Thursday, 30 December 2010


I applied for my university place yesterday. Officially the closing date is 15 January, but I wanted it done and dusted in plenty time. I completed most of the online form last week and was just waiting on my referee completing their section. They did so on Tuesday, so I applied.

I’ve applied to Edinburgh and St. Andrews. Edinburgh is definitely my first choice – from what I have heard and read, it has the best reputation. Also I can get a lift in with Spot, as will still be working in Edinburgh. That’ll be a cost saving – one commute cost rather than two. As I have been commuting to Edinburgh for 10 years, I’m already used to it. Taking the bus to St. Andrews, although doable, adds more expense onto Spot’s budget (as sole bread winner) and will make my commutes longer than into Edinburgh. St. Andrews is definitely my fall back position.

I really hope Edinburgh grants me a place. I have worked hard with my distance learning courses to enhance my application. I also now know there are ministry candidates studying at Edinburgh who hadn’t been in formal education for longer than I have been, but they hadn’t had to acquire 40 credits to obtain their place. It would seem rather unfair, under the circumstances, if I wasn’t granted a place. Also, I have been accepted as a ministry candidate. If I had applied last year, I would have been applying speculatively. I hope (and pray) that should also help get a place at Edinburgh.

One thing I am sure of though. I will get a university place for 2011 start. Wherever that may be (Edinburgh – please), I know I will be there as that is where God wants and needs me to be. After all, I will be studying divinity to degree level because it is required of me. That said, I have enjoyed the distance learning courses and I have said for years I would like to go back to uni. I won’t make the same mistakes I did first time round, though they were fun at the time!

I wonder if I should let Prof David Fergusson (principle of New College) know I have applied? I’m sure when I met him in August he mentioned to let him know when I had applied. I suppose there’s no harm and it may even help. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Watchnight Address

I did the address at my home church's watchnight service. I was nervous about it. Watchnight is one service where many people will attend who only come to the watchnight service. Where there are people coming for a variety of reasons. Tradition, habit, visiting relatives in the area, being a member of that church. Whatever the reason, they are all seeking God and something away from the hustle and bustle of secular Christmas.

I knew I had to hit the right tone with my address. Inclusive, without being wishy-washy. To try to say something which everyone would understand, but wouldn't patronise any regular worshiper. I think I hit that balance.

It was a privilege to be allowed to take part, to such an extent, in the watchnight service. My minister obviously trusts me! Once I delivered the address, she told me it was really good. I thought it was, but it's reassuring to have it confirmed.

It seems, I have a gift writing addresses and sermons. Or perhaps I've just been lucky so far. I pray it's the former and I continue to be guided by the holy spirit to say the words God's people need to hear, when they need to hear them.

NB A watchnight service is a service held beginning shortly before midnight on Christmas eve while waiting (watching) for Christmas in Scotland.

Home alone

Spot's off to Glasgow today to see "TRON: Legacy" in 3D at the IMAX. So, seeing as everyone I'd thought about meeting up with in the west while he's there are away visiting family (I mean, at this time of year...) and the weather was rubbish, I'm left all alone at home (boo-hoo).

I'd like to see TRON, but I don't technically see in 3D. I have a severe astigmatism in one of my eyes, which means my brain effectively ignores the signal it gets from that eye. I do have a sense of depth and distance, but not in the conventional sense. Frankly, I have no idea how the brain works it all out, but it does. The only times I have issues is on steps with no contrast or low light levels (I think the shadows help work things out). It's odd, but I suppose I see how "normal" people would see with one eye closed.

I don't know any different, so it's no big deal. That is, of course, if the film makers, in their "wisdom" exclusively make 3D films. I won't be able to see another film at the cinema again, if that was the case. Somehow, I think 3D is the "new" novelty. It's been tried before and has failed before. People get headaches and travel sick watching them. Also, film makers haven't worked out how to really use 3D. Having a ball of light floating in front of the audiences' eyes may make a great visual effect, but does it add anything to the experience of cinema or the story of the film? To my mind, it's like some CGI. When it's used well and thought out, it works. When it's just used as it's cheaper than building a set, that usually shows through big style.

Anyway, it's amazing how much I have got done with Spot away. Perhaps I should arrange this more often!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

Become friends with Jesus. Because no one is a failure who has friends. And what better friend to have?

Have a good one!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Santa Tracker

This year, once more, you can track Santa here. A great bit of fun for the kids (and the non-kids) among us. The videos of Santa delivering in major cities as he makes his way across the world are pretty cool too!


I have just finished watching the BBC Nativity four parter. Thanks to John Orr for the heads-up on this.

It was a beautiful re-telling of the familiar tale. The acting and script were superb. One thing I really enjoyed was how the writer - Tony Jordan - made the characters more "real". The story generally followed Mary (and Joseph to a lesser extent), a shepherd and the magi.

I loved the way Mary's pregnancy was dealt with. Joesph being very hurt and unaccepted (won't you!); Mary's parents shock and anger; the reaction of the people in the market in Nazareth towards Mary; Joseph's cousin rejecting Joseph because of Mary. Although none of this features in the biblical references to the nativity, it seems right those scenarios would have been exactly what Mary and Joseph faced.

If you haven't seen it, watch in on iplayer. You will not fail to be moved.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

My last Advent

Today was my home church's nativity play. Before the play, Spot and I had been asked if we'd like to be animals. We politely declined.

I wanted (and did) to sit at the back and enjoy the play. The first time I have done for years. Being a young church leader, I was always involved one way or another.

Just before the service started, I nipped to the loo. One of the costume designers (they are amazing!) asked why I wasn't taking part. My minister suggested I was being all "bah-humbug", to which I responded "no, I just want to sit at the back with the ordinary people and watch". "That'll be the last time, ever", she retorted.

"Precisely!" was my answer.

I know all to well, I will never again be able to fully take the back seat during advent and Christmas. It's been good, so far this advent, to do so. I have really enjoyed it and will cherish it, as it is also the last Christmas I will have at my home church.

Though at the watchnight service, I won't be taking a backseat. I am doing the address! No big deal, just one of the biggest events in the Christian calendar and the one service the year where anyone can be there. God wants me to be there. And I am humbled and honoured to obey.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Being "someone else"

I'm finding work - my current paid employment, rather - frustrating at the moment. It's not what I'm called to do. I've never especially liked it (though I have been there 10 years!) and it's never really engaged or challenged me.

Now I am, officially, a candidate in training for ministry, the feeling of frustration is greater than it's ever been. While I have accepted my office's voluntary severance scheme, my colleagues do not know why I am leaving. I haven't revealed this as I have been bullied in the past for my faith and I know there are many very critical people I have to work with everyday who, if they knew I was going to be a minister, would knit pit everything I said and did - "you doing/saying that and you're going to be a minister." Yes, it's tough.

Being there, I can't be who I am. I know my colleagues see me as tight fisted, weird and boring. Yet, those who know me outwith work don't. They see me as a very loving, caring, interesting person. How can this be? Because where people see me as caring I am being me and I am respected for being so. I am not at work.

I don't fit into their "norms". I don't especially like shopping and don't own a TV, so can't talk about X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. When I used to be asked what I was up to at the weekend - youth club, young church, church coffee morning, bird watching - it didn't go down well. Now, I'm not asked and, pointedly, my nearby colleagues are asked how their weekends were. I'm not.

I was telling Spot this on the way home from work on Friday and he says he finds it frustrating too. "Look at it from my perspective. 'What were you up to at the weekend, Spot?' Oh, I went with Mrs Gerbil as she preached at our church yesterday and she was bloody good. Until you go, I can't do that." He's dead proud of me.

There are a handful of my colleagues who know I am not just leaving  on  a whim. They know I will have a plan. These colleagues have asked me and I have confirmed I do have one and explained I have a very good reason for keeping it quiet at the moment. They have respected this and will, genuinely, be interested when I do reveal myself.

It's not long until I leave, thankfully. My official leaving date is 31 March next year, but I have holidays to use, so it will be before that I actually go. It'll be odd not being there, given the time I have been there. But I know it will be a great release. No having to be someone else. Of being me and the person God created and calls.

Saturday, 11 December 2010


Last week, Spot and I could have done with one of these...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Snow, snow, go away.

I'm getting pretty bored of the snow.

Of having to dig the car out of the snow

Of the icicles hanging from houses.

Of people moaning about the snow.

Of people panicking they may not get bread and milk, so buying so much no one else can get any.

Of having to wear numerous layers to venture outside, only to have to remove them all when I get indoors again.

But then I remember the fun.

Of Snow angels

Of falling over in the snow and it not hurting, just being really funny. As I laughed, it made getting up even harder, which only made me laugh more!

Of the community spirit of helping others dig their cars out of the snow, checking on elderly neighbours and, in some cases, even getting together to dig the village out of the snow.

Of the snow plough drivers who valiantly did go to work when I couldn't.

Of the care workers, nurses and doctors who still brave the weather so they can look after the ill, elderly and most vulnerable in our society. I salute them (and am dead proud of my Mum for being one of them!).

Even, the funeral directors, who found a way to give my friend's husband a dignified send off on the day the snow was so bad the Forth Road Bridge was closed.

It's amazing what can be achieved when a community works together. I think, generally, the snow has shown the general public do care about friend and stranger. And are willing to help others without credit or reward just for the sake of doing the right thing. Of putting others before ourselves and loving our neighbours.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Thanks for the love

The funeral of the crystal bowl lady was today. It was a moving and uplifting service, made better knowing her strong, deep faith and her wishes. There was so much love in the congregation, but she had so much love for others.

After the service I got chatting to one of her nieces. As we talked, her niece talked of how at least her Aunt had been able to deal with most of her possessions - giving them personally and specifically to those important to her. I mentioned her Aunt gave a bowl to. "Oh, that was you. When do you start training to be a minister?". I was so touched that her Aunt thought highly enough of me to mention me being selected as a trainee minister to her niece. And exceptionally humbled.

I know her Aunt was very proud of me. Of one of her Sunday School pupils still being interested in her and going to be a minister. I only hope I can be half the person her Aunt was. That would be a lasting tribute to such a wonderful woman.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A revelation

I've had a bit of a revelation today. The lady I visited a fortnight ago died. Although I will not be involved in her funeral, except as a mourner, her death has brought home to me something I will have to deal with in ministry. During my time as a minister, as Spot so eloquently put it, I will have to bury my congregation.

That will be hard.

To do justice to those I love.

To lead worship and hold it together when all around are suffering.

To not seem so detached I appear cold, but to do the memory of those I love justice.


I care. I care more deeply that I often show and sometimes am even willing to admit.

With such love, how can I do a funeral for someone I love?

Only through the support of God through the holy spirit. That's how.

I know being an ordained minster is 5 years off. But this is something |I will have to deal with sooner or later. There is at least one person who wants me to conduct her funeral. I pray it isn't for a very long time. When it comes, though, I will be gutted. But I will pray for the strength and guidance to do the one last thing I can for her. My act of love for those who love me. Through the strength of the one who loves us all.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Church - for those who can't come

Following on from my visiting last week, I started thinking how do churches include members of the congregation who can't attend? Okay, there's the obvious CD or similar of the week's service. That's a start, but is it enough?

The lady I was visiting commented she not only misses worship, but the community & fellowship aspect of church too. So, how do we , as a church, involve those housebound members so they feel part of our community?

I know I don't have the answers. I'm more thinking out loud & pondering. What do you think? What does your church do? What should churches do?

Thursday, 4 November 2010

A church in crisis?

Given the very positive response the sermon I have used for the last couple of weeks has received, and it's relevance, Spot has suggested I post it here. As always, comments are welcome. It's based on Joel 2: 23-32 and Luke 18: 9-14.

The church in Scotland, and I don't just mean the Church of Scotland, is in crisis. Membership and attendance is falling.

Buildings are closing.

Unions and linkages are taking place.

And look around...none of us are getting any younger.

What's to be done? At this years general assembly the decision was made to cut the number of full-time ministry posts – ministers, deacons and the like – by 300 in 5 years time.

Its very doom and gloom.

Where are the prophetic voices? And, frankly, does anyone in mainstream society really care about the church or have they all moved onto others things and see the church as irrelevant and out of date?

The good news is, all of this has happened before.

When Joel was prophesying, most of the Jewish people had been exiled Babylon. There had also been a famine caused by swarming locusts eating their crops, forcing many more of the Jewish people away from the promised land to seek work and food.

Time and time again, God's chosen people had turned from God – they had failed to honour God, to look after the poor and foreigner and follow God's law.

Throughout all this God's prophets had been telling them to turn from their wrongdoing, their greed and self-righteousness - their love of power and wealth - and follow God's law.

But they didn't listen. They didn't want to as that would have meant giving up what they had worked for – their fields and homes. Why should they help those without? Isn't another's poverty or illness God punishment for past sin - either them or their parents? Besides, why should the rich give to the poor? They haven't worked for it after all?

So, the exile began. God's punishment on his people for not observing his law. For not listening to the many warnings he had sent them through his prophets.

Israel became the property of the king of Babylon and with that the Jewish people lost the land and fortunes they had been clinging on to. Many of the Jewish people were taken into servitude in Babylon. The type of servitude they thought had left behind in Egypt. The servitude from which God had rescued them.

Those who had kept the faith – followed God's commands and listened to the prophets – must have felt God had abandoned them to their fate. All of the chosen people were suffering and there was no hope.

Or wasn't there?

“I will give you back what you lost in the years when the swarms of locusts ate your you will have plenty to eat and be satisfied...Then Israel, you will know I am among you” God tells us through Joel's words.

God had not abandoned them and it was all part of his plan. As Joel tells us “it was I who sent this army against you”.

Why did God do this? To bring his chosen people back to him. Their love of money and wealth was distracting them from their relationship with God. It was also getting in the way of them being his chosen people. other nations aren't going to admire and respect you - even use your way of doing things as a model for their own governance - if the chosen people were treating foreigners badly; taking land from the widowed and refusing to help the poor and needy. God wanted – wants - his chosen people to be a beacon of light for the world, but they couldn't when they were not following God's law and were concentrating on their own selfish desires.

God's law which judges people by what is in their hearts. Like the tax collector. He was humble before God and did not feel himself worthy to even raise his face towards heaven. Tax collectors were despised in Jewish society as they were in cahoots with the occupying force of Rome. That alone would be sufficient to be disliked, but they also had a reputation for taking more tax the Roman empire required to line their own pockets.

No wonder the Pharisee was indignant! He was without sin. He followed God's rules, didn't he? He wasn't greedy, dishonest or an adulterer like everyone else. Most of all, he wasn't a tax collector. That would be a great crime against God, wouldn't it?

Yet he didn't see his self-righteous attitude towards others, particularly the tax collector - his holier than thou attitude - was in itself sinful. Of course he wouldn't have. He was following the rules Moses has written down and they were handed down to him from God, so the Pharisee definitely was in the right with God, wasn't he?

But Jesus didn't think so. Jesus spoke of the Pharisee's self righteous attitude and condemned it. Jesus knew, though the Pharisee was following the letter of the law, he wasn't necessarily following spirit of the law. The spirit of the law which means God is concerned with what is in peoples hearts. Are we humble before God and non-judgemental? We do our best but don't always get it right.

There was a time, though, where the kirk was seen as judgemental and holier than thou.

Of the non-attender, the divorcee, the single parent, the list goes on and that's just in my family!

The kirk used to be a place where some went to see and be seen. Not to worship God or have fellowship with fellow Christians.


When I hear these stories, I am not surprised people don't come to church. I have read of people in deep trouble being advised by Christian friends to go to church – to seek a relationship with God - and the response has been along the lines of “I don't want to go their I feel bad enough already and want to be made to feel any worse”.

But there's more to it than just the headline perceived judgemental attitude. People are busier than ever and don't have time to come to church. Coming to church would eat into their precious time.

We're still here, though. Just as in Joel's time people had been exiled and turned from God, we too are keeping the faith. We know God has not and would never abandon his people. Things may look bleak, but are they really?

Can unions be positive? This church was formed from a union. The members worked together to create a new church from the old. Concentrated on what really matters – bringing glory and honour to God, forming a loving Christian family and serving the local community.

I think unions can be a positive thing for the local and national church.

It shows some unity of purpose - pardon the pun. Many church buildings were built as we kept falling out with one another. The free church, the united free church, the reformed united free church, the Church of Scotland. Coming back together shows we aren't a bunch of splitters.

It shows different congregations can grow and work together and, ultimately, become a worshipping community of God's children. Setting apart differences for the greater good of God's kingdom in the local community.

It shows the kirk is more concerned with bringing the kingdom of God to local, national and international communities, rather than clinging to bricks and mortar.

I know it can be difficult seeing churches close. My first church closed as a result of the union here. That's the building where we were married, where our children were baptised, where we starred as one of the shepherds in the nativity play! But the memories we will always have.

Most important, is our relationship with God. If we get that right, as the tax collector did, everything will follow.

Our relationship and trust of God will deepen. And others will see that in us. Perhaps question and want to find out more. Maybe even come along to see what all the fuss is about.

I feel the decline in church attendance and building numbers has to be part of God's plan for the church in Scotland and for all Christians in Scotland. It is a testing time, but we have and will keep the faith, though we are exiled in some ways – many people in mainstream society think religion is not for them and find the idea of going to church really rather odd.

I strongly believe the decline is God pruning the overgrown bush. Getting rid of the dead and dying wood. Pruning it down and into a better shape.

Now, perhaps, is the autumn or winter in the cycle of life of the church. God only knows what the spring may bring. One thing is for sure, though, in spring there will be new shoots from a bush with deep roots in God's love.

And, despite the statistics of a reduced number of ministers, that isn't all doom and gloom either. This year, 24 new candidates began their training. That's the largest intake for 10 years apparently and doesn't include myself and others in my position who have, for whatever reason, had to wait until next year to begin their training.

So long as we trust God and remain constant in him, he will remain constant in us. He will use us to create his church. A church about the people not about the steeple.

A church where all are loved and supported for who they are. A community of God's people sharing time and fellowship together and serving the community in which we live.

A church where the people of God are the prophetic voice Joel wrote about. Where we point the way to God through our words, our lives and our actions. Where we stand up for the downtrodden and neglected in society, no matter how difficult that may be. No matter what the politicians and leaders of our nation think is best.

In time, while we keep the faith and trust God, keep doing God's will in this community and communities throughout Scotland and the world, the bush will flourish in an amazing and glorious way. Of that there should be no doubt.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Do you believe in angels?

There's the angel who asked if I'd visited the lady who gave me her crystal bowl

So yesterday, I finally got round to it. I know, it's been months and I don't really have an excuse. Just not making the effort, quite frankly.

The crystal bowl lady is very ill and scared by her illness. It's understandable given it's nature.

I arrived and was shown through to her. She was taken aback to see me - not because she didn't know me, but she wasn't expecting me!

I stayed and chatted for 2 and a half hours. It didn't feel that long at all. During that time, 3 or 4 members of staff commented how she looked much better, as did her friend who'd arrived as I was leaving.

So, does that also make me an angel? For spending time with someone I care for, brightening her day and making her feel better?

I believe in angels, as messengers from God. Sent in various disguises. Sent when we need comfort or guidance or affirmation. Yesterday, through different people, I experienced all of those angels.

And God was there with us.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Phone Etiquette

Call me old-fashioned (Mrs G, you're old fashioned), but I was brought up there is a window when it's socially acceptable to phone someone. In my family, it is 6-7:30pm for people you didn't know very well and up to 8:30, 8:45 tops for close friends and family. Only then, that was for brief calls which would be finished before 9.

Part of the reason for the no later than 7:30 was, if I didn't know the person that well, I wouldn't necessarily know if they had young children who may be in, or about to go to, bed.

Any call after 9pm was either pre-arranged as the person it was for was out until then, or an urgent call of the "so and so has taken very ill/been rushed to hospital". You get the idea.

Last night the phone went at 9:30pm. I had text a friend of mine to arrange going for a pint tonight, so answered as I thought it would be them. No, it was the session clerk for the church I am leading worship at tomorrow! To make matters worse, there was nothing he asked me which couldn't wait until today or even tomorrow to establish. To say I was a little annoyed was an understatement!

So, from now on, unless we're expecting a phone call late on, Spot and I will let the answer machine pick it up. If it's urgent enough to warrant being answered, we will. If it can wait till the next day, it will.

I know some will say, once I am in full-time ministry, I will have to get used to receiving calls at all times. I accept that and, if I was really needed at 2am, I would be available at 2am (that is, of course, if I heard the phone at all). But if it can wait, it will wait. Questions over pulpit supply payments/travelling expenses are not included.

Ah, I'm glad I got that off my chest!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

I'm not an old man!

This Sunday I am providing pulpit supply at a local vacant charge. One of my ministers is their interim moderator and asked me as "they need someone who isn't an old man". My expression when she said this was a picture

I've decided to preach the same service as Sunday just there. I now have had a double "dress rehearsal" at my home churches, so I know it's well received and comes together well. I have to admit to being a little nervous. This is my first "going in cold" to lead worship at a church. All other services I have led have either been at my home churches or during placements.

I am sure God will be with me on Sunday. I'll just trust him. The holy spirit will do the rest.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Only mentioned it once (or twice), think I got away with it!

The services I led today went very well. The feedback I received was very positive. I know many people are more likely to make positive comments than give negative ones, but some of the individuals from whom I received praise only do so when something is really worth praising. It was very humbling to think I could invoke such a reaction. The holy spirit moved through me today, that I am sure of.

Comments I received included:
  • Excellent service - truly excellent (vague I know, but to get that from this individual...I must have done something right!).
  • I really enjoyed that.
  • I love the way you cut to the chase and tell it like it is.
  • Mrs Gerbil, that was excellent [referring to the sermon]. You said something that needed to be said. Thank you.
  • Wonderful. Keep that service. The church which gets you will be blessed. (Humbling words indeed).
  • That was a very good service. We old fuddy-duddies like how you manage to had a good balance of old and new.
  • Your service was excellent. You also have a very good presentation voice. Your pronunciation is clear and you pace things just right. It's important people hear what you are saying and we heard every word. Thank you.
I'm amazed how well it went.  In terms of my delivery, I did feel I paced it right and I was clear. It was good to have that affirmed. As this service was touching on a local issue, I thought it may not have been so positively received. I did feel moved by the holy spirit to say what I had to say, but even Jesus' words were rejected by some, especially in his home town.

This has reassured me to trust the holy spirit. It will give me the words God needs me to speak. Today I trusted and God spoke.

God's words, I pray.

Yet again, I am preaching at my home churches, while the minsters are on holiday. I still get nervous. Will I come over as a leader of worship, rather than "Wee Mrs Gerbil"? Will what I have to say be listened to an appreciated? Mostly, is what I am saying the words the holy spirit is moving me to say, rather than my own. I pray God is in my words and deeds.

Part of this today is my sermon will touch on churches in decline, closing and unions taking place. Locally, that is a sore topic as some unions are more positive than others, I shall say. The sermon does tie in to the lectionary readings, so this isn't a one woman rant (I pray). I do feel guided by the spirit to say what I have to say. Then maybe, maybe just maybe, some in the congregation will look beyond the local issue and see how concentrating on that is negative for the church and isn't what God wants of us.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

My Rangers are 40!

Many years ago, I was a Ranger Guide (now known as senior section). The unit celebrated its 40 anniversary today.

The founder invited all the former members she could contact to a drop-in celebration afternoon. As I am have a lot of time for her, I popped along.

There were a couple of photos featuring yours truely. Spot realised he hasn't seen photos of me, or many, he hasn't taken. I reminded him he had seen my graduation one, but that was taken 6 years after I left rangers!

I didn't stay for long. The people who had turned up, other than the founder, I didn't know. I think they were before or after my time.

One thing I found very odd was there were no current members there. I would have thought they would have been involved in the organising and setting up. It wasn't the case. The event seemed geared up for the past - not including the present. Very strange. I thought it was just me who thought that odd, but Spot commented too. I would have liked to have met some of the current members. To hear of their adventures and experiences.

It's funny. I have fond memories of Rangers and the then guider. I went to many of their activities while I was a member. Yet, I didn't feel connected with the event or the people, other than the founder. But then it has been 17 years. Anything can and probably will in that time. Since then, I've been to two universities, had 4 jobs, got married, travelled Europe and New Zealand and followed my call to ministry.

3 weeks in

It’s now almost 3 weeks since I started distance learning and I am rather enjoying it. I more or less mastered the Greek alphabet in the first week of classes, though doing as our tutor recommended and writing it out daily, combined with testing myself with flash cards Spot downloaded to my phone definitely helped.

My first essay for Mark has now been completed. The system at Aberdeen is the first two essays are formative and, as such, do not count towards the final mark; they are there to check we students have the right end of the stick. My problem wasn’t writing 500 words, but only writing 500 words.

Sometimes I get concerned whether or not I’ll be good enough for studentdom; I wasn’t that studious first time round and it has been 11 years. So, distance learning will certainty break me in. I’m also concerned I don’t get a high enough grading for these courses and Edinburgh uni won’t give me a place. I’m sure it won’t come to that, as I am putting a reasonable amount of effort into my studies (maybe too much). I suppose I’d be happier if I had a letter from Edinburgh Uni confirming my unconditional place for starting divinity next year. But, I’ll just have to be patient for that. It also helps to have applied...

I am doing some of my study during breaks at work. I see my colleagues looking at the various books I have on my desk (the bible, Elements of New Testament Greek and a commentary on Mark). None of them ask why I’m reading them. I haven’t told my colleagues why I've applied for voluntary severance (VS). There are some who'd be thrilled and supportive. Unfortunately, they are in the majority. I know anytime I said or did something they felt was inappropriate for "someone who's going to be a minister"I won't hear the end of it. Given I have been bullied for my faith in this office in the past, I don't want to give them ammunition. Besides, if they knew I was leaving anyway, why accept my VS application when I will be natural wastage soon enough.

As for study, I also need to remind myself it is also first year standard. I think I am still very much in fourth year mode. On Thursday I, along with the rest of Mark's gospel's class, will receive feedback from my essay. Once that comes back, I know I'll feel more comfortable as I will then know what is expected of me. Hopefully it's positive!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Presbytery retreat

I was invited to my presbytery’s retreat day on Tuesday. All involved in ministry in the presbytery were invited – so this included a couple of readers, associate and assistant ministers, myself as a candidate and full-timer ministers. I don’t think there are any Deacons in my presbytery, as I would have expected them to be there.

After the “icebreaker” (which I hate), we had communion. The facilitator of the day asked if anyone had a bible. Of the 30ish there, only 3 did (myself included). That confirmed it was a Church of Scotland retreat day. We will be more likely to turn up with a hymn book than a bible!

But I digress. The strange thing about communion was Sherry was used…that’ll be a white fortified wine. Sorry, but was it bulk blessed before the day by a vicar from the back of an artic? Once I had that “Only Fools and Horses - Miami Twice” reference in my head, I didn’t take communion as seriously as I should. Sometimes I have to remind myself I am not 8 years old anymore...

The day focused on prayer. After communion, we were given some thoughts on prayer by the facilitators, then invited to spend 20 minutes in prayer and reflecting on what prayer meant to us. The group broke up and headed in different directions. Some went for a walk; some stayed in the meeting room and found a quiet corner; others sat in their car. As the venue for the day is set in a park I know very well, I headed straight for the swings. I could see for miles – all the way to the Pentland Hills. Closing my eyes, while swinging backward and forward was very relaxing and meditative. With the bird song and view I really felt God with and all around me. It was probably a little irreverent, but it worked for me.

The rest of the day was a discussion on prayer, what works as individuals and as leaders of worship, what doesn’t work etc. The main thing I gained from those discussions was these things vary depending on individuals, group dynamic, circumstances etc. Frankly, I could have figured that out on my own, but maybe I'm being a little too blunt and not appreciating other may not see things quite the way I do.

At the end of the day, we were led int prayer by one of the facilitators. She invited us to sit comfortably and in our minds visit the various areas of our body and get them to relax. This instantly put me off. I did yoga many years ago and this technique was used at the end of a session. I enjoyed it in that context, but not in prayer. As we went on, it felt more and more as though it was yoga meditation than prayer. We were invited to concentrate on our breathing. Not God. Again, this is a yoga technique! Eventually, in our breathing we were invited to say Yahweh with each breath. Sorry, that just didn't do it for me. I'd rather be on the swings, if that's all the same?

Again, this re-enforced what works for one person may not work for another. As I discussed this with Spot, he commented "It strikes me the people leading this day have their ways of prayer and want to tell everyone about it. It's not based on finding out what other really think, but almost imposing their way and ideas on others". Personally, I think he hit the nail on the head.

As for the day itself. I enjoyed meeting most of the ministers from my presbytery. I enjoyed talking with them and exchanging views with them. I enjoyed the Christian fellowship. I was also in a position to talk with some of the ministers who may be my supervisors during my training. Networking – isn’t it great! So, if that's the one thing I gleaned from the day, it was definitely worth it.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Back to study

A few weeks ago, I posted regarding Edinburgh uni's requirement for me to gain at least 40 university credits. This can be read here. Edinburgh has a centre for lifelong learning, where I could have studied the required number of credits, the timing of the courses were such that I just couldn't fit them in with work. So, I will be studying with Aberdeen uni's CLL. They have the option of allowing students to undertake distance study.

This term, I will be studying New Testament Greek and Mark's gospel. I hope they will be interesting...I'm sure they will be. I've been told Greek, once you learn the alphabet, is much like Latin, which I have studied and really enjoyed. Unfortunately, I have forgotten much of it as it is 18 years since I did study it!!! It's funny, when it was first suggested I could study Greek, I thought "but that's why we have translations". Then, in the middle of August I was chatting to an American friend and called her a clart. I then had to explain what it meant. Like many Scots words, it's not that easy to translate. At that point I had the revolution learning biblical Greek may not be that bad an idea.

Naturally, Mark's gospel is going to be interesting and useful for my future career. Somehow, me thinks, I might just use Mark's gospel on a fairly regular basis.

So, my classes start on Monday evening. I'm looking forward to it. It'll also give me a more gentle start to study than no study for 11 years then straight to uni full time. I also hope, having some credits already will take a little of the pressure off me at the start of uni full-time next year. Maybe not, but I can always hope!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Turning water (and fruit) into wine since 2010!

Spot and I are on holiday, but the weather isn't exactly conducive to camping, o we've filled the last week and a half in other ways...

We picked 15lbs of brambles (blackberries for those outside Scotland) over a couple of days last week. Most is now fermenting into wine - 4.5 gallons at the moment! A tub has been reserved in the freezer for later in the year.

We also have 5 gallons of Cabernet Sauvigon from a kit fermenting too. That's the third kit wine we've done - the first 2 being demijohns (i.e. 1 gallons)'s amazing what you can pick up in a health food shop in Stirling these days...The first 2 gallons turned out so well we thought we'd give a larger quantity a try. Apparently wine is better made in larger quantities.

Once the wines are finished, we're going to turn water into beer. We bought a kit from the same shop as the wine kit. All we need is 40 pint bottles...we're half way there already!!!

We started this wine/beer making malarkey as we were having a clear out to turn one of our spare rooms into my study. In the process of this, we "rediscovered" the array of wine making kit we bought a couple of years back. I say rediscovered as we hadn't forgotten about it, just not used it. The way I say it was we either used the kit or got rid of it - hence the start of our new "hobby".

Saturday, 4 September 2010

What to wear...

Over at Pilgrim's progress, Nik has been posting on what to wear as a minster. You can read the post here.

Generally, I think it's useful for the congregation, especially visitors, to see who the minister is. This is where the dog - sorry, clerical - collar comes in useful. I know, when I am a minister I will wear one for leading worship, certain types of visits where being instantly recognisable is advantageous and funerals.

It's a uniform. I recognise the assistant in Tesco by their uniform. I know if I want to know where to get the item that's been moved for the umpteenth time, I ask the person in the right clothing. I suppose the same goes for ministers!

As for robes...quite frankly, I'd get roasting in them. Generally, I don't feel very cold, unless it's really hot. So, robes would get me too hot under the collar! There are times, I know, where they set even more gravitas - such as when performing (or should that be administering?) the sacraments and remembrance Sunday. Having said that, if I was called to a very cold church, my opinion on robes may change very rapidly!!!

Preaching scarves...well they can be useful. A bit more formal than just the collar, but without the insulation of robes!

And there's then the debate (at least in my head) on what to wear with the collar. Jeans, biker trousers, a suit?  That will depend on the occasion and people involved.

Sometimes, though, I think the collar can be a barrier. People will see the minister in a different light. They may not fully show themselves or be appalled to see the minister having a pint in the local! Even out of uniform, a minister, by some, is still expected to be a certain type of person and not necessarily very Christ-like - I'm sure he'd go to the pub. Jesus didn't change clothes to teach the people, according to scripture. Maybe he did, but it was not recorded. I'm sure if he did and there was an important reason for it, it would have been recorded by the gospel writers.

From a very personal point of view, at the moment, I wear a suit jacket when leading worship in my home church. It shows I am being more formal and sets a bit more gravitas (for me, believe me, that is an achievement!). I am doing pulpit supply at the end of October and I will wear a suit on that occasion.

When I start training, I think my attire for the occasions will remain fairly constant. Although I will be a trainee minister, I wouldn't want people getting a false impression I am  the minister, as that could lead to all kinds of comedy situations.

But, at what point would I begin to wear a collar? At the right time in training? At the start of probation? When following the call to congregations? When being ordained? Spot thinks probation. He uses the police analogy, where even during training the police wear a uniform. I pointed out there are indicators on their uniform they are in, should trainee ministers have a blue clerical collar!!!

God has called me because of who I am. My clothes are a reflection of that. So long as my clothes do not distract others from His message, I think that's all that really matters.

Monday, 30 August 2010

40 credits, sir?

Last week, I had the pleasure to meet some of the ministry candidates I will, eventually, be studying with. This was at a "pre-conference social". It was great, I get to meet people, discuss ministry, God, politics, life, the universe, everything and Up! without being thought of as odd, annoying, different or strange...or not too strange, anyway.

On another note, Edinburgh uni have now advised me I need 40 university credits (I don't know exactly what that means, either), to stand a chance of gaining a place there next year. This because I have been away from academic study for more than 2 years. I could do courses at their centre for life long learning or elsewhere, such as distance learning courses at Aberdeen uni. I was informed of this at the beginning of August by Edinburgh uni and told the prospectus for the life long learning course would be available to download by the end of the month. Yes, it became available on Friday, this is a bank holiday weekend and some of the courses begin tomorrow. Nice!

I happened to mention to other candidates at the social last week about this. They were pretty surprised by this as none had experienced this nor had to undertake additional study, where they had a prior degree. I thought this may have been due to, in one case, a couple of years passing, but one of the candidates is only starting now and obtained their place in February. As they said, how could things have changed in 6 months?

So, now I'm thinking do I start courses with Aberdeen uni in the hope I can gain sufficient credits, while working full-time and remaining some sort of sanity? Should I see the opinion of ministries council and see what they can do to help? Or, should I not bother applying to Edinburgh after all and just go to St. Andrews - they don't need additional credits?

Choices, choices.

I'd prefer to go to Edinburgh, for a while plethora of reasons. If their criteria is 40 credits for those outwith academic study in the last 2 year, fair enough, but always apply them or not at all. I have a very ingrained sense of fairness and having a tantrum to get a uni place, rather than playing by the rules of the institution just isn't me.

Anyway, much praying and contemplation to go on in the next few days, while I work out where God wants me to go. Watch this space.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Should I stay or should I go?

Yesterday, my office announced a voluntary redundancy scheme. My initial reaction was “show me the money; show me the money”. Over the course of the evening, Spot and I had a long chat about the implications of the package.

Ideally, my office wants those taking up the offer to leave by 31 December. Doing the sums, Spot and I would be worse off with me leaving then than waiting until next August to leave. That, of course, works on the assumption I do not get another job meantime. However, the redundancy offer does say the leaving date can be as late as 31 March 2011. With that as a leaving date, it does make the package more beneficial than staying for an additional 4-5 months (if I did manage that long!).

I know Spot supports whatever decision I make. As he said, he was expecting me to be leaving about now to go to uni, so any earnings I have beyond now are a bonus. There’s also the matter the office may not receive sufficient applications now and compulsory redundancies come in in the new financial year, with poorer terms. Worse still, from our perspective, during that round Spot’s made redundant rather than me.

I have decided I will apply for redundancy. Obviously I have prayed for guidance with this decision. I feel God not only supports it, but wants me to trust Him. That this is all part of His plan for me and He will provide for Spot and I.

Monday, 23 August 2010

New boots

I've a confession to make. I have really conservative tastes when it comes to footwear. Basically, it's Doc Martens for work and play, Merrel  for trainers and brasher boots for hill walking. I know it makes me sound like a brand snob, but not being a shopper combined with the childhood trauma of literally spending hours getting a pair of school shoes which fitted, I know what fits and I will not deviate from that.

That said, I know when I get a new pair of docs, I have to wear then around the house for a couple of weeks to break them in. Yes, the are a good fit, but I need to make then mine. I give them a chance to become mine. I don't just put them on, walk around for a bit and go "sorry, they aren't okay". I know it will take a bit of patience and perseverance to get them "just right".

Once I've worn them around the house, I know they won't be right for anyone else. Not really. They are the made the same way as all other docs. They have the same sole, the same laces, the same materials. But the action of wear changes them. The develop a character of their own, based on how much I wear them, how I care for them and how I walk. All these factors have an influence on how my boots will appear to others.

It's much like people. We are all formed in the image of God. Our basic selves are like brand new boots. Unworn, lacking character and showing no signs of wear or care. Our lives are wearing in the boots. What life throws at us and the experiences we have through life, especially in the formative years, has visible effects on how we develop and grow and wear. And has a significant influence on how we show ourselves to the world.

I was badly bullied at school. Like many who are bullied, I was the easy target. Single parent, spec wearer (30 years ago, I was the only kid at primary school with glasses), a little overweight, pretty smart and I always wanted to help people. You can see why bullies attacked.

The bullies had been friends - people I had tried to help with sums and reading. They abused the trust I had put in them. So I learnt to put up barriers. I became determined to not let anyone get too close. That way they wouldn't be able to hurt me.

Looking back, I really hurt myself. There are probably many people over the years who I could have been friends with, but I just wouldn't allow it to happen. I am much better. I will take the risk of letting people in; of letting people care and love me.

My character is still influenced by the past. Like a scuff mark on a pair of well polished boots, if  you look close enough, you can see the mark. But the love and care of family and friends is the polish for me. Nourishing my soul and waterproofing my live against the weather I may come against.

All this possible only through the grace and love of God. God who loves me unconditionally, no matter my flaws. God, who has called me to ministry because of those flaws. Isn't God great?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Colours of dawn

As I drove to work this morning, I noticed how beautiful the sky looked. The intense sun was just cracking through the clouds. There was red, orange, purple, grey and blue. The sky looked like a Turner watercolour. A watercolour painted by nature and showing to anyone who cared to look the wonder of God's world.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Going batty

The other night, quite to my surprise, a bat flew past me in our back garden. Then, lat night Spot spotted a bat flying around our block. Cool - that means we have bats feeding and living nearby.

I love bats - no idea why, but I do., I think it's pretty cool discovering something like bats living in a place you really wouldn't expect.

So, in honour of our new discovery, we are now proud owners of a bat box. With a bit of luck, they might take up residence. It may take a while. Bats are fussy where they live and tend to return to the same roost, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, so to speak. Besides, if they are around, the midges better watch out!

Silver band

Yesterday turned into a great day...but didn't have the best of starts. On Friday, a part of Spot's wedding ring had broken off. Nothing major and, for a silversmith, a simple enough repair. We headed off to the silversmiths where we had had our wedding rings designed and made for us. It's also where we returned last year to have Spot's re-sized.

Spot called the day before to check opening times - from 10:30. We arrived a little early. Then waited, and waited, and waited a little more. At 10:50, there was still no show and we left. Now we'll need to find somewhere else to get it repaired.

It's funny. We didn't marry the rings. They weren't even especially expensive. But they are important to us, for the reason we have them. If we don't have them, we're just as married. They are, after all, only "stuff". Of little worth to anyone but us. But, that's why we will get Spot's wedding ring repaired.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A run in the car

Yesterday, Spot and I had planned to take the bike for a run along the Fife coast, generally heading in an East Neuk and then St Andrews direction. When I got up yesterday morning, the weather was dull, but not too bad. That was at 7am, though. By 9, the rain had started and it wasn't very pleasant.

So, we decided to generally follow our original plan, but in the car. The drive was lovely, as the roads weren't too busy and, even in the rail, the scenery is beautiful. The showers were pretty heavy, so we were pleased of the car!

I have been after a leather jacket, but I'd prefer a second hand one, so it's slightly worn in, rather than shinny. St Andrew's has a good selection of charity shops, so Spot and I went for a browse. Well, I didn't find a jacket, but I did make a purchase...

I bought all on this shelf. This includes a dictionary of the bible in 5 volumes from 1906, various text books, reflective reading and prayer/service resources. Some may be more useful than others, some more interesting then others, but I know they will all be useful. Spot recons it may have been divine influence we took the car, as those tomes were heavy!

Just after I made my purchases, the sun broke through the clouds and it turned into a stunning afternoon and evening, as this view of Tentsmuir forest from St Andrews castle shows...

More and more, I feel God guiding me and helping me out. Taking me places I need to go and opening my eyes to things around me. He's also giving me a hand up. Maybe yesterday was one of those. I think it was and I thank Him for it.


I headed into Edinburgh on Thursday. As I waited for Spot I noticed this lady selling "The Big Issue" outside Princes Street's Marks and Spencers. She was reasonably dressed and didn't fit into the stereotype for a homeless person.

Two things struck me as I watched. Firstly, in this uncertain time of job losses and reduction in benefits and public services, how many more of us will be where she was? Secondly, how invisible she was to passers-by. As you can see from the photo, people weren't looking in her direction and there's a clear space around her. No-one wants to get too close.

While I watched, a passer-by shouted "Big Issue, Big Issue" as he walked by. Edinburgh Council banned newspaper sells (mainly the local Evening News and Scotsman) from calling out. This also applies for Big Issue sellers. To her credit, she just shook her head at him.

A couple of minutes later, just as Spot arrived, a person doing a street collection in aid of RSPB turned up. He was about 5 metres away from the lady. I bet Spot someone would speak to him and donate money before anyone approached the lady. We waited less than a minute for me to be proven right. That made me very sad. I love birds and an passionate about watching them, but people are so much more important to God.

In all the time I watched, probably 15 minutes, no one approached the Big Issue lady.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Toy Story 3

Today I finally got round to seeing Toy Story 3 (2D only - I can't see out of one eye). I love animation, I think most of what Pixar does it completely genius and I now count Up! as one of my all time favourite films. I had also heard and read numerous reviews which indicated Toy Story 3 was brilliant.

Well, I wouldn't agree. Yes, the animation was outstanding, but I didn't care about the characters. If anything, I think the animation was so good it had hit uncanny valley. This is where the picture on the screen is very realistic, but not quite. The brain knows it's fake and all empathy is lost for the character. There's one scene where the animation was so realistic I was convinced the hands had been filmed rather than animated.

Personally, Toy Story 3 felt like the executives at Disney Pixar decided they needed to make a 3D Toy Story. 3D will only be a success when the stories are good too. Oh, and when issues with people feeling sick or not being about to see the 3D are resolved. I'd much rather a 2D film with a great story.

So, I think I may just go and watch Monsters Inc. or the Incredibles again. Those are works of animation and story telling genius. Toy Story 3, for me, wasn't.

At the moment, I think Spot and I are the only people who think this. Is it just us?

Sunday, 1 August 2010


When Spot and I were married, some friends gave us gardening vouchers. Among the plants we bought was a redcurrant. That was 6 years ago. It's bore fruit every year, but for one reason or another, I haven't done anything with it.

That changed yesterday. With the assistance of Spot, I harvested the fruit. There was more than either of us expected - 2.75 pounds. My Mum had kept mentioning how much she likes redcurrant jelly, but I couldn't be bothered with  the faff of passing the sweated fruit through an old pillowcase to make that, so I came up with this:

Redcurrant and chilli jam.

To make it, I sweated the fruit in a large pan until there was as much liquid as fruit. I then added 1.75 pounds of sugar and stirred thoroughly to make sure the sugar was dissolved. This mix was brought to the boil and after 5 minutes 3 finely chopped cayenne chilli peppers were added (these were growing on our windowsill). The whole mix continued to boil until set. Just about another 7 or 8 minutes. Redcurrants are high in pectin, so jams made with them set quickly! I test the set point by putting a little bit of jam on a plate I put in the freezer just before starting the jamming process.

It tastes really quite nice, even if I say so myself. The chilli just gives a bit of an edge, but not so much as to give heat and take away from the fruit. There's also less sugar than in a "proper" jam - such as strawberry. Normally it's 1 pound of sugar to 1 pound of fruit, though I use 0.75 pounds of sugar. I used less sugar as this is more a savory "with cheese" type jam.

Next thing I'll be making is elderberry jam and maybe some wine too. I've already made strawberry jam from the crop at the front of the house. There's nothing like reducing food miles. And the smell in the house is amazing.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Two Sundays - two services

Two Sunday's in a row I was asked to lead worship at the church linked with my home church, while my ministers were on holiday. This was humbling as they asked me following on from the last time I'd lead worship there back just after Easter. The session had met in the following few days and decided then to ask. Also, at the moment I'm cheap. I won't take pulpit supply money (and I don't even know if I'm entitled anyway) as I'm still working and don't need the money. I'd just give to straight back anyway!

The first Sunday, I don't know what had got into me, but I wasn't quite "right". It was only wee things, but no one could help but notice. When I announced I was skipping the children's address I said "as there's no children here tomorrow", I transposed my figures when announcing one of the hymns and I kept reading through the prayer of confession into intercession so I combined two prayers into one. Must remember to have a prayer before leading worship. I think that's the mistake I made.

I also chose more than 1 unfamiliar hymn. Oops. I did select them based on the theme, but perhaps took that a little far. The congregation did rise to the occasion, though.

A positive, though, was the congregation did seem to be moved by my sermon. A few commented they got something out of it. Someone mentioned about the hymns and my apparent nervousness, but also said the sermon was good and "that's the most important thing". The session clerk commented it was well paced.

On the second Sunday, things did go better. Given I was using the lectionary (I've not got the confidence or knowledge to go off-topic, yet) and Sunday's was the Lord's prayer, I did put prayer at the start of my worship. I think that made all the difference. Probably just as well, given a local minister and his family were on holiday and chose the church I was leading worship. The usual congregation were relieved I was there when they saw the visiting minister. They had planned a "songs of praise" service. Nothing wrong with that now and again. And I'm sure they would have risen to the occasion if I wasn't there.

One thing I did was print my service notes at a smaller font size than normal, so I felt I was reading from them a lot.and not making eye contact with the congregation as much as I usually do. Spot said he hadn't noticed that, but I was a little slower during my sermon; probably at the right pace. Personally, I still felt I could have done with the larger font. It's a comfort blanket, so to speak. Practice makes perfect, though. And I know Spot does give constructive feedback.

Overall the service was well received. I went for all well known hymns. They did, broadly, follow the theme and more than made up for the previous week. Just to ensure I got a positive reaction, the closing hymn was "Guide me o thy Great Jehovah". In my experience, with that as a finally, the person (or people) leading worship can get away with a lot! Besides, it's one of my favourite hymns and, as the person leading worship it's one of the perks!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Change the record.

At the end of today's service a woman I've know since I was very little (she was one of my nursery teachers) spoke to me after the service. I don't see her very often; maybe every 4-5 years. She is a member of one of the other churches worshiping in my home church today. The conversation followed the pattern it has followed for out last few encounters and I'm starting to find it a little wearing.

"You're looking very slim these day's". She says
"I've been this size for quite a while now". I respond.
"Oh, I know" she finishes the conversation and headed for coffee.

Okay, so from about 7 I was a fat kind. I lost a couple of stones (at least) about 16 years ago. I was really self conscious about my weight and lots of other things, so thank you for bringing that up. AGAIN!!!

Rant over. Normal service will resume in due course.

Too many buildings?

My home church and 2 others nearby are holding joint services while their respective ministers are away. This makes finding pulpit supply easier, cuts down on bills and get us working together (gosh!).

Today, the service was held in my home church and was fairly well attended by the members of the other churches. This was heartening given holidays and some people won't worship away from "their" building. Consequently, the church was pretty full.

During the intimations, which were more a welcome to the other church members that anything else, the person doing the intimations commented how it was great to see so many people. I turned to the person behind me (a member of my congregation) and said "It does sort of prove there's too many churches" in this town. She did agree, but said to keep that quiet!

I'm coming to see less church buildings as a positive thing.

  • It shows some unity - so many churches were built due to one falling out or another.

  • It shows different congregations can work and grow and become a family together.

  • It shows a faithful commitment to God, rather than coming to church because it's the done thing. Not so long ago, as Spot's Gran would testify, if you didn't go to church you would loose your job. As you lived in a tied house, you lost the roof above your head (and your wife and children's too).

  • It shows the kirk is more concerned with bringing the kingdom of God to local, national and international communities, rather than clinging to bricks and mortar.

  • It is difficult. People are attached to buildings, rightly or wrongly. We have memories associated with them.

    Personally, I love the people of my church more than any building. Yes, it is where Spot and I were married, but my memories of that day aren't tied to the stone walls, but the people and events on the day. I would still have them no matter what happened to my church building.

    The church where I was baptised and attended until mid-teens is still a church, but is a Coptic church and has been since my home church was formed following the union of two churches. I still have to memories of that church and I still cherish and talk of them.

    Perhaps it is because people move about much more now than ever before. To new houses and towns. They need something which is constant. They need the church to be constant. The church is. They just need to learn they are the church. Not the building.

    "I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together."

    Thursday, 8 July 2010

    Part of the world, but not of it.

    Jesus knew his disciples lived in a real world, with danger and temptation and illness. He also knew, and prayed, his disciples would be separate from the world (John 17:14-15, for example). That the pleasures and pain of the world would not get the better of them and they, though their lives and love, would show a better way for being in the world.

    That prayer of Jesus is just as relevant to us, as Christians - his current disciples - as it was 2000 years ago. Which has got me thinking, what makes my actions different from others who aren't Christians? I do try to talk to those others won't; I do try to defend the prisoner and NED; I have a deep sense of fairness and justice; I turn the other cheek. Are those purely things which can be done as a Christian? Can someone of no faith do so?

    I've also been thinking about the standards the kirk should have for those "in authority". The minister, the deacon, the reader and the elder. Surely, there should be a moral and ethical standard which those set apart by the kirk to represent the kirk should be aiming for? I'm not saying it should be different from any other Christian, but perhaps allied more. I know it's a tough one, but I feel without some kind of standard the kirk becomes so ties up with being in the world it forgets it's supposed to be showing the world (and Scotland in particular) a better way.

    Take for example, an elder. They've started living with their boyfriend and in case it doesn't work out they are renting. They have no intention of getting married. Is that right? Is this the standard the kirk should be aspiring to?

    Personally, I have no problem with people living together out of wedlock, so long as there's a commitment there. Hedging your bets by renting, then walking away if it goes wrong is not commitment. So don't bother living together to begin with.

    I think those society attitudes sums up much of what is wrong with society. Suck it and see. If I don't like it, I junk it. Relationships are, for some, becoming as disposable as last nights take-away boxes.

    Surely, though, the kirk should be encouraging their members to be different from society in this regard. So those in authority live out their lives as different from society. Leading the way. Showing a better way to live in the world. A way that's more difficult - you can't just walk away if it doesn't work - yet more in keeping with a way of love and more rewarding too. Otherwise, are we really followers of Christ?

    Wednesday, 7 July 2010

    The church

    I occasionally dip into Roddy Hamilton's blog. This particularly struck me and I thought I'd share:

    There once was a church and it was a glorious building in it's day. It's ceiling arched over the people like praying hands as the worshiped while its enormous doors slowly swung open and church to keep the people in and the world out. A steeple reached closer to heaven than anything else and the pulpit did much the same. A communion table was made of the finest oak and pews sat row upon row for the steady stream of the faithful to gather under the reflected light from stained glass windows that told the glowing story of the saints of old, halos in tact and eyes as blue as the sea.

    The church stood as a symbol of all that was worthy. A well maintained building with a congregation who cared about what people thought, and who provided a generous welcome to anyone who came.
    But as the years went on, passers by noticed that the building didn't look as it once did: when a panel of glass fell out of the fine stained glass windows it didn't seem to be replaced; the doors began to squeak a little with rust hinges; the steeple clock stopped and the communion table seemed to have more scratches on it each week. People commented that the church wasn't being cared for. Had people fallen out with the leadership, or had it fallen on hard times? They should take a lesson from that new youth club and the lunch group for homeless that was opening up next week. They seem to have a successful way of raising money.

    As the months and years progressed the church fell into greater disrepair. Eventually the doors were hanging off their hinges, slates covered only half the roof, the pulpit had become a pigeon's nest and no one could remember the last time the organ worked. So a meeting of the town council was called about the state of the church. After all the village has a great name for it's homeless projects, it's campaign against unfair trade, it's provision for the homeless and various other projects.

    At the meeting people wanted to know what had happened to the church. Why was there no pride in the building any more? Did the members not care about the village? People raised questions throughout the meeting until one of the members, an old woman whom everyone knew to be a faithful member, a caring person, a lovely lady stood up. The room fell silent.

    "My friends," she said, "my dear friends, you know how dear the church is to me. You know I have been a member there all my life and I want you to know the church has never been more proud of itself in its life, because as a new repair has been needed, we decided to use that money instead to fund a new youth project, or homeless shelter. The church has given of itself to provide what the village really needed and as the communion table broke or a pew fell apart, a pipe burst or a slate fell off something else was given life. The debt to us is life for the community. And I have never been more proud of the church than I am today."
    Everyone left the meeting in silence and the church in ruins stood as evidence of a community given life.

    Monday, 5 July 2010

    Who are parishioners?

    I work in a large office. In all there are about 900-1000 staff in the building. The office is within 10 minute walking distance of 3 (at least) Church of Scotland churches. Yet, in nearly 10 years of working there, I have not seen a minister.

    Is that office not part of a parish? Should the minister of that parish not be as concerned about the people in the office as anyone else in their parish? I, like most of my colleagues, spend about 50% of my waking hours in that parish. Potentially longer than those who live there.

    There are so many demands on a minister's time, but why not the office block and other workplaces on their patch? Jesus' disciples He called at their workplaces. Jesus did much of His teaching away from the synagogues. Should that not be a model for ministry? Meeting people where they are - letting them know that they are loved and wanted by God. Or, is that a little too much?

    I don't know. Maybe this thought has been placed in my heart as it's something God wants me to do. That's a bit scary. But I know I shouldn't be afraid or discouraged as He will personally go ahead and prepare the way for me (paraphrase of Deuteronomy 31:8). Knowing my luck, it might even be, in 5 or 6 years, the very office I currently work in!

    Sunday, 27 June 2010

    Passing on gifts

    My first minister was a great minister and a humble and caring human being. Of all the past ministers my current ministers hear people talking about, he is the one who is spoken about with the most affection. His wife was a similarly wonderful person. She, it has to be said, as a "traditional" minister's wife, but together they were a team.

    I learnt a lot from them both. How to serve, how to be loved, how we're all important and loved by God, no matter our backgrounds. This, when I was little, was unusual. My Mum wasn't married (and never had been) and had a little girl. Many other places and people judged my Mum and I on this. My first minister and his wife didn't. One of the best things he ever said to my Mum was "we all make mistakes, it's how you deal with them that matters". I believe this was when she thought she wouldn't be able to join the church. It was the 1970s.

    Unfortunately, they both died some time ago. Their memories and teachings live on, though. I know the seeds they sowed have lead me to where I am in faith now.

    Today, a member of my home church needed to talk to me. A fellow member of the congregation has had to move into a care home - the mind's willing, but the body isn't. Due to the move, she's is having to get rid of many of the things in her home. There's a crystal bowl she wants me to have. I was so touched by this. This woman was another one of the people sowing the seeds when I was little. I became even more touched when I was told why she wanted me to have it.

    The bowl was given to her by my first minister's wife. Apparently I was always her favourite (I never realised this, as she treated everyone the same) and because I am going to be a minister. I was so touched I could have cried. Such a generous and loving gift. I will treasure it.

    Be careful what you say

    My mother-in-law sent me this and I just had to share!.

    One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Alex standing in the foyer of the church staring up at a large plaque. It was covered with names and small American flags mounted on either side of it. The six-year old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside the little boy, and said quietly, 'Good morning Alex.' 'Good morning Pastor,' he replied, still focused on the plaque. 'Pastor, what is this? ' The pastor said, 'Well son, it's a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service.'

    Soberly, they just stood together, staring at the large plaque. Finally, little Alex's voice, barely audible and trembling with fear asked,

    'Which service, the 8:15 or the 10:30?'

    Friday, 25 June 2010

    Find a penny, pick it up

    The other night when Spot and I were out for a walk, I picked up a discarded 2p. It was in the middle of a pile of gravel thrown to the side of the road by the wheels of the cars travelling along the street.

    The coin was badly tarnished and abraded around the edge – it had obviously been on the road for some time.

    Unnoticed. Its lustre gone. Its value unappreciated.

    Thrown away because it lacked value – “what can you buy with 2p”?

    I say thrown away as I know there are people who throw 2p, 1p and even 5ps away, for that reason. What can you buy with that? They have no value; no worth.

    Spot is often impressed at my ability to spot a discarded coin, especially one in the condition of this one. It’s a talent I’ve had for years. I picked it up from my uncle. Though back then, small denomination coins were valued more highly and usually had fallen from someone’s pocket or purse; not thrown away and discarded.

    It saddens me to see people throw away money, even such small denomination coins, due to their perceived lack of worth. Stick them in a jar and see just how quickly the money adds up. As Andrew Carnegie is supposed to have said "look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves".  The coins I find in my travels and get in my change I place in an old money box and at the end of the year it often as not adds up to £15. Not bad for mainly 1p and 2p coins. Seemingly worthless coins.

    And picking up that coin the other night got me thinking. What about people? Who does society "throw away", seeing them as worthless; of no value? I'm not going to list off examples here, but they are all around us. In the margins, among the dirt, unloved, unnoticed and unvalued.

    The very people I, as a Christian, should be noticing. Seeing their worth where others see none. Speaking up for them, helping them, loving them.

    Giving them worth and value and self-esteem where others don't.

    Because only then can I really call myself a Christian, a follower of Christ, as that is what he calls me to do. To love others as I love myself.

    Wednesday, 23 June 2010


    Last night was the presbytery meeting where the ministries council's decision to accept me as a candidate in training for ministry was ratified. It was good news for presbytery - two members of churches in presbytery have been accepted for ministry training and a reader had just completed his training.

    Having sat through most of the meeting (ministries report was last up) we were presented to presbytery. I at least thought we'd have to go forward and be "welcomed" by the moderator. No - we just were asked to stand up. That was it. No questions, no fan fair, nothing.

    I knew this was a procedural thing and it was unlikely the ministries council's decision would be questioned, but I thought there would be a little more "excitement". I suppose that's what comes when the item is near the end and everyone just wants to go home.

    I had to leg it pretty sharpish after the meeting. It didn't finish till after nine and if I'm not home by 9:30 I turn into a pumpkin! A couple of members of presbytery did congratulate me as I left, which was nice.

    So, looks like I am now, officially, a candidate in training for the ministry of word and sacrament. It's just a pity the training probably won't begin until next year, due to the lack of a uni place. Ne'er mind, these things are all meant. It's all part of God's plan for me, that I am sure of.

    Monday, 21 June 2010

    Can't sing, won't sing

    When I was little, my terrible singing was legendary. I'd like to have thought I was a bit like Eric Morecambe in the classic Morecambe and Wise with Andre Previn sketch "all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order, but that would have implied some right notes. Holding a tune in a bucket would have been a major achievement!!!

    I always learnt all the words for the sings (or hymns) that the Sunday school, school class or drama group were preforming. And I had (and still do) have the voice to ensure those at the back of the hall or church can hear me. But, I'm sure they rather I wouldn't have!!!

    It got to the stage, where the class was to preform a song for end of term, say, the teacher would ask me to mime. As I knew the words, I was also to prompt those who'd forgotten. My quiet wasn't that quiet, I have to admit!!!

    Even at uni, my singing was still appalling. Some good friends of mine would kill "Caravan of Love" by the House Martins. Others living in the block must have thought we were strangling a cat, or something!!!

    Yet, latterly, somethings odds stated. As I recall, it first happened 4 years ago, at a good friend's wedding (incidentally, a fellow caravan of lover). Another one of the "Caravan of Love" chorus turned to me after the service and said "when did you learn to sing like that?" - harking back to the cat's choir. I didn't think things had changed, and also put it down to hymns I'd known since I was wee.

    Then, when I first visited the church where I did my second period of co-ordinated field assessment, a member of the congregation told me "What a braw voice you have". When I told my Mum this she laughed and said "they must be tone deaf".

    Then, yesterday, I was helping the older group at young church. Initially, they were practicing the hymn they will be singing at next Sunday's service. I commented I'd better not join in, as I'd distract them. My minister, who'd come out to play for us (her husband, the other minister, was leading worship) and who had also been sitting in front of me during the start of the service said "why do you always say things like that. I was listening to you during the hymns and you have a really nice voice".

    Good grief, if that's the case, where has it come from. I could probably get signed affidavits from multiple people countering my minister's claims. I suspect, with enough years of practice anyone can become good (or at least reasonable) at almost anything. Or maybe, just maybe, this is another gift from God. Now, that would be amazing.

    Wednesday, 16 June 2010

    In training

    Okay, we've got a mic stand, a chair, a person standing, a cuddly toy and...a dog. Yes, that is a dog in church!

    A member of my home church is a puppy walker for guide dogs. The dog is a wee smasher and loved by the congregation - young and old. Certainly an unusual sight in a church, but as part of the training, the dog has to be exposed to as many environments as possible. Why not church?

    I think she realised she was being watched when Spot snapped this one, though:

    After the service, one of the congregation,, who has learning difficulties, tried to give the dog a biscuit and I explained she couldn't get human biscuits - only dog ones. He then gave the biscuit to Spot...I wonder what that says???!!!

    Thursday, 10 June 2010

    Feeling a little drained

    I've been giving blood tonight. According to the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service (SBTS), it was my 63rd donation.

    When you give blood in the UK, you don't get paid. It's illegal and, I would say, a little immortal. That's just by-the-by, though. As a little thank you, SBTS gives donors little pin badges after 10, 25, 50 and 100 donations.

    I should have received my award for 50 donations a while ago now, but the nurses at the donor sessions hadn't mentioned it and I wasn't that fussed. I don't give for awards. I give because I can and have the attitude of  I'd expect there to be blood products available should my friends, family or myself ever needed it. Also, my cousin had to have a blood transfusion at birth, due to the rhesus factor problem. If it weren't for blood donors I wouldn't have a cousin.

    As I was registering, the nurse brought up that fact I hadn't had my 50 donations award and that I deserve it. So, I accepted. Then I was invited to put off receiving my award until October, where I could go to Edinburgh city chambers for a cheese and wine reception. No thanks, that's not why I donate. She was a little surprised initially. I think she though I was being modest. When it became apparent I was serious I got a "good on ya"!

    So, that got me to thinking, how many times do people do things for recognition of their peers, rather than be totally altruistic? There are several people I work with have entered the Race for life in Edinburgh on Sunday. Now, I am in no way taking away from people entering organised events to raise funds for such a good cause. After all 1 in 3 people will develop cancer at some point in their lives, but the way some people go o about it, it strikes me as more a social gathering with their pals and no one in the social circle wants to say "no, I don't want to do it", as it will make them look bad

    And there's Cancer Research's decision last year to put out of "smaller" Race for life events, such as in Dumfries, because "We owe it to our participants and supporters to ensure that we raise as much money as possible in the most cost-efficient way. For this reason we have taken the difficult decision to reduce the number of smaller Race for Life events across the UK, including Race for Life at Dumfries, and increase the number of places available at bigger events". So, Dumfries doesn't make enough money for Cancer research - one of the biggest and best funded charities in the country! Yet the local Rotary Club now organises a similar event (which men can enter - shock horror!). (That's just my wee rant, though).

    I used to get a hard time at my work for being a "Sunday" Christian, as I didn't brag about the things I did outwith work for my church and other. If could have been so easy to put those people straight, but I would have lost some of my integrity. After all, it's God who judges what I do, not people (just as well, really!). A lot of people don't understand this, but I'm just doing what Jesus taught. Or I at least try to. I don't always get it right.

    Wednesday, 9 June 2010

    Steps towards being "official"

    Although I have had the nod from ministries council, regarding my call to ministry, in order to officially become a candidate in training for the ministry of word and sacrament my local presbytery has to approve it (there's probably lots of official language and a proper legal term, I know). So, I let the presbytery clerk know I had been accepted and she passed my details onto the convener of ministries committee in my presbytery.

    It is his responsibility to bring the matter regarding my candidacy to presbytery and, with that in mind, we met for a cuppa last night. The discussion was just a "get to know you" session, as neither of us have met before. I also learnt there is another person in the presbytery who has also been recently accepted for ministry training. It'll be good to meet them too, though they will be starting training this year as they have a uni place.

    One interesting thing the convener asked was if I had sufficient pastoral support. I mentioned my ministers, but apparently it's better if it's not them. I also mentioned my last local assessor, who has already said she'd be really happy to meet me to chat, if I needed. If I needed more, I'll just shout. I've gotten over my slight reticence to ask for help - I can be a little too independent!

    So, in 2 weeks time presbytery should be "rubber stamping" 121's decision. I hope so anyway. As Spot says, they'd need a very good reason over my life and doctrine to knock me back.

    Monday, 7 June 2010

    A bit disappointing

    Two Sundays in a row now, the male half of my home church's ministry team had led worship, but I'm not convinced a proper act of worship on either occasion. Yes, we had all the components - hymns, prayers, bible readings, children's address, a "sermon" - yet I didn't feel I was worshiping God, but listening to reports and rants. Let me explain...

    Last Sunday, the minister told us of things which had happened at General Assembly. Yes, it's good congregations are told what goes on there and made aware of the (potential) impact on them, whether short or long term. But there are much better and more appropriate channels to do that. A post on the church website and an article for the magazine, for example.

    Yesterday, he talked about the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla. It almost felt as though he "twisted" the lectionary to talk about this issue. Again, I feel passionately about this subject, so it's not apathy or lack of understanding which may have clouded my view. With this matter, I just don't feel he approached the matter very well, which made the service seem disjointed. Usually the children's address is a good opener and link into the rest of the service. Yesterday, that was not the case.

    Tellingly, Spot asked what I'd got out of the service. I told him the hymns were good, but nothing really. Not a good sign. Worse, though, Spot actually fell asleep during the service. That's really not like him, especially as he was also running the projector.

    Now, I wonder if I should approach the minister about this? I know there's got to be a way where he can challenge and inform the congregation about important matters, locally, nationally and internationally, but still led worship rather than just rant or inform. Maybe I should persuade him to set up a blog for matters like this, with a link from the church website? One thing I do know is he likes constructive criticism and will listen to it. I just hope it's not just Spot and I who feel like this and, if I do talk to the minister about this, I am speaking for the congregation.