Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Seeing things differently

I look at things differently from a lot of people. Things I see as glaringly obvious, others do not.

A recent example was when talking about church law (yes, I do lead such an exciting life). The way my brain works I want to know it well enough that I can use it well - hopefully also in the spirit as well as letter of the law.

The way I see rule books is they, metaphorically, are paperback books. They have a certain flexibility to them, but if they were thrown at a person/group/organisation the spine would be pretty hard and definitely make an impression. That particular person did wonder if I had ever thought of writing a novel, as I have a particularly different way of looking at the world and describing it.

The thing is, I don't recall not seeing the world in the way I do. It's only in the last few years (probably linked to enquiring and then training for ministry) that I have become aware how I see the world is not how many others do. Not that I see it in an especially bad way - just different.

Difference is good, though. With me coming at things from a different angel, it places a new perspective on things. So long as I describe things well and people accept this is what I do, it's all good. After all, God saw his creation as very good when he'd completed his creative work, but many people think that it's just people who he declared very good or that the world is no longer very good. Personally, I think it's God's world, so though not perfect, it's still got the potential to be very good as he created it.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Christmas 1A Call to Worship 2013

This is the time in between
the time where we pause and think
and reflect
looking back to Christmas
the presents, the food, the family
and looking beyond
towards the past year
at triumphs and failures
losses and gains
life and love

This is the in between
the time for looking forward to New Year
and what the future holds
planning and wondering
making resolutions and promises
all the while, living in the hope
it will be better than the last
and we will keep our promises

This is the time in between
where we gather
with friends and neighbours
with strangers and loved ones
in the present
in this time, in this place
to worship God
in the in between place
where heaven and earth meet
in his Son, the child
Jesus Christ

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The morning after the night before

So, Christmas, all over. Well, not yet. There's still the desert dishes to clear up, the table cloth to dry and iron, the 'good' cutlery, plates and glasses to be put away till next year.

So much goes into the preparation for this one day - even in the Gerbil household, where we genuinely avoid as much as we can - then is all cleared away and forgotten about till next year (though, I suspect, there are a lot of households where the credit cards may paid off just in time for Christmas 2014).

It's good to have a lovely meal - a home prepared special treat. I really enjoy the preparation, though like the consumption more. This year was a starter of leek and haggis stuffed mushrooms; main of venison wellingtons, with roasted parsnips, purple sprouting broccoli and potato dauphinoise and a whisky sauce; all finished off with Mum's clootie dumpling. (I was going to post a photo of the main, but it was over exposed and out of focus).

Yes, there is a little left over. Mainly clootie dumpling, but some will be given away and the rest used - it's great with custard, though can also be fried for breakfast. Everything else was eaten yesterday, mainly because no one course was too big and I buy enough - not too much, not too little, just enough.

But today, as there is a plethora of recipes with ideas what to do with leftovers, I get twitchy (and a little guilty). I wonder how many people yesterday relied on the good will of relatives to feed them Christmas dinner or hoped the food parcel they received from their local foodbank had some treats to make things a bit more special than normal. I also wonder how much food bought for yesterday (and today) will land up either untouched or barely touched, straight in the bin. That, I have always found aberrant.

In a time where people cannot afford to feed themselves, there is still and excess elsewhere. Maybe we should bring back rationing. Yes, that was to ensure everyone had enough where there were shortages caused by conflict, but shortages exist once more, though with a different cause. Either way, I do believe society has to start considering its relationship with food and food waste.

So, on that cheery note, enjoy your leftovers. Make the most of them. Even freeze some. Or give some foods which will keep to foodbanks or homeless shelters or soup kitchens, but please, please, don't throw in the bin, unless you really, really have to.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas

Okay, so Spot got there first, but there is something very powerful about this, even 45 years on.

"Merry Christmas all people on the good earth."

Monday, 23 December 2013

No TV - no bother

Yeah, how have Spot and I coped for 10+ years???

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Free Fruit - a good news story

With the amazing summer we had this year, the wild fruit crops have been great. When up north, I ate wild raspberries and cherries. On returning home, Spot and I spent a few hours picking brambles and elder berries to make wine.

I don't think I can recall a year where there's been so much fruit. And apples - 12.5 kilos from a tree in the middle of the Echline roundabout and another few kilos a couple of weeks ago on a roadside tree just outside Culross. In the case of the apples, we've made 1 gallon of wine, ate a few and prepared and frozen LOADS as stewed apples. All free. All there, on the trees or bushes, waiting to be picked.

And I see this waste. Wonder why passers by don't take some of this abundance (okay, in the case of the tree in the Echline roundabout, it may not be most people's idea of fun to cross into the centre of a busy roundabout and lowp the crash barrier, but there are loads in more sensibly accessible places). Have we, in a generation, lost the sense of where food comes from - that if it's not wrapped in plastic on a supermarket shelf there must be something wrong with it. Or do people look and see and wonder, but don't know if they can take the fruit and, even if they did take the fruit, what on earth they would do with it.

And as I study for my next exam on the Historical Jesus, especially in this season of Advent, of preparation, I think (though this is a bit of a distraction). I think and I wonder about that gift God sent into the world - his son Jesus Christ. Sent to be God with us - Emmanuel. Sent to show God's love for the world. A love which is there, ripe for the picking.

But people may see it and not know what to do with it, or how to discover more, or not really understand how simple and easy it would be just to accept it. Maybe the church has made God's love shown, like the apples on the trees I've seen, but not let people know they can have some too. Better than that, God loves them already. They don't need the church or ministers or (should I say this) the bible to receive God's love. Yes, they all help understand God, develop a relationship with him, grow to love him back, but are they really necessary to accept God's love? I don't think so, but I do think the church needs to be a bit like a sign post and recipe book.  Point to the free fruit of God's love - saying please help yourself - and offer ways to understand and use that love in their lives.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Breaking with tradition

Warning - this has nothing to do with Christmas or Advent or exams!

At New College, there's a tradition that candidates in training (for all flavours of church) can lead one of the weekly communion services in their final year of academic study. I'm not sure when this 'tradition' began, but I suspect not everyone got a shot a few years ago, as the number of candidates would have outstripped the number of communions. So, is it really traditional or the Church of Scotland sort of traditional (do it once, it's new; do it twice, it's traditional).

I've missed those regular communions a wee bit this semester, as I've not been in Edinburgh on a Thursday. Transport's expensive enough without having to travel more than necessary (so I've not missed it that much). It does mean I have missed a few of my peers leading this service.

What I find odd about asking the candidates to lead the communion service is we can't do the hand wriggles yet. So, (and I don't know the precise sketch in how this works) there needs to be a real minister there too. Which sort of defeats the purpose, in my head. Could we not just lead a service san communion? At least that would be open to those in the community who, for whatever reason, cannot take communion.

But, for me that isn't the crux of the issue. No, it's the signal to the rest of the New College community that those who are studying for the same degree as others, taking the same courses, revising for the same exams, are different from those who aren't training for ministry. I've only known of one non-candidate lead the service, but their Dad's a minister. Seems like a bit of bias.

Also, I really don't want to lead worship in front of my peers. With no where to hide (I do like being behind the communion table or in the pulpit, then you can't see just how nervous I actually am). At uni, everyone's a little bit too close, a little bit too knowledgeable. Frankly, I'd rather preach above Robert the Bruce's tomb.

Then, I know there's a bit of peer pressure about leading the service. Back at the beginning of semester I mentioned to a couple of people I didn't want to do it and they were all like, 'but you have to.' When I asked why the rational was everyone else does. Oh, that's a good excuse. Remind me not to follow you to a cliff edge! Being the sort of person who will not do something 'because,' that argument did not change my mind.

And finally, I'd like to set a precedence that it's okay to say 'no, thank you' when the invitation to lead the communion service is extended. To my mind, it seems it's grown/morphed into a privilege to be asked into an expectation that the candidates will do (not by New College, but by the collective mindset). So, this year I am breaking with tradition.

Monday, 16 December 2013

My blessing and my curse

I am one of these people who call a spade a spade. I have a directness and, to be honest, can't be bothered with false platitudes or 'pretend' enquires after my health and well being, when someone's after something. If you want advice, a loan (you'll be lucky), an answer to a question or to criticise me, please cut to the chase. It'll save us all time and effort.

This does mean, that's how I often approach so many things - head on. It can get me into trouble and, because of it, I suspect I'm a bit like Marmite (you either love me or hate me). I know there are times when biting of the tongue or waiting is needed, though I know I don't always get that right.

Yet, often in ministry tack and diplomacy is required. I know I can do that when required - I did after all help lead a youth group in the past - the tack and diplomacy was required for my fellow leaders and the parents. It's striking that balance between building up good relationships, while being honest about what's going on the the relationship and who I am.

The thing I find a bit frustrating about those who struggle with directness (not only from me) is were I to talk to fellow Fifers or many people from the other side of the country, they wouldn't necessarily see it as a problem. Does show the difference a slightly different cultural context can make. Also, as a Christian I am called to follow Jesus. Last time I looked he didn't exactly mince his words, yet that seems to be what's expected of me.

So, when I think about it, my directness is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I cut through to the core of a matter and tell it straight. A curse because that doesn't always work for all people. Suppose I just have to accept the double-edged sword nature of this gift and use it wisely, so I don't cut myself yielding it.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The case for business cards

A couple of years ago, Spot and I decided it would be a good idea for us to have business cards. It's just so much easier if someone asks for your email address or phone number to had over a card, than to spend 5 minutes looking for a pen and piece of paper.

Both our cards are pretty simple designs. Mine has a cross at one side (based on a cross in my home church), with my name, address, landline and mobile numbers and email address. On the back there's a QR code with all the info, so if someone has a QR code reader, they can just beep all the details into their phone and it's there for saving, stopping errors in transferring the details. Strange thing about that is there has only been 1 person who's straight away got what it was (though were a little too impressed!).

Now, though, I'm wondering if I should have 2 business cards - one for professional use, one for personal use. Why, you may be wondering. Well, do I really want to be giving out my mobile number to every cat and dog that needs my email address (and, possibly, my landline)? I've heard too many stories of ministers being contacted at all sorts of times on their mobiles- on their day off, in the middle of the night, on holiday - because a member of their congregation thinks it's socially acceptable to contact them anytime they like. Frankly, if a congregation wants to contact me on a mobile, they can provide one for business use for me. If not, stick to the landline and allow me to re-route the calls to my phone if I know I'm going to be away from the manse for a while, but am working and need to be contactable.

At this juncture, it's worth pointing out I do not design or print my business cards - that's Spot's job (well, why have a gerbil and squeak yourself).

I suppose a lot of this boils down to how contactable should a minister be. I have heard of a couple of congregations which pay for the minister's mobile. In one case, it's the minister's personal phone bill they pay for. In another case, it's the business phone, for want of a better phrase, so when the minister's on holiday it's passed to someone else to deal with the calls. I can see the idea of the latter - so long as those who have the number respect there are times of the might when it might be switched off. In this day and age, it does seem a bit backward that minister's phones are tied to their landlines. Maybe that's something that needs rethought.

But, getting back to whether I need 2 business cards. At the moment I am doing some pastoral work for the Big Kirk. As per the minister's custom and practise, I am putting a card through those I've attempted to visit doors, to let them know I've been. At the moment, I'm scoring out my mobile number, but it looks unprofessional (and the details are still in the QR code). I don't want my mobile number to get too well known, though I am the sort of person who would ignore it!

Whatever I do, I know I'll need to take into account that many I'll be visiting are older members of the congregation, so the cards need to be legible.

For legibility, it's all in bold arial font in black. My personal details take up a good two thirds of the card face, so they should be legible to most people I would give one too. Unfortunately, I have seen too many business cards which have text in a slightly darker shade than the background colour of the card. How legible they are to anyone with declining eyesight it debatable - with my specs I struggle.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Perceptive or stating the obvious?

Over the course of my training, I have been told I am very perceptive. In each instance, there has been something not quite right about a situation or person and I have noticed - that's all.

I didn't think in any of of these observations have been especially earth shattering. If a situation doesn't feel right I try to work out why (which I think is what reflective practise is all about). If a person isn't acting as they usually do, if I know them well enough that it won't be seen as intrusive, I ask if they are okay.

I thought part of the role of a minister would be to pick up on the signs something isn't quite right in a situation. Not necessarily to fix it (as that may not be possible or appropriate), but to support and care. Oh, it that not pastoral care?

Well, however I do this, for I know not, it seems it may be a useful gift I have. Even though in each situation where this observation of this gift of perception has been made of me I have sort of felt I am stating the obvious. Which perhaps suggest it's either not observed or mentioned often enough and could become the elephant in the room which no one mentions.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Probation search - the next stage

Back in May I began my search for where I will do probation (details of which can be found here, here and here - I actually never did get round to actually visiting number 4). Then, at the end of October had my second meeting with Ministries Council reps, where I discussed how my search had gone and where I would like to go.

The order was Airside Kirk (a clear first), Crossview Church (where I would be happy enough going), Causeway Church (a bit too posh for me and very difficult to get to) and Bridge Kirk. I gave my rational for the order. While there was a potential stumbling block for Airside, it was nothing major. We were told we'd begin to hear where we may go towards the end of November, beginning of December.

So, I didn't think about it really for about a month. Chasing up when you've already been told how long it will take is a bit rude, IMHO (though I hear some did). Then, at the end of November I had an email saying my number 2 couldn't take a probationer next year, should they approach my number 4! To be fair, when I got in touch and asked about my number 1, they realised their mistake and apologised. Maybe it was just as well my number 2 (sorry, sounds a bit too much like I am about to go to the toilet) couldn't take me, as that could have been awkward!

I must admit the news did get to me a wee bit. These things happen, but along side everything else that's going on - but onwards and upwards.

Must to my relief, I received an email for 121 the other day. My number 1 is happy to meet with me to discuss the possibility of me serving my probation at Airside Kirk. Due to our varying commitments, it won't be till after Christmas, but even on the phone I thought "I could work with this person." Things are starting to look positive. Yes, there are no guarantees at this stage - we may meet and decide that there's no way on this earth we can work together - but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Nelson Mandela

"But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

It was a long walk to freedom, but his journey changed history.

Rest in peace Madiba.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Changing my mind about MTN

In my first year of training, I really didn't see the point of Ministries Training Network (or MTN, as we refer to it). Though it is intended to build up relationships, in a supportive framework, I didn't find that was the case. There was a variety of reasons for that, which I won't go into here, though a facilitator who didn't was not helpful.

Then, last year, I was moved to another group. As the idea is to build up supportive relationships, I wondered how that could happen if people were moved around groups. I understood the reason for the decision, but it added to my sense of MTN being something to be endured, rather than useful.

This year is the second year the group have been together. At our last meeting I really felt we were doing what MTN was supposed to do - support and encourage each other. There's a deepening of relationship going on and, I think, we are able to be quite open with one another.

Though I have said in other places I don't see the point of MTN, perhaps this year will change my mind. I just hope in my probationary year the group retains its stability.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

My Christmas message for Quarry Kirk

I was asked to submit something for Quarry Kirk's Christmas magazine. Initially, I was a bit hesitant, but thought it would be good practise. Funny, it actually sounds pretty meaningful, even if I say so myself - and no 'I don't like Christmas' rants...

"It's the time of year when our thoughts start to turn towards the end of the year. Yet, though less than a month to go, the New Year seems so far away. There is so much to be done, but will there be the time (or inclination) to be prepared for the coming year?

Of course, there's Christmas to prepare for. For many years my Mum worked in a Crossreach care home, so worked Christmas on a fairly regular basis. Consequently, my family's Christmas celebrations would often be placed on hold till Boxing Day or later in the week. But even in our busyness and at the time when families get together, those in our communities who need care still need that to continue, no matter the time of year. So, I ask you to remember those in care and those who work tirelessly to care for them.

Christmas, for many can be a lonely time too. For some, this may be the first Christmas since a loved one died. Or family live away and it's not possible to travel to see them. Sometimes, even the little routines people rely on – meals on wheels, carers coming into their home, going for the newspaper – stops. For most of us, the break from routine is welcome. It changes our prospective and allows a chance to recharge the batteries. Please, though, save a thought for those who need and rely on their routine.

But in amongst looking out for the lonely, the carers and the cared for, as a Christian community we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ into the world. God trusted a joiner and his wife with the responsibility of looking after his son. They were ordinary people, just like you and me. Ordinary people called upon to do something extraordinary. Look after God's son as their own.

Just like Mary and Joseph, we are called to look after God's son. For we do so whenever we feed the hungry, give a drink to someone who is thirsty or visit those imprisoned. We can do these all through the year, knowing whose we are and who we serve. At this time of year, it can sometimes mean more to the lonely. It shows they are not alone and they are loved by God.

So, as we head for the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, think about how you can give hope or love or peace or joy to someone in this community who needs it.

Every blessing"
Mrs G

Monday, 2 December 2013

An odd, exciting, path

I've now been 'locuming' at Quarry Kirk since the beginning of September. The way things have worked out, due to other commitments and at least one Sunday a month 'off', I've now lead worship there about 9 times. Yet, though I've been there for a while, things didn't seem right and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

I suspect - actually, know - that the repercussions of my annual review meeting were affecting my ministry. I had lost confidence in my ability (and, I suppose, wondered why I was bothering doing extra stuff). A few things have happened over the last couple of weeks, especially, to help get my mojo back. People who don't really know me (and haven't seen me lead worship or do ministry stuff) saying I'm very talented; another person telling my husband "your wife is lovely"; getting good marks in course work for uni, to name a few.

But, at Quarry Kirk things just didn't feel right. I do 'do' things a bit differently, yet not. It's hard to explain, you'd have to come to a service to see what I'm like, but I'd describe it as informal formal, with conversation. It's just how I am and I keep being told I have to be who I am (though I sometimes wonder if 121 really mean that). It's perhaps taken Quarry Kirk a while to get used to me. Initially I thought that strange, as Railway Crossing and First Stop churches twigged to (and liked) me within a couple of Sundays. Then it occurred to me they were more used to different people leading worship than Quarry Kirk were - the latter had had a reader attached, which provided consistency.

Looking back, and being very honest, I haven't been myself. I've been overcritical and/or wondering why I bother. Somehow, with the positive things I've been hearing, yesterday that was back more. And people seemed to respond to it. There seemed to be more engagement with what I was doing. A couple of people, who don't usually say anything on the door, said how much they enjoyed worship. So, looks like I might be regaining my mojo. So long as it helps point people to God and not to me, it's all good.

To add to me sense of being rebuilt, I was talking to a friend last night. We met at assessment conference and, though we can go months without seeing each other, have always got on like we've known each other for years. Though a year ahead of me, many of the things I had been questioning myself about (most notably, being very direct) was something she identified herself as being. It was actually a great boost to know there's someone in probation who does that and is loved and appreciated for her ministry, as I hope I will be.

So, onwards and upwards. Exams loom, though there's only 2 and they are well spread out. There are a lot of things I'm doing at the moment, but they all seem to be coming together as great experience and a rich blessing for me. Just shows, the path may be an odd one God seems to be leading me down, but it's there and it's exciting. I just need to trust and follow (and smile and laugh and wonder and be amazed). Amen to that.