Thursday, 30 June 2011

Children in church

At a meeting the other day, the issue of children (or lack of) in church was brought up. Comments made were along the lines of such-and such a church has their Sunday School as a Wednesday after-school club. (Yes, I too thought that sounded wrong. Sunday School - every Wednesday at 4pm!). Apparently it suits the children and parents better than the more traditional time of during the Sunday service at 11am.

At the end of the meeting, I was discussing this matter with a couple of people I was sitting with. I brought up my concerns about the children being separated from the adults to this extent. I wondered how the children would be brought into the church family - like any family it needs a wide range of ages and experiences. I was told the problem with churches is members expect children to sit and be quiet. I think I can see their problem.

Now, don't get me wrong, having after-school clubs to lead children into a relationship with God is a good thing. I am not knocking that for a second. But, where it's happening because churches rigidly stick to service at 11am on Sunday mornings, where earlier may be better for all or, worse, members of congregations only like having children in church if they sit there and be quiet, then we have a problem.

From my own (admittedly limited) experience, churches where children are made welcome and are regarded as much part of the current church as the 97 year old (usually by the 97 year old), the children want to be there. They bring their friends. Children who want to find out about God bring their parents and their parents become members and the church grows.

I don't know what those type of churches do right. They don't know themselves. I think it's welcoming all - young and old. Showing God's love in action. Teaching about God's love and grace.

The churches I know of for which lack of children and young people is an issue and regarded as an issue talk about children being their future. I know, in my younger days that annoyed me. My own home church didn't have that attitude, but I heard it time and time again. Nothing has changed. It puts enormous pressure on children and they have enough as it is. Besides, they are NOT the churches future. They are the churches present. They may become the church in the future. Who knows? Only God. It's his church and he wants a church family where all are welcome and loved to share community, fellowship and worship together. Old and young. Rich and poor. That's the model we should be striving for.

I know there are no easy solutions. There never has been and never will be. I do firmly believe people begin attend a church which they see as being for them. If it excludes children to a Wednesday afternoon, they won't get young families attending Sunday worship. If it only likes children who sit very quiet and don't make a noise (do any children do that - I mean really), they will not get young families.

This is where leadership comes in. Yes, the minister (oh, I'm putting myself under pressure here!). In any organisation, the dynamic can change with a change of leadership and the feel of an organisation comes from the leadership. And so it is with the church. Does the minister expect children to be like mice? Does the minister engage with the children and their parents? Does the minister preach and lead worship to show how important making a church family is to God? I suspect when they do, children will come. Their parents will feel comfortable going. When the children become teenagers, with all the pressure they are under, they will not drift away.

I pray I can be this type of minister. Guided by the holy spirit to create a church family which reflects all in the parish I eventually serve. Oh, I do like to set myself challenges. Or, should I say God does?

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


I decided, as it was looking to be a pleasant day today to head off for a walk. On the way, I'd do a bit of geocaching too. A great thing Spot and I have found with geocaching is it will take you places you may not have thought of going for a walk, but which turn out very pleasant anyway.

About an hour into the walk (with one cache already picked up), I notice a car swerving for something at the side of the road. From the distance, I couldn't really make out what it was, but I suspected it was a dog. As I drew closer, it was a gorgeous, scared lurcher. As I approached, I saw she was terrified and was lame on one leg. Initially, she moved off as I approached, but I just let her calm down and settle.

In the meantime, I called the local dog warden to report her. As I was walking and she was lame, I couldn't bring her home. I couldn't speak to the warden direct at the time, but gave a 6-figure grid reference for my location. Well, that's where my trouble started. Shortly after that phone call, a warden called me back. "Err, where are you? We didn't use grid references, just our sat-navs which need postcodes" [At this point, I am on a rural road which, funnily enough does not have a postcode. Grrr]. I explained where I was and that I was happy to wait with the dog.

As I waited, the dog calmed down and I managed to clap her. I just don't understand why someone would have abandoned her. Okay, she was injured, but taking her to the vet is part of the responsibility of pet ownership. She was such a good natured wee dog. Even when terrified out of her wits, she never once showed the slightest bit of aggression towards me (or the warden for that matter).

I didn't have to wait too long. The warden explained that, unfortunately, lurchers are often abandoned. He was taking her to the vets for treatment of her lameness. Fingers crossed she makes a full recovery and, if not calmed by her owners, finds a good home.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

All things bright and beautiful

I have just finished reading the James Herriot series. Spot got these as a Christmas present and I was desperate for him to finish so I could begin!

I recall reading one of the first ones years ago; probably when the BBC TV series was at its most popular. But I've never read them all.

It's no wonder these books were adapted into the TV series. The way Herriot describes the people and places almost makes you want to head back in time and space to where and when these books were set. Maybe Tristan Farnon would manage it?!

Reading the books, I laughed and cried. I recalled how beautiful the Dales are and Herriot does do them justice, which is no mean feat. Mainly, reading them took me to a past era. One where horses were (pardon the pun) the work horses of farms, among many other occupations. An era where small farmers struggled to make a living in harsh conditions. An era where we were, perhaps, more in tune with the natural world, but written when that knowledge and in-touch-ness was on the wain.

Is it an era I'd like to go back to? No. Not really. Things may have been simpler, but I couldn't do this. And I'd be a housewife all the time. Thanks, but no thanks.

The main thing on reading these books which struck home to me is our connectedness to animals. As pets, as beasts of burden (once here and still in much of the world), as part of nature to wonder and awe at. I hope I never loose that sense of wonder at the world and I can show it to future generations. Because "The Lord God Made them All".

Monday, 27 June 2011

I've done it again!

Back in March, I got my results for my first semester  first courses. To my surprise, they were straight As. As it's just over a month since my Greek exam, I contacted Aberdeen to see when the results would become available. I liked the reply. Not only were they just out this morning, yet again I have obtained straight As!

So, Edinburgh, here I come!!!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

A stand-up show

I've always known I am quite content in my own company. Even as a small child I was happy writing, reading or building things from lego. I didn't (and still don't) really need people around me to interact with. It's not I dislike people, I just find I don't crave company as some people do.

I suppose, given the vocation I will be entering, this attitude is handy. Lets face it, ministry is a lonely job. Yes, it is (or should be, am I being naive?) to do with people. There's the ill and bereaved to see, the schools to visit, the congregation to lead (and the meetings and preparation). But it's still a one-(wo)man show. Pity, maybe shared ministry would be beneficial for all concerned, just a thought.

My, general, contentment being in my own company has been reinforced these last 4 months (4 months already...argh, where has the time gone???!!!). Most of the week, I'm a norm. I've been catching up with house and garden maintenance, going for long walks, geocaching, birdwatching and generally pleasing myself.

I suppose I am quite an introvert, yet there are many who wouldn't realise that. I know from leading worship at my home church there are members who think I look really comfortable at the front. "As if you were born to it, Mrs G" I was told. What they don't know is underneath I am wetting myself. Does this make sense? Is it the right message? Will I get through this without something going horribly wrong? One of the last times I lead worship, the radio mic was majorly playing up, to the point it had to be swapped. I gave off the vibes of confidence, but underneath I was sweating. Afterwards, several people commented on how well I'd handled it and thought I looked like and old hand.

The danger here is when I do err, will there be an understanding response? I'm sure there will be, but a little bit of me wonders if there may be surprise as I don't seem to be nervous, quite the opposite in fact. That's where placements will help. They are getting me as a "blank canvas", with (hopefully) no pre-conceived idea of who I am or what I am like. I know I will be nervous to begin with. I hope I never loose it. To loose it, I feel, would be when I would become complacent. That is a dangerous place in any job, let alone ministry.

So, how do people think I am confident? Maybe I am a better actor than I think I am. Like a swan, I am calm on the outside and paddling like crazy underneath. Spot has pointed out in the past I can be a bit like a stand-up comedian and I have heard may of them are quiet introverts.

No, the confidence isn't an act, it is from knowing Jesus walks beside me when I am doing his work. When I am following him and (I pray) leading others in their journey with him. Without his guidance all I do, say, am, in church and everywhere else would be meaningless. With his, everything is possible, even the shy introvert leading worship and being seen be others as having the potential to be a good leader and enabler.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Bread and wine

It was communion at my home church at the weekend. It's funny, but over the last 3 years, I have had communion probably more times than the previous 10, due to young church commitments among others. Maybe that's why there were some things which struck me on Sunday which I hadn't noticed or thought about before.

Oh, where to start? Lets begin with the bread and wine. Did I read anywhere in the bible of grape juice or (worse) blackcurrant cordial being used in the last supper? No can't recall that at all. So why oh why do churches do this? Non-alcoholic wine for those who are stanch "don't drink and drink" people I can just about understand, but unless they are a lightweight like my Mum, the half-full thimble isn't going to cause issues. I also know there's an argument that having grape juice opens up communion to former alcoholics, but to my knowledge they tend to avoid communion for this reason. That rational would only work if the fact grape juice was used was common knowledge.

And, as for the thimbles. I thought communion was symbolic of God's love poured out for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus? A love which is beyond measure. But this is the Church of Scotland and, well, we can't have extravagance. So, we generally use wee thimbles for communion which are half-full. It's such a generous symbol.

Now, since Spot and I began baking our own bread and rolls, I have become a bit of a bread snob. There's nothing like tasty bread, fresh from the oven. Unfortunately, the bread offered for communion on Sunday was nothing like that. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect the person responsible for bringing the bread to bake bread, but to be confronted with a plate of slightly stale (when was this cut?) of horrible white bread cut into 1cm squares. To make matters worse, the minister used a lovely (could have been homemade) unsliced, wholemeal loaf when blessing the elements and to pass among the elders. So, lets get this right, the elders on communion duty get the good stuff and the plebs in the pews get the poor substitute. Okay, it's only symbolic, but it doesn't look good when the elders look to begin treated differently from the rest of the congregation. And yet again, the symbol of the outpouring of God's love in stale bread.

Oh, and while I am here, why do the elders get communion first? Is it my church or the norm? If elders are supposed to lead by example, to be servants first, should the plebs on the pews not be served first? Or is there a theological rational behind the practice?

As I said at the start of this post, I've had more experience of communion these last 3 years. Most of those times, I have really felt something different in the atmosphere - a deep and genuine feeling of Jesus' presence in the sacrament. When that's happened, it's been when the group has shared the meal. The common cup and bread. We have served each other and all been served. I don't feel Jesus presence the same way when communion is handed out by the elders with dour faces. But maybe that's just me!

So, when I get into ministry (God willing) everyone is going to get the same type of bread. Spot or I will try to bake it. As for the wine, well, we do make our own. But there is no way it will ever be blackcurrant cordial!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Been away

So, regular readers will have noticed I've gone a little quiet over the last couple of weeks. Never fear, nothing's up, just been away gallivanting with Spot. And our tent.

It was great to get away. Okay, so it was different holiday from the last few years for me, what with being "unemployed", but it was still a change of routine and an opportunity to spend some quality time with Spot (I'm just waiting for the comment to that...).

Our initial plan was to stay at Blair Atholl for a few days, but when we arrived, they were full. Well, it was a Saturday and we hadn't booked. So, never defeated, we headed north and stayed in Boat of Garten for 5 nights.

It's a lovely area to visit and walks a plenty. The Speyside way runs through and we did do a stretch of it (regularly back and forward to the local hostelry!!!). It would be one of our perfect places to live, though it does have the feeling of being primarily holidaymakers (like we were, I know, I know) or people who have retired to the area. Pity.

On the Sunday, we worshiped at the local church. The people were warm and friendly. It was such a shame there were no children or young people. From the comments the person leading worship made (it's a recently vacant charge), this is the norm. But, if the people living in the area are mainly retirees or on  holiday...

Of course, being in Boat of Garten warranted a visit to the Osprey centre (again!).We walked there via Loch Mallachie and Loch Garten and, once off the main path the the centre, didn't see anyone else. It was so peaceful, yet filled with all the activity of birds feeding their young, wood ants maintaining their nests and all the other things which go on on a forest.

Odin the Osprey
 All through our stay in Boat of Garten, we wandered to the bridge over the Spey to spot otter. We never managed it, but watched swift, house martin and found a badger sett. Waiting here, with this view wasn't a hardship, though.

View from Boat of Garten Bridge

Being a bridge, we just had to play Poohsticks. On that occasion, Spot won.

We did get to Blair Atholl in the second of our two week holiday. This is such a great area to walk and watch wildlife. We spotted Golden Eagle, deer, and were within 20 metres of a buzzard feeding. That was amazing. And in an area which some think of as being quite busy. It can be, but head half a mile away from the castle or the house of Bruar and there's no one around.

The walk up Glen Tilt was brilliant. A beautiful day, in beautiful scenery. Scotland really is the best country in the world

Yet, even in this seemingly natural landscape, it is very definitely shaped by man. There should be more trees and, as walking up the Glen, we came across abandoned crofts, such as this one. Nature is taking it back, though slowly, as this was abandoned in the 1850s.

Abandoned Glen Tilt Croft

It reminded me, though this is a beautiful landscape, for the average person living here, it was a hard, inhospitable existence. Yet, this was their home until cleared to make way for sheep...

Getting back to Blair Atholl from that walk, we looked back up the Glen and, well, a picture tells a thousand words.

View up Glen Tilt
Of course, no visit to this area is complete without a visit to Bruar Falls. It's a pity it's been fairly dry so far this year (believe it or not), as the falls weren't as full as normal, but still worth the walk.

Lower Bruar Fall
Today, it was back to normal, what ever normal is. Worship at our home church. Fellowship with my church family. But over the last couple of weeks, I have wondered again and again at God's great creation.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Physics of "My Little Pony"

A friend of mine showed me this and it's brilliant and brilliantly funny...

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The birth of civilisation?

I was reading an interesting article in this month's National Geographic about what is thought to be the oldest temple site in the world at Gobekli Tepe. As there is, as yet, no signs of occupation/settlement at the site this is an indication of the site being used for some religious-type practice, rather than palace or small city.

The especially interesting thing about this place, for me, is that from the evidence gathered, the earliest parts of the site pre-date permanent settlements and agriculture. So, suggesting nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes of no more than a few dozen gathered to build this temple and, ultimately, use it as a worship site.

Given the dates, this temple appears to indicate religion was the trigger for permanent settlements and, with that, agriculture. All so these disparate bands of hunter-gatherers could begin to worship God.

I find it amazing that the spiritual need to reach out to something beyond ourselves, the need for God in our lives pre-dates the wheel. Even in as Homo Sapiens was first working out their place in the world, they (we) had an ingrained spirituality and sense of something bigger in control.

Even now, millennium later, people are still searching for meaning. Searching for something to explain who they are and why they are here. Just looking at the reaction after a road-crash or death of a child shows the search goes on, even in this post-Christian society we're (supposedly) living in.

Wow. It's as deep a need, I believe, within us as food and water. As life gets more and more cluttered, it can be difficult to see God and feel his presence, even for the best of us. And he's been there all among. Loving and caring for us. Helping us grow but also giving us the free-will to choose.

And the photos in the magazine are pretty fine too.

Oh, and this is my 300th post!