Tuesday, 23 December 2008


I had my first personal development interview (PDI - same initials as pre-delivery inspection for cars, I wonder if there's a connection?!) yesterday. I wasn't too nervous, but had no idea what to expect. I just went with an open mind and hoped for the best.

What a positive experience it was. The interviewer was really lovely. He asked a little about my background, university and jobs. Nothing too major. He did ask a little about being brought up by a single parent, but I was sort of expecting that. Okay, by upbringing is unusual, but everyone has their own normality. Basically I suppose those questions were to see what I'd say rather than why I'd made the choices I had.

One question I wasn't expecting was what I would do if a gay couple asked me to bless their union. I gave my argument as to why I would do it. He seemed okay with what I said. In fact, he even told me that question was to test how I would react to difficult questions and whether I could give a reasonable argument, when the question was unexpected and I needed to answer quickly. I think because he was so open about the reason for the question that he was satisfied with it. I hope so...

He asked me about the frequency of meetings with my supervisor. I told him they were around every 3-4 weeks. He wasn't too impressed with this. I did tell him my supervisor has a reader in training too, but he didn't see that as an excuse. As far as he was concerned I have needs and they are his priority. If my supervisor didn't have time for meetings with both the reader and I he shouldn't have taken us both on. On the back of this, I have contacted my supervisor about the frequency of our meetings. My next one has been brought forward and we already have the one after that booked. That's progress then.

His other concern was that I have never done a sermon. His argument for doing at least one during the co-ordinated field assessment was he felt it's important to know if you can stand in front of a congregation and talk for 10 minutes. I can see where he's coming from and, given I have done a lot of things in services in my home church, I think it would be good for me. That said, I know it isn't an expected element of the enquiry process. After all, there will be people called to ministry who, for a variety of reasons, haven't had the opportunity to even read a lesson. I've let my supervisor know about this one too, but won't be too concerned if he doesn't feel it's necessary at the moment.

I know I get a copy of his report. I hope it's as positive as the meeting. Otherwise, I will have read the situation completely wrong. Fingers crossed I haven't.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas begins

What is the one thing that starts Christmas for you? For me it's the four Sunday in Advent, when the children perform their nativity play.

I was back in my home church for the first Sunday since September. It was nice to be back; the young church invited me. One lady even said "welcome home". It was odd, though, I am a young church leader there, so I am usually heavily involved in the rehearsals. This year all I did was help my husband make one of the props.

The young church at my home church always take over the whole service with their nativity play, not the usual 20-30 minutes. Also, I can't remember the last time they did a "traditional" children's nativity. There's usually something different. One year, it was a take on the Grinch at Christmas.

This year was the best yet. Back at the National Gathering, one of the tents had a Tardis. As soon I saw it I knew the young church had to do a nativity play which involved a Tardis - the children love Doctor Who and as for me...I have the potential to be a Doctor nerd!

The leaders were a little concerned about getting a script. One of the leaders was in the Scottish Story Telling centre and found a nativity script which involved people from the future travelling through time collecting others in their quest to find the King of Kings. Perfect or what?!

My husband and I built a Tardis. IMHO it looked really good. The children loved it and that's the most important opinion, as far as I am concerned. I never thought I would get Tardis blue paint for fences and sheds. Yes, that's what we used!

The play was brilliant. The children obviously really loved the time travel theme. But, most importantly, the heart of the message was people from throughout the ages going to meet with the King of Kings born in a stable to save the world.

Jesus was born for us all. No matter where we're from, what we have, who we are. We can still meet with Him.

Now, Christmas has begun for me.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Signs from God

My office has been running a promotion campain. I was very reluctant to apply, but did in the end. I applied as I thought if God really wants me to be a minister, there's no way I'll get promoted. Weird logic, but that's me!

Well, looks like I'm right about my call to ministry. I was unsuccessful. For most who applied, there was a lot of disappointment, naturally. For me, is was a great feeling of release. Quiet cathartic, really. God has other plans for my gifts. I'm definitely taking this as one of the strongest signs, so far, that I am on the right path.

In other news, I've decided my blog looks a little bare, so I intend to attempt to put a photo up with most posts. This post's photo was taken in Ta Papa, New Zealand's national museum. I just happened to look down and notice the lights. Something beautiful in an unexpected place. God's like that too, isn't He?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Scary stuff

Ministries council at Church of Scotland HQ (aka 121) have sent me a pile of paperwork.

Some is to do with my personal development interview (PDI) on Monday. That I was expecting, though I do not know what to expect (that sounds completely contradictory, doesn't it!). I will post how I got on after the event. I'm going with an open mind (and heart).

No, the scary stuff is:

  • A form asking which of the assessment conferences I am able to attend. One step at a time guys; I'm only 1 month into my co-ordinated field assessment.
  • An information leaflet about training for full-time ministry, containing advice to write to the Deans of Divinity at the various universities to apply for a place, if I wish to begin studies in 2009. Err, even if I get through my local review, that doesn't mean I'll get through the assessment conference.

It's not that I don't feel called. In fact, the deeper into this process I get, the more my sense of call grows. I feel I am pleasing God and He is supporting me at the moment, even when I don't think I can handle this.

My heart tells me I will get through all the hoops and will need a place at uni next year. My head tells me, be patient. You've waited this long another little while won't make any difference.

God might have other ideas, though...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

A Gift fom God?

Through my home church I have met someone who has recently come from a damaging relationship. I can't go into great detail about them, for obvious confidential reasons.

For some reason - which are totally beyond me - he has really taken to me (they're young; they'll learn!). He have been asking me a lot of big questions such as why does God allow bad people to do bad things. I try to explain about freewill etc, but they still ask why. My only answer is "I don't know; I really don't know".

The other day he was asking me questions about forgiveness - why bother? I explained hate is like a cancerous growth within you. It only causes you pain and the more you feed it the bigger it will grow. At the end of the day, though, it only hurts yourself, not the person the hate is aimed at. Forgiveness allows you to let go of the hurt and move on with life.

I know this person finds it difficult to forgive. He has a very raw open wound on his soul. He also knows I have been "damaged" by people, so what I say isn't hollow words, but from real experience. I've also told him I forgive because God forgave my sins first.

I think he thinks he needs me as someone he can trust and talk to, which he can. But, the questions he asks really have put me on the spot and have made me really think about what I believe. In many respects, I see his questioning as a gift from God. God sees I need this as I explore my calling. I also feel the answers are coming in a way that can only be described as coming through the holy spirit.

I hope this is a gift I can nurture and use throughout my journey. I never knew I had it before. God has given me exactly what I need to help this person exactly when I needed His help. If He can do that for me, He can give me the gifts to be a good minister.

Monday, 15 December 2008

It's a Wonderful Life

I was watching this again last night. Well, it is Christmas! I love this film. I find it so life re-affirming. It doesn't matter how insignificant you think you are, you are important to those whose your life touches.

And, as Clarence wrote, "No one is a failure who has friends".

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Good deed of the day.

The local school was singing at my placement church today. The sung really well and there were a few proud parents in the congregation. I love churches when people come to them, even for something as simple as this. If we show God's love through being hospitable and welcoming hopefully they will take that away with them.

Last week the children didn't light any of the advent candles. I mentioned that at my meeting on Tuesday; quite casually along the lines of "I thought it quite unusual the children not being asked to help light the candles". Today, they did. Perhaps my supervisor is taking on board some of my thoughts?

Thanks to those of you who commented on my last post (especially crabbit besom). It's re-assuring to know others have had similar frustrations. It is also re-assuring to know it's part of the process. I hope I can use my feelings following on from Tuesday's meeting positively as I explore my call.

In other news, as I was heading out of the church one of the parent's of the school group were trying to pump up a tyre. I took one look and knew it had a puncture, so my good deed for the day was changing their tyre. That made me think - what is a better demonstration of God's love? Helping a stranger or singing from the pews? I think it depends on the circumstances. I also think praising God and worship is a fundamental need. I also know I can't walk away when I see someone who needs help, even if I do land up minging!!!

Friday, 12 December 2008


Warning - this a long one...

My meeting on Tuesday night didn't go especially well. Badly probably isn't the correct expression, but it wasn't uplifting, positive or even especially challenging for me. After the meeting I had lost some of the respect I had for my supervisor. I think you may understand why once I've finished this post…

Something happned to a family of my supervisor's family at the start of our meeting. This mad me feel really awkward and uncomfortable - I was in the way when, as far as I was concerned, he was needed by his family. I told my supervisor I was happy to re-schedule our meeting. He didn't accept my offer, so I assumed he'd want to have a very quick meeting to discuss what I would be doing over the coming weeks and leave any other issues to another meeting. No, the meeting lasted an hour and three-quarters.

I have now discovered my supervisor doesn't listen either. He has asked me several times how busy my work is and the answer has always been the same, as the work I do relates to the property market. Also, he contradicts himself. At our first meeting my participation in worship his feedback was positive - I am a clear confident speaker. On Tuesday, he was telling me I was very quiet when I started, but my speaking has improved. One version is incorrect. It would be nice to know which on. That said, he (or members of the congregation) should have given my feedback about my quietness at the time. To me feedback should be given as soon as possible, not 3 months down the line.

Among the various forms I had to fill out at the beginning of my co-ordinated field assessment was a background form. Basically, a little bit of personal information about me. I'm not sure of the question, but my answer was "God can use me to serve other despite my flaws". None of us are perfect and sometimes I think God uses the most "flawed" characters for His glory.

My supervisor brought this up and asked me what I thought those flaws were. Okay, I suffer from foot-in-mouth disease, also known as speak first, think second. I was brought up to be honest, but as Thumper said in Bambi "if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all". I know there are times when I've said something that maybe should not have been said or been a little too up front. Oh, you'd think I was from the west coast!

My supervisor then went onto tell me how I had said things that may have been better unsaid (remember this is the church that likes to lock doors…), but without giving a specific example. He then lectured me (yes, I do mean that as I had very little opportunity to say anything) about how people expect ministers to be. Perhaps that's part of the problem with the Church of Scotland. Congregations and the general public perceive ministers as being above them; better people, but out of touch and talking a different language to ordinary Joe Public. I didn't say that to my supervisor as I know it would have been taken totally the wrong way - as a criticism of him.

He then went on about my sense of humour. He asked if I hid behind it. Perhaps sometimes, I agreed, but not that often. I like making jokes (usually involving myself) and having a laugh. I also think humour can be a great leveller.

Next on his list of criticisms was that I tend to fill silences with talking. Err, doesn’t everyone? Has he not heard of uncomfortable silences, where everyone in a group is trying to think of something to say? I admitted I do. Then another question - if you were visiting someone who was dying and unconscious, would you fill the silence? No, not if it felt inappropriate. It would depend on the circumstances; my relationship with the person, their friends, relative and carers. Pretty obvious if you ask me, even for someone who likes to talk.

Throughout this discussion, it felt that if I contradicted him or tried to get a word in edgeways, it would have confirmed his opinion of me. I decided that was a moment when saying nothing was the better course of action. After all, some things are better left unsaid, according to my supervisor!

I was also criticised for making comments/suggestions about how my placement church does things. Okay, initially I did mention my home church a little too often, but I don't anymore. My supervisor seems to think because I have only been a member of one church that my opinion is formed from what they do and nothing else. This despite me telling him I attended other churches at university (although not as much as I should have) and while on holiday. I get the impression he thinks I have no ideas of my own. I now feel I cannot say anything which may be taken as a negative comment about my placement church as he will think I am comparing it to what I am used to. This is not the case. Now I am going to keep quiet about it, just to keep the peace.

I am well aware of my flaws; probably more so than my gifts. Although I did say to my supervisor I don't mind people telling me when I've put my foot in it (in the right way, I think he didn't need to go on about is as much. It may have been diferent if I wasn't aware of this flaw.

Also, I must admit, I'm not feeling especially streched or challenged by my placement. So far apart from 1 children's address, I have only done readings and prayers during services. This is something I hav done numerous times before. Giving this process is supposed to be exploring my call to ministry, I thought the meetings with my supervisor would also be disussing the implications of my call; looking at different challenges the call may bring and whether I felt I could deal with it; what I would do in certain situations. So far, there has been none of this.

I am also supposed to meet with my supervisor once a forthnight. I'm lucky if it's once a month. I will mention this at my next meeting (which isn't until half way through next month).

Well, that's the rant over. I was really down when I got home as it felt he'd told me nothing positive. Also, the way he treated his family made me less interested in his criticism.

Maybe this is all part of my testing? I know I was discussing with my husband at the weekend whether I should pursue this process, as I didn’t want it to interfere with our relationship. After Tuesday's meeting, I am more determined than ever…

Monday, 8 December 2008

Christmas by committee

I'm just back from my second worship group meeting at my placement church. Now, at my home church, the worship group will be asked by one of the ministers to do the service on a certain day as they are on hoilday or need that Sunday off. That's what I would expect a worship group to do - lead worship. Not at my placement church.

The first meeting was an hour and a half discussion over which carols to have over advent. That's all the meeting did, I kid you not! Perhaps it's just me (and my husband), but I thought an advantage of being a minister is you get to choose the hymns.

Tonight's meeting was my supervisor getting volunteers to take part in the service (e.g. do the readings/meditations) and a discussion of the activity for the children's watchnight service. A few things occurred to me about this:
  1. If you're looking for volunteers for readings/meditations you as the minister have already selected, why do you need a meeting? Surely you approach the individual(s) and ask them.
  2. The group was not the ideal forum for deciding the activity for the children's watchnight service -in my experience, input about children in services is carried out at young church (Sunday School) meetings. The leaders of the young church can be involved in the activity and know the children and what will work with the childresn.
  3. Why have a children's watchnight service? For a start, the whole point of a watchnight service is the keeping watch until the arrival of Christmas. The children can do that at 8pm. Also, why can;t the activity my supervisor is planning be used at on of the advent services (the last Sunday of advent seems most appropriate IMHO).
I told my husband what had gone on at the meeting and he said "were the members of he group committee types, you know, need a committee and formal meeting to get something organised?" I think he's right as I know I'm not weird with this one - I think my placement church it weird...

I having a meeting with my supervisor tomorrow. The meetings aren't supposed to last much more than an hour, but I've loads to discuss...wish me luck! I hope I don;t look totally negative.

Sunday, 7 December 2008


Today, I was asked to do the ACTS prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication). It being the second Sunday in advent I knew the teaching of John the Baptist in Mark would almost certainly be one of the bible texts. With that in mind, I thought I'd theme my prayer around us preparing for the coming for Christ.

In my prayer I mentioned we (as individuals and a church) often get so tied up with the present buying, food preparation etc that Christ gets sidelined. I know I try not to do that and make the Christ central to Christmas, but it can be easier said than done.

The sermon was after my prayer and I had no idea what the reader-in-training was going to preach. His theme was preparing for Christ's coming and focusing on that. Also, acknowledging that it can be difficult with presents to buy etc. As he was preaching I was thinking - wow, this service has really come together and with no collaboration!

Spookily enough, this isn't the first time that's happened to me and I know of many people who have been involved in collaborating services that it has happened to. Well, I don't believe in coincidence, so it must have been the Holy Spirit guiding us.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The real Christmas

I was invited, by my supervisor, to attend last night's fellowship group's meeting at my placement church. I thought this was a committee - the people that organise the coffee mornings, Burns suppers etc in a church. No, turns out it is a group of members of the congregation who get together to discuss a topic. Well, I hope that's what they are, as that's what happened last night.

The topic was "The Real Christmas". Partly, what evidence do we have and what does it mean to us. My supervisor began by asking the group to tell the Christmas story. I began, then we went round the table, adding details.

One of the ground described the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem - on a donkey, of course. Err, well, there's no evidence for this in the scriptures. Besides, a heavily pregnant woman would not have been able to ride a donkey. Personally, I think the donkey's come into the story (when I don't know) to link Jesus arriving in the world (in Mary's womb, riding a donkey) with Him entering Jerusalem riding a donkey on Palm Sunday.

Next - how many wise men were there? Most of the group (except my supervisor and me) said 3. The bible only states there were 3 gifts, not how many wise men there were. That's fair enough, but in that society (as with many societies today), when a King was born, noble men from neighbouring countries would visit and present gifts. It would have been pretty bad form if more than 3 wise men had turned up without some kind of gift for the new King.

Right, we're getting towards the end of the main story. "How long after Jesus' birth did the wise men turn up?" asked my supervisor. I suggested up to 2 years, given Herod ordered all first born boys under 2 to be killed. That is apparently 1 of many theories (I was so pleased I wasn't talking total nonsense - that wouldn't be unusual, believe me!).

It may have been the wise men appeared shortly after the birth and Herod wanted to make sure any rival King was exterminated. Okay but the census, the reason why Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, wouldn't have been a 5 minute job. It would have taken a while for Caesar Augustus' order to be issued and for Quirinius to do anything about it. Then, there's Mary and Joseph's travelling time and the time to actually count the number of people in Bethlehem.

After the biblical facts had been established, we inevitably got onto the festival of Christmas. That's what it's supposed to be. As I said in an earlier post (here), the fact God chose to become human and to be born, not just appear an adult human, the most amazing thing about Christmas.

Of course, I do wonder why Christmas is so important. That's not to say I don't love it, but Easter is the most important part of the Christian calendar.Without the resurrection at Easter God's promise to His people wouldn't have been fulfilled. Death would not have been overcome. The oppression of sin would still hang over us.

Oh, and I wouldn't be writing this blog...

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Stepping out of the boat

As part of my co-ordinated field assessment I have been asked to do some reading of Christian literature. I don't know about a lot of people, but I must admit this fills me a little with dread. I remember when I was 15 or 16 reading some Christian based books, at a time when my Mum was really ill and God felt very distant. I was reading those books for a little bit of guidance and encouragement. The tone of many of them was - the Lord will provide (how?); oh yeah of little faith, do not doubt the plans of the Lord etc - they just made me feel inadequate and that pretty much put me off.

One of the authors I was recommended is John Ortberg. Online, I had read reviews of his books and all the reviews seemed very good (but not happy-clappy). I borrowed "If you want to walk on water, you've got to get out of the boat". A bit of a long title, but never mind.

The premise of the book was everyone has a calling. It may be small (such as having a healthy relationship with your spouse) or big (like head of the UN). But, in order to reach that calling and reach out for God you have to get over whatever is holding you back. Like Peter during the storm, it was all about asking for a command to get out of the boat and walk on the water with Jesus.

What a great writer Ortberg is. He spoke in terms I understand and in a totally could relate to and understand. He likened the boat that Peter stepped out of to the fear that holds back everyone from stepping out in faith to follow God's path for them. Basically, their comfort zone. It may be fear of leaving a bad relationship in case you become lonely; fear of leaving a job in case you can't pay the mortgage; fear of trying in case you're mocked or aren't good enough. For me, I'd say my boat has been getting my calling totally wrong and the financial security I've finally achieved.

The other thing I really liked about Ortberg's style was he'd give examples from his own life when he didn't walk on water or tried to avoid it. I could relate to that and didn't feel he was a "prefect" Christian and I would feel there was no way I could live up to him.

I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone thinking what God's call is for them. It doesn't have all the answers, but is a great place to start. I found it reassuring - fear and doubt are all part of the calling. What I have felt (do feel) is normal - oh so unusual for me!!!