Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Love your neighbour as yourself

One of the greatest blessings I have in my life is Spot. He is a true gift from God. Before I found him, I didn't understand people when they talked of their soul mates and other halves. Now I do.

Through Spot's love and support I have grow and finally learned to love myself. I accept who I am (flawed as that is) and love myself. Now I love myself, I can put Jesus' commandment to love my neighbour as myself into practice. How could I love them when I did not really love myself?

Having a life-partner has brought huge rewards to me. Love, companionship, a shared life together. We don't agree on everything, but we accept, respect and love each other even in the disagreements.

I know having Spot in my life has allowed me to finally follow God's call to ministry. Yes, I still wonder if God's got it wrong, but have the self-belief that if God wants me to minister to his people, who am I to not follow (does that make sense?). I doubt I would have ever stepped out in faith without Spot's love and support. I know there are some who would criticise me for that, but God doesn't seem to have, given how blessed we have been since I began to follow his call.

There have been times when I was undertaking the various parts of the selection process where I was struggling, both with my sense of call (why me?) and things which were going on in the placements. Knowing I had someone at home who I could talk with or just chill-out with was one of the things which kept me going.

I know, once I am a minister, I will need my support networks more than ever. Obviously, I look to God first in all things, but I also know he has given me Spot as part of his support for me.

Now, that is a great and precious gift God has given me. Companionship, love, trust, the list goes on. If I truly love my neighbour as myself, I feel I would be a hypocrite to say to another that they cannot, not ever, have this type of relationship.

If a person makes that decision of their own free-will, fair enough. I have much respect for those who follow a celibate life and seem to thrive on it. But, I could never tell someone they should be single when I am not and am better for being with my soul-mate. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, so to speak.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Smart phones

Last September I finally jumped on the smart phone bandwagon. I figured having something which allowed me to do more than just phone someone or send texts could be useful. Besides, my old phone was getting really past its best and I had the feeling it was going to give up the ghost when I really needed it. Frankly, it was that old Noah would have found it dated!

I didn't want to get caught in the contract trap again. I really don't use my phone that much to justify the cost and it can work out cheaper buying a phone sim-free and going for a rolling one month contract instead.

I had been looking for a smart phone for about 6 months before I took the plunge. I was waiting to see how the market developed and how stable the firmware is. I knew I wanted a phone running android (I'm not a fan of Apple) with a capacitive screen. And I didn't want to pay more than £200 for the phone.

Eventually, I bought an Acer Liquid A1. This was on the back of a friend of mine getting one and me being mightily impressed, especially given the price tag. Low and behold, after 2 weeks of me having this, Spot went and got one too. (I know, most marrieds have matching jumpers or something!).

It's been really handy. I always have a phone, calender/diary, notepad, book, bible etc on me. The calender is synced with my and Spot's email accounts, so we both know where the other is (most of the time). We've been getting into the habit of using it, as I'll really need it up to date once the study/training begins.

While doing my NT Greek study, I even had a bible flash card app This was dead handy for learning the vocab.

So, after 8 months of use I was confused to have a memory low warning. Although I'd cleared my cashes and this solved the initial problem, there was only 20MB of phone memory left. Very strange as Spot's had about 115MBs left.

Couldn't for the life of me (or Spot or our techie friend) find a definitive solution. In the end, Spot had to do a system reset for me.

We think part of the problem may have been how the built-in browser was keeping searches etc, so I'm now using Dolphin HD, as this allows all bookmarks to be stored on the SD card of the phone and clears the cashes on exit. It's a pretty slick little browser, though I haven't tried really secure sites yet.

It's really sad, but I know wonder what I did without a smart phone. I just wonder how I'll be accessing technology on 5 or 10 years. Could be very interesting.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The end of an era...

For me at least. Last night was my last youth club at my home church. It still runs until the end of June, but I can't make the rest for a variety of reasons.

It's a shame. I love the kids. I love the church providing this safe place for them to hang out with their friends on  Friday night. Before we set this up, there wasn't anything for their age group in the area. There was a slight problem with kids hanging around. They weren't doing harm, but some local residents didn't like it. I could rant, but I won't. Instead, my home church did something about it.

And it's been such a success. This year has been quiet, with an average of 28 children an evening (since setting up, there are other things they can do, but not that many). In past years we reguarly had 45-50 attending.

I have to leave as come September I will be beginning my training. Maybe my placements will have a youth club I'd want to get involved with or, perhaps, I'd appreciate my Friday nights for some R&R. I'll see how things work out.

It'll be odd not doing youth club. It is 8 years since it began and I've been there since the start. Yet, now is the time I must move on and follow the path God has for me.

I pray new leaders will be found. At the moment, after the summer, there won't be enough. If my home church was to give me a gift on my leaving to follow my call, the best one they could give me is the knowledge this outreach and service to the community continues.

And why do I love doing it? The children's trust and honesty. These are a couple of conversations I had yesterday which made me smile, laugh and wonder.

"Mrs Gerbil, you never shout at us. All the other leaders shout at us."
"I don't like shouting. Besides, when I ask you nicely to do something you do, don't you?"

"Mrs Gerbil, you're like a pretty Susan Boyle. [Pause] Oh, but younger"
"I'm not sure how I should take that, but I'll take it as a compliment. Thank you".
"I did say pretty"

There are few times I have had such backhanded, yet genuinely heartfelt complements. There were other comments they made, to do with that debate. It was summed up like this:

"Is that not like racism?" Then they ran off to do something more interesting.

They children don't know it was my last night. Most of the leaders hadn't realised either. In some ways I feel a little guilty I didn't say bye to the children, but I would have got upset and I don't want to do that. I didn't want to upset the children either.

I pray that maybe, just maybe, some of the seeds I've sown over the years for God will begin to germinate and grow within the children I have encountered through the youth club. I may never know of how they will grow, but that isn't why I did it. I did it as that is part of my call and part of the reason I procrastinated over following my true call for so long.

So, I pray for the children, the leaders and the church and commit them to God's hands.

Friday, 27 May 2011

My favourite teacher

The other day, I was reading an article (can't remember where) which said it just needs one significant adult to transform a child's life. An adult who will listen, not judge, and see the child for who they are, not the expectations society may have based on their background.

For me, that would have to be my primary 4 teacher (and 6 and 7 - same teacher). My first 2 teachers (I had the same one for P1 and 2) didn't like the fact I could read, write and count really rather well before I even went to school (I was a child genius - it was all downhill from there). So, while they were trying to teach the rest of the class their letters, I was bored. Not a good thing for me. When bored I talk. I really talk. That didn't go down well.

Because I could already do these things, when those I sat with were struggling, I helped them. Again, that was talking and didn't go down well. Eventually, the bullies in the class were at my table and they would play on my helping nature to finish their work quickly and make me look bad.

Perhaps I could have been quiet and just got on with the work in front of me, but I was 5 years old and helping people was (and still is) a significant part of my character. I just can't stop myself, even though I have been hurt many times because of it.

Something which didn't help with my work was the teachers kept putting me to the back of the class. I needed to be closer to the front to see the blackboard, especially after my glasses were broken. The teacher didn't think there was anything wrong with people scratching the lenses. When my Mum went to the school to get something done, she was told "Well, it's a novelty for them". Yeah, like I just wore them for decoration!

So, I got to P4. Another teacher. But this one was different. One of the first things she did was move me to the front of the class. Finally I could see the blackboard properly! She also saw I could do most of the 3 Rs standing on my head, so rather than making me stay with the class, she let me carry on further through the workbooks. It was better than me getting bored. It also let me see there was things I as good at. Up till that point, in school, there didn't seem anything I could do well.

No longer was I bored. No longer did I feel I was different and stupid. Finally, I could begin to be who I was again.

It's really hard to sum up the difference that teacher made to my life. She made me believe in myself. She also respected me. I very much reciprocated that. As they say, you have to show respect to earn it.

By the time I left primary school, I was top-of-the-class in most subjects (spelling and sports still defeat me). I was so far ahead in Maths that the school had run out of workbooks for me. They got some in, but apparently they were secondary school level. I got a lot wrong, as my teacher didn't have the knowledge or time to teach me that level of Maths (she did have a whole class to teach too), but she let me try. She let me fail. She encouraged me and reassured me it was okay.

For all she did for me, I am eternally grateful. If I ever got the chance too, I would let her know.

A couple of years after leaving primary school, it celebrated its 75 anniversary and held an open day. Naturally, I went along. As I was talking with the headteacher (who also totally rocked), my P1/P2 teacher came to speak to my Mum and I. I can't recall the words of the conversation, but she told Mum how proud she was to have been my teacher and was pleased I was doing so well.

I don't think I had a lot of grace towards that teacher back then. I was polite, but curt. I was still hurting from the past. Now I realise that was not the way to go, but I was still a child. Now, I pray I would have the wisdom and grace to show Christian love towards her, should I ever met her.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

We are all brothers and sisters

While listening to that debate at the General Assembly on Monday, I was impressed with the grace of those who spoke from all sides of the debate. I have to admit, I did not like the report making a distinction between two sides of the argument, as that pigeon holes people and is too simplistic a view.

I know, unlike many reports in the press, section 7b does not open the flood gates to those in leadership roles on the Church of Scotland being in same-sex relationships. It does, however, allow the theological implications of that position, if it were allowed, to be explored further and for that report to be presented to the 2013 General Assembly. Who knows, perhaps then a decision will be made not to allow ordination of people in same-sex relationships.

From a personal perspective, I was relieved at the decision taken. Hand on heart, I did not what my position would have been as someone about to begin their ministry of word and sacrament training, if at least a decision to further explore the issues was made. I say heart as that appears to contradict the scriptures. An interesting article which helped me with this was this one from Ben's blog.

At the moment, I am sad. Sad at the pain and struggle the GA's decision will cause to some of the Kirk's leaders, elders and members. Sad that some people have already decided to leave the Kirk as a result of Monday's decision. I would call for patience and grace from all sides at the moment and at least wait until the GA of 2013 to see what happens then.

At the end of the day, we all brothers and sisters in Christ and one through the Holy Spirit. When my family are in pain and sorrowing, I share its pain and sorrow. The same goes for my church family.

Let us stand together united in what brings us together. God's love through Christ. If we concentrate on that, I hope and pray, the Kirk will become stronger in Christ and, as such, will show the people of Scotland a better way to live.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


On Monday and Tuesday this week, severe storms rocked Scotland. Bridges were closed, trains and buses were delayed or didn't run at all.

Some trees have fallen or lost branches. The tree at the bottom of our garden has a permanent lean now.

There has been some damage to buildings. Tiles and slates off roofs; lead flashing hanging on by a thread in some places, resulting in areas close to buildings being cordoned off for public safety.

Yet, even today, I saw things were returning to normal. Unsafe trees were being trimmed of precarious branches or felled. The damage has begun to be repaired.

In a few weeks and months time, the damage will be forgotten. Yes, the storm will be remembered, but the storm damage will be repaired. Things may even improve as the repair has to be to current standards, increasing insulation of the building (maybe).

In life and the life of the church, there are storms. Some small, some big. Damage may be done. Overtime, this is repaired. Looking back, the storm is remembered, but the damage is repaired, relationships are improved and grace steps in.

Forgotten and forgiven through God's grace. Through God's love. Through the church focusing on the really important matters of following Christ and showing his love and service.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Caption competition

The things you see when you have a camera at Roll Away the Stone. Sorry, no prizes. Have fun!

The stone has been rolled away

Yesterday, the weather started off poor. It pelted down at the end of worship. There was a brief shower while Spot and I ate lunch under a tree in a graveyard (classy, I know!). Then, as 1 o'clock came, the sun shone.

Roll Away the stone was a great afternoon. Sharing ideas, fellowship, love and laughter with a diverse range of people in "The Kirk" and passers-by from Princes Street.

The organ playing in St Cuthbert's was amazing. And that church building too. I know church isn't about the building, it's what the people in the building do. We found them very accommodating and happy to answer our questions. Having enjoyed the belfry tour, we bumped into a member of that congregation and asked if we could have a look in the gallery (it wasn't "officially" open for the event). He led us in, told us a little of the history of St Cuthbert's, the current building and left us to explore ourselves. There was a great, quietly reflective, atmosphere in the church as gentle music played through the church with lovely pictures on the projector. It was a very spiritual experience. I definitely felt God's presence with us.

The truly amazing thing about yesterday was the people. The amount and diversity of people. People like you and me. People gathering to learn more about the work of the church but, most importantly, worship God. It was brilliant to see and be a part of. The location was pretty cool too.

Closing worship at Roll Away the Stone

I hope an event like this happens again. There are things which could have been done better, but it was the first time and at least it did happen. It shows just how relevant the church really is to many, many people all over Scotland.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Will I get in?

Well, I don't know if you know this, but today is rapture day. According to retired engineer Harold Camping's calculations (based on the book of Ezekiel) today is the day when the faithful will be raptured or saved by Jesus while they (we?) watch Armageddon and judgement be dealt out on all the non-believers.

I suppose if it does happen today (6pm, apparently), the internet will have stopped working. Blast, that's how I find so many things in my life, including husbands! Oh well, could mess up my plans for going to Roll Away the Stone tomorrow, but will mean I won't need to sit my Greek exam next week! There's always a bonus.

The thing is, I don't really go for this. Yes, I do believe Jesus will come again and judge the living and the dead, but not today. Sometimes I think he'll wait until humanity has almost destroyed itself anyway, or is that a wee bit too negative?

Besides, there's always the one of the post-rapture parties. Would it be appropriate for me to attend? Yeah, you're right, probably not a good idea.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The question of robes (again!)

I'm aware there in the placements I undertake, it may be appropriate for me to wear robes. I have posted about this before. I won't wear a cassock - it's just too much. Besides, I'd just feel like an extra from Harry Potter, though I do not have the stature to carry it off.

Talking of Harry Potter. The other day, while awaiting rescue from my bedroom, I had a clear out of my bedside cabinet. Among the items I came across was a photo taken of me at my graduation. It wasn't the professional one, but I think taken by my uncle. There I was doing an excellent impression of Harry Potter. All I needed was the scar on my forehead. The only reason my peers didn't make the connection was it was 1999 - Harry Potter hadn't gone viral, quite.

So, looks like a suit's the order of the day. Besides, if I wasn't already a graduate, technically I wouldn't be entitled to wear academic robes. Besides, if I were to wear them, my nearest and dearest (thanks Mum) would kill themselves laughing and wonder what was wrong with me!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Roll Away the Stone

No, it's not a reference to the song, but an open event being held this Sunday by the Church of Scotland in Princes Street Gardens. More information is available on the official site here.

I'm going. It looks and sounds though it might be a good experience. Lets just hope the weather holds (though I do know there are wet weather contingency plans, the joy of being married to one of the stewards!). If you're in the Edinburgh area, go along and see. Find out more about what churches are doing (or maybe more about the CofS). It's free, so what have you got to loose?

Monday, 16 May 2011

In ten years time...

Have you heard the one about the motorcycle hearse world speed record? No? 114 mph? And by a vicar.

Perhaps it makes me a little irreverent. Perhaps it makes me a little bit of a nutter. Both those statements would be correct. Especially as last night I declared I would hold the world hearse speed record in 10 years time. Thing is, when I say I am going to do something, I do it. So, watch this space. I must admit, there's not going to be much progress on this challenge for the next 4-5 years. Still plenty time to get the record.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Looking ahead

Today, I went a much more formal church than I am used to, but there wasn't anything I thought totally unexpected. The choir wear robes and lead the minister in at the start of the service. They also sing an introit (not that unusual, I know) and anthem mid-way through the service. They really can sing well and their voices did work well in the space and in context of the worship. Interestingly, the choir was a reasonable age range (from mid-twenties to 70ish, I'd say), both male and female. In many churches I've worked in or visited these few years the choir has been older and either all or mainly women. The mix I found rather refreshing.

I did enjoy the service, though didn't feel that welcomed. On the way in, neither Spot nor I received a "Hello" or "Good morning" from the people handing out hymn books. The minister, passing the pew we were sitting at before worship began, did say hello. It's not his job to do it all, though. After the service, a member of the congregation mentioned to us we could leave by the right hand door, as the queue was people wanting to speak to the minister. We got the impression (perhaps wrongly) that we shouldn't be troubling the minister. These things are the kind of things which could put off visitors returning.

Anyway, given the formality, the service was almost so far from my comfort zone it is in the next galaxy. This may be exactly where I could do a lot of learning and growing, so may be a perfect type of church situation for a placement. I will have many questions over why things are done in certain ways (even if it's tradition, it comes from somewhere) and will need to learn to respect them while ensuring they do not get in the way of leading people to a relationship with God. At the end of the day, that's the most important part of ministry.

Just need to see where God calls me to go, even for training, as that's the situations where I'll learn where I need to be and what God really needs of me.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

What a difference a year makes...

As I head towards beginning training in September, I've been reflecting on what's been going on in the last year. It's just over a year since the Church of Scotland selected me as a candidate in training. I've had to defer for a year due to not having a university place. It's all worked out well, though.

Since then, I've studied New Testament Greek, Mark's gospel and Pastoral Care, through the centre for Christian Studies and Aberdeen University, done a little pulpit supply (mainly at my home churches) and taken redundancy. If I'd begun training last year, I would not have had the opportunity to do these things.

There's also the weather. This time last year, Spot and I had been away camping and the temperature was so cold, this happened:

Yes, snow in May. Not as impressive as the lump of ice from the water bottle:

And in politics, today is 1 year since the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition was formed. I think I gave the coalition 6 months, so it has lasted much longer than I expected. I do wonder, especially in light of last weeks election results, how the next year will pan out. I think it will be interesting to watch, just so long as the most vulnerable and overlooked in society get the help and support they need.

As for me, I'm glad I've had this year of waiting. Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. I have had to wait. I've enjoyed the things I have encountered due to having to wait. After all, it's 3 years since the National Gathering, which was the trigger for me following God's call. I know this waiting is God preparing me for the specific role he needs me to fulfil. I am convinced this waiting will allow me to go exactly where God needs me to be, once my training is complete, as the charge will only be available then. As I learn to trust God more and more, waiting is another opportunity to learn his will for me and follow his path.

I wonder what the next year will bring? Whatever it will be, I know it'll be an interesting journey and things will happen in ways none of us could have expected.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Almost finished

 Last night I had my last New Testament Greek class. It's not totally over yet - I've still my exam to sit in a couple of weeks time.
I've also completed "An Introduction to Pastoral Care". The final class for that was last week and I've now had all the all the marked coursework for this back and I've done quite well by the looks of things. It's a continuous assessment course, so there's no exam for it.

I've enjoyed taking the courses. Both parts of NT Greek have been a slog, though. Just when I thought I'd got it, the goal posts were shifted! I suppose that's what it's like for any new language. Mark's gospel last term really gave me an insight into that gospel which I hadn't before. There's mush more to it than I'd appreciated, especially as it is the shortest and simplest of the gospels.

I must admit, when Edinburgh told me their requirements of 40 credits, I was a little surprised. I could see their logic though. They have to look fair and open in their selection criteria. These days, it doesn't look good to university funding bodies and OSCR if the rule book's bent. I know I haven't really used my degree for quite a while and the job I was doing did not require or use a university education. Like they say, use it or lose it.

When I discovered there are ministry candidates at Edinburgh who didn't have to meet their 40 credits criteria, I was a wee bit resentful. That just seemed really unfair and I have a very ingrained sense of fairness. I'm not a stomp and shout person. If the rules are fair and open, I'll generally play by them. So, I have.

I've got over the resentment, though. Doing these courses has given me a gentle re-introduction to university study. I had been away from it for 11 years and, as I wasn't that studious first time round, I suppose I was concerned whether I would be able to do uni all over again.

From my marks last semester, it seems I may be good at this uni stuff after all. Okay, so the courses are only first year university level and I am a graduate. So what? The subject is totally different from anything I had studied before (I'm a scientist, of sorts). At least I haven't totally crashed and burned. That would have been disastrous, Okay, so I didn't need the 40 credits to get any uni place, but it would have been a real dent to my confidence knowing I had a uni place, but struggling to actually do the level of coursework which would be required of me.

Looks like I'm going to Edinburgh. Obviously the results need to be issued and confirmed. I hope I do get a good mark in both Greek and Pastoral Care. Just one of those will ensure my place at Edinburgh, as each course is 15 credits, taking the total to 45. It would a a same not to have the full 60 credits, given the time and effort I have put into completing these course.

Another advantage with having completed these courses is, as they are first year university level, I should be able to transfer the credits to Edinburgh. This will take the pressure off me to begin with (she says, hopefully).

Overall, I'm glad I've done the courses. They have prepared me for starting uni full-time and shown me I'm more capable than I sometimes think I am. I just hope I can keep up with the high standards I have set myself.

Friday, 6 May 2011

A Historic Day for Scotland

As I write this, something which I never thought would happen has. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament.

This isn't just historic, in terms of a national party winning a majority of seats. No, that any party should win a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament is historic. Since the parliament was re-established in 1999, there has never been one party which held a majority of the seats. Since then, the parliament has been run either under coalition government or a minority government.

So, this is historic. A party having a majority of seats. And, at the time of writing this, not all seats have been declared. I think this is the most interesting election I have kept and eye on (Scottish and UK government) since Labour's win in 1997. This could have much more far reacting consequences, though. I'm sure, with a nationalist government at Holyrood (home of the Scottish Parliament) there will be a call for a referendum on Independence.

I wonder what the next 4 years of Scottish government will look like now? It's going to be interesting to watch.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Osama Bin Laden

I was going to say something about the death of Osama Bin Laden. Something about loving your enemies and everyone (yes, everyone) having the right to a fair trial. As he died, legally, he was innocent.

But, I won't say any of these things. Spot has pretty much got there first.