Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Funeral Attire

As the weather begins to turn, my thoughts turn towards warm clothes. Now, I have my fair range of warm, sensible clothing. Mainly in bright blue. I like blue. But it's not the best type of warm coat to wear to a funeral.

I do have a good coat I have worn to funerals, but it wouldn't necessary be the most somber for someone involved in or leading the funeral. While it wouldn't be worn in a church or crem funeral, I know I'll need a coat for those times it's a graveside funeral.

The criteria are it has to be smart, classic, non-distracting. In black, charcoal grey or navy blue. It has to be at least mid-calf, to keep my wee legs warm and cosy. Really, you wouldn't think this would be too much to ask, especially as, if it's a really good coat, I don't mind making the financial investment.

Unfortunately, full-length coats aren't that easy to come by, though it has been mild and the shops don't really have many in. There's a lot of red coats, which are lovely but perhaps not the best for a funeral (I so wish they could be, but there's a time and a place and I acknowledge that is a rare funeral!). One shop I went to, when I explained why my requirements where so tight, was really helpful. It's a pity the coats I tried on were too long in the sleeve (and not of a price where I would consider getting them adjusted, though in the sales...). They did say there had been a run, with the change in the weather and they were waiting for more to come in. I might pop in again in the next couple of weeks.

Another shop I think thought I was making it up. All I can say is who would say they were after a full-length dark coat as they were training to be a minister as a wind-up? IMHO wind-ups have to be based on truth and, really, why would anyone make that up. Their coats didn't fit me - but I think I would have had to find the perfect coat before I would have considered buying there. Well done, you've lost a sale.

So, the hunt goes on. I did suggest to Spot I just get a duffel coat, but even I know it's not that smart and, frankly, I look about 5 years old in one (if a little taller). Pity, they are dead warm and practical, just how I like my winter clothing.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Preaching in Advent

I was preaching at Eagleside for the first time yesterday and I think it generally went well. The sermon was based around Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-35, which aren't exactly cosy, warm, friendly passages for the start of advent!

I ran with the image of God as a potter in Isaiah, shaping and moulding the Israelites into the people he had called them to be and how that still applies to people in the 21st century as much as it did when Isaiah was written. But we should always be prepared for Jesus return. I also put this into the context of the incarnation being irrevevant without Jesus' death and resurrection. Without that, he was a good and holy man, but humanity was not set free from the burden of sin and put right with God in and through that act. Depending how I feel, I may post the sermon some time in the future.

Anyway, I felt I presented well. I was nervous before (and during) preaching, but there's nothing new there. I feel I came across in an authoritative way, but not uncaring. I was clear and I think the pace was about right. There was one point where my voice broke as it very much was speaking to me as much as, I hope, it was speaking to the congregation. I had to pause there, to settle myself and I felt a bit awkward, but was reassured afterwards that only one person picked up on it and that was actually in a positive way, to my surprise.

After the service, many people commented how they have enjoyed it. I know people don't like to be negative, but I felt a genuine warmth and sincerity in their comments, especially as there were people making an effort how I haven't managed to speak to as yet (so may people, so little time). One comment which stood out of me was "I loved your use of imagary and how you put the readings onto the historical context. That really brought it home to me and you've definitly given me food for thought." Wow. That's pretty amazing! Another member, who has been very honest in his critisim of me thus far commented "If you are like that at this stage in your training, you will do well." Praise indeed and very humbling, knowing both that person's background, skills and experience in leading aspects of worship.

I think I might have got away with slightly less comprehensive notes, as for some parts I was barely referring to them. I know it's a comfort blanket sort of thing, but at least if my mind goes blank, they are there. Perhaps, for a shorter talk I may try bullet points and see how that goes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, even if trying that just lets me know never to try that again!

I'm fairly sure there were a couple of times where I may have not quite got my point across well. If I can get a chance to listen to the recording, I will get a clearer idea of how I sound to others and if I articulate my ideas well. I know I don't always do that in normal conversation, so it's unlikely that would never happen in a sermon.

Yet again, though, many people have commented on how clear confident a speaker I am. Some of there people have hearing problems, so I know how important it is to them they can hear. It's good I am still getting this feedback, I know there's a danger I could become complacaent and loose this ability. The confident bit, well, I do seem to be able to come across that way, but I'm like a swan - swiming for dear life underneath the waterline, trying to stay calm and collected.

Also, my singing voice was complemented (again). Perhaps God's trying to tell me something? Either way, it was quite a surprise to have this compliment as the person is a beautiful singer and, I have heard, has high standards. Perhaps I should begin believing in what others say about this. I think it may be useful to be a bit more comfident singing, as there my be times where I need to led the singing in an act of worship (I'm especially thinking of funerals here) and God is helping boast my confidence to allow me to do this when necessary, which is kinda cool.

Overall, it went well. I may post more after I've listened to the recording and got feedback from my supervisor. Either way, I need to learn how to keep the emotions in check, without becoming cold and detached. Better doing it in the context of preaching a sermon to a supportive congregation that many other situations. Maybe it's a practice thing or knowing my triggers. Either way, definitely something to learn and be ware of for next time.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The good and bad of praise bands

I must admit to not being a huge fan of praise bands. Unfortunately, I have experienced some bands where they are great musicians, but are not leading worship. It was a great gig, but I wasn't at a gig and they didn't get the balance right.

Other times, it has felt like the members of the band haven't actually vaguely rehearsed before worship or, worse, don't actually know what they are going to play as that will depend on "how the holy spirit moves them". While I believe fervently in the power of the holy spirit, I also believe the holy spirit works with a person's skills, intellect and talent. Gifts come from God, but God has placed them there in the first place...if you get what I mean!

Recently, I heard a version of "O come, O come Immanuel" which left me cold. For me, it's a pleading, reflective hymn, longing for God. This version was not like that.

Doesn't sound very melancoly to me. I did. however, also find this version. What a contrast and much more in keeping, I feel, with how the hymn should sound, especially in the context of the lyrics.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Small group discussion

Eagleside is running a course, based on Matthew's gospel, on Monday nights. As part of the course, the participants are being broken into smaller groups to explore aspects of presentations and their reading of the gospel.

Although I am not "officially" a leader in the course, I have noticed people are looking for me for guidance and the knowledge I am perceived to have. I find that a little daunting, humbling and uplifting all at the same time. I know it is because I am a trainee minister and I, rather naively, didn't think that would happen so soon. All good experience and quite eye opening of people's perceptions of those in ministry, even trainees.

One thing that is coming to light, at least for me, is I'm maybe not as bad at this small group thing as I think I am. I'm engaging with the group, but not dominating it, while letting everyone have their say. If anything, I'm maybe holding back as I want others to give their views.

I do need to learn a couple of things, though. How to get the quieter members of the group to engage, without feeling under pressure to speak. Also, how to manage members of the group who may dominate it, which would have a knock on affect for the quieter members the most. I think I need a wee bit of advice and guidance on this one, as practice makes perfect and now is the time to learn. I suppose one of the problems here is there is no leader in the small group and I don't want to impose this if it's not necessary. Again, am I being naive and all groups, even small informal ones need some sort of leadership?

Monday, 21 November 2011

Pea and ham, fae a chicken?

Yesterday, I was accused of being too young to remember this advert:

I could have kissed the person. And it gave me an excuse to post the video of a cultural reference for Scots of a certain age!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Before the day breaks

Between night and day

As I walk to uni of a morning, I cut through one of the many parks in Edinburgh. When I first started, it was daylight, but now it's dark and as I walk, the city wakes up.

While I head through the park, I see people driving cars and riding bikes wheeling their way to work; runners getting their exercise before they start work; workmen (not being sexist, not seen any women yet!) taking deliveries of building materials. All as I walk to uni.

The thing I like most about walking through the park are the sights and sounds. The car engines, the bike chains whizzing and whirring. And, in among this noise, as it's still early and there isn't many people around, the sound of the swans and geese and crows and blackbirds all getting ready for the day. Getting ready to live day by day, to have enough to get by on and worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes. To live like that, now that would be liberating. For if the birds are provided for, how much more are we?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Support networks

As part of my training, it's important I have support networks. Some have been formally put in place by 121. Others, are my friends and family. Guess which are more useful???

An offer of support, for me, is empty if it's not followed up by action when asked - and I don't ask for help maybe as often as I should. I have experienced this recently from a couple of these support networks. I eventually obtained the one thing I needed from on of these supports, but I am still waiting to be kept informed of what's going on by the other, despite repeatedly asking to be kept in the loop (a loop which revolves around, you've guessed it, facebook!).

Sorry this is a bit woolly, but it's necessary. I suppose it doesn't help I'm feeling a bit tired and could do without the various placement things I have to do this week. As a commenter said, there are time when in ministry I will feel like this and the challenge is to keep going.

I'll get a break from uni and placement at Christmas, though. At least the exams are before we break up. It'll fell weird not working over the Christmas holidays, as I have not done so for a very long time. What exactly do people do over Christmas and New Year that they can't do any other time of year? I need to find out so I know where to avoid!

Anyway, with God as my support, everything else is optional anyway.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Finding a balance

Between uni and placement, it could be very easy for me to not have time for the things I enjoy and to spend time with those who are important to me. With this in mind, I have made Saturdays sacrosanct. I feel, if I don't make sure I don't do training stuff that day, when do I have a day of rest? It's not like Sunday's really an option, as I am usually involved in some part of the worship.

Then, there's finding time to keep up with the housework. Boring, I know, but necessary. I'm not a housework fanatic, but like to do a little often. With the occasional half-hour here and hour there, that's when I try to squeeze those things in. One things for sure, ministry training certainly concentrates the mind in ensuring I use my time as effectively as possible. It's amazing how much can be done in half an hour if that's all the time I have!

Some weeks are easier than others. This week, I will be out 3 evenings and have placement commitments during the day in my day off uni. It probably won't go above my max 10 hours (in theory, though my supervisor does make sure I do stay within this), but it would be nice to actually see my husband. Looks like I'll be booking him in on Friday! How candidates with children cope, I have no idea.

In many ways, when things are scheduled is out of my hands; I am, after all, just the trainee minister. In ministry, I may have a little more say over when meetings are. And, if they are in the manse, I won't have to commute to them!

Despite the busyness, I know this is the right path for me and know if it was a free and easy ride I wouldn't really be learning anything, then I would land up completely unprepared for when I am on my own (God willing), in a parish with no one to fall back on.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

By donation

Something which really annoys me is when organisations run events or have entrance fees by donation, then state the "suggestion" on the advert. Sorry, but that's no longer a donation, but a charge. Is this to get around tax laws, as donations are treated differently? Also, is it so you can recover gift aid for the entrance fee, but having a "voluntary additional donation"? I experience this situation at a National Trust property once. I can't recall the entrance fee, but let's say it was £5. As a UK tax payer, they could recover the tax I had already paid in the entrance fee, but only if I "agreed" to pay £7 to enter the property - the £2 extra being my "voluntary donation". It didn't go down too well when I refused and I was told the £7 was the correct entrance charge - so why not just charge that?

I know suggested donations help smaller organisations cover there costs and budget better. And, generally, I don't object to this where it is done correctly. But don't have a cashier make it abundantly clear I have to pay the suggested donation. This may even put off some of the people that organisation confesses to serve, as they see the suggested donation as prohibitive, or it could reduce donations as people who may have given more feel that is no longer appropriate. What, really, is wrong with just by donation? Most people I know will be generally more generous as they try to compensate for the lack of charge. Go on, try it, I think the takings may even increase.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Challenge? What Challenge?

I've been feeling a bit over-whelmed and challenged with uni and placement stuff and have mentioned this to friends and colleagues. Their response has been a combination of "isn't it supposed to be challenging", "I get the impression you're not enjoying this placement" and "what is making it so challenging?".

And there's the rub. I don't know. I can't specifically put my finger on one or two things and say "It's X and Y". But maybe I'm not doing it right. Maybe I should be looking at what I find helps me grow and develop my ministry skills. There's a lot I can and will learn at Eagleside, from both my supervisor and the congregation. There's a lot to take in at uni, but the more I learn the more I realise how intertwined everything is and how helpful it will be at some point in my training and/or future ministry.

So, are these challenging thing? I'm beginning to think they aren't. I think I was struggling to get the balance right, get a decent routine and generally get used to me new role. Things are settling down (probably fatal last words!) and I feel much more open to and prepared for the learning opportunities which are coming my way.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Communion in the round

Communion was celebrated at Eagleside yesterday and I got a lot out of it. It felt an integrated part of the service, not "a tagged on the end because we do this 4 times a year in the Church of Scotland" feel to it. The sacrament was as much a part of the worship of God as the hymns and sermon. That isn't always the case.

The communion table was moved to be in the middle of the church, so all were sitting around it. The elements were distributed, with the elders being served after the congregation and the minister last. Then we all took the elements together once all were served. I thought that was brilliant and I wish more churches would do that (of course, that only works with those thimbles of wine the Kirk uses, not the common cup). To really impress me, the bread everyone got was the same. It may not have been the best bread in the world, but at least it was the same. As I have posted elsewhere, it is a bit of a sore point for me when the minister and elders get different bread from the rest of the congregation.

The sermon touched a nerve of mine. Much of what was said could have related directly to me and I wonder if that was the case. Obviously, I will discuss this with my supervisor, as it would be interesting to discuss the issues raised and, possibly, the rational behind his sermon. It did, in parts, make uncomfortable listening. Not necessarily for me, but given the content, it would not have been easy to listen to by some of the congregation.

I have noticed, my supervisor will tackle difficult issues in his sermons. I don't necessarily agree with his opinion, but respect he will do this. I hope this is something I can learn to do, where appropriate and in the context of the congregation I am leading and what is happening in the wider world.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Telling it like it is

I have a tendency of - and I am quoting feedback I have received from others here - "telling it like it is" and "making astute observations". The thing is, this can (and has) backfired on me. I'm especially thinking of my first period of co-ordinated field assessment, which my local assessor did not appreciate my style and I was a bit immature in my attitude.

It's part of me and I feel it's part of the reason God has called me to be a minister. It does come with some rough edges, which I am working on, though I am finding that a bit of a struggle. It's not an unwillingness to change, to blossom into the person God really wants me to be, but a concern I may become a very different person, completely different from the one God called. I also wonder what impact that change may have on my relationship with those most important to me. Hopefully, it will only be positive.

A bit of me wonders, though, if my forthrightness is a prophetic call. Now that terrifies me. But there's always a chance is this the intrinsic part of my nature God especially wants to use. Particularly in the light of this bible passage which has come up in various settings over the last couple of weeks:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
      for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
      that the blind will see,
   that the oppressed will be set free,
      and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come"

Originally spoken by Isaiah and used to mark the beginning of Jesus' mission at Luke 4:18 and 19. It has come up in my personal daily bible reading, in the New College communion service and at my placement church. I don't know how or why, but I feel God is telling me something and leading me down a path which will be very difficult. I'm sure he knows what he's doing and I trust I am up to the task.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Including all the children

As it had been a busy week placement wise last week (12 hours all in), I was not involved in the service on Sunday. This gave me the opportunity to observe the service – both those leading worship and the congregation.

After my children's address last week, my supervisor commented I have to think what would be relevant to a 6 year old and I think that's a fairly valid point as I may not have got that across too well last week, but other feedback I have received seemed to contradict this. I can't help but wonder how to make them relevant for older children too, as they could feel patronised or excluded.

I know it's a difficult balance to strike and may well be something where, from time to time, I will have to admit defeat. I asked my supervisor for advise on this and that's more or less what he said. I can see that and that's one of the reasons why I think children's addresses are among the hardest things in ministry.