Friday, 28 December 2012

The gift of hearing

Almost everywhere I go (in terms of ministry placements), I have people thanking me for them being able to hear me. Given being able to be heard was one of the gifts for ministry I said I had, it's good that I wasn't just making that up and actually possess that gift.

I don't know what I do. I've never had a problem being heard (usually I need to really restrain myself). This used to get me into trouble when I was growing up - it was always my voice which was heard. But now, that burden is now a gift. As far as I'm concerned, there's no point doing what I'm doing if people can't hear me. I have sat through some very profound acts of worship, but have toiled to hear (and I have good hearing). So much lost because the message couldn't be heard.

My latest compliment on being heard came from a place I didn't expect. From someone who is profoundly deaf and who requires a hearing assistance dog. So, the deaf hear...I'll get really scared if the blind start to see too!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Talking about presents

My 'present address' went okay. As it's the first time I've done anything like that there's definitely room for improvement. Think it's one of those things which I'll be best able to do when I really know a congregation.

I did it a wee bit different, beginning with inviting the congregation to go and say 'Merry Christmas' to someone they hadn't done so. Must admit, that was a bit of an interesting spectator sport, as there was a visitor who didn't get acknowledged and the praise band didn't move from where they were (wish I'd noticed at the time...I think I would have commented). Then, I invited the congregation to share something about the gifts they'd received and/or what they were doing for the rest of the day with someone the weren't sitting with. While that was happening, I went and spoke to the visitor. (It was an interesting discussion, especially as that was the second time in 5 days someone has asked if I was the minister, when my supervisor was there too. Suppose it's really affirming that strangers are seeing it in me, but it also convinces me it's important for many visitors they know who the minister is.)

I then went and talked to a couple of members and the children about what they'd received. That was the first time I've spoken to the children at Caledonia Kirk during an act of worship, as there's not usually a children's address. I think no one got what they were expecting. For me, it was a good compromise between acknowledging people (especially the children) will want to bring their presents to church, but not have every present discussed with 'the minister'. It also got the congregation talking and engaging as a community. That, I believe, is an important element of what church should be.

Afterwards, not much was commented on about what I'd done, but that's not unusual at Caledonia Kirk. One member of the congregation did tell me he really liked what I'd done, as everyone was included and no one would have felt awkward for not having a present with them. It was good to hear that, as that was part of the idea.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Model Tardis that's bigger on the inside!

And how he did it is here.

I am mighty impressed...bit late to ask for one for this year's Christmas, I suppose?!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Presents at Christmas

I have volunteered to ask members of the congregation about the presents they have received, at the Christmas morning service. I volunteered as it's something I'm not sure is appropriate for an act of worship.

On one hand, people will have received gifts for Christmas, so to not acknowledge may be 'sweeping it under the carpet'. On the other hand, it places pressure on congregation members to bring something to church on Christmas morning. Though people may bring things which are very meaningful, there's just a wee bit of me things it's a bit showy-off. And how would anyone who didn't bring anything feel (or didn't get anything?).

Then, to make it all Christmas, I wonder how I engage with the congregation about their presents, without coming across as cynical, sarcastic or uninterested. It's a fine line, especially for someone like me. But I volunteered to do this, specifically because it is very challenging for me. Not sure how I'll tackle this, but hope I'll find the right balance and not be too cheesy about 'the best present is Jesus'. I'll definitely need God at my back for this one!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Keeping time

I am, generally, someone who likes to be on time for things. If I'm going somewhere I don't know or am travelling at an unfamiliar time (e.g. at 8:45am, on a Tuesday, when I usually travel at 7:15pm), I give myself a little extra time to get there.

When I was at uni the last time round one of my good friends was appalling at her timekeeping, to the point if I (or a few of the rest of her friends) were meeting her we'd tell her a time half an hour before the time we'd want to meet, so she'd only be 5 minutes late. Back then, we'd be meeting to go for lunch or shopping (or drinking), so it wasn't too much of an issue. And the rest of us found it just a wee bit amusing that she never realised we were telling he a different time from the rest of us.

Now I'm training for ministry, I see my ability to be on time as a really useful skill. How uncaring would it look to turn up late for a funeral visit or, worse, be late for the crem? Then there's things like school assemblies, where if the pupils are expected to be on time, the least I can do is have the same standards they are expected to adhere to. From my summer placement, I also experienced that relationships with the teachers can be built up through being that little bit early for school assembly. As far as I'd be concerned in a parish, I'd be chaplain to the whole school, not just the pupils. If I regularly turned up just in time (or late), those relationships would be harder to build up, as teachers may be doing their jobs! I may also begin to not be asked to attend by the school, due to me sending out the wrong signals to the pupils - that once you're an adult, no one will criticise you for lateness.

Now I know there are times when 'real life' or another part of ministry may get in the way of being early or on time, but they should be the exception, not the rule. Over the summer, I had arranged to met a friend after some pastoral visits, but the nature of them was that I couldn't meet my friend. They knew what I was doing, that I am on time (usually), so worked out something must have cropped up. They understood, too, that in the situation I couldn't phone or text them. But, if I'd been someone who regularly was late, they may not have even realised I wasn't going to make it.

I just wonder how I would cope (or tackle) with someone I worked with who's timekeeping was appalling and doesn't see it as a problem? Do I not work with them, or adopt the technique I used with my friend all those years ago? This is something for me to ponder, as I am all too aware I am not very tolerant of regular lateness.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The light shines in the darkness

(This is triggered by Isaiah 9:2-7, but is more a general reflection)

Christmas fascinates me, even though I am not a huge fan. The secular and profane combined. Whether Christians like it or not, this is a festival almost everyone in the western world celebrates. In Britain, I suppose it's our festival of light. It occurs just at the time of year when the shortest day has occurred and, though barely perceptible, the days are lengthening.

Christmas is the interface between the dark and the light; between despair and hope; between hate and love. In many ways, it is only possible to understand one in relation  to the other. Would we know light, would we understand light, if we'd only ever experienced dark? There are creatures in very deep caves, which have evolved there for eons, which have never experienced light. They have no eyes and do not even have a way of experiencing light. So complete was their darkness, the means to detect light had been evolved from them.

And even those of us who do know light sometimes fine it had to deal with. If I were to look directly at the sun, it would cause irrepairable damage to my retina. When a white sheet is hung out to dry on a bright day, any slight flaw, any blemish is all too noticeable under the glare of the sun.

Yet, ever day of my life, I choose to walk in the light. The light which God gives me, which God gives the whole world. The light which is God. The light which exposes all which is blemished and flawed in me; the light which cleanses too; the light which shines through me. Just like a sheet hanging out in bright sun, through God's light may be behind me, I cannot help but allow it to pass out through me. What a burden and privilege, especially as a minister I will be, for many, the representation of God in the world. But how can people know God, if not through the light which I carry within me?

Then maybe I can hold up those who do not know love or hope or light, that through my actions and words they will come to know them. In doing so, they will come to know God.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Half a degree above

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a group of people going door to door. Given their age and demeanour, they didn't look like they were delivering take-away menus, and I suspected they were evangelising. Rather than ignore the door (or tell them I am a blood donor) I decided to engage with them.

Turned out they were Jehovah Wotnesses. So, on the divinity of Jesus, we were never going to agree, but we do have a lot of common ground. It was an interesting conversation and lasted nearly 30 minutes. (If I'm being really honest, part of the conversation going on for so long was to let a child they had with them hear an alternative view on God, Jesus, life, the universe and everything and them to see there are people who will respectfully engage with them, rather than ignore or worse. It might not make any difference, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Perhaps I was doing a bit of evangalising myself!).

Eventually, the conversation was coming to an end, I needed to go out and I was getting cold (I did invite them in). Shame, it was really enlightening.

Then, on Saturday I glanced out our living room window and noticed one of the gentlemen I'd been speaking to come up the drive. Thinging they'd come for a repeat visit, I waited the knock on the door, but it did not come and I saw the man leave. Impressively, he'd managed to put a 2 A4 page answer to a question I had through my letterbox without making a sound.

Who'd have thought half a divinity degree would be so useful?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Half way there

Today I sat my last exam this semester. I think it went reasonably well, though am relieved its all over - a reasonable number of my peers have exams on Thursday, with most of them having 2 in one day!

So, that's (subject to results) me half way through completing my degree. That's a pretty frightening thought, as I really can't believe how quickly the time has flown in. Yet, in some ways it feels like I've been at uni for a lot more than 3 semesters.

(It's also a really sad thought that, rather than head for the pub after the exam, it was a filled baguette and a pot of tea - how rock 'n roll is that?)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Reflections on being a theologian

Over the last week, I have reflecting on my (and others) comments regarding me not being a theologian. I suppose it came a bit left-of-field, giving me something to work through, understand and come to terms with.

Though this is not the beginning of that journey, it's the start of the thought a congregation and the community in which I will serve will see me like that. It just hadn't occurred to me people would look at a minister that way, as I've never seen any of my home church ministers or supervisors as 'professional theologians'. That's not to say they aren't, it's just not featured on my radar - ever I don't think.

Now I've realised people will see me as the 'professional' theologian where I serve, that then raises the question of how to encourage others? Theological insight cannot and should not start and end with the minister. Some of the deepest theological insight I have ever heard has come from those with the least theological education. But I have the education  to explain (really, there's some of this stuff makes my head hurt and my ears bleed) stuff about God, see the big picture and understand where others are coming from. Hopefully making me better placed to engage with the community I will serve and lead.

I think I've still got to think this all through and 'get used' to it. Maybe even experience it. Though I had been asked questions about God, because I was the approachable Christian a group of teenagers knew, that was before I began uni, though they did know I was going to be training to be a minister. Maybe some questions were addressed at me because of this, but there were sometimes up to 3 ministers (proper, ordained, doing it for real-type ministers) there, but it was still me they asked. But that's maybe part of my gift and call?

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The deaf hear

I know this has been doing the rounds, but still think it's worth posting here. I think there's a sermon in here...

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

More on God is love

I've now met with my supervisor and he, generally, felt I preached well on Sunday. I delivered well, had a good beginning (though he felt there wasn't an ending - I'll come back to that) and raised a couple of questions.

One question was around a comment I'd made that I an no theologian. He called me to task on this, as I am being theologically trained. I could see where he was coming from, but think that's down to my understanding of what my statement really meant, which could be a sermon in itself. Basically, my calling is not as a theologian, but as a minister. While theology will (and does) inform that, it is not who I am. In my first degree cartography played a bit part, but I am no cartographer. That said, though other places I have preached (on and off placement) would have understood where I was coming from, it's good to keep my supervisor's comments in mind as different congregations may interpret that in different ways.

Though I preached on love and defined it by way of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, I did not define it beyond that. My supervisor felt I should have made a practical application of love. Mmmh. I did ask the congregation to reflect on what Paul's words meant and how they could apply them to their lives, but left it at that. That was deliberate, as I think sometimes it's good for congregations to be left with questions and routes to explore, rather than be given all the answers. Not something I'd do all the time, but think there's no harm doing so occasionally.

I did let my supervisor know I was trying to hold in tension my own inclusive, moderate theology with the knowledge many in the congregation were more conservative. I wanted to be true to myself, without coming across as disrespectful or dismissive of where they were coming from, after all, I am a guest there. My supervisor did comment he respected my bravery for doing that.

So, overall, good. Some things to keep in mind. I am also aware preaching is easier (for preacher and congregation) where they are known to each other. That's a relationship I can only develop over time with a congregation, as I get to know them and them me. Then I might get away with saying I am not a theologian (perhaps I should have said great theologian?).

Sunday, 2 December 2012

God is love

I preached at Caledonia Kirk today. They don't generally follow the lectionary, while I do. This week, though, I looked at the lectionary texts and decided to go my own way. This is forging new ground for me, as the lectionary is my default mechanism. It wasn't that I whimped out, but felt God was calling me to preach a message the lectionary texts would not necessarily have allowed me to.

As my theology an inclusive one, whereas my supervisor and many others at Caledonia Kirk are conservative, it was a struggle for me preparing for today. I need to be who God has called, to be true to who I am and preach the message God wants his people to hear, which only I can deliver (that alone is such a responsibility!), but that needed to be held in tension with respecting and honouring where the Caledonia Kirk congregation are coming from. (Why do I get myself into these situations? Why is it me who has to say the hard things and cut to the chase?)

So, with this being the first Sunday in Advent, as the church prepares for the coming of Jesus, God incarnate, into the world, I preached on 1 John 4:4-19, focusing on 1 John 4:7b ("Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God"). It was an inclusive message and may have been a hard message for some in the congregation to listen to. But it was what God wanted me to say, I firmly believe.

Interestingly, after I last preached I felt it went really well and everyone made the right noises, but I'd somehow let myself and, more importantly, God down. But that was due to the restrictions from I had from the book the church is following for non-festival preaching and it being my first time there, so I was getting the measure of the congregation. This time, though I may not have presented quite as well (though I am probably really critiquing myself, but I set myself high standards), I was true to who I am and God's word from me in that time and place. A bit like the prophets, I said what God needed said, with courage and confidence, knowing people may not like it, but with the knowledge I have to be true to God's call.

Unusually, I didn't stray from my notes. I also think I used them a bit more than I have, but that could be I am increasingly aware of how I present myself.

Afterwards, feedback was good. A couple of people commented on liking my direct approach (and if you know me, you'd know that's how I am - I call a spade a spade), some appreciated the general message that God is love and God loves everyone (which I was a bit surprised by). One person did say she like almost all my sermon, except my comment that "Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God", even though I was quoting from scripture, as she felt there are people who are loving, but don't know God. I couldn't necessarily agree with her, but like the fact she did tell me.

It will be interesting to hear what my supervisor thought. He didn't say anything at the time, which I don't know if that's a good or bad thing. I have a meeting later this week, so will see and I humbly listen to what he has to say.

Oh, and I got this played before I began preaching. I did wonder whether I could have just stood up and said "here endeth the sermon". I did say that at the start of the sermon and got quite a positive reaction!

Friday, 30 November 2012

House Groups

Last night was a first for me. I attended a house group. There are a few of these at (from, founded in?) Caledonia Kirk and I was keen to see what happened at them. I will reserve judgement to a certain extent until I have been to others and, perhaps, re-visited the one I attended.

There was a definite sharing and support at the group. I know some things were explained a bit more because I was there, giving me a bit more of a picture of what goes on at Caledonia. It also gave those in the group a chance to get to know me and I them a little better (some I don't think I've actually met, but so many faces, so little time!).

I was a bit surprised we didn't delve into the bible - there is a book the house groups are following at the moment and I had gone along prepared to listen and engage with what was there. Now, you might think that's because I was there and needed the explanation - I did too. But we'd be wrong. Towards the end of the meeting, the subject matter cam up and I was told that because this group regard themselves as mature Christians, they don't have any questions!!!

Okay, so how did I deal with that? I told them the story of a bible study group I was involved with, where a recent convert from Hinduism came along for a while (he was working in the area). He asked questions which made us all have to really think. We were also happy to say we didn't know, if we didn't (and there were people who have been Christians much longer than those at last night's house group there). I explained how this person asked the sort of questions those who have been Christian for a long time sometimes feel they can't ask, as it's sometimes expected they should know. I don't know how it went down, but one person then had the confidence to ask a question he hadn't asked, so perhaps there is a culture of those who have been Christians for a long time should know it all. That slightly scares me. I often have more questions than answers and know people who are much, much more mature in their faith than I am who have lots of questions. This is something for me to ponder of the coming months and it'll be interesting to see how things are at other house groups.

The down side of house groups, as I see it, is two fold. Firstly, how does leadership take place that allows discussion and questioning, without the group just being a group of friends meeting for tea and cake? Also, it would be all too easy for it just to be a group of friends, with similar opinions, backgrounds and outlooks. I suppose that's why I think churches (as in the buildings) are useful because the gathered community will include people I wouldn't necessarily be friends with, but whom I am in relationship with in the community of church and through Christ.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Helping the poor

I was in our local shop today. While I was waiting to pay for my items, I could see a person in front was having issues paying. They were trying to use a shopping card (bit like a store gift card, but it can be used in a range of shops), but it wouldn't work, even though the store accepted that card.

It became evident this person had used a Christmas saving scheme to put aside a wee bit every month. That was on this card. The staff were great. They were going to put her stuff aside, so she could get in touch with the issuer of the card to find out what the sketch was. But the person was trying to pay in cash. That cash was probably destined for something else and as for the money on the card? Who knows. I hope it all gets sorted and the person took the advice of the shop staff.

So, 6 years on from the Farepak collapse and nothing has really changed. Those in the lowest incomes are still saving in similar schemes to the one Farepak ran. If the company collapses, these people are left high and dry. If they do get money back, it's mush less than the amount they invested and can take years. The Farepak customers were awarded 50p in the £1 this year, almost 6 years after the collapse.

The people this affects find accessing banks harder, due to financial and social pressures. On low incomes, banks (especially in less salubrious areas) aren't interested and don't want to give debit cards. People on low incomes may be reluctant to get debit cards, in case they over spend. Also, they may have friends, neighbours or relatives who are agents for the Christmas savings companies, so feel they are supporting their loved one, partly a social pressure to do this. It's also saving with someone they trust, so perhaps see the transaction as more trustworthy than in a bank?

If Farepak had affected the Eton educated, wealthy upper classes, the legislation governing these savings schemes would have been changed, pulling them under the authority of the FSA. That hasn't happened. Why? Because those on low incomes are less likely to vote and, if they do, are not seen by those in power as worth looking after (grrr).

So, what has the church done? Not necessarily as a collective body. I know the Church of Scotland has written various reports on tackling poverty and access to financial services for the poor, but what practical things can the church do? After all, we are called to look after the poor and be a servant of many.

I think one thing is to help set up credit unions. The church could provide the driving force and premises (at least initially). Then (and I know I am maybe being really naive about this) those like the person I encountered yesterday could save in a more secure way than Savings clubs, but there still be the trust factor as the credit union is run for and by the people who are members (and they'd get a wee bit of interest on the savings too). That, I think, could be a first step in helping pull people out of poverty, which I believe the church is called to do.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Being part of communion

Yesterday, I help led communion with my supervisor. Not being an elder, I have never been involved in communion, only received it (discussion about the difference may follow!). This was at the evening service, which is more informal, but intimate. Fortunately, from leading worship at Lane End, I do not find small congregations intimidating.

I used a liturgy from an old Iona community worship book. It seemed to work well, with my supervisor and I sharing the 'voices' in the liturgy. It's really designed for the whole community being part of the service, but as many at Caledonia Kirk are not used to responses I didn't want to do anything too different for them, what with this being my first time leading any part of communion.

Prior to communion, my supervisor and I discussed what I saw as the part which should be done my a minister. I think it's the epiclesis, though am aware the congregation would be more inclined to see it as the fraction because they actually see the minister do something. So, those parts were done by my supervisor.

I expected to be really nervous or uptight about doing this. I was surprisingly relaxed. Perhaps it was the different dynamic of the smaller, more informal, group. Perhaps it's because I knew I wasn't doing communion, just helping lead the act of worship, so I wasn't responsible for it. Perhaps it's my fairly low theology of communion. Or perhaps it's a combination of all of the above.

It would be useful for me to develop my own liturgy for communion. I am aware it's a long time before I can do it myself, but now's the time to think about how I would like the liturgy for communion to work. I also need to work through what I would do for different settings (home, informal and formal communion etc). I know I can't (and wouldn't want to) have a 'one size fits all' communion.

Having seen my summer placement lead communion in a couple of settings, what surprised me was him doing it all be memory. I liked that, to a certain extent, as it felt more intimate as I knew it was his words. That will take a bit of experience and confidence on my part, both of which are a long way off when it comes to communion. For that, though, I'd need to work out exactly what is the minimum required for communion to be communion. No one seems to have an answer, so I suppose that's something I have to work out for myself.

I think the service did work, though. It came together as a cohesive unit and the communion was an inclusive liturgy, which is in line with my theology. Feedback indicated those gathered appreciated it. They knew it was new for me (both the liturgy and being involved in communion), as I told them before the call to worship. A couple of people mentioned they found it very moving, which was lovely to hear. There is a few people with Anglican and Episcopal backgrounds who commented they both enjoyed it and appreciated the more Anglican feel. That wasn't intentional, but I got the impression they got something from feeling the service was 'theirs', if that makes sense. As I was a style of liturgy I am familiar with, I now am wondering what a Presbyterian liturgy is. I assume no responses, no Angus Dei and no 'Holy, Holy, Holy', all of which I am used to from my home church.

There almost certainly will be future posts on this subject, as I work through last night and how that will inform my administering the sacrament of communion in the future. It will take a bit of time to digest properly.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Wine and bread-free communion

At New College there is a weekly communion service. I really appreciate taking communion with my peers, tutors and lecturers. Around the table, we are all equal.

As I am choked with the cold, while I stayed for the service yesterday, I did not go up to take communion. It's a common cup and I felt it would be very impolite spreading my germs (though silver has antimicrobial properties). I still felt part of communion, but that's because, for me communion is about the community gathered together. I wonder if there were people gathered who thought it weird I would stay, but not take the elements? Or maybe no one noticed or, if they did, realised why I hadn't gone up.

So, though I like the common cup for this gathering, I so could have done with the CofS thimble yesterday!!!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Chocolate train

Some would say this is a waste. I say it's a work of art. What do you say?

Women Bishops

I am going to be controversial regarding yesterday's 'No' vote for women bishops in the Church of England. I don't think it's a bad thing. Before you decide not to read my blog any more, bear with me while I explain.

The legislation the synod voted on allowed parish churches which did not want a woman bishop to have oversight of their church to request another bishop who, naturally, would be male. So, if this legislation had been passed, there would automatically be inequality in the episcopacy of the Church of England. Is it right that a church should be able to ask for another bishop based on their sex? There is no precedence, as far as I am aware, for an individual congregation to request another bishop because the one they have they don't like. They just have to get on with it. So why should women be treated as second class bishops? Could a church ask for a female bishop if they did not like their male one? I don't think so.

I know I'm being a little naive as the majority of the CofE wanted this legislation to go ahead. If I were in that synod, I think I would have voted against the legislation, due to it allowing inequality in the episcopacy. And, if I was in favour of bishops (which, given I'm a Presbyterian, I'm not really) I would not object to them being male or female (funnily enough).

Though I can understand this is a bitter blow for many, many people in the CofE, and it may be more than 10 years until this legislation can be taken to the general synod again, perhaps the delay will allow women to become bishops on equal terms with men when it finally goes through? I say this sincerely and hopefully.

As a wee aside, I wonder why the congregations who object to women as bishops did not oppose the Queen? After all, she is the head of their church.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Showing we are human

I've been thinking about whether, as a minister, I should let a congregation know if I'm struggling with something, having a heavy work load or had a week like last week. Having recently read "In Jesus' Name" by Henri Nouwen and similar works for an essay, I'm inclined to think it's a good thing congregations knowing I am just human too.

I have witnessed a number of ministers who will not let their congregations know they are feeling over burdened or tell them of happenings in their lives. Now, I know that has a lot to do with personality and relationships. I also don't think it being mentioned in the course of the service is appropriate, but if a member of a congregation asks how my week has been, it would go against my integrity to lie when its been rubbish and act like everything's fine.

Surely letting congregations know allows them to support their ministers? I personally think it would make minister look more normal - congregations would see they struggle with illness, worry, doubt, fear, just like everyone else does.

Or am I being a bit naive? Would opening up to a congregation give them ammunition to attack the vulnerabilities, rather than support another member of the congregation? Or does it allow the minister to be part of the congregation, rather than separate from it, so they are supported and sustained as a member like all the other members?

I know, where appropriate, I'd rather share how my life is going, whether well or bad. I won't make a song and dance about it, but will share if asked, being mindful of the sensitivity of the person and the situation (aka remembering the time and place). I don't think I could serve in a church where I felt I could never share pain in my life and not feel supported as a member of the whole, rather than separate from, the church.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Rubbish week - update

Well, looking on the bright side of last week, at least all the defication hit the revolving bladed air circulating device in one go!

Good news, though. My Uncle is feeling much better and even went for a wee walk this afternoon. The man spot helped on Thursday is sitting up and eating, which is really good news. After all, people are irreplaceable. And I think Spot and I could do with some after last week.

Though I have acquired a replacement car, which I pick up on Wednesday, hopefully.

Friday, 16 November 2012

A rubbish couple of weeks

The past couple of weeks have been a little shitty. It just seems like one thing after the other. First, the car needed an engine rebuild. Then, 3 days after getting it back from the mechanics, we were back-ended at a round-about. It's now been written-off. Tomorrow we go to clear out our stuff and hand back the courtesy car. But that's just a car. It's a pain in the arse and an inconvenience, but it's a metal box. All parties concerned were uninjured and that's the important thing.

So, you may be wondering why I am writing this. Well, today I got a call from my Mum. Well, it was spot who answered and, though I couldn't hear what Mum was saying, I knew something was up. My Uncle, had been rushed to hospital. It's 11 years since his first heart attack, so I thought the worst.

Arriving at the hospital, I told reception who I was. It's at times like this I wish I wasn't so honest and had said he was my Dad (he might as well be), as it was only after waiting half and hour and phoning my Mum that I got into see him. At one point, while we were with him, we thought he was going to check out on us. Not good.

Fortunately, it looks like it might be a change in his meds are needed, or his hearts electrics were playing up. Either way, though tired, he got home tonight. I'm relieved. Besides, on a very selfish note, I want him at my ordination, just for the sake of dragging him into a church!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Enforced getting away from it all

As part of my training I was to have attended 6 conferences (usually one around Easter and another at the end of August), but the program has been changed to 3 conferences in August and a yearly 48 hour retreat.

Now, I am a little bit of a cynic when it comes to organised, imposed retreating. There's a wee bit of me thinks as soon as it has to happen, perhaps the less retreatful it may be. Besides, if I want to retreat, I want to fornicate off on my own, at my own pace and in my own time. There are very, very few people I would like to be with when I am having a bit of me with God time - most of my peers included (and no offence is intended, but we'd all start talking uni and placements, which isn't exactly a retreat, if you ask me!).

I can understand why Ministries Council want to make us retreat. It can be all too easy for us to focus on doing ministry and forget to focus on our relationship with God. With just being with God. From that relationship, we can do all the stuff we're called to (yes, even Session meetings!). By Ministries council sending us on retreat I think they are hoping we will get into a routine of retreat and spending time with God now, which will pay off in time. So, I can appreciate their concern in our welfare now and in the future. I'd still rather DIY, though!

So when I received an email from 121 yesterday detailing where I'd be going and with whom I was actually a happy bunny. I've been where we're going earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a beautiful location, with lovely walks and scenery. Plenty for me to 'get away from it all'. The group look like a good mix, from all the unis. Looks like I might enjoy this after all!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Getting other people involved

Recently, I have been reflecting on congregational involvement in worship. I have experienced it in all of my placements, with each church managing this in varying ways. I think its a great thing, as I don't like the idea of having to do the whole service, even if it is I just avoid the notices and the readings. It gives me a break, gives a indication of the priesthood of all believers in the involvement and allows congregation members to use the gifts they have for leading others in worship. Though called to ministry of word and sacrament, there is part of me thinks it would be great to work my way out of a job!

As part of my reflection, I have been wondering how to manage this involvement. As part of the leadership role I see myself going into as a minister, I see my role in encouraging, enabling and supporting members of the congregation to be involved in worship. There's a fine line in letting them try, yet still being there to help where necessary. Setting it up if it weren't there would take time and effort in the short term, but would (she says hopefully) play dividends in the long term.

If I were to get to the point I did not have 'up-front' involvement in worship every week, I would see my role as one of oversight. Being there to ensure there's continuity to worship, it flows and to offer support before and after the service. Without that oversight people may feel unsupported or they could get away with almost anything without accountability. While we are all accountable to God, the person or people leading worship are accountable to the congregation. Something needs to be in place to give that in an appropriate way.

It's a strange one. I hope I can encourage congregational involvement in worship wherever I go in a way which is best for the individuals and the community as a whole. We all have gifts to bring to God and it isn't just the ordained and set apart who have them.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Staying true to me

I've been asked to preach at Caledonia Kirk on the first Sunday in Advent. Normally, I'd use the lectionary to inform the bible passage(s) I'd select, but as it's not used at Caledonia Kirk. Also, I want to stretch and challenge myself, being on placement seems a good place to do so.

So, what to do? It's the first Sunday of the month, so will also be a service where the congregation are encouraged to invite friends and neighbours along to church. So, there's potentially people who have never been to church before or haven't attended for a very long time. A 'new audience'; for want of a better phrase!

A danger I can see is I preach to fit in, rather than what I feel called to say. The flip hand to that, though, is I could preach on my hobby-horse and not the message God wants me to give. Oh, it's all so complicated!

I know I must stay true to who I am. I specifically chose this placement as it's different in theology as well as worship style from where I am coming from, but that doesn't make either more or less valid. That said, I do believe congregations should have their theologies challenged as well as nurtured. I know I am just the kind of person who will stir things up a bit, it's almost in my DNA. Whether I like it or not, it is who I am and it is I God called, not the person Caledonia Kirk would like me to be (if that makes sense). I firmly believe if I don't stay true to myself now, how can I do that in wherever I land up ministering? It's just a wee bit daunting knowing a prophet's words aren't always liked. At least it's not my home town, though!

Monday, 5 November 2012

See me, not my address

At the Big Kirk I am starting to get known. There's a woman with her elderly mother who I seem to have connected with. I was a wee bit late yesterday, so slipped in at the side and they had wondered where I was. It's good to have made a small connection.

As they have a couple of morning services, there's teas between them. I got talking with a member who is originally from my home town. I think I slightly shocked him that I knew about co-op divi stamps and could remember them (score on my part!). What made me really like this man was his reaction to discovering the area of my home town I am from.

It's got an interesting reputation. It's regarded as a bit rough and ready and looked down on my a fair number of people in the town. I have experienced people talking with me as an equal, intelligent, articulate person. Then they hear I'm from that area and the tone, the body language, the attitude can change in an instance. I am still the same person I was 10 seconds earlier, but they are now judging me for a postcode. That man didn't - he saw me, not the address.

Does make me wonder how much judgements are made based on where people live. They are wealthy or deprived; they are middle-class or working-class; they are keeping up appearances or are overcrowded. As soon as that happens, people are lost; individuals are disregarded. I cannot help where I was brought up and I am actually proud of where I come from. It does not define me and it should not define how I am treated, but it does. This does mean I don't do this to others. It would make me a bit of a hypocrite to do so, though.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


I don't like labels. I don't like being pigeon-holed and don't like doing so to others. I find it makes assumptions about people, which may or may not be correct. And my (or their) assumptions may be wrong due to misinformation, prejudice or just plain ignorance.

But I still call myself a Christian. What does that mean? A follower of Christ, as simple as that. I try to follow the path he leads me down, guided in the holy spirit. Nothing more, nothing less. It's so simple, yet so profound (for me at least). Yet the easiest things in life are the most profound.

As part of following Christ I am called to spread the good news. Take it with me wherever I am and with whoever I encounter, even into God's wonderful creation (which, being fundamentally anti-social, with a love of the great outdoors does suit me rather well). Good news, from the Greek evangelon, which gives the English word evangelise or Evangelist.

And just how much baggage is associated with that word? Too many for my liking. It always seems to come pre-fixed with conservative these days, boarding towards fundamentalism as I sometimes see it. (Just like to point out very few conservative evangelicals I know of would say the earth is only 3000 years old and slavery is okay, which scripture would, if read literary as other things are read literally, suggest). Even within the church evangelist and evangelism seem to be dirty words outwith the conservative part of the Kirk.

So, as a generally open-minded person, can I be an evangelist? I think I can. I pray I can. I feel called to be one. In many ways, I feel called to regain the word, the call, the good news, for the whole church. So it can be pre-fixed with liberal, open minded, questioning, doubting, flawed even. But all following Christ and all taking his good news, his evangelon, into the world. Now that really would be good news!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Professional ministry?

Apologies in advance. This is a bit of a brain dump.

For one of my classes I'm to write an essay on "what are the implications of 'professional ministry' for the church?" While I've not done much reading for this yet, the question in itself raises several interesting thoughts for me.

  1. What is professional? Is it paid, is it ordained or set apart in some way? Is is educated and trained for a role, preforming a 'ministry' in a professional, unpaid capacity. I would see readers, axillary and OLM ministers all as professionals, but none are salaried for their roles.
  2. What is ministry? I know, I'm maybe being a little obtuse here, but is that Word and Sacrament, Diaconal or Sunday School Superintendent?
  3. What's the church? Is it the broad, catholic, church or The Church of Scotland?I know this is something I'll need to define before I can even get about looking at what 'professional ministry' may look like.
This will be an interesting essay for me. I know one of the (many) reasons I ran away from following the call to ministry was the knowledge it's necessary for any organisation to have leadership, but how that can get in the way of a congregation performing their own individual ministries. I know the Kirk acknowledges the priesthood of all believers and ministry is part of (yet separate from) that.

I also wonder how new expressions of church are affected by 'professional ministry'. Often, as much as a minister may want to get involved in these new expressions (however they are manifested) time can be a limiting factor. It's also good for others who aren't ordained or set apart to set up and try these initiatives. But given the reformed definition of church (where the word is correctly preached and the sacraments properly administered), these new expressions of church aren't, in themselves, church. Under Kirk law, they need a minister involved in some capacity so the sacraments can be administered. Yet that minister could be an OLM doing a professional ministry, but unpaid.

I know there's a proper order thing and I acknowledge that under church law. Yet I wonder if that would occur through God, rather than what people can achieve on their own. Speaking to my latest supervisor the other week, he felt the 'good order' reformation thing, where only ordained ministers can administer the sacraments may be in order that the church is seen and maintained as being reformed. Is it a bit of protectionism on the part of ministers that only they (and not deacons, say) can administer the sacraments? I'm not saying it's wrong, I just wonder if 500 years after the reformation some things which came in then really look more priestly than we'd like to admit?

So, professionals don't have to be paid and ministry doesn't have to be full-time word and sacrament. Maybe that in itself could be a liberation for the church? Or a hindrance, depending on how you look at it.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Words matter

I was asked by a member of the congregation at Caledonia Kirk what part of a service I found hardest to prepare. I responded, with all sincerity, it was selecting the hymns, and this is why.

When I chose the hymns, I want to get the right balance between conteporary and traditional. I try to have a pattern in the hymns, so they come in the 'right' order - approach, confession, thanksgiving, response, sending. And I want the theology expressed in the words of the hymns to reflect the broad theme of the service.

Sometimes this comes easier than others. It depends on a number of factors, including the setting, knowledge of the congregation (don't want to give them too many unfamiliar hymns in one service!), theme, bible readings etc. Sometimes even as I've announced a hymn I've not been convinced it's been the right choice, but as it's sung it is absolutely right (oh, the amazing power of the Holy Spirit). But I do think it is so important to try to get it right, especially the words.

I believe many people get more of their theology from hymns than they even do from any sermon preached or eloquent prayer delivered. The words with music speak to people in a different way than words alone. They can speak to the soul as well as the intellect. And people remember the words because they are set to music. The combination is as important as the words alone.

There are a lot of contemporary hymns used at Caledonia Kirk. Some had beautiful words, which express great wonder, awe, praise to God. But the tunes are mince. Does no one do what Charles Wesley did anymore and take popular tunes (in his case, drinking tunes - I love that guy just for that!) and use them as the skeleton to build hymns on? When a tune is known to people, they can learn the hymn easier and it can resonate better in their souls. Just take "Christ is our light", set to the Highland Cathedral (okay, so the tune's 30 years old, but we are singing hymns which are attributed to King David, so that is pretty up-to-date!). It speaks to people precisely because of the combination between the words and tune. They compliment each other in ways which cannot be explained, only felt.

I also think there's a lot of strange theology about in hymns. Today there was the line "Christ became sin for us" from "Oh to see the dawn", by Keith Getty and Stewart Townend. Excuse me, Christ became sin? Seriously, is that actually what you meant when you wrote these lyrics Mr Getty and Townend? Really? I'm sorry, but that theology sucks as far as I am concerned. Jesus die to set us free from sin, so how exactly did he become sin? Christ, the only prefect human there has even been who is God incarnate, became sin. No, just no.

So words matter. They matter to me, they matter to the people I am called to lead. But, and I think this is the most important thing, they matter to God. So, it is important I get the right words at the right time in the hymns as well as prayers and sermon and everything else I do. For I am doing it for God.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Put up or shut up

The Church of Scotland is a reasonably broad church. Broader, maybe, than many within even realise, let alone these outwith (whether Christian or not). I thing that's a very positive thing. That way, the Kirk can, hopefully, serve the whole of Scotland through this breath, as well as its parish system.

I am respectful of other traditions, theologies, worship styles within the Kirk. I don't have to agree with someone to respect them - (one of the people I would happy say I admired is Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister. I couldn't stand much of what she actually stood for, but I truly respect that she stood up for what she believed for and took nothing lying down, but I digress!). Wouldn't it be nice if that respect was reciprocated?

Over the past couple of weeks I have heard of various Church of Scotland congregations who don't really approve of the Kirk. They see it as non-scriptural, having lost its way and not being conservative enough. They want the whole Kirk to be like them and don't appreciate that diversity is a good thing, not bad.

Playing a bit of devil's advocate (as is my want, occasionally), if those congregations feel so strongly that they want to leave the Kirk, why don't they? They don't approve of the Kirk, they don't like the Kirk and dislike many of the decisions the Kirk has taken over the last...50 years. If an organisation is that bad, and they no longer feel they can change or influence it, why stay? Especially as I'm sure they could find an appropriate bit of scripture which would indicate that leaving would be the best course of action!

Now, I am not saying they should leave. As I said at the beginning of this post, I like the diversity within the Kirk. If these churches were to leave, some of that would be lost. I just don't understand why they stay, though it may be they realise they couldn't manage on their own. Which is why we are all better together. But, as I see it, they shouldn't take the advantages of being part of the larger organisation, then bite the hand that feeds them, so to speak. I'd respect them more for stepping out in faith on their own, rather than staying and moaning.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Worship Fix

I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm going to anyway. Sometimes, when I'm leading worship I don't actually feel especially worshipful. Okay, it's out now, so I'll explain.

Fortunately, during my second period of co-ordinated field, I did feel I was worshipping as well as leading others in worship. I had also experienced that doing pulpit supply in a couple of locations. So I know it is possible to do both. I very much doubt I could be an effective minister wherever I will serve if I had to get my worship 'fix' elsewhere. That would be just so draining and, I'd imagine, could led to disillusionment and/or burn out. Not good.

During my first placement I found it difficult to be worshipful at times. That arose from a whole load of issues, including knowing I'm being assessed, waiting to be criticised (sometimes, in hindsight, unfairly) and the general style of worship not really being what fitted me. But I didn't seek worship elsewhere, though did appreciate the weekly communion at New College.

During my summer placement, that all changed. The church 'fitted' me. It's not that I wasn't being assessed, but I knew it would be fair and supportive, from congregation and minister alike. There were things they did I hadn't experienced in a 'standard' Sunday service, such as singing a reflective hymn seated, immediately followed by a period of silence (for about 2 minutes). Or shaking hands with the congregation at the start (I never really became comfortable with that, but I could see the merit in it). But there I felt God's presence; was very aware that everything I was doing in worship was me worshipping God and, in doing so, leading others to worship. This summer, there really was nowhere else I would rather have been,

Now, at Caledonia Kirk, I feel the least worshipful I have ever felt. After preaching yesterday, I felt emotionally and physically drained in ways I have never experienced. I suppose its not helped by not being to come to God in the prayers (as they are either so brief they are over before they have begun or feel more like rambling monologues on the prayer leader's pet topic, so it stops being inclusive) or the songs (they don't like me calling them hymns) as not only do I not know them, but I struggle to sing with any sincerity, as I disagree with some of the theology of some. At Eagleside, it was often the hymns which got me to the worship place I needed to be in.

So, what do I do? Well, there's always listening to UCB (which even 6 months ago I would have dismissed out of hand), but that does not really cut it for me, as I feel worship needs to be communal activity. So, I'm seeking out churches near Caledonia Kirk with an earlier morning service, where there is time to get to 'wrok' in time. Though I was tired after preaching yesterday, I dread to think how drained I would have been if not for my worship fit earlier that morning.

And, at the other church in the city, I was asked on the way out if I sang in a choir. And that church has a very good choir. No, I won't be joining, as I'm just a wee bot busy at the mo!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Sunday's reflection

I preached for the first time at Caledonia Kirk yesterday. Generally, I felt it went well, though I suspect my theology wasn't 'in sync' with that the congregation are used to.

I didn't get much feedback, but that which I did get was positive, with some people specifically coming to speak to me. The best comment was "tell is like it is, sister!", which was great.

I know I was nervous, but have now learnt how to use that to my benefit. For me, that nervousness keeps me grounded and reminds me I feel this is important. From some comments I received, it would seem most do not pick up on the nerves, which is good.

I know I come across as confident when I preach. I hope that's the right sort of confidence and does not become an arrogant or cocky one. Given the nerves and that fact I am concerned about that happening would suggest that's unlikely, though I suspect there may have been people in the congregation who were surprised at my confident delivery. Nothing explicitly was said, but just a feeling I got.

There was a couple of very minor errs. So small, I'm just commenting to acknowledge them, but not get too concerned with. If anyone (except my supervisor - well, they are supposed to picking up on these things) noticed I would be surprised.

I felt the message was clear, both in terms of content and presentation. A couple of people who did comment did confirm this.

So, all in all, I feel I delivered a well thought out, constructed and delivered sermon. It picked up the theme I was given (your past is not your future), though reflected my theology and understanding of God. It may not have reflected some of the congregations views, but I have to preach what is true to me, otherwise I will lose all integrity, and what God is calling me to say.

It'll be interesting discussing it with my supervisor.

It never ceases to amaze me how I seem to have been given a special gift for preaching. I wonder what God has planned to do with me through it. Knowing me, rattle a few cages...

Monday, 15 October 2012


I quite like a little bit of silence in a service. While at Highland Cathedral I became quite used to their inclusion of reflective silence in every service, to the point where I did not watch the clock or count in my head, but used the time to listen for God's voice.

So I miss it when it's not there. There seems to be a fear, almost, of silence at Caledonia Kirk. When it's offered, the music or speaking continues. Even before and after the service, music is played (I know some churches have music just before and after, but there's space in the service itself). A member mentioned it to me and I get the impression they did not like it.

I know with silence, especially when people aren't used to it, needs to be handled well - introduced, an appropriate length, built up over time, not over used. I also believe if I benefit from silence, I cannot be the only one. Our world is so full of noise, perhaps that's why we miss God's still small voice. Or, are we too frightened of what he might be saying to us?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Toughest so far

I knew before when I asked to do my third placement at Caledonia Kirk that it would be my most challenging placement yet, for many reasons, not least the worship being led by a praise band (!). Yet they are trying to be innovative with outreach in areas other churches may not be willing to venture.

Already I am seeing a very friendly, welcoming group of people. I know this isn't just because I am the 'student minister', as Spot attended on my first Sunday, but we arrived and sat separately and he was greeted both on the door and in the pew in a very friendly, graceful manner. In the main, most are coming across as very approachable and supportive of me, which will help as I go through this placement.

I am seeing a different theology from my own. I'm glad this has come at this stage in my training, as with both my own growth, academic study, personal and professional reflection and previous placements I am in a much better position to approach this placement than I would have been able to last year. I do not think I would have either had the maturity or self-assurance I have now to make the most of this placement.

Interestingly, in a recent conversation a colleague pointed out that when churches have 'theological issues' (lets just say Voldermort!), the people best placed to bridge the divide are those who have relationships across the broad spectrum of the church. When they said this, I did not think 'well, that's not me', rather I thought that if that's the path God's leading me, then bring it on. It won't be easy, but it will be very cool!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Church spaces

There are certain spaces everyone has encountered which seem special. Some would view these as just beautiful places, others are spiritual places. I think of them as being sacred spaces.

There's a church near where I live which, as you drive to it, doesn't seem like anything special. But get to the top of the hill and...there's something about that place that no-one I knew who has been there can put their finger on, but they all acknowledge it. The current church building is around 150 years old, but there's been a church there for over 1000 years. There's also a well nearby, so this may have been a sacred site long before Christ. It made sense that when Christianity came to this area, that the ancient sacred sites became Christian sites of worship.

I've been pondering recently if the church needs to start thinking about how to create sacred spaces for the 21st century. It's not that I think church buildings are the only way to create a sacred space, but I do think a church building should have an atmosphere, for want of a better phrase. I have worshipped in very modern churches, where the minute I've walked in I could feel there was something special about that place. I have worshipped in churches which are over 100 years old where there was about as much atmosphere as a wet tent in October.

I don't know what the answer to this is, but feel it's important for those with little or no connection to church that, if and when they experience church, they feel something speaking to them. One thing I know, it begins with God, but I suspect how people view the place and how a community worships in the space has an impact on this.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Faith seeking understanding

Now, I am never going to be a great theologian. Reading some the greats my head starts to hurt (though I did have a tutor who told us that if your head doesn't hurt, you haven't read them!) and I just feel they are trying a wee bit too hard to put God in a box. But I still see it as necessary to have people in this world who are doing theology in an academic way - they, hopefully, help the rest of us know more about God and gain a better understanding on our relationship with him through Christ and our neighbour.

I know there are many times in these studies where I've wondered what the practical application of some of the stuff I've learnt is. It's not to be dismissive, far from it, but I'm trying to see the big picture. I don't want to get bogged down with academic study so it does not inform the other aspects of my training - placement and ministries training network. If that were to happen, then the three streams would run in parallel and would not be interwoven as, I believe, they should be.

Yet the things I am studying are helping me in all these parts of training. As someone who has been in the Kirk for 30+ years, I can't recall formally being taught much in the way of Christian doctrine (if any). It didn't need to be done formally, as I have (and will continue to) learn what this following of Christ really means. The bottom line for me is faith, and faith alone, though faith can seem empty to others without action (not that I am saying action is necessary to have faith, it's very confusing!).

The study is allowing me to know where these creeds and doctrines came from, how they developed and the rational behind them. It gives me a greater understanding of where I am coming from, allowing me to 'justify' (and I use that word very advisedly) my stance. It challenges me to really think what I believe, rather than just accepting what I have been taught. It allows me to gain insight into the theologies of those whose theologies differ from my own, making me more able to engage, work, learn from and empathise with them.

Surely, all of that is part of the point of doing a divinity degree? To gain an understanding of my faith in ways I never could in any other way. That said, some of the greatest theologians I have ever met left school with no qualifications, so I will never, ever dismiss another's theology just because I am 'educated'. That just would make me a tube, among many other things I couldn't publish here!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Too late, way too late!

I was reading this article yesterday. A leading Roman Catholic theologian wants the church to be reformed, due to a corrupt hierarchy.

It is wrong of me to point out he's about 500 years too late, or should I go looking for a virtual door for him to post his theses on?!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

First time for everything

Heading home today after visiting Caledonia Kirk, a Mormon approached me. He wanted to tell me that God has a plan for me.

I told him I knew, as I'm training to be a minister in the Church of Scotland. I don't think a Mormon has ever had a reply like that before!

Oh, and unlike Highland parish over the summer, these young men did have smart raincoats!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Into routine

It's week 3 (how did that come around so quickly) back at uni. It's great to see fellow students I haven't really had a chance to over the summer and get to know some new ones. That sounded a little more sinister than I intended!

Over the summer, at Highland Cathedral, I had got used to having a routine of sorts, but it was one which was dictated by me. Many things I was expected to (and wanted to do, just wanted to make that clear) were not time fixed, so it allowed me to manage my own time, which I really actually enjoyed. So, while it's good to be in some sort of routine, I don't think I like the routine which gives me very little flexibility and is dictated by others.

I'm also a little overwhelmed by the amount of reading I need to do. I like reading, which is just as well, but there's a lot and some needs to be read 3 or 4 times and, even then, it still doesn't make sense! Oh, the joys. I know it's good preparation, but I find it a scary thought that I am doing honours subjects, the result of which will dictate my over all degree award (as someone who already has a Desmond, I'm not too concerned about my award, but want to the best I can).

And then I have to fit in placement too. It all be fine and worth it in the end. I managed first year, so I should manage this year too.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

And so it starts again

Today saw the beginning of my third placement, this time at Caledonia Kirk. I specifically chose there for this placement as I knew its worship style was very different from any I have experienced thus far in my training and they are trying to be a missional church (their words, not mine!).

It was communion today, but the table was squeezed off to one side to give the praise band space. I was once at a conference where we were invited to think of a church we were familiar with and imagine what a visitor would see first as they entered. That, the speaker argued, was what the church thought of as being most important. Personally, I do not think the table of the Lord should be pushed to the side in favour of the praise band.

And the invitation to the table was...not there, as far as I recall. That's definitely something to ponder.

The people seemed friendly enough and it wasn't just because I was introduced to them - Spot sat separate from me and people did say hello and welcomed him, so that's not too bad. I did find it a bit odd being given a round of applause just for getting to the lectern, which I found very odd (and did make a bit of a jokey comment about).

Throughout the service, the praise band dominated, but didn't really lead worship. It was never clear if they were playing to encourage reflection/meditation of the word or the congregation were to join in. It wasn't clear when the congregation were to stand to sing or sit and join in if they wanted and I don't think the congregation knew either, as there were a couple of times where some stood and others didn't (for no apparent reason). And there was no point were there was no noise. Either someone was talking (leading prayers, readings, the sermon) or the band played. Is there a fear of silence here, as it is in the silence God speaks. There just wasn't space at all to just be with God in the service today, for me at least. But I have to remember, it's not about me (I just know Spot will not be there very often!!!)

I'm trying desperately to think positively about the service and remember there are various ways to come to God. It wasn't for me, but must be for those gathered (I hope so, or are they going out of habit?). I was surprised how few people were gathered for worship today. From the things I had heard about Caledonia Kirk I really thought it would be very busy with mainly the 'missing generation' and young people. There was a reasonable number of youth (though no more than Highland Cathedral and I was there over the summer when numbers naturally drop) and some parents of those. Interestingly, Spot did comment that it looked as thought they were mainly single Mums, though that had occurred to me, but most wore wedding rings. So, where are all the Dads?

Theologically, my initial reaction is this is different from my perspective, but it is early days and I need to get to know where they are coming from (and want to go) before I can draw definite conclusions. It will make preaching a sermon there (dramatic pause) interesting. I think there will be interesting discussions at my supervision sessions too!

It was a reasonable cuppa after the service and I did have a good chat with a member and a couple who are new to that church and the area.

So, another stage in the path following God. Not sure where this will lead, and I suspect this may be the most challenging placement yet, but it will be worth the effort in the end.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The same, but different

While trying to visit other churches before beginning my third placements, I have been struck by the variety, yet sameness of the worship. I hope that's a good thing, though I wonder if the way the 'usual' church service in the Kirk lends itself to allowing all to get closer to and know God in ways they couldn't?

Yet a few of the churches I have visited have been full, with members and regular attendance increasing, rather than decreasing, so they must be doing something wrong. And it's not possible to have a one size fits all model for worship, yet the services did have that feel to them, but didn't at the same time..which is an interesting paradox.

Just thoughts at the moment. Nothing more.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The knees have it

I've only been to one ordination, but I suspect in quite a short time they will be a little like weddings, where seemingly everyone I know is getting done!

Which brings me to the physicalities and practicalities of it - specifically where the ordinand kneels. Kneeling is not a good thing for me if you'd like me to get up again in any vaguely dignified way. More than a few seconds and my knees really don't appreciate it. A few minutes and I'm walking like I've wet myself for the next hour or so.

So do we have to kneel? If so, can I get a pair of gel knee pads to wear when the time comes?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

What do you want?

So a friend who reads this blog commented the other day that my personality doesn't really come across here, though they did appreciate that's because it's main purpose is to reflect on my experience of all aspects of my ministry training (as far as can be made public).

Or to put it another way, she felt my readership needed more. But what of? The random thoughts which fill my head can sometimes be that - random. So random that only those who know me well have half a clue what I'm on about and sometimes that's only half the time!

Then there's the time factor. I'm now back at uni (and doing honours courses - how scary is that?!) and will be beginning placement very shortly. Though I enjoy blogging there are more important things I could be doing with my time. Yet I know there are some people who read this who get help from seeing it's not just them who are struggling with call, themselves, uni, training or anything else. I suppose if this helps one person (you know who you are) , when it's worth it!

If there's anything you'd like me to write on, please let me know. I can't say I'd necessarily be able to (or want to, for that matter), but I'll try anything once!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

A hard life

Watching as the bike was washed by some firefighters...a hard life, but someone's got to do it!

Thursday, 13 September 2012


Yesterday, after 23 years the families of the victims and the survivors of the Hillsborough Disaster finally got the report they had been fighting for. The full details of which can read here. It's shocking to read of the systematic cover up of the failings of the authorities. I'll leave it to others to work out what to do with this information.

Today the report made front page news on almost every paper I saw and was the lead story online this morning. Everywhere but one paper - The Sun. I found that...interesting, very interesting.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Take up your sofa and walk

Yesterday was my annual review, to see if I can still proceed with my training. It was a great chat and I felt really encouraged and valued.

One thing we touched on was my dealing with authority. It had come as a shock how quickly I was perceived as 'a minister' at Eagleside, especially by people who had been figures of authority for me in my childhood. I told the panel I'd dealt with that through being true to myself and focusing on letting people know I was part of the team - all are part of Christ's body and all have different gifts and calls to bring, mine just happens to be to ministry.

Well, I wish what I had to do today had happened before yesterday's meeting. How to keep yourself humble - walk (and I do mean this literally) two sofas to the local cowp (a Scottish refuse site) as they wouldn't fit into the back of the car. Well, it wasn't far, they weren't heavy and it was cheaper than hiring a van.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Ice Cream

So there I was, sitting watching the world go by in Princes Street Gardens. A couple of ladies were looking for a seat and I gestured they could share mine. As it was a lovely day, one of them went to get ice cream (should have asked where mine was when she came back!).

As they were eating their ice creams it was not a good moment to recall the conversation my flatmates and I had when at uni the first time round - that the way a person eats their ice cream is an indication  of the way they kiss...I really did not need that thought. Ever.

I think I'll just go and invent some brain bleach for moments such as these!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Drive out hate with love

[Spoiler alert: contains references to last night's Doctor Who]

In the episode, Amy Pond lost her wrist band which protected her from the Daleks in the asylum. Over time, the nanoparticles would remove all love in her for hate. Substitute love for hate. In Skaro, the Daleks tell The Doctor it is hate which feeds them (in a round about way). Hate drives out love.

There's just so many parallels with life, with society, with the church and why Jesus came. Hate of 'the other' what ever 'the other' may have been (the woman with bleeding, the Samaritan, the daemon possessed man across the lake) had driven people away from God; had removed people from God's community of his chosen people; was preventing the chosen people being the light in the darkness for the whole world. All because hate had replaced love.

So God sent love to the world, in Jesus. Love was shown to those that had been denied love; those who had treated with contempt and hate, he brought love. Because love is a light which drives out hate.

I wonder if the church manages this? It's not prefect, but I pray wherever I serve love is the greatest.

And Amy showed Rory, at last, that she did love him as much as he loves her. And hate was driven out.

Friday, 31 August 2012

All called by God

As Spot was going through enquiry a few people wondered how that would work out, with me training for full-time ministry. Neither of us were too worried, believing if us both being called to ministry was part of God's plan, he'd know how things were going to pan out.

But there aren't many people I've heard saying to someone who's husband's a teacher or wife's a doctor "who is your call going to fit in with their call to teach or medicine?".I know there are a few, but many people focus so much on the 'up-front', trained by the Kirk ministries. As far as I am concerned, everyone has a call from God. They are all significant to God, even if they may not seem that significant to society. In our marriage, Spot and I support each other with our calls. Both extend far beyond trained ministry. We have supported each others calls which got us to the place we are today and would have continued to do so if our paths hadn't moved in the direction they have.

But how does the church support, affirm and encourage calls throughout members of congregations' lives? I believe that can come through the pulpit and pastoral encounters, as well as letting others bring their own gifts to God, in the life and worship of the church, but also in their day to day lives. It is there most in this country see Christ - in the lives of his followers. If Christians are not encouraged to see their ordinary, daily lives are their call, how will they feel their lives touching others as they do work, rest and play and, in doing so, are following God's call in their lives?

This is something I need to keep in mind, but also one of the reasons I pushed going into ministry for so long, as I objected (and still do to a certain extent) to the singling out of people in the church, but understand ever community needs a leader and shepherd. I pray I remember this and become the kind of leader who ensures the people in the church I serve see their calls as valued by God as anyone else in the church's call, what ever that may be.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Minister's wife in training!

Something which occurred to me yesterday. Not only am I training to be a minister, but I am now training to be a minister's wife! How did that happen?

At least I will have the ultimate excuse not to do all the 'traditional' minister's wife's roles, as I'll probably be a little bit busy to help with The Guild, coffee mornings or the Sunday School.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

At my side

So there I was, singing "Brother, Sister let me serve you" with my fellow candidates during our end of conference communion. As we sang, I couldn't. It's not that I don't like that hymn or struggle with its theology, but at that moment it felt more worshipful to feel the music than sing it. It was a strange feeling, but peaceful.

As I worshipped I felt my hand gently squeezed. Just briefly, barely noticeable. In the way Spot will sometimes do when he knows I could do with it. The sort of squeeze which says "I'm here; you're fine; I love you". We'll no one was physically holding my hand...but there was definitely that presence in that moment.

To my rational scientist brain, it was my imagination. But to my irrational self, the person who is following this mad thing called ministry, that was Jesus...just being there.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

In our joy too?

For many in our communities, the church has very little to do with their lives. It's a hard but sad fact. Yet, when sad times come, be it death or illness, a local or national tragedy, that is when people turn to the church. For prayer, for comfort, for presence. And that is only right and good, not for the church, but for the sake of those in our communities, so they may see Christ in the actions and being of those in the church during the sad, painful times in their lives.

But why only the bad times? Why not the good times - graduating, recovering from serious illness, marriage, having a child, the list goes on and on. Perhaps it is easier to approach God in pain, than in joy? Perhaps. I know of many, many people who will only pray when it's all going pear shaped, not when it's going well.

I wonder though if this could be a way of people seeing the church is with them always, not just in their pain. We want to share their joy too. Yet, the Scottish Presbyterian image is not one which lends itself to can I put this? Cheerful. For many, especially of a certain generation, the Rev IM Jolly, though a caricature, was the 'face' of the Kirk. A door minister, with no sense of humour, sense of fun, who would never share a communities joy, because they would suck all happiness out of it!

I don't think there are easy answers to this. It would take a cultural shift, both in terms of the church and society, but wouldn't it be great if the church community could be part of the parish's joy and celebration?

Monday, 27 August 2012

All here to serve

This is day 3 of my third and penultimate conference. It was very different from my first, not least because Spot was here with me during the weekend, but also I am more comfortable about myself and accepting of being a candidate in training. Last year I perceived all these eloquent, sorted people and wondered how I'd ever come up to that standard. Now I see we're pretty much all bricking it and wondering exactly how we got here!

I'm really trying to make the effort to get to know the new people, especially those who won't be studying at Edinburgh, who I can get to know and (hopefully) support there. It's partly networking, but mainly I know how I felt last year and can really see the same expressions in their faces as I had. And a pint with my peers in the local isn't too much of a hardship either!

It's amazing to see all these great, talented, gifted people being called in varying ways to serve Christ's church and minister to God's people. I am privileged to be among them, even though I sometimes think just how good God's sense of humour is when he called me!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

What would you take?

During a recent visit to a Roman site, Spot challenged me to come up with technology I would take to them, based on my knowledge and the ability they would have had to make the technology.

My initial thoughts were the steam train engine, but the blast furnace would be needed first, in order that the right grade of steal could be made. It would also need the development of the steam hammer, which needs a steam engine al a Watt. Spot did agree that all those were things the Romans probably could have made even if they hadn't.

But a bit later I thought on the bicycle. Just think how that could have improved communication throughout the Roman Empire, with all those great roads. They definitely could have made that, as they had good blacksmiths and the inventor of the bicycle, Kilpartick Macmillan, was one. As for tyres, rubber wasn't available to the Romans, but a suitably treated inflated intestine would probably do the job.

My other suggestion (and I must say, I thought that a bit of a stroke of genius) was movable type, a key element of the printing press as we know it (the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans had printing before Gutenberg, but they were wooden blocks which wore and could not easily be changed).

So, what would you take? I'm not too worried about changing world history here. I'm not The Doctor..

Monday, 20 August 2012

Home Sweet Home

Got home late last night. In theory, I could have come home yesterday afternoon, but Highland Cathedral were having their annual end of their Summer holiday club rained, but ne'er mind. I wanted to still be part of that, seeing as I was involved from the off in the planning and preparation of the week. Despite the rain, it was the right way to round off the week.

I always knew I would be leaving Highland Cathedral and it wasn't hard. I loved the church, the people, the area. It wasn't hard to leave as I think I will always have a place there if I were ever to visit (though weekends tend to be a bit difficult, for some reason!). To quote a member of the congregation yesterday "I can't believe you've only been here 10 weeks, you have become so much a part of the church. It's great". That was very touching and affirming. I was only able to do that by being myself and the congregation being who they were.

So all in all, this was a great placement for me. It's not that the placement wasn't without its challenges, but those went with my gifts and skills, rather than against them and that made all the difference to what I did, how I learnt and how I grew. I pray this may continue throughout my training and formation (a process which I know does not end on ordination).

And all this was possible because 2 good friends of spot and I were stupid enough to offer a place to stay to me. Thank God for people like them in our lives.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Tiring, but fun

All this week Highland Cathedral has been hosting its Summer Holiday club for primary school children. I have been involved all week and have thoroughly loved it. It's the first time I've been involved in this since I was in my late teens and I know I enjoyed it more that I did first time round.

The children were great, the leaders were great, the people who made the tea and refreshments were great. In fact, everyone involved in any way in making the club happen were great.

I thrived on the buzz of the whole thing. I was happy making a fool of myself where necessary (and it was necessary quite a lot of the time!). I was also sensible when I needed to be,. which made the silliness even sillier!

It's definitely something I'd seriously consider doing in the future, if the church I'm called to doesn't already have one. For many children it might be the only contact with church they will have, but who knows the seeds which may be sown when they take part in a good church holiday club?

Though I enjoyed it, I am tired. It's a high energy thing (especially as I was one of the people up-front - pulling the whole thing together, giving continuity etc) and even the children who have come all week looked tied today. And with all my jumping around and falling down (on purpose, I have to admit) it's not done my dodgy knee any favours. But, it was worth it to see children have fun in a church setting and hopefully, through all the team has done this week, will know God's love for them. The rest is in God's hands.

Right time, right place

In a few days time I will be at home. My home. The house I share with spotthegerbil. It'll be odd being home. I miss it. I miss not having spot around. I miss the sights and the smells. I miss my triangle of working. I miss my routine and my space.

(This is not to be a moan, but a reflection, so bare with me)

Yet being at Highland Cathedral has been a great opportunity which came my way. My good friends and very generous hosts offered me a place to stay even before I'd thought about summer placements (in fact, even before I'd started uni or my first placement). The things I have done would not have been open to me near my home (as there are some unique outreach projects at Highland Cathedral) and I have experienced living in a context very different from the central belt, where I have always lived. They have been gracious and generous hosts, with me becoming very much part of the family and this feeling like a second home. It's amazing how things can come your way and you can either take the chance or not. I'm so glad I did, though it has not been totally easy being away from spot for so long.

It's going to be hard leaving. I've come to love this place, the people, the congregation and I think they have come to love me. This area is definitely on the list of areas I would consider for a charge (though that seems a long way off at the moment).

It's funny, I had considered going abroad for a placement, but I am glad I chose no to. Here, at Highland Cathedral, was exactly where I needed to be for this placement. God gave me a choice and I accepted. I pray my next placement will be as beneficial in my formation as this one has. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Nearly there

This is the final week of my summer placement and what a brilliant placement this has been. I have learnt so much, grown so much and done so much. (The beer in the local has been a hardship to sample, too!). While all experience is beneficial, this placement was good too. The congregation, the minister, the location, my hosts - really, I couldn't have asked for a better placement.

I really feel, even in this very short period of time, that I have touched the lives of so many in Highland Cathedral and its parish. In many ways, that will be to a limited extent, but I look at how often Jesus only spoke to someone briefly and their lives were transformed forever. I pray that I can do that too, in his strength, of course.

The only thing I've found a bit of a chore about this placement has been the paperwork. Those who know me know I don't really like paperwork - I see it as a necessary evil. I know the report is necessary to ensure I am progressing within my own training and doing what is expected of me for my stage of training. I'm fine with that, but does it really need to be so long? So very long? Is it just me or is there a lot of repetition? And there's the questions for the first section basically asking how rubbish I am at something. While I know it would be wrong to not state areas of struggle or where improvement is required, surely it's also wrong to word the document in such a way that some candidates will feel they can't acknowledge where things have gone well? Last time round I did focus on the negatives, this time it's more balanced and I have acknowledged where I'm good at something as well as where I need to further develop.

Just a few more days and it'll all be over on paper. In practise all I have learnt and seen and experienced here will stay with me all through my ministry, wherever that may lead.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Put it away!

What is it about Brits that makes many of us want to take our clothes off when the temperature gets above 20 degrees? I mean, really, is wearing a t shirt and shorts just too much to ask? If you're too warm, wet the t shirt. It'll dry quick enough and the wicking effect will cool you down.

But please, please, please put it away. Really, it's not nice and you've probably not bothered with sunscreen, so are heading into the territory of being a lobster. That is not an attractive look. Honest. Think of the children!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Not in Rome

A group of my fellow candidates head off to Rome next week for a study tour. I could have gone with them, but chose not to for a whole load of reasons. Mainly, I couldn't handle the heat. It's currently 20 degrees near Highland Cathedral and I have spent the vast majority of the day avoiding the heat. In Rome, it's currently 30 degrees and it's forecast to hit mid to high thirties over the weekend. I just couldn't cope with that sort of temperature.

I hope my peers have a good time and that they get what they want from the study tour. I look forward to catching up with most of them at the next conference where, I hope, the temperature gets a bit better (for me, at least).

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Running the race

I have been keeping up with the Olympics with interest. What I have been especially impressed with has been the sportsmanship of almost all the competitors. They have been trying their best, even when it was unlikely they would do well enough to gain one of the much coveted medals. It would be so easy to just not bother giving their all and feel defeated before they even started, due to the impression that it wasn't going to result in a medal.

To even get to the Olympics, never mind anything else, is a major achievement. No one should be knocked for now coming in the top 3. They are there and that takes guts, determination, discipline, training and commitment to get there. Add to that the pressure of competing on a global stage in what is, for most sports, the pinnacle of sporting endeavour. I especially feel for the members of Team GB - though the crowds are obviously backing their team, I think that is a double edged sword for the athletes - the support of the crowd, but with the added expectation from the crowd (real or perceived).

And this all makes me think of the church - this group of people who follow Christ. We are called to run the race for Christ in such a way as to try to win the race (1 Corth 9:24-27). How do we do that?

By committing to Christ, in body, mind and soul.
By trusting God, even when the training is hard and nothing seems to be improving.
By being the best we can be, in the way we live our lives and treat others.
By taking the risk that we may lose the earthly race, but in the sure and certain knowledge we are running for eternal life.

But that isn't just for us, it is for the whole world. Only in being the best people we can be, in mirroring in our daily lives the way of life Jesus taught his followers, can we take the message of God's kingdom to the world. It is outwith the churches most people encounter Christianity these days. Are we a good example or holier than thou? Sometimes I think the Kirk can be the latter - hiding behind the banner of "we are the Church of Scotland" and not reaching out beyond the bricks and mortar into peoples lives. It is in how we, as the whole body of Christ, show compassion, grace and love in our daily lives that we will win the race, not for our own sakes, but the sakes of everyone we encounter in our ordinary lives, if we live them in and for God.

(Mmmh - this started as a reflection and has sort of turned into a sermon. Normal service will resume shortly!).