Monday, 28 April 2014

Spot and Mrs G worshipping together

So, the first Sunday post-Quarry Kirk. And, with Spot being between placements, the choice of not only being a bum on a pew (or, in the case of where we visited, comfie chairs), while worshipping with him indoors.

But, even on Saturday, the question was where? It would have felt odd for both of us 'skipping' worship, but we wanted, if possible, to get to a 10:30 service, as we knew we would be heading straight from church to visit friends (and have fun at their daughter's third birthday party!). Eventually, on Sunday morning, we came up with where we'd go.

It was good to have the opportunity to 'just' worship, but I fear for the first little bit (15-20 minutes into the service) I found I was analysing rather than worshipping. I suspect this whole reflective practitioner thing means it can become a bit of an occupational hazard, as I wonder why things are done in a way for the context, worship space etc etc and how (or if) I would apply the style. But I soon settled into worship when I put my mind to doing just that!

(She says, realising she's about to 'reflect' on it!).

The service came together well and it was great to see people other than the minister leading prayers, doing the children's talk and reading the bible lesson. The minister (or his predecessors) had everyone well trained, as whose involved in the various elements of the service made their way to the front at a point that there was not the 'usual' long pause as someone gets from their seat and to the front. Also, there must be good (I assume) planning of the content of the service, as all the elements came together really well.

For the beginning of the service, the children weren't around, but the hall's a bit away, so they come in at the end of the service. The children's talk (which, I feel, was relevant to the whole congregation) linked to the whole service and serves as a good rounding off point.

But, if I had a choice, would I head back? Perhaps not. The first people to speak to us had been members of Eagleside when I was on placement there. They were interested to hear what Spot and I were up to, so it was good to see them. There was a bit of a buzz after the service as members of the congregation talked to one another after the service, but to my eyes it felt like a congregation which is friendly - to those on the inside. I don't think it was intentional, but it was a bit disappointing and the sort of thing which may put those seeking a church (or to find out what church is all about) off. Definitely a lesson there for me, though how I'd tackle that, I'm not sure.

Oh, and the cup of tea wasn't bad, but the mugs were really awkward to hold. Those with bad hands would have toiled, as I was. A silly wee one fingered handle near the rim is just a bit pants. What's wrong with normal mugs, where you can put a whole hand in the handle (or at least more than 1 finger)?

Monday, 21 April 2014

Feeding the hungry - on Easter Sunday

So, The Mail on Sunday had an article where one of their journalists went undercover to demonstrate how easy it is to get a voucher for a Foodbank parcel. As they put it, "No ID, no checks...and vouchers for sob stories."

Well, I was going to comment that I don't think the editors perhaps realise how humiliating, degrading and embarrassing it is for those who go seeking help, because they cannot afford to feed their families. Yes,. there may be people who will abuse the system, as there are people who will abuse any system, but given the information the journalist gave the people at the foodbank, it would appear the foodbank volunteer made a judgement call based on experience of dealing with others looking for parcels and, more importantly, IMHO, compassion. Compassion - now, why would a Christian charity have that for the poor and the needy?

It's the apparent upshot of the Mail on Sunday's article I find amazing. By all accounts there was a surge of donations to the Trussel Trust's Easter appeal - £19,000 given yesterday. And the comments people who have donated as a result of the Mail's article are 'interesting.' Perhaps the Trussel Trust should be thanking The Mail on Sunday for highlighting the need for foodbanks once more, especially on Easter Sunday!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Time to say goodbye

This being Easter Sunday, not only was I leading worship where we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I was saying goodbye to Quarry Kirk. Easter, with it's hope and eternal message of God's love for the world seemed as good time as any to say goodbye. We all knew I would only be with them for a short while.

After the service I was so touched by the warmth from all in the congregation. They are genuinely very sorry to see me leave. Many more than normal stayed after the service to wish me well, over hot cross buns and cups of tea (both of which I toiled to consume, due to being in conversation so long). Some were even getting weepy as they were wishing me well and, consequently couldn't say much. Funny, sometimes people (on both sides of the equation) don't realise how much they are loved until the time for letting go comes.

I hope and pray things work out at Quarry Kirk. Like me, the path ahead is not necessarily straightforward. Such a shame, as they have so much to give, so much love and care for each other and their community. I hope, in my small way I have been able to sustain them in that journey.

Now, I go on with mine.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A bit like physiotherapy

As I have commented (probably a little too much) before, this has been a tough year, but I feel I have come out of it having grown in my own self-worth, self-knowledge and in my relationship with God. I have also realised in a very real, rather than intellectual way, how important peer support is for sustaining me - and how important that will be in the future. I hope I have been able to reciprocate too.

As I look back at my placements I wonder if I, at times, perhaps stretched myself too much. Expected too much of myself and set my standards and aims unrealistically high. The best way of putting it, I suppose, is training for a sport (or just generally getting fitter). I have pushed and pushed myself and either ignored or not realised I was coping with an 'injury.' Rather than resting up, I've pressed on and that's just made things worse.

So, having spiritual direction (oh, I think I am going to be a bit of an advocate for that) and an additional placement to do, it has allowed me to deal with the injury properly and fully. I suppose it's a bit like physiotherapy - specific exercises, under guidance, to encourage and ensure healing. All in, allowing me to go on following God in his calling on my life.

So, the lesson from this year? Listen to when I need rest. Listen when I need to take a step back. Take the chance to share experiences, fears, joys and the general wonder of ministry with trusted colleagues. Remember there are people praying for me (and all of us). And, always, that God has my back and calls me for his service.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Easter, without Holy Week

This being Holy Week and all that, it may be expected I am rather busy this week. Well, no actually. I 'only' have Easter Sunday worship to prepare and am not being involved in any other act of worship (except, perhaps, as a member of the congregation) during any other part of the week. Bliss. I am going to enjoy it while it lasts ! (So, that'll be till next year...).

Anyway, even if I do attend one or two Holy Week services, I may not be at all of them. I may 'miss' the crucifixion and head straight to the resurrection. Or, as I suspect may be the case with many in congregations up and down the country, I could go from Palm Sunday straight to Easter Sunday, without the pain of betrayal and the darkness of death in between. So, my plan (which is cunning and I hope works) is to have more of the week's story in each service.

On Palm Sunday, we had the triumphal entry, but also the woman anointing Jesus and Judas beginning his betrayal. On Easter Sunday, along with the triumph of Christ's resurrection, we will have his condemnation and death on the cross. It's perhaps not the 'normal' Easter Sunday pattern, but will give the congregation (especially those who haven't been able - for whatever reason - to make it to Holy Week services) an opportunity to journey through the whole story. As the resurrection could only happen because of the death. Without triumph over death, where is the joy and celebration of Easter.

That is my plan anyway. How it will actually pan out, especially on my last Sunday, I do not know. I do hope in the services (Palm and Easter Sunday) the congregations gained something about God, in some way.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Letting Go

As far as I am aware, I am fairly unique among all those training for ministry (at least at Edinburgh uni). This relates to my home (or sending) church. Basically, I have been associated with the same church (and it's pre-union versions) since I was was three.

Yet, for the last two and a half years, with placements, work experience and Quarry Kirk pulpit supply I have barely been to my home church. Actually, I don't think I have worshipped there for over a year.

It's a shame, in some ways, that I haven't been able to see the people there. Many I have known for as long as I have gone to church. Some less so, but all really care how I am (and, I suspect are really rather proud of Spot and I). My Mum does keep them up-to-date how we're getting on and they totally accept we can't be there and won't be coming back.

I know most of my peers, during their non-placement time, have returned 'home.' I can understand this, to a certain extent, as some have family who worship there or it's the church where they came to faith. Yet, (and this may be just me) I wonder if there is an unwillingness from both sides to let go. I just find it a little odd, when inevitably we candidates are going to move on. We have already been away on placement, so is constantly returning just prolonging the agony and making it harder when the time to 'really' let go comes

Sunday, 13 April 2014

A bum on a pew

Next Sunday is my last one with Quarry Kirk. It seems a long time ago since I decided Easter was a good time to finish there. It's an 'obvious' end or starting point in the church year, so seemed as good a time as any.

My reasons for leaving? Well, it was going to happen sooner or later. What better time than when we celebrate Jesus' resurrection and all that means, not just to the church, but whole world. On a more pragmatic (and selfish) note, I get a couple of months break from leading worship before beginning probation (maybe even a holiday???).

It'll be odd not having to prepare worship for a couple of months. Since starting training I think I've had 3, maybe 4 weeks in a row where I haven't had something to prepare for worship either on a Sunday or during the week. So though I know I need the break it will be odd (though good) to take the opportunity to just be a bum on a pew and 'just' worship. The question, for 2 weeks time, is where?

Friday, 11 April 2014

What to change and what to keep

Today our new BT phone book arrived. It's so small and, at least in this household, a little pointless. If I want to check a phone number I look it up online. It's more convenient, quicker and, in the main, up to date than the physical version. I am also not limited to the very small geographic range my local phone book covers.

It seems a bit of a quaint relic of pre-internet that BT has to distribute a new one to every household annually. I accept there are some who still use the physical book, but for (what I would argue) is the majority, it is a wasteful exercise. Ours is going straight into the paper recycling, no longer even good for a "God knows everyone's name" children's address (because they'd just wonder what planet you were on). In many households it may not be immediately thrown out, but might languished forgotten about and unused till next year's edition arrives.

That's progress for you. And no one really bats an eyelid. In fact, like Spot and I, many may have even forgotten there is a physical phone book which can be looked up at all. Pity church couldn't gently change, so congregations don't necessarily notice. No, we change (for some things) too slowly or manage it very badly and, when it does come it seems quick and a shock to the system. But, in a fast changing world, maybe we need that bit of consistency. Yet it is knowing what to change and what to leave the same that is hard.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

My new toy

Early last year, Spot and I were helping a friend as she looked for a bicycle. Though we're by no means experts, we know enough and it was a good day out, as someone else spent money!!!

For a while prior to that, Spot and I had been intrigued by recumbent bikes, partly driven by a friend of ours being quite a devotee. Near the 'normal' bicycle shop (or safety as bikes are known as, because they were safe in comparison with the standard bicycle, which was a penny farthing) we were visiting with our friend is Laird Back Bikes. While we were in the area, Spot and I decided to pay them a visit. Dave, one of the partners in the business is a great guy, knows his stuff and, as novices, Spot and I did not feel patronised or out of our depth.

So, being the sort of in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound people we are, Spot and I decided to book a tour with Laid Back Bikes on a couple of demo trikes they have. I was on the Hasse Kettwiesel on the way out and the ICE Sprint RS on the way back (it was vice versa for Spot). Though it was the first time for a while since I'd ridden any sort of cycle the tour was great fun. The trikes handled well, there were no worries about loosing balance/momentum on steep hills and, due to my backside being so close to the ground, it felt I was flying (so glad there wasn't a speedo fitted, as I would have been disappointed I suspect!).

At the time, though I really enjoyed it, I didn't go rushing to buy one (a decent small second-hand car can be purchased for the same amount!). Life got busy and more complicated. Summer passed up north and final year of uni began, along with all its challenges. All in all, I had sort of forgotten about it.

But Spot was still keeping an eye out for second hand trikes for sale. As with so many things, there were a few for sale on and off very down south, with buyer uplift only. Then, about 3 weeks ago a lovely looking HP Velotechnik Scorpion FX came up on ebay - in Glasgow! Actually, at Kinetics, which Spot and I had visited in the past. It just seemed ideal. Located somewhere I could collect, with the features I wanted (14 speed hub gears, dynamo lighting, integral luggage rack, ability to fold). And, 4 years ago I sold my motorbike and never got round to spending that money or replacing the machine, so the money was there, having been kept in case I suddenly decided to invest in a new set of wheels.

And here it is, my new toy:

Taken just after my first hurl on it. Great fun. And, despite the lower position I feel much more comfortable and safe on it, even on a main road (yes, I have tried). From speaking to other bent riders (as we're called) everyone thinks cars don't know what to do, especially with a trike. Consequently, they give much more room than on an upright bike.

In time, I'm hoping this will form part of my ministerial transport solution. Airside Kirk, where I'll be serving my probation, is only 5 miles away, so totally doable on this. It's also easier to store than another car and cheaper to run, no MOT, road tax or petrol (though it may need an occasional banana or bar of chocolate as a fuel source). Yes, I'll be weird, but I'm training to be a minister in the Church of Scotland, so I'm there already.

Now, where to take it today???

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Seven a day

Last Tuesday one of the highlights of the news was a feature on how much fruit and veg people should be eating - taking the recommended 5-a-day and adding another 2. Given the timing of the articles (as it was in many news sites) I initially thought it was an April Fool.

Why did I think it was an April Fool. Well, there was the timing, but this quote (taken from the BBC article):

Experts said other lifestyle factors, such as not smoking or drinking excessively, may have accounted for the drop in mortality, not just fruit and veg consumption, although the study authors said they had tried to account for this.
So, the 'recommendation' that we should be eating 7-a-day rather than 5 may not have totally taken lifestyle factors into account. That doesn't strike me as especially good scientific study. And, I suspect this news story may actually result in people eating less well than better.

The 'findings' of the study (again, I am being cynical because the seeming lack of rigour to the findings) also seem to point to frozen and tinned fruit and veg being less good for you than fresh. Yet, for years the message has been frozen, in particular, can be better because the nutrients have been locked in. Tinned, I can sort of see, depending on the type of tinned fruit and veg. If it's in syrup (v high in sugar) or brine (v high in salt) then the benefits of the fruit and veg may be negated by the increased levels of salt and sugar. But surely it's better to be eating them than not at all.

And that, I fear, may be a knock on affect of this 7-a-day study. Those who are struggling to give their families as good a diet as they can, on exceptionally limited budgets, may just give up and being buying cheap filler stuff, with little or no nutritional value.

Also, it seems almost every week we hear how people are struggling to feed themselves and their families. Foodbanks are on the increase and are struggling to keep up with demand. What do they rely on to provide food parcels? Tinned fruit and veg, as they can be stored without refrigeration. So, is this 7-a-day target aimed at the (comparatively) well-off terribly, terribly middle class person who can afford to buy fresh fruit and veg on a daily basis? I like to think I eat pretty well, but would struggle some days to get 7-a-day in. I know what it is like to live in a home where the food budget  was very tight - we managed to eat our 5-a-day, but only because we included frozen and tinned. If a target is not achievable, people will give up and that would be much, much worse for the nation's health than eating the 'wrong' types of fruit and veg according to the report.

At the other end of the scale are the worriers. Those who take every piece of healthy eating advice to heart and (at an extreme) panic if they are failing to achieve this. I know of someone who gets very twitchy if they haven't had their 5-a-day (or think they haven't) and this increases their stress levels, which probably counteracts some of the benefits of the 5 in the first place. Surely, if people like them are panicking about not hitting the 5-a-day target, what are they going to do if they take the 7-a-day to heart?

People have a choice - yes targets and guidance are helpful, but at current prices 7-a-day fresh fruit and veg is way out of many people's budgets. It strikes me that there are greater problems in terms of people's eating habits that just the amount of veg they eat on an daily basis.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Someone like me

Over the course of this degree, I've studied a lot of medieval and early church stuff. From liturgy to buildings via clergy and vestments. It's amazing how relevant it is today as it was 500, 1000 or even 1500 years ago.

I suppose it's given me a greater depth of understanding why things are done a certain way, even in my own denomination. There's a connectedness with the past - with the church since the beginning. Also, if I need to explain why we do something or used to do something, I can explain it or know where to go to get that info.

A few weeks ago, towards the beginning of this semester, I was studying Irenaeus of Lyons. He was the first theologian to actually record some the whats and whys of the church. He also proposed there should be 4 gospels, which ones and why. It's good to get a handle on where that comes from. But, within days of the class on Irenaeus, I was in the pub with some biker friends. In conversation (as you do) I was asked why the bible was arranged the way it was and, particularly, why there were 4 gospels! And some people I know think history is irrelevant - I wonder how they would have answered that question. Even 1800 years later, what Irenaeus was writing is relevant, even to those with (at best) an tenuous connection with church.

But I have sort of wandered off on a tangent to why I began this post. In all the study I've done regarding clergy up until (at least) the reformation is that through the church people from very humble (ah, the academic speak for poor) backgrounds could better themselves and, possibly, enter into positions of influence they otherwise could not. And how is that relevant today?

Well, it struck me on Friday night it's sort of happened to me. My socio-economic background is such that my first couple of primary teachers pretty much wrote me off. Fortunately, half way through primary school, I began to be taught by a brilliant teacher and I was always encouraged to learn by my Mum. So, eventually I would gain a degree and get a decent job. But I wasn't moving in any spheres of influence.

Then, I began training for ministry. I wouldn't say I am influencing the great and the good, but I am still having tea and cake with them! In the last 2 weeks there have been (in church terms) fairly important stories and I have talked to all the leaders involved. 2 of the leaders I have genuinely have brew and a bun with. How did that happen? Church (of all flavours) is a small pond in leadership terms, in Scotland, so it's easy to meet other leaders. These are just the sort of waters I never thought I'd swim in. When it struck me, I was OOOO, WOW, how did that happen to someone like me?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Coming to the end of a journey

I have (literally) just submitted my last piece of work for my BD, barring presentation of that tomorrow and exams. It is actually quite a nice feeling knowing there's only 2 hours of teaching ahead of me and 4 hours of exams, yet frightening that it's flown in so quickly.

The thing is, I (in the main) have really enjoyed the study. Especially this year where I had much more flexibility choosing my courses. I hope I am able to use a lot of what I have gained through the time at university, and that isn't just the knowledge of particular parts of Scottish church architecture c1560-1638!!! I've gained new friends, greater understanding of church literature, history, ethics, theology, scripture, etc, etc, than I could have without the degree education (ah, so that'll be why we're to do this!).

My concern is I'll lose the momentum. Not in relation to exams, though they seem weeks away, but the momentum to keep learning, to keep seeking understanding, to keep getting to know God more deeply (oh, that actually sounds quite profound). This path, for me at least, has not necessarily been the easiest. Most of that has been down to the choices I've made, as I want to be the best minister I can be and serve as God has called me.

This part of the journey is coming to an end, but the path continues on to fresh and exciting destinations.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

No notes!

On Sunday, there I was leading worship at Quarry Kirk. My service all prepared, printed out and sitting in front of me in the usual format (16 point arial, double line space, A5 in little foldery thingy). But I just had this niggle that the sermon I had prepared wasn't right somehow. Maybe not right at all, but not right for that time or place. The niggle had started at just before the beginning of the service, but it kept picking away at me as we headed closer and closer to the sermon.

And the niggle seemed to get worse as the lesson was read.

So, as we sang the hymn between reading and sermon. In fact, even as I climbed the stairs into the pulpit I was realising I was going to have to preach the sermon I needed to preach, not the one which was in front of me. Once again, the fighter pilot's prayer was made!

I looked at the congregation and they at me. I took a sip of water (as is my habit) and began. It was frightening and liberating at the same time. But I'm glad I took the nettle in both hands and trusted God to guide me to say what he needed me to say on Sunday.

Is it something I'll do again? Possibly, but I'd rather not make it a regular occurrence. Too stressful and I'm still left with a feeling of wondering if I left it hanging or had a point. With no notes, I don't have something to go back to.