Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Professional ministry?

Apologies in advance. This is a bit of a brain dump.

For one of my classes I'm to write an essay on "what are the implications of 'professional ministry' for the church?" While I've not done much reading for this yet, the question in itself raises several interesting thoughts for me.

  1. What is professional? Is it paid, is it ordained or set apart in some way? Is is educated and trained for a role, preforming a 'ministry' in a professional, unpaid capacity. I would see readers, axillary and OLM ministers all as professionals, but none are salaried for their roles.
  2. What is ministry? I know, I'm maybe being a little obtuse here, but is that Word and Sacrament, Diaconal or Sunday School Superintendent?
  3. What's the church? Is it the broad, catholic, church or The Church of Scotland?I know this is something I'll need to define before I can even get about looking at what 'professional ministry' may look like.
This will be an interesting essay for me. I know one of the (many) reasons I ran away from following the call to ministry was the knowledge it's necessary for any organisation to have leadership, but how that can get in the way of a congregation performing their own individual ministries. I know the Kirk acknowledges the priesthood of all believers and ministry is part of (yet separate from) that.

I also wonder how new expressions of church are affected by 'professional ministry'. Often, as much as a minister may want to get involved in these new expressions (however they are manifested) time can be a limiting factor. It's also good for others who aren't ordained or set apart to set up and try these initiatives. But given the reformed definition of church (where the word is correctly preached and the sacraments properly administered), these new expressions of church aren't, in themselves, church. Under Kirk law, they need a minister involved in some capacity so the sacraments can be administered. Yet that minister could be an OLM doing a professional ministry, but unpaid.

I know there's a proper order thing and I acknowledge that under church law. Yet I wonder if that would occur through God, rather than what people can achieve on their own. Speaking to my latest supervisor the other week, he felt the 'good order' reformation thing, where only ordained ministers can administer the sacraments may be in order that the church is seen and maintained as being reformed. Is it a bit of protectionism on the part of ministers that only they (and not deacons, say) can administer the sacraments? I'm not saying it's wrong, I just wonder if 500 years after the reformation some things which came in then really look more priestly than we'd like to admit?

So, professionals don't have to be paid and ministry doesn't have to be full-time word and sacrament. Maybe that in itself could be a liberation for the church? Or a hindrance, depending on how you look at it.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Words matter

I was asked by a member of the congregation at Caledonia Kirk what part of a service I found hardest to prepare. I responded, with all sincerity, it was selecting the hymns, and this is why.

When I chose the hymns, I want to get the right balance between conteporary and traditional. I try to have a pattern in the hymns, so they come in the 'right' order - approach, confession, thanksgiving, response, sending. And I want the theology expressed in the words of the hymns to reflect the broad theme of the service.

Sometimes this comes easier than others. It depends on a number of factors, including the setting, knowledge of the congregation (don't want to give them too many unfamiliar hymns in one service!), theme, bible readings etc. Sometimes even as I've announced a hymn I've not been convinced it's been the right choice, but as it's sung it is absolutely right (oh, the amazing power of the Holy Spirit). But I do think it is so important to try to get it right, especially the words.

I believe many people get more of their theology from hymns than they even do from any sermon preached or eloquent prayer delivered. The words with music speak to people in a different way than words alone. They can speak to the soul as well as the intellect. And people remember the words because they are set to music. The combination is as important as the words alone.

There are a lot of contemporary hymns used at Caledonia Kirk. Some had beautiful words, which express great wonder, awe, praise to God. But the tunes are mince. Does no one do what Charles Wesley did anymore and take popular tunes (in his case, drinking tunes - I love that guy just for that!) and use them as the skeleton to build hymns on? When a tune is known to people, they can learn the hymn easier and it can resonate better in their souls. Just take "Christ is our light", set to the Highland Cathedral (okay, so the tune's 30 years old, but we are singing hymns which are attributed to King David, so that is pretty up-to-date!). It speaks to people precisely because of the combination between the words and tune. They compliment each other in ways which cannot be explained, only felt.

I also think there's a lot of strange theology about in hymns. Today there was the line "Christ became sin for us" from "Oh to see the dawn", by Keith Getty and Stewart Townend. Excuse me, Christ became sin? Seriously, is that actually what you meant when you wrote these lyrics Mr Getty and Townend? Really? I'm sorry, but that theology sucks as far as I am concerned. Jesus die to set us free from sin, so how exactly did he become sin? Christ, the only prefect human there has even been who is God incarnate, became sin. No, just no.

So words matter. They matter to me, they matter to the people I am called to lead. But, and I think this is the most important thing, they matter to God. So, it is important I get the right words at the right time in the hymns as well as prayers and sermon and everything else I do. For I am doing it for God.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Put up or shut up

The Church of Scotland is a reasonably broad church. Broader, maybe, than many within even realise, let alone these outwith (whether Christian or not). I thing that's a very positive thing. That way, the Kirk can, hopefully, serve the whole of Scotland through this breath, as well as its parish system.

I am respectful of other traditions, theologies, worship styles within the Kirk. I don't have to agree with someone to respect them - (one of the people I would happy say I admired is Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister. I couldn't stand much of what she actually stood for, but I truly respect that she stood up for what she believed for and took nothing lying down, but I digress!). Wouldn't it be nice if that respect was reciprocated?

Over the past couple of weeks I have heard of various Church of Scotland congregations who don't really approve of the Kirk. They see it as non-scriptural, having lost its way and not being conservative enough. They want the whole Kirk to be like them and don't appreciate that diversity is a good thing, not bad.

Playing a bit of devil's advocate (as is my want, occasionally), if those congregations feel so strongly that they want to leave the Kirk, why don't they? They don't approve of the Kirk, they don't like the Kirk and dislike many of the decisions the Kirk has taken over the last...50 years. If an organisation is that bad, and they no longer feel they can change or influence it, why stay? Especially as I'm sure they could find an appropriate bit of scripture which would indicate that leaving would be the best course of action!

Now, I am not saying they should leave. As I said at the beginning of this post, I like the diversity within the Kirk. If these churches were to leave, some of that would be lost. I just don't understand why they stay, though it may be they realise they couldn't manage on their own. Which is why we are all better together. But, as I see it, they shouldn't take the advantages of being part of the larger organisation, then bite the hand that feeds them, so to speak. I'd respect them more for stepping out in faith on their own, rather than staying and moaning.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Worship Fix

I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm going to anyway. Sometimes, when I'm leading worship I don't actually feel especially worshipful. Okay, it's out now, so I'll explain.

Fortunately, during my second period of co-ordinated field, I did feel I was worshipping as well as leading others in worship. I had also experienced that doing pulpit supply in a couple of locations. So I know it is possible to do both. I very much doubt I could be an effective minister wherever I will serve if I had to get my worship 'fix' elsewhere. That would be just so draining and, I'd imagine, could led to disillusionment and/or burn out. Not good.

During my first placement I found it difficult to be worshipful at times. That arose from a whole load of issues, including knowing I'm being assessed, waiting to be criticised (sometimes, in hindsight, unfairly) and the general style of worship not really being what fitted me. But I didn't seek worship elsewhere, though did appreciate the weekly communion at New College.

During my summer placement, that all changed. The church 'fitted' me. It's not that I wasn't being assessed, but I knew it would be fair and supportive, from congregation and minister alike. There were things they did I hadn't experienced in a 'standard' Sunday service, such as singing a reflective hymn seated, immediately followed by a period of silence (for about 2 minutes). Or shaking hands with the congregation at the start (I never really became comfortable with that, but I could see the merit in it). But there I felt God's presence; was very aware that everything I was doing in worship was me worshipping God and, in doing so, leading others to worship. This summer, there really was nowhere else I would rather have been,

Now, at Caledonia Kirk, I feel the least worshipful I have ever felt. After preaching yesterday, I felt emotionally and physically drained in ways I have never experienced. I suppose its not helped by not being to come to God in the prayers (as they are either so brief they are over before they have begun or feel more like rambling monologues on the prayer leader's pet topic, so it stops being inclusive) or the songs (they don't like me calling them hymns) as not only do I not know them, but I struggle to sing with any sincerity, as I disagree with some of the theology of some. At Eagleside, it was often the hymns which got me to the worship place I needed to be in.

So, what do I do? Well, there's always listening to UCB (which even 6 months ago I would have dismissed out of hand), but that does not really cut it for me, as I feel worship needs to be communal activity. So, I'm seeking out churches near Caledonia Kirk with an earlier morning service, where there is time to get to 'wrok' in time. Though I was tired after preaching yesterday, I dread to think how drained I would have been if not for my worship fit earlier that morning.

And, at the other church in the city, I was asked on the way out if I sang in a choir. And that church has a very good choir. No, I won't be joining, as I'm just a wee bot busy at the mo!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Sunday's reflection

I preached for the first time at Caledonia Kirk yesterday. Generally, I felt it went well, though I suspect my theology wasn't 'in sync' with that the congregation are used to.

I didn't get much feedback, but that which I did get was positive, with some people specifically coming to speak to me. The best comment was "tell is like it is, sister!", which was great.

I know I was nervous, but have now learnt how to use that to my benefit. For me, that nervousness keeps me grounded and reminds me I feel this is important. From some comments I received, it would seem most do not pick up on the nerves, which is good.

I know I come across as confident when I preach. I hope that's the right sort of confidence and does not become an arrogant or cocky one. Given the nerves and that fact I am concerned about that happening would suggest that's unlikely, though I suspect there may have been people in the congregation who were surprised at my confident delivery. Nothing explicitly was said, but just a feeling I got.

There was a couple of very minor errs. So small, I'm just commenting to acknowledge them, but not get too concerned with. If anyone (except my supervisor - well, they are supposed to picking up on these things) noticed I would be surprised.

I felt the message was clear, both in terms of content and presentation. A couple of people who did comment did confirm this.

So, all in all, I feel I delivered a well thought out, constructed and delivered sermon. It picked up the theme I was given (your past is not your future), though reflected my theology and understanding of God. It may not have reflected some of the congregations views, but I have to preach what is true to me, otherwise I will lose all integrity, and what God is calling me to say.

It'll be interesting discussing it with my supervisor.

It never ceases to amaze me how I seem to have been given a special gift for preaching. I wonder what God has planned to do with me through it. Knowing me, rattle a few cages...

Monday, 15 October 2012


I quite like a little bit of silence in a service. While at Highland Cathedral I became quite used to their inclusion of reflective silence in every service, to the point where I did not watch the clock or count in my head, but used the time to listen for God's voice.

So I miss it when it's not there. There seems to be a fear, almost, of silence at Caledonia Kirk. When it's offered, the music or speaking continues. Even before and after the service, music is played (I know some churches have music just before and after, but there's space in the service itself). A member mentioned it to me and I get the impression they did not like it.

I know with silence, especially when people aren't used to it, needs to be handled well - introduced, an appropriate length, built up over time, not over used. I also believe if I benefit from silence, I cannot be the only one. Our world is so full of noise, perhaps that's why we miss God's still small voice. Or, are we too frightened of what he might be saying to us?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Toughest so far

I knew before when I asked to do my third placement at Caledonia Kirk that it would be my most challenging placement yet, for many reasons, not least the worship being led by a praise band (!). Yet they are trying to be innovative with outreach in areas other churches may not be willing to venture.

Already I am seeing a very friendly, welcoming group of people. I know this isn't just because I am the 'student minister', as Spot attended on my first Sunday, but we arrived and sat separately and he was greeted both on the door and in the pew in a very friendly, graceful manner. In the main, most are coming across as very approachable and supportive of me, which will help as I go through this placement.

I am seeing a different theology from my own. I'm glad this has come at this stage in my training, as with both my own growth, academic study, personal and professional reflection and previous placements I am in a much better position to approach this placement than I would have been able to last year. I do not think I would have either had the maturity or self-assurance I have now to make the most of this placement.

Interestingly, in a recent conversation a colleague pointed out that when churches have 'theological issues' (lets just say Voldermort!), the people best placed to bridge the divide are those who have relationships across the broad spectrum of the church. When they said this, I did not think 'well, that's not me', rather I thought that if that's the path God's leading me, then bring it on. It won't be easy, but it will be very cool!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Church spaces

There are certain spaces everyone has encountered which seem special. Some would view these as just beautiful places, others are spiritual places. I think of them as being sacred spaces.

There's a church near where I live which, as you drive to it, doesn't seem like anything special. But get to the top of the hill and...there's something about that place that no-one I knew who has been there can put their finger on, but they all acknowledge it. The current church building is around 150 years old, but there's been a church there for over 1000 years. There's also a well nearby, so this may have been a sacred site long before Christ. It made sense that when Christianity came to this area, that the ancient sacred sites became Christian sites of worship.

I've been pondering recently if the church needs to start thinking about how to create sacred spaces for the 21st century. It's not that I think church buildings are the only way to create a sacred space, but I do think a church building should have an atmosphere, for want of a better phrase. I have worshipped in very modern churches, where the minute I've walked in I could feel there was something special about that place. I have worshipped in churches which are over 100 years old where there was about as much atmosphere as a wet tent in October.

I don't know what the answer to this is, but feel it's important for those with little or no connection to church that, if and when they experience church, they feel something speaking to them. One thing I know, it begins with God, but I suspect how people view the place and how a community worships in the space has an impact on this.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Faith seeking understanding

Now, I am never going to be a great theologian. Reading some the greats my head starts to hurt (though I did have a tutor who told us that if your head doesn't hurt, you haven't read them!) and I just feel they are trying a wee bit too hard to put God in a box. But I still see it as necessary to have people in this world who are doing theology in an academic way - they, hopefully, help the rest of us know more about God and gain a better understanding on our relationship with him through Christ and our neighbour.

I know there are many times in these studies where I've wondered what the practical application of some of the stuff I've learnt is. It's not to be dismissive, far from it, but I'm trying to see the big picture. I don't want to get bogged down with academic study so it does not inform the other aspects of my training - placement and ministries training network. If that were to happen, then the three streams would run in parallel and would not be interwoven as, I believe, they should be.

Yet the things I am studying are helping me in all these parts of training. As someone who has been in the Kirk for 30+ years, I can't recall formally being taught much in the way of Christian doctrine (if any). It didn't need to be done formally, as I have (and will continue to) learn what this following of Christ really means. The bottom line for me is faith, and faith alone, though faith can seem empty to others without action (not that I am saying action is necessary to have faith, it's very confusing!).

The study is allowing me to know where these creeds and doctrines came from, how they developed and the rational behind them. It gives me a greater understanding of where I am coming from, allowing me to 'justify' (and I use that word very advisedly) my stance. It challenges me to really think what I believe, rather than just accepting what I have been taught. It allows me to gain insight into the theologies of those whose theologies differ from my own, making me more able to engage, work, learn from and empathise with them.

Surely, all of that is part of the point of doing a divinity degree? To gain an understanding of my faith in ways I never could in any other way. That said, some of the greatest theologians I have ever met left school with no qualifications, so I will never, ever dismiss another's theology just because I am 'educated'. That just would make me a tube, among many other things I couldn't publish here!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Too late, way too late!

I was reading this article yesterday. A leading Roman Catholic theologian wants the church to be reformed, due to a corrupt hierarchy.

It is wrong of me to point out he's about 500 years too late, or should I go looking for a virtual door for him to post his theses on?!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

First time for everything

Heading home today after visiting Caledonia Kirk, a Mormon approached me. He wanted to tell me that God has a plan for me.

I told him I knew, as I'm training to be a minister in the Church of Scotland. I don't think a Mormon has ever had a reply like that before!

Oh, and unlike Highland parish over the summer, these young men did have smart raincoats!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Into routine

It's week 3 (how did that come around so quickly) back at uni. It's great to see fellow students I haven't really had a chance to over the summer and get to know some new ones. That sounded a little more sinister than I intended!

Over the summer, at Highland Cathedral, I had got used to having a routine of sorts, but it was one which was dictated by me. Many things I was expected to (and wanted to do, just wanted to make that clear) were not time fixed, so it allowed me to manage my own time, which I really actually enjoyed. So, while it's good to be in some sort of routine, I don't think I like the routine which gives me very little flexibility and is dictated by others.

I'm also a little overwhelmed by the amount of reading I need to do. I like reading, which is just as well, but there's a lot and some needs to be read 3 or 4 times and, even then, it still doesn't make sense! Oh, the joys. I know it's good preparation, but I find it a scary thought that I am doing honours subjects, the result of which will dictate my over all degree award (as someone who already has a Desmond, I'm not too concerned about my award, but want to the best I can).

And then I have to fit in placement too. It all be fine and worth it in the end. I managed first year, so I should manage this year too.