Monday, 28 May 2012

All clean

I have spent all morning washing and hoovering the gerbil-mobile. It's a definite treat for the car - usually it's only washed once a year and I don't recall having hoovered it since we got's too short to get worked up by a dirty car. Thing is, when I do wash it, I do it right...hence the time it takes.

So, it's now looking reasonably good for heading to Highland Cathedral. Looks a bit more welcoming if I give a pastoral lift!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

One week to summer

This time next week, I'll have started my summer placement. I'm really looking forward to it, as it's a growing church (yes, growing!) and will still be pretty busy over the summer, so plenty for me to do, see and learn.

Down side is I'll be away from home, so that will be hard, though I am staying with exceptionally good friends, who are the reason why I am going where I am going. It'll be hard being away from spot, though he's hoping to see me at weekends (I'm not leaving the country...quite).

Yesterday I pointed out to spot that this is my last weekend at home before I go on placement. It's been ages since it was first agreed and now it's here and I think that was a bit of a surprise for us both. The way things work out, I probably won't see a weekend in our house until the end of August...3 months away. I know people do placements abroad where they don't see their family and friends for the entire time, but I knew I couldn't do that, though I had seriously considered it.

I am going to a beautiful part of the country. There's plenty of birding and walking to be done there...when I've time! I'm also planning taking my bicycle, which should be interesting to begin with, as I haven't used it for 4 years. At least where I am staying is pretty flat (but ancient flood plains tend to be).

So, onwards and upwards. I'm enjoying the journey so far (even though sometimes that may not come over) and know I am ready to begin the next stage of it. Bring it on.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Too hot...

It's hot. How can you tell it's hot. No, not by the mercury, but by the sight of a gerbil wandering around rural Perthshire in shorts for the last 3 days. This is an exceptionally unusual occurrence, not least due to the Scottish weather. It also prevents passers by suffering snow blindness...

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Where did the time go?

I've now finished my exams. I can't believe that's first year at uni almost over and a third of my degree complete (working on the assumption I've passed!). Just can't believe how quickly the time has gone in and how much I've learnt since September (though how much I will remember an other story...).

I know I am no academic and this year has re-affirmed this. It's not I'm thick, but academia isn't me. Thankfully I'm holding my own and doing okay. It's great to be learning and stretching my brain. It's funny, but I had said for a long time I'd like to got back to uni again...any do some history as I'd never taken that past second year at school, even though I'd liked and enjoyed it, but it clashed with my first love of the social sciences - geography, especially as geography the way I was taught was physical geography.

I'm definitely seeing the interconnection in most we are taught. It's amazing how it all interweaves. I'm also seeing history seems to be my strongish point and I hope ti develop this (I know of someone will approve!).

I've been making choices for next year. There's things I have to do and things which are of interest, but which will have to wait to the following year as they clash with the have to do, but the timetable looks a bit more (dare I say this?) interesting than this year. I know this year will stand me in good stead as a very good grounding for the nest two years of study (and beyond), but some of the subjects were more...stimulating than others, shall we say. Hope my choices are okay'd, though I have an idea what to change to if I need to.

Now I'm getting my head in gear for starting my summer placement in just under 2 weeks. It's full-time and I'll be away from home, so there's the challenges and pressures of that too. I'm really looking forward to it, as I know I am ready to take the next step in my journey with God.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Heart and Soul 2012

Well, they say the sun shines on the righteous and yesterday was a beautiful day. A great day to celebrate the Church of Scotland in Princes Street gardens at Heart and Soul 2012. Hats off to the organisers. Bigger and better than last year and this was only the second time an even like this has happened.

It was great to catch up with a few folks. It was great to soak up the atmosphere. It was great to see just how alive and licking the Kirk really is.

During the closing worship, two things stood out for me. The people watching from Edinburgh Castle. They weren't tourists, they were the staff, as the castle would have been shut by the time the worship finished. They, along with passers by on Princes Street seemed to have got caught up in the worship that was going on, as they lingered for a long while. The other was the MC of the worship commenting about how he had tried to persuade his sons to attend, including telling them that there would be bands. His sons' reply? Good bands or Christian bands? Not much to be added to that.

I hope this becomes a regular feature in the life of the church. It was great to be there and know I am part of something much, much bigger. All done to be the Heart and Soul of communities throughout Scotland that they may know God in the way the Kirk serves them.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Paperwork, paperwork

I do not like paperwork - be it electronic (as, thankfully, most is these days) or physical. I understand there are some things which are necessary and required for legal reasons and the good running of any organisation. It's not helped by being a former civil servant who had to deal with a lot of paperwork on a day to day basis (and make sense of it, in a way the legal experts couldn't).

I am also becoming increasingly aware of the amount of paperwork parish ministers have to deal with. All from a conversation where I was wondering how ministers used to have time to map the nation, such as Timothy Pont, and it was pointed out to me that there wouldn't have been nearly as much admin to deal with.

This daunts, depresses and frustrates me. I am called to minister, not to be an administrator. I know I am not the only person who feels like this and wonder how many newly ordained ministers leave the vocation when the non-ministry things get to them. I also wonder to what extent very easy communication has added to the complexity of admin ministers are responsible for. It's so much easier to loose track of how much there is an its duplication when it goes out in a series of emails, rather than envelopes.

I just hope I don't end up being a parish civil servant. That would do my head in.

Friday, 18 May 2012


There seems to be a lot of branding of church activities these days. There's Messy Church, Alpha, Exploring Christianity etc (those are just the 'obvious' ones off the top of my head.

Now, I can see the advantages. They are recognised and know outwith the church by people who maybe want to find out more, but would feel out of place just turning up at a church (that's another argument altogether). They are ecumenical. They are getting the message of the gospel to people who may not encounter it in new and innovative ways.

But, does there need to be a brand? I see the people behind Messy Church have a 'hands-off' philosophy, so it can be adapted and used in the way churches want to, but the brand is recognisable. Great, so long as it stays that way.

But other courses (which may or may not be mentioned above) have very strict rules about how the name and materials can be used. It cannot be adapted for local need, which seems a bit silly. The history of Christianity shows it can and does get contextualised.

I just don't think I like the idea of branding, where it is that. Why else control how the image and name is used?

And do we really need a brand to tell people about God and lead them to a relationship with Jesus? To me this all seems to be playing into society's obsession with branding and the church shouldn't be part of that.

I wish there was a straightforward answer, but I know Eagleside ran a 'Introduction of Christianity'-type program which was designed and lead by the minister and a neighbouring colleague. On the back of it 2 people joined Eagleside and one made a renewed commitment. No branding, no marketing, no real preaching. Just talking and sharing stories about faith and God and Jesus. So, it can be done.

But then I think the Kirk, the Church of Scotland, in some ways is a brand. But it is diverse and broad. It adapts to the needs of its congregations and parishes throughout Scotland. So, the 'brand' is used well. And I think that's the rub. Is a brand a help or hindrance to local churches? That should be the measure of its usefulness IMHO.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Good pastor or preacher?

I have been thinking at there seems to be so much emphasis placed on a minister's ability to lead worship. It's like that is the most important thing a minister can do. Now, don't get me wrong, I know it is the ministry of word and sacrament I am training for, so I am aware that the word is an important part of my role and I am happy with that. But there's so much more.

When I was at school, I was good friends with a minister who had a very good reputation for his preaching. He was very engaging, articulate, entertaining, willing to deal with difficult subjects etc, etc. I know he seemed to be one of the best preacher I had heard. But, once I got to know him through visiting my friend...well, what was preached in public and spoken about in private were quite different and I lost a lot of respect for him. He also did not see it as his role to do pastoral care at all. For me, that just showed little integrity of faith and life (though I wouldn't have thought of it quite that way back then).

The training seems to emphasise this too. Yes, we are to deal with all aspect of ministry (or as many as we can during the placements), but there are very specific targets set for the number of times we are to preach and take a whole service during each placement. There's no minimum numbers of pastoral encounters, leading meetings, funeral visits etc. Okay, so those are a bit harder to arrange, but I do have to wonder if there's no harm having a minimum of one or two per placement. That's not too onerous and should be doable. It means that supervisors and candidates would have to ensure it happened. The danger, I feel, with not having a specific target for non-preaching, is the emphasis is on preaching and the other aspects of ministry are not dealt with quite so pro-activity. Though, it may be I am slightly clouded by my own experience.

On a practical level, I know of many congregations where the minister is a brilliant pastor. They care very much and the congregation (and parish) know this. But they aren't brilliant when it comes to the preaching thing. I know the congregation will forgive that more readily than vice versa. I know I would (and have). I need to know my minister cares about the congregation, not that they are a great orator.

Does sort of put the willies up me knowing I seem to be good at preaching and leading worship. I pray I don't become a person who forgets the importance of the whole package (though, given I am thinking about this would indicate it wouldn't become an issue).

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Hand up or Hand out?

The other day I was wearing my Riders for Health t-shirt and it was being admired. Great opening for me, as I was able to tell them all about Riders (I'm quite passionate about their work). One thing I was telling my friend about is their work that trains and employs locals to do the work they need done to ensure the transport solutions they provide are kept in as tip-top shape as possible.

They don't parachute people in who have some of the skills needed for training the health care workers or mechanics - they train locals. This increases the economic power of the people who work for them, as they have increased skills. Those people can them train others in mechanics, say. So, they whole system becomes self-supporting. The trickle-down effect of this to the rest of the communities in which Riders works must be amazing.

Much better, IMHO, than many NGOs who are reliant on gap-yearers or year-out people providing the skills. While I know much good and worthwhile work has been done this way, I can't help bu think it helps perpetuate the dependence culture. Yes, Riders still rely in aid to run, but they only send people out to where they work if that skill is not available locally and ensure local people are trained in that skill once identified. After all, who might work harder - the person who is part of the community, where their work directly affects if their cousin gets the medical treatment they need, or the person who is only going to be there short-term and once they've gone will have little to do with the community again?

I know this model is being changed by many charities, as they become increasingly aware that the social enterprise model is a much more effective model of doing their work. But I still see so many things where it's the (almost exclusively) white, middle class, well educated person going out to 'darkest Africa' to help those 'poor unfortunates'. Rarely have I known someone from a working class background doing this (I know it happens, but we tend to use gap years to earn money to get through uni, not as a wonderful thing on our CV!). In many ways, the videos I see, even in well known and respected NGOs websites, it just has the feel of colonialism to it...or do I read things very differently to others?

Take this Christian Aid video for their fundraising week (which starts today):

The work is empowering people. It's giving the people living in Bgap the tools and confidence to make their lives better. But why do we need the 'Christian Aid' supporters in the video? What do they contribute? If they are going out with specific skills to take to the area and the knowledge they learn is being brought back to lift the profile of Christian Aid where they live, great, I'm all for it. But if it's a bit of a publicity stunt (as I know other charities do to generous donors), then I get a bit twitchy. That said, the generous donor might see something that the charity which took them out might not tackle and set out their own charity to deal with that. That is, after all, how Riders was founded in the first place.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Reaching outwith the walls

So, on Sunday I went to the linkage of my home church. I know, I was looking for somewhere where I wouldn't be know, but they are the sort of people who are supportive and understanding that I was there to be rather than do. One of the many reasons I love those people.

So, rather than have to sit through the same service twice, while Spot was busy at our home church, I went for a bit of a walk and picked up the few odds and sorts we needed. Although the street was quietish, there were a reasonable number of people around and, as 12 o'clock approached, the numbers were growing. I suspect there were more people worshipping the god of retail between 11 and 12 on Sunday than were in all the local churches combined.

Which made me think that's exactly where the church should be. Not in the old (quite often neo-Gothic) buildings where they don't want to go, but beside people, in the real world. Being where people are, rather than expecting people to be where the church is.

I know it's idealistic and, given I am called to parish ministry, not easy to do (though, where's there's a will, there's a way!). I also know people will argue that Jesus went to the synagogue to teach. True, but it wasn't just there - he also taught were people were.

So, should the church maybe even occasionally have a service at 11 o'clock on a Sunday morning where people are. To actually have a service at the 'normal' time where people are, not for it to be an add, evening or mid-week service. Yes, there would be opposition (from church as well as non-church people), but I could argue part of the Christian calling is to do the right thing and spread the gospel in the face of opposition. (Oh, good grief, it sounds like I am an evangelist and that is a bit too much of a loaded word for my liking!).

So, there's a challenge for me. And, I would say, the whole Kirk, as it faces the many issues it will have to deal with over the next few years. But as long as God is in all the Kirk does, everything should turn out well.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Where to worship?

So, now I've 'finished' with my first placement (though I know I will be processing what I've learnt for many years to come), the question of what to do on a Sunday arises.

I could go to my home church. Still at the back and enjoy. Or, I could try another church, even of a different denomination. It would be nice to go somewhere were I could just blend into the background and just worship. (I know worship is as much about being part of a community, but sometimes it's nice just to be, not to do).

Having looked at the range of options, it's not going to be easy finding somewhere that I am not know by someone (welcome to the world of ministry I hear people cry). To go somewhere else (and if they are welcoming - that most loaded of statements), would I be abusing their welcome in just being there to get anonymity?

So, I will see what Sunday brings.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

So long

Sunday was my last day at Eagleside. Officially, the placement can continue until Pentecost, though it is to be 25 weeks from start to then. As I have only had 2 weeks off since the start, I have done that and some. Not that I am complaining - I have learnt a lot and the end of a month makes sense, as a natural break.

Now, I'm not one for a fuss, as anyone who knows me will attest to. However, I do acknowledge it is important for the congregation to be given  the chance to say goodbye. My supervisor didn't tell me anything was going to happen during the service. It was announced just after I'd finished reading the bible lessons for the service. I was presented with some flowers (with receipt!), which does make me wonder what a male candidate would have received...but that's just me (or is it, my mother-in-law did think it was pretty sexist).

Judging by the congregation's reaction, they did not know Sunday was my last Sunday and would miss me, which is both a huge complement and extremely humbling. Many wished me very well after the service and were very sincere in their interest for where I am going next and wanted me to visit occasionally (though, I'm not that sure that's a good idea for me, though there are many there who I would like to see supporting me come ordination).

The placement had had its ups and downs. I have grown, been challenged, observed, followed, been watched, questioned myself and developed. I firmly believe this placement has put me in a good steed for future, even things which I wouldn't do which are done there. Not all learning has to be from positives.

The best compliment I had come today. Well, it was two. One child wanting to tell me all about their sponsored walk (who says I can't relate to children) and a lady telling me I'll do well as who I put things and my voice really speak to the heart. I don't think she realised just how much that meant to me - it was so sincere and humbling.

After exams, the next experience, challenge and period of growth begins. I'm looking forward to it.