Sunday, 31 March 2013

He is risen in Breid

This morning I led the early Easter morning service for Caledonia Kirk. This is held at a nearby beach and bread, fish and wine (aka grape juice) is shared. This reflects Jesus' appearance to the disciples in John 21:1-14. In the past this has been a communion, but it couldn't be today, as it was me leading. We did share bread, wine and fish as a gathering. I suspect (especially given the comments made as the bread etc was passed) most felt this was communion.

So I wrote a liturgy for this sharing, which follows. I also baked the bread. If you know me and have read my thoughts on communion bread before, you will know I have a thing about it being decent bread. As today was as close as to communion I can currently do (I think the technical term is an agape meal), and I have always said when I do eventually administer sacraments, the bread will be decent.

It was just a 50:50 white and wholemeal bread flour mix. Nothing exceptional about the bread dough itself, but Spot and I decided to put a bit of symbolism into the bread, by baking a cross into it. The photos follow. (The balls actually make it easier to break!).

Over all, I feel the service went well. There were responses and I invited people to use them as they felt most comfortable with - this allows those who don't want to say the words out loud to not feel they have to). It more or less flowed, though 2 cups for the wine would have been handy (I had taken one of my own, but thought others were arriving. It all worked out fine, though).

Liturgy for Agape Bread, wine and fish sharing

After Our Lord, Jesus Christ was raised to glory by his father and our father

he appeared again to the disciples

this time, it was different

usually, Jesus was the guest

at the home of Simon the leper, when he was anointed with oil

he was the guest

at the home of Peter's mother-in-law, whom he cured

he was the guest

at the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector he befriended

he was the guest

But at the lakeside

he was the host

as the fishermen went back to their old lives

he cooked them food

and invited them to share breakfast with him

a simple breakfast of fish and bread

a simple breakfast which was an invitation

an invitation to be sustained in Christ's bounty

so they would go into the world

and take the Good News that Jesus Christ

had been crucified, died and was buried

but had been raised to life

to bring glory to the father

and forgiveness of sins to the whole world

So their lives would never be the same again

in this simple breakfast of bread and fish

So, as we gather here, on this glorious Easter morning

let us share this fish and bread and wine

and in doing so

share God's bountiful goodness

so, when we go from here

we will take the Good News of the risen Christ

into our homes, our lives, our hearts

so the whole world will know
Bread Photos

Dough Cross

Bread ready for baking

Easter risen breid

Friday, 29 March 2013

Busyness of Holy Week

Today, being Good Friday, I feel I should be contemplating the death of Jesus on the cross. But with preparation for a service I am leading on Sunday morning, the death of Christ is being pushed out of the way by the resurrection.

Which gets me thinking of a couple of things regarding ministry and worship and workload - all sort of bundled up together. This might become a stream of consciousness, so apologies in advance.

I (in Kirk terms) am not that old and I remember a time when the Kirk, generally, didn't do daily services during Holy Week. While it's not something I really thought about at the time, there almost seemed to be an undercurrent that was done by other denominations, not the Kirk. Which makes me wonder why Holy Week didn't used to generally be marked by the Kirk and what changed.

For at least 20 years my home church has been open all day on Good Friday for quiet reflection. How and why it began, I can't recall. But I do remember it being quiet unusual at the time. Even now, with most churches I am aware of marking at least some of Holy Week (beyond Palm and Easter Sundays), there is still an emphasis on having to have a service. Realistically, I wonder how many Church of Scotland churches which aren't tourist attractions (pardon the phrase, but I can't think of another way of expressing it) are open for anyone to sit and contemplate Jesus' death (or get warmth on this most Baltic of Good Fridays!). Surely having the space to let people draw close to God is a good thing. I know it doesn't need to be a church building, but there's no reason why it shouldn't.

Most Kirk ministers I have talked to about busyness have an exasperation most (even in their congregations) see that Christmas is busy, yet neglect to have the same perception about Easter. Unlike Christmas, the services for Holy Week have to be fitted around the demands of 'ordinary' ministry, which do not ease to the same extent as over the Christmas period. So, is doing so many services over 1 week creating a rod for our backs?

Which makes me wonder how churches might work with other congregations over this week. In my home town, some neighbouring churches share Holy Week services, so each congregation does 1 or 2 additional services this week, rather than the potential of 5 or 6. Another couple of church I know of the services are led by various members of the congregation, taken the burden from the minister and allowing those who feel called in such a way to serve. There's no prefect solution to this one and I know what I do will depend on me and the congregation's circumstances.

With the 'normal' work load, combined with additional services this week there's a lot to fit in. Then this is an emotional week (I know, no flies on me!). With all that, is it possible to be worshipful when leading worship this week? I pray I can be. I believe it is only when I am worshipping I can truly lead worship, but that is a balancing act I am still perfecting. I wonder how experienced ministers do this? A wise supervisor did tell me I'd know I was in the right place if I was able to combine the two.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Stretching myself

Well, I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be one of Spot's 50 acts. I also never thought I'd led a meditative/reflective Holy week service. Partly because this time last year I wouldn't have had the confidence to try something as different as the service I led last night (both for the congregation and me) and partly I didn't think I would be 'allowed' to try. But, in many ways, that's the point of these placements - to learn, to be stretched, to do things outwith my comfort zone and to try different things while there's someone around to pick up the pieces if necessary.

So, what did I do? Following the idea I 'acquired' from a colleague, I led the evening service congregation at Caledonia Kirk through Holy Week, from the prospective of the female followers of Jesus on Easter Saturday. Opening with prayer and using Mark's passion narrative as a back drop (for want of a better phrase) I talked about the context and feelings the women may have had as they mourned the death of Jesus.

I introduced this to the congregation with the rational that without working through the events of Holy Week, it's easy to go from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration  of the resurrection, without the context of the rest of Holy Week. I also warned them that the service would be peppered with bible readings (and where I was beginning), but that they would be unannounced.

Along with my story telling and the passages from Mark's gospel, I interspersed the service with music taken from the real world (or, as they like to call it at Caledonia Kirk, the secular world - as an aside, as Spot and I were travelling to the service, we realised all the artists had a church music background to some extent). The music was to reflect some of the feelings the disciples on Easter Saturday may have felt about the week's events. Just think about the words to Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt" from that prospective:

"I wear this crown of thorns upon my liar's chair" and

"everyone I love goes away in the end"

Watching the reaction of those gathered as the music played or I told the story was interesting. Somehow, in a bog standard church hall I had managed to create an atmosphere. The only thing which was different in terms of the set up was the chairs were in a circle, rather than rows. The lighting etc was the same. But maybe just the change in seating can make a difference, as we were all sitting together and I was part of the group.

I must admit I was nervous - it was a first for me on many levels and I didn't know if the concept would work (in general or specifically). I did stumble a couple of times, but not too much. I suspect, other than Spot, only my supervisor may have picked up on that (and they are supposed to). What I was impressed with for myself was, though I had a pattern to the service I had no notes (except for the opening prayer and some of the readings). I added additional readings as I went along and coped when one of the tracks I wanted played wasn't available (note to self, check the CDs are in the cases!)..

One thing I do need to bear in mind for doing something like this again is how to finish. I wanted there to be nothing - no grace, no blessing - as that's how the women would have felt that day. Either I needed to have made that clear at the beginning or have a way of getting up and leaving in some way. But, the way things worked, I think that was a minor thing.

The feedback I received last night was very positive. People liked the atmosphere I'd created; how it got them thinking about the events in a way they hadn't before; how it put things into context and made them pause for thought. One person asked if I'd ever been involved in drama before as they thought my acting was great (pantos when I was at primary school and church nativity plays - this isn't RADA!!!).

So, I'm glad I took myself out of my comfort zone. I have seen what I can do and that I seem to be able to do it well. If I'd rested on my laurels. I would never have found that out and will not grow into the best minister I can be.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Keeping to my commitments

I was brought up that once you have made a commitment to something, I am to stick to it. Yes, there will and has been times when I really couldn't stick to it (like surgery), but those have been exceptional circumstances.

With that attitude, I know I have sometimes taken on more than I should or realised it's all happening close together, rather than a bit more spread out. Unless I have really messed up and double booked myself (which, fortunately, has happened once and turned out the time of one thing had changed from what I was originally told) I'll get on with it.

I also won't take on something which is at the same time as something I have already committed to. The other thing may seem more interesting or useful or any number of other excuses why the original commitment could be bumped. I think in ministry this is especially important, as a meeting with a member of the congregation or colleague may not seem as important as a training course or phone call, but it's important to the person I am to see. After all, I am called to serve and if I just change meetings around due to more interesting (or seemingly important) things coming along, I am being self-serving.

I know there are times when things will need to be re-arranged, but I'd like to think they'd be the exception and not the norm. In fact I sincerely pray they would be the exception and I always focus on who I am serving.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Try to be me and try not to laugh

I was involved in the local high school's assembly today. When I say involved - I closed in prayer and wished the pupils a good Easter and holiday.

The whole assembly was shared by the chaplaincy team. Though there were a few there, it was slickly organised, with one person at a time doing a piece.

The thing I 'struggled' with was the concentration of Jesus' death on the cross being all about sacrifice, yet with overtones of God being a loving father. I wonder how the children were thinking through how a loving father would require the sacrifice of his son? As you may have gathered, I don't think that should be the focus of the Christian message, but that's a discussion for another time.

So, having been asked 5 minutes before the assembly began to pray and sat through an assembly all about sacrifice I was aware I had to choose my words carefully in my prayer. I also was mindful we'd run over and could see people waiting to gain access to the hall. None of these factors were my fault, but I didn't want to make things worse. So, I was short and to the point. I think I found a tone which neither undermined the assembly as a whole nor my own theology. I never thought that would be a skill I'd develop, but there's times when it's useful.

The main thing I learnt today was how to not corpse when this was played. On so many levels this was funny (even though it shouldn't ave been)...

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Good leadership?

Whether I like it or not, part of my calling as to ministry is a call to lead. Wherever I go, I will be the leader of the community I serve. As I work through these placements, the importance of good leadership is evident.

But what is a good leader? Is it someone who dictates to others? Or who bends to the whim and criticism of those in the community.? I would say no to both of these questions, but realise there are times when I will need to take a stand or listen to others' views. It's a fine line and I know I'll not always get it right.

Those leaders I have encountered, but in and out of church leadership, which I have respected the most have an ability to allow the communities to have a voice and to air their views openly and honestly. Thus, when decisions are made, even when they go in a different direction from that some would like, are supported as people feel they have been heard. One leader in particular I am thinking of really welcomes those who openly question decisions, as he sees them as those who hold the whole community accountable.

The other aspect of leadership I admire is the willingness to muck in where necessary - to do the dirty jobs or help out someone who's busting a gut and toiling to get what needs done finished. Those leaders I saw very much as 'the boss', but they were compassionate to the needs and abilities of those they led. For most, their actions won their respect and a willingness on behalf of those they led to go the extra mile for them. They led by example, didn't ask anything they wouldn't do themselves and were, in many ways, leading in a service-like way (sounds familiar).

Ultimately, with these leaders I am thinking of (and have worked with), they made tough decisions, challenged and provoked, to get the best from their team. Sometimes, the team didn't like it. But through feeling they had been listened to and knowing the leader would muck in when necessary, the team bust a gut for them. The team also know their leader would fight for them against those outwith the team, gaining the leader's respect. The team also knew those good leaders would defend their actions and those of the team, not allowing public criticism of any member of the team.

So, that's not much for me to live up to, especially when leading a church community. Pointing people to God should be easy, but if it were would there be a need for ministers to lead and shepherd their congregations? And it's getting people to come with me where I led them. That requires a lot of trust on both sides, especially if the terrain is dangerous or difficult. But I suppose that's about going a route which is best for the needs and abilities of the congregation - not all can climb mountains, but they could take the low road around the mountain to reach the same destination. The latter takes longer, but would that matter? I don't think so. More important is getting everyone safely to the destination. Perhaps that's what good leadership is, for me at least.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

What to write 10,000 words on?

Next year will be my third and final year at uni (for now - never say never again). As such, it's also the year I will be doing a dissertation. But what to do it on? Last time round, there wasn't a choice what I did - my class went on a 3 week field trip and the dissertation was basically a write up of those findings - findings which were collective, rather than individual. So, having to think one up on my own is a very strange experience.

I have had an idea for a possible topic, but the person who'd be prefect for it is on sabbatical for the whole year. I could see if another supervisor could be able to take me with that topic, but my gut feeling tells me I perhaps should be looking for another topic.

So, narrowing it down, I know it will be in the history field (though I also know that theology, biblical studies and history do not stand alone, but are interconnected). I'd also like to do something which is sort of useful, but I see almost all I am learning at uni as useful - if not immediately, certainly long term. And I also want the topic to be something I am actually interested in - like railways or church architecture. Doing research and writing for a 10,000 word submission on something I find really boring would not be a good idea.

Mmmh, perhaps the next week or 2 something will hit me and I'll be sorted. Then I'll need to find a supervisor. The joys!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

All about me

Well, my talk seemed to go well (though I get the impression I may have run over a wee bit - note to self, ask how long you're to talk for!). I gave them a wee bit of my background, with some randomly related tangents along the way. But that's how my mind works, and they wanted to "get to know me better".

They are a small but lovely group. Warm, friendly and welcoming. I felt really comfortable talking to them, as they were clearly interested and wanting to support me. The only thing I felt a little awkward about was the 'time for tea.' As the honoured guest, I sat with the chair and vice-chair, at a separate table with posh china and homebaking, while everyone else sat together with mugs, biscuits and having a blether. As the guest (and knowing this is the norm) I respected it, but it just didn't sit well with me. Partly, that was the being made a (small) fuss of, being made to be distinctive and not being able to engage with the rest of the group as much as I would have liked. The latter of those 'issues' was the most jarring.

At the end I was asked to 'close' the meeting. While that being unexpected, it was expected, if that makes sense. I wasn't sure what the usual way of closing the meeting was, so I led them in a short prayer. They seemed happy with that, so I assume that it was okay.

And they gave me some flowers. If this is going to become regular, perhaps I need to get a vase...

Desperate Dan Vase

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Everything and nothing

Tomorrow, I will be speaking to a ground associated with Caledonia Kirk. And the theme is? Me. Yeah - (this is said in a slightly 'Deputy Dog' style).

It's humbling to be asked to talk to them (they are a lovely group of people), but I don't really like talking about myself - well not if it's just in "just about you" sort of terms.

There's a tension here. Revealing enough they get to know me a bit better (poor people), I have done my best, but I don't give so much away I leave myself open and vulnerable. That's tied with the knowledge in entering ministry I am doing just that.

So, for tomorrow afternoon I need to come up with a plan of action that I tell them everything, while telling them nothing. I think I'll begin with maps - maps are cool.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Summer plans

After nearly 2 years of almost continuous placements, you'd have thought I might have decided to have the summer off. Spend time catching up with friends and family, reading and all those other things I don't seem to have enough time for. Maybe do a bit of pulpit supply, but not much else. Not me, not when there are other opportunities available!

Ministries Council runs a summer work experience scheme, where candidates can go to churches (usually in remote areas), where there is a long term vacancy, covering Sundays and a couple of days per week pastoral care. And we can get paid to do this too! So, as someone who wants to get as much experience as I can, I have offered my services.

It does mean I will be away from home again this summer. And Spot may not be able to come to see me so readily. But we both are looking at the notion of short term pain for long term gain (which does make me think of delayed gratification, but that always has sounded a little dodgy to me). I want to be the best minister I can be, so the more experience the better IMHO.

It will be very different to anything I have done this far. There will be no supervisor to report to, though I will have the interim moderator as a 'boss.' I will also be living in the manse (and it looks HUGE), in a small rural community. It's a linkage, which doesn't phase me too much, as so is my home church.

All I need to work out now is where the pub is!!!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Sensitive to the place and people

Every week there is a communion celebrated at New College. I have found them all useful to re-centre myself on God, as part of the community there. The table of the Lord really is a levelling experience, with student sharing bread, wine and peace with on another.

They style of the celebrants varies enormously. Some use the elements of liturgy New College have, others bring their own. I know many do the former as they are guests and wish to be as inclusive as possible. (As a little aside, I do wonder why every service has to be communion - our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters cannot participate, but could in a service of worship if they wished).

Today, though, the way the celebrant 'preformed' communion jarred slightly with me. It was high Anglican and I have been in York Minster when communion was celebrated - you can't get much higher than that. So, why the reaction? I think it was the subtle things which, to me, did not show sensitivity to the collective group gathered.

The table was called an altar in the liturgy (clearly, it wasn't); it was referred to as Mass, rather than communion or Eucharist; we were asked to stand for the gospel reading, but no rational for this was given; and the gentrification before the blessed elements - that especially jarred with me (and others I later discovered).

I know we all need to have integrity about who we are and believe. That I do not doubt, but that has to be held in tension with respecting the place we are, if we are guests. And we have to look like we're doing what we're doing with sincerity - I don't know why (it may have been the different space), but some of the actions performed by the celebrant seemed awkward, though he felt he had to do them. Maybe that's why it jarred with me. Definitely something I need to reflect on more.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Quote of the day

"Wanting to meet the author because you like their work is like wanting to meet the duck because you like pate".

That's what I go to school for!!!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Organised or last minute

Generally, I like to be fairly organised. Not in a OCD sort of way, but I don't like leaving things to the last minute. For me, it's a measure of managing my time well - things I can do timeously, I do. Might as well get them out of the way when I've time, rather than wait till I don't have enough time.

I can do things spur of the moment and step up to the plate to do stuff at very short notice if necessary. As someone who's training for ministry, not being able to do this would make some things a bit awkward. I have already experienced being asked to pray or offer a brief reflection in social situations (though, when I think about it, I suspected I might be asked to, so had mentally prepared myself).

So, because my default position is being a wee bit organised, I can struggle to work with those who are last minute. It's not the first time I have had to say 'no' to doing something as I really haven't been given sufficient time to properly prepare. For those who are last minute, I suspect this is hard for them to deal with, because they may see the timescale they give as more than sufficient. In some ways, it would be if I didn't have uni work to fit in too.

Now, this is all good experience for me. I have worked with people who can be last minute, but they acknowledged this and gave themselves 'false' targets, so others would have sufficient notice. It's a pity everyone didn't work like that, when others are involved. Sigh.