Monday, 30 April 2012

What is pastoral care?

The title of this post may seem a bit strange, but it's something I've been wondering since filling in my self-appraisal form for this placement. In the section about pastoral care, I had little to write. My formal pastoral encounters had all been during my supervisor's vestry time and they had mainly (though not all) had been people wanted married or their children baptised, so nothing really difficult. Also, I was never allowed to go alone, resulting in me being an observer, rather than actually offering pastoral care.

On my form I wanted to put things about having coffee with members of the congregation after the service, and various other similar 'in passing' type encounters. This was 'negotiated' off my form, as my supervisor does not regard those as pastoral care.

So, where does a conversation about the weather which develops into a person divulging some very deep painful things, because they are talking to the 'minister' become pastoral. I know my thoughts on this and, from talking to others, it seems the 'in passing' can be the door to something deeper - for both sides.

I know there are some at Eagleside who have appreciated me taking time to listen and support them, and they have expressed this. So, have I sold myself sort in the form? Perhaps not. After all, my supervisor did not observe these conversations, merely was aware I stayed for tea after the service. I suppose it's a different approach to pastoral care I have and I now think the benefits of doing what I do naturally - drink tea and listen, with a side portion of knowing a lot of randomness, builds relationships, breaks down barriers and opens the pathway for me to walk with people in their journey through life, as a representative of Christ's church.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Usefulness in Randomness

I know stuff. Loads of random stuff, some very useful, some...less useful. The usefulness does depend on the context. Knowing what orthorectification is isn't going to be very useful in most instances, especially in ministry (though one never knows). Knowing where the toilets are in a range of places can be very handy...

So, I know random stuff. When I know some things, occasionally, I get the following reaction:

How do you know that?
I just do is usually the reply. I remember stuff. There were times I wish I didn't do this, but recently I have managed to have a conversation with a couple of people that I may otherwise not have had. Knowing something that they knew about allowed me to relate to them in a way I couldn't have otherwise. It allowed me a way in to show God's love to them and make them feel valued and included.

So, now I think, thank God for filling me head full of stuff.

Just hope this also works for exams...

Thursday, 26 April 2012

On forgiveness

A couple of weeks ago, over on Danny's blog, she talked about forgiveness and wondered about our stories.

I've had a recent experience which showed putting the past behind me didn't mean I was ready for dealing with a person who hurt me, and my family, really badly when I was a child. It was a long time ago and I had grown older and wiser. In many ways, I am the person I am today because of this. Even bad experiences can have a long-term positive affect.

This person is a member of my placement church, though I didn't know that before I began. Had I know, would I have gone? Honestly, I don't know. So, it made leading any part of worship very different. God loves them as he loves me. They are there worshipping the same God I am. So I must, I have to forgive them, otherwise I am not forgiven myself and, as such, cannot truly worship God.

This was especially brought home to me one communion. I was sharing this with this person, as member of that congregation. We are both member of the body of Christ and God was (and is) in us in that sacrament. So, I ensured I shared the peace with them - and truly meant it when I shook hands with them.

I do agree with Danny, though. I can't forget the past. But I can move on from the position of feeling hurt and anger towards someone to showing grace and love towards a fellow Christian.

Few things have taught me more about grace - that I should have for others and God's all accompanying grace - than this has.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Get a cleaner in

Since beginning actual ministry training, I have managed to get into the sort of conversations which talk of - of all things - cleaning the manse. Yes, it is a rock 'n roll life one leads as a ministry candidate!

I know the benefits. More time for me to do ministry things; more time to be me and do things I enjoy. It could help give employment (perhaps even in an area with limited opportunities). But, there's the whole, for me, getting above my station thing. I may, in theory, be middle class, given my education background, but I'm no'. Wherever I minister, I want to be 'one of them' so to speak. I want the people of the congregation and community to see I'm not different or special or holy just because I am a minister. In some areas, that would mean the Gerbils doing their own cleaning - even their windows.

Besides, I think my Mum would disown me if I got someone in and my Gran would turn in her grave. You can take the girl out of the working class area, but you can't take the working class out of the girl. And I am proud of who I am and my background. To deny that would be to deny who I am.

Though, give me a wee while in a change and my tune might change...

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Seen and reported on

Well, the paperwork for this placement has been done. Generally it's good, though it really shows not just what I've learnt, but just how much I still have to learn! (Though I am very aware of that).

There are a couple of things which I'm not sure where my supervisor got them from and I was a wee bit put out, but he's got to base his report on what he's actually seen. Mainly, the potential 'issues' are around leadership and dealing with conflict, which I hadn't had any experience in during this placement. There' also experience with children, but I expected that and had put that on my form.

These are things I need to keep in mind during my next placements and fin ways to show and develop my leadership in all circumstances. Hopefully, I'll get the chance with the next placement to begin to address the issues and continue to develop in all aspects of ministry, so I may become the best I can be.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Mention God. Please!

Eagleside uses a range of worship music - organ, praise band and singing to CDs of Christian bands and singers. I've definitely increased to a certain extend my range of worship music knowledge (doesn't mean I have to like them, though!).

One song I have been introduced to is "Welcome Everybody" by Fischy Music. It's a simple, upbeat tune that's everyone at Eagleside seems to enjoy. I must admit I like it myself, but there is something about it which doesn't ring true and I couldn't put my finger in it. And it came to me today. Look at the lyrics:

Here we are together, now we can begin
The youngest and the oldest, the only child, the twin
Some who’re feeling left out and some who’re feeling in
Gathering in this place
Welcome everybody, it’s good to see you here
Welcome everybody, it’s good to see you here
Welcome everybody, it’s good to see you here
Gathering in this place
Here we are together, joining in this song
Even those who feel that their singing’s not that strong
And as we sing may every person know that they belong
Gathering in this place

Welcome everybody, it’s good to see you here…
Here we are together, with our hopes and fears
Bringing many feelings, our laughter and our tears
And now it’s time for everyone to tell the world, “WE’RE
Gathering in this place

Welcome everybody, it’s good to see you here…
 Can you see what's missing? God, and any mention thereof.

So, it's a nice upbeat, inclusive song, with a easy to follow tune. By, with no mention of God at all, not even in the vaguest of terms (and given we are trinitarian, there is range of persona of God that can be used - plenty to choose from). So, why is this deemed worship music? Because it's written and performed by a Christian band? So, does anything by Alice Cooper these days count as suitable for worship? I don't think so, even though he is Christian.

Sorry, but for me this song is not a worship song. It's a good intro to a gig for youngish children, who are the demographic that Fischy Music are aimed at. So, if that's the case, can I have the next children's hymn as a number from the Singing Kettle, please? I'm sure I could find a song they perform with similar sentiment to this one. Oh, I forgot, they don't promote themselves as Christians, so their music would not be suitable. Well, neither should music which doesn't, even in vague terms, mention God.

I now await pelters...

Monday, 16 April 2012

Been for a visit

Yesterday was a funny day. I was pulpit supply at my home churches (with the encouragement, consent and concurrence of my placement supervisor - so, really, it was part of my placement). Generally, it went very well (though I did go to start the children's address at the first service before I had lead the congregation in prayer - just shows how the different pattern at Eagleside has entered my mind, even though I don't think there is enough prayer there...). As Spot was also leading the service, he corrected me and it's a forgiving congregation.

While doing my sermon, I was using my notes as a guide, but realised I knew it well enough that I could speak to the congregation. At a recent conference I was asked it I would ever do a sermon in an expository style (why can't they just say without notes...?) and I made an emphatic no.I know that its a two fold objection -

  • Firstly, a worry I'll go blank and freeze as I look at all these people looking at me waiting to see what I'll say.
  • Secondly, my current placement doesn't give me the best example of this style. I find the sermons too long, with regular tangents which don't really appear to tie into the theme, but are too long to just be asides. This makes me concerned I might do likewise during a sermon, go down a blind alley and not have a way of getting myself out. Then, it'll look to the congregation like I've not prepared well and am just making it up as I go along. I can honestly say this is my greatest fear of this style.
There were no children at the first service, but they still got the children's address as it was necessary for the whole service. Again, this goes back to my thing that the children's address should feed into the service as a whole and, where possible, into the young church (though it didn't this week, but the children at my home church would cope for one week, especially as they have very good teachers and have a great spiritual depth which I have missed). There were a good few children at the second service, with a number of visitors (no, they aren't new to the church in the time I've been away, they were there for a local event). They were all relaxed with me and happy to be there. The interaction was good and they were getting to the point well before me - which is great. The visiting children were also comfortable with me, though I think they also pick up on how other children react as well as their own instinct.

The way the address went was in marked contrast to to Eagleside The feedback I have been receiving there, although picking up on things I have done, was making me feel very down and doubtful of my ability to engage with children. Yesterday reassured me it might be the style I am expected to do children's addresses in at Eagleside just doesn't fit with my style and I need to have the confidence to find my own way in that respect. It's hard doing so, as there is less flexibility there (for a number of reasons, which is as much to do with the layout of the church as the congregation's way of doing things). My concern with this is some people may see this as me not listening to what I am being told and ploughing on regardless. Yet I know I have struggled (and still am struggling with this). Every time I have had feedback on my children's addresses I have felt dejected and very down about them - very much felt it I can't do them well, what else in ministry am I not cut out for. I have had my style thrown in the air and I am still waiting on the pieces to come back down, but those which have returned have mostly fallen back where they were.

Strangely, feedback from yesterday was very good - the address was short, to the point and on a level that the children would understand, without patronising or boring them. That has really lifted me and shown me how much the style I have to employ at Eagleside just doesn't work for me. In terms of my confidence talking to and with children, yesterday definitely gave me a boost in my confidence.

Overall, the services went well. Everything tied together and many people gave good, constructive feedback. It was good to be back, but strange at the same time. They have known me for a long time, but my role has changed and that makes the whole situation a bit weird, especially with several of my former Sunday School teachers in the congregation - they sowed the seeds which have grown to make me who I am now and I shall be eternally grateful to them for that.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

One Question

It's an imaginary scenario. You have invited 4 people (from history, your past, even fiction) to dinner. Also Jesus will be there (yes, I know he's always there, but I mean literally there, bodily there, like he was at the table with so many people in the bible). The group of people may not have met each other before and know nothing of one another. The members of the group may not even be Christians. So, what's the one question you'd ask Jesus in that situation? If you could ask him anything, what would it be?

Me? Well, I'd ask if he'd ever played conkers. Yes, you did read that right. And let me tell you why. At the table would be Spot (well, why would I invite people to dinner and not feed him too?), Hugh Miller, my Gran and a lady from my home church. Although I don't know if Hugh Miller did play conkers, I know the other members of the group either did or would have memories of it being played. The lady from my home church is a retired school teacher who, at conker season, would take he class walking to collect conkers and have a game the following day. So, it's an inclusive question, an icebreaker, a way of getting the whole group to talk to one another.

I think that's what Jesus would prefer. Just to be part of people's lives - either ordinary lives. To get to know the fun and laughter, as well as the deep stuff. After all, if you were inviting a group of friends to dinner for whom you were the common link, you would try to begin conversations which all in the group could participate in, not just you and one other person - or would you? I have to ask, though, if you did talk to one person about things only they and you would know, what was the point of inviting the others to dinner?

When I have told others the question I would use, the reaction is usually one of horror at being so immature or a look that seems to say 'Mrs G, what really is your burning question, that can't be it'. But, when I explain the rational behind the question, it is seen as very clever. So, next time I seem to comer across a bit immature is silly, there's usually method in my madness. I like to include everyone if I can and if that involves me looking a bit of a fool, so be it. It might just help those who may never speak about God, faith or Jesus see him in a different way and see being his follower as being liberating, rather than restrictive. So, I'm maybe not as daft as I seem...but only sometimes.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Wearing Crosses

It has been widely reported that Cardinal Keith O'Brien called for all Christians to proudly wear a cross every day of their lives. I think this is wrong and here's why.

Wearing a cross is a deeply personal  thing. It's is not an obligation of faith that a Christian must wear one. I know many Christians who do. I also know of many, many more (myself included) who never do. It is following Christ and his teachings (like love your neighbour) which, I believe, marks Christians out. Not a piece of jewellery. A cross for a Christian is not like a Kirpan, which all Sikhs must wear. No, a cross was never and has never been an obligatory item all Christians must wear to show they are Christians. Therefore, as I said, it is jewellery.

Now, I know for the many Christians who do wear a cross it has deep and personal significance and I am in no way trying to say that is wrong. I wear my wedding and engagement rings almost every day of my life. They have deep and personal meaning for me, but they are just jewellery. They mean nothing if I wore them but people did not see the love I have for Spot in my actions and words. They are also meaningless to others, as they are just silver bands with little intrinsic value. Yet, they are among the most precious possessions I own. But, no one ever says a married person should wear a wedding ring to show they are married. Why? Because it is just a symbol and jewellery. It is how a person lives and expresses their love which matters.

So, I won't be wearing a cross any time soon. I'll stick to showing my faith in my actions; in my words; in the way I live my life.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Leading Worship at Easter

Both on Good Friday and Easter Sunday I lead the majority of the service. And, in both cases I was wetting myself.

The Good Friday service was busy - it was a joint service with churches near Eagleside and had been advertised around most of the local churches. So there was a greater range of faces, with many people who'd wouldn't know who I was. They also wouldn't know I was near the beginning of my training and, unlike a Christmas watchnight service, the story would be really well know. Oh, and add to that at least 4 ministers in the congregation, so definitely added pressure for me.

I opened with the prayer I had written for the event. Although its based on repetition, I knew I could present it well. It's also long and I was ever watchful of the body language of the congregation - if I noticed a lot of 'ants in their pants' people, I have already decided to skip a couple of stanzas - I didn't notice any 'get on with it' body language, so I think it was a success.

During 4 of the 5 readings, there were sound effects. Not so loud they would drown out the readers, but I didn't really get the point of them (that wasn't my idea!). A couple of people I know who attended that service said they found they quite distracting, one of whom has hearing problems and they wondered what the point of them was.

Afterwards my supervisor commented the prayer was ambitious, but worked well. He noted the repetition written down could have looked just that, but with my style of reading it really worked and focused the mind. There was also a couple of people who commented on how much they appreciated it - they felt it made them really think on the events in a different way and found it very emotional. It's humbling to think something I wrote could have such an effect and I pray I can keep (and improve on) the high standard I seem to have set myself.

Easter Sunday wasn't quite as pressurised, as most of the congregation was familiar, but I was still nervous with being up front and starting of the service with readings. My supervisor advised me to make the stage my own and assured me I have the presence to do so. As I was reading the first passage there was a sound effect and I wonder how people with hearing problems would have dealt with that - again, it was not my decision. I feel my contribution went well, except for getting my tongue in a twist announcing the hymn "Now the green blade riseth". That just wasn't happening for me and I just hoped the congregation got the message. It's not like me and I know that wasn't nerves - I tried saying it in front of Spot and just  couldn't manage it. So, if I am announcing the hymns at an Easter service, that one may not be included!

Overall, I feel I lead two of the most important services in the Christian calendar well. I came across to the congregations as confident, clear, with a good presentation style. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I pray I can always live up to the standard I have set myself. It's so humbling to know I have these gifts and that others appreciate the way I lead worship. I also pray everyone sees all I am doing in worship is pointing to God and I am just as much there to worship God as they are.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Christ is Risen

He is risen indeed!


Happy Easter

Friday, 6 April 2012

Good Friday Prayer

I have written this opening prayer for Good Friday. It is to be a sort of 'telling the story' and reflective piece.

Holy and almighty God
we are here, here at the foot of the cross wondering,
wondering why, why you had to die
Is it only Sunday we watched
watched as you rode, rode triumphant on a donkey
triumphant into Jerusalem,
triumphant as Messiah and Lord?
The crowds welcomed you cheering
Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”,
waving palm branches and coats on the road before you.
At the foot of the cross, that seems so far away.

Holy and almighty God
we are here, here at the foot of the cross wondering
wondering why, why you had to die
we have watched you teach, you heal, you lead
and we have followed, followed you here,
here to where it all ends, wondering
why, why does it have to end like this
end, at the foot of the cross?

Holy and almighty God
we are here, here at the foot of the cross wondering
wondering why, why you had to die
we were there when you walked on water and fed the fivethousand.
Yet now, those same hands and feet are blooded,
blooded and pierced with cruel nails
why, why does it have to end like this,
end at the foot of the cross?

Holy and almighty God
we are here, here at the foot of the cross wondering
wondering why, why you had to die
we were there, there sharing the meal with you, sharing in that upstairs room.
The bread we shared was your body
the wine we shared your blood.
Now we watch at the foot of the cross
your body broken, broken for us?
your blood pouring out, poured out for us?
Why, why does it have to end like this,
end at the foot of the cross?

Holy and almighty God
we are here, here at the foot of the cross wondering
wondering why, why you had to die
we were there in the garden,
watching as you prayed,
prayed in the garden where you were betrayed,
betrayed by one you loved so much
why, why does it have to end like this,
end at the foot of the cross?

Holy and almighty God
we are here, here at the foot of the cross wondering
wondering why, why you had to die
we were there at your trial,
watching, watching for you, an innocent man to be set free.
We were there, there as the crowd
the same crowd who welcomed you, welcomed you with Hosannas
Welcomed you only on Sunday
condemned you to die
why, why does it have to end like this,
end at the foot of the cross?

Holy and almighty God
we are here, here at the foot of the cross wondering
wondering why, why you had to die
we were there when you told us the temple would be destroyed,
destroyed and you would rebuild it in three days.
Is this the temple, the temple there on the cross?
The temple pierced and wounded, scared and humiliated?
How, how can this be rebuilt in three days?
How, oh Lord our God, how?
Here, at the foot of the cross.


Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Church of Scotland is a parish based church. Every parish in Scotland has a church which serves it (though some parishes are geographically very large). This is something I am quite passionate about and hope it continues for many, many more years.

I do wonder, though, how many people actually know that is the case and that the church is there to serve them no matter whether or not they are members or have a connection to their parish church. Where I live, it is pretty obvious the parish I live in. Where I was born and brought up, I had no idea which church was the parish church - they never seemed to have anything to do with the area (could that have been it was a 'bit rough', though that's a label I hate, funnily enough!). As far as I am aware at no point did the parish church take the time to let the people in that area know they were being served by that church.

I know the parish church for that area was not alone in this. I find that really sad and wonder if that's part of the reason there has been a decline in people having church funerals It's not just they may not have a connection with a faith, but think that they need to be members or connected in some way to the church to use that service. I also wonder if this lack of connection with the parish and the church may be, in part, a contributing factor to the decline in people feeling the church is relevant to their lives? If people don't know the church serves them, merely as a result of them living in Scotland and, as such, living in a Church of Scotland parish, they may feel they church does not care about them, does not feel their lives are relevant to the life of the church and the work of ministry a parish church could undertake.

I don't know exactly how to make this connection. I also know it's easier in smaller communities where there is maybe only one church and I have seen the community rally around those churches even thought they may not attend. Could that be simply because the people in that parish see that the church serves and cares for them and the community? In larger towns, with many churches (and that's just the Church of Scotland ones), the church should try to make the link with its community again and let its parish know it serves them. I know of one church near my placement church which distributes Christmas and Easter cards to the whole parish. I know of another church which puts posters of forthcoming events in almost every shop and public building in the parish it can. All to show the church is there for them and they are served by those churches.

At the end of the day, the church is the representative of Jesus Christ in the world. It has to reach out in the areas no one else would. It has to serve everyone, as Jesus taught. Then the people in the parishes might just see Jesus in the way the church serves them and their communities.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


With the rise of more people being involved in worship (e.g. projector, sound desk, organist, praise band etc), I think it is increasingly necessary for ministers to be more organised in getting things to these various people. I know when I was involved in worship before I began this whole process I appreciated knowing what was required of me by a Thursday evening. I know from my own experience that it makes my contribution feel valuable, helpful and appreciated, rather than an add on. It also made me more flexible as there was a bit of give and take. If I had constantly been asked to do things at short notice I would have began refusing to do them. If that model was how I liked to work on the other side of the fence (so to speak) then it's only right I do them same in the position I am now in.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Sharing Food

Eagleside had a Passover-style meal last night. It was an abridged version of a Jewish passover meal, with most of the ritual and symbolism they would include. The twist was the inclusion of references to the Last Supper, being the disciple's Passover meal on the night Jesus was arrested.

Generally, it was quite interesting and something I would consider trying in the future. One of the people there did ask if I now had my first Easter in my first charge sorted, but I said that might be too much for the first year and it would depend on having appropriate catering.

A couple of observations:
  1. Last night was the tables were set up in groups, rather than one big cluster of tables. Consequently, there were some who had their backs to the speaker (I was among them). Given the size of the group, I think it may have been possible to have everyone around one big table, but the group size was boarder-line for that.
  2. As I was driving, I did not have the wine available. Traditionally, wine is taken throughout the Passover meal and there were non-alcoholic alternatives available. When I refused the wine, someone mentioned it would only be a few sips I was having and I think they were quite taken aback when I mentioned I don't drink and drive at all and believe there is no safe limit. So now I think they see me as a bit of a prude. Well, I'd rather be one of them than have an accident. Even if I was under the limit, I would always wonder if alcohol played a part. That was one of the circumstances were, had I been the minister leading the meal, I would have either not driven or not drunk. I am all too aware ministers should try to do things which would not let others stumble (and I know no-one's perfect, least of all ministers and especially not me). But I do feel if people see you taking a particular course of action, even if it makes them feel uncomfortable, yet they see as perhaps the right thing to do they will respect and, hopefully, follow. Though I have to ensure they are following Jesus and not me.

At the end of the meal a couple of people were asking when I finish my placement. Officially it's Pentecost and I told them that, but also said I may leave a week or two before that so I have a break before my next placement. They all wanted to make sure they got to say goodbye and that it would be great if I could go back. I did let them know I wasn't in a position to have another placement there, though may visit.

One person told me there were people who didn't want me to leave and to stay to become their assistant minister. A great complement, though I wonder who 'we' are. Very humbling, though. But perhaps a congregation is more forgiving of a 'minister' if they know she is just there for a short period of time! Or perhaps I am being too hard on myself and accept people seem to have taken me to their hearts and the congregation appears proud to have been involved in my development and growth.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Going to church

When a couple you do not recognise pull into the church car park on a motorbike, the correct greeting is a smile and a 'Hello' or 'Good Morning'. Okay, they might not hear you because of their helmets, but they will see you are being welcoming, friendly and approachable.

The incorrect way of dealing with this couple is to glare at them, mutter among yourselves about the bike coming into the church car park and throw dirty looks over your shoulder as you walk from the car park to the church.

And this is a church which describes itself as friendly...

Often in churches, it's the welcome (or lack thereof) which determines of a person comes back. Getting treated badly before you've even crossed the door is not going to help win over people and make them see you are, as you see yourselves as friendly. Being friendly isn't about just those who are in, but those who aren't too.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Our Father

Over the last few weeks, I've been in situations where the concept of God as father has been discussed. Basically, the speaker has talked about how people with absent or abusive father must feel about God being described in such a way. In each case, the speaker has also mentioned their own very good relationship with their earthly father.

I wonder if they, and everyone who talks around this subject who themselves have a good paternal relationship, ever think to ask us. Really, go on, ask those of us in one of these situations what we think, not what you think we should think. I don't know, I feel it's a bit like some groups saying "you can't do that as it might insult this religious group" and the religious group sort of thinks "and your point is, caller?".

Okay, so I can only speak for myself, but it's never been a problem for me. If anything, I'd like to turn the question on its head and ask how, even with the best Dad in the world, he could ever be compared with God. No human (except Jesus, of course) has ever been perfect, so how is it possible to compare God with an imperfect human?

We need to find ways of describing the indescribable and referring to God as father is one. So is mother. But that's a cultural thing not really using that to describe God. Personally I go with the flow. If female attributes are used, I do wonder if the person talking about God has a problem and they are overcompensating. Going totally down the purely feminine line, I would argue, could be as bad as just masculine descriptions, so why not the occasional mix?

I wonder what would happen if I began the Lord's prayer next time with "Our Father and Mother" what would happen? Would anyone notice or would there be a riot? I think there may be more puzzlement than anything else. And, it's definitely not scriptural (though I don't see that as a complete barrier).

So, if I don't have a problem with God being described as Father, given my background, I wonder how many other people with absent or abusive fathers feel the same? Go and ask us, you might just be surprised at our reaction, though I only speak for myself here.