Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas

The final candle of the advent wreath is lit. God is with us.

Merry Christmas. May there be every blessing on all those you love.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Looking back

I've been looking back at this blog and reflecting on what I've done and learnt both on placement and uni and I can't believe how much I've covered. And I still feel a little squeaky, green and naive. Still, it's only the first placement and I need to remember there are 4 for a reason, yet not get complacent with that too.

Looking back, I see I am getting this integrated thing. I understand how everything (and I really do mean everything) interlinks. It's amazing how something I've just been taught at uni comes up at placement or vice versa. Then, on placement where does pastoral care end and mission begin, say. Again, it's all interconnected and I do find it a wee bit strange that there are some of the candidates which are concentrating on one aspect. Don't get me wrong, I know I have particular interests, gifts etc, but I wouldn't say I am going to have a pastoral ministry - I would argue by doing that well, mission and evangelism will arise without having to think about it.

I know I'm a wee bit naive with some things and I hope I retain that. Sometimes being too aware of things can be quite negative, as an open mind isn't necessarily there, if you get what I mean.

I am so pleased I decided to do my first placement at Eagleside, despite my initial reservations. My supervisor is extremely supportive and willing to let me try (and even fail), in order I grow, learn and understand. The congregation, too, have been very supportive and I am very grateful for that too. I think it helps they often have trainees and enquirers.

Well, I just can't believe how quickly this first semester and first half of the first placement has passed. And how much I am, overall, enjoying it, despite some of the challenges and feelings of wondering who I think I am doing this ministry thing. That's kinda cool, as it keeps me in check.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Two blue lines

St Matthew's church in Auckland, New Zealand, has a habit of putting offensive posters outside their church for Advent. This years one has been more controversial than usual and have invoked much anger, including vandalism.

Personally, I have no problem with it. Even though it was in faith Mary accepted her call to bear God's son, I suspect the reality of that would still have come at a surprise. What to tell Joseph and her parents? What would the community think? Will she survive pregnancy and childbirth?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Do you feel undermined?

I wonder if there are full-time ministry candidates (or enquirers) out there who find those training for ordained local ministry (OLM) a threat which undermines their ministry. If there are, it makes me sad. Not just because Spot is undertaking the enquiry process for this, but there may be many, many reasons a person feels called to minister in the more flexible way the OLM allows. Also, there is currently an age limit on those beginning training for the full-time ministry, as they must be no more than 55 when they finish their training. As a call can come at any age, it doesn't seem right to me that those above (or close to) 55 would be excluded from undertaking a formal ministry in the Kirk. If it is God's call who are we to contradict that call?

I know there may be some (and I would very much believe they are a very small minority) of those entering OLM training (or enquiry) who want the Reverend title for self-satisfaction, but I'd imagine if there are people with that mindset in OLM training, there may be people entering full-time ministry with that mindset. Given how thorough the assessment program is, it will weed out almost all of the people doing it for the "wrong" reasons. I know there are those who may manipulate the system, but they will be found out at some point. God will sort them out, I'm sure. Again, though, who are we to undermine a person's call? Examine and test it, yes. Dismiss it because that person cannot be full-time for whatever reason - no.

I know if there was an OLM in whichever presbytery I go I would love to think I could use their skills and gifts for God's kingdom where I minister (if that was appropriate). I think that would complement my call, not undermine it. Personally, I think it would be great if every presbytery could have an OLM and was able to use them for the gift they have to share. If I can play a small part in helping that I would feel very privileged.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Christmas Songs

The other day, I was asked what my favourite Christmas song was. And here it is...

Just got to love the '80s big hair, baggy shirt and leggings...

But my favourite Christmas number one, from 1986, is this:

Featuring a young Fatboy Slim. The sentiment's what I like about this one. Wouldn't it be great if there was a Caravan of Love for all?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


I don't do X Factor. I think it's exploitative and degrading for the contestants. Among other things. But, now there's Top of the Pops, it's the place where the big stars in pop perform as it's really the only showcase there is (pop doesn't seem to understand the net...).

So, to my dismay I read Leona Lewis (about the only X Factor winner who still has a career - Susan Boyle didn't win!) was covering Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt". Made worse by the fact it's not a new interpretation or re-hash of the original, but a cover of a cover. The cover being the one by Johnny Cash. A cover regarded as so good (and so moving) even Trent Reznor - the writer - regards as the definitive version and no loner his.

So, just because I can, I am a fan of the Man in Black and as two fingers to X factor I will be buying Johnny Cash's version as part of the campaign to get it to get it to number one (rather than the X factor winners or Leona Lewis' version).

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Please help me pass!

Today was the start of my exams. This morning was spent going over my revision. Initially there was the panic as I looked and thought I can't remember this, but as I went through it, it all came back to me and I became more happy I did actually have a clue. I know I've put in the work, but it's letting the examiner know I have that's the problem.

Before the exam I prayed "God, you called me to ministry. I need to get a degree to do this, so help me pass my exams. Thank you". I hope he was listening (I know he always does, but the answers aren't always the ones I want, though always what I need).

Sitting down for the exam was weird. I never thought I'd be back doing this. But I looked at the paper and saw questions that I not only understood, but knew I could answer reasonably well. And I think I have. Whatever happens, I'd be very surprised if I fail and everything else is a bonus.

Need to do some more study before the next exam.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Carols and readings

It was a bit of a busy old day yesterday. Well, not that busy, but busy enough.

I was asked to led the prayers of intercession for the main service. As I was in the middle of studying for my forthcoming exams, I adapted a prayer I found online, rather than write one from scratch. Can't remember where from, but it tied in with the theme (John the Baptist). I feel I delivered it well and I received positive feedback. So, it looks like it stuck a chord, which I suppose shows the Holy Spirit at work.

In the afternoon, there was a service of carols and readings - MC'd by yours truly. I was a wee bit daunted by this, as it's  not something I've ever been involved with and I'd received mixed information on the format. So, me being me, I made it up.

The readings were all from the bible and followed the incarnation narrative of the gospels. For Eagleside, I have now discovered, that was unusual, but they appreciated it and it was well received.

The carols. Well, some people had said to just come up with my idea of favourite carols, others said to ask the people coming to the service for their thoughts. In the end, the later method was adopted, from a shortlist (not my own, but one Eagleside had used before). With 5 minutes to go before the start, these were put into a rough order and passed to the organist.

Then, I winged the rest of the service. And, amazingly, it all came together and worked well. Which is pretty cool.

One thing I should have done was after the last carol have a sort of benediction or blessing-type thing, but my mind went blank. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now.

Reactions were very good from the feedback I've received. Interestingly, a couple of people mentioned how they admire my confidence - if only they could see the paddling under the water like a swan thing which was going on. Thank God for the power of the Holy Spirit. I think it's maybe the nerves which stops confidence becoming cockiness and I'd never want that to happen.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Switch the Christmas lights on!

I saw this on Fail Blog and, although probably highly inappropriate for a Christian blog, just had to share...

Now, that brings the real meaning of Christmas home, doesn't it ;-)

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Learning by my mistakes

I always used to think I was okay at children's addresses. Still a work in progress, but (looking to the plant world for inspiration) good stock on which to grow and graft things. Now, I'm not too sure.

I've now lead the children's address at Eagleside twice now. There the children are primarily quite young, with a few older children (though I think they are all primary school aged). As with many churches, the numbers vary Sunday by Sunday, with the most I've seen in my time there being around 10.

This makes it quite challenging, along with me going in quite cold, as far as those children are concerned. Although I have been involved in worship most Sundays since beginning my placement, it has generally been after the children have left, so I am the weird woman talking to them once in a blue moon.

I usually try to used a physical object or a video clip to get things going. Hopefully that gets and holds their attention. From the body language both times, that seems to be the case, so that's positive. My problem, though, has been transferring from that illustration to the "God message", so to speak. That I'm struggling with and I wish I could get to the bottom of why.

I think it's a combination of not having full notes (don't want to just read to the children, but need somewhere to go from) and although I have it clear in my head (or at least I think I do) when those wee faces look at me, but don't speak I get in a tizz and fluster myself and don't make my point very clear. Perhaps, too, I'm trying to go too deep and am relying on the children having knowledge from their young church time they don't actually seem to have.

I think I need to keep it more simple. Today was about John  the Baptist and I think I should have just told a story about him and left it at that, rather than trying to link it to a "be excellent to each other" message. But then I don't want to patronise the children either. Mmmh, more practice needed me thinks.

On a positive note, a member of the congregation (who I think was a visitor) was asking how long it was since I had started training. I explained it Eagleside was my first placement and I'd been there 10 weeks. He thought I was doing very well for someone who was less than 3 months into my training. I thanked him kindly. I hadn't thought of it like that, and I was getting a bit overawed by all the stuff I'll need to experience before I (God willing) get my own charge. That gentleman's comments certainly put things in perspective and reminded me of a comment a good friend had made to me a few weeks back - "Don't beat yourself up too much. It's a lot to take in and it will be challenging, but that's why it's years of training and you know it's the right path for you". How true. And I need to learn and take heed of my own advise that we learn from our mistakes.

I hope this weakness can grow into a strength. Then the failures will have been the most beneficial.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

More Sunday thoughts

So, I've now listened to the recording of my sermon from Sunday and discussed it with my supervisor.

My feelings were I spoke clearly and well, but I sounded really boring to begin with. I just sound so slow, but that's where the clarity comes from. I did think I picked up a wee bit towards the end, but not that much. There were a couple of bits where I'd lost my chain of thought and there was a pause as I looked at mu notes. When given my critique to my supervisor, I concentrated on the negatives, but I'm Scottish and Presbyterian, so there's little hope for me being positive!!!

He thought it was very good, generally. It was difficult concepts to get across (and I could have avoided the lectionary). I did mention I thought I hadn't explained myself too well, but he reassured me by explaining in a congregation where I was established I would be able to explain background and ideas over a period of time, so the congregation would know were I was coming from. It would have made for an inappropriately long sermon if I'd tried that!

The other main comment from my supervisor was to try to get a bit more tonal range in my preaching, though he did say an individual doesn't realise how little range they have. Definitely something I'll need to work on and remember to get the balance right on too - I don't want to speed up at certain point so much that the clarity people really appreciate is lost. I also have to remember I've not much preaching experience and not to beat myself up, yet be realistic. In many ways, I think the Kirk should send all trainee ministers (and deacons and readers too) for acting lessons. That would help with sermons, me thinks, so long as we don't have to pretend to be trees!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Funeral Attire

As the weather begins to turn, my thoughts turn towards warm clothes. Now, I have my fair range of warm, sensible clothing. Mainly in bright blue. I like blue. But it's not the best type of warm coat to wear to a funeral.

I do have a good coat I have worn to funerals, but it wouldn't necessary be the most somber for someone involved in or leading the funeral. While it wouldn't be worn in a church or crem funeral, I know I'll need a coat for those times it's a graveside funeral.

The criteria are it has to be smart, classic, non-distracting. In black, charcoal grey or navy blue. It has to be at least mid-calf, to keep my wee legs warm and cosy. Really, you wouldn't think this would be too much to ask, especially as, if it's a really good coat, I don't mind making the financial investment.

Unfortunately, full-length coats aren't that easy to come by, though it has been mild and the shops don't really have many in. There's a lot of red coats, which are lovely but perhaps not the best for a funeral (I so wish they could be, but there's a time and a place and I acknowledge that is a rare funeral!). One shop I went to, when I explained why my requirements where so tight, was really helpful. It's a pity the coats I tried on were too long in the sleeve (and not of a price where I would consider getting them adjusted, though in the sales...). They did say there had been a run, with the change in the weather and they were waiting for more to come in. I might pop in again in the next couple of weeks.

Another shop I think thought I was making it up. All I can say is who would say they were after a full-length dark coat as they were training to be a minister as a wind-up? IMHO wind-ups have to be based on truth and, really, why would anyone make that up. Their coats didn't fit me - but I think I would have had to find the perfect coat before I would have considered buying there. Well done, you've lost a sale.

So, the hunt goes on. I did suggest to Spot I just get a duffel coat, but even I know it's not that smart and, frankly, I look about 5 years old in one (if a little taller). Pity, they are dead warm and practical, just how I like my winter clothing.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Preaching in Advent

I was preaching at Eagleside for the first time yesterday and I think it generally went well. The sermon was based around Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-35, which aren't exactly cosy, warm, friendly passages for the start of advent!

I ran with the image of God as a potter in Isaiah, shaping and moulding the Israelites into the people he had called them to be and how that still applies to people in the 21st century as much as it did when Isaiah was written. But we should always be prepared for Jesus return. I also put this into the context of the incarnation being irrevevant without Jesus' death and resurrection. Without that, he was a good and holy man, but humanity was not set free from the burden of sin and put right with God in and through that act. Depending how I feel, I may post the sermon some time in the future.

Anyway, I felt I presented well. I was nervous before (and during) preaching, but there's nothing new there. I feel I came across in an authoritative way, but not uncaring. I was clear and I think the pace was about right. There was one point where my voice broke as it very much was speaking to me as much as, I hope, it was speaking to the congregation. I had to pause there, to settle myself and I felt a bit awkward, but was reassured afterwards that only one person picked up on it and that was actually in a positive way, to my surprise.

After the service, many people commented how they have enjoyed it. I know people don't like to be negative, but I felt a genuine warmth and sincerity in their comments, especially as there were people making an effort how I haven't managed to speak to as yet (so may people, so little time). One comment which stood out of me was "I loved your use of imagary and how you put the readings onto the historical context. That really brought it home to me and you've definitly given me food for thought." Wow. That's pretty amazing! Another member, who has been very honest in his critisim of me thus far commented "If you are like that at this stage in your training, you will do well." Praise indeed and very humbling, knowing both that person's background, skills and experience in leading aspects of worship.

I think I might have got away with slightly less comprehensive notes, as for some parts I was barely referring to them. I know it's a comfort blanket sort of thing, but at least if my mind goes blank, they are there. Perhaps, for a shorter talk I may try bullet points and see how that goes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, even if trying that just lets me know never to try that again!

I'm fairly sure there were a couple of times where I may have not quite got my point across well. If I can get a chance to listen to the recording, I will get a clearer idea of how I sound to others and if I articulate my ideas well. I know I don't always do that in normal conversation, so it's unlikely that would never happen in a sermon.

Yet again, though, many people have commented on how clear confident a speaker I am. Some of there people have hearing problems, so I know how important it is to them they can hear. It's good I am still getting this feedback, I know there's a danger I could become complacaent and loose this ability. The confident bit, well, I do seem to be able to come across that way, but I'm like a swan - swiming for dear life underneath the waterline, trying to stay calm and collected.

Also, my singing voice was complemented (again). Perhaps God's trying to tell me something? Either way, it was quite a surprise to have this compliment as the person is a beautiful singer and, I have heard, has high standards. Perhaps I should begin believing in what others say about this. I think it may be useful to be a bit more comfident singing, as there my be times where I need to led the singing in an act of worship (I'm especially thinking of funerals here) and God is helping boast my confidence to allow me to do this when necessary, which is kinda cool.

Overall, it went well. I may post more after I've listened to the recording and got feedback from my supervisor. Either way, I need to learn how to keep the emotions in check, without becoming cold and detached. Better doing it in the context of preaching a sermon to a supportive congregation that many other situations. Maybe it's a practice thing or knowing my triggers. Either way, definitely something to learn and be ware of for next time.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The good and bad of praise bands

I must admit to not being a huge fan of praise bands. Unfortunately, I have experienced some bands where they are great musicians, but are not leading worship. It was a great gig, but I wasn't at a gig and they didn't get the balance right.

Other times, it has felt like the members of the band haven't actually vaguely rehearsed before worship or, worse, don't actually know what they are going to play as that will depend on "how the holy spirit moves them". While I believe fervently in the power of the holy spirit, I also believe the holy spirit works with a person's skills, intellect and talent. Gifts come from God, but God has placed them there in the first place...if you get what I mean!

Recently, I heard a version of "O come, O come Immanuel" which left me cold. For me, it's a pleading, reflective hymn, longing for God. This version was not like that.

Doesn't sound very melancoly to me. I did. however, also find this version. What a contrast and much more in keeping, I feel, with how the hymn should sound, especially in the context of the lyrics.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Small group discussion

Eagleside is running a course, based on Matthew's gospel, on Monday nights. As part of the course, the participants are being broken into smaller groups to explore aspects of presentations and their reading of the gospel.

Although I am not "officially" a leader in the course, I have noticed people are looking for me for guidance and the knowledge I am perceived to have. I find that a little daunting, humbling and uplifting all at the same time. I know it is because I am a trainee minister and I, rather naively, didn't think that would happen so soon. All good experience and quite eye opening of people's perceptions of those in ministry, even trainees.

One thing that is coming to light, at least for me, is I'm maybe not as bad at this small group thing as I think I am. I'm engaging with the group, but not dominating it, while letting everyone have their say. If anything, I'm maybe holding back as I want others to give their views.

I do need to learn a couple of things, though. How to get the quieter members of the group to engage, without feeling under pressure to speak. Also, how to manage members of the group who may dominate it, which would have a knock on affect for the quieter members the most. I think I need a wee bit of advice and guidance on this one, as practice makes perfect and now is the time to learn. I suppose one of the problems here is there is no leader in the small group and I don't want to impose this if it's not necessary. Again, am I being naive and all groups, even small informal ones need some sort of leadership?

Monday, 21 November 2011

Pea and ham, fae a chicken?

Yesterday, I was accused of being too young to remember this advert:

I could have kissed the person. And it gave me an excuse to post the video of a cultural reference for Scots of a certain age!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Before the day breaks

Between night and day

As I walk to uni of a morning, I cut through one of the many parks in Edinburgh. When I first started, it was daylight, but now it's dark and as I walk, the city wakes up.

While I head through the park, I see people driving cars and riding bikes wheeling their way to work; runners getting their exercise before they start work; workmen (not being sexist, not seen any women yet!) taking deliveries of building materials. All as I walk to uni.

The thing I like most about walking through the park are the sights and sounds. The car engines, the bike chains whizzing and whirring. And, in among this noise, as it's still early and there isn't many people around, the sound of the swans and geese and crows and blackbirds all getting ready for the day. Getting ready to live day by day, to have enough to get by on and worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes. To live like that, now that would be liberating. For if the birds are provided for, how much more are we?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Support networks

As part of my training, it's important I have support networks. Some have been formally put in place by 121. Others, are my friends and family. Guess which are more useful???

An offer of support, for me, is empty if it's not followed up by action when asked - and I don't ask for help maybe as often as I should. I have experienced this recently from a couple of these support networks. I eventually obtained the one thing I needed from on of these supports, but I am still waiting to be kept informed of what's going on by the other, despite repeatedly asking to be kept in the loop (a loop which revolves around, you've guessed it, facebook!).

Sorry this is a bit woolly, but it's necessary. I suppose it doesn't help I'm feeling a bit tired and could do without the various placement things I have to do this week. As a commenter said, there are time when in ministry I will feel like this and the challenge is to keep going.

I'll get a break from uni and placement at Christmas, though. At least the exams are before we break up. It'll fell weird not working over the Christmas holidays, as I have not done so for a very long time. What exactly do people do over Christmas and New Year that they can't do any other time of year? I need to find out so I know where to avoid!

Anyway, with God as my support, everything else is optional anyway.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Finding a balance

Between uni and placement, it could be very easy for me to not have time for the things I enjoy and to spend time with those who are important to me. With this in mind, I have made Saturdays sacrosanct. I feel, if I don't make sure I don't do training stuff that day, when do I have a day of rest? It's not like Sunday's really an option, as I am usually involved in some part of the worship.

Then, there's finding time to keep up with the housework. Boring, I know, but necessary. I'm not a housework fanatic, but like to do a little often. With the occasional half-hour here and hour there, that's when I try to squeeze those things in. One things for sure, ministry training certainly concentrates the mind in ensuring I use my time as effectively as possible. It's amazing how much can be done in half an hour if that's all the time I have!

Some weeks are easier than others. This week, I will be out 3 evenings and have placement commitments during the day in my day off uni. It probably won't go above my max 10 hours (in theory, though my supervisor does make sure I do stay within this), but it would be nice to actually see my husband. Looks like I'll be booking him in on Friday! How candidates with children cope, I have no idea.

In many ways, when things are scheduled is out of my hands; I am, after all, just the trainee minister. In ministry, I may have a little more say over when meetings are. And, if they are in the manse, I won't have to commute to them!

Despite the busyness, I know this is the right path for me and know if it was a free and easy ride I wouldn't really be learning anything, then I would land up completely unprepared for when I am on my own (God willing), in a parish with no one to fall back on.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

By donation

Something which really annoys me is when organisations run events or have entrance fees by donation, then state the "suggestion" on the advert. Sorry, but that's no longer a donation, but a charge. Is this to get around tax laws, as donations are treated differently? Also, is it so you can recover gift aid for the entrance fee, but having a "voluntary additional donation"? I experience this situation at a National Trust property once. I can't recall the entrance fee, but let's say it was £5. As a UK tax payer, they could recover the tax I had already paid in the entrance fee, but only if I "agreed" to pay £7 to enter the property - the £2 extra being my "voluntary donation". It didn't go down too well when I refused and I was told the £7 was the correct entrance charge - so why not just charge that?

I know suggested donations help smaller organisations cover there costs and budget better. And, generally, I don't object to this where it is done correctly. But don't have a cashier make it abundantly clear I have to pay the suggested donation. This may even put off some of the people that organisation confesses to serve, as they see the suggested donation as prohibitive, or it could reduce donations as people who may have given more feel that is no longer appropriate. What, really, is wrong with just by donation? Most people I know will be generally more generous as they try to compensate for the lack of charge. Go on, try it, I think the takings may even increase.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Challenge? What Challenge?

I've been feeling a bit over-whelmed and challenged with uni and placement stuff and have mentioned this to friends and colleagues. Their response has been a combination of "isn't it supposed to be challenging", "I get the impression you're not enjoying this placement" and "what is making it so challenging?".

And there's the rub. I don't know. I can't specifically put my finger on one or two things and say "It's X and Y". But maybe I'm not doing it right. Maybe I should be looking at what I find helps me grow and develop my ministry skills. There's a lot I can and will learn at Eagleside, from both my supervisor and the congregation. There's a lot to take in at uni, but the more I learn the more I realise how intertwined everything is and how helpful it will be at some point in my training and/or future ministry.

So, are these challenging thing? I'm beginning to think they aren't. I think I was struggling to get the balance right, get a decent routine and generally get used to me new role. Things are settling down (probably fatal last words!) and I feel much more open to and prepared for the learning opportunities which are coming my way.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Communion in the round

Communion was celebrated at Eagleside yesterday and I got a lot out of it. It felt an integrated part of the service, not "a tagged on the end because we do this 4 times a year in the Church of Scotland" feel to it. The sacrament was as much a part of the worship of God as the hymns and sermon. That isn't always the case.

The communion table was moved to be in the middle of the church, so all were sitting around it. The elements were distributed, with the elders being served after the congregation and the minister last. Then we all took the elements together once all were served. I thought that was brilliant and I wish more churches would do that (of course, that only works with those thimbles of wine the Kirk uses, not the common cup). To really impress me, the bread everyone got was the same. It may not have been the best bread in the world, but at least it was the same. As I have posted elsewhere, it is a bit of a sore point for me when the minister and elders get different bread from the rest of the congregation.

The sermon touched a nerve of mine. Much of what was said could have related directly to me and I wonder if that was the case. Obviously, I will discuss this with my supervisor, as it would be interesting to discuss the issues raised and, possibly, the rational behind his sermon. It did, in parts, make uncomfortable listening. Not necessarily for me, but given the content, it would not have been easy to listen to by some of the congregation.

I have noticed, my supervisor will tackle difficult issues in his sermons. I don't necessarily agree with his opinion, but respect he will do this. I hope this is something I can learn to do, where appropriate and in the context of the congregation I am leading and what is happening in the wider world.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Telling it like it is

I have a tendency of - and I am quoting feedback I have received from others here - "telling it like it is" and "making astute observations". The thing is, this can (and has) backfired on me. I'm especially thinking of my first period of co-ordinated field assessment, which my local assessor did not appreciate my style and I was a bit immature in my attitude.

It's part of me and I feel it's part of the reason God has called me to be a minister. It does come with some rough edges, which I am working on, though I am finding that a bit of a struggle. It's not an unwillingness to change, to blossom into the person God really wants me to be, but a concern I may become a very different person, completely different from the one God called. I also wonder what impact that change may have on my relationship with those most important to me. Hopefully, it will only be positive.

A bit of me wonders, though, if my forthrightness is a prophetic call. Now that terrifies me. But there's always a chance is this the intrinsic part of my nature God especially wants to use. Particularly in the light of this bible passage which has come up in various settings over the last couple of weeks:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
      for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
      that the blind will see,
   that the oppressed will be set free,
      and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come"

Originally spoken by Isaiah and used to mark the beginning of Jesus' mission at Luke 4:18 and 19. It has come up in my personal daily bible reading, in the New College communion service and at my placement church. I don't know how or why, but I feel God is telling me something and leading me down a path which will be very difficult. I'm sure he knows what he's doing and I trust I am up to the task.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Including all the children

As it had been a busy week placement wise last week (12 hours all in), I was not involved in the service on Sunday. This gave me the opportunity to observe the service – both those leading worship and the congregation.

After my children's address last week, my supervisor commented I have to think what would be relevant to a 6 year old and I think that's a fairly valid point as I may not have got that across too well last week, but other feedback I have received seemed to contradict this. I can't help but wonder how to make them relevant for older children too, as they could feel patronised or excluded.

I know it's a difficult balance to strike and may well be something where, from time to time, I will have to admit defeat. I asked my supervisor for advise on this and that's more or less what he said. I can see that and that's one of the reasons why I think children's addresses are among the hardest things in ministry.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The first contract

Over this week, my supervisor and I have been putting together my learning and serving covenant - basically the contract for my time at Eagleside. It was a lengthy process primarily as I don't know what I don't know, with this being my first placement and only the beginning of my training. My supervisor was very helpful in guiding me in some of the aspects which totally bewildered me.

At the end of the form, there was a section for special interests. The ones I have put down are a bit vague and woolly - use of audio-visual in worship and something else which I can't really remember. Partly, it's I'm aware I have 3 placements and probation to cover the areas I want to explore, partly I don't want to take on too much this placement.

I suppose that's maybe wimping out a bit. But I have plenty time (though I suspect it will fly past!) and need to develop those skills as I am interested in them and I know I need a gentle start to training. I'm sure over the course of this an the other placements, other special interests will come to light or I will know there are things I need to explore. I may even find that in this placement I explore things I'd never even thought of and be better prepared as a result.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

We've got Jesus

One of the courses I am taking is theology (mmmh, wonder why I might have to study that...). We've just had a change of lecturer and it's great. We've got Jesus now. And they are a fabby lecturer - we're all understanding it now, though it is a slightly different area that's being looked at (I think; I hope!).

An analogy they used yesterday was Jesus galloping along on his horse and rescuing humanity. And what entered my head? This:

Which did leave the song in my head for the rest of the day. More worryingly, though, was I knew it was Christmas number 1 in 1968 off the top of my head!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Star dust

As I was walking through Holyrood Park this morning, it was still dark o'clock. As it was a clear morning, in the sky I saw the stars rising above Arthur's Seat and thought wow.

Around 4.5 billion years ago, a star began forming from a cloud of dust, which had been formed from the death of another star. As the star formed, and gravity started to act, the dust cloud swirled around this new star, condensed and formed the planets around that star, bringing our solar system into being. So I and all people are made from star dust. Now, that's pretty cool.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

I hate being late

Let's be frank. Yesterday was a shit day. Very busy, which I don't mind, but let down by poor time management, which I had little control over.

I observed a funeral, which was strange as it was a funeral where I did not know the person, though in ministry I'll have to get used to that. It did allow me to think about the service in ways I couldn't if I was emotionally involved, though it wasn't especially different from my expectations of a church funeral. After, I discussed it with my supervisor, as he knew the person well, and talked over the differing issues of knowing and not knowing the individuals we are called to serve, in this way.

That discussion took place while we were finishing off my paperwork for 121. Which started 20 minutes late - grrr. I know I need to find away of ensuring meetings are timeous as I'm aware if I don't get this sorted now I'll have problems later. I was also too polite, as I knew I needed to leave Eagleside promptly, as something urgent had cropped up for me, but didn't say anything and the meeting went on longer than I would have liked. So, in that instance, the time management was partly my issue too. I suppose I need to work out an exit strategy. Practice on my supervisor and, hopefully, when I am doing visits and have to be somewhere else I've already got that sorted.

Then, to make a busy day even busier, I had MTN (ministry training network) to rush off too. My day had been planned around this, as I knew I wouldn't be able to have tea, so had a large lunch. I was getting a lift from another member of the group. I waited. And I waited. And I waited. They didn't call and, unfortunately, I don't have their number. Eventually, I thought they weren't coming and I didn't have my own transport, but just as I had, they turned up. A mad dash to MTN  and we were only 25 minutes late.

MTN itself was good. It was great to meet with fellow candidates for the first time since conference and share experiences and thoughts, though the facilitator kept mentioning things which the group discussed the year before and the new members felt a little excluded. The main thing I picked up at MTN, though, was in the discussion, there wasn't much mention of God or Jesus. Should I be worried about this?

So, the lesson for the day - time management isn't entirely out of my hands. And don't rely on a lift without making sure the person picking me up knows where to go.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A wee bit nervous

I've been gently broken into the various aspects of worship at Eagleside. This is allowing me to get a feel for the church - it's congregation, sound system, style of worship etc - and for the congregation to get used to me and my voice. On Sunday, it was my turn on the children's address.

I've had the idea of this address for years, but it's never fitted in with the theme of any services I've been involved with since I came up with the idea. Basically, I described the safety features of my biker kit and used that as a lead into the armour of God.

Things which didn't go well.

I was nervous. I'm always nervous, but usually manage to cover it up to an extent - being behind the lectern or in the pulpit helps. That's not something you can do with children and they notice and I don't do bull with children (don't really do it at all, but especially not with children). They were nervous too, this strange woman with weird clothes.

I made the mistake of following the pattern that other worship leaders at Eagleside take, which is to sit on a chair, with the children at my feet. Didn't like that as I felt I was talking down to them. I do not talk down to children, literary or metaphorically. Next time,. I'll either sit on the floor with them or get them to sit on the front chairs so we're on a level.

I possibly didn't make the link from the motorbike clothing armour  to the armour of God that well. Need to think a bit more like a child on that and get into the mindset of the children at Eagleside. I suppose I'm a bit too used to children who get the connections themselves, but that may be down to what's going on in their Sunday School.

I spoke a wee bit faster than normal. Partly nervousness, partly forgetting though I was speaking to children, the congregation needs to hear. That said, Rebecca who is deaf, heard it all. I do need to remember to slow the pace for the grown-ups, though.

Things which went well:

I held their attention. They were interacting and giving of positive listening. This was confirmed by a primary teacher in the congregation, who mentioned how impressed she was with my being able to hold their attention and the imagery I used. That was a great boost.

The message worked well and tried on with the service as a whole. I can't stand when that doesn't happen.

I didn't ramble on and on. I realised when it was time to stop and I did so. I'm glad nerves didn't make me ramble on too much and need rescued!

My coolness factor with the children has gone up. Most children think motorbikes are cool. Not sure how the parents react...

So, I need to be aware of this and try to find my way of presenting children's addresses, rather than following the style in the placement. After all, I am supposed to be finding my style. Fortunately, my supervisor is not only happy I do that be positively encouraging me. It also helps Eagleside has a lot of students at varying stages in training and enquiry, so they are used to new things. Now is the time to try.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


I heard this on the radio this morning. It's one of my favourite songs as it simply expresses so much.


Friday, 21 October 2011

Being where people are

While in the pub this afternoon (I know, this student life is so hard) my friend and I started talking about pastoral care. Well, actually, it began about smoking and sort of developed from there.

I hate smoking. Hate may be a strong word, but that is how I feel. I really vociferous detain of smoking. Not helped by the fact, by non-smoking Great Uncle died of lung cancer, caused due to passive smoking. During the 6 months he took to die I was not allowed to visit him. In retrospect, I'm glad, but it was very difficult at the time, as I was very close to him.

So, as my friend and I were talking, I mentioned how I would struggle with pastoral care where a life-long smoker was suffering from lung cancer. If fact, I would struggle no matter what was wrong if they were smoking while I was there. And then I started talking about my Mum (there is a connection, honest!).

My Mum probably dislikes smoking more than I do, but she had to watch her Uncle die and have every breath snatched from him. Yet, in her work as a care worker, she has had to help the people she works with smoke. She has been able to set aside her issues with smoking to meet the care needs of those people and treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.

So that is what I have to learn. To set my own feelings aside and be with a person where they are and where they need me to walk with them, as Christ would. I'm not saying it'll be easy, but I must do this. Smoking is an example of struggles, but there are many, many more I will have to deal with and they, no doubt, will be much more challenging.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Future ministry

Okay, so it's a long way off until I am ordained (God willing) an actually a minister, but what is my "vision" is something which has been cropping up.

(To be honest, I don't really have one, bar a combination of leather jackets and dog collars, but only with a red clerical shirt. Maybe even on a motorbike, as bikers can be Christians too!)

A while ago, a friend of mine suggested me eventually becoming a military chaplain. The scary thing is, I haven't ruled it out. Even after the talk at my first candidates' conference from a RAF chaplain, that didn't put me off. But I know they probably wouldn't take me on medical grounds.

Quite a challenge for a confirmed pacifist who was brought up in a house where her uncle should have done national service, but elected to work down the pits as "why should I fight for my country when I cannot vote for the politicians who would send me to war". At the time, voting age was 21.

Somehow, if that's where God needs me to go then he'll have the plan to send me. But maybe it's not me, the idea is just for me to write about it, to get others thinking about it. Whatever the plan is, it's God's and that's what I should focus on.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Remembering how I used to speak

Something which concerns me with all this learning is, after 3 years of academia, I can no longer speak "normal" (those who know me would question if that is a skill I currently have!).

As I learn more about who, for whom, where and why the bible was written, how Christianity spread and  theology I'm moving away from the known into the unknown, in terms of my own learning. I am also moving away from the assumptions I may have made about bible passages or differing theologies to mine, which were based in ignorance. More so, and this is the concern in terms of hands-on ministry, is I am moving away from what the person in the pews knows.

Now, that's not a bad thing. As a minister, I will be the teaching elder and I can't do that if I don't know what I am talking about. But, what if I make assumptions on the congregations knowledge and patronise them or forget what I didn't know before I entered academia and neglect to paint the picture, as it's become too obvious for me and I've forgotten they won't know that.

Mmmh, need to try to remember what I don't know now and bare that in mind throughout this process and into the future. I suppose that's where the training comes into play. Learn from the supervisors and congregations I will be placed with. Listen to criticism, good and bad, and used that to grow and communicate effectively.

That's it. Effective communication. I need to ensure, all through training and (God willing) a parish I do that. I try to modify my style to the audience, for want of a better word, and find a way which fits with who they and I am.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Switching off

I've been very tired of late. It's a combination of the "nights fair drawin' in" as we say in Scotland, getting up about 1.5-2 hours earlier than I have become used to, using parts of my brain which have been under used for years and placement stuff. What hasn't been helping, though, is me not switching off from it.

I'm trying to have that Saturdays are my time. No uni work, no placement time, just time for me. I feel it's important to set this early on so I do make sure I don't spend all my time on the job. But on Saturday there, I just have verbal diarrhoea recounting the week, pretty much verbatim (I have a spookily good talent at doing this!). I know spotthegerbil is interested, but my constantly talking about the events isn't good for me either.

So, I need to find a way of putting uni and placement things to one side, at least for one day a week. I know it won't be easy - at the end of the day this is very personal, both for me and the people I will pastorally care for. It's not like a pile of paperwork where it'll still be there in the morning and no-one will be affected.

Yesterday, I did decide not to look at blogs or talk uni and I felt better for it. I think doing that on Saturdays may help. And I think asking for advise, from fellow candidates and my supervisor, will give me some pointers.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Stop and listen

A couple of years ago, spotthegerbil and I were in York. Sitting having a cuppa watching the world go by and this guy walked past with a trolley containing an amp and various other electronic music-related items. I commented something along the lines of "He looks like he's the roadie from hell who's just making his way him from last night's gig". How wrong was I. Ed Alleyne-Johnson is AMAZING!

We sat and listened to him for ages - maybe an hour or so. As we listened, many, many people just stopped and listened. No matter what he was playing and there was a great variety of musical styles. Which goes to prove two things. Don't judge a book by its cover and no matter what someone is doing, if they are good and passionate about it, people will stop and listen. I hope I can be as a good a Christian as this guy is a violinist!

And here's one for the guitarists.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bike Parking

So there spotthegerbil and I were, out for a run on the 'wing. Just a wee bit of of a jolly along the Fife coast and up to St Andrews.

In St Andrews two weird things happen. Firstly, we're looking for parking. As we head along the main street, there's a group of Goldwings parked up and waving us across emphatically. Turns out they were raising money for the cancer research shop they were parked in front of (while smoking, oh the irony) and thought we were there for that. No problem joining in, it added to the display and allowed us to meet new people.

Secondly, we were sent into the shop for a cuppa (not bad, for parking a bike outside - must remember to do this more often!). Chatting to the manager of the shop, who we'd never met before, she asked what we did. Well, after I told her I was training to be a minister, her reaction was amazing - "looking at you I can just see that" - and so sincere. Wow. Yet again, support and encouragement on strange and unusual places. Just proves, God speaks through many people we encounter everyday. Sometimes more obviously than others, but always saying what we need when we need it. Now, that's pretty cool!

Friday, 14 October 2011

RIP Dennis Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie has died. Yes, you may be wondering who he was, but he changed the world too. Somehow I don't think as many people will comment on his contribution to technology as much as someone else who died recently. Such a same, but that seems to be the way of things in the celebrity culture we live in.

But maybe it's better to be respected by your peers than the general public, as your peers at least know what you did and don't just see the "personality".

Thursday, 13 October 2011

All sorted

Following on from yesterday's post, the issue in communication with the group I'm a member of is sorted. Yes, I was annoyed, but got a sincere apology (which did make me a wee bit guilty) and it's fixed. No hard feelings and I'm looking forward to being more involved in the group.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Don't rely on it

Now, despite my Facebook reservations, I generally think social media is a great and useful tool. I use Blogger (obviously), Youtube, Picasa, Flickr, Twitter and online forums. I have found them a great way of getting and sharing info, being entertained and saving money.

What I don't like about social media is when others rely on it too much. Not for their own personal amusement - what they do in their own time is their business - but for group communication. I know of a group where all their meetings and contacts are published on Facebook, so if you're not on Facebook, tough. I kid you not as I am pretty much experiencing this first hand at the moment and I am not the only one affected. Not exactly very inclusive, especially given the nature of the group.

Spotthegerbil has challenged me to come up with a solution for this problem, though I'm not that interested as it;s a group I have to be a member of. Given their current attitude about keeping non-Facebook member in the loop, I don't think I'd choose to be a part of it. Having said this, I would ensure all in the group received regular emails. I might even set up a forum for that group and use that as an additional resource. But "everyone" uses Facebook because it's easier.

Glad I got that off my chest. Hopefully something will change, though I am not holding my breath.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Cake or death?

There's a YouTube video I love. Church of Scotland could so easily be swapped for Church of England. The stop motion animation is brilliant, as is Eddie Lizard, who I think is a bit of a genius. And eventually I will tell you about it in conversation. I like cake.

This is another genius one. I find it hysterical and I've never even seen Star Wars! And I have never looked at penne arrabiata quite the same way since I first saw this!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Sharing the peace

I'd like to start with saying I am not as bad as Mrs Beamish. Shaking hands is fine. I've no problem with that and, in fact, I am more likely than a lot of people to shake hands with others when I am first introduced. It's a wee bit old-fashioned, but I think it's polite.

What I don't like is people I barely knowing hugging me. Please, do you really have to pounce on me and pull me into an embrace when we are sharing the peace during communion? Really, you don't. I don't even know your surname and you are invading my personal space (NB I am trying not to use upper case here, as I do want to shout this).

When did hugging become so common? And with people who barely know one another. Who don't know if the person they are forcing (and I do mean it as strongly as that) into a situation they find exceptionally uncomfortable. Shaking hands can be a sincere, warm sign of affection but still maintains the dignity of the person you are shaking hands with. It's very unlikely people will feel uncomfortable with hand shaking across ages, genders and sexes. Lunging in for the hug when a hand shake ifs offered is just bad manners in my book as it has put me in an awkward and difficult situation, as I don't want to offend, but I don't want to hug either.

No offense, but don't hug me. Not unless you really know me (though if you read this, you know a lot about me). Then again, if you knew me, you would know I'm not a hugger, feel uncomfortable hugging in general and would respect that. Imposing your hugging on someone who isn't tactile and you don't know them well enough to even know that just isn't.

Besides, we're sharing the peace during communion. That's supposed to be for all in the group. So, by hugging some people and only shaking hands with others (or ignoring them all together), what kind of signal are you sending out? The peace is bigger and better for those I know and like, but everyone else can get the insincere version? At least I go for equality by treating everyone the same in the peace sharing. Okay, it's driven by my personality, but surely it's a good skill for a trainee minister?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

He changed the world

Following Steve Jobs' death, this video has been doing the rounds. Whether or not you like Apple products, there's little denying Apple have changed computing and music in ways barely imaginable even 10 years ago. But that's not why I posted this video. I was amazed by Mr Job's modesty and wise advise.

How often have things not worked out the way I would have wanted them at the time, but when I look back, they've worked out perfectly? Too many times to recall. How often did I get up to colour in of a morning and, if I'd asked the question "Is what you are going today what you want to do?", I would have said no? Too many times to recall. Yet it was that yearning to do something worthwhile which eventually forced me to follow my call.

And here I am , living the dream so to speak. Using technology which was begun by Apple, in Steve Jobs' parent's garage. All the dots connect all over the world in brilliant ways. Now, if that isn't the work of God, then it's just coincidence. But I don't believe in coincidence.


There's a wedding at Eagleside this weekend and I observed the rehearsal the other day. It wasn't exactly what I expected and I have been to a couple. What I was expecting was the basic walking through of the process, where people would stand/sit, quick run-through of the vows and a practice of the readings (if appropriate).

What I didn't expect was my supervisor to sermonise over the vows and married life. FOR 45 MINUTES.

He explained the vows and then gave his opinion on what they meant. Now, maybe it's just me, but I would have thought this is something he would have discussed and gone over with the couple before now. I didn't feel the rehearsal was the right time and place for it. Secondly, some of the explanation was necessary and I didn't disagree with, until my supervisor began very much giving his opinion on marriage and how it should be run. Not only did I feel this was an inappropriate time for that, it seemed his opinion and how it works for him and his wife. Also, much of what he said felt like a personal slight on my marriage, even though the sermon was not aimed at me.

Take his opinion on arguments. He thinks couples should argue and "finds it disturbing to learn of married couples who never argue". Well, spot and I don't. If there's something we need to talk about we do. Like mature grown-ups (hard to believe, I know). That's not arguing. It's talking. For me, there is a huge difference.

Then his opinion on telling your other half that you love them. As far as he was concerned, it should be used sparingly as he thought couples who did that a lot only did it to cover-up insecurities. Me thinks someone may be projecting their own opinions on others. Again, he won't like the fact spot and I do tell each other that regularly. It's not a replacement for showing we love each other, but part of it. I do think others see our love for each other without us being all gushy.

We had a chat after the rehearsal and I tried to get to the bottom of why much of what he said hadn't been covered before. And I didn't get to the bottom of it. He just went onto discuss how he used to run pre-marriage classes, but few people turned up and the rehearsal became the time to go over that. Knowing from others he can do that to see candidate's reactions, I'll need to try to get to the bottom of that eventually.

As for the argument and love thing, I was just a wee bit too angry to even begin to bring that up. I know I needed to leave that to one side and discuss it more fully at a later date. I need to get to the bottom of that one too, but that will be for another time. I know if I'd investigated that at the time I would have just projected my annoyance at the slight on my marriage rather than discuss the rational behind his advice. That would not have been especially constructive for anyone and would have made me look like a bit of an idiot.

So, what did I learn? To think before I discuss some matters. A bit of time and reflection gives a bit of prescriptive. To ensure the couple understand the vows before the wedding (and even have a choice). To try not to project my way of being married onto others; what works for spot and I may not work for others. To remember I am there to walk with others through good and bad. I am not a councillor and that is a different role which I am not trained for, but know where people could get counselling if necessary.

That's not too bad to start with!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Under pressure

Spotthegerbil and I are very blessed. We are happy and healthy. We have good friends and family. And God has done some pretty cool things for us. Very, very cool things.

As a trainee minister, I am lucky I don't need to attempt to hold down a part-time job while studying and doing placements. We also don't have children, so there's no childcare juggling to do too. Quite how my fellow trainees manage with such pressures, I do not know. I feel under enough pressure as it is!!!

I know most of the pressure comes from me. I was at Edinburgh uni many years ago and didn't cope there. I'm older and (hopefully) wiser now, but that feeling of not being good enough is always at the back of my mind. Even though I have a degree already and that proves I can do it.

There's just so much to learn and understand (or not, as theology is proving at the moment!!!). It's a challenging time and I know there are many, many rough edges which need to be chipped off me. And that may not be the easiest or most comfortable of processes for me of those I am will. Poor spot, I wonder if he knows what he's let himself in for?!

Monday, 3 October 2011

The start of the goldfish bowl

Although I was introduced to Eagleside last week, Sunday was the first day of my involvement in worship. I was leading the prayers of intercession and my supervisor "interviewed" me.

I thought he'd be a little better with his questioning, as he'd know what the congregation would like to know. As it worked out, all I told them was where I went to school and university. Then I had to explain the process of selection. All useful, I suppose, but I don't think any of the information really told the congregation anything about me. There are loads of people who went to the same schools and uni I did. Even did (and still do) the same job. Never mind, he must think that's what the congregation thinks is important!

I received a reasonable amount of positive feedback about the prayer. Generally well received. I'm sure there will be some who may not have liked it and I would like to hear from them. Hopefully they will have the confidence to disagree with me face-to-face, or even to my supervisor, that's fine too. Yet again, my clear voice has been noted (and I heard the volume being turned down on the PA system as I was talking!!!).

As part of the goldfish bowl which is ministry, I am getting my fair share already. There are members of the congregation with whom I have had dealings in one way and another in the past. Some of those dealing have not necessarily been especially positive. That said, they are in the past and I hope I have the grace and good manner to let bygones be bygones. I also hope and pray that will be the case with these individuals. Some were speaking to me on Sunday and waxing lyrical about how well I had done for myself and how pleased they were to see me take this step into ministry. This is wonderful to hear but I can't help feel some are being like this because of what I am doing rather than who I am and that concerns me.

I hope I can get to know the congregation and they me. I know there are challenging times ahead and I have much to learn. It won't be easy but I don't want to go anywhere else (and you can quote me on that when I do!). This is God's path and no-one said it would be easy. In many ways the harder it is the better my fitness for ministry will be when I am eventually let loose on a congregation myself.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

How to resolve all the Kirk's problems

I hope you're sitting comfortably. I have the one and only solution which should be used by the Kirk to resolve any issue.

It's a brilliant idea...

It's worth waiting for...

Anyone young or old can do this...

Everyone knows it....

I give you Rock, Paper, Scissors! The winner of the best of three goes with the looser (as the least should be first, naturally!).

The poor get poorer

While eating my breakfast this morning (the irony not being lost on me), I was reading an article about food poverty in the UK. Yes, in the UK. One of the wealthiest countries in the world, yet people the demand for food parcels is on the increase.

Reading this article, I was both lost for words and angry. Angry that a country which is so wealthy had so much poverty and inequality. And having the knowledge that the benefit changes the current UK government are enforcing will only increase poverty for those at the very bottom of the pile. Just so we, as a country, can reduce our debt. But at what cost? A cost too high for my liking, especially when the UK is the third biggest spender on military in the world. Is it just me or there something wrong with that image?

Read the articles and see what you think. Don't just take my word for it. And reflect, what can we do about this. As a Christian, I know I need to speak out against injustice and act to help those suffering poverty and exclusion. This is part of my actions, but I know I need to do more and I will try.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Battling Bad Science

First and foremost, I am a scientist. Okay, maybe not first, but I have a scientific brain. I like to know how and why things work and see claims backed up by evidence. So talks like this one appeal to me. Just goes to shown there's lies, dammed lies and statistics!!!

Friday, 30 September 2011

The offering shall now be uplifted

At Eagleside church (that being the church of my placement) they, like many churches, have encouraged their members to give via standing order, rather than into free-will offering envelopes. This is easier and cheaper for the church, as it saves counting and banking of the cash.

A problem they were having was members of the congregation, even if they gave via standing order, did not like not being seen to be putting something in the plate during the whip-round. Consequently, they were putting money in the plate to look good (the rant on this comes later; patience). So, they are now trialling the offering plate being available for donation prior to the start of the service. But that doesn't seem to be working and the giving has dropped.

Now, they are considering printing cards for member who give by standing order stating this is how they give, to be used when the offering is uplifted during the service. To look good.

I object to this on many, many levels

Firstly, it's not very biblical. I wonder what Jesus would say about people making a show about giving and not liking not being seen to put something in the plate? I give you Luke 18:9-14  as an example of his opinion on people making a show.

Secondly, what about someone going to that church either for the first time or after a change in circumstances, where they genuinely cannot afford anything or more than they have already given? What kind of impression does that give to the poor? How can the gospel be good news to the poor when a church does not teach against bragging and showing off in people's giving? Many questions, but I think you can grasp my opinion on this.

I know of a church where many people give by standing order and cards like this were used for a while. Some people used them (mainly the treasurer who's idea it was and who didn't like not showing he was giving), but most didn't as they didn't feel it was the right thing to do before God. Now, no one uses them. Consequently, visitors see regular church attender not putting anything in the plate and passing it over. Okay, they are giving in other ways (not always financially), but the visitors don't know that and don't feel obliged to. Sometimes they are more generous because of this.

What differs in these two churches? It's early days for me at Eagleside, but I think it's the teaching from the pulpit and the hearts of the people. I know that sounds harsh and I am trying not to judge (honest), but as soon as you do something for the show of it, you are doing it for the wrong reasons IMHO and not for the glory of God.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A wee bit overwhelmed

Uni has started, as has my placement. I should be thrilled, and I am to a certain extent, but I can't get past the feeling of being a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing.

There's so much to do at uni. So much to learn and read and understand and ponder. All the while thinking to myself "How can I apply this in ministry?". I also can't help but think I'm maybe starting to work too hard already. But maybe hard work now will pay dividends later on.

I know much of the hard work is a slight state of paranoia. When I was at uni the first time, I didn't put in much work and got by, but sometimes only just. I don't want to make a repeat of that. I am also aware I have other things going on this time, in the way of placements. Last time, I only had uni as my "work". I'm sure it'll all be fine, I just need to get myself into some sort of routine. Then, I don't want to become some sort of swot work-no-play kind of gall either.

I'm also wondering what my fellow students, particularly my ministry colleagues, think of me. Do they look and think "they chose her"? Or maybe I'm just thinking that as I sometimes wonder that myself. I'm shy (hard to believe sometimes) and not as sure of myself sometimes as my persona may suggest. But I don't like to go with convention and follow the crowd. Never have done and never will. Yes, that can exclude me, but it's part of who I am. And if there's an awkward way to do something, it's guaranteed I'll do it.

Oh, my fellow students I've spoken to are all lovely (mature and not mature). I'm already loving the history stuff, but I love history especially as the church has had a big role in the history of the world for most of the last 1600 years or so, whether we like it or not. I'm even beginning to understand what the theology lecturer is on about and, believe me, that is no mean feat!

The scary thing is, despite the self-doubt and concern what others may think of me, I don't want to be doing anything else as this is exactly what I should be doing!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Has The Doctor lost his way?

I really want to like Doctor Who. I've been a fan since the Tom Baker days. The first half of this series was looking so promising. It was scary and funny and complicated. Just how The Doctor should be. It even looked that Matt Smith was being his own Doctor,  rather than trying to fill David Tenant's shoes. And the acting had improved.

But since the start of the second half of the series I've been increasingly disappointed. The last couple of episodes have felt more like filler (lets give the main actors a bit of a break during filming type thing). That's okay for 1, but 2 or 3. Come on, Stephen Moffat, what are you playing at?

Saturday night's episode I found especially disappointing. What was the point? I mean, really? The only thing that seemed relevant to the story arch was the final scene. I didn't need 45 minutes of a poor story with actors who didn't seem like they cared for 2 minutes (if that) of the scene we actually needed for the series story.

Maybe, once the series is completed, all these episodes will make more sense. I hope so, otherwise it looks like Doctor Who is loosing it's momentum and heading into the territory of 30 years ago. And we long-term fans know what happened then.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Would you have sat there?

Okay, it's an advert for a brewed grain-based drink, but it does make a point about judging people by their looks. I would have sat down, but I am a biker too. So would you sit next to me in the pictures?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Dale Farm - update

Following from my first post on the potential Dale Farm eviction, there has been another court injunction preventing Basildon Council evicting the people living on the illegal part of the site. So have correct planning permission rules been followed? This article from official Dale Farm blog doesn't think so. It's a pity this isn't an independent, neutral article, but it has been backed up with citations.

In saying that, I am having a bit of a change of position about this issue. Planning permission was not granted 10 years ago for the illegal part of their site to be built on. The part of the site which was a scrap yard. I know building regulations in England are different from Scotland, but there are certain areas which residential property would not be granter permission and that included former scrap yards, mainly due to the health risks from the oils and heavy metals which the soil will be full of.

I know there has been arguments that they own the land and can build what they like. I can't just build what I like on my land. Technically I might even need permission to erect a shed where I live! With that in mind, and given the residents of Dale Farm say they want to be treated as all other members of British society, they also should adhere to the planning rules. It can't be one rule for non-travellers and a different rule for everyone else.

It would appear the basic issue here has nothing to do with planning permission. It is to do with treating others differently due to their ethnicity. The council have, rightly or wrongly, not granted permission for the former-scrap yard to be used for residential purposes, for 10 years. Since then, due to the legal process, the council have had to stop any action to remove the buildings on that part of the site. Surely, the same rule should have applied to the owners of that land (i.e. they couldn't build until the issue was resolved)? It strikes me as somewhat wrong they don't have to pause until the matter is resolved.

I know this issue has gone on for 10 years. I also know there is the matter of where would these families have lived meantime. As they are building houses, there are plenty houses all over Britain where they could have lived. Even areas of land where there was permission to build already.

I wonder if now this issue has gone beyond planning permission. It's about how society treats those which don't fit into the norms of that society. That said, the law should be the same for everyone, no matter their ethnicity or background. Yet, the fundamental issue remains. Planning permission has not been granted and the people living on the site have defied that ruling for 10 years while the local council has to stand by and not take action, except through the courts.

I pray this issue can be resolved in a way which the dignity of people is preserved, but somehow I suspect that will not be the case. I also know no matte what happens, it will not be a positive outcome for anyone. There are no winners or loser's here. Only losers.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Let's have some integrity

I'm a respecter of people who stick to their principles, especially when they are tested. For me, that is a test of character and indicates the real measure of the person. After all, if the principles fall when tested, what do they really stand for?

It's not I'm saying they are always right or I agree with their position, but I respect it. I ma think they are an idiot, but I will defend their right to be an idiot, so to speak. I also know there are times when principles are challenged and a person changes their opinion, but that is a bit of a different matter.

Take me, for instance.

I won't join Facebook and I've explained my reasons here.

I won't fly Ryanair.I know all the budget airlines charge for using cards and putting luggage in the hold etc, but don't advertise flights for 50p when there's not a hope in hell of anyone actually being able to get a flight that cheap. Like why not just include the charges in the advertised price? They won't disenfranchise their customers so much. And then there's the whole thing about wheelchairs. Okay, the initial ruling is from 2004, but the fact is they treated someone so appallingly. Also, they are supposed to provide them as part of the their legal rights. This applied before the ruling, but it took one person to stand up to Ryanair for things to change (and not necessarily for the better IMHO).

I won't buy meat from a supermarket. Call me a snob (though it is telling the more affluent places nearer where I live don't have butchers anymore, but the bone-of-their-bottom places do have butchers), but I like to know where my meat came from and that the animal had the best quality of life possible before it became my dinner. Yes, it costs more. Yes, it's a wee bit more inconvenient. But I know I am supporting local businesses and helping protect the environment by reducing my food miles and packaging. I also probably eat less meat due to the slight price increase so it's healthier too.

I won't buy from Primark due to their links with sweatshops and their unwillingness to change things. Yes, I am aware working conditions are poorer where many of the clothes in the UK are made than here, but shops need to ensure their staff and contractors have basic working rights and aren't used as a commodity.

When I used to work in an office I wouldn't work overtime on a Sunday. Attending worship was (and is) far, far more important for me than money ever will be. I know there were many of my former colleagues who just didn't got why I would do this, especially as spotthegerbil and I were saving for a trip to New Zealand at the time and a few Sundays of overtime would have allowed us to do that a year earlier than we did.

I am aware these principles aren't big deals. But all of them have been tested one time and another and I have stuck to my guns. If I didn't, would anything I said and did count for anything? I don't think so and I wouldn't have sincerity and integrity. Without those, I couldn't possibly be a minister.

And, on the subject of cheap flights (and this doesn't relate to any company in particular)...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Dale Farm eviction

Today, the people living at Dale Farm are due to be evicted from their homes. Okay, so there may not have planning permission granted for the extension the community built, on their own land, but how often are planning regulations flouted and the local authorities don't bat an eyelid or grant permission retrospectively?

The rational behind the eviction, so far as I can tell, is the extension is built on greenbelt. This forms half the site and the other half of the site is legal. Okay, so the local authority designated green belt on the site of a former scrapyard. Are you extracting the Michael? Greenbelt on an area which will be full or heavy metals from the processing of the scrap metal.

As the leaders of the church in Essex have pointed out:
“While we recognise that travellers, like others, are not above the law, nevertheless, half the Dale Farm site is already recognised as lawful and it would seem to the benefit of all to authorise the adjoining site rather than spend millions on eviction in these days of austerity and cutbacks.” 
It is estimated the eviction will cost up to £18 million.  I know where I'd rather my taxes spent.

Gypsies and travellers must be some of the most vilified groups in the UK (if not Europe). As Rabbi Janet Burden pointed out here
"The language used clearly echoes the rhetoric of antisemitism," she said. "If you don't believe this, have a look at the website for examples of newspaper articles which substitute the word Jew for Gypsy or Traveller. The results are quite chilling. I believe that the obligation to protect this ethnic minority's way of life is a human rights issue that, in this particular and unusual case, may need to trump the planning law designed to protect the green belt."
Okay, there are groups who have adopted travelling lifestyles who illegally camp and leave rubbish and devastation in their wake. But they are in the minority and you can't tar everyone with the same brush. Yet this seems to happen again and again. I wonder if it is because general society just don't understand why they don't settle down and get a real house? Or is it just easy to marginalise people who do not fit into society norms. Does society need someone to persecute?

Things seem to be moving in Scotland as the Scottish Parliament move towards formal recognition of travellers as a distinct ethnic group, though it will take much, much longer to change society's views.

The church, the body of Christ, must stand up against any case of discrimination and marginalisation. Not just because it is the right thing to do (which, of course it is), but because that is what we are called to do. Give money to the poor,  feed the hungry, shelter the homeless. Otherwise, we might as well just stop what we are doing now as how else can the gospel be the Good News to the poor?