Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Heading north

On Friday I am heading north for my work experience. I first spoke about taking part, if it was running, last year. It was back in February I agreed to go, which seemed ages away. Now, it's just a couple of days away and it's just a wee bit strange.

I will be going somewhere I've only passed through (once?) several years ago. I have never been to the church and have only really communicated with some of the office bearers by email. A bit of a weird set up, I know, but given the distance, there was no way I could go for a visit before I agreed. They sound like a friendly bunch and I know people who stayed on holiday in the area a few years ago, who found the congregation small, but very welcoming and helpful.

I suspect the first few days are going to be a bit of an assault on the senses, as I get introduced to many people, find my way around the area and begin to get the measure for the place, people and congregation. And I know there will be the welcoming committee when I arrive. While that's lovely (and to be expected), when I'm tired (which I will be after the long drive, I'll have to remind myself to be nice. As long as they feel me a lot of tea, I'll probably be fine.

Again, I'm away from home. You'd have thought last year would have skunnered me, but the opportunity to live in a parish, in the manse, as 'the minister' does not usually come along before ordination. The way I see it, the more experience I gain, the better. That's driven, in part, by as I go through this process realising that the more I learn, the more aware I am of how little experience I have, how 2 and a bit years isn't that far off and just how much God is covering my back. (Which is just as well, as I really couldn't do this any other way).

Monday, 27 May 2013

Paying for calling

It's more than 20 years since I first felt called to ministry. Until I finally 'gave in' it cropped up in a lot of ways. But I still resisted. I was too young; I was too inexperienced; I wasn't academic enough; I wasn't....[insert appropriate excuse here]. Looking back, the experiences, jobs, encounters, interests and general life I've had have all been training me for where I am now (and where I will go). It's pretty cool, but exceptionally humbling to realise God's been in it all along (though, quite why I should be surprised by that, I do not know!).

When I began the enquiry process, one thing which was a bit of a concern was how spot and I could afford it. We do not (despite the motorbike) have an extravagant lifestyle, but there's still bills to pay, transport costs and food to buy. It all mounts up. When we sat down to work it all out, we could manage on spot's salary, just. That was okay. Now, 2 years into training, things have been a lot better than we expected. God really does give what you need.

We are very lucky and we are very grateful. But I wonder if our circumstance had been different, if I'd have thought twice about full-time word and sacrament. What if our circumstances were different? I know from our experience God has been very generous to us, but it's a huge risk. And we don't have childcare or massive travelling costs to deal with.

I honestly don't know, as I've not had to deal with that. I am pretty sure there must be people in their late twenties, early thirties, with mortgages, children and spouses all to juggle, where going without their salary for up to 4 years while they study for a degree just isn't a realistic option. God may provide, but how is the question they have.

I know one of the topics discussed at this years assembly was the lack of people under 45 training for ministry. While the pool of people in that age group in the Kirk is comparatively small, I do think deep and real financial concerns are as much a barrier to those called to ministry as any feeling of a lack of experience.

What's to be done? I don't know. What I do know is I'd hate to think there are people out there who are called to ministry who just can't afford to do it.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Probation search: part 3

Today didn't start well. I had planned going to Crossview Church for a neb, but their website had 3 different (and contradictory) times and locations for the service. Really, I shouldn't need a pilot licence to figure out when a service is. So, though I have been there before, I went to Airside Kirk, as I knew the service times (and double checked - they are clearly stated on the front page).

Well, I was impressed. There was a sense of community to the congregation and a real buzz about the place as the congregation gathered before worship. The minister herself has a lovely formal yet relaxed style, which came across in the whole service. There was even laughter - in a Kirk service, whatever next, I wonder?

The service had a definite theme running through it. Though the minister did point this out in the children's address, it would have been noticeable if she hadn't. As this has been the end of the General Assembly week, there was a talk from the church's elder (who was a delegate) about her experience and thoughts. It was great to hear a congregation be kept informed about what was going on in the national church, and not just from the minister's mouth!

The minister, too, did talk on the assembly, but more about how Airside is doing things, as part of a national church they might not be aware of - Crossreach, national and world mission, speaking out for society, foodbanks etc. She was passionate, humorous (without being flippant), informative and, for the congregation, pitched it right and was pastorally appropriate. And all with limited notes (I must admit being sightly in awe).

The hymns were a mix of old and new. Where they were unknown, the whole tune was played through before the congregation sang. For one hymn, it was sung unaccompanied, but the tune was still played through before we began and was a very well known tune.

Things I found a little odd. The bible was brought in during the opening hymn. Though it was seen by all, it seemed a bit odd to me doing this after the call to worship. This oddness was emphasised with the very formal removal of the bible at the end of the service, as we all stood following the benediction as it was taken out.

There wasn't many people involved in the service (and I know there is at least one reader worships at that congregation). Basically, it was the minister and the elder delegate (who also did the bible readings). I do wonder if more people could be involved in the service, or have my placements been unusual with the amount of input from those other than the minister?

Oh, and getting my priorities right here, there were no teas after the service. They are before. Now, I know of congregations where there are 2 morning services, so having teas in between allows those attending the services to met and have fellowship time. That's not the case here. I think that can (not saying will or does, just can) make it difficult for visitors.

So, overall, what did I think. I really enjoyed worship this morning. It was well put together, sincere, passionate, heartfelt (need I go on). The minister herself is professional, but not up her own bottom and a 'normal' (whatever that is) person, who happens to be a minister. I think I could work there.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Getting real

I sat my last exam for this academic year yesterday. That one, I feel, went reasonably well. Hopefully the results will be okay too.

So, pending results, that's another year of this degree over; another year closer to probation; another year closer to ordination.

[At this point, I run around the living room with arms in air, going AAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH]

In so many ways, I can see how gifts (which I used to think were hindrances) or things I have done or experienced all through my life have been training me for ministry. And I never knew it. As I go on this journey, I know this is exactly what I should be doing (and sometimes wonder if I should have went for it earlier - but it's God's timing, not mine). But the idea that not too far into the future I will be a minister sometimes terrifies me

I was speaking to a piscy friend the other day. She began uni at the same time as me and will be ordained into a curateship around this time next year - NEXT YEAR!!! Someone I have studied with, someone I am friends with is going to have the whole apostolic succession laying of hands thingy NEXT YEAR!. I was scared, not for her, but for me. Peers and friends are getting ordained soon. THIS IS GETTING VERY, VERY REAL.

And breathe.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Probation search: part 2

Yesterday began with a trip to visit a second of my probation possibilities - Causeway Church. From my research thus far, there hadn't been anything which significantly concerned me. So along I went with an open mind.

[As an aside, it's a odd thing 'shopping' for probation. Asking people who may know the place, minister (or even been on placement/probation there) for thoughts, and turning up for a visit. I do wonder how we're supposed to do this, and thing gut feeling comes into it a lot. It's also strange attending worship, but one part of me is not 'there' but really listening to what the minister says and what's going on.]

Unfortunately, my potential supervisor is at General Assembly. So, that was a shame as it's with them I'll be working. It did give me an opportunity to see what the congregation was like - could I feel happy working with them for 15 months? After all, it's them (and the parish) I will be serving during the time.

Well, I felt decidedly....[clutching for right words here]...ignored or unwelcomed. It wasn't in an overt way, but I just got the impression it's a congregation which struggles with new people turning up. And the was I turn up for worship wasn't the custom and practise there. To be fair, we did get a 'morning' at the door, with one of the children helping to give out the order of service (that was a nice touch, which I did like - wonder if it's the norm?). And the lady who joined us in the pew did say 'hello' and wished us a good week. So, perhaps standoffish would be a better way of expressing it.

The children were included in the service, and there was a reasonable number. The minister seemed a little uncomfortable talking to them, but not everyone has a gift that way. That said, he listened to the children and engaged with them when they asked questions. That, to me, shows there might be a culture of interaction with the children, which I like.

The service was traditional formal, which I can deal with. I'm not sure I liked the lack of announcing what was coming next in the service. The minister did announce that it could be followed on the order of service at the beginning, but I just felt that assumes literacy,* knowledge of what the order of service means and almost defers to the organist to know what's coming next.

After the service, there wasn't the usual teas and coffees, as the church was raising money for Christian Aid. At £3 a pop for a cuppa (and no one talking to us while we headed to the hall), we decided to seek liquid refreshments elsewhere.

Unlike last week, this isn't a cut and dry 'no way.' I'll see how the other visits go and take it from there.
And I did feel I had worshipped too.

*Given the location of Causeway Church, I suspect that is not seen as an issue.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Doctor's Name

Last night was the finale of the current series of Doctor Who. Without giving anything away, I have one word.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Electric Cars

The other day, spot and I were talking about the prospect of electric cars, on the back of a program about the Nissan Leaf. We both noted multiple stumbling blocks to them becoming more mainstream - price, range, battery life/easy of replacement and charging points. Okay, an owner may have s charging point near their home (or office), but what about topping up the battery when out and about? Well, while out for our constitutional, I noticed this - a charging point for electric cars, just over a mile from our house.

Thing is, where we live seems a little of the more unusual places for these to be located (and it wasn't very well put in, but that's another matter). Suppose they have to start somewhere, though. Oh, in case you're wondering, we don't think it's free. The yellow circle on top looks like where a smart card would be swiped for payment. Presumably, if you own an electric car, you either have one of these or know how to get one.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Probation search - part 1

So, off I went to worship this morning, visiting the first of the four possibilities for probation I was give on Tuesday. Admittedly, with the research I'd carried out so far, I wasn't sure if Bridge Kirk would make the cut, but along I went with an open mind.

As we drew up outside, we noticed a large group gathering outside - looks like there's a baptism. That, I know can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it's interesting to see what, if any, modifications to the service takes place with the knowledge there's a large group of visitors. On the other hand, it is not as easy to get a feel for the minister - that being pretty important, for me, as I'll be working really closely with them.

Going in, there was a welcome team who did try to say 'hello' to all entering. No order of service or notices were distributed here, which was odd. I believe they give the welcome team something to give those entering, visitors can get a sense of what's going on in the church community and regular congregation members have a reminder of what's going on (and something to pray over, if they wish, at home). Without that, the danger is there are way too many noticed to be given at the start of the service, so people switch off and get bogged down in the detail. Guess what happened this morning? 10 minutes of notices. And this was with a lot of visitors (who received a round of applause - at the minister's instruction - for their presence)!

The act of worship itself began with the minister leading us in prayer, then telling us to stand to sing the first song (no, it's a hymn) unaccompanied. So, while I'm sure it was intended that telling us to stand was to lead those who are unfamiliar with a church service, there was a better way of putting it - stand, if you're able, being a good one. And an unaccompanied hymn. Well, as someone with a reasonable breadth of experience of worship, it was completely unfamiliar to me. Judging by the lack of singing from the majority of the congregation, it wasn't a well known (or liked) hymn at Bridge Kirk either. I did feel rather sorry for the (as it turned out) baby blessing visitors.

The whole service was conducted, including the church notices, but the minister, bar the bible reading. And boy, does he like the sound of his own voice! Though I found there were often too many people involved in worship at Caledonia Kirk, this seemed like entering into the other extreme. So much for the priesthood of all believers.

Though the minister didn't use many notes, he did have some. Mainly, those were used during the blessing of the baby. These were in a A4 folder and were getting in the way. And, as he read the words out, he spoke to the folder, rather than the child and had as much feeling and care in his tone as if he was reading off a shopping line. Really, if you care, you will sound like you care, and address the person you are blessing, that makes it look like you care too.

Once the children left for Young Church, the sermon was delivered. Again, I felt this was not appropriate for the context of a lot of visitors there for the blessing, especially as the minister had announced at the beginning that children were welcome to stay (or come and go) for the whole service. The sermon was about sending campaigning postcards from Christian Aid to the Prime Minister, David Cameron and the lack of generation X and Y in the church.

The tone of the whole sermon was very negative. The 4 generations (builder, baby boomer, gen X and gen Y) were explained, with the lowest generation being gen Y - c18-30 (according to his stats). All of this was to highlight how 'normal' (whatever that is) church doesn't work for everyone (it never did). So, what about under 18s, don't they count in the life of the church? And you've just told me how gen Ys want to work and speak out against injustice and will take part in activities which help their communities, yet didn't place a positive spin on how they can be 'used' (sorry, bad word, but can't think of better) by the church for the community as a whole. Grr. Not really a message that a group of visitors, who may have limited or no experience of church want to hear. If anything, congratulations, you have confirmed their stereo-type of the church for them!

But this seems so negative, what about positives? A lady did come across and specifically invited us for a cuppa. That was a nice, friendly touch. Sometimes visitors feel that's a bit intimidating, even though they have been invited at some point during the service.

As we went to get our tea, Spot noticed a former colleague of ours and said 'hello.' It was with them we had a chat. His wife admitted she struggles with women in ministry, but I respected her honesty. The conversation was interesting, especially when a comment was made that the dishwasher in church had never worked since it was installed. I know that's not the minister's responsibility, but I do think it says a lot about the leadership of a church and stewardship of its resources, when issues like that are not dealt with.

So, will I be back? Unlikely. It did make the probation choice straightforward, in this case. I must admit, I had images of struggling to whittle the 4 down.

Feeling a bit guilty

I'm feeling a wee bit guilty. For the past 7 months, while I was on placement, I headed to the Big Kirk for their 9:30 service before going to work. The primary motivation for this was to keep my sanity. I knew, after the first week at Caledonia Kirk, that I needed to find a way to have worship - the Big Kirk fitted the bill.

Over the few months, I started to feel I was a part of the congregation. I'd pass friendly comment with people in the pews, I'd chat with people over a brew between their morning services and I went along to their Advent and Lent bible studies.

Through it, I felt connection with God, and challenged to think about my own place in his plan. That's in a good way. I heard preaching which did not allow the status quo and rattled cages. It made the congregation uncomfortable.

Though I sort of realised it before, that brought home to me the importance of getting to know where a congregation is - their hopes,  their fears, their ambitions, their faith, their knowledge. Without that, it's just not possible to 'be' the minister they need to be. It also highlighted that if preaching always toes the line and never shakes people up, then it's not doing its job. That takes balls, but needs to be done from time to time. But can only be done when a minister has built up a relationship with the congregation, so they know where the congregation is coming from.

So, why the guilt? I don't know when I'll get a chance to get back. At the moment, I'm taking the chance to tag along with spot for his 50 acts, then in 3 weeks time I'll be away for my work experience placement. Hopefully I can return after the summer.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Parishes and otters

Over the summer I'll be having a couple of firsts. The first time where I will have had to prepare worship every week for almost every Sunday for a whole summer. The first time I've lived in a manse. The first time I've had a distillery in the parish. The first time I'll work closely with an auxiliary minister. And a few others, which will come up over the course.

I am looking forward to it. Being amerced in ministry, in a parish, for just over 2 months. Going along side the people there; me getting to know them and them getting to know me (oh, the poor people).

Technically, I think I'm 'contracted' for Sundays plus 2-3 days per week. It might be more, I doubt it'll be less. Be good to use the other time to see the area, go for walks, do some cycling and take some photos (a hobby which has been sadly neglected since I started uni). I am assured there are Arctic terns on the beach and otters in the river. Probability of me getting photographic evidence of the latter - low. But I look forward to taking the time to try.

It'll be strange being so far away from home. This is about double the distance I was when I went away for my summer placement at Highland Cathedral last summer. I'll also be in the house on my own. Not that that bothers me, I'm quite comfortable with my own company. It will be odd not having spot come to visit me every weekend, just it's just too far and he doesn't want to leave the house too long (though he may come up for a week or two).

Mostly, I'm looking forward to being my own boss. Like last summer, most demands I'll be placed under will be mine. Yes, there will be some meetings, assemblies and holiday club stuff which will go into my diary, but most things I will plan myself.

I just feel so lucky I am in a position where, when these opportunities come along, I can take them up. Spot supports me and we don't have anyone else to take care of which limits how much I take on. I pray these experiences will all pay off in the end. I'm sure they will. After all, God's got my back.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Church notices

This is a bit random, but my head's full of Scottish Medieval Religion c1400-1560!

When should church notices come in the service? I have experienced them before the actual act of worship occurs, just after the first hymn, once the children go out and not at all.

Lets start look at them in reverse order. Not at all, are you kidding me? Do you not even want to say 'good morning' and welcome the congregation (especially visitors)? Remind me to wipe my feet on the way out!

After the children leave. So, assuming this is around half way through the service, have you welcomed people? If not, I refer you to my actions above. If you have, are the children not allowed to hear what goes on in their church (yes, it's there's too!) and the same goes for their leaders (and parents potentially too).

After the first hymn. Now, I can see the merit. It's at a time where people have gathered and allows for stragglers. As long as before the children go to do their thing, they can hear them, as can their leaders. I'm just (and this is a very personal thing) not very sure it should form part of the actual act of worship.

Which brings me to the last (and my preferred option), before the service begins. For me, that is before the actual formal beginning to the service - i.e. before the call to worship. It begins at the stated service time and there's probably some kind of 'ritual' (oh, I hate that word) which indicates things are beginning. It allows all who are gathered to hear them (or for their attention to be drawn to them) and should include the formal welcome. But, I don't think it forms part of the actual act of worshipping God, hence my preference.

So, where do you think they should be (as opposed to where they are wherever you worship)?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

How to choose

So, this stuff just started getting real! I have my first probationary placement interview yesterday. Now the dust's beginning to settle, it makes me aware just how much I need to learn and how little time I have to learn it.

But, on more practical matters, how to choose where to go. I have been given (well, given is perhaps too strong a word, but work with me here) a list of 4. 2 were ones I went with and the other 2 came out of discussion. I am prepared to keep an open mind, though not move house for the duration.

So, to find out which one fits, I wonder how I should go about choosing. I'm aware I will be working very closely with the minister wherever I go, so I need to be able to get on with them. I need to be stretched and challenged and allowed to fail (honestly - but not spectacularly). And, among all this, it needs to have the sort of ministry I feel called to, all with a list of 4. Not much to ask for!

In order to work out where I might go I had a look at the churches websites. (If I was honest, I would struggle to go somewhere that had no web presence, as that's how most people under 40 moving to a new area will look for a church.) I think, much like a church fayre, they can show what the church sees as important. So, if I cannot easily find the times of your services and a 'how to find us' (honestly, it's not difficult, just use google maps, but don't assume everyone knows were you are), what does that say about the ministry there?

It's like this. The people in the parish (or, worse, the congregation) may know where and when you met for worship, but anyone else wanting to find out this information would have to see the board outside the church. If I don't know where you are, I can't do that. Also, knowing spot's been looking for church times for his 50 acts of worship, what's easier to find can indicate what the church sees as more important to them.

Having said that, what have I found so far? Well, only one on my list has that information clearly on the home page, along with a short statement of what they believe. Another had a clear 'services' tab, which did list all the service times well. The third I had to click through 2 pages from the front page to get there, though I learnt a lot about their buildings getting there! And lastly, navigating pages, none of which were marked 'worship' or 'services' or something similar, I finally found their times, but they were listed in such a format that their 2 services actually looked like 5. If I, as someone who knows roughly what I am looking for is confused by that, what hope is there for someone who wants to find out about God, go to church, but gives up when they can't get basic information like the times of the services? They either go somewhere else or (more likely) nowhere. Not good.

Now, I know there will be people who will say the website is not the minister's responsibility. And I would agree with them. But ministers are the leaders of their congregations, so perhaps these facts being neglected or hard to find or difficult to make heads or tails of can be a reflection of the leadership in those churches.

Which is a long way round to me saying those 2 churches with the poor service information are working their way down my list. Is that an acceptable way to filter - how easy is it to find the where and when of a church's service times from its website?

Saturday, 4 May 2013

It's all about people, stupid!

So, 2 exams down, 2 to go. I know I answered the questions which were set in one of them - I may have answered the questions I wanted set in the other!

But, I realise (and this isn't a new or earth-shattering realisation) the results don't matter too much. Yes, I need to pass, as I need to pass the exams to get the degree I need to be a minister. But beyond that, the results don't matter.

I suppose it helps that I know I've not academic, so don't have ambitions of getting a first. I'd be happy with a Desmond (2:2, get it?!), as that's what I already have. I also think it helps I have a bit of mileage under my belt, so know there are many, many things which are more important than exams.

Even heading into an exam, I go all pastorally sensitive. trying to be supportive of fellow students who are nervous, concerned or have had real life to deal with. And that's what's important. People. Not marks, not results, but people and how I engage with them, trying, as flawed as I am to show a bit of love.