is no doubt. It's not that, with this new, deeper, understanding that the journey will suddenly get easier, or that I will be able to ease off the gas, but I feel fit enough to take on the steep climbs and the narrower paths in this knowledge, this amazing knowledge that, even though I ran away for years, God always gets it right. The more I learn to trust the more I am used for his glory and, I pray, others feel in some way God's spirit moving through me.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ministry - finally, acceptance

Sunday was the first time, since beginning probation, that I've been leading worship where The Boss wasn't around - either sitting up front or in the pews. Had to be when it was readings and carols, so most of my role was making sure things went smoothly, which wasn't that onerous in this congregation.

Though sharing the service with members of the congregation (who were reading the lessons) and the parish assistant, I was very much seen by the congregation as being 'in charge' (oh, if only they knew...) and being 'the minister' in The Boss' absence. And for once, maybe really for the first time, that didn't daunt or terrify me at all. I seem to have 'finally' got, in a deep and real way that I am a minister (let's not get too pedantic about not technically being one until ordained, I'm looking inwards towards my calling and outwards towards how others perceive me).

This feeling, this sense of acceptance in a 'new' way is really hard to explain and I wonder if I am alone in the feeling that somehow, all along, I was going to be 'found out'? I doubt it, but few would want to admit it (or maybe even realise it wasn't truly there).

I do know having a mirror put up to me, by my support group and supervisor, combined with the total immersion in the life and work of Airside for 6 months has allowed this part of my formation (oh, I do hate using that phrase!) take place. I know an unwillingness to fully embrace who I am was out of fear I would lose who I am, if that makes sense at all? God calls me to be a minister, so gifts me with the skills and talents to be a minister, therefore I become a minister, I am a minister, in following and responding to that call. (Ooo, this is a bit deep, isn't it?).

I don't think this process will be complete, ever. Though a minister, I still want to be Mrs G - I am Mrs G and the 2 are inseparable, but there will be times where people will only see 'the minister', no matter what I do. And with that comes certain expectations, some right, some wrong. Sorting out which are which, and which is right for my calling will be an interesting challenge. And sometimes busting people's ideas of what a minister is like is no bad thing. God called someone like me, after all.

In a slightly bizarre twist, I find I am trying to be a better, more circumspect, more listening, more reflective, more compassionate person as I try to live up (or grow up?) to where God is leading me. I suppose it's a bit like getting fit for cycling. A couple of miles is hard graft when you've not cycled for years, with the need to get off the bike and push for any hill. With perseverance and determination, cycling trips become longer and easier, the hills taken with pleasure, rather than pain. All because there was the willingness to keep trying, to keep going, and to enjoy the hurl down the other side of the hill, with minimal effort (or nailing it in the hope I'll get up to 40mph - yes, this has happened!).

I can't believe how far I've travelled these last 6 months (or is it 6 years?). It's been fun, challenging, difficult at times, but mainly fun. That's how I know this is my calling, because I believe everyone has one and, the way we know is that we enjoy it, deeply and fully, even in the hard and difficult times, because it is what the deepest parts of our souls' know is the right thing for us to be doing. Ministry is it for me.

Next week, I have my interim review. I pray it goes well and God is with those present (especially me!). Then bring on 2015 and all the excitement and risks and challenges it will bring.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Just get on with it

On Sunday, I woke up with a throat so sore, it felt as though I had swallowed a packet of razor blades. Thankfully, I still had a voice (especially once lubricated with about half a gallon of tea) and, due to the nativity play being staged during worship, I wasn't speaking that much.

By the time I went to bed on Sunday, I knew a cold was brewing (I know, not unusual at this time of year, but bear with me, there's a point, honest!). Monday was a morning of a bit of prep for the coming couple of weeks. I had planned on fitting in a couple of pastoral visits, but decided it wouldn't be that pastorally sensitive taking my virus out to those who are vulnerable (oh, they were okay, until Mrs Gerbil visited, now they have pneumonia). By lunchtime, I could feel I was getting a bit worse for wear, as I was putting extra layers on. I don't feel the cold. This was not a good sign.

But I had to head out in the afternoon. I was leading the Advent study and, with The Boss being unavailable, it was up to me. It did go well, but I could have done without it.

Then, yesterday, there was the funeral I was taking. Okay, had push come to shove, I could have contacted the pastoral assistant attached to Airside, to see if they could step in, but didn't want to do that. Firstly, due to distance, I hadn't actually met the lead mourners before the event, only been in contact via phone and email. At least I knew the voice, but that was it. But more importantly, I had a pastoral responsibility to conduct the funeral - to those I had met, to those I had spoken to and to the funeral director.

Fortunately, I managed to carry out my duties. I don't think the mourners or my fellow professionals realised I wasn't well, which is good, as I would hate to think they were more concerned about me than being given the opportunity to mourn their loved one. It's amazing what a packet of cough sweets and 2 aspirins before a service can do!!!

But today, I'm missing a couple of school assemblies. Yes, I've a lot better, but don't think it would be a good start to children's (or teachers') holidays them getting my cold. It would have been nice to go and support the nativities, but certainly not a priority.

Which gets into the territory of what is a priority? And, me being very much aware in a parish, 'on my own', I may well just have to get on with stuff, irrespective of how I am feeling (within reason, I know there may be times where that isn't an option). But where's the line (and is there a line?) and what is and isn't a priority. I suspect that will change and evolve as I go on. It's also highlighted, for me, the necessity of having some people within a congregation who could step up to take a funeral or lead worship. And, of course, maintaining good relationships with neighbouring colleagues, as they may have to be called upon to step in, if necessary (and they are available).

So, felling rotten? Might just have to get on with it.