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.