Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Getting watched

I led the whole service at Eagleside on Sunday. This is the second time I have done so there, but this time I was really being watched. There was the speech trainer from 121, spotthegerbil and my Mum. Most people thought I'd be especially worried about the speech trainer. Nah, much more pressure Mum being there.

But anyway, this is my professional reflection on the service, so lets concentrate on that.

My theme was a combination of  the ordinary made extraordinary and everyone having a calling. Generally, even I couldn't believe how well it went. I'm not perfect - far from it and still have so much to learn - but I'm definitely improving. And that's good. I'm training to learn my style, find my feet and improve - if none of that happens, then I am doing something very wrong and would not be engaging with the process. I've also now listened to the service, which is a useful and disturbing thing! I probably pick up on much more than even the most critical ear would from listening to myself!

I engaged well with the children and, taking on board criticism I've had for my last service, tried to extend the teaching point more. I hope I got the balance right there, but I don't want to tell them so much that there's nothing for the Young Church to tell them. I also feel I dealt well with the children who were going away with the talk (and some of their insight was brilliant - out of the mouths of babes). It's good to know they are starting to feel comfortable with me, as I am with them.

My prayers were well delivered, but the speech trainer thought I had strange pauses. Not convinced I agree with him and, as the delivery is similar to that I have used before at Eagleside which was encouraged and affirmed, I might just agree to disagree on that point.

During the sermon, I generally had a good range of tone and pace, but not too much that people would loose me. I did have a couple of asides which, to be honest, were more me thinking out loud and may not have been picked up very well. Need to be very aware of that and try to engage brain with mouth, which can be easier said than done sometimes! Some of my intensional asides didn't get a flicker of recongition from most of the congregation, but then I do have a very particular sense of humour. They are used to humour in the service, but mine is much more dry than my supervisors. Won't be so bad once I've built up a relationship with a congregation.

I tend to have notes as a comfort and, especially on Sunday, I didn't refer to them too much. I still need practice at this as there was a point where I might have sounded like I got myself in a fankle, but took a deep breath, sip of water, glanced at my notes and moved on. At  least having full notes for the prayers and sermon (yet not for the children's address - maybe there's something in that?) allows for that. It also gives my timings, as I know roughly how long I am going to talk.

Due to nerves, there were a couple of words I stumbled over. Funnily, I picked out different ones from the speech trainer. Generally, though, I was very clear with good diction.

The service did come together as a running theme, I feel. That is something I think it so important. As I've said many a time before, there's nothing worse than the children's address haveing nothing to do with the rest of the service. In those cases, I've tended to think it's like patting the children on the head before we get on with the real service!

All the hymns were quite long, which I hadn't really thought about when I chose them. May be worth keeping that in mind for future. That said, a member of the choir did thank me for choosing "such lovely hymns" fo them to sing. Glad to be of service!

Oh, and getting back to the sermon. I really couldn't believe what was going on. There I was, all passionate and animated at some points. Where did that come from? I remember thinking at the time. Of course, it's the holy spirit, but good grief, I never knew I had it in me! No, I didn't thump the pulpit! I'm not that way inclined!

So, overall, it went well. Still things to work on and be aware of. But I need those things so I never, ever get complacent.

And a closing word from a member of the congregation. "Sometimes I forget this is just the start of your training. You're very good. We're had probationers here who haven't been as good as that". Wow, looks like I have a gift. A wonderful gift from God. I pray I use it well.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Let them help

Anyone who's regularly read this blog (which I an always amazed that others do actually want to read my random opinions on a range of matters and my struggle and joy with this call God has given me, but I digress) will know I have a bit of a thing for social justice.

Now, I'm not talking about letting people away with not contributing to society - far from it - I am a great believer in helping people give what they can not what the society thinks it needs. Take church as an example. There's often voluntary vacancy comes up (and it's usually voluntary, that's the nature of the beast) for someone to take over doing a job that someone has done for ages. The people looking to fill that vacancy expect the new post holder to do exactly what the other person could do. Someone comes forward who can give something, but it's no as much or a different thing from what has come before. Sometimes, here's little room for compromise or looking at what the person coming forward has to give, even if is not perfect.The person rejected and their gift left unwrapped. They my even be put off attempting to step up to the plate again, all because people just see want the don't have to give, rather than don't.

Now, quite how I'd tackle this in "real" ministry,. I don't fully know. I'd hope I'd always find  way to use people who want to help, in whatever way. I hope I'd find a way to use their skills and encourage others to do likewise. Through that, I'd hope to give those who think they may not have anything to give the opportunity to see they have so much they can give and more. So, they feel valued and important and that they are contributing to society, in their own small way,

Sunday, 29 January 2012

An American Doctor

When you get a group of geeks talking, the conversation will get onto their fantasy scenario regarding a sci-fi series or film. In the pub last night, we started imagining who would play the "quintessentially English Doctor", if it started from the beginning as an American series.

Coming up with male actors wasn't too hard (I know, I here you cry, but the Doctor is often played by a relative unknown, but this was our game and our rules!). Thinking of female actors was a much harder. This is the list friend Chris forwarded me. It's pretty much what we discussed:

John Lithgow - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001475/ As 2
Kevin Spacey - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000228/ As 9
Jonathon Frakes - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000408/ As 3
Dean Stockwell - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001777/ As 1

Chris Evans - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0262635/ as 5
Jim Parsons - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1433588/ as 11
Edward James Olmos - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001579/
Joe Pesci - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000582/ as 7
Christoph Waltz - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0910607/
John Cusack - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000131/

Non Actor Tom Merrit - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Merritt

Kim Pine - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0683467/
Allison Mack - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0532928/
Jewel Staite - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0821612/
Cote De Pablo - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1580243/
Pauley Perrette - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005306/
Sara Gilbert - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004960/
Joan Cusack - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000349/
Charlize Theron - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000234/  - who I think would make a brill baddy too!

Non actor Molly Wood - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molly_Wood

Other Enemy
Dean Stockwell - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001777  - I thought he'd make a great Master, having seen him in the new Battlestar Galactica, where he plays the most menicing of the Cylons!
Philip Seymour Hoffman - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000450/

Other Friend
Bruce Boxleitner - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000310/

Unfortunately, most of our suggestions are sci-fi actors already (nothing like type-casting!), especially with the women.  

I'd also suggest James Stewart as a Doctor, Humphrey Bogart as The Master or The Doctor and Katharine Hepburn and Mary McDonnell as assistants.

Well, the way The Doctor is going of late, maybe a US reboot is needed (oh, I never thought I'd say that!)...Feels like the 80s all over again.

Friday, 20 January 2012

By the door

After I've lead worship, I will wait by the door of the church and greet people as the leave (that doesn't make sense, but you get the idea). I do this because that seems to be expected of me.

But why? Why do ministers wait by the front door of the church as the congregation leaves? Where does that tradition come from and what purpose does it serve?

Perhaps it's an opportunity for members of the congregation to give feedback, but most feedback I've received has been over tea after the service or at other functions. Yes, there has been a little at the door, but people feel under pressure not to "hold up the line", so comments are very brief, usually.

Waiting by the door feels a little self-serving for my liking. Yes, I want to lead worship well and hope and pray that enables people to get closer to God, but I don't want people to feel they have to praise me, however subtlety, while they leave.

When I have an opportunity to be a member of a congregation, I personally find it awkward when I have to leave by the door the minister is waiting at, as I feel I have to think of something to say and, often as not, just say good morning (or, as I am a bit anal, good afternoon). It's not very useful for either party, but few people (myself included) want to be critical, generally. If I feel awkward about it, I think I am not the only one.

So, do I have to do this. What are the benefits to the congregation, not me, the congregation? If they'd rather just leave without having to shake hands with the minister (or me), why don't we just let them? Or it there something really, really important I am missing?

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Shut down

In support of the Wilkipedia/SOPA protest, this blog will be closed for 24 hours.

Monday, 16 January 2012


This placement seems to be going well. I'm learning a lot (though I am very aware I have a lot to learn); the congregation are warm, friendly and encouraging; my supervisor is approachable, understanding and willing to let me try. For a first placement, I couldn't have done much better, really.

Uni also seems to be going okay. My tutorial and essay marks have been good. Exams marks won't be published until the end of this month, so there's a little more waiting until I can breath a sigh of relief that that's all okay, though I'm sure it will be.

Yet, despite all these positives, I can't help but get over this "what am I doing?" urge. It's not a doubt of my call, more a will I ever be able to do this ministry thing well; will I ever be properly prepared?

I suppose, in fact I know, I don't want to get complacent and think I'm just going to swan through the whole process. That, IMHO, would be disasterous for me and any church I was expected to lead. I need to be stretched and challenged and helped and encouraged. I feel that's what is happening to me and I know it is necessary for my growth in order I may serve well.

Just can't get the "you chose me, God?" thing out of my head. He definitely has a sense of humour, that's for sure!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Love hurts

A member of my home church phone Spot and I last night. It was good to hear from them, even though it was sort of business related, at least initially.

Unfortunately, her husband is very ill. While talking about how he was, she was clearly in tears and I was struggling to keep my emotions in check as I didn't want to upset her anymore and I know she's trying to keep it together for him. In many ways, I felt this was like a pastoral conversation, as much as a friendly one. It gave a small hint (and I can't emphasise this enough) of some of the things I will carry with me in ministry. As I get to know a congregation more, I will share their laughter and tears. Their pain, sorrow and joy. I will be told things no one outwith the family has been told and be let into their lives in ways I can only imagine.

On a selfish and personal note, the ill person was very influential in my Christian growth. Of many people I know from various parts of my life, he is someone I would really like to be at my ordination. Be the looks of things that won't happen and that hurts. Really hurts and, I think, they would like to be there. Whatever happens, I really believe they will be there in spirit as some of what they taught will be there in me.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

That was better

The service at Eagleside went well today. I'd like to say I thoroughly enjoyed it, but as I was leading it, I was a little nervous. Actually, I did get something from it, as though the words I was speaking were as much for me as the congregation. Enjoyment wouldn't be the best word to describe how I felt, though; and I can't think of a better one!

So, positives, negatives.

  • Clear voice (yea it's that again) and good pace I think I may have even managed to vary speed a little to stop it sounding too much like a monotone. It'll be useful to listen to the service to get a sense of whether that really came across or not.
  • The children's address worked well (thankfully). The children were engaged with the illustration (though I probably used the word awesome too much, but that wasn't to be "down with the yooff", I do actually say that) and interacted with me (obviously the scary factor's waring off). When all the children, in their enthusiasm, answered my question at once, I gently told them I couldn't listen to them all at the same time and asked to take turns. That worked well, all who wanted to contribute go their chance and they respected others (and me, I think) at the same time. As they were mainly fairly young, I kept the concept at an appropriate level from them and didn't whitter on too long at them. They seemed to respond very favourably to it. Feedback I received afterwards generally supported this, some of which was from current and former teachers!
  • The service flowed. There was a common theme in the hymns, readings, prayers, children's address and sermon. That was as planned and I do think it's important that's the case.
  • I didn't panic when someone else got up to do the prayers of intercession. I had prepared to led that, but just went with the flow and didn't regard it as "my ball". I also didn't make a fuss about it at all - either during the service or afterwards. It wasn't their fault and it's good an extra voice in the service, rather than one the whole way through.
  • I generally presented the sermon well, though not entirely and the will be covered in bad points. I linked well with the bible readings, used images well (as a picture tells a thousand words), went at a good pace and gave encouragement and pause for thought.
  • I tried to speak to the whole congregation during all elements, both in terms of the words, but also through attempting to make eye contact with the whole congregation and not just talking to those immediately in front of me.
  • I perhaps should have explained why I was exploring the theme I was using during the service at the beginning. I did hear one person wondering why I was covering it at this time of year.
  • I was nervous. (Though is that really a bad thing?)
  • During the sermon, I started well. I knew that bit quite well and did deliver it without referring to my notes, but there were some bits I slightly stumbled on or I was a wee bit up-and-down looking at them and that may have given the impression I didn't know what I was saying (or that I was nervous). At one point, slightly going off notes (though still on topic) my mind went totally blank. After what seemed like an eternity (probably less than 2 seconds) I moved on. Thought that was better than having everyone staring at me and me getting more in a fankle than I was already. And, finally, I may have ended the sermon a bit sharply, though feedback I received was mixed in that regard - some thought I could have been more sharp! I did feel, though, that even a short prayer would have drawn it together better than I actually did.

So, overall, I'd say it went well. Feedback was mainly positive and the whole service seemed well received. I know people don't like being critical, but there was genuine warmth in their comments. Also, as touch on, there was criticism, but constructive and things for me to be aware of and build on.

And, as a final aside. A regular visitor to Eagleside was chatting to me after the service. His home church regularly has ministry candidates training there. He said some are good, some less so good. He told me he thought I was in the best category. That was a great boast to me, while very humbling at the same time. God knows how I do it (and I do mean that literally).

Friday, 6 January 2012

For the long aisle

I have been thinking about weddings recently. I have sat in on a wedding rehearsal at Eagleside and a couple of meetings with couples who wanted to get married there.

I don't know why I keep coming back to this, but I have been thinking who I would marry (now there's an opener for you!). I understand, in the Presbyterian tradition, marriage is a blessing, not a sacrament, but does that make it less before God? The couple would be making vows before God and I would be praying on their behalves that God would bless their marriage. With that in mind, surely one of the couple should have some belief?

Now, I'm not bothered about them being a fully paid-up Christian, who comes to church every Sunday without fail. I think if I were to have that sort of attitude, it wouldn't be very Christian. It would also make me a bit of a hypocrite. I wouldn't mind if one half of the couple had a belief and the other was an atheist, but was respecting their intended's wishes and belief (and I would respect them so much more for being honest and up front about that). But I think I would expect some sort of belief, if only in a "higher power" and the need to get married in church because it wouldn't feel right anywhere else, rather than for the long aisle. It just has to be vague, but come from the heart.

And don't pretend you want the church for anything other than the nice garden for the photos and the long aisle (again, for the photos?!). I'd respect your honesty for telling me that, though I may not agree to marry you. I do know a humanist who does a very good wedding, though ;-)

Thing is, I'd want to be welcoming to all who I may minister to, so is attaching conditions doing that? I don't even think I'd expect them to come to church before the big day (or even before confirming the booking), though it would be nice. Definitely something for me to ponder over and figure out. And that's without thinking through re-marriage of divorcees...

Monday, 2 January 2012

Raspberry Pi

No, that's not a spelling mistake. It's a computer for $25 (or about £16). The Raspberry Pi has been launched to enable people (especially children) how computers work and help teach the next generation of programmers and designers, as though many people can use computers for, mainly, web-based applications, fewer and fewer really know how they work. More info on what it's all about can be found here.

That's pretty cool and at £16, will hopefully be available to all. Maybe this is the BBC computer for the...whatever this decade is going to be called. Good luck to them. If I had time, I'd probably get one and re-learn programming. But, that's not going to happen. Not this decade anyway.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

They won the battle

Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland won £3.5 million on Thursday in the Court of Session, in relation to their share of Lloyds Banking Group's profits. The full court verdict can be read here. That is great news for a charitable foundation which was fighting for it's rights under a covenant with Lloyds Banking Group, who were only going to give the foundation £38,920. According to the court judgement, this was in breach of the covenant between the two parties and the disagreement was down to interpretations over whether the sums to be given were in proportion to pre- or post-tax profits.

While it is good news the foundation have won this battle and charities all over Scotland will benefit from this large sum, I fear they have only won the battle, not the war against Lloyds Banking Group.

Two years ago, the Banking group tried to impose changes in its covenants with the foundation, primarily in relation to the amount of the banking group's profits the foundation were entitled to. The Scottish foundation refused to agree (there are also foundations for England and Wales and Northern Ireland). Due to the lack of agreement being reached, Lloyds Banking Group decided to withdraw funding of the foundation.

Given Lloyds Banking Group was bailed out by the Government, in many ways it is owned by the tax payer. And, bankers aren't exactly popular these days, so why do they give themselves this sort of bad publicity? I do admire the foundation's trustees for not giving into bullying and intimidation and I hope the banking group can be forced to change its mind. Unfortunately, I think I might be being a wee bit naive on this one.