Friday, 28 March 2014

Should I talk about Mothers this Sunday?

Sunday is Mothering Sunday, as if we could have missed it with all the cards, balloons, cakes and other lovely offerings total tat which have been in the shops since not long after Christmas. This, combined with being brought up to totally disapprove of what Mothering Sunday has morphed into (we should, after all, show our love to our Mums or those who have mothered us all year round, not just in the middle of Lent) does not make me have the warm fuzzy feeling I probably (maybe, perhaps) should have. At the end of the day, worship should be able God not about me or my opinions. And, it's not fair on the children to slag off Mothering Sunday to them.

So, what to do? Should I explain the origins, but talk about how we've all been mothered - not everyone has a good relationship with their mother for a variety of reasons. Or, should I 'pretend' it's not Mothering Sunday and just focus on the reading for Sunday (John 9:1-41)? Tough one, which also depends on how many, if any, children are there on Sunday.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Before travels begin again

Yesterday, I handed my dissertation in. I suppose it's a bit of a big moment getting that done and there was something quite satisfying about handing over a physical copy (all other uni assignments have been submitted digitally). Given there was a bit of confusion about how it was to be handed in (not from me, I hasten to add), I think I may have been the first.

I know I've worked hard on this and really enjoyed the research (the write-up was a pain the the proverbial - actually, no, it was the formatting of the whole thing which took over a day. The joy of photos and plans...). I know I couldn't have done my dissertation in the way I did had it not been for my background in mapping and surveying. Who'd have thought my first degree in would be so handy for a dissertation in the results of the Scottish Reformation! Just shows how interconnected all experience and knowledge and learning is in this journey of faith and calling.

There's a bit of me would like to just relax and kick back now the dissertation is done - though enjoyable, it's been a hard academic year. But, I still have work to do. There's a 1000 word commentary and general weekly blog for one class, then exams in May. I suppose there's this element of not wanting to lose momentum, in tension with needing a bit of a less frenetic pace. At least the way the timetabling of my exams works out, I can have a couple of weeks off once the non-exam work's out of the way. And I know I could do with it.

At least the end is nigh and I can see a lot clearer where I am going than I did earlier this academic year. Still, there is a bit of me thinks the last 3 years have flown in and can't believe I've got here at all. Whatever happens, long term, it's all part of the journey and I think I'll just take a bit of time to pause and look around at the moment, before the travels need to begin again.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The aftermath

Earlier this week, I had the interim review I had asked for. It went well, though no formal decisions were made, as they will be made at my June review. I'm not surprised by that, and never intended this interim review to circumvent the 'rules,' - I more wanted this for a bit of reassurance that what I have done this year will allow me to progress to probation.

The atmosphere was really quite warm from the panel. It's not that there weren't tough questions - but I was expecting them. I think that's what made the difference. What I was pleased with, though it was unexpected, was an acknowledgement I was making myself vulnerable by having this review. I realised that within myself, but I was glad - no relieved - that the panel articulated this.

So, I go on with the rest of the academic year (which, scarily, only has 2 weeks left!!!) and onto exams and my June review much more comfortable with where I am. When the 'real' review comes around, I will treat it like an exam/job interview - proper preparation prevents poor performance. I will go in prepared and, hopefully, not complacent or arrogant. After all, God's got my back and has called me to ministry.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Random thought

I wonder, if any of the disciplines or prophets or anyone who lead God's people in the bible were to put themselves for selection for a recognised ministry in any flavour of church, if they would be accepted?

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Gender balancing act

I think, given I did not take Spot's surname when we were married, there are people who think I'm a feminist. (Oh, and I actually believed the careers advice propaganda that there were women on building sites - correction - woman, aka, me). Maybe I am, maybe I'm not.

Something that gets to me about those who do regard themselves as feminists (and I accept I am probably going to get pelters about this) is moaning about use of names like fraternal, but don't seem to bat an eyelid at chaplains sometimes being called Padre. And, even is they do have a grievance with the latter, no alternative is offered (this is where I wonder what may be suggested). When I have challenged people to come up with an inclusive language alternative the silence has been deafening.

And then there's the 'positive discrimination' brigade. Don't give the job, position, opportunity, etc, to the best person for the job, but let a woman have a go. While I know some positions, especially in churches, may benefit from women being visible, I firmly believe there is no such thing as positive discrimination - discrimination is just that. When I am asked to fill a role, I want to be chosen because I am the right person for the role, not because I have breasts. I know that assumes a level playing field, but placing a woman in a role as a gender balancing act will not do that either.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Research sharing

This semester's been very busy, and I've commented on that before. This week, I've been a bit in limbo. My dissertation's mostly written, but my supervisor for it has been out of the country. Not a problem, as I'd taken that into account when 'planning' the work (that actually sounds organised, but I did have it at the back of my mind). But, without having that to bust a gut on, I feel at a bit of a loose end!

I have really enjoyed the research for my dissertation and I seem to be doing new stuff. (Oh, if you are wondering, I am examining the changes made to Medieval Scottish churches between the Reformation and the Convent. I am focusing on 2 churches in neighbouring parishes as a comparison study.). Maybe I just get a wee bit too excited about working out how buildings were used and, in this case, to what extent theory and practise came together or didn't.

When I was chatting with a friend the other day, they said I'd maybe get a first for it. I told them no way, as I've never got a first for anything else before and I don't see that changing. This is not being self-deprecating, just basing the observation on evidence.

Yet, on a few occasions this academic year further study has been mentioned to me. A friend asked if I'd thought about doing a masters of the historical flavour. Another discussed the science and religion masters and said they could see me doing that. Then, just the other day, Spot asked if I'd do a PhD if I had the chance - err, no, brainy people do PhDs. Or people with the inclination to research a very narrow topic for 3 years.

I like the research, I really do, but the write up has, at times, been a bit of a drag. Not helped by having A LOT of photos and plans, which requires using Spot's PC for the embedding/compressing, as mine just isn't powerful enough (5 year old single core notebook - it has served me well and has only been an 'issue' for this). I'll never say never, but it doesn't tug at me with a niggling thing that I should be doing that.

What I am tempted to do (actually, have been challenged to do) is when I've finished my degree and it's all done, I will improve the Wiki entries for the two churches. No point keeping this knowledge to myself.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Putting myself out there

My supervisor at the Big Kirk has been delighted with the work I've been doing on her behalf. A month or so ago, she let 121 know this. They (of course) asked her to write a report - for my file.

Because it's not till June I have my annual review, I asked if it were possible to have an interim review. That way, if I do need to do something additional before probation, I have time to deal with it and, even if what I've done is sufficient, it's all official. I feel this is important, for a variety of reasons, especially as I will be moving presbytery for probation.

I do feel I have somewhat exposed myself. The report my Big Kirk supervisor has written is very good - not only because it gives a honest picture of my work, my care, who I am, but I actually come across really rather well. I suppose, being the skilled reflective practitioner I am (excuse me while I remove my tongue from my cheek), I should know that. Yet, to have an experienced minister, who I respect and trust their judgement, say that makes it a lot more 'real,' if that makes sense?

I do, however, think I am taking a bit of a risk asking for this. All the right noises are being made and, when the time comes, I know there will be loads of people praying for me. I just hope me putting myself out there and exposing myself to the harsh glare of a committee's decision  will be viewed sympathetically by all present.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Working with what we've got

The Kirk's at an exciting time, in my opinion. Yes, attendance at church (of any flavour) had declined significantly in my lifetime, but I would rather be minister to a small, committed congregation, than a group of people who feel they have to be there.

Yet, with the decline in numbers, coupled with those attending being older, there are fewer people young enough to train for full-time ministry. I know there's an investigation into why young people (and, unfortunately, in many congregations I am still regarded as young) aren't coming forward for training.

Look around - they aren't here. Yes, there are some, but no where near the numbers there were kicking about the church there was 20 or 30 years ago. And, for those who are here, are they called to be ministers or deacons? Maybe some are - I've sure some are, but it feels like, to me at least, there may be 'presure' placed on people under 30 (or 40?) to come forward for training, but who haven't been called by God.

That, IMHO, is a great way to put them off. And, when it sometimes feels there's so much negativity around about the decline, where's the positive message for anyone called to ministry to step up to the plate and follow God's calling.

There is the matter of finances too. Though Spot and I are not especially well off, we knew we could (just) manage on his salary. Not everyone is in that position. They may be on their own, with mortgage or rent, bills, food etc to pay on their own. Or, they may be the main (or sole) breadwinner in the household. How is the Kirk helping those who may not be able to keep the wolf from the door, if they gave up work, helping them financially? Well,  the advice is to take out a student loan, but that may not even pay a mortgage taken out in the last 5-10 years, never mind all the other basic living expenses associated with life, never mind ministry training.

But, getting away from finances, the Kirk is still face with a manpower (sorry, I can't be that PC - next you'll be wanting my to re-name manhole covers as person-entrance-exit-portal-covers) shortfall. The numbers being trained in no way make up for the numbers retiring. Yet it strikes me many presbytery plans are being drawn up without that fact in play. My home town has 4 town centre churches (that's just in the centre - there's around another 6 throughout the town). As far as I know none are earmarked for closure in their presbytery plan, but another church in the presbytery (which is the only CofS in town) relies on a reader or OLM to fill in. It strikes me that we need to really think as a Kirk how many churches we really need in towns in order rural parishes can benefit.

I think in the next 5-10 years ministers may be in oversight of a few churches (outside the towns, at least), using readers, OLMs and members of the congregations to lead worship on a week-by-week basis. It's not ideal, but looking at what we've got ministers wise, it may be the only way to ensure we remain a territorial parish church. The great thing (if it works) is we could be enablers of people, encouraging them to do what has traditionally been regarded as ministers' roles. A better reflection of the priesthood of all believers and, perhaps, might even sow seeds for those who are doing these things that they are called by God.

I very much see echoes of this in the handful of decades following the Scottish Reformation. There wasn't many ministers and they covered several parishes. Readers ensured worship happened on a weekly basis and the Kirk Session had a pastoral role. Yes, then Scotland was a Christian nation and may not be now, but if we could work with what we had then, why not now?

Sunday, 2 March 2014


I've been awake since about 6:30am and got up a little after 7. It's not I couldn't sleep, but it's daylight and I wake up.

This is one of my favourite times of days, especially on a Sunday. Everyone else is in bed (and I don't just mean the household residents). It's quiet, it's the beginning of a new day. Life feels good.

Once the washing clicked off, earlier, I hung it outside. The slight breeze moved the towels too and fro. The sky is blue (though, not sure for how long) and I was alone. No one around. No sounds of humanity, despite being in the middle of a housing estate and very close to a motorway and busy duel carriageway. The only sounds were those of the dawn chorus. So, I stopped. I listened. I drank it in. I felt at peace and in the presence of God - yes, even when hanging out my washing!

Now, I am inside, writing this as I make marmalade. The only sounds inside are the the sugar and fruit boiling, but through the open window I hear the blackbird, blue tit, wood pigeon and robin. In this quiet, there are still sounds, because I am listening.

If only figuring out what people meant and where God is directing us was so easy. But, perhaps I, along with many others, don't listen enough or we focus on the 'wrong' sounds.

I don't think there's an easy way to remove the clutter and really listen, except to practise. So many people I know would have heard nothing when I was listening to the birds. But, if it's pointed out to them, as they attune their ears to the (possibly) unfamiliar sounds, they realise the silence isn't silence, just noise in forms they are unfamiliar with.

As someone training for ministry in the Kirk, I want to hear what others don't. For my own path and in leading others, I need to know I am following God's voice. It is in these times, where no one is (seemingly) around, I can hear him most.