Sunday, 30 October 2011

The first contract

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

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

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

Saturday, 29 October 2011

We've got Jesus

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

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

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

Friday, 28 October 2011

Star dust

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

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

Thursday, 27 October 2011

I hate being late

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A wee bit nervous

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

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

Things which didn't go well.

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

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

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

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

Things which went well:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 23 October 2011


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


Friday, 21 October 2011

Being where people are

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Future ministry

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Remembering how I used to speak

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 17 October 2011

Switching off

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Stop and listen

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

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

And here's one for the guitarists.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bike Parking

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

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

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

Friday, 14 October 2011

RIP Dennis Ritchie

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

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

Thursday, 13 October 2011

All sorted

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

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Don't rely on it

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

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

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

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

Monday, 10 October 2011

Cake or death?

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

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

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Sharing the peace

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 8 October 2011

He changed the world

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's not too bad to start with!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Under pressure

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

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

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

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

Monday, 3 October 2011

The start of the goldfish bowl

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 October 2011

How to resolve all the Kirk's problems

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

It's a brilliant idea...

It's worth waiting for...

Anyone young or old can do this...

Everyone knows it....

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

The poor get poorer

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Battling Bad Science

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