Sunday, 27 March 2011

Must be doing something right

When I was a child/teenager if I was out and about, especially with friends, and saw a teacher or leader of an organisation I was a member of I'd avoid them. Usually no matter how well I got on with them in during the time organisation met or how approachable they were. They were the grown-up, I was the child and it was totally uncool to acknowledge their presence (and even more embarrassing if they spoke to you, especially in front of your friends!!!).

Of course, there were certain leaders/teachers I would go to talk to. I couldn't put my finger on why, but they had that certain something that made you really respect/admire them and also not want to offend them by ignoring them. Besides, they were cool, so they wouldn't make me look uncool with my friends.

I never for a minute imagined I would be one of those kind of leaders, until yesterday. Spot and I were heading through out local shopping centre when a couple of children from the youth club I help with stopped us for a chat. I hadn't spotted them,. but they shouted hello across at us and we chatted random stuff, April fools and youth club. Only afterwards did I realise, wow - they didn't avoid me.

Now, in essence, children are the same now as they always have been. I see myself in so many children I come across (especially the slightly cheeky ones!). I never turn them away and always try to answer their questions and, believe me, I have been asked some interesting questions. But, I hated grown-ups patronising me when I was a child and not answering my questions, so it would be double standards of me not to do what I do. Besides, I'm just doing what Jesus taught us (Matthew 19:14, for example). The way I see it is by doing what I do, which is pretty much just talking to them, I am showing Christ's love for them, though they may not necessarily get that at the moment.

So, if children are coming across to say hello and chat to me outwith youth club, I must be getting something right. Some don't have any church connection bar the youth club, but perhaps the seeds I and the other leaders are sowing will grow into something wonderful in the future. The smallest seeds can be the biggest plants, though. Perhaps that is part of my calling. Only God knows. I pray he will guide me to do right by all people, including children.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The winding path

This Sunday, I'm leading prayers at my home churches. This is the first time since Christmas that I have been involved leading worship. Prior to starting my distance learning courses, I was involved with leading worship on a regular basis. Between full-time work and course work, that wasn't really an option. Not if I wanted some sort of sanity.

Over the following couple of Sundays I'm doing pulpit supply while my ministers are on holiday. It's a great privilege to be asked to do this again. I'm pretty much asked to do the service (or parts) and allowed a free hand on what I say, how's it's presented etc. My ministers are happy to help if I need advice or guidance, but they don't check what I'm doing before hand (though I do get feedback after, which is great for the learning process). I know my ministers want to be supportive of me while I'm in limbo awaiting the beginning of my training, but I suspect they wouldn't give me as free a hand if they thought I sucked!

I know from comments I've heard directly and indirectly, my home churches appreciate my way of leading worship.In some ways, I suppose, they could be the most critical audience, as to some members of the congregation I am and always will be "Little Mrs Gerbil". The flip side to that is some have known me so long they don't want to offend me by criticising what I do in leading worship.

Something I am becoming more and more aware of, as I time inextricably ticks down to the beginning of my training, is how difficult I may find going back to square one. Starting doing the occasional prayer, children's address or sermon. Having, perhaps, my preparation examined before I lead worship, to ensure it is of a suitable standard and ties in with the service theme. Perhaps not being given a free hand to at least try things. Okay, they might not work - at all or in that context - but trying and making mistakes surely has to be part of the training process.

The other thing I am becoming increasingly aware of is how little time I have left with my home church. There are many things coming to an end. In particular, at the end of June, I am giving up leading at their youth club. That is something which will be very strange. I really enjoy being there and get on very well with the kids. Unfortunately, there's a chance with me gone there may no longer be sufficient leaders for it to continue, which makes me a bit guilty.  Who knows, the placements I have may have youth clubs and I'd want to be involved with those.

I know I need to step away from my home church to grow and learn in a new environment. An environment where I will question as well as learn. I won't just take it for granted something is done in a particular way, but ask "Why?".

The path following my call has been a long one. At times, is hasn't been easy. At times, I've almost given up. It has also been an amazing, exciting walk with God. Leaving my home church will be sad, but what an adventure awaits me? Bring it on!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The beauty of the earth

You never have a camera on you when you need one, do you? Yesterday, Spot called me into the garden. We had a toad. We've haven't got a large garden, but I didn't want to miss watching this while I fetched a camera.

We stood back to see what the toad was going to do (we don't have a pond - the nearest one is at a neighbours a couple of doors down). It headed under the car for some shade. Eventually, we watched it squeeze itself under the back tyre of the car. Slightly damp and definitely shaded.

I looked out this morning to see if it's there. No sign. I hope a local cat hasn't had a go, though I suspect the cat would have fared worse.

Today, it's a beautiful spring day. I'll keep my eyes open for the small things, the amazing moments, of God's creation, even in my front garden.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Is any job better than none?

I was reading this article yesterday. Much of what was said resonated with me, from my own experience and that of those close to me.

Back at the beginning of the last recession (the early '90s), my Mum was made redundant. She, as with many of her generation, had been in her "job for life" and had just completed 29 years with the company. Also, she was brought up to work - not "sponge off" the dole.

After a couple of months out of work, she really started getting down. Luckily (so we thought) she was offered a job in a local butchers, though how lucky that was at £2 an hour, we would soon find out. Once working for that company, she realised it perhaps wasn't lucky - or at least those of us closest to her thought that. The hours were long. Officially, it was 40 hours per week, but often as not it was 50-60, with no overtime payments. Complain and you'd get your P45. The catch being, as you'd made yourself unemployed, you would not be entitled to any unemployment benefits.

Then, it came to Christmas. employees of this company were expected to start work at 5am, often not leaving until 6pm. Again, no overtime or time in lieu was paid. It was taken to be part of the job. If you didn't like it, close the door on the way out. Given the state of the economy in the area at the time, and my Mum's mental health, that wasn't going to happen.

Mum became more and more depressed. She didn't have a routine. If the company needed her to work late, she had to. The company needed her to work weekends, she had to. There were no holidays, during her time there, otherwise she would have had to work them, no doubt.

Fortunately, for Mum's well being, the company decided to shut the shop Mum was working at. No transfer was possible and I have to admit I was pretty relieved. A few months later, she started a course at the local college and, once that finished, began working for Crossreach (of the Church of Scotland department of Social responsibility as it was then). Finally, she had a job where she was listened to and valued. Where there was a routine and, if she had to work late, she received time in lieu. That job, I'm sure, saved her life.

Fast forward a few years. I started working for a land survey company. It was shortly before minimum wage came in. If minimum wage had been applicable at the time, my salary would have been 20% higher than they were. I suppose I should have had alarm bells going off at that, especially as I was recruited as a graduate with survey experience!

While working for that company, I couldn't plan anything. I regularly worked 12, 14, sometimes 16 hour days, getting home cold and wet at 10pm. knowing I'd have to start work again at 8am. I would get home, have something to eat and go to bed. In the morning I would pull on my wet steel-toe capped boots, as I needed to wear them on site.

I had to work weekends, again at short notice, even if I had something planned. I even had to work night shifts at Heathrow airport, for a couple of months, sharing a room in a house with 10 people and 1 bathroom. Nice.

At one point, I saw the owner of the company physically assault one of my colleagues. I also experienced verbal abuse for failing an eyesight test necessary for working on railways. I have told my employer I would fail, due to not being able to see out of one eye. I was told I should have remembered the eye test card and just said it when they tested that eye. I'm sure the HSE would have loved that!

Due to the long hours, not getting enough sleep and constantly having to wear wet boots, I pretty much had a permanent cold. I also started to get really down. I knew I had to get out and the company's attitude was really adversely affecting my mental health.

The turning point for leaving was I was going to T in the Park. I had booked some of my precious leave to attend. About a week before the event, I was told by my boss I was being sent to Birmingham for 2 months. But what about my leave? Tough.

I know it's only a music festival, but this wasn't the first time I'd paid for tickets for an event, only to be set away for the duration. That, combined with all the other things going on the company, was the straw that broke the camel's back. I went home and told my family what had happened. I also told them I was going to quit. They were so supportive of me, as they knew the affect the company was having on my health - both physical and mental.

When I went in the following day and handed in my notice, it was such a relief and one of the best decisions I have made. Okay, leaving without having anything to go to did mean I was out of work for a couple of months, but I was happy. Money is definitely not everything.

Funnily, while I was looking for another job, a very good friend of mine suggested ministry. I think I laughed and gave a list of reasons why not. Again, I think that was another seed being sown for me. But, there's a time for everything. That wasn't my time.

So, a good job with a good employer will improve mental health. A bad job with a bad employer will have a detrimental effect on mental health. I'd fully agree. I've seen and experienced both. I also know a bad job can become a good job with a decent employer and vice versa.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Big Society

Again and again, I read in newspapers (online, of course) David Cameron bleating on about "Big Society" and it being his mission. In some ways (and it pains me to say this), I agree with him. Getting individuals to take a more active role in their local communities should have a positive affect in the areas and for the individuals themselves.

But, how will this work? It seems to me, the idea of "Big Society" needs a lot of help, input and drive from the third sector economy. The very sector which is getting strained through the cuts to services and budgets. As services are cut, people will rely more and more on the third sector to help out. This is an added pressure on the third sector, but what about the other things which will make Big Society harder to achieve?

There's charities (which make up the majority of the third sector) being squeezed by the VAT rise, the end to the gift aid grace period and donations decreasing. So, they have less money to do more with. I know it's not only money which is required, but it is still necessary for basics such as heating and lighting.

Another thing which will make Big Society harder to achieve is people time. David Cameron has said there are less and less people willing to volunteer, when he has discussed Big Society, but is that really the case? I personally know of many people who are having to work longer and longer hours. Their employers are restricting holidays and making them work evenings and weekends. Yes, most are getting paid extra for this additional work (though not all). They are working longer hours as their employers have placed them in a position where they do not have a choice - there are not many jobs in the current market place.

Yet, there are the very also people who would volunteer and get involved with "Big Society". Some of them have been volunteers, but are finding it increasingly difficult to have the time to volunteer as they used to. It does strike me as silly having individuals running ragged trying to keep their jobs, but others struggling to find work. Surely the work could be better distributed, so everyone has work, time for themselves and family and, maybe, time for "Big Society" too.

I know that sound a little Utopian, but surely as a Christian I should be looking towards creating heaven on earth? Giving people self worth through a good life-work balance can be part of that, for all in society. A good society will find a role for all within it. Whether able or disabled, whether a high-flying entrepreneur or shop assistance. The main thing is valuing people for who they are first. Usually when that happens, everything else follows. Jesus did that so often. Now, I have to be one of his hands and his voice.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

No pressure, then!

In a couple of weeks I will be supplying pulpit supply for my home churches. Again, this is a great privilege and honour, especially as I am allowed a free hand. My minister is there for guidance, if necessary, but pretty much lets me get on with it. (Note to self - things will change on placement!).

Today, a member of the congregation mentioned me covering for my ministers. "Mrs Gerbil, I believe you are leading worship for us while our ministers are away. I'm very much looking forward to hearing you preach." This was very humbling, as this person was one of my Sunday School teachers and has a great knowledge of the bible (much, much better than I do).

I find it amazing how much people seem to enjoy my services. I know I have set my standards high, or should I say God has guided my high standards? I do know I definitely couldn't do this without the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the grounding I have had in faith from people such as the lady who spoke to me today. I just pray I don't let God down when I do lead worship and in the way I try to lead my life - through and with him.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Edinburgh say yes - on condition!

I have now received confirmation from Edinburgh that they are offering me a place. That's the good news.

The bad news is it's conditional upon my results from my courses with Aberdeen. That does concentrate the mind a little. Okay, things have been going well, but I definitely can't become complacent that I will do as well this term as last.

I never thought getting into Edinburgh would be easy. At least the courses haven't been for nothing.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Blessed following God's way

Over the last couple of years, serveral things have fallen into place, very conveniently. The details I can't really go into here, but they're all going to make Spot being the sole breadwinner much, much easier.

I say conveniently, but it's all part of God's plan, isn't it? I've struck out in faith to follow my calling and he's looking after me in many great and amazing ways. Not only looking after me, but Spot too. I couldn't do this without his love and support.

It's great. It's amazing. I'm so priviliged to be doing this and so blessed by God. But, and I know this is just me being negitive, there's just a wee nagging doubt the bottom is going to fall out of it all. Yeah, I know, I shouldn't worry and I'm not really. I suppose I'm thinking "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away". All I have comes from God. It's his to do with as he wishes. I know he has/is blessing me. I know this is because I am following him in faith and love. Whatever happens, I know it will all be part of his plan for me. All part of my unique act of love he needs me to bring to the world.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

An honour and privilege

On Sunday, Spot and I attended the baptism of the son of friends of ours. I've lost count of the number of times I have been at church when a baptism has been taking place, but this was the first time I had been invited to a baptism.

There was a relaxed atmosphere in the church and almost everything during the service was explained in a non-patronising manner. That made the experience, especially for those without a Church of Scotland background, to still feel part of the worship. The only thing which could have been explained was where to find the words of the Apostles Creed and Lord's prayer, as the church does not have a projector. Not only for those who would not those by heart, but there can be (and was) variation in the words from those the baptism party members were perhaps familiar with.

It was an honour and privilege to be part of such an important occasion in the life of our friends' son. I know he will grow up in a loving and caring household, where Christ's love is ever present.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Application update

It would have been nice to know before I quit work I had a uni place, but I also knew one way or another I would get a place. Today, I was informed St. Andrews have given me an unconditional offer.

Okay, I've said it before and will say it again, Edinburgh is my first choice. That said, it's great to know I definitely will have a place at uni in September. Cool!

30 credits down, 30 to go

The first time I was at uni, I wasn't especially studious. It was a bad habit I had, but I'd do just enough to get by. A couple of times, that strategy nearby back fired on me, but I got there in the end.

Yesterday, I finally managed to get a look at my results for last session's courses. Given my mark for the assessed essays I had submitted for Mark's gospel, I expected to get a B grade - but only just. As for Greek - I didn't think I'd done that well, so I would have been happy with a pass mark. Imagine my surprise to discover I had obtained grade A for both!

So, I now have 30 credits towards entry for Edinburgh. They said back in August they'd been looking for 40 credits at grade B - so I am more than half way there at a higher grade. All positive. I just can't get over how well I seem to be doing. Me thinks someone is keeping an eye on things (thanks,God!).