Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Nothing special

At each of my placements, whether during assessment or training, there have been people who have told me the congregation I will serve will be blessed (or something like that) to have me. It's a huge complement, but I wonder if they say that to everyone (maybe even thinking "thank goodness we've got rid of her"!!!). But the people who said that to me on Sunday I know wouldn't just say so for the sake of it.

From those that mattered (which isn't necessarily anyone 'important' in a congregation), there was a definite disappointment they might not see me again. (Really, I'm not that special, honestly - sorry, mustn't get big headed). I'm sure I'll bump into them in the course of things and that how I'm getting on will filter back, but I have been aware I need to not get too attached, due to the short time I've had in each placement.

Maybe I do have a particular gift for engaging with people of almost any age and background. Perhaps it comes so naturally I don't know I am doing it. But, if we as Christians, and ministers as Christian leaders, are to emulate the life of Jesus, surely that's exactly what we should be doing? He had the ability to relate to those of all ages, backgrounds and status. So, perhaps that's why I don't see it as special, as I follow the example of Jesus himself.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Not a Burlesque show

Despite my initial concerns about my first sermon I had written for yesterday's service, when I went back to them both I was reasonably happy with the orginal's general content. It did get modified before printing (and as I preached), but nothing major was changed.

I have noticed, though still having a full script, I am using it less and less. I've always known what I am going to say reasonably well, so I've not read it out, but I've been aware I have looked for what the paragraph says during a brief pause. Yesterday I noticed that the script was more there as a prompt - so I knew where I was going, what I wanted to pick up on and, if my mind did go blank, I had something there to work from. I have also noticed I am much more comfortable adding appropriate content or dropping things if I notice they are not as relevant as I thought they were or I need to move on.

It was strange preaching for the last time at Caledonia Kirk, especially on my last Sunday there (better to go out with a bang than a whimper, I suppose!). I'd love to say I'll miss it, but that would be a lie. It was a very good learning experience, though. And there are many people there who I know will be interested to learn where I go and will remember me in their prayers.

Following my sermon, the worship leader (yes, that's what they call the praise band leader) told the congregation what he thought I said. I have noticed that happens most of the time and it bugs my happiness. I think it can give the impression that what they say is what the congregation should take away from the sermon. I disagree, as there are many ways the message can be taken - I know people have said they have taken one thing from a sermon and I've thought "did I say that," but I wouldn't contradict them.

After the service, there were a few good comments. Some were about being challenged or thinking in new ways. One person, coming down the stairs, said he'd had to switch his hearing aid off, but I couldn't work out if that was he didn't like it or I don't really need the mic! There were a few people who seemed to be almost waxing lyrical about it, so much so a member of the congregation who was elsewhere yesterday emailed me, saying they'd heard it was "tremendous." That was very humbling as they used to preach.

In my sermon, I talked about some of the work the congregation does. I know that doesn't often get acknowledged within the church. One member of that group said that they sometimes wonder why they bother, but I had reassured them. If it was just for them I was called to preach that message yesterday, then great. God knows they work they do and their commitment to the people they reach out to.

So, a bit of a break before I head off for my work experience at Railway Crossing linked with First Stop. I'm going to take the opportunity to chum spot on May's edition of "50 acts of worship." Be nice to worship together for a change.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Making sure

I'm preaching on Sunday, with the bible passages from Matthew 6:1-4 and Matthew 25:31-46. The theme is "Looking after the poor."

So far, I've written 2 sermons and neither seem quite right. Normally, I'd be thinking of printing tonight, as Saturday's are my day off and I don't like waiting to Sunday morning to do my printing (paranoia that we'll be out of ink or the printer won't work or something else. But this time I am going to wait till Sunday morning. Hopefully by then I will be happy with what I am going to say - after all it has to be God#s message and not mine. At the moment, I'm not sure if it is.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Praise Band criteria

"Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17) In that case, you can't play on the praise band until you can play like nine year old Zoe Thomson...

That's her just before Christmas. This was when she was 7...

Monday, 15 April 2013

World's roundest sphere

Most things scientific fascinate me, especially as humanity's need to push the boundaries of understanding I believe is part of what makes us human. Who's have thought a ball of silicon would be so useful for defining the weight of the universe...

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Don't ask me at the last minute

If you want me to do something which is a regular feature of worship (prayer), don't email at 18:38 on the Saturday night. I probably won't be checking my mail at that time and, even if I were, it's my day off, so I definitely won't be dealing with church emails.

Now, so I don't sound completely unreasonable, if I knew the person who was to do the prayers had taken ill or had a family emergency, I would step in. But, if you haven't bothered to draw up the worship rota for the second quarter of the year yet, that's a different matter. Have you noticed it's mid-April and today will be the second Sunday of the quarter that you have had to get people to lead parts of worship at the last minute. Save yourself a lot of hassle and get those on the rota on your side - issue them in good time.

Would you expect those who were to preach to pull something out of the bag at such short notice? Or do you not see preparation of prayers as an important part of the act of worship? Or, even worse, do you not see prayer as really that important to the act of worship? Well, whatever the reason, I like to prepare. Prayer can speak to people in ways the rest of the service cannot and I like to craft prayers in terms which can include everyone's fears, doubts, concerns, hopes and joys, without being so specific that sections of the congregation feel their prayers have not been offered. Preparation of prayer, IMHO, should be as important as any other part of the act of worship.

So, now I have the dilemma. Do I lead the prayers and feel they aren't up to my high standards, because of the lack of time? Or do I say no and have (yet again) nothing to do in the act of worship and land someone else in it? Mmmmhhh...I might have an idea.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Back from Retreat

Did I get something out of retreat? Yes, rather a lot, thanks. Did I feel I'd had time to connect with God and ensure my spiritual life was fed? No.

When a group of people who know and wish to support each other are sent away together, but most have not seen each other since August, they want to catch up with one another. So time for 'silent reflection' becomes time for talking. Though, the leader of the 'retreat' did suggest we did things in this time we normally couldn't do, so arguably this fitted the bill.

I think the concept of retreat can be a good thing. From what I saw and talked about I think I am lucky I am comfortable just being, rather than having to always do. But I'd much rather do that on my own, in a space I am comfortable with. The 2 days away just didn't work for me, but watching a film about a group of Carthusian Monks (a silent order) was just painful. For 2 hours and 44 minutes. Time in my life I'll never get back. There was no rational given for the showing and it clearly made everyone feel uncomfortable. At one point I did up and leave, as I felt myself falling asleep and needed fresh air. I did return and wonder why I bothered, as I did drop off, only waking up with a snore! 10:15 is late for some of us, myself included. The excitement of the film didn't help!

So, I've been and ticked the box. As the these retreats are forming part of the conference cycle, all I am saying is I am glad my cycle is completed in August. Unlike some in the academic year above me, I will not be going next year, unless I have to.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Going away

Today, I am heading for a retreat. It's enforced, as it's now part of the training program for ministry training.

I am quite cynical about imposed retreats (what, just retreats, I hear you cry!), as what would work for me may be completely different to what would work for others. That said, I understand having some sort of retreatful discipline is good for everyone, so I want to go with an open mind. Having seen the timetable, I am struggling - a talk on the Oxford Movement anyone? - being just one example.

So, as I head off I hope the drive there will clear my head and while I am away I will be refreshed.

Friday, 5 April 2013

What were you telling me?

The other day I was at a service where the sermon was around 12 minutes long (what's the problem with that I hear you say!). Well, for well over half the sermon, the preacher kept telling us what he was going to tell us.

Now, I can appreciate there can be times (and I'm sure we've all done it) a biblical text is chosen as the preacher expects to say a particular thing. But as they examine the text and its context more closely, they realise that what they were going to say doesn't fit. Or something new jumps out at them and they realise it's that they should be focusing on.

With that in mind, I can see using the "what I was going to tell you" formula as an opener. It gets the congregation curious what you are actually going to say and shows the preacher is willing to move from their position. But please, please, please not for the majority of the sermon. I found myself thinking every time they said "I was going to tell you" thinking "WHAT????!!!!" (Yes, the shouty text is intended).

So, what was the message from the sermon the other day? I have no idea, even when leaving the service I had no idea, but I could tell you what they were going to tell me.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Always point to God

In the last few weeks I have been reflecting on Matthew 6:1-6, as it keeps cropping up in various places; both the specific passage and general conversations.

I was brought up not to brag about stuff or my abilities. I'd love to say it's the good Calvinist in me, but perhaps it's just being Scottish. In many places I have cringed when people have sought to praise what I have achieved (more ungraciously, I tend to cringe when others are overtly praised too). It's part of my psyche to, not so much high my talents under a bushel, but more let people find out for themselves, rather than hear me 'brag' about them. I suppose that made the initial idea of a journal back at extended enquiry quite daunting as I had to be honest about my successes as well as my failures.

Okay, that's a bit off topic from the Matthew reading, but I feel that it's all part of the spirit of the passage - that God looks into our hearts. Through looking into our hearts he sees why I do what I do. Am I doing it through being seen to be doing something (not my style), as part of my calling (I am aware just being there can be difficult for me, but it's not about me - it's about taking God's presence into situations, to people and to places) or some other reason? I pray in all I do which I choose to do I am doing quietly, humbly and worshipfully. If not, I am showing off and God will see right through it.

Which does create a tension. Firstly, I need to tell others what I can do. At some point I will look for a probation placement and the church I will go to will want to know that, as will the church I am eventually called to minister to. Surely that's all pointing to me, rather than God? Or am I just over analysing this? I suspect I am. Again, it's all about intent, I believe.

Then, there's churches which do great work all over Scotland (at the moment I am specifically thinking of The Kirk). They go about it in their communities and congregations, with few if any beyond that area appreciating what they do. Should they tell others or keep it to themselves? Again, I think that's all about intent. If it gives ideas and/or encouragement to other congregations, great. If it helps obtain funding from external bodies to further their work, again, great. If it shows off what a church, as they see themselves as 'better' than their neighbours, I get twitchy.  But that's judgemental and that's not a good thing for me to do.

So, now I am trying to figure out a way where I can hold all this in tension, both with my own self and where I will serve. At the end of the day, everything I and the church I will serve does should point to God. If it doesn't I might as well quit when I am ahead!