Friday, 31 August 2012

All called by God

As Spot was going through enquiry a few people wondered how that would work out, with me training for full-time ministry. Neither of us were too worried, believing if us both being called to ministry was part of God's plan, he'd know how things were going to pan out.

But there aren't many people I've heard saying to someone who's husband's a teacher or wife's a doctor "who is your call going to fit in with their call to teach or medicine?".I know there are a few, but many people focus so much on the 'up-front', trained by the Kirk ministries. As far as I am concerned, everyone has a call from God. They are all significant to God, even if they may not seem that significant to society. In our marriage, Spot and I support each other with our calls. Both extend far beyond trained ministry. We have supported each others calls which got us to the place we are today and would have continued to do so if our paths hadn't moved in the direction they have.

But how does the church support, affirm and encourage calls throughout members of congregations' lives? I believe that can come through the pulpit and pastoral encounters, as well as letting others bring their own gifts to God, in the life and worship of the church, but also in their day to day lives. It is there most in this country see Christ - in the lives of his followers. If Christians are not encouraged to see their ordinary, daily lives are their call, how will they feel their lives touching others as they do work, rest and play and, in doing so, are following God's call in their lives?

This is something I need to keep in mind, but also one of the reasons I pushed going into ministry for so long, as I objected (and still do to a certain extent) to the singling out of people in the church, but understand ever community needs a leader and shepherd. I pray I remember this and become the kind of leader who ensures the people in the church I serve see their calls as valued by God as anyone else in the church's call, what ever that may be.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Minister's wife in training!

Something which occurred to me yesterday. Not only am I training to be a minister, but I am now training to be a minister's wife! How did that happen?

At least I will have the ultimate excuse not to do all the 'traditional' minister's wife's roles, as I'll probably be a little bit busy to help with The Guild, coffee mornings or the Sunday School.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

At my side

So there I was, singing "Brother, Sister let me serve you" with my fellow candidates during our end of conference communion. As we sang, I couldn't. It's not that I don't like that hymn or struggle with its theology, but at that moment it felt more worshipful to feel the music than sing it. It was a strange feeling, but peaceful.

As I worshipped I felt my hand gently squeezed. Just briefly, barely noticeable. In the way Spot will sometimes do when he knows I could do with it. The sort of squeeze which says "I'm here; you're fine; I love you". We'll no one was physically holding my hand...but there was definitely that presence in that moment.

To my rational scientist brain, it was my imagination. But to my irrational self, the person who is following this mad thing called ministry, that was Jesus...just being there.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

In our joy too?

For many in our communities, the church has very little to do with their lives. It's a hard but sad fact. Yet, when sad times come, be it death or illness, a local or national tragedy, that is when people turn to the church. For prayer, for comfort, for presence. And that is only right and good, not for the church, but for the sake of those in our communities, so they may see Christ in the actions and being of those in the church during the sad, painful times in their lives.

But why only the bad times? Why not the good times - graduating, recovering from serious illness, marriage, having a child, the list goes on and on. Perhaps it is easier to approach God in pain, than in joy? Perhaps. I know of many, many people who will only pray when it's all going pear shaped, not when it's going well.

I wonder though if this could be a way of people seeing the church is with them always, not just in their pain. We want to share their joy too. Yet, the Scottish Presbyterian image is not one which lends itself to can I put this? Cheerful. For many, especially of a certain generation, the Rev IM Jolly, though a caricature, was the 'face' of the Kirk. A door minister, with no sense of humour, sense of fun, who would never share a communities joy, because they would suck all happiness out of it!

I don't think there are easy answers to this. It would take a cultural shift, both in terms of the church and society, but wouldn't it be great if the church community could be part of the parish's joy and celebration?

Monday, 27 August 2012

All here to serve

This is day 3 of my third and penultimate conference. It was very different from my first, not least because Spot was here with me during the weekend, but also I am more comfortable about myself and accepting of being a candidate in training. Last year I perceived all these eloquent, sorted people and wondered how I'd ever come up to that standard. Now I see we're pretty much all bricking it and wondering exactly how we got here!

I'm really trying to make the effort to get to know the new people, especially those who won't be studying at Edinburgh, who I can get to know and (hopefully) support there. It's partly networking, but mainly I know how I felt last year and can really see the same expressions in their faces as I had. And a pint with my peers in the local isn't too much of a hardship either!

It's amazing to see all these great, talented, gifted people being called in varying ways to serve Christ's church and minister to God's people. I am privileged to be among them, even though I sometimes think just how good God's sense of humour is when he called me!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

What would you take?

During a recent visit to a Roman site, Spot challenged me to come up with technology I would take to them, based on my knowledge and the ability they would have had to make the technology.

My initial thoughts were the steam train engine, but the blast furnace would be needed first, in order that the right grade of steal could be made. It would also need the development of the steam hammer, which needs a steam engine al a Watt. Spot did agree that all those were things the Romans probably could have made even if they hadn't.

But a bit later I thought on the bicycle. Just think how that could have improved communication throughout the Roman Empire, with all those great roads. They definitely could have made that, as they had good blacksmiths and the inventor of the bicycle, Kilpartick Macmillan, was one. As for tyres, rubber wasn't available to the Romans, but a suitably treated inflated intestine would probably do the job.

My other suggestion (and I must say, I thought that a bit of a stroke of genius) was movable type, a key element of the printing press as we know it (the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans had printing before Gutenberg, but they were wooden blocks which wore and could not easily be changed).

So, what would you take? I'm not too worried about changing world history here. I'm not The Doctor..

Monday, 20 August 2012

Home Sweet Home

Got home late last night. In theory, I could have come home yesterday afternoon, but Highland Cathedral were having their annual end of their Summer holiday club rained, but ne'er mind. I wanted to still be part of that, seeing as I was involved from the off in the planning and preparation of the week. Despite the rain, it was the right way to round off the week.

I always knew I would be leaving Highland Cathedral and it wasn't hard. I loved the church, the people, the area. It wasn't hard to leave as I think I will always have a place there if I were ever to visit (though weekends tend to be a bit difficult, for some reason!). To quote a member of the congregation yesterday "I can't believe you've only been here 10 weeks, you have become so much a part of the church. It's great". That was very touching and affirming. I was only able to do that by being myself and the congregation being who they were.

So all in all, this was a great placement for me. It's not that the placement wasn't without its challenges, but those went with my gifts and skills, rather than against them and that made all the difference to what I did, how I learnt and how I grew. I pray this may continue throughout my training and formation (a process which I know does not end on ordination).

And all this was possible because 2 good friends of spot and I were stupid enough to offer a place to stay to me. Thank God for people like them in our lives.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Tiring, but fun

All this week Highland Cathedral has been hosting its Summer Holiday club for primary school children. I have been involved all week and have thoroughly loved it. It's the first time I've been involved in this since I was in my late teens and I know I enjoyed it more that I did first time round.

The children were great, the leaders were great, the people who made the tea and refreshments were great. In fact, everyone involved in any way in making the club happen were great.

I thrived on the buzz of the whole thing. I was happy making a fool of myself where necessary (and it was necessary quite a lot of the time!). I was also sensible when I needed to be,. which made the silliness even sillier!

It's definitely something I'd seriously consider doing in the future, if the church I'm called to doesn't already have one. For many children it might be the only contact with church they will have, but who knows the seeds which may be sown when they take part in a good church holiday club?

Though I enjoyed it, I am tired. It's a high energy thing (especially as I was one of the people up-front - pulling the whole thing together, giving continuity etc) and even the children who have come all week looked tied today. And with all my jumping around and falling down (on purpose, I have to admit) it's not done my dodgy knee any favours. But, it was worth it to see children have fun in a church setting and hopefully, through all the team has done this week, will know God's love for them. The rest is in God's hands.

Right time, right place

In a few days time I will be at home. My home. The house I share with spotthegerbil. It'll be odd being home. I miss it. I miss not having spot around. I miss the sights and the smells. I miss my triangle of working. I miss my routine and my space.

(This is not to be a moan, but a reflection, so bare with me)

Yet being at Highland Cathedral has been a great opportunity which came my way. My good friends and very generous hosts offered me a place to stay even before I'd thought about summer placements (in fact, even before I'd started uni or my first placement). The things I have done would not have been open to me near my home (as there are some unique outreach projects at Highland Cathedral) and I have experienced living in a context very different from the central belt, where I have always lived. They have been gracious and generous hosts, with me becoming very much part of the family and this feeling like a second home. It's amazing how things can come your way and you can either take the chance or not. I'm so glad I did, though it has not been totally easy being away from spot for so long.

It's going to be hard leaving. I've come to love this place, the people, the congregation and I think they have come to love me. This area is definitely on the list of areas I would consider for a charge (though that seems a long way off at the moment).

It's funny, I had considered going abroad for a placement, but I am glad I chose no to. Here, at Highland Cathedral, was exactly where I needed to be for this placement. God gave me a choice and I accepted. I pray my next placement will be as beneficial in my formation as this one has. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Nearly there

This is the final week of my summer placement and what a brilliant placement this has been. I have learnt so much, grown so much and done so much. (The beer in the local has been a hardship to sample, too!). While all experience is beneficial, this placement was good too. The congregation, the minister, the location, my hosts - really, I couldn't have asked for a better placement.

I really feel, even in this very short period of time, that I have touched the lives of so many in Highland Cathedral and its parish. In many ways, that will be to a limited extent, but I look at how often Jesus only spoke to someone briefly and their lives were transformed forever. I pray that I can do that too, in his strength, of course.

The only thing I've found a bit of a chore about this placement has been the paperwork. Those who know me know I don't really like paperwork - I see it as a necessary evil. I know the report is necessary to ensure I am progressing within my own training and doing what is expected of me for my stage of training. I'm fine with that, but does it really need to be so long? So very long? Is it just me or is there a lot of repetition? And there's the questions for the first section basically asking how rubbish I am at something. While I know it would be wrong to not state areas of struggle or where improvement is required, surely it's also wrong to word the document in such a way that some candidates will feel they can't acknowledge where things have gone well? Last time round I did focus on the negatives, this time it's more balanced and I have acknowledged where I'm good at something as well as where I need to further develop.

Just a few more days and it'll all be over on paper. In practise all I have learnt and seen and experienced here will stay with me all through my ministry, wherever that may lead.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Put it away!

What is it about Brits that makes many of us want to take our clothes off when the temperature gets above 20 degrees? I mean, really, is wearing a t shirt and shorts just too much to ask? If you're too warm, wet the t shirt. It'll dry quick enough and the wicking effect will cool you down.

But please, please, please put it away. Really, it's not nice and you've probably not bothered with sunscreen, so are heading into the territory of being a lobster. That is not an attractive look. Honest. Think of the children!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Not in Rome

A group of my fellow candidates head off to Rome next week for a study tour. I could have gone with them, but chose not to for a whole load of reasons. Mainly, I couldn't handle the heat. It's currently 20 degrees near Highland Cathedral and I have spent the vast majority of the day avoiding the heat. In Rome, it's currently 30 degrees and it's forecast to hit mid to high thirties over the weekend. I just couldn't cope with that sort of temperature.

I hope my peers have a good time and that they get what they want from the study tour. I look forward to catching up with most of them at the next conference where, I hope, the temperature gets a bit better (for me, at least).

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Running the race

I have been keeping up with the Olympics with interest. What I have been especially impressed with has been the sportsmanship of almost all the competitors. They have been trying their best, even when it was unlikely they would do well enough to gain one of the much coveted medals. It would be so easy to just not bother giving their all and feel defeated before they even started, due to the impression that it wasn't going to result in a medal.

To even get to the Olympics, never mind anything else, is a major achievement. No one should be knocked for now coming in the top 3. They are there and that takes guts, determination, discipline, training and commitment to get there. Add to that the pressure of competing on a global stage in what is, for most sports, the pinnacle of sporting endeavour. I especially feel for the members of Team GB - though the crowds are obviously backing their team, I think that is a double edged sword for the athletes - the support of the crowd, but with the added expectation from the crowd (real or perceived).

And this all makes me think of the church - this group of people who follow Christ. We are called to run the race for Christ in such a way as to try to win the race (1 Corth 9:24-27). How do we do that?

By committing to Christ, in body, mind and soul.
By trusting God, even when the training is hard and nothing seems to be improving.
By being the best we can be, in the way we live our lives and treat others.
By taking the risk that we may lose the earthly race, but in the sure and certain knowledge we are running for eternal life.

But that isn't just for us, it is for the whole world. Only in being the best people we can be, in mirroring in our daily lives the way of life Jesus taught his followers, can we take the message of God's kingdom to the world. It is outwith the churches most people encounter Christianity these days. Are we a good example or holier than thou? Sometimes I think the Kirk can be the latter - hiding behind the banner of "we are the Church of Scotland" and not reaching out beyond the bricks and mortar into peoples lives. It is in how we, as the whole body of Christ, show compassion, grace and love in our daily lives that we will win the race, not for our own sakes, but the sakes of everyone we encounter in our ordinary lives, if we live them in and for God.

(Mmmh - this started as a reflection and has sort of turned into a sermon. Normal service will resume shortly!).

Monday, 6 August 2012

First and last

I lead the whole act of worship yesterday for the first and last time at Highland Cathedral. Generally, it went well, flowed and came together as a coherent unit.

Being the first time here I was really nervous, but tried to use that to my advantage, rather than let it use me. That paid off to a certain extent, though as I was preaching I did stumble over a couple of words. I know I did that a bit more than I usually do (it's not like me at all), but it was a bit like a tickly cough - annoying and the more I tried to deal with it, the more it happened. Just need to remember, if that happens, to take a deep breath, pause for a second and move on. I know from feedback from my supervisor he felt that most of the congregation would not have picked up on it, which is good as I would hate that it distracted from them hearing God's message, but I know I need to remain conscious that I try to get it right. Again, I know that will come with experience.

The preamble for the sermon was a little long. A member of the congregation mentioned that to me (as the one thing wrong - they thought everything else was spot on) and I felt that was very fair comment. Again, I know that was in part down to lack of experience. With more experience I would have had the confidence to cut part of my preamble, but didn't yesterday. Again, something to bear in mind when I preach.

 did use some 'Mrs Gerbilisms' - one was from my native region and another was mine. I sometimes combine two words or make up new ones, especially when nervous. The disturbing thing is, people still understand me! My supervisor just advised me that might be a problem if I went to a posh congregation in Edinburgh or Glasgow. I don't see that being a problem as I really do not feel called to either of those cities (I should be careful what I say - God may have other plans).

The children's address didn't go as I'd planned. No children were prepared to help me (which wasn't just me - they don't really do anything for my supervisor either, though they don't know me as well as they know him and I am aware that also has an impact). Because no children helped I was going to move on, but someone from the congregation, without prompting from me, got up to help. I took that all in my stride and adapted the activity to what had happened. The message still came across and the children (and congregation) seemed to enjoy it. I know it's good I was able to adapt well and cope with the changes. So, looks like children's addresses, which were my nemesis at my last placement, are now coming together well.

But all of this is being pedantic. It looks like I have a natural gift for leading worship, which is a wee bit handy for a ministry candidate! That said, I hope I never become complacent and begin to rely on my own skills and forget I must always rely on God and the gifts he has given me. I know the nerves I get before worship help to focus my mind and also remind me how important what I am about to do is.

Friday, 3 August 2012

A Legacy?

The other day my supervisor, quite out of the blue, asked me what I felt I'd learnt from this placement. At the time, and on reflection, I'd say learning I have the ability to co-ordinate and manage a project, while allowing others to get on with it.

The following day I bumped into him while out and about (aka pastoral visiting). He was with a colleague and was waxing lyrical about this project I was co-ordinating, especially as I'd been happy letting others get on with in, rather than feeling I had to be there all the time and micro-managing it (just to make it clear, the people haven't been left in the lurch either - I'd briefed them before each session and thanked them, while getting feedback, post-session). He also talked of that being my 'legacy' to the congregation.

I suppose I must be doing okay if it's being shared outside the congregation. I know it's not perfect, but it's the first time for all of us involved. That said, it's going well and the issues (which are really minor and have only manifested themselves because the project is running) will feed into the future of the scheme, in what ever form that will take.

There are, of course, many other things I have learnt, but this has been an important lesson. It's funny, though I've worked hard on it, it doesn't feel like hard work! I also don't feel I've changed how I am or do things, so looks like this is a gift I didn't even know I had, or that I have used in a different way in the past. It's pretty cool to know that, though I am always mindful that this gift is from God and I do what I do in his strength, not mine.