Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Seeing things differently

I look at things differently from a lot of people. Things I see as glaringly obvious, others do not.

A recent example was when talking about church law (yes, I do lead such an exciting life). The way my brain works I want to know it well enough that I can use it well - hopefully also in the spirit as well as letter of the law.

The way I see rule books is they, metaphorically, are paperback books. They have a certain flexibility to them, but if they were thrown at a person/group/organisation the spine would be pretty hard and definitely make an impression. That particular person did wonder if I had ever thought of writing a novel, as I have a particularly different way of looking at the world and describing it.

The thing is, I don't recall not seeing the world in the way I do. It's only in the last few years (probably linked to enquiring and then training for ministry) that I have become aware how I see the world is not how many others do. Not that I see it in an especially bad way - just different.

Difference is good, though. With me coming at things from a different angel, it places a new perspective on things. So long as I describe things well and people accept this is what I do, it's all good. After all, God saw his creation as very good when he'd completed his creative work, but many people think that it's just people who he declared very good or that the world is no longer very good. Personally, I think it's God's world, so though not perfect, it's still got the potential to be very good as he created it.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Christmas 1A Call to Worship 2013

This is the time in between
the time where we pause and think
and reflect
looking back to Christmas
the presents, the food, the family
and looking beyond
towards the past year
at triumphs and failures
losses and gains
life and love

This is the in between
the time for looking forward to New Year
and what the future holds
planning and wondering
making resolutions and promises
all the while, living in the hope
it will be better than the last
and we will keep our promises

This is the time in between
where we gather
with friends and neighbours
with strangers and loved ones
in the present
in this time, in this place
to worship God
in the in between place
where heaven and earth meet
in his Son, the child
Jesus Christ

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The morning after the night before

So, Christmas, all over. Well, not yet. There's still the desert dishes to clear up, the table cloth to dry and iron, the 'good' cutlery, plates and glasses to be put away till next year.

So much goes into the preparation for this one day - even in the Gerbil household, where we genuinely avoid as much as we can - then is all cleared away and forgotten about till next year (though, I suspect, there are a lot of households where the credit cards may paid off just in time for Christmas 2014).

It's good to have a lovely meal - a home prepared special treat. I really enjoy the preparation, though like the consumption more. This year was a starter of leek and haggis stuffed mushrooms; main of venison wellingtons, with roasted parsnips, purple sprouting broccoli and potato dauphinoise and a whisky sauce; all finished off with Mum's clootie dumpling. (I was going to post a photo of the main, but it was over exposed and out of focus).

Yes, there is a little left over. Mainly clootie dumpling, but some will be given away and the rest used - it's great with custard, though can also be fried for breakfast. Everything else was eaten yesterday, mainly because no one course was too big and I buy enough - not too much, not too little, just enough.

But today, as there is a plethora of recipes with ideas what to do with leftovers, I get twitchy (and a little guilty). I wonder how many people yesterday relied on the good will of relatives to feed them Christmas dinner or hoped the food parcel they received from their local foodbank had some treats to make things a bit more special than normal. I also wonder how much food bought for yesterday (and today) will land up either untouched or barely touched, straight in the bin. That, I have always found aberrant.

In a time where people cannot afford to feed themselves, there is still and excess elsewhere. Maybe we should bring back rationing. Yes, that was to ensure everyone had enough where there were shortages caused by conflict, but shortages exist once more, though with a different cause. Either way, I do believe society has to start considering its relationship with food and food waste.

So, on that cheery note, enjoy your leftovers. Make the most of them. Even freeze some. Or give some foods which will keep to foodbanks or homeless shelters or soup kitchens, but please, please, don't throw in the bin, unless you really, really have to.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas

Okay, so Spot got there first, but there is something very powerful about this, even 45 years on.

"Merry Christmas all people on the good earth."

Monday, 23 December 2013

No TV - no bother

Yeah, how have Spot and I coped for 10+ years???

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Free Fruit - a good news story

With the amazing summer we had this year, the wild fruit crops have been great. When up north, I ate wild raspberries and cherries. On returning home, Spot and I spent a few hours picking brambles and elder berries to make wine.

I don't think I can recall a year where there's been so much fruit. And apples - 12.5 kilos from a tree in the middle of the Echline roundabout and another few kilos a couple of weeks ago on a roadside tree just outside Culross. In the case of the apples, we've made 1 gallon of wine, ate a few and prepared and frozen LOADS as stewed apples. All free. All there, on the trees or bushes, waiting to be picked.

And I see this waste. Wonder why passers by don't take some of this abundance (okay, in the case of the tree in the Echline roundabout, it may not be most people's idea of fun to cross into the centre of a busy roundabout and lowp the crash barrier, but there are loads in more sensibly accessible places). Have we, in a generation, lost the sense of where food comes from - that if it's not wrapped in plastic on a supermarket shelf there must be something wrong with it. Or do people look and see and wonder, but don't know if they can take the fruit and, even if they did take the fruit, what on earth they would do with it.

And as I study for my next exam on the Historical Jesus, especially in this season of Advent, of preparation, I think (though this is a bit of a distraction). I think and I wonder about that gift God sent into the world - his son Jesus Christ. Sent to be God with us - Emmanuel. Sent to show God's love for the world. A love which is there, ripe for the picking.

But people may see it and not know what to do with it, or how to discover more, or not really understand how simple and easy it would be just to accept it. Maybe the church has made God's love shown, like the apples on the trees I've seen, but not let people know they can have some too. Better than that, God loves them already. They don't need the church or ministers or (should I say this) the bible to receive God's love. Yes, they all help understand God, develop a relationship with him, grow to love him back, but are they really necessary to accept God's love? I don't think so, but I do think the church needs to be a bit like a sign post and recipe book.  Point to the free fruit of God's love - saying please help yourself - and offer ways to understand and use that love in their lives.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Breaking with tradition

Warning - this has nothing to do with Christmas or Advent or exams!

At New College, there's a tradition that candidates in training (for all flavours of church) can lead one of the weekly communion services in their final year of academic study. I'm not sure when this 'tradition' began, but I suspect not everyone got a shot a few years ago, as the number of candidates would have outstripped the number of communions. So, is it really traditional or the Church of Scotland sort of traditional (do it once, it's new; do it twice, it's traditional).

I've missed those regular communions a wee bit this semester, as I've not been in Edinburgh on a Thursday. Transport's expensive enough without having to travel more than necessary (so I've not missed it that much). It does mean I have missed a few of my peers leading this service.

What I find odd about asking the candidates to lead the communion service is we can't do the hand wriggles yet. So, (and I don't know the precise sketch in how this works) there needs to be a real minister there too. Which sort of defeats the purpose, in my head. Could we not just lead a service san communion? At least that would be open to those in the community who, for whatever reason, cannot take communion.

But, for me that isn't the crux of the issue. No, it's the signal to the rest of the New College community that those who are studying for the same degree as others, taking the same courses, revising for the same exams, are different from those who aren't training for ministry. I've only known of one non-candidate lead the service, but their Dad's a minister. Seems like a bit of bias.

Also, I really don't want to lead worship in front of my peers. With no where to hide (I do like being behind the communion table or in the pulpit, then you can't see just how nervous I actually am). At uni, everyone's a little bit too close, a little bit too knowledgeable. Frankly, I'd rather preach above Robert the Bruce's tomb.

Then, I know there's a bit of peer pressure about leading the service. Back at the beginning of semester I mentioned to a couple of people I didn't want to do it and they were all like, 'but you have to.' When I asked why the rational was everyone else does. Oh, that's a good excuse. Remind me not to follow you to a cliff edge! Being the sort of person who will not do something 'because,' that argument did not change my mind.

And finally, I'd like to set a precedence that it's okay to say 'no, thank you' when the invitation to lead the communion service is extended. To my mind, it seems it's grown/morphed into a privilege to be asked into an expectation that the candidates will do (not by New College, but by the collective mindset). So, this year I am breaking with tradition.

Monday, 16 December 2013

My blessing and my curse

I am one of these people who call a spade a spade. I have a directness and, to be honest, can't be bothered with false platitudes or 'pretend' enquires after my health and well being, when someone's after something. If you want advice, a loan (you'll be lucky), an answer to a question or to criticise me, please cut to the chase. It'll save us all time and effort.

This does mean, that's how I often approach so many things - head on. It can get me into trouble and, because of it, I suspect I'm a bit like Marmite (you either love me or hate me). I know there are times when biting of the tongue or waiting is needed, though I know I don't always get that right.

Yet, often in ministry tack and diplomacy is required. I know I can do that when required - I did after all help lead a youth group in the past - the tack and diplomacy was required for my fellow leaders and the parents. It's striking that balance between building up good relationships, while being honest about what's going on the the relationship and who I am.

The thing I find a bit frustrating about those who struggle with directness (not only from me) is were I to talk to fellow Fifers or many people from the other side of the country, they wouldn't necessarily see it as a problem. Does show the difference a slightly different cultural context can make. Also, as a Christian I am called to follow Jesus. Last time I looked he didn't exactly mince his words, yet that seems to be what's expected of me.

So, when I think about it, my directness is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I cut through to the core of a matter and tell it straight. A curse because that doesn't always work for all people. Suppose I just have to accept the double-edged sword nature of this gift and use it wisely, so I don't cut myself yielding it.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The case for business cards

A couple of years ago, Spot and I decided it would be a good idea for us to have business cards. It's just so much easier if someone asks for your email address or phone number to had over a card, than to spend 5 minutes looking for a pen and piece of paper.

Both our cards are pretty simple designs. Mine has a cross at one side (based on a cross in my home church), with my name, address, landline and mobile numbers and email address. On the back there's a QR code with all the info, so if someone has a QR code reader, they can just beep all the details into their phone and it's there for saving, stopping errors in transferring the details. Strange thing about that is there has only been 1 person who's straight away got what it was (though were a little too impressed!).

Now, though, I'm wondering if I should have 2 business cards - one for professional use, one for personal use. Why, you may be wondering. Well, do I really want to be giving out my mobile number to every cat and dog that needs my email address (and, possibly, my landline)? I've heard too many stories of ministers being contacted at all sorts of times on their mobiles- on their day off, in the middle of the night, on holiday - because a member of their congregation thinks it's socially acceptable to contact them anytime they like. Frankly, if a congregation wants to contact me on a mobile, they can provide one for business use for me. If not, stick to the landline and allow me to re-route the calls to my phone if I know I'm going to be away from the manse for a while, but am working and need to be contactable.

At this juncture, it's worth pointing out I do not design or print my business cards - that's Spot's job (well, why have a gerbil and squeak yourself).

I suppose a lot of this boils down to how contactable should a minister be. I have heard of a couple of congregations which pay for the minister's mobile. In one case, it's the minister's personal phone bill they pay for. In another case, it's the business phone, for want of a better phrase, so when the minister's on holiday it's passed to someone else to deal with the calls. I can see the idea of the latter - so long as those who have the number respect there are times of the might when it might be switched off. In this day and age, it does seem a bit backward that minister's phones are tied to their landlines. Maybe that's something that needs rethought.

But, getting back to whether I need 2 business cards. At the moment I am doing some pastoral work for the Big Kirk. As per the minister's custom and practise, I am putting a card through those I've attempted to visit doors, to let them know I've been. At the moment, I'm scoring out my mobile number, but it looks unprofessional (and the details are still in the QR code). I don't want my mobile number to get too well known, though I am the sort of person who would ignore it!

Whatever I do, I know I'll need to take into account that many I'll be visiting are older members of the congregation, so the cards need to be legible.

For legibility, it's all in bold arial font in black. My personal details take up a good two thirds of the card face, so they should be legible to most people I would give one too. Unfortunately, I have seen too many business cards which have text in a slightly darker shade than the background colour of the card. How legible they are to anyone with declining eyesight it debatable - with my specs I struggle.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Perceptive or stating the obvious?

Over the course of my training, I have been told I am very perceptive. In each instance, there has been something not quite right about a situation or person and I have noticed - that's all.

I didn't think in any of of these observations have been especially earth shattering. If a situation doesn't feel right I try to work out why (which I think is what reflective practise is all about). If a person isn't acting as they usually do, if I know them well enough that it won't be seen as intrusive, I ask if they are okay.

I thought part of the role of a minister would be to pick up on the signs something isn't quite right in a situation. Not necessarily to fix it (as that may not be possible or appropriate), but to support and care. Oh, it that not pastoral care?

Well, however I do this, for I know not, it seems it may be a useful gift I have. Even though in each situation where this observation of this gift of perception has been made of me I have sort of felt I am stating the obvious. Which perhaps suggest it's either not observed or mentioned often enough and could become the elephant in the room which no one mentions.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Probation search - the next stage

Back in May I began my search for where I will do probation (details of which can be found here, here and here - I actually never did get round to actually visiting number 4). Then, at the end of October had my second meeting with Ministries Council reps, where I discussed how my search had gone and where I would like to go.

The order was Airside Kirk (a clear first), Crossview Church (where I would be happy enough going), Causeway Church (a bit too posh for me and very difficult to get to) and Bridge Kirk. I gave my rational for the order. While there was a potential stumbling block for Airside, it was nothing major. We were told we'd begin to hear where we may go towards the end of November, beginning of December.

So, I didn't think about it really for about a month. Chasing up when you've already been told how long it will take is a bit rude, IMHO (though I hear some did). Then, at the end of November I had an email saying my number 2 couldn't take a probationer next year, should they approach my number 4! To be fair, when I got in touch and asked about my number 1, they realised their mistake and apologised. Maybe it was just as well my number 2 (sorry, sounds a bit too much like I am about to go to the toilet) couldn't take me, as that could have been awkward!

I must admit the news did get to me a wee bit. These things happen, but along side everything else that's going on - but onwards and upwards.

Must to my relief, I received an email for 121 the other day. My number 1 is happy to meet with me to discuss the possibility of me serving my probation at Airside Kirk. Due to our varying commitments, it won't be till after Christmas, but even on the phone I thought "I could work with this person." Things are starting to look positive. Yes, there are no guarantees at this stage - we may meet and decide that there's no way on this earth we can work together - but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Nelson Mandela

"But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

It was a long walk to freedom, but his journey changed history.

Rest in peace Madiba.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Changing my mind about MTN

In my first year of training, I really didn't see the point of Ministries Training Network (or MTN, as we refer to it). Though it is intended to build up relationships, in a supportive framework, I didn't find that was the case. There was a variety of reasons for that, which I won't go into here, though a facilitator who didn't was not helpful.

Then, last year, I was moved to another group. As the idea is to build up supportive relationships, I wondered how that could happen if people were moved around groups. I understood the reason for the decision, but it added to my sense of MTN being something to be endured, rather than useful.

This year is the second year the group have been together. At our last meeting I really felt we were doing what MTN was supposed to do - support and encourage each other. There's a deepening of relationship going on and, I think, we are able to be quite open with one another.

Though I have said in other places I don't see the point of MTN, perhaps this year will change my mind. I just hope in my probationary year the group retains its stability.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

My Christmas message for Quarry Kirk

I was asked to submit something for Quarry Kirk's Christmas magazine. Initially, I was a bit hesitant, but thought it would be good practise. Funny, it actually sounds pretty meaningful, even if I say so myself - and no 'I don't like Christmas' rants...

"It's the time of year when our thoughts start to turn towards the end of the year. Yet, though less than a month to go, the New Year seems so far away. There is so much to be done, but will there be the time (or inclination) to be prepared for the coming year?

Of course, there's Christmas to prepare for. For many years my Mum worked in a Crossreach care home, so worked Christmas on a fairly regular basis. Consequently, my family's Christmas celebrations would often be placed on hold till Boxing Day or later in the week. But even in our busyness and at the time when families get together, those in our communities who need care still need that to continue, no matter the time of year. So, I ask you to remember those in care and those who work tirelessly to care for them.

Christmas, for many can be a lonely time too. For some, this may be the first Christmas since a loved one died. Or family live away and it's not possible to travel to see them. Sometimes, even the little routines people rely on – meals on wheels, carers coming into their home, going for the newspaper – stops. For most of us, the break from routine is welcome. It changes our prospective and allows a chance to recharge the batteries. Please, though, save a thought for those who need and rely on their routine.

But in amongst looking out for the lonely, the carers and the cared for, as a Christian community we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ into the world. God trusted a joiner and his wife with the responsibility of looking after his son. They were ordinary people, just like you and me. Ordinary people called upon to do something extraordinary. Look after God's son as their own.

Just like Mary and Joseph, we are called to look after God's son. For we do so whenever we feed the hungry, give a drink to someone who is thirsty or visit those imprisoned. We can do these all through the year, knowing whose we are and who we serve. At this time of year, it can sometimes mean more to the lonely. It shows they are not alone and they are loved by God.

So, as we head for the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, think about how you can give hope or love or peace or joy to someone in this community who needs it.

Every blessing"
Mrs G

Monday, 2 December 2013

An odd, exciting, path

I've now been 'locuming' at Quarry Kirk since the beginning of September. The way things have worked out, due to other commitments and at least one Sunday a month 'off', I've now lead worship there about 9 times. Yet, though I've been there for a while, things didn't seem right and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

I suspect - actually, know - that the repercussions of my annual review meeting were affecting my ministry. I had lost confidence in my ability (and, I suppose, wondered why I was bothering doing extra stuff). A few things have happened over the last couple of weeks, especially, to help get my mojo back. People who don't really know me (and haven't seen me lead worship or do ministry stuff) saying I'm very talented; another person telling my husband "your wife is lovely"; getting good marks in course work for uni, to name a few.

But, at Quarry Kirk things just didn't feel right. I do 'do' things a bit differently, yet not. It's hard to explain, you'd have to come to a service to see what I'm like, but I'd describe it as informal formal, with conversation. It's just how I am and I keep being told I have to be who I am (though I sometimes wonder if 121 really mean that). It's perhaps taken Quarry Kirk a while to get used to me. Initially I thought that strange, as Railway Crossing and First Stop churches twigged to (and liked) me within a couple of Sundays. Then it occurred to me they were more used to different people leading worship than Quarry Kirk were - the latter had had a reader attached, which provided consistency.

Looking back, and being very honest, I haven't been myself. I've been overcritical and/or wondering why I bother. Somehow, with the positive things I've been hearing, yesterday that was back more. And people seemed to respond to it. There seemed to be more engagement with what I was doing. A couple of people, who don't usually say anything on the door, said how much they enjoyed worship. So, looks like I might be regaining my mojo. So long as it helps point people to God and not to me, it's all good.

To add to me sense of being rebuilt, I was talking to a friend last night. We met at assessment conference and, though we can go months without seeing each other, have always got on like we've known each other for years. Though a year ahead of me, many of the things I had been questioning myself about (most notably, being very direct) was something she identified herself as being. It was actually a great boost to know there's someone in probation who does that and is loved and appreciated for her ministry, as I hope I will be.

So, onwards and upwards. Exams loom, though there's only 2 and they are well spread out. There are a lot of things I'm doing at the moment, but they all seem to be coming together as great experience and a rich blessing for me. Just shows, the path may be an odd one God seems to be leading me down, but it's there and it's exciting. I just need to trust and follow (and smile and laugh and wonder and be amazed). Amen to that.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Armour of light

Last night I was writing my draft sermon for Sunday. The readings I'm using for Sunday are Matthew 24:36-44 and Romans 13:11-14, though the focus is on Romans (to my surprise - I'm still trying to work out Paul).

The phrase which really caught my eye was about putting "on an armour of light." I just loved the imagery - though me being me I think of medieval knights in armour, not Roman solider, which Paul would have been thinking of. Also wished Quarry Kirk had AV (well, they have A, no V), as I've some great photos of armour, which might have been useful for getting people thinking.

I suppose my thoughts turning to medieval armour may actually be a 'better' image, as late medieval armour of the collective consciousness covered the whole body, allowing maximum protection for the wearer. But is Paul talking about getting protection from the armour? I'm not too sure.

To the people he was writing to, their image would have been of a Roman solider, whose armour was functional, protective and worked best when the soldiers worked together, interlocking their shields. In this formation, they were pretty invincible and their array impenetrable. This only happened when they stood shoulder to shoulder with their neighbour. If one flinched or failed to hold the line, the whole system failed. Also, given the way Roman soldiers fought, they relied on the person next to them to cover their vulnerable side, as they thrust forward with their right hand with their sword, that side would be exposed, and needed protected by their neighbour.

So, maybe the armour of light Paul talks of not only is a change from old ways of life - a way of preparedness for the coming of Christ - but something which needs the whole community to do. Then, like the Roman soldier, they can look out for one another. They can support and protect each other. They can cover the others side. Then, those outwith the community will see the difference, not just to one or two individuals, but to the whole community of believers. And the community of believers putting on their armour of light can be a benefit for their wider community - as they put behind drunkenness and debauchery etc, etc, exchanging it for light - light which is shown in their love for God and love for neighbour.

The downside to armour, though, is it can put up barriers. It conveys a specific message about a group or person's job and intent. Soldiers can bring war, as well as help maintain peace. The armour of light should bring peace.

Another downside to armour, especially medieval armour, is it's heavy and hard to wear. So, it was only put on for tournaments or battle. The armour of light Paul was talking about needs to be on all the time, not just when things get tough or we need to demonstrate our strength/show off.

The only way we can make sure the armour of light is on all the time is to pray, read (the bible) and worship. To do so, especially the latter, as part of a community. From the community we'll receive support and encouragement - which we can offer them.

I wonder how that works for the minister in a parish church, though. I've experienced churches who look after their minister and where their minister feels as much a part of the worshipping congregation as any other member. I've also seen (and heard of) churches where the minister is almost seen as a paid employee, their to serve the congregation and parish, but where no one necessarily thinks to offer them support and encouragement. I know which I'd prefer (and, in fact, need). Then I will be able to put on my armour of light in the knowledge I do not stand alone, but am supported on all sides.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Making cultural references

So, last Sunday I decided to do a Doctor Who referenced children's address. Given the age and sort of children there are at Quarry Kirk, I thought this was a good idea.

That was until I came to deliver said address. Though 10.2 million people watched "The Day of the Doctor," only 2 members of the congregation had (that included yours truly). And none of them were the children. Joy.

So, lesson from Sunday. Be careful when trying to make a cultural reference and, if it looks like no one will get it, have a back-up plan.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Guide dog attack

While going for a pint, Spot's brother-in-law's guide dog was attacked by a couple of terriers. Rather than control the dogs, the owner, who also happened to be the landlord of the pub, kicked Chris and his wife out of the pub.

I'm not just posting this because I'm related to Chris. I think it's appalling when someone does not know how to control their dogs. Stokes is an essential part of Chris' life. He could not get to work without Stokes. He has regained a fair bit of Independence since getting his guide dog, after waiting over a year to be partnered with one. Had the attack resulted in Stokes needing retired, Chris would have been back to square one or worse.

Please feel free to share this story. This is just one example of how irresponsible dog owners cause havoc with people's lives, especially those who rely on their dogs as heavily as people such as Chris.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

God's word

Before worship, I can give off an aura of calmness, but it is a swan-like veneer. On top may be calm, but underneath is paddling for all it's worth (while, depending on the nature of the worship, praying the test pilot prayer!).

Then, during prayers or in the sermon I will pause - perhaps take a drink of water (and a deep breath) - as I work out if I can say that phrase to these people or, because it's something which may cause me to waiver with my words. So far, apart from those I would expect to notice (supervisors, speech trainers, those very close to me) people haven't noticed or, if they have, haven't realised its significance. It has been interpreted as a dramatic pause or 'the minister's thirsty', never that I am wetting myself.

Yes, doing this whole standing in front of a group of people has got better since I began this journey. Yet, there is still the nerves, based on the knowledge this is important - to me, to this congregation and, most importantly, to God. So often I am mindful that what I say could so easily descend down into my rants, or my opinions, or my words. Yes, God uses these. God calls me because I have passion to bring to his word, but at the end of the day, that what it is - God's word. In so many ways, the nerves (or butterflies - call it what you will) is almost reassuring. It's not easy saying what God wants said. History shows people's tendency to 'shoot' the messenger.

What I have seen in recent weeks are very experienced ministers who go through the same things. I find this so humbling to know they feel the same about their call and are willing to allow others to know this. I hope, when I have the experience they have, I can pass this on.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Forgotten skills

Today I spent working on my dissertation. Though the end of March, when it's due, seems so far away, this semester has flown in and I don't feel I've done nearly as much work on it as I should.

I'm using old skills, honed while studying for my last degree. Using parallels and scale rulers. It was strange going back to those basics and not using a sophisticated drawing application. Though I'm rusty - so the plans took me a bit longer than I would have liked - the skill was still there. Just needed a bit of use and it came flooding back. It was quicker than trying to learn that drawing application.

I also spent an hour or so taking some photos of an old church. Was that study for me? Yes, as I was looking at specific features of the building. Wasn't too much of a hardship, though. Spending time doing two of my favourite activities.

Tomorrow, I will be looking at the third church in the series. This one I've known for as long as I can remember, though I've never looked at it with the particular lens I will be tomorrow. At least the forecast is to be dry - just a pity it's so cold. This is why I am no longer a surveyor for a living. Again, once I left that behind, I never thought I'd really need to use that skill again - not formally, anyway.

These are not the only long lost (or not recognised) skills I've been using since beginning my studies/training. Funny how these things work out. Strange to think, though I'd avoided/not listened/ignored God's call on my life for so many years, he was training me all along.* I keep saying I want to be the best I can be. The way things are going this year, I think that's God's plan too.

* Still trying to work out exactly what my life-long fascination with church architecture has to do with being a minister. If everything else is a measure, that will all become apparent in time too.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Back at the Big Kirk

So, the process of picking up some ministry training stuff I haven't covered under supervision began the other day. I met with my new supervisor, who is lovely and genuinely supportive. They even do what they say they'll do. It was actually really useful to have someone to reflect on events of the last couple of weeks with. Proving what I've been saying for a while - that doing really difficult pastoral stuff or things for the first time without supervision can be harder than with.

It's funny how things turn out. I think it's important I get to worship at the Big Kirk occasionally, so the congregation gets to at least know the face, if not a bit of the personality. Then, when I pitch up at their door, they don't wonder who on earth I am. If I was at Quarry Kirk ever Sunday, that wouldn't be possible, but I get a Sunday 'off' on the third Sunday of the month. So, that's when I'll be heading to the Big Kirk. Might not be frequently enough. I might have taken on too much. Time will tell.

As this was my sanity space during placement at Caledonia Kirk, there are some of the congregation who know me. At least I'm not starting from having to work out who everyone is! Of those, and a reasonable few who I only met yesterday, I received a good bit of support and a warm welcome. Though the formality there can be a touch on the OTT side, I can live. At least here I can work out where in the service we are!

I'm looking forward to this opportunity now. Hopefully I can do this and study and support Quarry Kirk. If it all gets too much, unfortunately, Quarry Kirk will have to be let down. I don't want it to come to that, as they need a bit of TLC and consistency. Suppose it's not really my problem, but I feel a sense of responsibility to them.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A stop in Crieff

Yesterday, Spot and I were out for a hurl (in the car - it was a wee bit too windy for the bike). While wandering around Crieff, looking for somewhere for lunch, we bumped into a fellow candidate and his wife.

In conversation, Shaun asked were I was last month. I was a bit puzzled, I didn't know of anything I should have been at that we would have met at. He was referring to the first probationers' conference. He seemed quite surprised I wasn't on probation and still have a year of my BD to do. Of the candidates in our training group, quite a few won't be starting probation till next year, so I do wonder why me? Not going to over analyse this, except to say I'm looking at it in a positive light.

(In other news, it did sort of confirm my rational why I would be extremely unlikely to take up the 'minister discount rate' for Crieff Hydro. If I want to get away from it all, I want to do so - going where all the ministers and their spouses goes would not be 'getting away from it all' for me. Ministers being ministers, shop would be talked about too much.)

Thursday, 14 November 2013

I am who I am

It's funny how a couple of conversations with different people, in different contexts, but with the same general subject in mind - namely my ministry training journey - has begun my change of heart. As you may have noticed, I have been writing less frequently and that which I have been writing is very dark and inward looking. Over the last couple of weeks, I've had some really challenging stuff to deal with and, if I never had to do it again, it really would be too soon.

But, in those conversations, both people reassured me I can do ministry. That I do have the gifts - pastoral, practical, preaching, reflecting etc - to be a good minister. Both of these people I respect a lot (which is not something I say lightly). While I know this from my own journey, from being with those I have served and how those I have served seem to take me to their hearts, in many ways all the personal reflection in the world counts for nothing if others do not see it the same way. So, their words and support have been extremely reassuring to me.

Ever since enquiry, all ministry candidates are told to be who they are. Those people who are supporting and encouraging me right now tell me that too. Sometimes the process makes me wonder if the Kirk really does want candidate to be themselves, but that's just the cynic in me. All I know God loves me and has called me because of who I am. So, I go on in the comfort of knowing others know that too. And I look at all that's happened since September, good and bad, as opportunities for growth and a chance to gain valuable experience. God's looking after me all the time.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Outside looking in

I was talking to a friend the other day. I was telling her about the additional pastoral, as well as preaching stuff I am doing this year. Though she's a life-long member of the Kirk, all she knows about ministry training is that which I have told her.

I must admit still being a bit annoyed at having to do pastoral work, but accept that I have little experience under supervision. There are things I did over the summer where it may have been easier with a supervisor in place, to have someone to check things, ask questions of and get support from, not least the funeral service I led.

But, as I told my friend this, she said "it's all good experience." And she's right. I keep saying I want to get as much experience as I can. Yes, I seem to have rather a large number of balls to juggle at the moment. But isn't that part of ministry proper? At any point, I can say I've too much academic work to do and the pastoral stuff will ease off. I think I need this, as part of a restoration of my confidence in my ability to minister.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

We will remeber them

Today (I feel I am stating the obvious here) was Remembrance Sunday. When churches up and down the country remember past conflicts - especially the World Wars.

Even during the late eighties, where fewer and fewer people were taking part in remembrance - through attending services or wearing poppies - I always felt it was important to remember. I am a firm believer that when we forget our past and the mistakes which lead to conflict, we are likely to repeat those mistakes.

The line of remembering and commemorating is a fine one. There is the danger it will become triumphalist or self-congratulatory. Or, former enemies will continue to be vilified. Yet with so many people lost, in so many conflicts all over the world, we need to remember. But not just to remember, but to work for peace. Peace between neighbours, in communities and beyond.

That was broadly my theme this morning, as Quarry Kirk remembered today. We also remembered the regiments, made up of work-mates, school friends, neighbours, fighting the the trenches. Not necessarily fighting for country or for a higher ideal, but fighting for the guy to the left and the right of them. They were fighting for their mates and their mothers and wives and girlfriends back home. Wherever home might be.

It was a difficult service for me to lead. I have never fought in battle. I have not lost a parent or a husband or a child to war. I have no close relatives who have served in the military. The big conflicts of the last century seem so far away for me, yet for some in the congregation there is still a sense of loss and tangibility. I do sometimes wonder how people would look at someone who is too young to know and trust them to lead me in the act of remembrance. Today, that was not an issue.

It went well and came together. After, a few members of the congregation commented it was a lovely service. Another gave me a hug, as she sensed it was a tough service for me to do. She was right. This is one of those services where the right tone is necessary. I hope I did.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

God holds me up

It's a strange thing, but at every placement I have asked, where possible, to gain experience of difficult pastoral situations. Until the last week or so, a really difficult situation hadn't presented itself.

I was almost concerned I did not have difficult pastoral experience. Yes, I have gone into people's homes, but they were specifically selected and, though not just a 'nice wee chat', they were fairly straightforward. When at Highland Cathedral last year (which I keep forgetting I did a reasonable amount of pastoral work at), the list of people to visit was vetted by my supervisor. After, he get me to tell him about the people - an effective way to see if I'd listened. Though he never explicitly said he asked those I'd visited for their opinion on my visit, I would be surprised if that wasn't the case. (But, I digress, as I need to remind myself of this).

I know different people will have different ideas about what they may constitute, and maybe I've have had, if not difficult, some less than straightforward situations and did not realise it. Somehow, I knew I would get hit with a really difficult pastoral situation pretty early on. And now, it has come to pass.

In this situation, I am one of the people who is hurting. I am emotionally involved in the situation, as it affected very close friends. And tomorrow I must stand in front of them and minister to them. Later, I will talk and support them in ways I never dreamt and never, ever wanted to.

This is my call. Even to minister to those close to me. To express sorrow and pain and darkness and anger in their behalves. To offer hope and faith where they struggle to have any. To be with them and, I hope and pray - perhaps harder than I have ever hoped and prayer - that through my words and actions they will see God loves and cares for them. That in this most dark of time God is carrying them.

And I know I could not do this without the training I have been given. In the knowledge God's got my back and he holds me up to.

Saturday, 2 November 2013


Just when life is swimming along not very nicely, I am confronted with something else to deal with. As they say, it doesn't rain, but it pours.

I can honestly say this is one of the toughest things I've had to deal with (and, believe me, I've dealt with some tough stuff). Having been in contact with colleagues, they have offered words of advice and encouragement, which I know I need at the moment. They also have said they don't envy me having to do this (I know I'd be the same if I was on the 'other side').

But, it has sort of put my own feelings and anxieties and concerns into prospective. BIG STYLE.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The road goes on, even when it seems to disappear

Recently, I have been reflecting on my call to ministry in the Church of Scotland. This is coming alongside looking at prayer and faith and justice in the lectionary readings the the last couple of weeks.

I have always had a deep sense of things being fair - it's not equity, but its about taking a person's circumstances, experiences and willingness to learn into account. It's also taking into account the variabilities in placements and the experiences which can be drawn from each one. That's why, for my formal placements, I chose to go to a wide range of churches. The Kirk is a diverse place and I wanted to gain experience in this diversity as far as I could. That doesn't even take into account my time 'up north.'

A few weeks ago I heard faith described as a windy road. When you are driving along that road, there are bends and dips and crests. Sometimes you have to concentrate so hard on the road that you loose track of the destination or the road seems to disappear over the hill. But you never doubt the road is there, you never imagine it will end in a dropping precipice where the tarmac seems to finish. And the destination is still there, it's just necessary to concentrate in the here and now to safely travel along. Yes, at the moment I do wonder where the road is heading and sometimes feel I'm looking at the here and now so much that I am loosing sight of the destination.

So I pray. I pray because I have to, I cannot help myself. I know it makes a difference, though exactly how I do not know. I also have others praying for me, even people where I think I should be praying for them (and I do).

Someone keeps reminding me that God's got my back. Right now, I trust that's the case - I cling to that. And I go on, not giving up, because I know I am on this journey because God has called me. I knew it would not be easy at times and know he does not test you more than you can cope with.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Citizen Scientist

So, here I was, looking for a 'distraction.' Something to do, which would be a break from study and ministry stuff. Something I could easily drop in and out of. Something I could do for as little or as long as I wanted.

I thought about getting a raspberry pi, relearning to program and creating a device for monitoring the temperature of the home brew. But I haven't got round to that (and we already own things which will do the job perfectly adequately.

I though about learning a musical instrument, but having never really had the notion before, found the idea a bit daunting. Also I didn't want to turn into one of those guitar strumming ministers who want to play in the praise band every week (shudders!).

I knew I didn't want to have a pile of reading to do. Yes, there are many classics I haven't read at all or since I was a child. But when my current job - student - pretty much entails reading all day, the last thing I want to do is read some more. And I love reading.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Spot suggested Snapshot Serengeti. Basically, there's 250 camera traps placed around the Serengeti, to monitor where prey and predators are and to see if prey will avoid good grazing where there is predators. Now, back in the days of film, the scientist would be getting 36 frames per camera. These days, maybe 300, 400, 500 per SD card?

So, the idea is the citizen scientist goes through the photos and, as best they can, identifies the animals present, how many there are and what they are doing. It's pretty straightforward to do and there's guides to help with the ID.

This will flag up the photos of interest for the researchers, freeing their time up to do just that, rather than sort through the 'grass moved' (i.e. nothing there) photos. From the citizen scientist's point-of-view, it's helping with important research and you might even identify a Dik Dik.

The project is part of a wider crowd sourced project, called Zooniverse. Its projects include transcribing ship logs and the Oxyrhynchus collection. So, why not have a look and see how you could contribute to important research, all from the comfort of your home.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Prayers in the Big Kirk

Today I had the privilege of leading mid-week prayers at the Big Kirk. This was the first time I'd lead any act of worship here nor have I lead this style before.

But there's a first time for everything. It was great that the minister asked me (well, she actually asked Spot and I, but he had his turn last week!). There are several people in the congregation who have a wee bit of worship experience and she's never heard me 'in action.'

Undaunted by the size of the space, combined with the historical significance of the place, I got on with the task in hand. Turning up, as is my want way too early, it gave me a chance to settle the nerves (or, perhaps not), place my notes on the lectern and get mic'd up. Having no pockets and the belt clip being very tight, this was a 2 person operation, but we got it sorted.

As the appointed time arrived, I let the assembled masses (crowd, no handful of people) know there was a small act of worship about to start. As the clock chimed, I looked up and 2 people had joined me (at least I wasn't talking to myself, and where 2 or more are gathered etc). Swallowing hard, I introduced myself and began the service.

I think it went well. I'm sure word will (or won't) get around. I know I was nervous, but hope that wasn't picked up. My voice did get louder and louder to compete with the ladies in the shop - really, can you not talk for 10 minutes? It's a good PA system, though. Just as well, for a space that big!

It's great to be asked (and trusted) to do these sort of things. I've said it before and I will say it again - the more experience I can get the better.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Lord bless you and keep you

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a friend's daughter's baptism. As with so many Church of Scotland baptisms, "The Lord Bless you and keep you" was sung by the congregation.

I like this tradition. The responsibility of teaching a person being baptised falls on the congregation, as well as the parents, in the Kirk's order. So, the blessing by the congregation, I believe, is a reflection of that intent. But, I know it threw others who had also been invited to the baptism. For some of them this either does not form part of their church tradition or they do not have a church connection.

So, is having this sung blessing being a bit partisan - we can work out that you're not in the Kirk because you don't know about this"? The way it just 'suddenly' happened at this baptism, that's certainly the impression those I have noted above had.

I wouldn't like to throw the baby out with the bath water (probably a bad phrase, when I'm reflecting on baptism), but I also don't like the idea of visitors feeling excluded in worship. Maybe there's a way of introducing the hymn, so not to patronise the 'regular' congregation, but let the visitors know why it's done (and allow them to look it up in the hymn book, if appropriate).

Definitely a balance I'll want to make when it's me offering the sacrament.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Foodbanks - why we should be proud and ashamed

A few weeks ago, I was visiting the shop where Every little helps. At the time, the local foodbank was there, inviting people to donate some non-perishable food for the bank. Now, this is where my rants come in.

The supermarket allowed the foodbank to do this. It is, after all, great publicity. Though all the food is donated by members of the public, I suspect a spin will be put on it, which will benefit them. At least, these days, they also donate 30% of the value of the donations to the foodbank, so they don't make a profit from the donations.

How very generous. So, that gives an indication of their profit margin and only comes on the back of criticism levelled at them from members of the public (including my Mum) who realised they were taking the credit for the donations, where they had not made them and had the added bonus of making money too.

Then, there is the attitude of those making the donations. I know, maybe I shouldn't have a go, but I will. Why is it so much of what I have seen being donated is from stores value range? Now, don't get me wrong, there are some value products which are just as good as others - a tin of tomatoes is pretty much the same. But I get the impression there's an element of thinking 'they should be grateful for what they get.'

I am quite sure those who receive a food parcel are very grateful. But, consider this. They will have been embarrassed, humiliated and degraded by having to have gone cap-in-hand for it. Surely getting some nice stuff would be a bit less humiliating and not kicking someone when they are down? Or maybe it would be nice for the parents to be able to give their children a wee treat just for the three days while they get themselves back on their feet?

And lastly, for now. Most foodbanks are heavily supported by churches - through volunteers, driving their set-up, looking for funding, providing premises, etc, etc. It's where the church should be. And it's sharing the good news in actions of love and generosity, not preaching. But, we as the seventh wealthiest nation in the world should be ashamed people cannot afford to feed themselves.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

A wee bit overwhelmed

This is my final year at uni (at least for now - better be careful not to give God too good a laugh!). I always knew it would be a tough year. I already feel a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing.

There aren't many hours I need to be in classes, but there's a tsunami of reading that needs done. Given I have the same number of honours subjects as last year, this shouldn't be a problem, but I do have a dissertation to write too.

I don't even have placement this year, so that's one less thing I need to juggle. In so many ways, this should be easier.

I think, though, it is the lack of (potential) focus. Not needing to go into uni as often as I have in the last two years - which saves a fair whack of cash on commuting. I also can get as many cups of tea as I want at home, without the cost (or lack of size/flavour). I work best with a pint of tea every couple of hours or so (seriously).

I also know it's odd not seeing people around as much. It's a sad fact, but I could go a weeks not seeing some of my friends and colleagues at uni. Perhaps this is a lesson I need to learn - to consciously make an effort to meet with friends for a cuppa or lunch, to catch up and generally just be mates blethering together. I know I will need their support and friendship when I'm doing this stuff through probation and 'for real'.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

A couple of issues of remote rural ministry

While I was up north, a couple of things were drawn to my attention. I had, sort of, known recognised them on an intellectual level. Being in an around the area really brought the issues to the fore.

The first one was to do with connectiveness as a minister. Not to ones parishioners, but to colleagues. I know ministry can be a very lonely job, but I also know of ministers in urban or semi-urban areas who meet regularly with their colleagues. They might be meeting to share ideas/info about school chaplaincy, say, but as part of the conversation they can get support and encouragement too. Or, they can just meet one another for a brew and a blether.

That is not as easy in very rural areas. The distances between neighbouring parishes may prohibit meeting for more than presbytery. And, because everyone knows who you are, it would be impossible to have a chat in a cafe without someone knowing what or who or where you were talking about.

Another 'issue' is what happens when the minister retires? The parish could be the area they have lived and worked in for a very long time. More so, the implications for their husband or wife. They no doubt will have friends and hobbies (and jobs) in the area. To move from the parish would mean leaving that all behind. But, that can make things difficult for the church calling a new minister, when the old minister is still in the pews. Unfortunately, no matter how much the old minister may step back, people being people will go to them for advise or support or to moan. In a urban or semi-urban area, these issues aren't as great. A minister can move to a neighbouring parish/church, but they and their spouse can still maintain contact with the networks they have developed in that place.

I have no great criticism of ministers who do not move from the parish. It takes a brave person to move from everything and everyone they have know for a number of years. I do, though, feel sorry for the church looking for a new minister, as many people will be put off by the old minister still kicking around. Yet another difficulty the remote rural parish has. Shame, the people are lovely in my experience.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A history of the guitar solo

Without looking in the bottom left hand corner, I got into the 90s before I stopped recognising the solos, which song they were from and the artist. Don't know whether that's a good thing or not!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Communion - what to do while you eat the bread and drink the wine

This may sound like a bit of an odd one, but it is me! What are you supposed to do when you receive communion? I don't recall ever being told what to do, but do remember the meaning of communion being explained to me (knowing me, probably when I asked loads of questions when my age was still in single figures).

From now having received communion in a variety of contexts and from a variety of celebrants, the basic elements stay the same. Bread and wine. That's fine, I can cope with that (though I think wafers are boggin'!). I know I probably get it wrong, but I tend to chew the bread thinking about whether it's decent, tasty bread or CofS slightly chewy, but with a dried-out outer layer, horrible centimetre square white bread stuff. I suspect I am supposed to be having a deep and meaningful moment connecting with God.

As for the wine, when it's a common cup, I sometimes can't get the idea of back wash out of my head. Or see a person with a hacking cough taking from it and think 'could you not have politely sat out?'. At least I can just place the cup to my lips and not really think about it too much. Always remembering to give the cup its 'magic wipe' - which, of course, kills all know germs dead!

When it's an individual cup, not taking the whole amount is not an option. After my experience this summer of non-alcoholic communion wine, which is sweetened grape juice,* I have learnt to just throw it down my neck and not pull faces. Not very reverend. And, at some point in the future, I will be the celebrant.

So, what I am wondering is if I don't think I have ever been taught what to do in my head (and heart) during communion, how many 'people in the pews' feel the same? It's not that I think of it as being unimportant, far from it. I miss not having communion regularly. I just wonder what I really should be doing?

* And why, oh why, does something which is naturally very sweet need have sugar added? That's why it ferments into wine so well, the sugar turns to alcohol!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Not ticking the boxes

Do you ever feel like you've done extra stuff for some project your doing and wonder what you made all the effort for? At the moment, I feel like that just now. Can't go into details in a public forum, so it'll have to stay cryptic.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Thirsty, not hungry

Saw these signs outside a church* the other day. It amused me - drink for the thirsty, but diets for the hungry!

*Sorry picture is small, but it should enlarge for reading if you click on it. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Go where other's don't go

So, since I got home from 'Up North' Spot and I have been collecting wild fruit. There were the raspberries, which became jam; the brambles which have become jelly, been frozen and are currently becoming jam; and now elderberries are being collected for more wine.

Something must have happened in my brain over the last couple of years - not only have I been enjoying the fresh air, occasional fruit which has just happened to pop into my mouth (well, we do need quality control!), being with Spot and getting free fruit etc, etc - but I have been seeing fruit picking as a bit of a church analogy.

The amount of wild fruit being picked seems to have gone up in recent years. Most people go to pick in easily accessible areas - along paths not far from car parks. If the fruit isn't within an arm reach of the path, they won't bother. Spot and I have found going just a wee bit off the path or, in some cases, a bit further along, there's plenty fruit. Does the church sometimes not go far from it's location, unwilling to take the risk to go a little further in search of the ripe fruit God wishes it to harvest?

There are places where there is LOADS of fruit, but it's in a location people may think they shouldn't or couldn't go. Spot and I picked around 2 kilos in a church graveyard. From the looks of things, no one else had thought to look there, even though they were visible from the road and it's a public place. Does the church sometimes not go to some places, believing it shouldn't be there, but where the harvest is outstanding, but no church has bothered?

There are places where the fruit is hidden in plain sight. People park and ride or get off trains. There's plenty fruit, but they are either unwilling or unable to see what's right in front of them. When someone does pick the fruit, they may even wonder why they are picking it at all, especially there. They maybe wouldn't want to be seen picking there - somewhere else, but not where everyone might see them.  Does the church sometimes miss the harvest right on its doorstep, as it doesn't want to be seen to reach out to those nearby or is concerned it may be criticised for reaching out to those hidden in plain sight? Or, worse, there are churches which are so inward looking they not only do not serve their communities, but are irrelevant to the community. When that comes, so does decline and death. The fruit is there, it's easy to reach, if only they'd make the effort.

I pray to serve a church which will look beyond itself. To serve the community and the world. To love its neighbour and be a vessel of light for the parish. Even if it takes a wee bit more effort than going where everyone else goes.

Monday, 9 September 2013

More electric cars

A few months ago, I was talking about electric cars. Since then, I have seen quite a number of charging points (yes, even in the deepest, darkest far north). I have even sat in a Renult Twizy. No, I won't be buying one, as it's a glorified golf cart - even the doors are optional extras.

But, if money were no object, I might just consider a Tesls Model S. Looks as good, if not better than an Aston Martin and can beat it in a straight line. Pity about the seats and 'in your face' touch screen, but I could live with them...

Sunday, 8 September 2013

A new start at Quarry Kirk

From this Sunday, I will be covering pulpit supply at a local vacant charge - Quarry Kirk. This will be pretty much as much as I want, bar the occasional service shared with the neighbouring churches. It will be good to keep my hand in, especially in one congregation, where I can build up a relationship with them and them with me. They had wanted locum cover too, but I'll see how my time pans out uni wise - don't want to make a rod for my back.

I always find it odd preaching in a new place for the first time. What do they know; where are they coming from? How do I make sure I am not skipping stuff they don't know, while not patronising them with detailing stuff they know really well? (At this point, I can almost feel a wise friend telling me if I am concerned about this, I probably have the balance right).

I am looking forward to serving them, getting to know them, supporting them on their journey. I hope they will do the same for me. As long as they keep me in tea, I'll be happy!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

God's got our backs

Candidate conferences are funny beasts. Or maybe it's just me. The OLMs are there just for the weekend, but the social night and Moderator's visit occurs once they have left. Okay, so maybe I bias, but it does sort of give out the signal to them that they aren't as valued as the full-timers. And, that signal can also affect the full-timers attitude to the OLMs. But here is perhaps the best place to have that conversation.

The other odd thing about conference is it's a year since most of the candidates have seen most of their colleagues. That's why free time is so important - as are breaks and meals. It was great this year that all had free time together. That said, it takes effort to get to know others, and if people don't want to be social or 'network' (oh, I do like to drop the occasional buzz-word) they can. I also look at the free-time and, having been away from home for the summer, see I could get home a day earlier. But that would not allow me to get to know those I will work with and get support from once I am doing ministry 'for real.'

As usual, the food was very good. Again, I do wonder why there has to be so much food - it is possible to have a 3 course meal 3 times a day, not including biscuits and fruit which is available during coffee breaks. The staff are lovely too - warm, friendly and hospitable. It makes a real difference to be looked after.

Looking at the actual content of the conference. It definitely works better people being in their year streams. The smaller groups allow for more conversation and interaction to take place. I remember being very intimidated by the large group as a newbie - they all looked so sorted and confident. They also seemed to ask relevant and interesting questions, while I didn't feel I had the knowledge to do so. Being with their peers for most of the conference must make this easier, but only they would be able to say.

My year group were looking at mission. With just under half on probation, this was the right time to do this. The main thing I took from my year group sessions was most of us were involved in mission, as were the churches we were from and/or with which we had been on placement. There was also a strong emphasis in the sessions that the minister cannot do it all. I am aware of that, though also know it can be easier (to a certain extent) to not get others onboard. Personally, I think that's pain daft and belittles the ministry others within a congregation are called to. We are the body of Christ and all have our gifts and skills.

Today I was at lunch in my home church and was asked how I was getting on. I mentioned I was at conference and, as I talked about it, realised I brought up the HIV/AIDS program talk a couple of times. I don't know why that especially stood out for me, but the speaker was very engaging, passionate and knowledgeable on her subject area. It's important the church is involved in reaching out those in the margins, as many with HIV/AIDS are. Perhaps someone's trying to tell me something.

The down side with conference is the disruption it has on my sleep pattern. I want to catch up with people, share experiences and have a laugh (on Sunday night I'm glad I was in the group playing pictionary, rather than having a deep theological conversation). Before I know it, it's after midnight! It's only once a year, though, so not too bad.

The chaplain was warm, friendly and very approachable - ideal attributes for that role. I did slightly struggle with the worship, though, as I felt the children's stories were exactly that - for children. The first one was great and set a good tone, but after that they were a little wearing. Having said that, just because it didn't speak to me, does not mean it did not speak to others. I do feel the chaplain's interation with the candidates at meals, breaks etc is more important than their worship style.

The closing communion was not as bad as I expected. I still struggle with the 'we must go round in a circle and hug everyone at conference' sharing the peace which occurs. Though I am not touchy-feely, I recognise others are, but there can be a bit of a herd mentality and places others (especially newbies) in an awkward position. The same could be said of the blessing of us third years. Firstly, I do not believe the group should be singled out - the entire groups is called to ministry. I remember that actually making me feel quite inadequate at my first conference - perhaps the new people need a blessing for the start of the process more than at the end?

When the chaplain invited the other year groups to gather around us I felt my blood pressure going up. I don't want someone I don't really know feeling they have to do this. I also recall this happening at my first conference and feeling very awkward as I did not know those I was supporting. It would be interesting to find out how the newbies this year felt about it.

Over all, the conference was enjoyable. Mainly for being able to build up relationships with colleagues and foster friendships. After all, we are all in it together and we will sustain each other in the years ahead. God has all our backs.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

All called to serve

Today's the last day at conference and there's not a lot on. Basically, it's just 'meet the moderator' today. It will be interesting meeting Lorna Hood and seeing what she has to share about ministry.

As with all church conferences, this is ending with communion. I am tempted to sit it out, as I am not looking forward to it. It's not the communion I object to, but the outpouring of emotion there will be during the sharing of the peace - I really struggle with this, especially when people invade my personal space. I know people will tell me it's because they care, but I would say, if they knew me, they would know how uncomfortable that would make me feel.

There's usually some sort of blessing thingy on the 'third years' (of whom I am one). Again, I will struggle with that. Just because we've finished one part of our training and, in some cases, are going into probation, that does not make us any more special that any of the other candidates. We are all candidates together - yes, at different stages, but all called to serve the church in a recognised ministry. For me, where we are in our training does not alter the fact we are all called by God to serve the Kirk as ministers and deacons.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

In the big group

I've never been the most outgoing of people. I like my own company and would rather spend time with a handful of close friends and family than in a large group filled with many people I don't know that well. Now I am at candidates' conference, though I may be sitting with the group, even talking away, I'd really rather be off sitting on my own or with just Spot.

I know if I went, at meal times especially, and sat alone, people would join me. I worked that out very quickly at my first conference. Consequently, I will sit with the group as that gives me a certain amount of choice who I sit with.

Being a bit of an introvert (but often covering it up) it's hard work. When in 'minister' mode, going to talk to people at community events, coffee mornings etc I find tiring, but know it's part of the job - to take the presence of Christ to people. It's no wonder he would go off on his own, with a few friends for a bit of R and R, prayer and re-focus. I totally get that, and I am just human.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Think before you speak

When having a rant about a biker turning up at a presbytery meeting, please ensure you know who the new member of your committee is first. Otherwise, they will allow you to dig a big hole for yourself, then tell you who they are.

Because, in this case, they told you the biker was their son-in-law. But only after they've told you it wasn't a Harley they were riding, but a Honda - a Honda Goldwing, in fact. All I can say is "Go Mum!"

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

50 years ago today

50 years ago today, Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr gave his "I have a dream speech." BBC 4 has put together a recording of the speech by a range of world figures. It's definitely worth a listen.

Looking around the things I see and read of going on around the world, the dream hasn't been fulfilled. People are still separated through colour or creed or background or nationality or poverty. Does that mean the dream is not of relevance; does that mean people should stopped pursuing justice and freedom for all God's people? No. We need a dream - a vision of the future - which keeps us striving for a better world. Even 50 years on, Dr King's speech seems as relevant as ever.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Coming up

In a few days I will be heading off to another candidates' conference. If I'm honest, I'm looking forward to seeing my colleagues, some of whom I haven't seen since the last one. As for the conference - how that goes seems to very much depend on the speakers themselves.

This will be my final conference before probation. For around a third in my peer group, they will either will have already begun probation or be about to begin it. There was a chance I could have been in that boat, but know this is the right timing for me. It's one of those things I can't put my fingers on, but I just know staying to do honours feels right. Besides, doing a dissertation on church architecture - I have a feeling it might be more useful than some may think.

This next year will be a funny one. I have no placements, though have set up doing regular pulpit supply to keep my hand in (and to maintain the connection between the academy and the coal face). I still have Ministries Training Network (aka MTN - I still don't really see the point of it, but I do it as well as I can, never the less), but nothing formal beyond that. This is also the year when where I go for probation will happen. The list has been narrowed to 2, with a strong preference in favour of Airside Kirk.

And I have very few actual classes (plenty work, just we're expected to be 'independent learners' - glad it's not me spending 9 grand a year on this sort of education!). The way things work out, I may never see some of my year group. A bit like getting into probation (and, later, parish) I think this will make me make an effort to met them for tea and a blether.

Looking forward to getting back to uni, though. I enjoy the study. I'm looking forward to serving the church I am doing pulpit supply for too. I think they are looking forward to getting a bit of continuity - if I could be described like that!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Just doing my job

While I was up north, the congregations I was working with really liked me. Like - really, really liked me. Given their parish profile could indicate they are seeking a minister with a very conservative theology, either I was doing something wrong or their profile doesn't really reflect their wish (which might be a post for another time). By the end of my time there, I was being referred to as 'the minister' (note the lack of student or trainee, in that statement - humbling, a privilege and very, very scary!) and I was getting the impression they thought the sun was shinning from a certain orifice )this only increased when I said I brewed my own beer and wine and visited the pub - what is a girl to do to remove the shine!).

While reflecting on this with a friend the other day, they wondered if it was because I was there. Not just in terms of being in the area and leading worship on a Sunday, but meeting the people in the parishes, turning up at church and community events, visiting the sick and the lonely. Maybe it was - and I know in small communities word gets round quicker than a dose of diarrhoea, but that doesn't explain how many positive comments I received (and heard third, maybe even fourth hand - don't you just love Chinese whispers?) regarding the services I lead, especially the sermons. Those comments talked about how they liked that I didn't whitter on and knew when to stop; that I didn't tell them what to think; that I allowed round for people to have their own answers (and questions); that I (and I am quoting here) 'left them wanting more'. It's amazing to be seen as okay at this (knowing I really don't think I am that good), but isn't it just doing my job?

Being involved in the parish. Taking the church into the community (and the community into the church); being with people; sharing time with people; listening to people; sharing God's word in worship; not having all the answers, as I don't have them all; being myself; and holding on with all I can to the faith that I am following where God leads me and them.

If that's not doing the job, then what is. Or, more to the point, how depressing is it to think that these are things these communities aren't used to a minister doing. I do wish them well in their search for a new minister. Maybe my role up north wasn't just to gain experience, but to sow seeds of a different way of how a minister can be. Either way, I sincerely hope their new minister will be the right person for them and their communities.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Sunday School Problem

The current Moderator, Lorna Hood, was visiting the Youth Assembly yesterday.* There she talked of young people being the church of today, not tomorrow, and also spoke how the church needs to make Sunday School interesting and relevant. To me, this is not earth shattering. I know I would have left church when I hit 12, 13, had it not been for the way church was done and that the young people were as much a part of the church as the elderly. After all, are we not supposed to be a community?

She also spoke about the right resources. I am all in favour of that, but think it begins with having the right people running the Sunday School? A few weeks ago, a friends went to the local church while on holiday. The children were invited to Sunday School. This did not tie in with the service, so what does that say about the children's importance in church? The theme was Jesus washing the feet of his disciples' feet. The children (who are deep thinkers) talked about the passage being about a willingness to serve others and that those who serve will be exalted. The Sunday School teacher told them they were wrong - that it was about doing jobs you wouldn't want to do if you are told. Then they were given colouring in to do (they are both in their early teens). Their parents were shocked and we talked about how it's important to have the right people leading the children. Also, what happened pretty much ticked the boxes for why children who may want to come to church leave, perhaps taking their families with them.

But how do we get the right people? Just asking for volunteers may not generate the 'right' people. Maybe churches need to pool resources (shock!). One thing I know from various experiences - make children and young people feel included and welcomed and valued. Treat them as people loved by God, as are the oldies. They, like most people, respond to that.

*Good to see how times have changed. Back when I was a delegate to the NYA (when it was still new) the mods did not attend and it didn't seem to be valued by the wider church.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Both together, but apart

Yesterday, I managed to chum Spot to his 'final' act of worship. I won't add to what he said. Over the summer, if he has been visiting, I have been leading worship. As we progress through our training, actually being at the same church at the same time is going to become more and more difficult. Since Spot began the enquiry process, we knew this was one the cards, so times when we can worship together will be more precious.

Looking to a time 'before ministry' - or was there a time, but just a different form of ministry? - due to the involvement we had in activites in our home church, it was often the case we'd not be sitting together. I, due to being a Young church leader, would be heading off with the children during the second part of the service and he'd be running the projector. Yes, we were in the same building, but doing our own things for the church. Nothing has really changed, then.

I am aware that, probably from now on in, it will be a rare time where we are both 'bums on pews'. From the beginning of September I am covering regular pulpit supply in a local vacant charge* and Spot will begin his first placement, so I can't even go to support him much. He'll be good, though (not that I'm bias, oh no, not at all!). So, I do see that holidays and times where we can worship elsewhere together will be times to be cherished.

But, though ministry has its down sides (and this is just a tiny, tiny wee bit), after 2 years at uni, 3 placements and a long stint of work experience, I really am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. Looking back, I can see I have been being formed to this role for a long time. The responsibility still terrifies me sometimes, but I know I do what I do trusting in God and trusting where he'll send me.

* In a interesting twist of fate, the last minister at First Stop (before their linkage with Railway Crossing) was the minister where I am going. It's a small world.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Men (and women) in uniform

So, my visit to RAF Lossiemouth. How did that go? Well., very well. It was a bit of a whirlwind tour of the base and I know it will take me a wee while to really process what I saw and was told.

The main things I noticed were just how respected the padres are by all the personnel (most of the civilians are ex-RAF or have close RAF connections), irrespective of religious affiliation. No one seems to bat an eyelid when a padre goes somewhere and there really is no area barred for them. As I was with the padres I was allowed to sit in on a couple of welfare meetings and no one was in the slightest bit bothered. That, I think, reflects how much respect and trust the RAF has in their padres.

While there I did volunteer to do circuits. Why? Because I am a masochist, but in for a penny, in for pound. It wasn't easy, but not as tough as I was expecting and, I must admit, the PTI was a very nice bit of eye candy (there had to be some benefit to looking and feeling like a sweaty bag of pooh!). Just like all other RAF personnel, the padres have to maintain a certain level of fitness, as they have regular fitness tests.

So, do I feel called to military chaplaincy? No. But, I have gained a great and very useful insight into the workings of the military. Wherever I may serve there may be ex-servicemen or may be near a base. Though a very small insight, it will be useful in the years to come. Who knows, maybe there will be an Air training corp in the parish and I may be their chaplain - again, this insight will be useful.

Highlight of the two days? Visiting 617 squadron (aka the Dambusters) and sitting in the pilot seat of a tornado...now those swistches on the left hand side, what are they for???!!!