Monday, 30 November 2009

Random thoughts from yesterday

Yesterday was, from my prospective, quite an interesting day in terms of what I did and observed and others reactions to me.

One of the ladies I visited the other week was at my placement church. It was great to see her, but that wasn't why seeing her was special - no, it was her genuinely being pleased to see me. We hugged (which isn't like me at all) and, although not much more than the pleasantries were exchanged verbally, much more went on in our exchange which could be put into words.

During the service I was leading the children's address. It was pretty much me telling a story and linking it to the message - bad things happen that can't be explained, but whatever is happening in your life try to do good things. I wasn't sure how well it had went down as it was quite a "big" topic and pretty deep theology even for me (because I'm just soo experienced!). I knew my delivery was okay, but I wasn't too sure how it had gone, in terms of the message. After the service 2 people commented how much they'd enjoyed my address. That gave me a real lift and reassured me I was on the right track.

After the service I had a brief meeting with my assessor to go over my order of service. She told me the themes for Advent and apologised for not giving me them before - I told her I should have asked. She gave me some advice for the children's hymn. It's one I'm not familiar with, but the children at my placement church apparently really like it and, given the words, it ties in with the theme of my children's address. On the back of the meeting I've changed a couple of the hymns and chosen a couple of backups, in case.

My placement church holds an annual bereavement service and that was yesterday afternoon. All families and friends of those of the church and parish which my assessor has conducted their funeral service over the last year are invited. It's a short service with 3 hymns, a couple of readings, prayers and a reflection. During the service the bereaved are invited to place a tag (which they were given when they came in) with a message or the name of their loved one on budded branches which will be kept in the church until mid-January. I thought this was a great bit of symbolism, especially as apparently the buds usually are in leave by the time the display is removed.

After the act of worship, light refreshments were served. I noticed the bereaved person I had visited. I sat with them and another couple after the service. I was really nice to see the person I had visited and see how he was getting on, now the shock was wearing off.

So, what did yesterday show me? What I hope it's shown me is my nature allows me the privilege of being able to be there for people when they really need someone. To, through my actions and words, show God's love to those who need it most and, hopefully, draw them nearer to God. That is what I am called to do and why God has called me.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Service preperation

I'm currently preparing for the third Sunday in Advent, as I am leading the whole service. I've chosen the hymns and readings. I thought that would be quite straightforward, but my assessor has knocked back 2 hymns as they are being used on other Sunday's in advent.

I amended the order of service to take this into account let my assessor have a copy. Not a hassle, that's part of the reason I let her have a look at my order of service so early. But, I was annoyed today when the substituted hymn was also rejected for similar reasons. I'm not telepathic. I think when I go over the order of service with my assessor on Sunday I'll diplomatically say something along the lines of "do you have a list of which hymns/carols are being used over the advent/Christmas period, so my choices don't clash?".

At least there's still plenty time to make amendments, though I have to admit, it feels more like I'm fitting into my assessor's way of doing things. that said, this is only my second ever complete service and I'm only in my CFA. I know I'll have to get used to this and it sounds as though I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill, but I just needed to get it off my chest. It's still a privilege to be working with my assessor and learning from her.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Hospital visits follow-up

Following on from Monday's hospital visits, with my assessor, I visited the people we had visited on my own during the week.

The first lady I had spoken to at my placement church, so I had met her. She was the lady who told me I had a good voice and put feeling into what I say (here). She looked much better than Monday and we chatted well - actually, mainly she chatted and I listened. Her husband turned up once I'd bee there for 20 minutes or so. I tired to make my leave then, to give them space, but they insisted I stay. I seemed they really appreciated my visit and company.

The other lady I hadn't met before Monday, as she's been very ill. Again, my visit with her went well. Although she was tired, she was positive and chatty (again, her chatting and me listening). I made my leave when her meal came round. She thanked me for coming and I think she really appreciated my visit.

So, things I have learnt from these visits:
  • I can interact (I use that word because I was listened more than talking - an important distinction) with a range of people in a range of situations.
  • I get on with people.
  • I have a reasonable range of life experience I can bring to conversations. Also, with that experience I can empathise with people more.
  • I need to learn how to "get away". I'm not meaning this negatively, I really enjoyed visiting the people I visited over the week. When I visited I gave myself plenty time. Sometimes, I will need to get away and I need to make sure I do it appropriately. I'm sure I did during these visits, but I need to be aware of this.
All in all, I feel really positive about this. It has affirmed what I think about myself - my ability to engage with almost everyone, no matter their age, background or health. I know I will need this skill in ministry. I also feel God has chosen me because my life experience allows me to empathise with others in a way I couldn't if I hadn't had it. Isn't God great?

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Pastoral care

I didn't know what to expect, but the pastoral care meeting last night wasn't it. The pastoral care visitors met my assessor, 3-4 times per year to tell her how the people they visit are. My assessor reads down the list of those visited and asks the appropriate visitor for information. Not all the visitors verbally pass on information, as during the meeting index cards for all those visited are filled in by their respective visitors, from little note books the visitors have. This appears to be the record of visits.

During the meeting, it became clear the elders still have district and visit members within that. So, that left me wondering, why have pastoral visitors, if the elders are performing that duty too. Surely that's double handling? I'm not saying the church shouldn't visit - far from it - but perhaps handing over the pastoral visits wholly to the care team would free up the elders for other duties. I also think I was expecting to hear a bit more about other pastoral care, for example post-funeral visits. This didn't come up at all during the meeting.

Just some of my random thoughts, as I'm confused where the pastoral care teams duties end and the elders begin.

After the meeting my assessor and I headed up to visit a couple of members of the congregation in hospital. I went along with her this time, as I hadn't met (or didn't think I had met) either of them. Later this week I'll visit them on my own.

The visits went well, though my assessor did most of the talking. I just watched and chipped in when appropriate. At least the two people now know who I am and it won't be as daunting when I visit myself.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Reflection on worship

It was a Sunday in the pews for me yesterday. This gave me an opportunity to reflect on worship, as this is part of the CFA my assessor and I haven't touched on too much yet.

So, what did I notice?

Well, why does my assessor start the service (call to worship, opening hymn and prayer) from the pulpit? This only happens for the 11am service, not the 9:30. I would have thought there should be consistency.

Prior the call to worship to quote my assessor "the choir sing while we prepare ourselves for worship. Why is this necessary? Again, the choir is only there for the 11am service. Also, it has to be said the choir can't sing...really, there's only one who can. I found this actually quite distracting - it felt as though the choir didn't really care about the words they were singing. This did not prepare me for worship...

If all the intimations are on the printed order of service, why read them all out? Also, where should they be. There's a bit of me thinks intimations, although necessary for a whole load of reasons, aren't part of worshiping God. Why not have them prior to the "official" start of worship (i.e. call to worship).

If there's anyone ill or recently bereaved in the congregation (or maybe parish too - I'll need to check), their names are read out prior to the intercession prayer, for thoughtful inclusion. Is this really appropriate? My assessor (and I'd agree with her, broadly) feels intercession prayers should be worded to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. That way the prayer can speak to all - the leader of prayer will not know the troubles of an individual and, having an inclusive prayer will support them in their troubles, rather than them thinking "what about me?". Given that, does reading out the list of ill and bereaved just before the intercession contradict that philosophy? I think there is a place for those who are ill and bereaved to be included, but not necessarily just before the intercession (and as an introduction to it).

I've mentioned it before, (here) and I'll mention it again. Where should prayer be? My assessor explained she has all prayers before the sermon as it disburdens the congregation before the breaking of the word. I had mentioned about the theme of the sermon - the congregation may empathise with the intercession more once they're heard the sermon. Her rational was the whole service leads to the sermon (which, to be fair, it does), so the theme should come across via the hymns and bible readings (to an extent the children's address, but there isn't one during the 9:30 service). With that in mind I was looking out for the theme - love always with us, I think - so I'd be aware of it for the intercession prayer. Well, I didn't really hear the theme reflected in the prayer, but perhaps I'd got the theme wrong?

Why does the pulpit have to be used for preaching?

At the close of the service, after the benediction, there is a recessional hymn. Why? I think that may be custom and practice at my placement as I've never experienced it anywhere else.

And, following on from last week's post, I hadn't really noticed how little my assessor doesn't change her voice at all. I know it's difficult to put the right balance of inflection into the voice, but I feel it's necessary so it doesn't sound like reading off a message line. I hate to say this, as my assessor is lovely, but there was certain point where I really didn't care what she was saying as some of what she was saying sounded as though she didn't really care. I know, from working with her, that's not the case, but how presentation can make a huge difference to the same words.

So, lots to think about and discuss at my next meeting. Tonight, I'm attending the pastoral care meeting then, if there's time, doing a hospital visit.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Expanding my vision

The Church of Scotland took a group of children to Malawi during the summer. One of the members of the group is a member of the congregation at my placement church.

Members of the group gave a presentation at the church last night. It was a great testament to my placement church that their member was comfortable telling 100 people of her experience. It was also a testament to the vision of the child support person from 121 to take children to Malawi - to invest in the future and present of the church.

But, that isn't the reason for this post. During the presentation more of my vision (literally) flashed before me. I couldn't concentrate on anything else as the vision wouldn't go away. I think the Holy spirit was making sure I wrote it down, so I use God's words...

My vision is one where I minister to a church where
  1. Everyone has ownership - it's their church, whether they're 1 month old or 90 years old.
  2. There is investment in future - if the children and young people do not feel integral to the church, the church will die.
  3. Honour of the old and the contribution they have and still make - I think there is a danger of investing so much in children and youth that the old people in the church are marginalised. That's a great waste of skills, knowledge and experience, which could (and should) be used to fulfil 2.
  4. Where old learn from young as well as young learning from old.
  5. Where seeds of faith are sown, watered and nurtured. The investment may not bear fruit for the congregation I minister to, but God will reap the fruit. That's the important part of the investment - we are investing for God.
  6. Where God's love through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ, is the basis of of the faith of my church.
  7. Where that Christian faith defines the way the church serves the parish, wider community and world.
  8. Where all are truly welcome and feel at home in the church, no matter their background, circumstances or need. We all need God's love, forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ.
Not much of a vision, but it's mine. Personally, as I look at this list I see an ordinary parish minister doing ordinary ministerial things to spread God's love to that parish, the wider community and world.

Friday, 13 November 2009

While I slept...

I'd gone to bed last night and was just nodding off when an image of where God is calling me came to me. In it a very young (read teenage) mother was coming to my church. That's when I realised what my call is. To build a community of God's people where everyone is welcome. Truly welcome - where the "pillar of the community" sits beside the "reject of society. Where they all know how much they are valued, loved and supported by God as we all, no matter our background and circumstances, are made in God's image.

Today I see one of the most maligned groups in our society as the teenage mother. Church, too, doesn't know what to do...but what would Jesus do?

That is my vision. I knew God would show me if I believed and trusted Him.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Finding the words

At my regular CFA meeting last night, my assessor and I went over my CFA agreement. I'm 4 months into this placement (leaving only 2 months left) and we were going over how I was getting on, what I still needed to do/look at and my feelings about my call.

Most of what we discussed was okay. But, I'm still struggling to find the words to express why I'm called to the ministry of word and sacrament. My assessor asked me to tell her of my vision of my call...I wasn't sure what she meant, and I said so. So she put it another way. How do you see you fulfilling you call?

I hadn't had it put to me like that before, so really struggled. I'm following God and His vision is what I should be perusing. Should I have said that? I did mention after visiting Prospects, I felt very drawn to that and could see myself serving the community I was ministering in through that. Co-incidentally, my assessor had just found out yesterday that the first probationers' conference would include a presentation about prospects. I think every town should have such a group and letting probationers know about it, hopefully, will lead to that becoming a reality.

So, now I have to really find the words to express my call. I know I have them, but I struggle to put then together at the right time, especially when I'm put on the spot. I'm going to get that at my local review and, if I go forward to it, selection conference.

Now, I'll put my trust in God to give me the words and follow His vision for my life.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

We will remember them

I always find Remembrance Sunday a tough line to walk for the church, even though this is the first time I've ever been involved in worship during it. Jesus taught of peace, yet we commemorate and remember those who have (and are) fighting. I do feel we need to acknowledge their sacrifice, but, as Christians, work for peace.

As I mentioned here, I led the all prayers today - opening, thanksgiving and intercession, dedication and benediction. I was more nervous than I have been since I first started at my current placement. I know ever act of worship is special, but Remembrance Sunday is particularly poignant for many. There are members of the congregation who lost loved ones on WWII or even fought during it. Also, there were more visitors than normal at the second service - the service with the laying of the wreath and two minute silence. With all that in mind, and the news this morning of another British serviceman having died in Afghanistan, I knew emotions would be heightened and I wanted to ensure God's peace and love spoke to all who were worshiping, no matter their motives.

I think my prayers hit the right balance. I also have to admit I did my research (research being borrowing from many resources - plagiarism from one). Most of my prayers were adapted from the Book of common order and I adapted the intercession prayer available on the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland website. I didn't use the response during the intercession prayer, as I didn't feel it was appropriate for the setting.

I always try when leading worship to put some feeling into my voice, so it doesn't sound as though I'm reading off a shopping list and today was no different. I feel this can be helpful to emphasise a point or just inject a little care and concern into what I am saying. I haven't been too sure if that was actually coming across to the congregation, but after the service a member of the congregation mentioned how good a voice I have and how she appreciated how I "put a bit of feeling into what you say". That was a real boast, as it is being picked up by others.

As a little aside, I usually wear jeans and a top to church, even when leading worship. Today I wrote my suit jacket - partly out of respect for the gravitas of the service and partly to give me somewhere to wear my poppy. My assessor didn't wear a poppy. I didn't mention this, but was a little surprised. For me the poppy is a symbol of honouring the dead on all sides and hoping for peace. Peace which lasts forever and bring love, compassion and justice to the whole world. The peace which comes from God and Jesus calls me to help bring to others through my words, deeds and actions.

Friday, 6 November 2009

My first...Presbytery meeting

I always had the impression presbytery was a dry, businesslike, meeting. My views haven't changed that much from last night, but the meeting wasn't as boring as I had imagined it would be.

After a short welcome and act of worship lead by the presbytery moderator, it was down to business. I must admit there were TLAs (three letter abbreviations) and the like which were right over my head, but I could follow most of what went on.

About half way through proceedings the matter of the future of tenure for ministry was brought to the floor for discussion. A small booklet for this has been produced and it is summed up with 8 key points. We were broken into 8 groups for 10 minutes to discuss one point each - the potential advantages, disadvantages, further comments and whether ministries council should prepare a full report for next year's General Assembly.

My group's point was, in effect, continual assessment of ministers. I think we all saw the merits of this - dealing with problems at an early stage, ministers having more support after the initial 5 years from ordination etc - but how would it be implemented? A minister is answerable to presbytery, not their elders or congregation. Also, it could, if implemented wrongly, lead to resentment and a feeling a minister was restrained from preaching the word properly.

It was a good discussion and all members of the group contributed. I even made a couple of observations which were noted and I am not a member of presbytery!

I liked the idea of breaking a large group into smaller groups to discuss parts of a topic. There's more chance people will put their views forward. Without presbytery's views going to the appropriate councils at 121, 121 will do what they think is best on the feedback they've had. More feedback and better ways of getting it is no bad thing as far as I'm concerned.

One other thing I noted from last night - how many ministers were wearing their dog collars. I was a little surprised by that, in this day and age. I suppose it could have been the attitude of "I'm at work - work equals dog collar". Whatever rings your bell, I suppose, but I don't think it matters what we wear, even in the business of the church, but what we do and say.

And, I think last night may be the first time ever someone has arrived on a Honda Goldwing!!! The gerbils' car is sick and Mr Gerbil was my chauffeur for the evening.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Remembrance Prayers

I've been asked to led all the prayers for next Sunday. I wouldn't normally be too daunted by this. I know I still have much to learn about leading prayer in public worship, but I'll only learn through practice. That's not the problem - this coming Sunday is Remembrance Sunday. I have to find the right balance between acknowledging the fallen, but looking for peace.

Having had a look on-line, I've managed to find and adapt a thanksgiving and intercession prayer. That type of prayer for Sunday is a little "easier". There are plenty of examples which could be used.

The prayer which is scunnering me is the opening prayer, which in my placement church, is approach, adoration and confession. Normally, I find those types of prayers easier than thanksgiving and intercession, but not fir Sunday.

There's also the responsibility of leading the prayers during a Remembrance service. Again, this is all about getting the balance right. I am all too aware there are members of the congregation who may have served during WWII or lost loved ones to it. I also need to ensure all in the congregation feel part of the worship and the sacrifice is still relevant to all. No pressure then.

At my last meeting my assessor let me borrow the Book of Common order. I'm going to look there for inspiration too. If that fails, I think I'll be asking my assessor for help!

More to follow as I figure out how to approach this!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Self-assessment of today's sermon

My sermon went well today. After both services many of the congregation thanked me for my sermon. Particularly I appreciated the comments of the worship teams at my placement church as they know how nerve wracking it can be.

To get my voice warmed up, my assessor asked if I'd led the bible readings too. I was happy to do so, after all, I had been over them a few times while preparing for today.

To be critical of myself, as I know I must.

  1. My point was clear.
  2. I covered the subject matter well.
  3. I paced the sermon more or less right
  4. I have a good clear voice.
  5. I knew my opening well enough I could present the beginning with minimum use of my notes. This way I could make eye contact with the congregation and, hopefully, engage them with God's message.
  1. I didn't modulate my voice enough. This may have helped emphasise a point.
  2. At some points during the sermon, particularly during very theological comments, I was really reading from my notes, rather than using them for reference. I'm sure this will improve with experience, but it's something to look out for.
  3. Occasionally I could feel the nerves surface again and seemed to stutter a little. I'm not sure if many of the congregation picked up on this. Again, worth noting and being aware of.
On balance, I feel it went well. I know, from the congregation's feedback, they took something away from it. Whether they took the message I thought I was preaching or not, it doesn't matter. What does matter is God uses me through the breaking of His word to speak to His children.