Monday, 30 July 2012

Death in the parish

There's a business in a parish where a member of staff has suddenly died.The workplace is a close knit band of colleagues and deceased was well respected and loved by their colleagues and the customers of the business. Though many of the staff may not actually live in the parish, the majority of their week is spent in the parish at work.

So, what do you do as a minister of that parish? Do you regard them as part of the parish, as they spend most of their waking week there or not? Do you visit the business to offer pastoral support (or get the pastoral care team to do so, where one exists)? Or do you just not bother unless you are asked to do the funeral?

I know what I'd like to do. I would see those people as much part of the parish as those who live in it. I would offer my services. They wouldn't have to take it and I would respect that, but I think it is important the church goes where it is needed and, in circumstances such as this. For isn't that what the church is called to do?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

It won me over

I so wanted to avoid it. I really didn't give a monkey's and was relishing the time when it would be all over. I even went out to avoid it.

But it was on the big screen in the pub. I ignored it to begin with, but it drew me in. What were they doing? What did this all mean? Then I realised exactly what they were up to. They were forging the rings. That was the point where Danny Boyle's opening ceremony won me over.

I left when the athletes stated to come into the stadium, but the main show had been amazing. And hats off the the Queen for being up for being collected by James Bond. That was sooo cool. Well done ma'am.

Though I didn't see it, the final touch of the lighting of the torch. By 7 future heroes. Not past, not present, but future. What a brilliant symbol of what they have been telling up this is all about since it was won - to create a future for sport and where people all over Britain of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy taking part in sport. I hope that my cynicism about that will be proven wrong too.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Care of the elderly

I was doing a pastoral visit in an elderly care home the other day. As I was there I got to thinking about how the elderly are treated in this society. While I accept it is sometimes necessary for people to have to live somewhere with 24 hour care, it often seems it's a case of out of sight out of mind (and I am not just meaning the home I visited). Society doesn't want to see those who need everything done for them. Society just dumps them in a home and doesn't really think about them.
Around the world people can't believe how the elderly are treated in this country. The elderly are respected. Here they are often overlooked and patronised. Is it because they are old? Babies and children are seen in public every day. Their parents get child benefit, special deals in supermarkets, changing facilities etc, etc. They will be taken shopping, swimming, to the park, for walks and drives. Why doesn't this apply to the elderly? I know it's not straightforward, but it just doesn't seem right that the elderly are so poorly treated and disregarded.

Or are we scared to look in case we see the future? I do think that it's no wonder many people (myself included) sometimes say they'd rather go before that happens. Can a person in the latter stages of dementia have a good quality of life? I believe they can if we, as a society, want them to.

One thing I find fascinating is how little care workers in elderly care homes are paid. Sometimes, it's barely more than minimum wage. Those who look after children can be paid significantly more. But society is not prepared to ensure there is sufficient money paid for care to give a decent wage to carers. In doing so, the quality of care will improve, as it's possible to recruit the best staff with better pay.

So, should there be a 'national age service'? A guaranteed minimum level of care for the elderly, where caring is see as as much of a vocation as nursing. It would be nice, though I wonder if society would be prepared to pay for it. All I can say is a society is judged by how it treats the most excluded and marginalised. I would argue the elderly who need full-time care are pretty high up there.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


There's been much coverage in the press regarding 'cash-in-hand' payments to tradespeople, ever since David Gauke criticised the practise the other day. If the whole idea of cash-in-hand is to avoid paying tax, it's wring (though I'd like to met the person who hand on heart could say they have never paid cash to a plumber, joiner, mechanic etc to get some sort of discount).

Without tax revenues there would be no schools, roads, water (in Scotland it's still a public utility), hospitals, doctors, bin collections, etc, etc. I know I'm not paying income tax at the moment for several years I was a net contributor to the tax pot. I didn't mind as it payed for others. That's the point. It's a benefit to all in society and make that society as a whole better in terms of welfare of the most vulnerable.

Yet Gauke's criticism came on the back of reports last week that there is approximately £13tn of tax hidden from the taxman by large corporations and extremely wealthy individuals. So, a plumber taking cash in hand is morally wrong, but I can't recall Gauke making any moral judgements or public comments about this. Perhaps it's easier to target the small individual businessperson who may be struggling to get by in the current economic climate than to target the companies and individuals who are avoiding tax big style.

Besides, just because a person takes cash-in-hand (and maybe even offers a discount for doing so) doesn't automatically mean they are avoiding tax. As a mechanic friend of mine once told me, it's madness as all the parts he has to buy and the wages he has to pay are all traceable. If he didn't pay the tax he owed he'd get caught. So the method of payment does not affect how his business is taxed. I'd guess there are more tradespeople like that than the type Gauke is referring to. I also know this mechanic quite likes the idea of there being hospitals and doctors on the NHS, just in case.

As a Christian I will pay my dues to Caesar. Sometimes it may hurt, sometimes it looks like the money isn't being spent very wisely, but to not pay tax will just make things worse - like Greece where tax avoidance is almost a national sport, with only around a third of tax due actually paid and look where they are now. And it's the people with the least who suffer the most in these situations - the very people Jesus instructed us to look after.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The wrong reading

On Sunday, the person reading the bible lesson did the wrong one. Right book, right verses, wrong chapter. Oops. As they read I could see members of the congregation look puzzled as it wasn't what the expected from the order of service. Following a quick consultation with my supervisor, it was decided to let them continue and then read the right one. I wanted to do the correct reading as it was long, though I knew exactly what tact I was taking with it, so could have skipped the bits that were not being referred to in the sermon at all. But my supervisor insisted on doing the reading to take the pressure off me.

It was something I recall coming up at my first candidates' conference and the consensus there was to do what I did. Also, I made the decision I did because I didn't want to get the reader in a tizz.It later transpired it wouldn't have bothered her and, when it has happened before, the reader has been stopped and the correct one read. I didn't know that at the time. Without that knowledge and knowledge of the person reading the lesson I feel I made the right decision. Knowing the congregation and the precedent which has already been set, I would have made a different decision.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The right style for the people

I was preaching for the second time this placement on Sunday. I'm all too aware I need to preach what I feel God needs me to say to a congregation, not what I want to say. Also, I wanted to try a different style of sermon yesterday. I've not really developed a 'pattern' in my style and I'd (to a certain extent) like to keep it that way. It could get repetitive for the congregation and different styles will work for different people.

Thing is, yesterday I preached in a style that I don't actually like too much.  I retold the story of Joseph being sold to slavery, from his prospective in the well into which his brothers had thrown him. Generally, I feel that's making stuff up. There's plenty good stories in the bible and the actual reading is one of them. But I felt called to preach that way for that congregation at this time. At another time or in another place that wouldn't have worked.

I know I used my notes a bit more than I usually do, because it was a style different from that I have done before, though no one really picked up on that. I did 'wake' a few members of the congregation up when I shouted (it was in context - I was talking about Joseph wanting to shout). Not that they were really sleeping, but it definitely got their attention.

Feedback was limited, though positive. I know it wasn't as good as last time at Highland Cathedral and it is the Scottish mentality to not praise people too much (fine by me, it makes me squirm).

Over tea after the service I sat at a table with some of the members. I didn't sit with them to be complemented, but they did. One lady waxed lyrical about me being very spiritual and there was obviously a power greater than me speaking through me as I preached. I know I couldn't do what I do without God at my back and following where he leads me through the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Hearing God's voice

So, there I was in the pub last night (it's such a hardship this placement!). It's worrying that Spot and I are getting seen as 'regulars'. Oh, well, could be worse.

One of the bar staff mentioned this and we explained we were only in the area for the summer. She wondered why and I told her I was a student minister, doing a placement locally. Without drawing breath or batting an eyelid she said "I'm not surprised about that at all. I can see that in you", or words to that effect.

That's about the third or fourth time I've had a similar encounter. A person who doesn't know me not being surprised and saying things like seeing it or that I'd be really good. It's really weird, though I do believe God speaks through other people and, as it keeps happening, I think he's trying to tell me something!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Not my ball

Over the summer I've been tasked with co-ordinating the program for children (and their parents, if they wish). I've enjoyed being 'lt loose' to manage, arrange and organise the whole thing. It's great to be trusted to get on with it and, because of this I'm wanting it to go well (or in maybe that's not the right phrase - I would do so anyway).

Though I'm co-ordinating the program, I am liaising with members of Highland Cathedral to get volunteers, share ideas, obtain information on type, ages and numbers of children etc, etc. Also, as I'm only here for 10 weeks and need to gain experience of leading 'normal' Sunday worship (whatever that is) I cannot lead the program for the 6 Sundays it's running (though I was involved at the first one).

Initially we were in one building and it did go well, but for a variety of reasons (which I thought, but the other leaders and some parents also mentioned) it wasn't idea, so it was moved to a better location following discussion with my supervisor. But I forgot to tell the person who does the order of service (oops). I did apologise and have now got it sorted. Though it didn't have to be who passed that on, as the person responsible for co-ordination I should have made sure it was done by someone. Oh well, that's a thing to take note for future. At least I had the decency to admit I was wrong and hold my hands up to it.

From this project I have confirmed my leadership style seems to be collaborative. Especially in this situation it makes sense. If it's a success it may be run during future school holidays, but I won't be around. If I'd done it all myself no-one would have been involved in it nor know how it was put together and Highland Cathedral would be back to square one. Also, it means there seems to be a real sense of ownership of the project by the leaders and those I have asked for help and guidance from. Though I'm co-ordinating it, it's definitely not my ball. I hope this is something I can take with me in full-time ministry.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Half way there

I just can't believe I've finished 5 weeks of my 10 week placement here at Highland Cathedral (though with the conference I've been away from home for 6 weeks - not complaining, merely an observation). In some ways I can see just how much I've still to do while I'm here, yet can see just how much I've experienced and done since I arrived. And I feel really at home here - it's not that it's not challenging, but it's going with my personality, gifts and skills, rather than against. I've even been given a project to lead for Highland Cathedral. It was something they were going to do over the summer anyway, so at least it's not just been created out of nowhere. It's been running for 2 weeks now (from a 6 week run) and feedback from leaders and children is very positive. A few things were tweaked from the first week, but it was a first for everyone concerned and that's all part of the learning for all of us. I'm chuffed it seems to be going well and I am getting people engaged and enthused by the project. It's really been something I can get my teeth into, so a great learning experience for me and one which I know will stand me in good stead for the future. If the next 5 weeks are anything like the first 5, they will fly in. I am getting quite fond of it round here and Spot and I certainly wouldn't rule out moving to this neck of the woods. Still a few years off for that, though and anything can and probably will happen in the meantime - this is God's path after all!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Who to marry?

This has been a week of first for me. I have now been involved in both a wedding ceremony (other than as the person getting married, before someone interjects) and a funeral. I merely played a very small part in both of these acts of worship, but it was exceptionally humbling to be allowed by the happy couple and the bereaved to take part.

The wedding wasn't any different from what I would have expected - in fact it was fairly stereotypical, but still the special day for the couple committing to one another. In many ways, I saw my role as another one of the professionals making their wedding happen, from the hotel manager to the photographer. Having said that, as a representative of the church, I could still be seen in a different light by the couple and their guests depending on how I conducted myself. That, in turn, reflected on how they would perceive the church. So, no pressure then!

As I discussed the wedding with my supervisor, he called me on who and where I would marry people. And that sort of got my knickers in a twist. I'm very clear that the church is where the people are. The church buildings which are used as a useful tool for conducting worship and serving a community, but they are not the church. So, by that measure, a hotel can be the church, as the people are gathered in Christ's name. Yet I still slightly have a reluctance towards the idea of marriage in hotels - but is that my own prejudices rather than a decently thought out position? If it's the former, I need to put my own views to one side and think how I could serve I will serve in a parish.

I know I would want to be sure the couple knew they could be married in church if they wished and non-attendance and non-membership would not be a barrier for me marrying them in church. I would hate to think they were getting married in a hotel because they didn't think they would be allowed to be married in church. But, what if there were reasons why they still wanted to be married outwith a church, such as a feeling of hypocrisy (even with my reassurance), practicality of having everything in the same place, keeping costs down etc. Would I still marry them?

Okay, so getting back to the church being the people, that wouldn't be a barrier to me marrying people outwith the church building. So, with that in mind, I suppose I don't have a fundamental objection to marrying people outwith a church building. But I wouldn't want to become the minister people in an area came to to be married as it was perceived I would pretty much marry anyone anywhere. So how to square the circle of being welcoming to all but not making a rod for my back?

Well, the easy way, I suppose, would be to use the parish system to my advantage. So, those I serve in the parish I would marry, those with a direct connection with the church (to get round people who's great-great granny may have once attended) or people where I may have a connection through a chaplaincy. That way at least I would know them in some capacity (okay, so maybe not those in the parish, but why should service for a wedding be different for a funeral of a person in the parish?).

I still need to give this much more thought. I also know I need to have decided what I would do once I enter a parish. It seems so far off, but I know it will come around soon enough. So long as the decision I make is the right one based on what God wants of me and not what is right for me alone.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Doing enough

It's now four weeks since I started at Highland Cathedral (well, technically it's five, but the conference week doesn't count as placement time). I can't believe how quickly the time's passing, especially as my supervisor and I have already started talking about what will happen during my last Sunday here!

As some things wind down for the summer, I am slightly wondering if I will have enough to keep me occupied over the next six weeks. It's a fine line, as I could land up shooting myself in the foot and giving myself too much to do. Also, I need to allow time for research, reflection and working things out - due to my lack of experience, many things take me longer than an experienced minster, but that's just the way of it.

My supervisor has suggested I have some funerals passed onto me. When he suggested that I was really taken aback, as I've not been involved at all, but the more I think about it, the more I think it would be no bad thing getting the experience when I can. I also see it as a complement he would trust me to do a good job, even when he has not seen how I would lead such an act of worship. That's also very humbling too.

I am going to have my first taste of leading part of a funeral next week. I am a little daunted by it, but keep remembering God's got my back and I don't do (and couldn't do) what I do without him at my side, guiding and sustaining me in and through his holy spirit.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Mission and outreach

As Christians, we are called to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds, look after the poor, orphaned and widowed (whether physically or spiritually) and to tell others of the good news of Jesus Christ.

So churches set up soup kitchens and youth clubs and playgroups etc, etc. All of these show the church in action, the church serving the needs of the community. Hopefully, this type of service comes with no strings attached. After all, Jesus healed and talked with people first, then told them to sin no more and follow him, not the other way around.

But in that outreach, it is all too easy for the church just to be another type of community service and could be seen as no different from the local village hall committee putting on these services. For me, while people should not be 'bible bashed', there has to be an understanding that those helping with the outreach are Christians and the service comes from Jesus through his church.

Having been involved in a couple of outreach programs through placements and my home church, the fact the service was coming from the church and all those serving were Christians did change people's perceptions of the service and, in some cases, the church. As those being served got to know the servers some deep theological concerns were aired, all due to people knowing we were all Christians. It's not to say we had the answers, far from it, but the people we were serving saw something in us and wanted to know more.

This is something I am wondering about for this placement. Their outreach program looks great and is really serving the community, but I wonder how it can be mission too, in a non-threatening and loving way. And I know it is something Highland Cathedral is wondering about too.

So, what is others' experience or thoughts? I have my own ideas, but want to have a rounded picture and more ideas my own theological reflection on this matter.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Funeral Prayers

Next week I will be involved in leading part of a funeral. It will not be the whole service - just a prayer and possibly a reading - but it is necessary I begin to gain experience in leading funerals.

I have drafted a couple of prayers of approach, based on, but heavily adapted from, the Book of Common Order. Partly for the occasion, but also to begin to have a pallet of prayers I can use in a variety of circumstances. So far, I have drafted one for a funeral of a church member and one for a parish funeral (for want of a better phrase). But I did think, why did I feel the need to make them different? On one hand I am aware there will be funerals I will take purely because the deceased lived in the parish and there is no connection at all with the church. On the other hand, I believe Jesus Christ came to the world for everyone, irrespective of their personal beliefs, background etc. So, am I making the wrong decision having different prayers?

Then, there's the subject of language. Should I use inclusive language such as us and our, rather than you and yours? Though the funeral is an act of worship, I see my role as much one of supporting the bereaved as leading the act of worship. Could including myself be seen as inappropriate by the mourners?

At the end of the day, when I will lead a funeral service I am acting as a representative of the church. In doing so, I am showing the church care for the mourners and, in turn, that God cares for them. If I can do that in the prayers I have drafted and how I lead them, I hope I will have done that.

Too good to be true?

Feedback from many people at Highland Cathedral, including my supervisor, is very positive. And I shouldn't be complaining. Even the 'negatives' aren't really - they are more the kind of encouragement and advice I need for my stage in training and level of experience.

It's great to have people responding to me so well. I have been given a project to manage and it has been commented I seem to be good at encouraging and ethusing others. Wow - there's a gift I didn't know I have and I know it will be very useful in the future. Being pro-active has also been commented on in a positive way - again, I know that it something I will need to be in ministry as, once I am 'let loose' there will not be anyone to tell me what and when to do things. For me, being pro-active is partly to get the most out of this placement, but also to allow me to manage my time well.

Though this is all good and I can even acknowledge this in myself, I can't help but wonder if it's too good to be true. If it's all going to blow up in my face. But that's possibly a reflection on how thing went at my last placement. Also, my need to strive for the best means, I hope, I will never become complacent about anything I am doing in ministry, as it is all important. Yes, with experience some things will be less daunting and I will be more confident doing them, but I hope and pray I never take what I and others do for granted, as then would probably be the time I would need to move on.

Monday, 2 July 2012

All's well.

I'm really lucky here at Highland Cathedral. Though it's challenging me, it's going with who I am, rather than against as my last placement did in many ways. To begin with I thought it was a bad thing feeling at home and seemingly fitting in really well, but now I realise that it is not. After all, when I enter a charge I don't want to be constantly on my guard and feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

The good friends I am staying with have and continue to be fantastic. I just never fail to be amazed at how lucky I am here. I am so glad I took the risk to be away from home for the summer to get an experience which I could never had obtained had I stayed at home. I really love it here to the point where spot and I have discussed whether or not I would consider a charge in the area around Highland Cathedral, Lets just say, I haven't ruled it out.

My supervisor is really good too. Such a contrast with my last one, though I did learn a lot there. I know I just get on with my current one in a way I didn't with my last one - which isn't a failing on either part, just human nature that there are people individuals click with over others.

I've even already built up really good relationships with the congregation - who are so helpful, supportive and encouraging. And they also understand they only need to remember 1 name and face, but there's hundreds of them! Some other congregations don't get that!

So I thank God for bringing me to this place. I am learning a lot and gaining in confidence and assurance in my abilities. I am where I need to be in this place and time, which is very cool.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Carberry Conference

Last week I was at a candidates' conference. It was a pain to have to split my placement to go and, as I didn't really enjoy my first one, I was quite apprehensive about it. I very much saw it as a chore and something to be endured this time last week. And I couldn't help but think the time table looked quite boring!

Well, maybe I'm more relaxed about who I am (this is true); maybe there was a different dynamic with the change in location and attendees; maybe now knowing some of my peers through ministries training network, uni and other conferences has made me more comfortable in and with the group. Whatever it was, I came away having generally enjoyed it (except for the food - but that's a minor detail and possibly what brought the group as a whole together!). I got to see those of my peers I hadn't since August, share time, fellowship, stories, fun and laughter with them. And most of the sessions were good too (though not all...the team building sessions were, well, not really that helpful).

I'm now looking forward to the August conference. Meeting up with those I know again and getting to know the new candidates, whatever ministry they are training for. It's a shame we all can't keep in touch more (okay, so that's more me keeping in touch with them as most are on Facebook) and share time with each other more frequently. I realised that though I publish some of my thoughts here, I prefer catching up with people face-to-face. Wonder how that could be done easier to benefit all the candidates - a massive Skype conversation perhaps!

I do know the relationships I build up in these conferences will help sustain me in ministry and I need to work at them. I must admit it is something I'm bad at. Maybe I could join twitter and use that to keep in touch with my peers...but then I suspect I may (yet again) be in the minority on that call.