Thursday, 31 January 2013

Saying it right

One of the things the speech trainer mentioned in his report that I need to work on is pronouncing biblical names. This was not from what he'd heard, but what he'd managed to get 'negative' from the congregation at Caledonia Kirk (he even told me it was only when pressed he'd got this, so that's why he'd buried it towards the end of the report). So, I'll admit it's something I lack practise at and that I will get better with some.

So, the question is, apart from the well known names, does anyone really care? This isn't me being arrogant or unwilling to learn or rejecting I have erred, but looking at the big picture. Advise I have been given in the past has been to "say it with confidence and consistency", which is pretty much what I do. My supervisor recommended I look on youtube for pronunciation, but that wouldn't give me a chance to practise.

I know this is important to some people. I also know a congregation will get to know me and I them - we can even learn together. Which make me think of a church where I have preached a few times.

One of the best readers there is dyslexic, so she pretty much memorises the reading. I recall one Sunday them asking how someone's name was pronounced. Knowing how much effort it takes for them to do what they do (and how much they add to the worship, due to their gift of reading the bible so well) I told them to say it however they felt comfortable with and where I referred to it in the sermon, I would say it as they did. And it worked - no one noticed because we were consistent.

But I suppose I have to have something to work on. And it's not a big thing, I just hope it doesn't grow arms and legs, so I feel bothered about pronouncing names and get more and more in a fanckle about it.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

To a degree

The provisional results for my honours classes (aka, the ones which count towards my degree classification) are out. There in line with what I was expecting, which is good. They won't be confirmed till after they have been externally verified, come June time, though I don't see them changing too much.

I definitely seem to be doing better than this time last time round. Maybe I'm older (and wiser?); maybe I've more accumulated knowledge, which sort of helps; maybe it's I'm working hard. Or maybe it's a combination of all three. Must admit, in the scheme of things I don't see my specific results as that important, more what I'm learning.

I'm learning how to examine details, draw opinions, present a case and develop an argument. I'm getting exposed to a range of theologies, giving me the tools to engage and explain things to others in a way I couldn't otherwise.

And occasionally I find ways of discussing beer in an academic dock porters drunk a lot as the only way to get enough calories down their neck quickly and cheaply. Who'd have thought that knowledge would be useful in a divinity degree???

When it comes to the degree I'm honestly not too bothered what classification I get. It was a Desmond last time round (a 2:2), so that would be fine. I don't think a degree classification would (not should) define me as a minister, but who I am and how I use the education I have been given. After all, some of the brainiest people I know have few social skills or empathy.

I suppose what I am trying to say is this is all part of the package. There's a symbiosis between the practical and the academic  training. And that should last all the way through my ministry, though very much grounded in what I do during these degree years. They'll make a theologian of me yet!!!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Change, without boiling the frog

Over a few placements, and in other contexts, I have witnessed, thought and and been involved in the implementation of change. (In the latter case, it has been small, bit small can be significant).

I know change is inevitable in life, universe and everything. I think how I couldn't dream of not having a phone that wasn't also a pedometer, internet browser, email client, book etc, etc. But with it, I have 'outsourced' my memory, as I no longer need to remember phone numbers.

I used to watch VHS (no, I never had beta max, though do remember it), then DVDs, now a mix of DVDs and blue rays. Pretty soon most of the films I watch may be via video streaming.

I've given up work to study, which is a huge change, but great privilege (especially as someone else is paying the bills!).

Yet I know change has to be managed well. Let people know why it needs to happen; get them on board and take them with you, rather than imposing it. That said, I do know there are times where it might just be me poking my head above the parapet and praying it's the right course of action.

I also can see how change could be done in a sort of drip, drip, drip fashion. A little bit here, a subtle flip there, a move over there. Before they knew it, where things had started and where they'd got to were totally different. So long as people didn't get totally boiled, like frogs...

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Thinking or Doing? Or Both?

Spot and I were having a discussion the other day about 19th century social reformers (yeah, it's just amazing the conversations we have). This was triggered by a lecture I'd had earlier that day. One reformer taught and wrote. He didn't really go and do anything, but his ideas, theologies and arguments got others engaged with the ideas and ideals of social reform. Through his work, changes were made in people's (especially clergys') mind set about poverty and disease and the church's role to assist and help elevate them. The other person did stuff. He used his influence in parliament to enact legislation to reduce working hours, do away with child labour, tackle disease and ensure clean water and sanitation for all.

Who did the better job? Spot thought the latter, because they did something. I didn't agree. I think sometimes society needs the thinkers to enable the doers. The former certainly didn't have the same privileged position and influence the latter had, so they may not have been able to do much. Their gift was thinking and writing, which influenced (and may well still influence) how churches think about their role in society and God's kingdom. But I had to acknowledge the latter did do a lot.

Which sort of makes me think of my future role as a minister. While I am called to 'do' ministry, much of what I do will involve words of prayer, of encouragement, of berating, even. I am called to lead and to serve, but I neither can nor should 'do it all'. I can, however use my words to encourage and influence others who can and should.

The whole things got me thinking. We need doers and thinkers in the church. They don't need to be mutually exclusive and people don't have to stay in the same roles all the time. But I think when we're busy doing all the time, there's no time for thinking, no time to consider why we do, what the purpose of the doing is or, if that we're doing is the best way of achieving what we're aiming for. Taking time to think or allowing others to think, because they are removed from the situation, can inform our doing.

Though, all of this is only possible when we are in God and spend time with him. For, if we're constantly thinking and/or doing are we following God or distracting ourselves from the possibility that what we're doing or thinking is not God's path for us?

It's funny, when I began to write this, I didn't expect to get here. I'm not entirely sure if this really makes sense, so apologies. I think I may have a fair bit of reflecting on this to do...

Monday, 21 January 2013

Getting assessed

Yesterday, I took as much of the service as I could at Caledonia Kirk. This was as I was being assessed by the speech trainer from ministries council. As no one really does much more than one part of the service, a couple of people did mention they wondered why I was doing so much (I did the opening prayer, children's talk and sermon).

Though I was nervous, I was also strangely relaxed about this. It was the third time I've preached at Caledonia, but first time I've done a children's talk there. And it's the second time I've been assessed by the speech trainer, who's lovely and really wants to help and encourage all the candidates.

A couple of things helped with the sense of 'comfort' (sorry, I can't think of a better word. Acceptance that I have this gift, but with the humility and knowledge I am doing it in God's strength, not mine, with the prayers others leading worship offered on my behalf before the service (and throughout the week for some). Though I do not come from a church culture where others would be told so often they are being prayed for (more likely, they'd be told they were thinking of them), I do appreciate them. Its touching and humbling that in all these people have going on in their lives, they have the time and thoughtfulness to pray for me - me a mere student who's only been there for 3 months!

Over all, I felt my contribution to the service went really well. I have definitely grown in confidence and competence since the speech trainer saw me this time last year. That is down to experience, though I know the academic study does help a lot, as I have more tools and materials to work from. Practise and study go hand in hand, that's for sure.

I did slightly stumble in the opening prayer and I'm not entirely sure why. But I recovered and the speech trainer, though noting it, didn't see it as an issue and did mention most would not have noticed. The other aspects flowed, which was heartening. I even got a good bit of interaction with the children, which was a relief, given it was the first one (no pressure, when being assessed). I thought I engaged the congregation as well as the children, and the speech trainer waxed lyrical about my interaction with them and the congregation, so it's good to know my reflections match the reality!

The sermon went surprisingly well. I had the difficult job (my choice) of talking about kingdom and covenant in the Lord's prayer. I thought I was using my notes for an acceptable bit of it, but knew them well enough that I wasn't reading them and was able to engage with the congregation. I also felt I had a good pace, volume, story, flow etc (and I did get quite passionate about the work of Crossreach - in context, of course). A few people mentioned how they noticed my passion come across and that really drew them in. All of this was acknowledged by the speech trainer. He also told me (and in hindsight, I can see it) that I was very courageous, that I would make my points, drawing people in, making eye contact with them, then (and only then) I would refer to my notes for the next bit.

After the service, I have loads of people thanking me. A few even said they felt very challenged, but in a good way. That's what I hoped for, and pray it was God's word they heard and not mine, but that's always my prayer.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Kindgom and Covenant

I am preaching a week on Sunday (I, know, seems a long way off, but uni starts on Monday!). For January, my supervisor is preaching the 'theme' for the year, around Kingdom and Covenant. So, I am following this pattern. (As a 'get it off my chest aside', this differs from what I was told when arrangements were made for me preaching that day. I was told we'd be back to following the book they are using. Glad I hadn't began work based on that information. Sigh. All part of the learning)

Why? Because I'm a guest there and because I know it'll be difficult for me. But I like a challenge - that's one of the reasons I asked for Caledonia Kirk as a placement.

What immediately occurred to me the Lord's prayer (especially the version in Matthew's gospel) could be a possibility for dealing with the kingdom. I'm currently reading "The Lord and His Prayer" by Tom Wright (which I have had for a few weeks, with every intention to read during my uni break and only started after I'd found out the theme for my preaching). According to Wright, if the terms of the Lord's Prayer are fully understood, then God's kingdom and covenant are fully revealed.

I have done some additional reading around the Lord's prayer and it's coming to light in a whole new way for me. If that's the case for me, there's bound to be people at Caledonia who'd appreciate it too. I just hope I can, once again, remain true to myself without being disrespectful of the theology at Caledonia.

(Again, another aside rant. Why is it respect isn't always reciprocated? I am trying to understand other theologies - which is part of the reason I chose Caledonia. I know with that greater understanding, I can be more respectful and better able to engage with those with a more conservative theology than my own. But I don't necessarily feel my viewpoint is respected.)

Monday, 7 January 2013

Believing what I was taught

I get a daily bible reflection and prayer. It's short, but it makes me think (and I don't always agree with what's said), while ensuring I have some sort of regular devotional time.

Today's passage was 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and verse 14 especially struck home -"But as for you, continue in what you have learnt and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learnt it." This immediately made me think of all the people who influenced and taught me as a grew up; people within and outwith the church. Their teachings were always about love, not hate; inclusiveness, not exclusion; of questioning, not certainty. They have given me a certain moral standard, a certain way of looking at the world, a particular way of living out my faith. That, I know, both influences my theology and my attitudes to those without a Christian faith. Some would even describe me as a liberal because of this, but I hate labels. And, no matter how liberal and open minded a person is, there will always be the barrier, where they say 'no, I cannot sign up to that.'

So, if all a person has ever been taught and experienced is from a certain theology, do they accept what they are being told or begin to question it, in light of their experience and scripture reading? Or, are their congregations which would not tolerate questioning or have a hundred reasons that person was wrong (my challenge, in that circumstance, is to offer 101 reasons why I wasn't - it has happened). Even more, though, it makes me wonder if a person has been brought up a Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist are they really going to convert to Christianity? Surely, most people keep the faith they have been brought up in, especially where the predominant culture is influenced by that faith tradition? In that case, can they be saved? Are they part of God's salvation plan? I think so. That's what I was brought up with and what I think the overarching theme of scripture is. Because I know a God of love. Love will not exclude anyone. Love is patient and kind. Love will wait as long as it takes to bring humanity back to love. That is what I believe, because that is what I was taught.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Watch and learn

Over the summer, I got used to doing a lot on placement. After all, it was full-time. Due to the full-time nature of it, I felt I got to know the congregation (and those with links to Highland Cathedral) really quite well. (Though if I'm being honest, that church and I got on really well).

At Caledonia Kirk I am finding it harder to get to know people. There aren't as many things on there as there were at either of my previous placements and I am only part-time, so there's a limit to what I can do. I suppose over the summer I got used to being involved and being able to seek out things to do (I am a pretty pro-active person). That isn't as easy where I am. Perhaps I should have done my summer placement next year, as that way I wouldn't have this back to part-time thing going on.

Like with Eagleside, some of the things I'd like to be involved in happen when I have classes (and my timetable doesn't improve in that regard next semester). I know I rather got used to being able to just do stuff over the summer, the only restriction on my time being what I took on (generally), rather than have the limitation of doing placement around university.

Something which slightly exacerbates my feeling of not doing enough is the involvement of others in worship at Caledonia Kirk. While I think that should be applauded, there are some weeks where there is nothing for me to do, but watch. While I can learn from observation, I have done rather a lot of that over both co-ordinated field placements and my last 2. I know I learn best doing things and had let my supervisor know this at the start of my placement.

A bit of me feels without the regular involvement in worship all I have learnt my stagnate (or, for some of it, might go back to square one). Many of those who are involved in worship at Caledonia Kirk have much more experience leading worship that I do. Does make me wonder why the (as far as I can see) unwillingness for some of those to let me do things. There is a bit of me thinks if it's so hard to get to do things, perhaps this isn't the best place to send candidates for a placement. Or, as I firmly believe, this is all part of me learning about the need for good, positive leadership, which encourages, affirms and supports others. Watching might not be a bad thing after all.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Music in worship

( With thanks to Nik for the video link)

I have been brought up in a church where organ music is the norm, but where other forms of music have featured. Those are more on a special occasion basis, rather than Sunday by Sunday. I like good music well played. It doesn't really matter what instrument (or even style - except dance music, can't stand that) live music is played on, I can appreciate a skillful musician. In the right context.

But, when during an act of worship, I believe the music should help lead worship. It should not dominate, overpower or be the centre of attention. As with all aspects of worship, it should point to God, not to the musicians. I'll come back to this belief about worship in a moment.

For a long time, given my enjoyment of many types of live music, I couldn't work out why I didn't like praise bands. Given my musical taste, I should prefer guitars and drums to organs. But there was always something which just didn't quite sit right for me with many praise bands I had encountered. I think I have figured out why they grate on me.

All three of my placements have had praise bands. The way they have been used has varied. At one, they featured infrequently, played three songs back-to-back (which often bore little or no relation to the theme of the service) and they were very much 'up front'. At another, they were used for hymns where organ music wouldn't really work.with, effectively complementing worship, but not dominating it. And finally, the band is the source of the music, but they are the focus of attention to the point where (to my ears at least) they are more gigging than leading worship. Now, don't get me wrong, I really enjoy a good live gig, but there's a time and a place, worship not being it.

I also get an impression there can be a bit of egos when it comes to praise bands (yes, I am making sweeping statements, but this is based on my observations at three placements). With the bands at 2 of the 3 placements I have been at being at the front, they are the focus. If there were an organ providing the music, the organist would (usually) be out of sight. Before organs, musicians would (often) play up in the balcony. They provide the music to lead worship, but are physically out-of-sight, so they are not the focus of worship. While people do need to hear the praise bands, as they are broadcast over a PA system, why do they need to be up front at all, if not to be seen doing it? Or am I just being cynical having seen praise bands dominating worship, but not really seen where they have complemented worship?

And please, would people practise? You might be able to play well on your own, but in a group is different. I need to practise what I do to lead worship, so I believe so should those who provide the music. I know, there's the joke about negotiating with an organist, though it does strike me (and I have experienced) it being easier to negotiate with an organist than a praise band. Maybe it's one verses a few, maybe I've been lucky or maybe the organists I have experienced this with don't have an ego they need to polish by only playing things they know really well.

Quite how I'd tackle this wherever I go I don't know. I'm coming round to the idea of having a praise band. Would maybe even give me an excuse to learn to play the drums, as so many praise bands seem to lack one. But that would only work for me so long as the music, in whatever format it took, helped lead the congregation to God. If the focus is on the band, well, that's just not right IMHO.