Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The blank sheet of paper

I don't really like blank sheets of paper (which they aren't anymore, because I type onto a screen, but the phrase remains.) Some hook, some word, some phrase to guide, cajole, encourage, challenge even is great. I can work with that. I can play with that. But a blank sheet, I struggle with.

Though it's only the beginning of October, I need to write an article for Airside church magazine - the Christmas edition. I've been given that blank sheet. Naturally, there's an expectation Christmas or Advent forms part of the underlying blankness - with the knowledge this is the edition which goes to the whole parish, not just the congregation. So, no pulling and adapting last year's message for Quarry Kirk.

So, I have had a think. That's about it. And, due to deadlines, I have to have this in by the weekend. Perhaps a bit of procrastination will help. (Oh, that's what I am currently doing!).

Monday, 6 October 2014

A Good Conference

Over the time I have been training for ministry, I have been to a few conferences. Firstly, there was enquires conference (vocations conference, as it is now known), then assessment conference and 4 candidates' conferences. Over the weekend, I was at yet another conference, this time the first of 4 for probationers over the coming 9 months.

I remember the relief of knowing I was not 'alone', in my fears, doubts, feelings of not being the 'right' sort of person etc, etc. While there, among others, I met one person who is now also on probation and, told me over the weekend, that she had absolutely no doubt in her mind from the first time she met me that I was called to me a minister. Knowing the journey she has been on to get where she is made that all the more humbling.

Assessment conference I, bizarrely, quite enjoyed. Yes, it was pressurised. Yes, I was 'on' for the weekend. But, there I had a sense all of us there were in the same boat as it wasn't about numbers, but about callings. And, we were all at the same stage, with the 'same' pressures.

But come my first candidates' conference, I didn't get on too well. Due to deferring, there was no one in 'my' year group I knew. No one I had met before at the same stage as I was. In retrospect, I felt overwhelmed, isolated, inadequate and completely out-of-my-depth. Everyone else appeared sorted and comfortable, even those in my year group (though I know know that was definitely not the case!).

So, at that conference I hid as much as I could. I went for walks on my own. I went to my room as soon as sessions finished. I barely spoke and, when I did, as little as I could.

Things got better at the following conferences, as I became more comfortable in my own skin and more aware that the fears and doubts and being out of my depth everyone else was feeling too (well, almost everyone, but there's always someone who seems to be totally sorted). When new people 'arrived' I saw it as my 'role' to look for those who were struggling and (hopefully) give them some reassurance and encouragement.

But I still didn't really 'settle' at them. I suppose it's a mixture of reasons, but perhaps that feeling of inadequacy lingered. Or, my first conference 'clouded' my vision for future ones.

Now, though, that feeling seems to have passed. I enjoyed the weekend. I enjoyed catching up with people, some of whom I haven't seen since August last year. I enjoyed meeting people 'new' to the group - those transferring from other ministries or other churches, or those who have been out of the 'system' for a few years. I enjoyed the support and encouragement we gave each other. The reassurance that what I am being stretched or questioned or probed on others have. With the reassurance we are all in this together.

I think this acceptance and enjoyment of this conference is part of my journey to ministry. Part of my acceptance that God has, and continues to, call me and my colleagues. Part of my journey of accepting that the person who told me in my teens that people like me don't become ministers was wrong. Part of that acceptance is where I am serving probation. Part of that acceptance is the journey I've been on these 6 years.

Funny how others 'saw' that before I did. Funny how others 'accepted' that before I did. Funny how this journey works out. Funny how I just know, deep within me, I am in the right place at the right time for me, for the church, for God's calling on my life. That, I think is why this conference was good.

Friday, 26 September 2014

What will I be like next year?

At the beginning of the month, the National Guild convener, vice-convener and international delegates were worshipping at Airside. Laura and I shared worship, which had a World church theme.

The service was very well received by the guests, the congregation and my support group. There was a lot of effort had gone into it, which had paid dividends. (I was even complemented for doing my talk without notes...).

But that was a few weeks ago, and probation (and life) is moving along. The other day, I was at an event where the National Guild vice-convener was also present. We got chatting and she was still waxing lyrical (where does that phrase come from?) about the service. In the conversation, she asked where I was heading once I finished probation. My reply was, no idea, as it's almost a year till I finish. She was totally taken aback by that - thinking I was at the end, not the beginning of my probation. Her reaction? "If that's what you're like at the beginning of probation, what are you going to be like in a year's time?."

A couple of people I've mentioned this to have been impressed and pleased for me, and I know it is a huge compliment. Yet, it actually scares me. Have I peaked too soon? Can I maintain this 'level'? How do I continue to improve and not flatline? Etc, etc, etc.

I know I've always said I want to be the best minister I can be, but God, I just want to be an ordinary minister. Why am I getting the feeling that isn't your plan for me?

Keeping up with Soaps and football?

Over the last couple of weeks, it has been suggested to me that it is a good idea for ministers to keep up with the soaps and have an idea what's going on with football. The argument being, it shows we are engaging with what people see as interesting, important (sorry, struggling to express this) in their social lives.

I do get the logic. For many, football is almost like a religion. And the soaps can mirror what's going on in the 'real' world. Corrie, I heard, is going to have a gay vicar, so there is a bit of social commentary going on there too.

But, just because I don't watch these programs (ah, the great advantage of not owning a telly), doesn't mean I can't listen and engage with people when they talk about them. The same goes for football - if a person I am with wants to talk about football, I'll listen and they can actually teach me. (Actually, from previous experience, as long as I have a willingness to listen, people have been happy to try to 'teach me/mock me' for my lack of understanding of the 'beautiful game.') I'm never going to be an expert, but neither am I going to be an expert in particle physics, yet I would listen and engage with someone who wanted to talk about that.

I suppose, watching the soaps and football is so counter to who I am. It's well known I don't have a clue about football (besides, rugby players have better legs!). So, for me to suddenly seem to take an interest would come across as insincere or forced. The same goes for the soaps (though, I have occasionally listened to The Archers). Occasionally looking in wouldn't, I think, give me any more knowledge than I currently have. I would, if trying to engage with people on that topic make ill-informed comments and judgements, due to lack of knowledge, and they would soon pick up that I really didn't have a clue. If someone was doing that with something I am passionate about, I'd find it a wee bit wearing and, potentially, quite patronising.

At the end of the day, I have to be sincere to who I am. I don't do football nor watch telly. If I try to look like I know, I might just come across as, at best, an idiot (no change there) or, at worst, the educated person who really doesn't have a clue. Basically, I think I would come across as totally insincere and that would, in my opinion, lead to a breakdown in trust in the relationship I was trying to forge. Surely, it is more about a willingness to listen, engage and understand, in a open, non-judgemental way, which is important, rather than knowing everything about everything in 'average' Joe Public's social/recreational life?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Getting in a Fankle

I wouldn't in a million years say I was a great preacher, but thought, for this stage in my training, I wasn't that bad. Feedback in varying contexts has been positive. Yes, there have been things to improve, not nothing drastic.

Yet, somehow this isn't the case at Airside. And it's not that I am being unfairly criticised, but some are generally not coming together as well as they could, or are a little jumbled, or I go off script and loose my place. This isn't something which has happened elsewhere, so what's changed. Why am I, quite frankly, getting in a fankle?

Strange as it seems, I think I am trying too hard to impress. Or, I am trying to be too clever for my own good. When I do talks (which aren't children's addresses - more sermonettes), I seem to get the pitch right. So what's different about a 'real' sermon?

I think part of the problem is I am (once again) trying to meet a standard/style I can't. Partly, that isn't who I am. Mainly, though, I neither have the experience of Laura nor am I she. I am me (and I know this is so obvious, but I need to actually say this, because I need the reminder). So, I need to find my way, my style, my way of opening God's word to the people at Airside.

Looking back at the first time I preached at Airside, the feedback was positive. Tweaks needed made, but nothing bad (perhaps a mention of a parable, a deeper explanation of a point, a less oblique reference to a passage). In my determination to improve, I fear I have lost sight of the good things in what I did and can do, and focused on the things which need improved. In focusing on the negatives I have actually dug a deeper and deeper hole for myself.

I suppose this is all part of the learning process and, just to be clear, this isn't as negative as this post may project. I am actually a wee bit disappointed in myself, as I can do so much better. As I've said before, I need to chill a wee bit and get what I know I can do well right, then the negatives won't seem so daunting after all.