Friday, 30 March 2012

It's a confidence thing

I had my supervision the other day and a couple of things which came out of it was regarding my visit to the school last week and my children's address on Sunday past. He'd been in the school and was asking the teacher for feedback.

Generally, it was okay. Once I got into my stride, I was seen to be comfortable and confident with the children. I responded well to them and had a good rapport with them. The teacher did think I would do something a bit different from what she would have done. That's reasonable enough, but I wasn't sure at all about the line which I should take – it's not like this is a church and I was all too aware I needed to find a good balance in what I said. Also, I just followed her pattern as I thought that was what was required. Next time, I'll prepare my own material and run with that. That's definitely a confidence thing, but it was only the second time I've been in school since I was a pupil. Oh, and I made the cardinal mistake of turning to look at the powerpoint. Given the position of the IT equipment in the class, it wasn't easy to do anything else if I wanted to see what was on the screen, but I maybe looked too long.

As for my children's address, well, the feedback for that wasn't exactly favourable. Bottom line was I allowed a child to talk too much and it didn't flow well. Funny, other feedback I received, though mixed, did not agree with that. At the time I was doing the address, the child who was talking gave me a gift, which I should have had the confidence to run with. That way my including them wouldn't have looked like a bit of a red herring. Definitely need to work on this confidence thing - in my own abilities as well as anything else. Strange, but almost anywhere but Eagleside I would have done that. I think it's knowing I am being critiqued while there and that I have to do the children's address in a position I am completely uncomfortable with.

Just before I had to leave, my supervisor told me that children's addresses were definitely something I will need to work on. Fair enough, as he hasn't got anything to work with except what he's seen. He also said I needed experience with children, even though I have told him I was a young church leader for 10+ years and a youth club leader for 8+ years. Also, this in the context of giving me feedback that I engage well with children and have a good rapport with them. Err, that doesn't make sense to me. That did annoy me, as the development point seems to contradict, to a certain extent, feedback I receive from my supervisor.

The good thing is my next placement has a lot of children and, having seen my future supervisor in action, I can learn a lot there about how to get this nailed. It's really important to me that I get the children engaged in worship and feeling that they are important and valued by the church community. Getting the children's addresses right forms an important part of that.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

One more step

I led the last of the full services I am to lead during this placement yesterday. And I think it went well (I even spotted someone who usually never sings joining in for one of the hymns!). Feedback was very encouraging, though (and this is going to sound negative), it would be good if there were people who would criticise it. I'm sure I'll get that feedback in due course and need to focus on the positives, as I tend to sometimes get bogged down in the negatives, resulting in a focus on them so the good things maybe don't get built up.

The children's address seemed to go well. I am definitely building up a relationship with the children, though some are still quite shy. I feel I brought the theme broadly onto their level – it was about God's new covenant so I talked about promises. I think I could have done with talking a little about promises changing, but I don't want to bore the children. One child did go a bit off topic, but that's fine – I've no fixed notions of where the address should go, just roughly a start and finish, what happens in between depends as much on where the children take it. Didn't get much feedback for this. One person told me “you shouldn't let the children speak”. Another complemented me on how I am able to relate to the children, they seem comfortable talking to me and I seem to speak on their level. I must admit I pretty much disregarded the former comment.
The service was a smidge more traditional than usual. That was a combination of hymns (where I did slip a couple of my favourites in, but what's the point of being a minister if you can't choose the hymns you like occasionally? Now I will remove my tongue from my cheek.), me power dressing, no powerpoint (except the hymns) and a prayer of confession (usually there's just opening and intercession prayers). I think if services are more 'modern', it's useful to occasionally have a traditional service. It's a change from the norm, apart from anything.

The sermon went generally well. I think I may have seemed to be slightly repeating myself and I'm undecided if that would be seen as emphasis or me not really knowing what I was saying. I also was a bit challenging, but I hope, encouraging too. I'm not sure if I had that much tonal variation in my voice. It's hard to tell, as I hear more than others may do. I was consciously trying to do this, so I hope I managed.

Overall, good. Definitely room for improvement, but if I stop improving and become complacent (at any stage in ministry), I think it would be time to re-examine what I am doing.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Being a teacher for the morning

I was back in School during the week. This was a follow-up from the previous week, bu this time I led the lesson (to a certain extent) while the teacher gave a little assistance (mainly involving telling me the names of the children).

Generally, I felt it went well. The theme was one I know well and I am comfortable enough with largish groups of early primary school children (admittedly in a non-school context). I feel I engaged well with the children - one even gave me a thank you card when I was leaving. I wasn't sure how I should handle discipline, as I didn't want to tread on the teacher's toes, but when I realised that it was my lesson, I soon started keeping the children in check for not listening (mainly to their peers, not me, which in itself was interesting). Their questions were very interesting, challenging in a way young children can be (which is really refreshing as they don't feel they should know anything, if that makes sense) and showed a real engagement with the theme of the lesson. All pretty good for someone who was last in a primary school class when at primary school.

It also shows that despite my concerns and fears I expressed at the beginning of the month were unfounded. My supervisor obviously trusts me to go in his place (as I am as much a reflection on Eagleside as Christianity as a whole) and sees the potential I have. Also, yet again shows that often the idea of something is much worse than the actuality. As someone keeps telling me “God's got your back” and the more I do in this ministry training process, the more I see this.

To think, I once wanted to be a teacher. Although I won't be a school teacher, I am still going to be a teacher. Funny how things work out.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

A brief visit

Last night, I was at a ceilidh at my home church. It was the first time I'd been there since I began my placement. Though it was lovely to see many of the people there and, admittedly briefly, catch up with some familiar faces, it just didn't seem as much like home as it once did. And I know that's only right and proper. I will always regard that church as my home church, in every sense of the word home. But, as every child must leave home one way or another, I am also leaving home. Consequently, home doesn't feel the same anymore. I will always be welcomed, affirmed and loved there, no matter where I go in ministry, but like leaving the family home, as I return I go back slightly changed every time. As that change takes place, I grow away from home – away from familiarity, but towards where I need to be. And it was only a ceilidh.

I did receive a few lovely comments, though. A couple of women mentioned how much I was missed. That was a bit heart breaking. Someone mentioned how well I looked and happier (that's true – this ministry thing is, as I expected, challenging, yet I very much feel it's what I should be doing and it gives me energy in a way I didn't think it would, even when draining me!). A group of children who were there ran up to me to get me to dance. They haven't seen me for 6 months and, of all the adults there (and it was a mixed age range), they asked me. Must have made a good impression, then.

I hope God will be with them as I no longer am. I know he is and hope they know that too.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Preparing the ground for sowing

As part of my regular personal devotional time, I have been reading through Mark's gospel. Today, I was reading Mark 4:1-9 – the parable of the sower.

As someone training for ministry, I find this parable so reassuring, yet so daunting at the same time. Reassuring as it shows that it isn't all down to me. No matter how much I try to follow Christ, to preach and teach as God calls me to, to show God's love in all I say and do to all those I may minister to, people will reject the good news of the gospel. Or they will take it to heart, but as soon as something serious happens in their lives, they will abandon their new found faith. I am merely the sower and it depends on the ground the message falls on whether the message will go on to produce more grain, though some will and it will be very productive. So long as I focus on God in all I do, then the message I give will be productive one way or the other for God's kingdom.

It's daunting as it places responsibility on me to prepare the ground well. Having preached on this passage to a rural community last year, I was all too aware of the preparation which goes on before a field is sown. Even though farming is much more mechanised now than it was in Jesus day, preparation is still necessary and important for getting the best crop. So, why hadn't the ground been well prepared before the seed was sown? Just seems crazy to go to all the effort to save seed from last year's crop them sow it without preparation. In the context of the message of the gospel, this passage from Mark's gospel seems to be getting to that. So, it's important that I prepare the ground well. I may be walking with people for whom the church is a distant organisation, they don't really think that God is relevant in their lives. As I walk with them, I hope I am preparing the ground well rather than making it rocky or full of weeds, so if I or someone else eventuality sows the gospel, it has a chance to grow and be productive. Unfortunately, I know of many people who have had bad experiences of church and that has made them completely unreceptive to God's love and good news for them. I pray I never do that.

Friday, 16 March 2012

God's knowledge and our free-will

Pre-destination. How does that work? I firmly believe God has a plan for humanity, both collectively and individually. Exactly how that would work, I have no idea. Something I am increasingly inclined to believe is God will not give up until everyone can enter the kingdom of heaven (or can they already...depends on the theology of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but I'm not going to get into that just now).

I can't go with Calvin's idea that whether someone goes to heaven or hell is already determined, it cannot be seen from what they do and there is little that can be done to change their destiny. Doesn't give much room for free-will there. There's also not much insentive to turn a life around for the church nor individuals. If you're doomed, might as well enjoy your self. Actually, either way, might as well enjoy yourself, 'cos what difference will it make?

It's a hard concept getting your head around the ideal or pre-destination. Russell Stannard in "The God Experiment" had an analogy I liked. Imagine a security guard watching the TV screens for the various security cameras in a block of flats. He watches a woman come into the block, get into the life, push the floor button, get out and go to her flat. If he were to re-watch the video, he'd know exactly what the woman was going to do. She's exercised her free-will, but the security guard knows what's she's going to do before she does it.As God is, I believe, on one level out with time and space, that is possible.

Okay, so that gets free-will into the picture, but what about God using people, God acting in people's lives. Well, let me take Stannard's analogy and add to it. The security guard watches the woman enter the block of flats and head for the lifts. But the security guard needs the woman to use the stairs - someone's fallen say (work with me here). How does he make sure they woman expresses her free-will, but still goes/does what he needs her to do? The woman hits the call button for the lift - nothing. She tries again, nothing. Again, still, the lift won't come. So, the woman uses the stairs, finds the person who's fallen and gets them help. All because the lifts didn't seem to be working - perhaps the security guard did that...

Okay, so these are very basic ideas on how pre-destination and free-will can work together. They aren't written by a great theologian (well, they were written by me), but they are helping me work things out. Not so I have the answers, more that I keep looking for questions.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Into School

Yesterday, I visited one of the schools my supervisor is chaplain to. I generally observed the teacher giving the RME (religious and moral education - took me ages to work out what the M stood for!). I did have to explain a bit about the bible - especially the Old and New Testament. I think I did so reasonably well, as the children seemed satisfied with the answer (and were open to asking me questions; at least some of them). I suppose my experience of teaching young church and leading a youth club helped with this.

One child did ask something I didn't know why it had happened. And I did say so. Perhaps I should have phrased it a bit better - perhaps asked why they thought it might have happened, but I also think it's good to not think I do have all the answers. Definitely need to find the right balance with that.

Once the teacher had taught their section, I sat with and helped a small group of the children with the remainder of the lesson. As that was sort of a young church-sized group, with the class room assistant, it was fine. I hope they got the sense that I cared. As a representative of the church, I think that's really important that those who the church cannot reach in 'traditional' ways (i.e. them going to the church) see Christians as interested and concerned in their lives. And why do I think that? Because the children asked if I would be going to their Easter service. They'd only just met me too.

I'm looking forward to going again. A good, positive experiencece all round, I think. Definitely something I can, and will, build on.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

On the phone

Eagleside has a phone ministry and on Sunday a member of the phone ministry team told the congregation about it. (Which in itself I thought was a great idea - how often do churches start new things, which become successful, but they don't think to tell the congregation about it or how it's developing. I know it's maybe not a part of worship, but when is a good time?). The phone ministry is to replace the traditional quarterly elder visiting of members of the congregation, which is especially helpful in a gathered congregation.

As this was a toe in the water (I believe), members of the congregation were invited to sign up for a phone call rather than visit. The take up seems pretty reasonable and feedback good to. I know I would prefer a phone call to a visit - I don't have to tidy the house or feel I have to tidy myself. It also saves time; if the person isn't in (or answering their phone), it's not a wasted journey. The people in the phone ministry team were recruited for their communication skills and given training on phone pastoral care, so the support for them has been good to.

This does not mean to say no visits will take place. People who have signed up for this can ask for a visit or a visit can be suggested to them. It may even be the case a visit is made on the back of the call.

I think this is a great way of offering additional pastoral care to a gathered congregation  (which many are these days). The support to the congregation that visits will still take place has to be there, as does appropriate training and support for those undertaking the ministry.

As a little side bar, I wonder if there are many Christians who have call centre experience who wonder how that skill could be used for the church. They already are great communicators over the phone, so here's a way they could use a skill they didn't even maybe realise they had nor thought would be useful to God.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Photo shoot in The Up! House

As a HUGE fan of Pixar's Up!, I thought this was sooo cool and just had to share.

Wedding anniversary shoot at the Up! House

Warning, if you have watched the film, the picnic scene and old couple chairs may bring a tear to the eye. Certainly did with me.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Lectionary leanings

As part of this placement, I am to learn how to use the lectionary. Having used the lectionary for services since on co-ordinated field assessment, this wasn't too much of a leap. My home church also uses lectionary-based resources, which cover worship and every age of their young church. So, as as a young church leader there, I was used to using usually using the lectionary.

I think it will be my default setting. It saves me always preaching on what I want to, rather than what I need to preach on. It will encourage (force) me to use the difficult parts of the bible, parts I may ignore or avoid as they don't 'fit' with my idea of God etc. It means, if the young church (or Sunday School, if you must..) can have resources which tie in with what is going on in the rest of the service (if they leave after the children's address).

There are other reasons, but those are, for me, the most important. Of those, the service tying in with young church I think is especially important. The minister (or who ever is leading the children's address) merely needs to introduce the theme, that then feeds into the rest of the service and the young church time. The depth behind that introduction can then be taught to everyone at a level they can relate to, adults and children. There are some things which aren't especially useful to discuss with children around (there are some very brutal things in the bible, lets face it). It takes the pressure off the minister getting a teaching point across to the children. What a 12 year old will understand and a 3 year old are very different (though I have had some of the most profound insights for the latter). By introducing the theme to the children, the young church leaders can get the message across in an appropriate way. That enables the children, gives them a great spiritual depth (believe me, I have sen this as a young church leader) and their leaders. The leaders feel they are part of the teaching and worship team (as worship for the children continues in young church). And, perhaps most importantly, the young church is an important part of the worship and fellowship of the church, not a place to dump the children while the grown-ups talk about things they can't with them around.

So, I will prefer to use the lectionary and hope a church will use (or be willing to use) resources for the whole church so they are all singing from the same hymn sheet (so to speak). There will be times it's not appropriate, though I would always see what the lectionary had. There are times where I may wish to run a series or services on a particular theme. Then, I would work with the young church leaders to ensure what was going on in the service could tie in with them, though they may be happy using the resources they had. The children would be fine, as they would already have that spiritual depth (and often get to the message when I've barely started!) because of the lessons in the past.

Friday, 2 March 2012

A good preacher?

During a recent discussion with my supervisor, he told me that I have to potential to be a brilliant preacher.

Me? Really? Wow. Looks like I'm setting a high bar for myself. It's very encouraging hearing this (especially as I know my supervisor wouldn't just say this without good reason), yet challenging, daunting and not a little bit scary. Most of all, it's humbling to think I have this gift and I pray I have the grace to use it wisely.