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?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Why I am Mrs Gerbil

Now I am at uni and have formally begun training (yeah!), I am aware there may be people who read this who I will encounter. I find it exceptionally humbling knowing people read and enjoy this blog. Thank you. For your support, encouragement and general interest, whether or not you have commented.

I decided early on to adopt a pseudonym (did you guess that?) for a variety of reasons. Mainly, to help to protect the innocent. While I try not to give too much away when I am commenting on places and situations (and sometimes there are situations which I can't post here), if I posted under my real name who and where I was posting about would be much more identifiable.

So, for the moment, I am going to try to keep my anonymity. Again, it is an honour to be read. I thank you for continued your support and interest.

PS Now I have started uni, then quantity of posts will drop. Sorry, but study comes first and this is just too good a place to procrastinate!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Civil Partnerships

There's much debate going on down south about whether or not same-sex couples can be married. To all intents and purposes, civil partnerships are, but legally they aren't. Yes, I know, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

But, that's not what I am going to talk about. No, it's the heterosexual couples who want to enter into a civil partnership. So, let me get this straight, they want to have all the legal rights which come with marriage (mainly to do with inheritance tax in the UK) but they don't want to be married. Am I missing something? Anything? Is it just me, but why not get married?

It strikes me these couples want the privileges of marriage without the responsibility which comes with it. It's an overused phrase, but with great privilege come great responsibility. Or are they just making a point, I wonder?

It's not like it has to be a religious ceremony or a fancy do to be married. That's what registry weddings are for. Maybe the one difference, as far as I can tell (other than the obvious) between weddings and civil partnerships is the later can be conducted in private.

As a former marriage cynic, I wonder if these people haven't got the right person? There was a year, yes just one year, between me thinking marriage was just a piece of paper and why can't people just live together if they want to, to actually being married. Yes, I am a born again marriage evangelist. Well, not really, but you get the picture. Funny how quickly that changed with spotthegerbil. He is the perfect person for me and being married to him is as natural as breathing (usually, I don;t want him getting funny ideas!). Maybe I, too, would have been a civil partnerships for heterosexual couples person once?

Marriage is a declaration of a couple's love, loyalty and commitment to one another. End of. If you can't sign up for that, don't cop out and try to make a point. It just makes you look like a numpty IMHO. God doesn't even have to get a look in (officially, but he'll be around somewhere!), nor do you have to spend a fortune and invite everyone of your facebook friends!

If you want to live together, do that. That's fine. But accept the privilege and responsibility which comes with it too.

All are welcome

The other day, a fellow candidate/student asked me what I thought the shape of my ministry was. I couldn't quiet put it into words, until communion on Friday at New College. At the end of the service we sang "All are welcome" by Marty Haugen.

And it came to me. That is the shape I hope my ministry would take. Where everyone is really welcome. Where the church serves the community and doesn't just expect it to come to the church, but the church goes to them. Where all are listened to and valued for who they are. I suppose, I could call it my manifesto!

Friday, 16 September 2011


I was in Edinburgh early yesterday. spotthegerbil drops me off on the way to his work, the wee star! After visiting the library (and embarrassing myself by not being able to work out how to leave - spot the fresher!) I decided I wanted to walk the Edinburgh labyrinth. I don't know why I felt compelled to do so (I suppose God does!), especially as I've always thought "That isn't really for me".

As I started, I didn't know what to do. Yes, I know it's walking the path, but what to do while I walked. Talking to myself was out of the question. Not only would they be sending the men (why is it always men?) in a padded van and a straight jacket, but there was someone sitting on one of the benches chilling. (Must admit, that did make me a little self-conscious).

So, there I was, just walking at a gentle pace, listening to the birds. In itself, that was pretty meditative. Then I started saying (in my head, I hasten to add) Deuteronomy 31:6, my favourite bible verse. Over and over I said it. All the way to the centre of the labyrinth. All the time wondering exactly what I was up to. All the time wondering if there was any point to it.

Until I got to the centre. It was a great feeling. One of enormous calm and peace. Like the words were becoming reality for me. As though God was saying, yes, "I will not fail you. It's okay".

I continued saying the verse as I retraced my steps to leave the labyrinth. Now they had taken on a while new dimension. A brilliant and amazing thing that is so hard to put into words, but is real presence of God with me. I mean, just how cool is that? I love it.

Now I know what was compelling me to walk the labyrinth. I was guided by the holy spirit. Part of the God I follow, but the God who is preparing the way for me. Brill.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Synthetic life

This was an interesting article I was reading this morning. All about steps towards creating fully synthetic life forms. Okay, it's yeast they are starting with, but give it a few years and who knows where it would head?

Now, the logical, rational scientist in me thinks great. A step towards begin able to create drugs better, more cost effectively and more efficiently. I wonder if the drug companies will be too happy about this, as they are businesses and geared up to make profit. If the cost comes down, will there be sufficient money to invest in new drugs research?

But, the person who has seen the damage we humans have done to the environment through creation of chemicals the earth does not naturally have (CFCs, DDT, plastics, for example) wonders if the creation of synthetic life forms may have these consequences. Okay, they should never leave the lab, or that's the plan at the moment, but what if they are used outwith a lab. The results are impressive, but there's no natural safeguard. Nothing eats it or it doesn't die. Then what? How do we deal with it once it's in the environment and there's nothing to break it down?

Yes, I sound very doom and gloom about this. As with all advances in technology and science we need to tread carefully and really test things. Too often scientist have thought they had it right, but long term use has  led to damage of the environment and chemicals which were banned in many countries long ago are still in the food chain and still causing damage. That information we will never get from lab study, as the world is so much more complex than a lab can ever re-create.

We need to look after the world, as it's not ours, but God's. We all have a choice, but than needs to be balanced with the needs and health of the whole of the world, in particular all God's children. If these advances in science make drugs cheaper and allow children to live past their first birthday, we need to try. Same goes for food production too.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

My first day at school

Officially a student again. Didn't really feel that old. Not really. Honestly!

The opening lecture was great, if I was 18 years old and really worried about job prospects. Then, naturally, I would be glad I was studying at one of the best universities in the world. As it is, I really don't care. It's convenient. Yes, I know I will receive good teaching and have access to brilliant resources. But then mature students aren't the bread and butter of the business which is university education.

But moving on. Poster sales, that brought back memories. As did walking through some of Edinburgh uni's buildings (other than New College). I did one year there, before deciding it wasn't for me, working for a year and heading to Glasgow. Funny, the group I was with weren't offered the multitude of leaflets the other student were. I can't possibly think why that would be the case ;-)

Although we might not get much of a chance to, a visit to the chaplaincy was interesting. Universities must be the only place where different denominations and faiths (and no faith, in terms of the humanists) can work together. Just shows, when people concentrate on what they have in common, rather than what divides, we can do amazingly great things. Pity it doesn't happen often. And I scored a free t-shirt, so that was a bonus.

Looking at the set-up at New College, it would be very easy to become "ivory-towered" as a student there. It has its own library, computer lab, refectory, support staff etc. Really, there's little or no need to go anywhere else. So I wonder how New College ensures the students there, especially the younger ones perhaps living away from home for the first time, feel part of the wider student community. It's easier as a live in student accommodation, but more and more students are staying at home and there are less opportunities for the student experience then. Even though I lived in Edinburgh first time round, I did feel, as a science student, a bit isolated down at King's buildings.

The muffins were good. And enormous! Now that is an aspect of New College I could get used to, though I suspect it will have been a one off for saying "Hello" to the freshers. Just as well, as as I would become the size of a house if they were there too often.

Now I'm waiting to see if the uni will accept the credits I gained from Aberdeen. Unfortunately, reports aren't favourable in that respect, though I don;t know the circumstances of those where this was not a possibility. Optimistically, I have asked and based my classes on this being possible. I hope I hear soon the outcome of this, as the longer it takes the further behind in classes I haven't yet registered for I will be. But, if you don't ask, you don't get.

Tomorrow I will be going on the New College tour (and hopefully I'll remember where to go afterwards) and the inaugural lecture for the start of the academic year. That sounds really interesting and it will  give me an opportunity to meet my fellow students and get to know them.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Back to school

So to speak tomorrow. And I am feeling a mix of excitement, trepidation, nervousness and not a little daunted. Funny, all the time spotthegerbil has known me, I have said I'd love to go back to uni. Never thought I'd get the chance and studying stuff I like - the bible, history, social history, geography (to name a few) - and someone else is playing the bill!

I'm sure I'll be great. Everyone else thinks so. All while doing something I enjoy and am called to. Cool.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Worship music and singing

Another church, another Sunday. As I look towards beginning placements and uni, I have to admit I have been avoiding my home church. I'm aware I need to let go and move on, but in the knowledge there will always be welcome there and spotthegerbil and I are in their prayers.

So, the church I was visiting today had a praise band. Now, I'm sure they all are reasonable players of their respective instruments, IF I COULD HEAR THEM! Rather, they played, or should I say jammed to, a recording of a Christian singer's recording of the song. So not only could I not hear the band, I felt more as though I was listening to a gig or might as well had a CD (oh, how old-fashioned) on in the car. The way the praise music was used did not lend itself to leading worship and some of the words of the songs did not make sense, but as I can't remember the titles, I can't specifically comment!

But there was some hymns not "led" by the praise band and they worked better. I know I was the visitor, but I very much didn't feel the congregation were into the praise band-led music either.

Once again, I was complemented on my singing voice. This time is was "beautiful". Maybe I have improved over time as that's not the first (or second or third time) that's happened. Only seems to work when I am singing from the heart...

Which reminds me of a story I heard once. There was a monastery in France where the monks would praise God with their singing every morning, noon and night. They sang with all their hearts, but, boy, were they terrible. To say they could not hold a tune in a bucket was being kind.

One day, they heard of a travelling monk in their area, who was renowned for his singing voice. So they invited him to sing for them during their evening service. No one in the monastery had heard a voice so beautiful as that monk's voice. During that service, they thought they were giving God something truly wonderful to hear.

That night, an angel appeared to the Abbot in a dream. "Why were you not singing tonight?" the angel asked.
Terrified out of his wits, and somewhat confused, the Abbot told the angel about the traveling monk who had sung for them that night.
Confused the angel told the Abbot not a word had been heard in heaven "For you make the most wonderful music and all heaven listens".
The Abbot laughed and told the angel "But no one in this monastery can sing. We are all terrible singers".
"Ah" replied the angel, "but you sing with your hearts. That is why it is the most beautiful music in heaven".

Whether this is true or not, I do not know. But that is what I try to do. Otherwise, what else are we not giving over to God in worship? Of course, it depends on the song/hymn and many other factors.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Good or evil?

I was watching this Horizon documentary the other day and found it very interesting and unsettling at the same time.

While watching it, two things came to mind. How much does the nature verses nurture of an individual play a part in their eventual personality and the implications for justice when criminal acts are committed.

Without giving too much away, if you want to watch it, these two issues were covered towards the program. Personally, I can imagine this research, if taken seriously, has major implications for society.

Firstly, how children are raised and nurtured. Ensuring the have safe and loving homes and are not subject to neglect and physical harm. I know that should be taken as read, but it isn't always done correctly or quickly enough in some instances. It's also, IMHO, a responsibility for the whole of society, not just social services and the police. Too often it is easy to blame them for failing individuals, but society must take some responsibility for this. I believe it is an indication of a society how the most vulnerable in that society are treated. All of society is culpable for this, directly and indirectly. That, though, is a post for another day.

Secondly, if a person has is a psychopath based on their DNA and they have not had a stable, happy childhood what should society do when they commit crime? Arguably, based on their nature and nurture, they are pre-programmed to become violent and they have a limit to their free-will in this regard. It's an interesting quandary for which there is no easy answer.

Makes you wonder, though, just how many people do you know who are actually psychopaths? Especially if you have or do work in the corporate world. A scary thought, but maybe all these types of peoples, given the right opportunities, can thrive and actively contribute to society in ways which their personally thrives on. After all, we are all made in the image of God. An imperfect image, but an image nonetheless. And I am even including Harold Shipman.

Friday, 9 September 2011

St Andrews east sands

Drifting east
I took this photo while at candidates' conference during one of our breaks. I don't post many photos, as I'm hyper critical of them and this is a little shoogly.

It wasn't a great day, weather wise, but the beach still had a reasonable amount of people on it. There were even people surfing (braver souls than I am!). But the beach looks empty in this photo. People who really know this area may not even recognise it from this shot.

That's one of the things I like to do with photos. See places from a different perspective. Use different lenses and apertures to change how the location is perceived. To reveal beauty where is may be overlooked or taken for granted.

As part of the conference program we were invited to think of creative ways to lead a group to reflect on the spirituality of creation (or words to that affect). I think photography can be used for this. Pictures taken from unusual angels forcing the community to really look at where they are with different eyes.

Maybe this part of me. The "photographer" in me is part of my calling. Maybe I can use this gift in some way to enable a community to engage with there surroundings and each other. To engage with the wonder and beauty of God's creation in ways they may not have before. To get people outwith the established church involved too. Lets face it, everyone is a photographer these days.

But here I am getting ahead of myself again. I like taking photos and I shall always take photos of places I go. This gift, this skill may be just for my own pleasure and spiritual renewal. Or maybe God has other ideas...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Out of the blue

Here I am, less than a week to start uni and not long before I begin my first placement. In many ways, I'm looking forward to getting started. In other ways I'm a bit overwhelmed and daunted by the whole thing. I've so much to learn and it really doesn't seem long enough a time to learn all I think I might need to.

So, I'm getting a wee bit ahead of myself thinking about my summer placement. The earliest is can be is next summer, but it can be as late as summer 2014, just before I get to probation. Many people have said to me "if you get the chance to go abroad for a placement, go" and I was starting to think that was God's message. Now, I'm not so sure.

Yesterday, from left of field, I realised I am terrified of how to deal with seriously ill and dying children. It's not I don't care, quiet the opposite. So much so I couldn't visit Robin House when I was invited before it opened as I knew it would upset me too much. This although I know it, and Rachel House are exceptionally positive places and are about life, not death.

Funny how this hit me. I was thinking of placements and logistics of placements abroad (yes, yet again, getting ahead of myself). Me thinks if this hits me when I am thinking of placements, maybe a hospital/hospice chaplaincy placement is where God wants me to go. Go where I am scared of. Because that's probably exactly where I need to go.

Talking to and responding to God

How do you feel about prayer? Do you think you need special words or place? Watch this and be reassured.

Ever wondered what worship really is? This video sums it up really well and is entertaining.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Everything's amazing and nobody's happy

A friend sent me this from a tech blog. Much of what is said is so right. We live in an amazing world where technology means we can connect to people all over the world in a matter of seconds. Yet many, many people are exceptionally unhappy. Maybe they are looking in the wrong places. Stuff can't make you happy, it just makes you want more stuff. This video sums it up.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Silent Monks

In honour of the service I attended yesterday, where the organist played out to this. Only without the monks...

Money, money, money

Money is a funny thing. It shouldn't be the be all and end all of anyone, but in our current western society, money is required to pay for our daily needs.

I've never been motivated by money, if I had been at the end of my first degree I would have become a hydrographic surveyor. Or, in my last place of work, I could have done as much overtime as I wanted, but what's the point of load of money if I had no time for my friends and family? I had enough to get by and, latterly, felt very well paid for what I did (many of my then colleagues did not have that opinion). I've never been on a big wage and have never earned more than the national average. Yet I was so much better off than many all over the world, or even in my neighbourhood, and at any time in my life.

I have been in positions where my family were wondering whether to eat or pay the mortgage. Whether to put the heating on or pay the insurance. It was a real struggle and I know that will help me when I walk with those who themselves are struggling with such things.

The disadvantage of having struggled at one time or another is I hate to see waste. Why buy something new if the thing you have still does the job? Why buy something new when you can buy it second hand and someone else has paid depreciation?

Generally, I don't holiday abroad. Getting out of Scotland for anything more than a long weekend is a major achievement for me (and that will be a thing of the past now). So maybe a placement abroad wouldn't be right for me. I know many people have got a lot from them, but so have people who did all their placements "at home". Whenever I am encouraged to go abroad, it resonates with me intellectually, but not emotionally. Taking my call to ministry as an analogy, when people suggested I should be a minister I fought and ignored the call, but it touched my heart. It touched something deep within me and I suppose I knew one day I would be where I am now. A placement abroad does not have that resonance for me.

Yet when I hear people talk of hospital placements, I really feel drawn to them (the placements, not the people, though the people are good too!). I feel a hospital placement is the type of placement which will help uncover pastoral gifts I don't know I have and further develop those I am aware of. Once in ministry, those gifts will be essential. No matter where I go I will always have the ill and dying to minister to, along with their relatives. It resonates with my heart and I think I should follow it.

So, what does money have to do with placements? Well, I know there is a payment for them, but everyone I know who has done a placement abroad has commented how they have had to use their own money to support them while away. What if someone training doesn't have reserves to call on? Do they not get to go? It seems somewhat unfair to me that this is the case. I know I couldn't afford to go abroad if my placement payment did not cover my costs and it does not sound as though that is the case. Yes, I know God provides. I have experienced first hand just how generous is can be, but maybe I am not to go abroad at all. Maybe that is not part of God's plan for the formation of the minister I am to be. Maybe that's why foreign placements do not speak to my heart, as where there's a will, there's a way.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Not a good day

By lunch time today I had been given two items of bad news. Neither were a surprise, but confirmation is not always positive.

On one hand, I was told of a friend who is very ill. Very, very ill and the prognosis isn't great. I was impressed with myself, though (probably bad timing, but never mind). I managed to offer pastoral care to the friend who was telling me this bad news. Only once they were away did I reflect on it for myself and it hit me pretty painfully. My friend and their family will be in many prayers over the coming weeks, of that there is no doubt.

On the other hand, a friend of mine has been treated disgracefully at work and they may have to move city for work again, having only moved last month.

It's not fair. It's just not fair, seeing those I care for in pain. When things like this happens I feel very helpless and wonder what I can do, even through prayer. But I trust God will walk with my friends at this time and they may know and feel God's presence and support in their lives.

Everything is going to be alright. I sincerely hope and pray.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Random Reflections

I now have a placement sorted. Met with the person who would be my supervisor and we had a good chat for a couple of hours. Still need to draw up my agreement, but it's a step in the right direction.

I had to fill him in on my background. That is a complicated story to everyone but me. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will say something along the lines of "It must have been very difficult for you". I suppose it was, but that was the norm I had so I nothing to compare it with. As I said, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, though there are many, many people who've been through much worse than I have.

It's not long now until uni begins. Freshers' week is only just over a week away. I can't believe it's come round this quickly nor I have been off work for 6 months! Somehow I think the next 3, 4 years are going to go like a flash.

On the way home from conference my lift and I got talking about stipends. It's not a huge wage, on that we did agree. But I did mention it depends what you're used to. I always regarded myself as well paid for what I did, but I have friends who started work 12 years ago on a similar to salary I ended on. If we were in this for the pay, we wouldn't be entering the ministry.

There was something the moderator said which really struck me. It was about leadership. I've no idea quite why it was that, but something almost freaked out. Crazy I know. There are people who think I am a natural leader. Ah, to see myself as others see me. That would be a great gift. I know I need to be a reflective practitioner, but I don't think anyone really sees themselves truly through the eyes of others. Would we like what we saw necessarily? Or would we be surprised by just how lovely we are? I wonder.

It's funny how God can work in your life. After the moderator's session, I had to get out for space. I sat just off a path on my own wondering if I am good enough. If I have the courage to do what God has called me to do. If I have the support and commitment that's needed for all this study and growth. I was doubting myself. As I sat there, I heard a robin off to my right. He came nearer and watched me as I watched him. Robins are my favourite birds as they may be small, but they are brave and loyal and will fight their corner, even against birds much bigger than they are. They are also curious and like people. I suppose I am a bit like that too. I don't know why or how, but something told me the robin was there as a reassurance from God. Everything is going to be alright.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Candidates' conference day 6

Ah, the last day. To be honest, it was only a half day. It was good to get home yesterday afternoon, as it had been an exhausting, inspiring, enlightening and challenging few days.

Spirituality is something we don't seem to do very well in the Kirk and that was the main presentation of the day. There was much to take from what I learnt in that session, mainly how I may express my spirituality and use that to help (guide, enable) the congregations I will become involved with over the years. One thing I did take away was how much doing things we enjoy and having time for those hobbies can be a spiritual experience and is completely necessary for our welfare - physical, mental and spiritual. So, looks like I'll be taking more photos. I love doing so and I can use them in worship, in the right context. That would be multitasking...

I felt annoyed on behalf of the deacon candidates during the housing and loan session. Okay, so we trainee ministers are encouraged (read told) to look to the future for housing "as circumstances have changed and most ministers have their own houses before coming into the ministry". But there is no provision for deacons. While I know they generally do not get accommodation as part of their role, deacons-in-charge usually live in the manse. That's something which I feel needs addressed. There's my deep sense of fairness coming in.

Reflecting on the worship for the week, I realised I got little from it. Yesterday, the morning devotions seemed to be an advert for the church the chaplain is minister at. It also didn't seem he'd prepared anything, as they powerpoint was out of order and had to be jumped around with. I found this very distracting. I thought it was just me, but chatting to others reveled it wasn't just me.

I think over the last few days, the challenges of the journey I am on really hit home. You want me to lead your people? You want me to form a community of Christ and take that into the community in which I will serve. God, I hope you know what you're doing because sometimes I look around and wonder why me, why not all these other people I know. I find that very, very humbling and the responsibility all a bit daunting.

I know where I go, I go for the sake of Christ. He leads me on and walks beside me. So long as that is the case, everything will be alright. Honest.