Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ministry - finally, acceptance

Sunday was the first time, since beginning probation, that I've been leading worship where The Boss wasn't around - either sitting up front or in the pews. Had to be when it was readings and carols, so most of my role was making sure things went smoothly, which wasn't that onerous in this congregation.

Though sharing the service with members of the congregation (who were reading the lessons) and the parish assistant, I was very much seen by the congregation as being 'in charge' (oh, if only they knew...) and being 'the minister' in The Boss' absence. And for once, maybe really for the first time, that didn't daunt or terrify me at all. I seem to have 'finally' got, in a deep and real way that I am a minister (let's not get too pedantic about not technically being one until ordained, I'm looking inwards towards my calling and outwards towards how others perceive me).

This feeling, this sense of acceptance in a 'new' way is really hard to explain and I wonder if I am alone in the feeling that somehow, all along, I was going to be 'found out'? I doubt it, but few would want to admit it (or maybe even realise it wasn't truly there).

I do know having a mirror put up to me, by my support group and supervisor, combined with the total immersion in the life and work of Airside for 6 months has allowed this part of my formation (oh, I do hate using that phrase!) take place. I know an unwillingness to fully embrace who I am was out of fear I would lose who I am, if that makes sense at all? God calls me to be a minister, so gifts me with the skills and talents to be a minister, therefore I become a minister, I am a minister, in following and responding to that call. (Ooo, this is a bit deep, isn't it?).

I don't think this process will be complete, ever. Though a minister, I still want to be Mrs G - I am Mrs G and the 2 are inseparable, but there will be times where people will only see 'the minister', no matter what I do. And with that comes certain expectations, some right, some wrong. Sorting out which are which, and which is right for my calling will be an interesting challenge. And sometimes busting people's ideas of what a minister is like is no bad thing. God called someone like me, after all.

In a slightly bizarre twist, I find I am trying to be a better, more circumspect, more listening, more reflective, more compassionate person as I try to live up (or grow up?) to where God is leading me. I suppose it's a bit like getting fit for cycling. A couple of miles is hard graft when you've not cycled for years, with the need to get off the bike and push for any hill. With perseverance and determination, cycling trips become longer and easier, the hills taken with pleasure, rather than pain. All because there was the willingness to keep trying, to keep going, and to enjoy the hurl down the other side of the hill, with minimal effort (or nailing it in the hope I'll get up to 40mph - yes, this has happened!).

I can't believe how far I've travelled these last 6 months (or is it 6 years?). It's been fun, challenging, difficult at times, but mainly fun. That's how I know this is my calling, because I believe everyone has one and, the way we know is that we enjoy it, deeply and fully, even in the hard and difficult times, because it is what the deepest parts of our souls' know is the right thing for us to be doing. Ministry is it for me.

Next week, I have my interim review. I pray it goes well and God is with those present (especially me!). Then bring on 2015 and all the excitement and risks and challenges it will bring.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Just get on with it

On Sunday, I woke up with a throat so sore, it felt as though I had swallowed a packet of razor blades. Thankfully, I still had a voice (especially once lubricated with about half a gallon of tea) and, due to the nativity play being staged during worship, I wasn't speaking that much.

By the time I went to bed on Sunday, I knew a cold was brewing (I know, not unusual at this time of year, but bear with me, there's a point, honest!). Monday was a morning of a bit of prep for the coming couple of weeks. I had planned on fitting in a couple of pastoral visits, but decided it wouldn't be that pastorally sensitive taking my virus out to those who are vulnerable (oh, they were okay, until Mrs Gerbil visited, now they have pneumonia). By lunchtime, I could feel I was getting a bit worse for wear, as I was putting extra layers on. I don't feel the cold. This was not a good sign.

But I had to head out in the afternoon. I was leading the Advent study and, with The Boss being unavailable, it was up to me. It did go well, but I could have done without it.

Then, yesterday, there was the funeral I was taking. Okay, had push come to shove, I could have contacted the pastoral assistant attached to Airside, to see if they could step in, but didn't want to do that. Firstly, due to distance, I hadn't actually met the lead mourners before the event, only been in contact via phone and email. At least I knew the voice, but that was it. But more importantly, I had a pastoral responsibility to conduct the funeral - to those I had met, to those I had spoken to and to the funeral director.

Fortunately, I managed to carry out my duties. I don't think the mourners or my fellow professionals realised I wasn't well, which is good, as I would hate to think they were more concerned about me than being given the opportunity to mourn their loved one. It's amazing what a packet of cough sweets and 2 aspirins before a service can do!!!

But today, I'm missing a couple of school assemblies. Yes, I've a lot better, but don't think it would be a good start to children's (or teachers') holidays them getting my cold. It would have been nice to go and support the nativities, but certainly not a priority.

Which gets into the territory of what is a priority? And, me being very much aware in a parish, 'on my own', I may well just have to get on with stuff, irrespective of how I am feeling (within reason, I know there may be times where that isn't an option). But where's the line (and is there a line?) and what is and isn't a priority. I suspect that will change and evolve as I go on. It's also highlighted, for me, the necessity of having some people within a congregation who could step up to take a funeral or lead worship. And, of course, maintaining good relationships with neighbouring colleagues, as they may have to be called upon to step in, if necessary (and they are available).

So, felling rotten? Might just have to get on with it.

Monday, 8 December 2014

I am the sort of person who becomes a minister

The road to ministry has been a long one, for me. It was back in 2008 I (finally) attended an enquirers' conference (now known as a vocations' conference). But my call to ministry, or the seeds of that call, were first sown when I was in my early teens. So, if I start the journey there, it is over 25 years - well, you don't want to rush these things, do you???

When I was getting to that stage in life (17 years old), when I was trying to figure out what I should be doing with my life, the call began to be a plant, rather than just seeds. I prayed; I thought long and hard about it. Looking back, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had accepted my call then, but I also look at the things (good and bad) I have experienced and see how much I have already been able to use in my ministry.

Being someone who had a strong church connection, and a school friend whose Dad was a minister, I decided to confide in my friend and their Dad. Their reaction - my friend laughed and her Dad told me "People like you don't become ministers." Being somewhat naive and respecting that man's opinion (at that time), I realised I was wrong about my calling.

Now, you may be wondering why that minister said what he did. I didn't challenge it back then, but I suspect it was because I was brought up by a single parent; wasn't "righteous"; I came from one of the less attractive areas of my home town; hadn't become a member of the church by that stage (that come when I was 21, when I was right for me, rather than the 'natural progression at 15/16 from Sunday School.); am a bit of an introvert, and basically am not your 'normal' ministry fodder. Okay, this is all speculation, but it did mean I ignored and fought my call more than I may otherwise have, all due to one person's comment.

But here I am. With 2 degrees (still wondering how that happened), more than 5 months through probation in my journey to become a minister. Actually, no, I am a minister. I may not be an ordained minister, but I am a minister. I believe it, Airside Kirk congregation relate to me as their assistant minister and God calls me as a minister.

So, perhaps people like me don't (usually or normally) become ministers, but God doesn't look at what's normal or usual. He often calls the unlikely and the outsider. And I, in many ways, am one. But he still calls. And I am glad I now am a minister, even if it took me a while and I am not the most likely candidate.

It looks like my school friend's Dad was wrong. I am the sort of person who becomes a minister.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

100% Mrs Gerbil

Airside Kirk really is the best placement I have been on. The others were, in their own ways, places where I learnt and grew. In some cases, it is only with the benefit of hindsight (and a bit of distance) that I can now see how they have moulded, challenged and encouraged me. But, for each one before now, I was going where I didn't want to go (well, Highland Cathedral may be an exception, but I was only there for a short period of time, compared to Airside).

I was persuaded to go to Eagleside, but had somewhere else in mind. And Caledonia Kirk - I deliberately chose because it was so different from any church I have experienced - in worship and leadership style and theologically. The bottom line with those two placements, in particular, is I never fitted in. And that was inevitable, but a strain too. I never really could be who I am and, I suppose, that meant I never truly embraced that I am called to be a minister. Yes, I knew I had been accepted to train, I was training, but maybe I wasn't fully there. Partly, I have had the feeling I am going to be 'found out' at any point and the powers that be will realise they've made a terrible mistake.

But, over 5 months at Airside, I have truly accepted where I am heading. I am getting used to being looked to for as a source of advice, teaching, listening ear, etc etc. I am accepting when I stand at the front of the congregation, they want to listen to me (yes, I know, to me).

This 'transformation' is partly due to being immersed in congregational and parish life, being on this 15 month full-time journey. It is partly due to a great congregation, who I have fitted in so well with. Mainly, though, it is working with a brilliant supervisor who, in the way she is as a minister, has given me the permission to be the minister I am called to be. And I am so aware just how lucky I am to be serving my probation under her guidance.

I know I have commented, in the past, that I have tried to emulate Laura, but I don't anymore, as I am who I am. I cannot be someone else. A few years ago, in this post, I talked of my first minister and how I would want to be a portion of the minister he is. The other day, a respected and senior minister in the Kirk told me if I became half the minister Laura is, I would do very well. But now I don't want to be 50% her or 10% him. I am called to be 100% Mrs Gerbil. Nothing more, nothing less. That is who God calls me to be and that is how I should follow.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Teaching and growing

A couple of months ago, I wrote on my feelings on people thinking I was near the beginning, rather than the end of my probation. Bottom line, it terrified me.

I talked this over with a couple of wise friends and with The Boss. All pointed out I should be enjoying it, rather than beating myself up, or trying to 'find the flaws'. And they were right. I have noticed, by focusing on the positives the things I needed to improve on have done so actually quite naturally. It also means I am more and more comfortable, not only in what I am saying and doing (and being) as I learn and grow at Airside, but I am really beginning to accept the congregation there are looking to me to teach them, to listen to them, to (a certain extent) lead them.

It hadn't really occurred to me that the 'expectation' placed on me, the congregation wanting to listen to what I am saying, wanting to seek me out to listen to them, wanting me 'just' to be there was something I wasn't that comfortable with. Every Sunday (though not only on a Sunday) I had been looking out, seeing all those faces looking at me and not really 'got' that they wanted to listen. (Does this make sense?).

Yet, that's part of what I am called to do. Lead worship, preach the good news, teach the congregation. After the conversations about the pressure I felt of 'being too good' and realising how much I have been taken to the hearts of Airside congregation, I realise I need to be who I am and accept (really accept) the calling placed on me. And accept, despite some highly educated people (much more educated than I am) in the congregation, including retired ministers, when 'up front' it is me they are wanting to hear (well, actually, I really hope they hear God's word, working through me, but that's probably a post for another time).

Which means I am much more comfortable in more than scratching the surface in preaching, much more comfortable in trying things out (last week, I included pictures in the sermon, which really worked) and making a fool of myself if necessary. The people gathered have come to worship and hear the word of God preached. When I step up to do that, they want to listen to what I have to say. It's a great privilege and honour to be called to do this, to be allowed to do this too.

The good thing is, despite my concerns (or was that fears?), I am still improving. A member of the congregation mentioned that my confidence has really improved, but I wasn't un-confident to begin with - we knew what she meant, but it's hard to explain. I do hope that confidence doesn't turn to cockiness, as then I would fall on my face.

The whole teaching thing is a little ironic, as I originally 'planned' to become a chemistry teacher. Many people once told me I would make a good teacher, but I never did fulfil that ambition. Yet, there I am, 5 months into probation, being a teacher of sorts. It hadn't really occurred to be until last week, when a member of the congregation (who is a retired teacher) told me "It is the sign of a good teacher that they allow their pupils to think and work out things for themselves. You do that, Mrs G." Wow. Looks like my ambition to teach was a calling too, I hadn't realised it till now.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

5 months in

I'm really settling into my role at Airside Kirk and the congregation are definitely getting comfortable with me, which just makes everything so good. There's not really a whole lot of other ways to put it.

The other week, I was leading the children's address and put a silly hat on. I knew someone in the congregation (or The Boss) would comment, and they did. Without being fazed or pausing for breath, I thanked them (not in a sarcastic way, I hasten to add) and carried on. A few people after the service commented on how great that was to see and The Boss was well impressed, as it showed just how much the congregation have accepted me as their assistant minister.

And, I am much more comfortable in the 'role.' That's not about doubting the call, but it's different as I am on many levels being a minister, rather than 'just' a student on placement. I am taking the lead on things, being sought out for advice or for a listening ear and it's great.

It's not without its challenges, but what job isn't. Most of those I can't really post about at the moment, but they aren't anything I can't learn and grow in and through. Of course, it does help that I have a totally brilliant supervisor. For me, both at this stage in my training and who I am as a person, Laura is just perfect. I respect her enormously and love her to bits. She's tough on me when she needs to be, but it doesn't actually feel tough, if that makes sense, because I know she wants the best of me.

I am just so blessed to be on probation where I am. Yes, it's not just the minister which makes it a fabby place to be, but as I am working so closely with her, it is just a bonus which I thank God for.

5 months in and I can see I have grown in confidence, experience and understanding of where God is leading me. And I absolutely love it. I love the people, I love the variety and I love that God has invited me to be a minister. Where I will land up (this time next year - argh!!!!!) I don't know, but I do know this is exactly where I need to right now, at this stage in my journey of faith.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Ministerial clothes

It's a funny thing, the ministerial wardrobe. So far, all the supervisors I have had have not worn robes. For a couple, it's been smart or semi-smart for most during the week stuff, but a collar for Sunday worship, funerals etc. For another, just ordinary clothes all the time (like, jeans and a top). One was smart shirt and trousers all the time, with a gown worn on request for funerals and baptisms.

Then, I when working during the week have smart jacket and trousers with smart-enough blouses. For Sunday worship and funerals, it's suit with (almost) tailored shirts. I must look smart in those as people who've known me comment on how well I scrub up (well, give half a chance I would wear jeans and a top 99% of the time). The reason for the smarter clothes, especially during the week, is I could be visiting schools or the recently bereaved, where I am there in a professional capacity. While I know 'clothes do not make the (wo)man' I wouldn't feel right not being 'properly' dressed. I also think it gives a little reassurance to those I visit who have not met me in church, as I 'look' more the part. As I look at it, I would expect a police officer or nurse or funeral director to be appropriately dressed when they are being professional, so why shouldn't the minister.

But (oh, you just knew that was coming, didn't you?) I am increasingly wondering if there's a need for me to wear a collar when I get to the point of ordination? I'm not going to undergo a major change in who I am when that happens. Also, in the main, I have not been treated as 'less' of a minister because I don't have a clerical shirt nor am a probationer, thought that may be the context I am currently working (actually, the congregations I served up north last summer saw me as a minister then too).

That said, there a a few factors in Airside parish which help. There's a parish assistant, who people know and love, who is not a minister, so can't wear a collar. And, one of the local ministers, from another denomination, who shares school work with The Boss does not wear a collar. So, again, context is something.

And, especially when visiting care homes, where people may suffer from dementia (and, I will point out, here, that I know that isn't necessarily the case) if it were more pastorally sensitive for me to wear a collar than not, I would (yes, even now, when it's theoretically a 'no'). The same could be said for hospital visits, not only for getting into wards outwith visiting time, but being identified by those I visit.

Yet, taking all that into account, I am becoming less and less inclined towards the idea of wearing a collar as the norm for worship when out in the big bad world. There's practical reasons. I hate things too close to my neck, so would need to wear a shirt a size larger, which wouldn't look smart. Ladies clerical shirts are pants (and rarely come in anything other than poly-cotton - believe me, this is not a good idea for me!). And, they are expensive. Maybe I'll get a decent shirt and get Spot to convert it to a clerical shirt for me...

And, as for cassock and gown and hood and scarf - oh, and preaching tabs, mustn't forget them - do ministers who wear them not get really hot with all that on? I can see the advantage with a cassock, as I could be wearing anything under it. And, knowing what I'm like, I'd land up looking less smart, as a hood or scarf would not sit 'right' and that would annoy me. Of course, I know ministers who wear all this, and in their contexts and because of who they are, it is absolutely right that they wear all the stuff. I'm just increasingly convinced that#s not me and if I were to wear it all, I would be being a bit of a fraud.

Of course, should I land up in a church which is freezing cold, all this could go out the window, as I realise I could do with the layering...

Monday, 17 November 2014

Remembrance 2014 reflection

Oh, what with one thing and another, I am realising both time and situations mean there's less and less I can (or an willing to) share in a public forum, no matter how anonomysed the content may be. So, apologies in advance for the intermitancy of postings.

But, what's been going on? Well, Remembrance Sunday went really well. Yes, I was nervous, mainly due to the nature of the service rather than the increased numbers present. Finding the balance which leans towards commenoration, without celebration, triumpalism or nationalism is hard to trend, especially with the knowledge there were former and current service personel in the congregation. But, with proper preparation, I got that balance right.

Everything went really smoothly, especially the public act of memorial. That says a lot of those who, not only attended, but organised the order of the laying the wreaths, music, etc. All I had to do was say the right words and trust the other things would come together - and they did.

And the church service was pretty cohesive. I think that was the best service I have lead, thus far, at Airside, so it's good to feel I am improving and learning. The only 'glitch' was the point after the final hymn when people, not familiar with church services began to sit. When everything had gone well, thought - "don't do this to me" - but a voice in the back of my head reminded me to ask the congregation to remain standing. A minor glitch, but a lesson learned from it was to ask people to remain standing after the final hymn, in such services, in future.

Since the service feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, both on the day and throughout the week. Even The Boss was pleased. And I don't mean that in a she's really pedantic and niggly way, but it's her job to point out where I could improve etc. The only thing she asked about was my use of the pulpit, but that was more to see if I'd thought that through, rather than to critique.

So, I'm pleased I had the courage to ask to lead this service while I had someone to 'hold my hand.' Much of what I may encounter in any parish was covered and I have learned I can do this well.

But with all that in mind, I am also mindful of the additional time in prayer and preparation I needed for the service. And, though I am gaining confidence and experience, I am all to mindful that is only possible through my continuing reliance on God to lead and challenge and grow me into the minister I can and need to be.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday 2014

As part of probation, it is strongly encouraged by Ministries Council (or so I believe) that we lead the majority of the Remembrance Sunday act of worship, if possible. Though I have lead a service before (last year), I wanted the opportunity to do it under supervision at Airside.

I've volunteered to do it as most of the elements which might come up in a parish are there. The act of remembrance at the town war memorial; local dignitories laying wreaths; various youth organisations in attendance; a respected RAF vetern in the congregation; etc, etc. Leading in its entirety the act of remembrance and taking the lead on the church service immediately after while there is someone to stand along side and support me is exactly what I need.

So, would I say I am a little concerned about the idea of leading this on Sunday. No, I'm totally wetting myself (using the polite term). This is one of the times of year where people come to church that otherwise would not darken its doors, but the other really big hitter - Christmas - has a really positive message. I'm not saying a Remembrance Sunday service can't have that, but there's the extra pressure of commenoration, without celebration and without belittling the work of those who will be there who have been and currently are in the armed services.

Then, there's working out how to express the theology, without it going over the heads of the gathered, who don't come to church as a matter of course (I am reluctant to say regularly, because if they come annually for this service, that is regaularly!). Again, guidance from The Boss has firmed that up a bit. I think that is a confidence thing, of being 'prepared' to preach the good news, rather than give a history lecture (which it so easily could be, as it's maybe easier to state facts than describe how to work towards peace).

I'm feeling a little more comfortable with what I have to say on Sunday, knowing it comes together and has a reasonable balance. I also know I will be supported throughout by The Boss and my support group. I'm even getting The Boss to do a bit of the service, so it we're sharing it. (There is something a bit weird about 'telling' your boss what to do, or is that just me?).

The bottom line, for me, is I am praying God will use this service to take the good news to those gathered.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Rev Dr Nikki

Back in 2008, I began this blog and, as happens, people began to read it and comment on what I had to say. Especially through enquiry (as was - now it's called discernment), I found the support and encouragement of those who had 'gone before' me exceptionally useful. I know that part of the process can be very isolating, as we really think about our callings, our faith, our lives etc, etc. Knowing that what I was thinking and feeling wasn't unusual let me know I was not alone.

Among those who supported me, since almost the beginning, is Nikki, who I met in person at one of those 'candidate socials' before uni begins. In the 4 years since then, she has been a fount of wisdom and support. I hope I have been able to reciprocate. It's my privilege to call her friend.

(When 4 probationers are together at 1 table, at the social after wards, this is not necessarily a good thing. I think most of the laughter came for our table! Not helped by someone saying 'oh, there's another one bites the bust...')

So, I was delighted to attend Nikki's ordination on Wednesday. It was a great night, where Nikki became Rev Dr Nikki. She'll be a brilliant minister.

You're great Nikki. Really, you are.

PS You must take time off. We will get on to you about this. Really, we will.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Initmate situations

Fundamentally, I am actually quite a shy, introverted person. I don't especially like large gatherings of people - especially groups of people I don't know. And I am pretty much allergic to anything at all which places me at the centre of attention, in any shape or form. Yes, and I am training for ministry...

So, what do I get myself into these days? I stand at the front of a congregation most weeks, trying to 'proclaim the gospel'; I turn up at church social events; I go into schools and care homes; etc, etc. I know, I am (I really, really hope) pointing to God in all I do, but with the best will in the world, it's me they are seeing 'up front'.

But, especially when leading worship in church, there are places I can 'hide', be it behind the communion table or in the pulpit. It's just a little bit, but something. Other times, there is no 'hiding place.'

Leading small groups I find very intimidating. There's the proximity of everyone, so less 'room' for those nervous ticks which are normally hidden from view. I can, so to speak, see the white of their eyes, really see how the group are interacting with me, and one another.

I especially find this hard when leading bible study (which, admittedly, I've barely done much of). As the person with theological training, I am expected to have all the answers (to one extent or another). And, though it's genuinely great to learn what those there thoughts are on the passage, I have struggled to work out exactly when to 'fill the silence'. That fine line of allowing people the chance to add thoughts, ideas, questions, without letting it go in too long (but then, I am really quite comfortable with silence, so they don't seem that drawn out to me!).

But, you know what they say, practise makes perfect. And, boy that's what I need, not only for leading bible studies, but for being 'the minister' in these more intimate of situations. Strangely, one-to-one or one-to-two pastoral situations don't have this effect.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Not feeling guilty

It's been a quiet week this past week. The Boss has been in holiday (following my week off - could look like we've been avoiding each other!) and, with it being the school holidays, some of the activities in the church and parish haven't been on.

As a consequence, though I have, when I list it, done a reasonable amount (hospital and pastoral visits; attend a couple of funerals; go to a fund raising concert; Presbytery committee meeting; prepare Sunday worship; coffee morning etc), I haven't been too pressed for time, I haven't bust a gut to 'prove' I am busy. And I don't feel guilty about it at all.

As The Boss has pointed out, until Boxing Day, things are going to be very busy. So, when I have the chance to take it a little easier (and it's not just because Laura wasn't around), I have. I know I like to be busy, but also need time, now and again. It's a balance, and one which isn't always easy to get right (or even achieve). But I know it's one I need to strike, so I don't burn out once I am a real minister.

I suppose it's easy to feel I (or, indeed, any minister) need to fill my diary to 'justify' myself. To prove I am serving God, the church and the parish. But, if I work 60, 70+ hours a week, week in week out, I will get tired, ineffective and no longer be able to serve.

I know there are times when that level of workload will have to be done, but it's not sustainable, not for me anyway. I need time to spend with those who are important to me. I need time to spend with God, and if I don't do that, I get spiritually, emotionally and physically tired. Then, what use am I to those I am called to serve?

So, a 'quiet' week, but I am not going to feel guilty about it. God knows, I needed it.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Defer, without deferring

There are many things (most) ministers defer responsibility to others to carry out. Be it teaching children (by having Sunday School, or whatever we're calling it this week), maintaining the congregational roll or managing church bookings. One way or another, these (and other things) are the responsibility of the minister.

Yes, there is a difference between responsibility and actually having to make sure it's done. While I was at uni, I was exempt from Council Tax, so full responsibility for that fell on Spot's shoulders. But, 6-7 times out of 10, it would likely be me making sure it got paid. (Okay, so not a church example, but work with me here).

I wonder, though, what happens when people who have taken on that responsibility don't do it as 'expected.' Perhaps music is offered for an event, not used, but that which is used doesn't tie in with the theme of the even. Or, the teaching of the children doesn't fit with their age group or stage in their faith journey or with the 'ethos' of the church.

I suppose, what I am getting it is how to defer responsibility, getting others in the congregation to use their gifts and skills )and lets face it, they may well be much better placed to do some things,  than the minister, for a whole load of reasons) while encouraging and supporting them, but 'correcting' (I know, not really the right word, but I hope you know what I mean!) if necessary.

There's the obvious - preaching. Maybe the right word at the right time. And, picking the 'battles' or working out what matters and what's less 'important'. Oh, all these sort of questions that I just wish were straightforward and black and white. Like most of ministry, so much shades of grey!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The blank sheet of paper

I don't really like blank sheets of paper (which they aren't anymore, because I type onto a screen, but the phrase remains.) Some hook, some word, some phrase to guide, cajole, encourage, challenge even is great. I can work with that. I can play with that. But a blank sheet, I struggle with.

Though it's only the beginning of October, I need to write an article for Airside church magazine - the Christmas edition. I've been given that blank sheet. Naturally, there's an expectation Christmas or Advent forms part of the underlying blankness - with the knowledge this is the edition which goes to the whole parish, not just the congregation. So, no pulling and adapting last year's message for Quarry Kirk.

So, I have had a think. That's about it. And, due to deadlines, I have to have this in by the weekend. Perhaps a bit of procrastination will help. (Oh, that's what I am currently doing!).

Monday, 6 October 2014

A Good Conference

Over the time I have been training for ministry, I have been to a few conferences. Firstly, there was enquires conference (vocations conference, as it is now known), then assessment conference and 4 candidates' conferences. Over the weekend, I was at yet another conference, this time the first of 4 for probationers over the coming 9 months.

I remember the relief of knowing I was not 'alone', in my fears, doubts, feelings of not being the 'right' sort of person etc, etc. While there, among others, I met one person who is now also on probation and, told me over the weekend, that she had absolutely no doubt in her mind from the first time she met me that I was called to me a minister. Knowing the journey she has been on to get where she is made that all the more humbling.

Assessment conference I, bizarrely, quite enjoyed. Yes, it was pressurised. Yes, I was 'on' for the weekend. But, there I had a sense all of us there were in the same boat as it wasn't about numbers, but about callings. And, we were all at the same stage, with the 'same' pressures.

But come my first candidates' conference, I didn't get on too well. Due to deferring, there was no one in 'my' year group I knew. No one I had met before at the same stage as I was. In retrospect, I felt overwhelmed, isolated, inadequate and completely out-of-my-depth. Everyone else appeared sorted and comfortable, even those in my year group (though I know know that was definitely not the case!).

So, at that conference I hid as much as I could. I went for walks on my own. I went to my room as soon as sessions finished. I barely spoke and, when I did, as little as I could.

Things got better at the following conferences, as I became more comfortable in my own skin and more aware that the fears and doubts and being out of my depth everyone else was feeling too (well, almost everyone, but there's always someone who seems to be totally sorted). When new people 'arrived' I saw it as my 'role' to look for those who were struggling and (hopefully) give them some reassurance and encouragement.

But I still didn't really 'settle' at them. I suppose it's a mixture of reasons, but perhaps that feeling of inadequacy lingered. Or, my first conference 'clouded' my vision for future ones.

Now, though, that feeling seems to have passed. I enjoyed the weekend. I enjoyed catching up with people, some of whom I haven't seen since August last year. I enjoyed meeting people 'new' to the group - those transferring from other ministries or other churches, or those who have been out of the 'system' for a few years. I enjoyed the support and encouragement we gave each other. The reassurance that what I am being stretched or questioned or probed on others have. With the reassurance we are all in this together.

I think this acceptance and enjoyment of this conference is part of my journey to ministry. Part of my acceptance that God has, and continues to, call me and my colleagues. Part of my journey of accepting that the person who told me in my teens that people like me don't become ministers was wrong. Part of that acceptance is where I am serving probation. Part of that acceptance is the journey I've been on these 6 years.

Funny how others 'saw' that before I did. Funny how others 'accepted' that before I did. Funny how this journey works out. Funny how I just know, deep within me, I am in the right place at the right time for me, for the church, for God's calling on my life. That, I think is why this conference was good.

Friday, 26 September 2014

What will I be like next year?

At the beginning of the month, the National Guild convener, vice-convener and international delegates were worshipping at Airside. Laura and I shared worship, which had a World church theme.

The service was very well received by the guests, the congregation and my support group. There was a lot of effort had gone into it, which had paid dividends. (I was even complemented for doing my talk without notes...).

But that was a few weeks ago, and probation (and life) is moving along. The other day, I was at an event where the National Guild vice-convener was also present. We got chatting and she was still waxing lyrical (where does that phrase come from?) about the service. In the conversation, she asked where I was heading once I finished probation. My reply was, no idea, as it's almost a year till I finish. She was totally taken aback by that - thinking I was at the end, not the beginning of my probation. Her reaction? "If that's what you're like at the beginning of probation, what are you going to be like in a year's time?."

A couple of people I've mentioned this to have been impressed and pleased for me, and I know it is a huge compliment. Yet, it actually scares me. Have I peaked too soon? Can I maintain this 'level'? How do I continue to improve and not flatline? Etc, etc, etc.

I know I've always said I want to be the best minister I can be, but God, I just want to be an ordinary minister. Why am I getting the feeling that isn't your plan for me?

Keeping up with Soaps and football?

Over the last couple of weeks, it has been suggested to me that it is a good idea for ministers to keep up with the soaps and have an idea what's going on with football. The argument being, it shows we are engaging with what people see as interesting, important (sorry, struggling to express this) in their social lives.

I do get the logic. For many, football is almost like a religion. And the soaps can mirror what's going on in the 'real' world. Corrie, I heard, is going to have a gay vicar, so there is a bit of social commentary going on there too.

But, just because I don't watch these programs (ah, the great advantage of not owning a telly), doesn't mean I can't listen and engage with people when they talk about them. The same goes for football - if a person I am with wants to talk about football, I'll listen and they can actually teach me. (Actually, from previous experience, as long as I have a willingness to listen, people have been happy to try to 'teach me/mock me' for my lack of understanding of the 'beautiful game.') I'm never going to be an expert, but neither am I going to be an expert in particle physics, yet I would listen and engage with someone who wanted to talk about that.

I suppose, watching the soaps and football is so counter to who I am. It's well known I don't have a clue about football (besides, rugby players have better legs!). So, for me to suddenly seem to take an interest would come across as insincere or forced. The same goes for the soaps (though, I have occasionally listened to The Archers). Occasionally looking in wouldn't, I think, give me any more knowledge than I currently have. I would, if trying to engage with people on that topic make ill-informed comments and judgements, due to lack of knowledge, and they would soon pick up that I really didn't have a clue. If someone was doing that with something I am passionate about, I'd find it a wee bit wearing and, potentially, quite patronising.

At the end of the day, I have to be sincere to who I am. I don't do football nor watch telly. If I try to look like I know, I might just come across as, at best, an idiot (no change there) or, at worst, the educated person who really doesn't have a clue. Basically, I think I would come across as totally insincere and that would, in my opinion, lead to a breakdown in trust in the relationship I was trying to forge. Surely, it is more about a willingness to listen, engage and understand, in a open, non-judgemental way, which is important, rather than knowing everything about everything in 'average' Joe Public's social/recreational life?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Getting in a Fankle

I wouldn't in a million years say I was a great preacher, but thought, for this stage in my training, I wasn't that bad. Feedback in varying contexts has been positive. Yes, there have been things to improve, not nothing drastic.

Yet, somehow this isn't the case at Airside. And it's not that I am being unfairly criticised, but some are generally not coming together as well as they could, or are a little jumbled, or I go off script and loose my place. This isn't something which has happened elsewhere, so what's changed. Why am I, quite frankly, getting in a fankle?

Strange as it seems, I think I am trying too hard to impress. Or, I am trying to be too clever for my own good. When I do talks (which aren't children's addresses - more sermonettes), I seem to get the pitch right. So what's different about a 'real' sermon?

I think part of the problem is I am (once again) trying to meet a standard/style I can't. Partly, that isn't who I am. Mainly, though, I neither have the experience of Laura nor am I she. I am me (and I know this is so obvious, but I need to actually say this, because I need the reminder). So, I need to find my way, my style, my way of opening God's word to the people at Airside.

Looking back at the first time I preached at Airside, the feedback was positive. Tweaks needed made, but nothing bad (perhaps a mention of a parable, a deeper explanation of a point, a less oblique reference to a passage). In my determination to improve, I fear I have lost sight of the good things in what I did and can do, and focused on the things which need improved. In focusing on the negatives I have actually dug a deeper and deeper hole for myself.

I suppose this is all part of the learning process and, just to be clear, this isn't as negative as this post may project. I am actually a wee bit disappointed in myself, as I can do so much better. As I've said before, I need to chill a wee bit and get what I know I can do well right, then the negatives won't seem so daunting after all.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Turning up without him indoors

Last month, I wrote about the importance, as I see it, of 'just turning up.' Not for showing face, but being supportive of events, people, building relationships.

But there's a (or a few?) double-edged sword to this. Firstly, I don't want to get into a situation where it's expected I turn up. Yes, there are things in church which I have to be part of, but I am thinking of the more social things. I don't want to be expected to be at every cat and dog fight. But, I suppose if I usually turn up to most things, people will understand when I don't go to other things (or am I being naive? Perhaps people will wonder why I turned up at even A, organised by person X, but not at event B, organised by person Y...)

Then, there's the expectation on the family. There are people who have seemed somewhat confused Spot hasn't been at ever Sunday service with me (though, by now, most of them know the reason why). I do know some do wonder why he doesn't come to other things with me. Well, for a start, why should he? After all, this is my work place. I have to be 'on', but it's unfair to expect him to have to be 'on' too, for what should be something social. I am lucky this is not the prevailing attitude at Airside, though it's there.

This is an advantage with Spot also training for ministry. We have the genuine excuse there are times where the other is busy. At no point do either of us want to do the dutiful husband/wife thing which is expected of us. But, I sometimes wonder if, but one or other of us not turning up at our respective other's congregation, people get the impression we are not supportive of the other's training. The irony that by us turning up to be supportive, the other is not seen to be supportive. Sigh, sometimes it is a case of cannae win, so stick to what we know is right for us, and our callings.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Thinking better before I speak

One of the many things I am realising I need to learn is the 'right' way of self-censoring what I say. I say 'right', as what I can and can't say varies for many reasons. Not least, because I am now the porbationer minister in Airside parish, not just a member of a congregation, not just the part-time placement student, but more than that. I suppose, to those outside the church, I am a minister, as they will not understand the difference (and, where I am leading funerals or undertaking other parish work, they don't want to think they are getting 'second best', by way of the 'trainee' doing it).

For some, I am a professional, being asked to carry out a professional service on their behalf. That may be in conducting funerals, or visiting schools or the like. As a professional (and I am looking at my role to those on the 'outside'), there are expectations on my conduct, my words and my actions. The bottom line is, can they trust me to say and do the right thing when it matters.

But, on the flip hand, God has called me to be a minister because of who I am. I firmly believe that while he wants me to become the minister he has called me to be, he does so by working with, not against my personality. That's not to say there are no rough edges which he wants to tackle, and that is part of the self-reflection, growth and maturity process too.

The bottom line is finding the 'right' balance. Being human and approchible, while being trusted with important things in the life of the parish.

Being Mrs G and being 'the minister.' Being true to who I am and being true to God and the path he calls me on.

It's not black and white, but shades of grey. I am more and more concious of where the line is in different circumstances, though I also know I will sometimes get it wrong. I pray when I do get it wrong, those who have heard will have the courage to 'correct' me and the grace to forgive, as I learn to think better before I speak.

Monday, 15 September 2014

New experiences

Yesterday brought with it a new experience, but one which I think even The Boss was surprised was new to me. I sat on the 'serving' side of the communion table as it was served. Not being an elder, nor having been involved in communion in any of my placements (except by way of sitting with the congregation), I had never had the opportunity to be involved. It's a strange experience seeing it from 'the other side' and one I will need to get 'used to.'

Apart from communion, which Laura administer, I led the rest of the service. Again, linking the sermon to communion was a new thing for me, as the way things have worked out thus far, I had never preached when communion was being served before. Generally, I think the sermon and prayers I led went well, but perhaps should stick more to my notes. Going off script seems to lead to unforeseen issues, as I loose track of where I am and panic when I realise I have no idea where in my script I am.

The children's address didn't come together as well as I would have liked. It may have been a disconnect between me and the congregation, as I talked to the children (who aren't that chatty). I also thought I had what I was going to say sussed, but realised as I got little reaction that I perhaps hadn't thought it through as well as I thought I had. After the service, someone did ask why I came off the 'stage' (their word), as that means the congregation can't see me as well. Yesterday, with extra things around for communion and the praise band, had I stayed on the 'stage', I would have been a fair bit away from the children, with lots of stuff between us too.

In 'opposition' to my normal custom and practise, I also didn't use the pulpit. This was not down to any 'big' reason, of linking word and sacrament through preaching the sermon from the communion table. No, it was down to having really painful knees and struggling to stand and sit. The short walk and few stairs up to the pulpit could not have been done with any sort of gravitas or dignity yesterday.

Not much comment was really made after the service, except regarding the children's address. One person, who I didn't recognise, did say I was finding my feet (yes, they are at the end of my legs!). I will take that as a complement, though I really realise just how much I still have to learn. Argh!!!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Supportive support group

I can't remember I've mentioned this, but on probation we are to have congregational support groups. These are people drawn from the congregation, who offer support (funnily enough) to the probationer. But, because they aren't ministers, they 'look' for different things to the supervisors. Which is great. And, I am also finding, they are a group who I can ask questions of and feel supported by any time, not just when we are having our 'formal' (that is a misnomer) meetings.

We've met twice as a whole group. They are really great, all wanting the best from me and cover a reasonable diversity of the congregation. Again, great. But they think I am brilliant. In our first meeting, there were some 'negatives' (which were more questions than anything). In our second, it was all a bit too positive. (Yes, what does it say about my mindset that too much positivity feels wrong?).

There is one person in the group who, while all their comments where very positive and encouraging at our last meeting, seems to have got it right in terms of telling me what I need to hear. She was the person who asked questions the first time and in our second meeting talked about more than just the latest service. It's not to say the others aren't good, but she seems to have really got it.

The 'trouble' is, it's all very positive. I know I shouldn't be complaining, but I am all too aware I learn from my mistakes (oh, and how well educated should I be?), rather than always getting things right. Again, perhaps I am being harsh on myself and must remember my support group are doing exactly that - supporting me. They know I am 'new' to all this, and are taking that into account. I just hope and pray I can live up to their expectations of me, when I am a minister. Mostly, I don't want to let God down, but suspect he won't let that happen.

Friday, 5 September 2014

I am who am

A while ago, someone said to me "you don't realise the impact you have on others." Me being me, wasn't sure that was intended in a positive way. It was a statement within a particular context, where I was struggling with something and how I am in relation to others was part of that 'struggle.'

But now, I wonder if it was intended as a compliment. Most people I have encountered at Airside (and previous placements) have commented how I seem to just get on with people - be able to listen and engage with most folks (there will always be those we all just 'can't', but that's life). Both in my time up north and in a week or 2 of being at Airside, I felt I had fitted right in. Again, others commented (and complemented me) on that.

Then via Spot and other contacts, heard of people in previous placements and fellow candidates wondering how I was doing. I even had people from one group I have left say they will miss my take on our discussions.

So, am I underestimating myself? Am I harking back to past criticism from one individual and holding back from being who I really am, as called by God, as made and loved by God?

Yet, I realise I have to be careful with this. Being who I am, who I truly am is not about putting on a front to hide behind, but being willing to be open and vulnerable so God's love can (I pray) shine in and through my engagement with others. Putting on a facade, they will see me, not God's love. But to be fully me opens me up to vulnerability, to pain, to rejection. Potentially. Or, it opens me up to joy and laughter and hope and peace and love.

So I pray I am who I am (oh, better be careful with that expression), created in the image of God and a follower of Christ. Called to minister in his name. Called to follow where he leads. Lets hope my engagement with people is right in and through that calling.

Friday, 29 August 2014

I need to chill a wee bit

Am I being too hard on myself? When I reflect on what I've done, I know what has gone well, but pick holes on what hasn't (which I have done). I want to learn; I want to improve. But, I wonder, do I get hung up on the 'negatives' that I focus on them and the 'positives' slip, or I loose sight of what I am good at.

My last post, I spoke of having my ministerial voice pointed out to me. Yes, much of this is down to nerves and, if I am being honest, a bit of lack of confidence in myself. This despite having lead worship on my 'own' for almost a year before beginning probation. But, during that time, I was not being assessed. I've never been at my best when I know I'm being assessed and, while I know I need (and want) it, can't quite get over the mindset which puts up this 'barrier' within, leading to less confidence in what I know I can do well. (And, if this makes sense in anyone else's head, I will be impressed).

The comments I get from the congregation, both from my support group and in general, are good - very good, in fact. They aren't just polishing my ego, that's for sure, but even the 'negatives' are more things to tweak or think about, rather than 'proper' negatives. (Sigh, this is really not making sense, is it?)

I also know part of my problem, in this regard, is Laura is such a gifted preacher, I am quite in awe of her ability and, in a way, wish I could emulate it. But I am not Laura, and certainly do not have 20 years of experience under my belt.

And that is, perhaps my problem. I am comparing myself to someone with so much more experience than I have, rather than comparing myself to others in my position. It's easier said than done to do the latter, as it's not very easy getting to hear my probationer peers lead worship.

I need to remember there are many things I am good at, not focus too much on the negatives and remember I have only 5 minutes experience. I can improve with more experience, and that will come. Basically, I just need to chill a wee bit, don't I?

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Speak normal, not ministerially

I have a good clear voice, good diction. I can be heard. But boy, when I've heard myself on recordings so far at Airside, I am just bordering on a wee bit too slow and clear. Please don't tell me I am developing a 'ministers' voice. PLEASE.

Okay, so this is probably down to nerves. I have, after all, only preached at Airside 3 times thus far. But I do the same with prayers too. Yet only within the context of leading public worship.

When I am asked to pray at meetings, it's 'normal' Mrs G. But then, I don't need to fill a room. (Yes, I know, that's what PA systems are for - suppose I'm still getting used to Airside's one being very good).

The other difference is when I am asked to pray at meetings, I have to 'make it up as I go along, so to speak. I have no notes, nothing I have to be reading, nothing to 'inhibit' me. Don't know if that is the case, but might be a factor.

I know I need full written out prayers and script for leading worship. When I go off piste I can repeat myself a little, which I know I have sorted in the written form (especially when it comes to preaching).

Of course, it could be is down to nerves. Nerves that everyone is now looking at me. Nerves that I am being assessed (I know this will always happen, but not in the same way as now). Nerves at speaking God's word to those gathered. Nerves at making a hash of it....etc etc.

I wonder why so worked up. I've been at Airside for almost 2 months now. I have fitted in disturbingly well, so much so that, in some ways, it feels like I've been there for years. The congregation and Laura are fantastic (in general) and exceptionally supportive of me. Really, I should be seeing myself as among friends, so why can't I speak 'normal'?

Hopefully, this will get better in time, but I am wondering how I get over this, without losing the 'edge' of the wee bit of nerves because what I am doing is important.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Just turning up

I seem to be thinking, talking or writing about the 'ministry of presence' at the moment (or, as I like to say, nine tenths of ministry is just turning up - I'm not really one for the 'formal' names for things). I suppose, for me, I've always seen it as important not just to talk about supporting things which go on in a church and its parish; not just important to read and digest the reports - though both of these can and are useful. But actually turning up, engaging with people, taking time to talk to them, to get to know them, to show you are interested.

On a couple of placements, congregation members were surprised when I sat with them for coffee after the service or just turned up at an event. They weren't used to the minister doing that.

While up north last year, I would turn up and support community events, as I thought that was part of what I should be doing in 'my' parish. I know people in both the congregations and communities appreciated it, but were initially surprised. They'd never had a minister who'd done that before.

And I know Airside Kirk is now used to the minister turning up at stuff, but were surprised when she did that at first. There last couple of ministers didn't come, even when they were church-run, rather than community events.

I wonder why there have been and are ministers who don't 'turn up'. Is there a perception that we should only be there if we have a job to do? Such as a talk, a prayer, an MC. But something.

Yet, I would argue just (and I use that word with care) turning up can be harder than having something to do. As I discovered, it can take people by surprise, as they wonder why you're there and panic because 'the menister' is here. It involves so much that's actually (for me, at least) quite hard to put into words.

I know how much I appreciated The Boss visiting Spot when he was in hospital. Though I wasn't there at the time, it made me know she cared, not just about her church congregation, not just about her future probationer minister, but about the families and friends of the above. In many ways, even before my trip to Malawi, I learnt more about Laura with her just turning up.

From the just turning up I've done so far, it seems this is something those I've ministered to appreciate. It may be because it shows them the church cares for them; it could be (and it embarrassed me to say this) because of the way I am able to engage with people; or it could be, in just turning up I am following Jesus lead and going not with my presence, but the presence of Christ.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Okay, but don't sing rounds

Taking the first part of the service (i.e up to the second hymn) is a bit odd. Though I had not decided on all but one of the hymns, readings or focus for the service, I was (as I saw it) setting the 'tone' for what would come.

My welcome and intimations were better structured than last week. So, I am improving and willing to learn. Not sure they were perfect, as I realised I didn't emphasise the presence of a member of the congregation being at the National Youth Assembly. It wasn't one The Boss had picked up on either, but I do think I should have mentioned it.

Did 'forget' a call to worship, in terms of a formalised 'statement', but did call the worship to begin with hymn. Thing is, I got that bit right last week. Perhaps too much focus on one 'error', lead to 'errors' creeping in elsewhere (though I am also being pretty harsh on myself).

The prayer was good and well structured, though as I lead the opening prayer, what I'd written and what I said changed a little, as I realised I used certain phrased too often. Suppose that's an advantage of no one seeing my notes except me!

Children's address. Well, the tube of toothpaste did get emptied. The idea was once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it's really hard to put back in. What we say and do as Christians is a bit like that. So, it did link with 'theme' of service and flow reasonably well (and include a prop, which my support group think is useful).

Though I started with talking to the children (all 3 of them), they are very quiet and listen, but don't actively engage during the service. So, the focus shifted to the congregation (though, who is the children's address really for - discuss!). I know these children are listening, as things they've said to me and Laura attest.

Made the mistake of giving the person who offered to try to get the toothpaste back into the tube scissors to cut the end off the tube. It would have been much harder without. But was that a 'big' deal? Bottom line is, it was okay.

(After the service a few people did say they would have put the toothpaste into a tub so I could use the toothpaste. The toothpaste which several people had had their fingers in. I'm sure their hands were clean, but with the best will in the world, there's no danger I was going to put that in my mouth!!!)

The second hymn. Well, I know it and have been in a congregation where it was sung as a round, but that congregation knew it. It was new to Airside, but suggested it could be sung as a round. I was a little hesitant, as previous experience there of singing rounds had not gone well - and that was with a very familiar hymn. Basically, the round, from where I was sitting, didn't work. I got lost, and I know the hymn. As I looked across the congregation, I could see others wonder where on earth we were. So, lesson, keep it simple when introducing a new hymn - and definitely don't sing new hymns as rounds. Actually, given the track record, maybe don't sing rounds at all. (And, will need to see if it can be included in worship soonish, so the congregation learn it).

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Where to pray the Lord's Prayer?

Where should be Lord's prayer be in a service? Does it need to go in every week? Should the minister lead it or pray with the congregation?

These are questions in my head - and have been for a while. The first, because (and I only discovered this last week) it 'normally' is included with the thanksgiving and intercession prayer, which comes after the sermon. I 'usually' include it in approach and confession, which comes after the first hymn.

I haven't had a chance to discuss this at supervision yet, but the question(s) arose on the back of my support group meeting and one of the AV guys asking where I would have it (as they put the words on the screen and there had been a bit of a panic the week before - oops!).

Personally, I prefer it in a prayer when the children are present. Yes, this is the summer, so the children are in for the whole service, but in a couple of weeks time that'll all change, as they head off for 'age specific' church following the children's address and hymn. If it's usually prayed after they have left, they may rarely, if ever hear it. I know some would say they won't understand, but (1) why wouldn't they? (2) do the adults really understand? and (3) how can you learn what you don't know?

And, in the Kirk 'tradition' (I use this word advisedly) there aren't prayers with are said together as a congregation and/or responses as the weekly norm. Inclusion of the Lord's prayer near the beginning allows the whole congregation to pray together. Children and adults (and lets not forget the adults who will go out to lead the children, who will miss this too). And the minister, if they pray with the congregation.

That's how I do it. Start off the Lord's prayer, then drop my voice to pray with rather than lead the congregation in prayer. With decent AV and words on the screen, I feel there is less need for the minister to lead the prayers. I like being part of the worshipping community and praying with them, even though I am up the front and still, to a degree, leading them in prayer. This was picked up on by my support group, but they were happy when I explained. A couple of people even said that's their preference - that the minister prays with the congregation.

But, does it need to be included as the default every week? Will people learn to say the words by rote but that's as far as it goes? Would being inconsistent in using it make people think about it more, or would it muddy the waters, as people get confused about when it is or isn't being used? I know I would rather include it every week, in the same way intimations, collection and benediction are included every week (among others). A regular pattern (oh, that'll be liturgy) can help people worship 'easier', as they think about what's being said or done, rather than what's coming next. It's also useful for those with either learning difficulties or dementia, as the familiar pattern is lodged in the long-term memory, so they too can worship together. Jumping around too much just confuses everyone, especially the most vulnerable in congregations, IMHO.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Oh Boy

Boy, oh boy. First whole service since Easter and first in the 'new' place. Confidence and authority. Well, project that at least, 'cause need the congregation not to worry/panic for me and allow them to worship.

The service did come together, though my own self-crit would be that my welcome wasn't very well structured, the recurring theme was a little over used and I got a little lost in the middle of the sermon. The latter of those, was a combination of having a 9am Sunday morning realisation that some things in the news would fit really well with the message. I suppose the bonus was I did use it, but in hindsight (which is always 20:20) it would have worked better as an opening to the sermon. (So, God, it would be really nice if you could give me a bit more than half an hour heads-up - I am only learning!).

The good thing is (well, I see this as good), that the things The Boss picked up on were pretty much the same. So, they're making a reflective practitioner out of me, it seems!

I know I am being hard on myself, but I know I can and should do better. Yet, Laura sees these as tweaks to my presentation - and much of this will come with experience she has reassured me. Maybe they are, but the welcome I so could have not blown.

The interesting thing is, as I am learning, what Laura and I pick up on and what matters to the congregation can be very different. After the service (actually, when I was at the door) I had that sudden realisation that I hadn't specifically welcomed any visitors, even though I knew there were some. I mentioned this to someone from my support group, who told me my way with people and personality would make them feel welcome, even if I didn't do so specifically. She's maybe right, but I wonder what the visitors would have thought?

Talking of my support group. Well, before the beginning of July, I didn't know these existed for probationers. Yes, it's one more meeting, but it strikes me as a really good idea at this stage, because the congregation has a different take on what I'll do to The Boss. That I am seeing, but this isn't a bad thing, but it helps have the different prospectives from this group - who seem to be exactly the right people for, not only this task, but for me too!

The initial meeting was a little odd, as I knew some of the group, but not all. And they really are  taking seriously their role to support me. Which is lovely. I think they see this group as a feedback group, but also as a way to support me - maybe bounce ideas off them (she says hopefully!).

Their take on the last few weeks was interesting. I have integrated into the church so well, it's almost like I've been there for years, rather than 4 weeks. At meetings I attended so far I didn't sit as a passive observer, but have contributed good ideas and support to them. They like the pauses in my prayers between 'sections', as they allow 'thinking space.' In the whole service, they liked the recurring theme in the prayers, children's talk, hymns and sermon - it all linked together. One person said they not only really liked the structure and content of my prayers, but that the wording was inclusive and sounded like we were talking to a friend, which the others agreed with (wow - given my reluctance to write my own prayers, this was good to hear, but hugely humbling as I know it is not in  my own strength I write them.)

They were paying attention to what I have been doing and weren't just being nice. Someone mentioned they didn't know the first two hymns - which others agreed with. From what I can gather, they had been used at Airside before, but maybe not often. It wasn't seen as a major problem, as they did also say that the words linked with the service and they picked them up. The 'lesson' for me is how to establish how well known hymns are to any congregation - which I don't think is very straightforward.

I was also asked about the Lord's prayer, which I got a wee bit wrong the other Sunday. I did explain it - along with my thoughts on praying with the congregation at that point - and it was fine, but at least they are commenting on these things, asking the questions.

It was suggested I use a prop for children's talks, but that for Sunday's one, it wasn't needed. Fair enough, as I know the visual can make it easier for wee ones especially to process.

And that was about it. The 'bad' welcome, the slight lack of flow in the sermon, the 'over egging' the theme were not seen that way through their eyes. Just shows how important this group can be. Will be interesting to see how things develop, as we learn from each other.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

(Re)discovering new gifts from God

For a long time, I have not thought I was very good at writing prayers. When on my first period of enquiry, I struggled to write them as I didn't really know what I was doing. On my second period, I was given a bit of guidance, but they didn't always meet the standards of that supervisor. Consequently, I lost much of the confidence I may have once had in writing them from scratch.

This hasn't really been a problem, we all have our gifts, and creating new, well crafted prayers from scratch just didn't seem to be among mine. Besides, there are plenty of varying prayer resources available in printed and online sources, so it has never really been a problem. It's not that I don't tweak the prayers I find or use them for inspiration, then mould them for the purpose - I do, but there's (99 times out of a 100) that framework there already.

I did get a little more confident in my ability to 'just' pray while at Caledonia Kirk, as there written prayers were frowned upon. But I still didn't feel comfortable with that (but who says ministry is supposed to be comfortable?).

And then I started at Airside Kirk. The first Sunday back from Malawi was a service which centred around that relationship. There were no prayers I could find which sat even remotely well with the theme. Then the same happened last Sunday. We were off lectionary again, and it was a baptism, so prayers had to think along the that periscope. I had no choice, I had to create completely new prayers, which fitted with the context and the occasion.

And I sweated over each and every one of them, because I don't think I was good enough at writing prayers and was frightened they wouldn't be good enough. But, it seems I can write prayers. Prayers which have disturbingly fitted into the service. On Sunday past, the Session Clerk and The Boss not only though my prayers were 'amazing', but the former thought we'd sat down together and worked on the service at the same time - they just linked so well with what each of us had to say. (I suppose, with the holy spirit guiding, we shouldn't be surprised, but we are).

So, I have, after 3 years of ministry training, along with enquiry and pulpit supply and work experience, only just discovered a gift I never knew I had. The lesson? Well, there's probably many, but I think I'll go for take the risk occasionally to try something I don't think I can do. It may be I still can't, but at least I've tried and, you never know, I may even discover a great new gift I didn't know I had.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sermon feedback and prayer reflection

Proper feedback on last week's sermon was really useful. There were points I took to the table, including hot cross buns and crumpets not necessarily being explained well and me speaking very slowly and clearly (to the point where, when I listened to bits of my sermon online I was surprised how slow I sounded).

Bottom line was, it was very good. Speed can be increased a bit, but better to be a bit slow than people not hearing me. Need to make sure I refer to both the readings more than just obliquely (which I'd realised too). As I get to know the congregation I'll get to know what they need to hear and what they know and what their concerns are. Which is all fair enough and nothing I didn't expect or see myself (phew!).

Talk of the sermon has gone on beyond the congregation which was gathered last week. It being the holidays, there were some people away (I know, what is the world coming to?). At least 3 different people mentioned they'd heard I'd preached a very good sermon and were sorry they'd missed it. I know I'm maybe setting my standards high, but it's humbling to think I have such a supportive and loving congregation for probation.

But, just to show that not only can I make mistakes, I am a reflective practitioner, what about today? I was on the prayers, which I had to actually write, rather than research (the downside with being somewhere that it not a slave to the lectionary - which is no bad thing). They did tie in with the rest of the service, despite Laura and I not really discussing their contents. I knew what the readings were and that there was a baptism, so shaped them around that knowledge. Goodness, it's hard work writing for a living (basically, because it takes time to really craft them, but the amount of words and time it takes to deliver them does not necessarily colerate)

After the service, the session clerk wondered how much Laura and I had co-ordinated with one another. Not much (if at all). She was really impressed, as the prayers tied in so well they could have been written by the same person who constructed the rest of the service. Thanks Holy Spirit! It is reassuring that the hard work did work.

That said, I slightly messed up the Lord's prayer! Airside uses the 'modern' version and, for over a year, I've been using the 'traditional' version. Just in case I used the 'wrong' one, I even wrote the modern version into my prayer. It was all going so well until I got to the last sentence, where I reverted. Oops. I suspect few, if any (apart from the person sitting to my right) will have noticed, as I drop my voice during leading the Lord's prayer, so I am praying with the congregation, rather than leading it. Just need to be careful.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Sermon and reading

It was an intense day yesterday, with my first preaching gig at Airside in the morning and helping (in a very small way) with a prayers for peace service in the evening.

This is the first time since Easter I'd preached and the first time in well over a year I was being assessed. Yes, I may have done it before, but not here. And not to this group of people.

My custom and practise is to only go to the pulpit at the end of the hymn immediately before. I know why many who preach go while it's still being sung, but it I'd get more worked up having a 'pause' before than just getting on with it. So far, this plan has worked. Yesterday, there was a technical problem which meant the hymn looked to have finished, but it didn't. Ne'er mind. Take deep breath and shrug it off.

I really do think that, for the first time at Airside, I preached well. There was a good theme running through the sermon and, off-script, I referred to (and expanded on) something Laura had mentioned in the children's address. I even managed to get the congregation to laugh (mainly by using the word 'minging'). So, they do have a sense of honour.

Saying that, I only referred to the first reading obliquely, as between choosing the readings and preparation my focus was on the gospel reading. I could have made a wee bit more of that when I drew in the children's address.

The feedback I've had so far has been overwhelmingly positive. People specifically coming to say how they enjoyed it, to thank me for it, to say how it had given them food for thought. And The Boss mentioned she'd been told this too. Oh dear, have I set myself up for a fall? Too good too soon, or are they being very generous because it's my first time? (This reaction is because I really, really struggle with praise).

One person did mention they wondered why I'd talked of hot cross buns and crumpets, as it didn't seem to fit, and they may have drifted off. Yes, this was one negative comment over many positive, but I don't think I should just dismiss it either.

Later in the day, there was a reflective prayers for peace service, with a high proportion of ministers present (this is actually ordained ministers, not including yours truly and him indoors!). The reading I had was Matthew 5:38-48. When I began, I did so at verse 43 and realised half a verse in. Rather than start again, I carried on to the end, then added verses 38-42 at the end. Given the way Laura's reflection and prayers went, to everyone but us, it probably looked intentional, though she must have been wondering what I was doing.

Will definitely be plenty for Laura and I to discuss at my next supervision meeting, that's for sure!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Going too well?

I can't believe I am almost 4 weeks into probation already. It just seems to have flown by (and I have a hunch the following 14 months 1 week will too!). Okay, so being in Malawi for the first 10 days, then having Summer Holiday Club the following week, did make the first 3 weeks quite intense. It'll be interesting to see how (or if) some sort of pattern develops over the coming months.

Airside is a big congregation, and the church is full on a Sunday (yes, even in the summer). It's great to see, but a little intimidating for me, as the last 3 churches I've served have had no more than 40 people of a Sunday morning (and even then, I struggled to remember all their names!). Quite how I'm going to manage at Airside, I have no idea.

Anyway, I am getting to know people. I've had some people to visit - and they have all been so welcoming and hospitable (though I also know, as one let slip, that The Boss had contacted them and asked them to be nice to me when I visited - I think I'm being broken in easily). Through the visits, I am finding the connections between people in the church and community. Some even know Spot, as he grew up in the town and used to be a member of the kirk. So there's that connection too.

Before the service, Laura will wait in the lobby to see who arrives, have a wee word etc. I mentioned I wasn't sure if I like this the other day, but the explanation made a lot of sense. Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that when I was serving Railway Crossing and Last Stop last summer, before the service I would say hello to people as they arrived, welcome visitors etc. So, maybe I do prefer doing that, I just had known everyone - what was going on in their lives and in the community - but don't know. I think, on reflection (I so had to get that in), it's being the newbie, knowing I'm being 'watched' and feeling a wee bit overwhelmed at the moment, rather than not actually liking it. Will see how things go today, though have the pressure of preaching today. Sure it'll be fine - God's got my back and, so far, I seem to be doing okay.

When I received feedback from The Boss, by way of what's known as supervision, I was waiting for the 'BUT.' You know, the feedback sandwich - good, bad, good. That didn't come. My prayer, which I'd sweated over was described as 'impressive - very impressive' (it was alright, I thought), as was my presentation and the way I've carried myself. And I managed to get on with everyone in Malawi. And I fitted on so well at Holiday Club that some people thought I'd been there for years. And I chat to people with ease at coffees after the service Etc, etc. I can't help but think that's what I am supposed to be doing.

I know I shouldn't be complaining, but I'm just not used to this. Besides, I've never been very good at accepting praise (I actually find it a bit embarrassing). Still, will see what comes out of my preaching when we have our next supervision session. I can't be wonderful all the time, but don't want to be rubbish just to get critiqued.

Today, though, I need to focus on preparing to preach for the first time at Airside. The sermon's written and printed out. I hope it ties in with the rest of the service (which The Boss is leading) and speaks God's word to the congregation.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Pressure from no one but me

I always knew it would be a bit odd, going back to just doing bits of services and being formally assessed after almost a year of 'going solo.' To be honest, I am looking forward to having some feedback (good and bad) other than the usual (and well intentioned) most members of congregations make at the door.

I'd like to think I have fairly high standards to what I do and prepare - though am aware there will be times when things just don't come together as I would like. I know The Boss is very, very good at her job, especially preaching. So, I'm somewhat feeling the pressure as I prepare to preach on Sunday.

This isn't pressure from anyone else. I've been given free reign over what bible passage(s) to use. Members of the congregation have reassured me no one will expect me to be a copy of Laura - and I know they aren't just saying that to be nice. No, the pressure is that I place on myself, knowing this is a congregation which has grown since Laura arrived and I don't want to break it.

And, though I've chosen 2 readings, I'm now wondering if I should be just using the 1. Maybe this will become clearer as I discuss my ideas during supervision tomorrow - hopefully.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Days off and building jigsaws

So, yesterday was my first real day off for 3 weeks. Yes, for the first 5 days of being in Malawi, I was not on probation, lets face it, with the best will in the world I was being assessed and watched by those from Airside with whom I was travelling. And, for the 2 weeks we were out there, there was no rest for the wicked!

It being a pretty rubbish day, weather wise, Spot and I decided to head westish. I dropped a friend a text before we left, to see if they'd be up for a visit - and they were. It was great to see them - and their children. It was a joy to spend time with them, catching up on news and seeing how the wee ones are growing and developing (and how good the oldest is with his wee sister - and jigsaws for that matter).

As the wee boy was getting ready for bed, we said goodnight. He wanted us to stay over, so we could have breakfast and go to church together. Sorry dude, I work on a Sunday - I'm a minister. This is the second time I have tried to convince him this is what I do, though he seemed a little more open to the idea than the last time I (and his Mum) tried to explain this to him. So, how do I convince an under 4 year old what I do without turning up to see him in a clerical collar? As far as he's concerned, I am the person who talks about trains and Thomas and motorbikes and Peter Rabbit and helps build jigsaw puzzles with him. But, maybe that's no bad thing!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A quick reflection on the start of probation

So, the group from Airside arrived safely from Malawi on Friday morning. That was a truly AMAZING experience - one which I will be pondering and thinking and reflecting on for a long time to come. I'll post properly on some of it on the coming week (once I've sorted through the almost 700 photos!), so this is a brief (she hopes...) thought about the beginning of my probation.

It's a funny thing, I had never been told, I'd have to share a room with The Boss, but it didn't come as a surprise. Luckily, we got on like a house on fire and I'm really excited (and dead, dead chuffed) that I'll be working with Laura for 15 months. The thought never occurred to me before, but this past fortnight could have killed my probation too! But it didn't. The others in the group were totally fabby, and I feel so blessed to have been included so easily and quickly. And the experience was AMAZING (did I mention that before?).

There's much I have learned. I don't know how long it'll all take to process, but I'll reflect on it as I go. I have seen that Laura is really loved by those we travelled with. She's got a great gift to connect with people and pull brilliant stuff out-of-the-bag at extremely short notice. When it comes to worship stuff, I have to admit I am quite in awe of her - and it takes a lot for me to do that with anyone.

I was discussing this with one of the older members of the group, who agreed this is one of Laura's gifts, but reassured me I wouldn't be expected to be Laura - and I know she meant it. But, I now feel the pressure, because this is a congregation which has grown (in numbers and depth) in the time Laura has been their minister - so I feel I have a high bar to live up to, so I don't ruin what she's doing.

Which meant yesterday (I know, so much for a day off!) it took me over 2 hours to write a thanksgiving and intercession prayer. It was a combination of being out-of-practise (we're not following the lectionary today, so I can't 'research'), being nervous about being 'assessed' for the first time in well over a year and knowing how good I want to be, never mind how good others who will be leading aspects of worship at Airside today are. Spot thought it was a good prayer, though I suspect what I've written and what I will actually say may differ when I actually lead the congregation in prayer.

And, the 'no rest for the wicked' continues tomorrow with Holiday Club - bring it on!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Malawi - here we come!

Tomorrow, I begin a journey. A journey which will take me, along with a group from Airside Kirk, to a community in northern Malawi. A community with which Airside has a twinning and has helped to, along with the parish, to help build a new manse and (figners crossed it's finished) a piped water supply.

I'm heading with the group, as I will be serving my probation at Airside, which I will begin while I am out there. Really - what a way to start (though it might be downhill from then on!). It's an enormous privileged opportunity I have been given and I hope to make the most of it.

Today, I sorted out the last of the bits and pieces I need to take with me, and got my packing due. At one point, I did think I had finished packing everything, then realised the underwear I'd laid out was still on the window sill - going commando was never going to be an option! Could have been worse, I could have realised after I arrived (nice).

Did have to nick borrow Spot's ex-army bergen rucksac. I could get all I needed to take in my 70 litre rucksac, but there was no space left - which would have made bring stuff back a little problematic! I have travelled to New Zealand with my rucksac, but I didn't need wipes, toilet paper or a smart outfit (including shoes and jacket!) for Sunday worship. I genuinely did not realise how much space the smart outfit out take up.

It's a long journey (including an overnighter near Malawi's main airport it's a 48 hour trip). Hopefully I can sleep through most of it. Or read, or talk, or watch the scenery from the plane windows. But it'll all be worth it to share worship and life with the sister church to Airside Kirk. And to get to know my boss - Laura Roslin - and the rest of the group better. Due to being out there, though, it's unlikely I will be blogging till I get back. Then, I'll be on probation and who knows what may or may not happen! But I'm sure there will be plently I can reflect on during this part of my journey.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

'Fun' on a Friday

I can sleep through almost anything. It is a great gift I have and one which has been admired by varying people throughout my lifetime. So, being woken by Spot at 1:30am (yes, in the morning) was not a good sign. Firstly, things were not good, secondly, I did so with disturbing ease. This means, somewhere deep, deep in my sub-conscious I knew there was something SERIOUSLY wrong. You can read Spot's version of events here.

Suffice to say, when he headed off with the ambulance crew to the local A&E, though I went to bed I did not sleep very well. There was the combination of fear, adrenaline (which is brown) and concern that, despite having my phone and the landline handset right next to my left ear, I would sleep through the phone if it rang.

So, Friday was a bit odd. Phoned Spot's work to let them know he wouldn't be coming in. They were shocked (not as much as I was love!). He phoned and let me know which ward he was in (cardiac care!) and gave me strict instructions to carry on as normal. Given how 'normal' life is in the Gerbil household, that gave plenty of flexibility.

A haircut was booked, and there is something unnerving about waiting for a phone call at anytime while discussing first homes, the weather and the forthcoming local gala.

At some point in the morning, I had contacted Laura (my soon-to-be boss), as there was a final prep meeting for those of us heading to Malawi - I may not have made it. She was sooo supportive. Yes, she was heading into the hospital to do the rounds, but visited Spot too. I was very impressed.

When I went into see Spot, there was a trashy romance novel on the table. That was all the 'literature' which was available in CCU. We had a discussion about getting a better range of fiction for the ward at some time in the future. I think I would have struggled to read that more than he did (I had brought Game of Thrones with me for him).

The medical staff I met were lovely. Genuinely caring, informative and just, professional. I know this shouldn't come as a surprise, but this has been a hospital which has had a bit of a kicking from the local press - but you never hear the good stories.

There is something surreal about being talked through what's going on by Dr Noh - who was lovely, but I expected him to tell Spot 'no, I expect you to die, Mr Gerbil!'. Then a Peter Capaldi look-a-like also came in (that was one of those moments of 'I know you from somewhere', then the realisation of no, you just look like a famous person).

After 2.5 hours of visiting, I headed off to Airside Kirk for the stuff I needed to do there. Nothing I could do at the hospital, so might as well get on with life. It was actually a good laugh and I feel part of the group. The danger, though everyone would have so understood was I would 'remain' an outsider if I had not got there. As the law of sods would be, Spot phoned just as dinner was about to be served, but picking him up from the hospital was more of a priority.

It was good to have him home. It was one hell of a scare and did, in a very real way, highlighted just how important pastoral care for the nearest and dearest is. In some ways, it was worse - just waiting and being in a position where there was nothing which I could do. Spot was getting tests and a whole host of nurses running after him, while I waited for the phone to ring. Not a lesson I wanted to learn first hand, but certainly one I will be very much bearing in mind.

And am I still going to Malawi on Thursday? Yes. There's a whole load of reasons why I have to go, but mainly life goes on (not to say that it would probably distress Spot if he 'stopped' me going). I know we have been looked after, on many, many levels so far, so I'll trust that God will continue his care.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Strangely hurt and dejected

Many years ago, before trainee ministers began probation, they were formally licenced. This was a requirement before they began probation, as with other things, those preaching needed to be licenced by their presbytery to do so. That is no longer the case, but most presbyteries mark the movement to probation placement with some sort of 'graduate candidate' service.

Personally, this is not something I would want. I feel (and know there are those who disagree with me - we agree to disagree on this one!), in some ways, it is ministers who had licencing feeling that have to do something. If that's the case, it sort of makes it about the presbytery and not about the candidate. Also, I am almost allergic to anything which puts me at the centre of attention, where it is not necessary. Add to that the fact that, just the way things have worked out, I haven't been around in my home presbytery for most of my training (nor will be for probation), they don't really know me.

Yet, and perhaps I'm a bit of a hypocrite here, my home presbytery have not offered a graduate candidate service at all. I know they have done one in the recent past, so there is a president. I wonder if they think the presbytery I will be moving to will do this for me? Either way, I feel strangely hurt and dejected that they haven't offered. Though I still would not want one, if it's not absolutely necessary, it would be nice to be asked, then I could politely decline.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Even in the heat

This time next week, I, along with a group from Airside Kirk, will be winging our way to Malawi, to visit our twin church partner. While there, I will officially begin probation - the 'final' stage in training (I say final, because I don't think the process ends, this is just the end of the beginning).

It's a great opportunity, and one I know will live with me for many, many years to come. And, now that I'll be earning a wage (so there's actually a chance Spot and I might get a holiday!) I don't feel guilty about doing this, unlike some of the trips I could have gone on with New College.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been gathering up various bits and pieces I'll need - sun screen, anti-malarials, toothpaste, notebooks - to name a few. And my 'first world problem'? Which camera to take. With the best will in the world, I cannot change the fact I am (in world terms) very well off, but I don't want to be looking like an idiot either.

There are many things which daunt me about the trip (as exciting as it is). Will I get on with the group I am travelling with? Will I 'ding' at every airport security barrier (which will get waring)? Will I cope with the culture shock? Etc, etc. But the main thing which is concerning me (and the moment) is the heat.

The last couple of days have been lovely weather - sunny, bright and dry. I think yesterday and this afternoon may have even pushed up into the low twenties. For me, this is too (like way) too hot. And that's without the need to wear long sleeves and trousers to prevent sunburn and mosquito bites. Also, with the lack of reliable water, I can't do my soak my hat and top before wearing, to make it a bit more pleasant. I know, when I'm really hot I get grumpy. Yes, people say it's a different type of heat, and I will get you it has been very humid here, but it's still HOT.

Yet, I am looking forward to this great opportunity to experience and share with my brothers and sisters in Christ. To talk with them, to eat with them, to share faith with them. Even in the heat.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

An interesting day

This has been an interesting day, with a range of churches involved.

But it began with me cycling from Spot's placement kirk to a church in the big city's centre. The minister there was minister of the church I grew up in and, at a recent funeral, invited those of us who he met to come along anytime. As the law of the sods would have it, he was away, but the person taking the service I knew (far too small a pond this church thing is becoming!).

The welcome on the door was good - warm and friendly. And the service was good, but it being a visiting minister, how it would be on a 'normal' Sunday is hard to tell (even the organist was visiting!.

After the service, being the sort of person who needs to ensure they don't get blood in their caffeine system, and according to my custom and habit, I stayed for a cuppa. The tea was nice and there were busy tables in animated conversation, but I landed up sitting on my own. Someone did come over to talk, but had to head off to deal with treasurer stuff, so I finished my cuppa and left.

What I was struck by was how, as an outsider, yet someone who's fairly comfortable in church, I struggled there. Not with the worship, but the inclusion in fellowship. And, given the area this church is in, I was also surprised just how few people were there - it's not like it's holiday time.

But that wasn't the only church service I attended today - I also had the privilege to attend the ordination of a friend to the Scottish Episcopal church. There were three people being dome by the bishop, though a lot of robes for all concerned to wear - I felt roasting just watching. And LOADS of incense. In so many ways, I felt there was a bit of time travelling back to the pre-reformation church, but that's just me!

A couple of things really surprised me about the service. Firstly, the small number of people from New College who have studied and talked and journeyed with Shona. There's this candidates' association which is open to all training for a recognised ministry in any church who are studying at New College. One of its aims is to forge relationships of support with one another. I know some are unavailable for many reasons, but wonder if the 'lack' of support (to my eyes anyway) was due to it not being CofS?

The other thing which struck me was how un-freaked out I was not only by supporting Shona in her ordination, but seeing her in a clerical collar. It may be in the Kirk, the way ordination is done is so very different, that I didn't get that sense of 'oh poo, that'll be me soon', but I think it's also because I am much more 'okay' with it. I'll see if that's the case (God willing) later this year, when some Kirk candidates are ordained.

Definitely an interesting day.