Friday, 30 November 2012

House Groups

Last night was a first for me. I attended a house group. There are a few of these at (from, founded in?) Caledonia Kirk and I was keen to see what happened at them. I will reserve judgement to a certain extent until I have been to others and, perhaps, re-visited the one I attended.

There was a definite sharing and support at the group. I know some things were explained a bit more because I was there, giving me a bit more of a picture of what goes on at Caledonia. It also gave those in the group a chance to get to know me and I them a little better (some I don't think I've actually met, but so many faces, so little time!).

I was a bit surprised we didn't delve into the bible - there is a book the house groups are following at the moment and I had gone along prepared to listen and engage with what was there. Now, you might think that's because I was there and needed the explanation - I did too. But we'd be wrong. Towards the end of the meeting, the subject matter cam up and I was told that because this group regard themselves as mature Christians, they don't have any questions!!!

Okay, so how did I deal with that? I told them the story of a bible study group I was involved with, where a recent convert from Hinduism came along for a while (he was working in the area). He asked questions which made us all have to really think. We were also happy to say we didn't know, if we didn't (and there were people who have been Christians much longer than those at last night's house group there). I explained how this person asked the sort of questions those who have been Christian for a long time sometimes feel they can't ask, as it's sometimes expected they should know. I don't know how it went down, but one person then had the confidence to ask a question he hadn't asked, so perhaps there is a culture of those who have been Christians for a long time should know it all. That slightly scares me. I often have more questions than answers and know people who are much, much more mature in their faith than I am who have lots of questions. This is something for me to ponder of the coming months and it'll be interesting to see how things are at other house groups.

The down side of house groups, as I see it, is two fold. Firstly, how does leadership take place that allows discussion and questioning, without the group just being a group of friends meeting for tea and cake? Also, it would be all too easy for it just to be a group of friends, with similar opinions, backgrounds and outlooks. I suppose that's why I think churches (as in the buildings) are useful because the gathered community will include people I wouldn't necessarily be friends with, but whom I am in relationship with in the community of church and through Christ.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Helping the poor

I was in our local shop today. While I was waiting to pay for my items, I could see a person in front was having issues paying. They were trying to use a shopping card (bit like a store gift card, but it can be used in a range of shops), but it wouldn't work, even though the store accepted that card.

It became evident this person had used a Christmas saving scheme to put aside a wee bit every month. That was on this card. The staff were great. They were going to put her stuff aside, so she could get in touch with the issuer of the card to find out what the sketch was. But the person was trying to pay in cash. That cash was probably destined for something else and as for the money on the card? Who knows. I hope it all gets sorted and the person took the advice of the shop staff.

So, 6 years on from the Farepak collapse and nothing has really changed. Those in the lowest incomes are still saving in similar schemes to the one Farepak ran. If the company collapses, these people are left high and dry. If they do get money back, it's mush less than the amount they invested and can take years. The Farepak customers were awarded 50p in the £1 this year, almost 6 years after the collapse.

The people this affects find accessing banks harder, due to financial and social pressures. On low incomes, banks (especially in less salubrious areas) aren't interested and don't want to give debit cards. People on low incomes may be reluctant to get debit cards, in case they over spend. Also, they may have friends, neighbours or relatives who are agents for the Christmas savings companies, so feel they are supporting their loved one, partly a social pressure to do this. It's also saving with someone they trust, so perhaps see the transaction as more trustworthy than in a bank?

If Farepak had affected the Eton educated, wealthy upper classes, the legislation governing these savings schemes would have been changed, pulling them under the authority of the FSA. That hasn't happened. Why? Because those on low incomes are less likely to vote and, if they do, are not seen by those in power as worth looking after (grrr).

So, what has the church done? Not necessarily as a collective body. I know the Church of Scotland has written various reports on tackling poverty and access to financial services for the poor, but what practical things can the church do? After all, we are called to look after the poor and be a servant of many.

I think one thing is to help set up credit unions. The church could provide the driving force and premises (at least initially). Then (and I know I am maybe being really naive about this) those like the person I encountered yesterday could save in a more secure way than Savings clubs, but there still be the trust factor as the credit union is run for and by the people who are members (and they'd get a wee bit of interest on the savings too). That, I think, could be a first step in helping pull people out of poverty, which I believe the church is called to do.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Being part of communion

Yesterday, I help led communion with my supervisor. Not being an elder, I have never been involved in communion, only received it (discussion about the difference may follow!). This was at the evening service, which is more informal, but intimate. Fortunately, from leading worship at Lane End, I do not find small congregations intimidating.

I used a liturgy from an old Iona community worship book. It seemed to work well, with my supervisor and I sharing the 'voices' in the liturgy. It's really designed for the whole community being part of the service, but as many at Caledonia Kirk are not used to responses I didn't want to do anything too different for them, what with this being my first time leading any part of communion.

Prior to communion, my supervisor and I discussed what I saw as the part which should be done my a minister. I think it's the epiclesis, though am aware the congregation would be more inclined to see it as the fraction because they actually see the minister do something. So, those parts were done by my supervisor.

I expected to be really nervous or uptight about doing this. I was surprisingly relaxed. Perhaps it was the different dynamic of the smaller, more informal, group. Perhaps it's because I knew I wasn't doing communion, just helping lead the act of worship, so I wasn't responsible for it. Perhaps it's my fairly low theology of communion. Or perhaps it's a combination of all of the above.

It would be useful for me to develop my own liturgy for communion. I am aware it's a long time before I can do it myself, but now's the time to think about how I would like the liturgy for communion to work. I also need to work through what I would do for different settings (home, informal and formal communion etc). I know I can't (and wouldn't want to) have a 'one size fits all' communion.

Having seen my summer placement lead communion in a couple of settings, what surprised me was him doing it all be memory. I liked that, to a certain extent, as it felt more intimate as I knew it was his words. That will take a bit of experience and confidence on my part, both of which are a long way off when it comes to communion. For that, though, I'd need to work out exactly what is the minimum required for communion to be communion. No one seems to have an answer, so I suppose that's something I have to work out for myself.

I think the service did work, though. It came together as a cohesive unit and the communion was an inclusive liturgy, which is in line with my theology. Feedback indicated those gathered appreciated it. They knew it was new for me (both the liturgy and being involved in communion), as I told them before the call to worship. A couple of people mentioned they found it very moving, which was lovely to hear. There is a few people with Anglican and Episcopal backgrounds who commented they both enjoyed it and appreciated the more Anglican feel. That wasn't intentional, but I got the impression they got something from feeling the service was 'theirs', if that makes sense. As I was a style of liturgy I am familiar with, I now am wondering what a Presbyterian liturgy is. I assume no responses, no Angus Dei and no 'Holy, Holy, Holy', all of which I am used to from my home church.

There almost certainly will be future posts on this subject, as I work through last night and how that will inform my administering the sacrament of communion in the future. It will take a bit of time to digest properly.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Wine and bread-free communion

At New College there is a weekly communion service. I really appreciate taking communion with my peers, tutors and lecturers. Around the table, we are all equal.

As I am choked with the cold, while I stayed for the service yesterday, I did not go up to take communion. It's a common cup and I felt it would be very impolite spreading my germs (though silver has antimicrobial properties). I still felt part of communion, but that's because, for me communion is about the community gathered together. I wonder if there were people gathered who thought it weird I would stay, but not take the elements? Or maybe no one noticed or, if they did, realised why I hadn't gone up.

So, though I like the common cup for this gathering, I so could have done with the CofS thimble yesterday!!!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Chocolate train

Some would say this is a waste. I say it's a work of art. What do you say?

Women Bishops

I am going to be controversial regarding yesterday's 'No' vote for women bishops in the Church of England. I don't think it's a bad thing. Before you decide not to read my blog any more, bear with me while I explain.

The legislation the synod voted on allowed parish churches which did not want a woman bishop to have oversight of their church to request another bishop who, naturally, would be male. So, if this legislation had been passed, there would automatically be inequality in the episcopacy of the Church of England. Is it right that a church should be able to ask for another bishop based on their sex? There is no precedence, as far as I am aware, for an individual congregation to request another bishop because the one they have they don't like. They just have to get on with it. So why should women be treated as second class bishops? Could a church ask for a female bishop if they did not like their male one? I don't think so.

I know I'm being a little naive as the majority of the CofE wanted this legislation to go ahead. If I were in that synod, I think I would have voted against the legislation, due to it allowing inequality in the episcopacy. And, if I was in favour of bishops (which, given I'm a Presbyterian, I'm not really) I would not object to them being male or female (funnily enough).

Though I can understand this is a bitter blow for many, many people in the CofE, and it may be more than 10 years until this legislation can be taken to the general synod again, perhaps the delay will allow women to become bishops on equal terms with men when it finally goes through? I say this sincerely and hopefully.

As a wee aside, I wonder why the congregations who object to women as bishops did not oppose the Queen? After all, she is the head of their church.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Showing we are human

I've been thinking about whether, as a minister, I should let a congregation know if I'm struggling with something, having a heavy work load or had a week like last week. Having recently read "In Jesus' Name" by Henri Nouwen and similar works for an essay, I'm inclined to think it's a good thing congregations knowing I am just human too.

I have witnessed a number of ministers who will not let their congregations know they are feeling over burdened or tell them of happenings in their lives. Now, I know that has a lot to do with personality and relationships. I also don't think it being mentioned in the course of the service is appropriate, but if a member of a congregation asks how my week has been, it would go against my integrity to lie when its been rubbish and act like everything's fine.

Surely letting congregations know allows them to support their ministers? I personally think it would make minister look more normal - congregations would see they struggle with illness, worry, doubt, fear, just like everyone else does.

Or am I being a bit naive? Would opening up to a congregation give them ammunition to attack the vulnerabilities, rather than support another member of the congregation? Or does it allow the minister to be part of the congregation, rather than separate from it, so they are supported and sustained as a member like all the other members?

I know, where appropriate, I'd rather share how my life is going, whether well or bad. I won't make a song and dance about it, but will share if asked, being mindful of the sensitivity of the person and the situation (aka remembering the time and place). I don't think I could serve in a church where I felt I could never share pain in my life and not feel supported as a member of the whole, rather than separate from, the church.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Rubbish week - update

Well, looking on the bright side of last week, at least all the defication hit the revolving bladed air circulating device in one go!

Good news, though. My Uncle is feeling much better and even went for a wee walk this afternoon. The man spot helped on Thursday is sitting up and eating, which is really good news. After all, people are irreplaceable. And I think Spot and I could do with some after last week.

Though I have acquired a replacement car, which I pick up on Wednesday, hopefully.

Friday, 16 November 2012

A rubbish couple of weeks

The past couple of weeks have been a little shitty. It just seems like one thing after the other. First, the car needed an engine rebuild. Then, 3 days after getting it back from the mechanics, we were back-ended at a round-about. It's now been written-off. Tomorrow we go to clear out our stuff and hand back the courtesy car. But that's just a car. It's a pain in the arse and an inconvenience, but it's a metal box. All parties concerned were uninjured and that's the important thing.

So, you may be wondering why I am writing this. Well, today I got a call from my Mum. Well, it was spot who answered and, though I couldn't hear what Mum was saying, I knew something was up. My Uncle, had been rushed to hospital. It's 11 years since his first heart attack, so I thought the worst.

Arriving at the hospital, I told reception who I was. It's at times like this I wish I wasn't so honest and had said he was my Dad (he might as well be), as it was only after waiting half and hour and phoning my Mum that I got into see him. At one point, while we were with him, we thought he was going to check out on us. Not good.

Fortunately, it looks like it might be a change in his meds are needed, or his hearts electrics were playing up. Either way, though tired, he got home tonight. I'm relieved. Besides, on a very selfish note, I want him at my ordination, just for the sake of dragging him into a church!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Enforced getting away from it all

As part of my training I was to have attended 6 conferences (usually one around Easter and another at the end of August), but the program has been changed to 3 conferences in August and a yearly 48 hour retreat.

Now, I am a little bit of a cynic when it comes to organised, imposed retreating. There's a wee bit of me thinks as soon as it has to happen, perhaps the less retreatful it may be. Besides, if I want to retreat, I want to fornicate off on my own, at my own pace and in my own time. There are very, very few people I would like to be with when I am having a bit of me with God time - most of my peers included (and no offence is intended, but we'd all start talking uni and placements, which isn't exactly a retreat, if you ask me!).

I can understand why Ministries Council want to make us retreat. It can be all too easy for us to focus on doing ministry and forget to focus on our relationship with God. With just being with God. From that relationship, we can do all the stuff we're called to (yes, even Session meetings!). By Ministries council sending us on retreat I think they are hoping we will get into a routine of retreat and spending time with God now, which will pay off in time. So, I can appreciate their concern in our welfare now and in the future. I'd still rather DIY, though!

So when I received an email from 121 yesterday detailing where I'd be going and with whom I was actually a happy bunny. I've been where we're going earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a beautiful location, with lovely walks and scenery. Plenty for me to 'get away from it all'. The group look like a good mix, from all the unis. Looks like I might enjoy this after all!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Getting other people involved

Recently, I have been reflecting on congregational involvement in worship. I have experienced it in all of my placements, with each church managing this in varying ways. I think its a great thing, as I don't like the idea of having to do the whole service, even if it is I just avoid the notices and the readings. It gives me a break, gives a indication of the priesthood of all believers in the involvement and allows congregation members to use the gifts they have for leading others in worship. Though called to ministry of word and sacrament, there is part of me thinks it would be great to work my way out of a job!

As part of my reflection, I have been wondering how to manage this involvement. As part of the leadership role I see myself going into as a minister, I see my role in encouraging, enabling and supporting members of the congregation to be involved in worship. There's a fine line in letting them try, yet still being there to help where necessary. Setting it up if it weren't there would take time and effort in the short term, but would (she says hopefully) play dividends in the long term.

If I were to get to the point I did not have 'up-front' involvement in worship every week, I would see my role as one of oversight. Being there to ensure there's continuity to worship, it flows and to offer support before and after the service. Without that oversight people may feel unsupported or they could get away with almost anything without accountability. While we are all accountable to God, the person or people leading worship are accountable to the congregation. Something needs to be in place to give that in an appropriate way.

It's a strange one. I hope I can encourage congregational involvement in worship wherever I go in a way which is best for the individuals and the community as a whole. We all have gifts to bring to God and it isn't just the ordained and set apart who have them.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Staying true to me

I've been asked to preach at Caledonia Kirk on the first Sunday in Advent. Normally, I'd use the lectionary to inform the bible passage(s) I'd select, but as it's not used at Caledonia Kirk. Also, I want to stretch and challenge myself, being on placement seems a good place to do so.

So, what to do? It's the first Sunday of the month, so will also be a service where the congregation are encouraged to invite friends and neighbours along to church. So, there's potentially people who have never been to church before or haven't attended for a very long time. A 'new audience'; for want of a better phrase!

A danger I can see is I preach to fit in, rather than what I feel called to say. The flip hand to that, though, is I could preach on my hobby-horse and not the message God wants me to give. Oh, it's all so complicated!

I know I must stay true to who I am. I specifically chose this placement as it's different in theology as well as worship style from where I am coming from, but that doesn't make either more or less valid. That said, I do believe congregations should have their theologies challenged as well as nurtured. I know I am just the kind of person who will stir things up a bit, it's almost in my DNA. Whether I like it or not, it is who I am and it is I God called, not the person Caledonia Kirk would like me to be (if that makes sense). I firmly believe if I don't stay true to myself now, how can I do that in wherever I land up ministering? It's just a wee bit daunting knowing a prophet's words aren't always liked. At least it's not my home town, though!

Monday, 5 November 2012

See me, not my address

At the Big Kirk I am starting to get known. There's a woman with her elderly mother who I seem to have connected with. I was a wee bit late yesterday, so slipped in at the side and they had wondered where I was. It's good to have made a small connection.

As they have a couple of morning services, there's teas between them. I got talking with a member who is originally from my home town. I think I slightly shocked him that I knew about co-op divi stamps and could remember them (score on my part!). What made me really like this man was his reaction to discovering the area of my home town I am from.

It's got an interesting reputation. It's regarded as a bit rough and ready and looked down on my a fair number of people in the town. I have experienced people talking with me as an equal, intelligent, articulate person. Then they hear I'm from that area and the tone, the body language, the attitude can change in an instance. I am still the same person I was 10 seconds earlier, but they are now judging me for a postcode. That man didn't - he saw me, not the address.

Does make me wonder how much judgements are made based on where people live. They are wealthy or deprived; they are middle-class or working-class; they are keeping up appearances or are overcrowded. As soon as that happens, people are lost; individuals are disregarded. I cannot help where I was brought up and I am actually proud of where I come from. It does not define me and it should not define how I am treated, but it does. This does mean I don't do this to others. It would make me a bit of a hypocrite to do so, though.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


I don't like labels. I don't like being pigeon-holed and don't like doing so to others. I find it makes assumptions about people, which may or may not be correct. And my (or their) assumptions may be wrong due to misinformation, prejudice or just plain ignorance.

But I still call myself a Christian. What does that mean? A follower of Christ, as simple as that. I try to follow the path he leads me down, guided in the holy spirit. Nothing more, nothing less. It's so simple, yet so profound (for me at least). Yet the easiest things in life are the most profound.

As part of following Christ I am called to spread the good news. Take it with me wherever I am and with whoever I encounter, even into God's wonderful creation (which, being fundamentally anti-social, with a love of the great outdoors does suit me rather well). Good news, from the Greek evangelon, which gives the English word evangelise or Evangelist.

And just how much baggage is associated with that word? Too many for my liking. It always seems to come pre-fixed with conservative these days, boarding towards fundamentalism as I sometimes see it. (Just like to point out very few conservative evangelicals I know of would say the earth is only 3000 years old and slavery is okay, which scripture would, if read literary as other things are read literally, suggest). Even within the church evangelist and evangelism seem to be dirty words outwith the conservative part of the Kirk.

So, as a generally open-minded person, can I be an evangelist? I think I can. I pray I can. I feel called to be one. In many ways, I feel called to regain the word, the call, the good news, for the whole church. So it can be pre-fixed with liberal, open minded, questioning, doubting, flawed even. But all following Christ and all taking his good news, his evangelon, into the world. Now that really would be good news!