Tuesday 17 October 2017

Casting shadows

When we think of some of the 'greats' of the bible, how often do we wonder that some of those individuals stood in very long shadows of their predecessors? We have their stories, in most case, physically written down decades, if not hundred of years after the events. From the lens of looking to the past, each individual is viewed by the writers of the bible in their own right, but how was is for them when they wee going about their work for God?

How were things for Joshua, as he took on the mantle of leading God's people after Moses? He was young, he was devoted to God, but he wasn't Moses. Is that why, just before the Israelites passed into the Promised Land, Moses says to Joshua "“Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deut 31:7-8)” Yes, it will need strength and courage to lead God's people. Moses knows that. Strength and courage, with God going with those who lead God's people. With the reassurance that God will not leave nor forsake those God calls to lead God's people for God.

But maybe Moses also know it will take strength and determination for Joshua as he will be in Moses shadow. Yes, God has chosen Joshua to take over from Moses, but when Joshua inevitably does things different from Moses, the people will say "Moses didn't do it that way" or "Moses wouldn't let us do that" or "Things were so much better when Moses led us" (oh, how quickly people forget!)

The thing is, it still happens. God calls a loved minister (aren't they all) to another charge. That may have happened 30, 40 years ago. (Seriously, it's true). There may have been 2, 3, 5 or 6 ministers in the meantime, but not one of them was as good as their leader all those years ago.

But, the world was different then. Fewer activities on Sundays. More ministers, so fewer vacancies, in general, and a long term vacancy was regarded as over a year! Churches were fuller (well, what else did you do on a Sunday?), with large Sunday Schools and Women's Guilds (they hadn't changed their name), youth fellowship groups, etc, etc. And linkages were the exception, not the norm.

Now, the reality for being church, is very different to even 20 years ago. Churches can no longer expect people to 'come to church.' Church needs to be where the people are. Churches have gone through linkages, dividing their ministers time. In some cases, ministers can have 3 or even 4 congregations they are minister to, which means 3 or 4 Kirk Sessions to moderate, potentially the same number of congregational boards, if the congregations haven't moved to Unitary constitutions. On top of that, the 'rule' that no minister is asked to be an Interim Moderator, chair a Presbytery committee, be part of national councils of the church, chair local church reviews,, basically all the things which are 'over and above' looking after the parish(es) and congregations for the first 5 years is long gone.

But congregations don't get that. No matter how much their ministers try to explain, they look to the Moses of their church and no one, no one at all is as good as they were. Sometimes, even Jesus himself wouldn't be good enough, because some leaders cast very, very long shadows.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Waiting for the spring to come

Almost 2 years to the day since I last blogged. Back then, it looked like blogs were dying out, but they seem to be making a bit of a resurgence. We'll see how the twitter 280 characters changes that.

So, what have I been up to? Well, being a minister. A proper, grown-up (as far as I can be!) minister. For well over 18 months, but not quite 2 years.

I get to live in a beautiful part of the world and have learned a lot about agriculture. For a townie, a lot. I know I've found out more about that in the short time I've lived here than some who have been here for 20+ years. But then in my role, I meet a whole range of people, that others may never really talk to. (Just to be clear, it's not that they are unfriendly, it's just the different dynamic of being the minister).

Though I am minister to 2 churches, due to other commitments, I am responsible for another 1. I feel sorry for the third one, as there's so much going for that church, and it's in a village with a lot going on. But some who have been there in the (very) recent past have caused damage. Not so much within the church itself, but in the relationship between the church and the community. In these wee places, that's a BAD idea. Things will get better there soon, that I know for sure.

My first year was tough. Without going into the ins and outs of it, there were issues I had to deal with that others swept under the carpet to the point the carpet was bulging. That's disappointing, as I've had to deal with things no minister should have to, let alone a squeaky new one like me. There was a few times last year where I came VERY close to throwing in the towel.

But then I'd preach a sermon where the words were speaking to be as much as anyone else. One passage I recall having the phrase "did you count the cost?" That hit home. Had I counted the cost of discipleship, of truly following where God calls. I don't think any of us really do, as we'll never really know the full cost in advance (because we'd never go where we should, lead as we must, love as we have been.

I do sometimes wonder why I bother. There's so much potential here, but more and more insular thinking from some in the congregations. "We're getting old." "There's not enough of us." "We're too isolated for people to come to us." Many of those arguments are spot on, but I fear if we don't step out in faith and embrace the opportunities which are presented to us, my role as minister here will be very different to that I ever envisioned it to be.

Yet, I have to remember this is God's plan. God's calling. God who leads. God who sets the time and season for everything. I just wish God would give me a bit of a heads up that what I'm doing in these parishes and with the congregations I serve is the right thing. It's that whole neon sign thing again.

I am where I am. Trying new things. Better to try and fail than never try at all.

Remaining positive and looking for the beginnings of fresh growth. For even once autumn's past, the bare trees have buds, waiting for the spring to come.

Thursday 29 October 2015

The next step

I thought those of you who occasionally drop in on this blog, through a sense of morbid curiosity, because you've found my trials and tribulations interesting or as you've supported me through parts of the process of discernment and training through your comments here, would like to know how things are going.

Well, I completed my probation at the brilliant, amazing Airside Kirk a the end of September. I still can't believe it's a month since that finished. The people there are extraordinary (though I may be a smidge bias!) and I learnt so much, and truly accepted I am a minister. My wonderful Boss helped with that a lot (am I am struggling to get out of the habit of calling her The Boss, as she's not anymore...).

As a leaving gift, they gave me this ark:

My Ark
All hand knitted with great love and affection. Even the rainbow's knitted, which is especially cool. They also gave me a quite large cheque, to spend how I wish. Though I've not thought of anything yet, I am going to get something keepy (like a good bit of furniture or something like that).

It's odd not seeing that church family. They became my church family really quite quickly after landing there and I know I will always be part of that family - will be welcomed back with open arms (perhaps a little too literally!) anytime I do visit.

But I have to go away. No really, I will be moving, because earlier this month I preached as sole nominee for linked charge in a a beautiful area of the north of Scotland, with amazing, wonderful people whom I just know I will be able to work with. They voted in my favour and I am their Minister Elect. Exciting times ahead.

When I look back 4 years ago, when I started training, I can hardly believe the journey I've taken. Looking even further back, and as some people who I know have pointed out, it's been a long and not especially straightforward journey for me. But, who wants a straightforward journey? The more circuitous routes may be harder to get to, but they've more often than not worth it, for the views, for the new experiences, for the self learning. That happens in road trips and cycles and walks, and, I think, in life in general. Looking back, though there have been tough bits (and I did make some things tough for myself), the journey's been a great one.

And now I am about to head off to begin the next bit of that journey. A journey, a road, a way I will never stop travelling, as I follow the path God leads me on, knowing that Jesus walks at my side.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Letting go

In 1 week's time, I will be unemployed. No, I won't sign on, for a variety of reasons, though it may be a useful bit of research into how those on benefits are treated. Over the course of probation, I've been setting aside a bit every week, so there's something to keep Spot and I going until I an 'in charge.' And I know we are very fortunate to be in this position.

Next month, I'll be preaching as sole nominee for a charge. After the service, the congregation will vote as th whether or not they want to call me as their minister. So, it's not a done deal quite yet. It does feel like the 'right' place, even though I go through waves of 'what have I done' and excitement. The excitement waves are longer and higher than the doubts, you'll be pleased to know!

But, at the moment I'm doing lasts. Last visits to people I've offered regular pastoral care too over the last 15 months; last meetings; last coffee mornings; last service (where I'm wondering if it was a good idea agreeing to take the service - done now, though!). Etc, etc.

Then, there's trying to visit people who have supported me, in many ways, through this placement, but who won't be there on Sunday to wish me well (I could, at this stage, have a bit of a rant in saying if they wanted to, they could come to me...but I won't too much!).

Then, there's trying to convince people I will not be around after 30 September. While I won't have anything church-wise to do, they need to let me go and know I am not part of Airside anymore. Or, maybe it's me who needs to go. I have a (possibly very bad) habit of going, preferring clean breaks to long, lingering goodbyes. Sooner or later, I will be (God willing - the congregation I am preaching as sole nominee for may still vote against me) over 150 miles away.

Yes, I know some will come to my ordination, and it will be lovely to have them there with me. 150 miles, I do think, is a great filter, as nosey people won't make that sort of journey just for the nebbiness factor.

It's hard this, harder than I thought it would be. But, as Spot said last night, I am a big softie, who doesn't like people knowing that I care. I need the clean break so I can let go.

Tuesday 8 September 2015


I am getting somewhat neglectful of this blog, aren't I? A combination of time and inclination. It's not that there's nothing happening, it's what/when to post on and, increasingly, I am using other platforms to post (not so anonymously on those).

Since I last posted (goodness, over 2 months ago), working out where I may serve has been an 'interesting' time. I'm not entirely sure when I decided it, but I realised with all the other things I thought about call, it occurred to me that part of it was a congregation had to 'make the first move,' on some way. That could be by email, phone or in writing, but they had to be one of the churches who bothered to get in touch - who bothered to call me. I know that isn't the norm, but I never said I was normal, did I?

The scary thing is, of the almost 180 charges currently advertised, I think I've heard from around 30. Yes, I accept there's been summer holidays and some charges may not want a probationer, but when I've heard tales of those who've recently gone before me getting 70+ profiles through their inboxes/letterboxes in the first few days of being granted permission to look for their 'own' charge, it seems not very many.

But, so far, I have had 3 Nom Coms come to hear me. Which is really encouraging. I also preached away from Airside, so another Nom Com could hear me.

I have also had 2 interviews. Both were good congregations, with plenty scope for my gifts, but 1 felt 'right.' It's hard to fully explain why, but I really do think the one which felt more 'right' certainly seems to be the place God is calling me to minister. The exciting thing is, they seem to think so too.

So, it may have not been quick, though a couple of months isn't really that long. I do think the various visits to Airside Nom Coms have made, and which I have made, have helped prepare me for when I preach as sole nominee.

It's exciting, a but scary and really quite wonderful too. Much like love, this call can't be fully explained, but I know it's there.