Friday, 29 November 2013

Armour of light

Last night I was writing my draft sermon for Sunday. The readings I'm using for Sunday are Matthew 24:36-44 and Romans 13:11-14, though the focus is on Romans (to my surprise - I'm still trying to work out Paul).

The phrase which really caught my eye was about putting "on an armour of light." I just loved the imagery - though me being me I think of medieval knights in armour, not Roman solider, which Paul would have been thinking of. Also wished Quarry Kirk had AV (well, they have A, no V), as I've some great photos of armour, which might have been useful for getting people thinking.

I suppose my thoughts turning to medieval armour may actually be a 'better' image, as late medieval armour of the collective consciousness covered the whole body, allowing maximum protection for the wearer. But is Paul talking about getting protection from the armour? I'm not too sure.

To the people he was writing to, their image would have been of a Roman solider, whose armour was functional, protective and worked best when the soldiers worked together, interlocking their shields. In this formation, they were pretty invincible and their array impenetrable. This only happened when they stood shoulder to shoulder with their neighbour. If one flinched or failed to hold the line, the whole system failed. Also, given the way Roman soldiers fought, they relied on the person next to them to cover their vulnerable side, as they thrust forward with their right hand with their sword, that side would be exposed, and needed protected by their neighbour.

So, maybe the armour of light Paul talks of not only is a change from old ways of life - a way of preparedness for the coming of Christ - but something which needs the whole community to do. Then, like the Roman soldier, they can look out for one another. They can support and protect each other. They can cover the others side. Then, those outwith the community will see the difference, not just to one or two individuals, but to the whole community of believers. And the community of believers putting on their armour of light can be a benefit for their wider community - as they put behind drunkenness and debauchery etc, etc, exchanging it for light - light which is shown in their love for God and love for neighbour.

The downside to armour, though, is it can put up barriers. It conveys a specific message about a group or person's job and intent. Soldiers can bring war, as well as help maintain peace. The armour of light should bring peace.

Another downside to armour, especially medieval armour, is it's heavy and hard to wear. So, it was only put on for tournaments or battle. The armour of light Paul was talking about needs to be on all the time, not just when things get tough or we need to demonstrate our strength/show off.

The only way we can make sure the armour of light is on all the time is to pray, read (the bible) and worship. To do so, especially the latter, as part of a community. From the community we'll receive support and encouragement - which we can offer them.

I wonder how that works for the minister in a parish church, though. I've experienced churches who look after their minister and where their minister feels as much a part of the worshipping congregation as any other member. I've also seen (and heard of) churches where the minister is almost seen as a paid employee, their to serve the congregation and parish, but where no one necessarily thinks to offer them support and encouragement. I know which I'd prefer (and, in fact, need). Then I will be able to put on my armour of light in the knowledge I do not stand alone, but am supported on all sides.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Making cultural references

So, last Sunday I decided to do a Doctor Who referenced children's address. Given the age and sort of children there are at Quarry Kirk, I thought this was a good idea.

That was until I came to deliver said address. Though 10.2 million people watched "The Day of the Doctor," only 2 members of the congregation had (that included yours truly). And none of them were the children. Joy.

So, lesson from Sunday. Be careful when trying to make a cultural reference and, if it looks like no one will get it, have a back-up plan.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Guide dog attack

While going for a pint, Spot's brother-in-law's guide dog was attacked by a couple of terriers. Rather than control the dogs, the owner, who also happened to be the landlord of the pub, kicked Chris and his wife out of the pub.

I'm not just posting this because I'm related to Chris. I think it's appalling when someone does not know how to control their dogs. Stokes is an essential part of Chris' life. He could not get to work without Stokes. He has regained a fair bit of Independence since getting his guide dog, after waiting over a year to be partnered with one. Had the attack resulted in Stokes needing retired, Chris would have been back to square one or worse.

Please feel free to share this story. This is just one example of how irresponsible dog owners cause havoc with people's lives, especially those who rely on their dogs as heavily as people such as Chris.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

God's word

Before worship, I can give off an aura of calmness, but it is a swan-like veneer. On top may be calm, but underneath is paddling for all it's worth (while, depending on the nature of the worship, praying the test pilot prayer!).

Then, during prayers or in the sermon I will pause - perhaps take a drink of water (and a deep breath) - as I work out if I can say that phrase to these people or, because it's something which may cause me to waiver with my words. So far, apart from those I would expect to notice (supervisors, speech trainers, those very close to me) people haven't noticed or, if they have, haven't realised its significance. It has been interpreted as a dramatic pause or 'the minister's thirsty', never that I am wetting myself.

Yes, doing this whole standing in front of a group of people has got better since I began this journey. Yet, there is still the nerves, based on the knowledge this is important - to me, to this congregation and, most importantly, to God. So often I am mindful that what I say could so easily descend down into my rants, or my opinions, or my words. Yes, God uses these. God calls me because I have passion to bring to his word, but at the end of the day, that what it is - God's word. In so many ways, the nerves (or butterflies - call it what you will) is almost reassuring. It's not easy saying what God wants said. History shows people's tendency to 'shoot' the messenger.

What I have seen in recent weeks are very experienced ministers who go through the same things. I find this so humbling to know they feel the same about their call and are willing to allow others to know this. I hope, when I have the experience they have, I can pass this on.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Forgotten skills

Today I spent working on my dissertation. Though the end of March, when it's due, seems so far away, this semester has flown in and I don't feel I've done nearly as much work on it as I should.

I'm using old skills, honed while studying for my last degree. Using parallels and scale rulers. It was strange going back to those basics and not using a sophisticated drawing application. Though I'm rusty - so the plans took me a bit longer than I would have liked - the skill was still there. Just needed a bit of use and it came flooding back. It was quicker than trying to learn that drawing application.

I also spent an hour or so taking some photos of an old church. Was that study for me? Yes, as I was looking at specific features of the building. Wasn't too much of a hardship, though. Spending time doing two of my favourite activities.

Tomorrow, I will be looking at the third church in the series. This one I've known for as long as I can remember, though I've never looked at it with the particular lens I will be tomorrow. At least the forecast is to be dry - just a pity it's so cold. This is why I am no longer a surveyor for a living. Again, once I left that behind, I never thought I'd really need to use that skill again - not formally, anyway.

These are not the only long lost (or not recognised) skills I've been using since beginning my studies/training. Funny how these things work out. Strange to think, though I'd avoided/not listened/ignored God's call on my life for so many years, he was training me all along.* I keep saying I want to be the best I can be. The way things are going this year, I think that's God's plan too.

* Still trying to work out exactly what my life-long fascination with church architecture has to do with being a minister. If everything else is a measure, that will all become apparent in time too.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Back at the Big Kirk

So, the process of picking up some ministry training stuff I haven't covered under supervision began the other day. I met with my new supervisor, who is lovely and genuinely supportive. They even do what they say they'll do. It was actually really useful to have someone to reflect on events of the last couple of weeks with. Proving what I've been saying for a while - that doing really difficult pastoral stuff or things for the first time without supervision can be harder than with.

It's funny how things turn out. I think it's important I get to worship at the Big Kirk occasionally, so the congregation gets to at least know the face, if not a bit of the personality. Then, when I pitch up at their door, they don't wonder who on earth I am. If I was at Quarry Kirk ever Sunday, that wouldn't be possible, but I get a Sunday 'off' on the third Sunday of the month. So, that's when I'll be heading to the Big Kirk. Might not be frequently enough. I might have taken on too much. Time will tell.

As this was my sanity space during placement at Caledonia Kirk, there are some of the congregation who know me. At least I'm not starting from having to work out who everyone is! Of those, and a reasonable few who I only met yesterday, I received a good bit of support and a warm welcome. Though the formality there can be a touch on the OTT side, I can live. At least here I can work out where in the service we are!

I'm looking forward to this opportunity now. Hopefully I can do this and study and support Quarry Kirk. If it all gets too much, unfortunately, Quarry Kirk will have to be let down. I don't want it to come to that, as they need a bit of TLC and consistency. Suppose it's not really my problem, but I feel a sense of responsibility to them.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A stop in Crieff

Yesterday, Spot and I were out for a hurl (in the car - it was a wee bit too windy for the bike). While wandering around Crieff, looking for somewhere for lunch, we bumped into a fellow candidate and his wife.

In conversation, Shaun asked were I was last month. I was a bit puzzled, I didn't know of anything I should have been at that we would have met at. He was referring to the first probationers' conference. He seemed quite surprised I wasn't on probation and still have a year of my BD to do. Of the candidates in our training group, quite a few won't be starting probation till next year, so I do wonder why me? Not going to over analyse this, except to say I'm looking at it in a positive light.

(In other news, it did sort of confirm my rational why I would be extremely unlikely to take up the 'minister discount rate' for Crieff Hydro. If I want to get away from it all, I want to do so - going where all the ministers and their spouses goes would not be 'getting away from it all' for me. Ministers being ministers, shop would be talked about too much.)

Thursday, 14 November 2013

I am who I am

It's funny how a couple of conversations with different people, in different contexts, but with the same general subject in mind - namely my ministry training journey - has begun my change of heart. As you may have noticed, I have been writing less frequently and that which I have been writing is very dark and inward looking. Over the last couple of weeks, I've had some really challenging stuff to deal with and, if I never had to do it again, it really would be too soon.

But, in those conversations, both people reassured me I can do ministry. That I do have the gifts - pastoral, practical, preaching, reflecting etc - to be a good minister. Both of these people I respect a lot (which is not something I say lightly). While I know this from my own journey, from being with those I have served and how those I have served seem to take me to their hearts, in many ways all the personal reflection in the world counts for nothing if others do not see it the same way. So, their words and support have been extremely reassuring to me.

Ever since enquiry, all ministry candidates are told to be who they are. Those people who are supporting and encouraging me right now tell me that too. Sometimes the process makes me wonder if the Kirk really does want candidate to be themselves, but that's just the cynic in me. All I know God loves me and has called me because of who I am. So, I go on in the comfort of knowing others know that too. And I look at all that's happened since September, good and bad, as opportunities for growth and a chance to gain valuable experience. God's looking after me all the time.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Outside looking in

I was talking to a friend the other day. I was telling her about the additional pastoral, as well as preaching stuff I am doing this year. Though she's a life-long member of the Kirk, all she knows about ministry training is that which I have told her.

I must admit still being a bit annoyed at having to do pastoral work, but accept that I have little experience under supervision. There are things I did over the summer where it may have been easier with a supervisor in place, to have someone to check things, ask questions of and get support from, not least the funeral service I led.

But, as I told my friend this, she said "it's all good experience." And she's right. I keep saying I want to get as much experience as I can. Yes, I seem to have rather a large number of balls to juggle at the moment. But isn't that part of ministry proper? At any point, I can say I've too much academic work to do and the pastoral stuff will ease off. I think I need this, as part of a restoration of my confidence in my ability to minister.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

We will remeber them

Today (I feel I am stating the obvious here) was Remembrance Sunday. When churches up and down the country remember past conflicts - especially the World Wars.

Even during the late eighties, where fewer and fewer people were taking part in remembrance - through attending services or wearing poppies - I always felt it was important to remember. I am a firm believer that when we forget our past and the mistakes which lead to conflict, we are likely to repeat those mistakes.

The line of remembering and commemorating is a fine one. There is the danger it will become triumphalist or self-congratulatory. Or, former enemies will continue to be vilified. Yet with so many people lost, in so many conflicts all over the world, we need to remember. But not just to remember, but to work for peace. Peace between neighbours, in communities and beyond.

That was broadly my theme this morning, as Quarry Kirk remembered today. We also remembered the regiments, made up of work-mates, school friends, neighbours, fighting the the trenches. Not necessarily fighting for country or for a higher ideal, but fighting for the guy to the left and the right of them. They were fighting for their mates and their mothers and wives and girlfriends back home. Wherever home might be.

It was a difficult service for me to lead. I have never fought in battle. I have not lost a parent or a husband or a child to war. I have no close relatives who have served in the military. The big conflicts of the last century seem so far away for me, yet for some in the congregation there is still a sense of loss and tangibility. I do sometimes wonder how people would look at someone who is too young to know and trust them to lead me in the act of remembrance. Today, that was not an issue.

It went well and came together. After, a few members of the congregation commented it was a lovely service. Another gave me a hug, as she sensed it was a tough service for me to do. She was right. This is one of those services where the right tone is necessary. I hope I did.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

God holds me up

It's a strange thing, but at every placement I have asked, where possible, to gain experience of difficult pastoral situations. Until the last week or so, a really difficult situation hadn't presented itself.

I was almost concerned I did not have difficult pastoral experience. Yes, I have gone into people's homes, but they were specifically selected and, though not just a 'nice wee chat', they were fairly straightforward. When at Highland Cathedral last year (which I keep forgetting I did a reasonable amount of pastoral work at), the list of people to visit was vetted by my supervisor. After, he get me to tell him about the people - an effective way to see if I'd listened. Though he never explicitly said he asked those I'd visited for their opinion on my visit, I would be surprised if that wasn't the case. (But, I digress, as I need to remind myself of this).

I know different people will have different ideas about what they may constitute, and maybe I've have had, if not difficult, some less than straightforward situations and did not realise it. Somehow, I knew I would get hit with a really difficult pastoral situation pretty early on. And now, it has come to pass.

In this situation, I am one of the people who is hurting. I am emotionally involved in the situation, as it affected very close friends. And tomorrow I must stand in front of them and minister to them. Later, I will talk and support them in ways I never dreamt and never, ever wanted to.

This is my call. Even to minister to those close to me. To express sorrow and pain and darkness and anger in their behalves. To offer hope and faith where they struggle to have any. To be with them and, I hope and pray - perhaps harder than I have ever hoped and prayer - that through my words and actions they will see God loves and cares for them. That in this most dark of time God is carrying them.

And I know I could not do this without the training I have been given. In the knowledge God's got my back and he holds me up to.

Saturday, 2 November 2013


Just when life is swimming along not very nicely, I am confronted with something else to deal with. As they say, it doesn't rain, but it pours.

I can honestly say this is one of the toughest things I've had to deal with (and, believe me, I've dealt with some tough stuff). Having been in contact with colleagues, they have offered words of advice and encouragement, which I know I need at the moment. They also have said they don't envy me having to do this (I know I'd be the same if I was on the 'other side').

But, it has sort of put my own feelings and anxieties and concerns into prospective. BIG STYLE.