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!