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.


  1. When I was doing my undergrad degree...and I think even the Masters, this wasn't really the practice. The service would be conducted [both the word and sac] by an invited minister type. Pragmatically, some of these folks preached rather a little too long even though told that folk still had to get lunch immediately after and get to lectures...Occasionally visiting ministers didn't turn up - last minute cancellations or stuck in traffic, etc. I suspect it began to be a little bit of a logistics matter. Looking closer to 'home', somewhere, someone thought it might be nice to involve the ministry students - give them some practical experience and invite a minister [either their supervisor or 'home' minister].

    Gonna pick you up on something [go on, you knew I would :D]
    this: '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.'
    You just answered your own 'crux'... there *is* a difference and it ain't about being anything special or shiny or fab... pragmatically, the difference is that we are training to be ministers, various other students are not. It would be odd for the school *not* to think of asking those training to lead worship to assist at worship...
    And, on this, the min students as such are an easily identifiable group - there's a separate email list for matters that are only pertinent to us. Given this latter, it's more straightforward to identify folk who might be willing to conduct worship. So, perhaps the question might be - how to identify folk who are not ministry students, who might like a shot? Maybe something as simple as a sign up sheet?
    Again, I think it's more about pragmatism - there's a visible pool of folk who have had some experience of being up front to call on - I don't suspect it's about going 'oooh aren't they special'. :)

    1. Yes, I knew you'd comment on that, so I wasn't disappointed. I just rail against anything which makes us as candidates and ministers special or different. Always have and always will.

      Do agree with you about it's nice to be asked and the pragmatism element, but are the ministry candidates the only people with that experience?

      [BTW I see you are still in thesis mode - no short comments ;-)]

  2. I agree with you Mrs G, and with Nik's response. I also think others could (perhaps should) be invited to lead services at NC - a small gathering is a great place to learn how. Also, services could usefully omit communion on a regular basis for the sake of ecumenism. All IMHO, obviously :)


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