Friday, 28 December 2012

The gift of hearing

Almost everywhere I go (in terms of ministry placements), I have people thanking me for them being able to hear me. Given being able to be heard was one of the gifts for ministry I said I had, it's good that I wasn't just making that up and actually possess that gift.

I don't know what I do. I've never had a problem being heard (usually I need to really restrain myself). This used to get me into trouble when I was growing up - it was always my voice which was heard. But now, that burden is now a gift. As far as I'm concerned, there's no point doing what I'm doing if people can't hear me. I have sat through some very profound acts of worship, but have toiled to hear (and I have good hearing). So much lost because the message couldn't be heard.

My latest compliment on being heard came from a place I didn't expect. From someone who is profoundly deaf and who requires a hearing assistance dog. So, the deaf hear...I'll get really scared if the blind start to see too!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Talking about presents

My 'present address' went okay. As it's the first time I've done anything like that there's definitely room for improvement. Think it's one of those things which I'll be best able to do when I really know a congregation.

I did it a wee bit different, beginning with inviting the congregation to go and say 'Merry Christmas' to someone they hadn't done so. Must admit, that was a bit of an interesting spectator sport, as there was a visitor who didn't get acknowledged and the praise band didn't move from where they were (wish I'd noticed at the time...I think I would have commented). Then, I invited the congregation to share something about the gifts they'd received and/or what they were doing for the rest of the day with someone the weren't sitting with. While that was happening, I went and spoke to the visitor. (It was an interesting discussion, especially as that was the second time in 5 days someone has asked if I was the minister, when my supervisor was there too. Suppose it's really affirming that strangers are seeing it in me, but it also convinces me it's important for many visitors they know who the minister is.)

I then went and talked to a couple of members and the children about what they'd received. That was the first time I've spoken to the children at Caledonia Kirk during an act of worship, as there's not usually a children's address. I think no one got what they were expecting. For me, it was a good compromise between acknowledging people (especially the children) will want to bring their presents to church, but not have every present discussed with 'the minister'. It also got the congregation talking and engaging as a community. That, I believe, is an important element of what church should be.

Afterwards, not much was commented on about what I'd done, but that's not unusual at Caledonia Kirk. One member of the congregation did tell me he really liked what I'd done, as everyone was included and no one would have felt awkward for not having a present with them. It was good to hear that, as that was part of the idea.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Model Tardis that's bigger on the inside!

And how he did it is here.

I am mighty impressed...bit late to ask for one for this year's Christmas, I suppose?!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Presents at Christmas

I have volunteered to ask members of the congregation about the presents they have received, at the Christmas morning service. I volunteered as it's something I'm not sure is appropriate for an act of worship.

On one hand, people will have received gifts for Christmas, so to not acknowledge may be 'sweeping it under the carpet'. On the other hand, it places pressure on congregation members to bring something to church on Christmas morning. Though people may bring things which are very meaningful, there's just a wee bit of me things it's a bit showy-off. And how would anyone who didn't bring anything feel (or didn't get anything?).

Then, to make it all Christmas, I wonder how I engage with the congregation about their presents, without coming across as cynical, sarcastic or uninterested. It's a fine line, especially for someone like me. But I volunteered to do this, specifically because it is very challenging for me. Not sure how I'll tackle this, but hope I'll find the right balance and not be too cheesy about 'the best present is Jesus'. I'll definitely need God at my back for this one!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Keeping time

I am, generally, someone who likes to be on time for things. If I'm going somewhere I don't know or am travelling at an unfamiliar time (e.g. at 8:45am, on a Tuesday, when I usually travel at 7:15pm), I give myself a little extra time to get there.

When I was at uni the last time round one of my good friends was appalling at her timekeeping, to the point if I (or a few of the rest of her friends) were meeting her we'd tell her a time half an hour before the time we'd want to meet, so she'd only be 5 minutes late. Back then, we'd be meeting to go for lunch or shopping (or drinking), so it wasn't too much of an issue. And the rest of us found it just a wee bit amusing that she never realised we were telling he a different time from the rest of us.

Now I'm training for ministry, I see my ability to be on time as a really useful skill. How uncaring would it look to turn up late for a funeral visit or, worse, be late for the crem? Then there's things like school assemblies, where if the pupils are expected to be on time, the least I can do is have the same standards they are expected to adhere to. From my summer placement, I also experienced that relationships with the teachers can be built up through being that little bit early for school assembly. As far as I'd be concerned in a parish, I'd be chaplain to the whole school, not just the pupils. If I regularly turned up just in time (or late), those relationships would be harder to build up, as teachers may be doing their jobs! I may also begin to not be asked to attend by the school, due to me sending out the wrong signals to the pupils - that once you're an adult, no one will criticise you for lateness.

Now I know there are times when 'real life' or another part of ministry may get in the way of being early or on time, but they should be the exception, not the rule. Over the summer, I had arranged to met a friend after some pastoral visits, but the nature of them was that I couldn't meet my friend. They knew what I was doing, that I am on time (usually), so worked out something must have cropped up. They understood, too, that in the situation I couldn't phone or text them. But, if I'd been someone who regularly was late, they may not have even realised I wasn't going to make it.

I just wonder how I would cope (or tackle) with someone I worked with who's timekeeping was appalling and doesn't see it as a problem? Do I not work with them, or adopt the technique I used with my friend all those years ago? This is something for me to ponder, as I am all too aware I am not very tolerant of regular lateness.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The light shines in the darkness

(This is triggered by Isaiah 9:2-7, but is more a general reflection)

Christmas fascinates me, even though I am not a huge fan. The secular and profane combined. Whether Christians like it or not, this is a festival almost everyone in the western world celebrates. In Britain, I suppose it's our festival of light. It occurs just at the time of year when the shortest day has occurred and, though barely perceptible, the days are lengthening.

Christmas is the interface between the dark and the light; between despair and hope; between hate and love. In many ways, it is only possible to understand one in relation  to the other. Would we know light, would we understand light, if we'd only ever experienced dark? There are creatures in very deep caves, which have evolved there for eons, which have never experienced light. They have no eyes and do not even have a way of experiencing light. So complete was their darkness, the means to detect light had been evolved from them.

And even those of us who do know light sometimes fine it had to deal with. If I were to look directly at the sun, it would cause irrepairable damage to my retina. When a white sheet is hung out to dry on a bright day, any slight flaw, any blemish is all too noticeable under the glare of the sun.

Yet, ever day of my life, I choose to walk in the light. The light which God gives me, which God gives the whole world. The light which is God. The light which exposes all which is blemished and flawed in me; the light which cleanses too; the light which shines through me. Just like a sheet hanging out in bright sun, through God's light may be behind me, I cannot help but allow it to pass out through me. What a burden and privilege, especially as a minister I will be, for many, the representation of God in the world. But how can people know God, if not through the light which I carry within me?

Then maybe I can hold up those who do not know love or hope or light, that through my actions and words they will come to know them. In doing so, they will come to know God.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Half a degree above

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a group of people going door to door. Given their age and demeanour, they didn't look like they were delivering take-away menus, and I suspected they were evangelising. Rather than ignore the door (or tell them I am a blood donor) I decided to engage with them.

Turned out they were Jehovah Wotnesses. So, on the divinity of Jesus, we were never going to agree, but we do have a lot of common ground. It was an interesting conversation and lasted nearly 30 minutes. (If I'm being really honest, part of the conversation going on for so long was to let a child they had with them hear an alternative view on God, Jesus, life, the universe and everything and them to see there are people who will respectfully engage with them, rather than ignore or worse. It might not make any difference, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Perhaps I was doing a bit of evangalising myself!).

Eventually, the conversation was coming to an end, I needed to go out and I was getting cold (I did invite them in). Shame, it was really enlightening.

Then, on Saturday I glanced out our living room window and noticed one of the gentlemen I'd been speaking to come up the drive. Thinging they'd come for a repeat visit, I waited the knock on the door, but it did not come and I saw the man leave. Impressively, he'd managed to put a 2 A4 page answer to a question I had through my letterbox without making a sound.

Who'd have thought half a divinity degree would be so useful?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Half way there

Today I sat my last exam this semester. I think it went reasonably well, though am relieved its all over - a reasonable number of my peers have exams on Thursday, with most of them having 2 in one day!

So, that's (subject to results) me half way through completing my degree. That's a pretty frightening thought, as I really can't believe how quickly the time has flown in. Yet, in some ways it feels like I've been at uni for a lot more than 3 semesters.

(It's also a really sad thought that, rather than head for the pub after the exam, it was a filled baguette and a pot of tea - how rock 'n roll is that?)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Reflections on being a theologian

Over the last week, I have reflecting on my (and others) comments regarding me not being a theologian. I suppose it came a bit left-of-field, giving me something to work through, understand and come to terms with.

Though this is not the beginning of that journey, it's the start of the thought a congregation and the community in which I will serve will see me like that. It just hadn't occurred to me people would look at a minister that way, as I've never seen any of my home church ministers or supervisors as 'professional theologians'. That's not to say they aren't, it's just not featured on my radar - ever I don't think.

Now I've realised people will see me as the 'professional' theologian where I serve, that then raises the question of how to encourage others? Theological insight cannot and should not start and end with the minister. Some of the deepest theological insight I have ever heard has come from those with the least theological education. But I have the education  to explain (really, there's some of this stuff makes my head hurt and my ears bleed) stuff about God, see the big picture and understand where others are coming from. Hopefully making me better placed to engage with the community I will serve and lead.

I think I've still got to think this all through and 'get used' to it. Maybe even experience it. Though I had been asked questions about God, because I was the approachable Christian a group of teenagers knew, that was before I began uni, though they did know I was going to be training to be a minister. Maybe some questions were addressed at me because of this, but there were sometimes up to 3 ministers (proper, ordained, doing it for real-type ministers) there, but it was still me they asked. But that's maybe part of my gift and call?

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The deaf hear

I know this has been doing the rounds, but still think it's worth posting here. I think there's a sermon in here...

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

More on God is love

I've now met with my supervisor and he, generally, felt I preached well on Sunday. I delivered well, had a good beginning (though he felt there wasn't an ending - I'll come back to that) and raised a couple of questions.

One question was around a comment I'd made that I an no theologian. He called me to task on this, as I am being theologically trained. I could see where he was coming from, but think that's down to my understanding of what my statement really meant, which could be a sermon in itself. Basically, my calling is not as a theologian, but as a minister. While theology will (and does) inform that, it is not who I am. In my first degree cartography played a bit part, but I am no cartographer. That said, though other places I have preached (on and off placement) would have understood where I was coming from, it's good to keep my supervisor's comments in mind as different congregations may interpret that in different ways.

Though I preached on love and defined it by way of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, I did not define it beyond that. My supervisor felt I should have made a practical application of love. Mmmh. I did ask the congregation to reflect on what Paul's words meant and how they could apply them to their lives, but left it at that. That was deliberate, as I think sometimes it's good for congregations to be left with questions and routes to explore, rather than be given all the answers. Not something I'd do all the time, but think there's no harm doing so occasionally.

I did let my supervisor know I was trying to hold in tension my own inclusive, moderate theology with the knowledge many in the congregation were more conservative. I wanted to be true to myself, without coming across as disrespectful or dismissive of where they were coming from, after all, I am a guest there. My supervisor did comment he respected my bravery for doing that.

So, overall, good. Some things to keep in mind. I am also aware preaching is easier (for preacher and congregation) where they are known to each other. That's a relationship I can only develop over time with a congregation, as I get to know them and them me. Then I might get away with saying I am not a theologian (perhaps I should have said great theologian?).

Sunday, 2 December 2012

God is love

I preached at Caledonia Kirk today. They don't generally follow the lectionary, while I do. This week, though, I looked at the lectionary texts and decided to go my own way. This is forging new ground for me, as the lectionary is my default mechanism. It wasn't that I whimped out, but felt God was calling me to preach a message the lectionary texts would not necessarily have allowed me to.

As my theology an inclusive one, whereas my supervisor and many others at Caledonia Kirk are conservative, it was a struggle for me preparing for today. I need to be who God has called, to be true to who I am and preach the message God wants his people to hear, which only I can deliver (that alone is such a responsibility!), but that needed to be held in tension with respecting and honouring where the Caledonia Kirk congregation are coming from. (Why do I get myself into these situations? Why is it me who has to say the hard things and cut to the chase?)

So, with this being the first Sunday in Advent, as the church prepares for the coming of Jesus, God incarnate, into the world, I preached on 1 John 4:4-19, focusing on 1 John 4:7b ("Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God"). It was an inclusive message and may have been a hard message for some in the congregation to listen to. But it was what God wanted me to say, I firmly believe.

Interestingly, after I last preached I felt it went really well and everyone made the right noises, but I'd somehow let myself and, more importantly, God down. But that was due to the restrictions from I had from the book the church is following for non-festival preaching and it being my first time there, so I was getting the measure of the congregation. This time, though I may not have presented quite as well (though I am probably really critiquing myself, but I set myself high standards), I was true to who I am and God's word from me in that time and place. A bit like the prophets, I said what God needed said, with courage and confidence, knowing people may not like it, but with the knowledge I have to be true to God's call.

Unusually, I didn't stray from my notes. I also think I used them a bit more than I have, but that could be I am increasingly aware of how I present myself.

Afterwards, feedback was good. A couple of people commented on liking my direct approach (and if you know me, you'd know that's how I am - I call a spade a spade), some appreciated the general message that God is love and God loves everyone (which I was a bit surprised by). One person did say she like almost all my sermon, except my comment that "Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God", even though I was quoting from scripture, as she felt there are people who are loving, but don't know God. I couldn't necessarily agree with her, but like the fact she did tell me.

It will be interesting to hear what my supervisor thought. He didn't say anything at the time, which I don't know if that's a good or bad thing. I have a meeting later this week, so will see and I humbly listen to what he has to say.

Oh, and I got this played before I began preaching. I did wonder whether I could have just stood up and said "here endeth the sermon". I did say that at the start of the sermon and got quite a positive reaction!