Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A love which will not die

There are many, many people who have influenced my faith journey over the years. Some, in passing, some for a time, some for most of my life. Of one person, I used to say it was their 'fault' I was training for ministry.

They were part of the church I grew up in, leading Bible Class (though we would not 'allow' ourselves to be called that - we were the kitchen crowd because that's where we met and drank a lot of tea!), youth club and generally being around.

A couple of times a year - usually in the lead up to Easter and Christmas - the kitchen crowd would prepare and lead worship in local care homes and homes of housebound members of the congregation. It was there I began to be nurtured and taught (and shown a God-given gift) the practise of preparing and leading worship. I also saw how important these acts of worship were for those the group visited. Not only due to the fact the church was going to the people, but that young people cared enough to go to them, to listen to them, to be with them. And I loved it. I loved being with those people, as they wanted to share their stories with us, they wanted to hear ours too. Most importantly, I loved it because I saw (even then) how much it brightened their day, knowing the church had not forgotten them. Actually, that the church cared enough to send some of its youngest members to some of it's oldest.

It was after one of those services, in a care home, a lady asked me if I was going to be a minister. The answer was no, then, but that was the seed being sown. The seed which took 20 years to begin to germinate and, almost 6 years since I began enquiry, grow and begin to blossom. A seed which may not have been sown had the kitchen crown headed off to take services in care homes and the homes of the housebound.

The person I started this post about died last week. He had been ill for a long time, but it was still a shock to discover. The time he died would have been when he would have been about to leave to go to church. And today, many will gather to mourn his passing and celebrate his life. A life which was dedicated to a love of God and a love of others. A love which helped me in my journey of faith and calling. A love which will live on in those who knew and loved him also.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

That's all folks!

So, on Wednesday I sat my final exam. I knew it wouldn't be an easy one, but I managed to answer the required three questions and had enough to say about each area that I used the full two hours. Other than that, everything else is up for grabs.

Seems a bit of an anti-climax finishing a degree with a two hour exam. No 'finals', as those of us who have an early enough degree recall. And, as the only candidate and final year taking this subject with, on one to 'celebrate' with.

That's it. Done. Dusted. I think it might take me a week or two to adjust fully. It's been a whirlwind, these three years. I've learnt so much - about theology, ethics, history. Mainly, I've learnt a lot about myself. I've also meet and got to know some fabby people, who I hope and pray will be part of my life for many, many years to come.

Now, there's the 'small' matter of my annual review in a couple of weeks time. God willing, that will allow me to proceed to probation. Then, Malawi beckons. A great experience I'm sure. I'm looking forward to journeying with a group from Airside Kirk and with the community we will be travelling with out there.

So, 'That's all folks' for academic study. But the journey had barely begun in my service of ministry for God.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The spirit of the Lord is upon me

The other day I had one of my two (oooo, no finals these days) exams. There was a book I needed to return to the main library I had for the subject, so before I met a friend for lunch (and before the exam) I headed up there to drop it off. My initial intention was to go straight to where I was meeting my friend, grab a brew and read through my notes. I did do that, but there was a diversion first.

I remembered about the labyrinth in George Square and felt drawn to walk it. There was so much about the labyrinth which, as I walked, echoed not only the faith journey of every believer, but (for me) the ministry training journey.

At the entrance, you can see where the destination is. Initially, it seems you are heading there very quickly, but the path twists and turns and wanders - further and further from the centre. As you walk it, you don't loose sight of the centre - the destination - despite all the twists and turns. Then, really at the point where it seems you may be furthest away from getting to the centre of the labyrinth, you arrive, almost unexpectedly. (Well, that's how it worked in my head anyway).

As I walked, I felt a deep sense of calm, as if the burdens of the past academic year were melting away. This walk wasn't about destressing me for an exam, but renewing and invigorating me for the journey ahead. As I walked, I was initially concerned how the walk would work and what I should do. After a few paces, I realised that, despite the busyness around, there was a quietness in this place - or maybe within me. I only heard the sound of the robin and blackbirds seeking food for their young.

As I walked, the words "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has called me to preach the Good News to the poor" came to me. They washed over me. Yes, they paraphrase Luke 4:18, but the essence is there. In that walk, I felt in a way I have not for a long time God's spirit coming to be, God's hand upon me, walking and talking to me. Affirming me in my call to ministry. Loving me into his service.

As I walked my way out of the labyrinth, I walked into the sound and noise and busyness of the day around me. But I walked with a renewed sense of God guiding and leading me on my journey in his service.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

What should a wife do?

On Sunday past, I decided I would worship at Lochside Church, where Spot has recently started placement. I had been there last year, when I was casing the joint for probation, but this time I would be going as 'the wife of the student.' Does make for an interesting dynamic that, especially when they have been told what Spot's Mrs is doing too!

The first service there is early, so in a fit of madness, I decided I would cycle to Lochside for the second service. It's about 10 miles away and, more fortunately, is pretty much down-hill all the way!!!

The service is the more traditional of the two morning services, though there was a certain (and quite refreshing) spontaneity to it from the minister. There was even a Stewart Townend hymn which I quite liked (I'm not a fan), though it did have the slightly cliched key change for the last verse (I mean, is church a 90s boyband trying to get a number one - key change for the last verse. Next they'll be wanting us to only stand up for the last verse. Check out any Boyzone or Westlife clip on youtube and you'll see what I mean).

I enjoyed the service, the message was on target for the scripture and context (as far as I am aware) and it all flowed nicely together. The thing that struck me, is the way I am treated because I am Spot's wife. Though I had gone to his enquiry church and first placement at least once, because they were in the town I grew up in, people (sort of) knew me. So I was Mrs Gerbil, not Spot's wife. At Lochside, it was different, though not something either of us may have to experience too often, as we will have our 'own' places to be.

I have made it clear to Spot that I won't be making a habit of turning up at Lochside. But I realise there can be an expectation from congregations that the candidate's spouse turns up regularly. I know I have the ultimate of (God willing) being on probation come July, so will have my 'own' gig. I suppose I intellectually knew that some congregations (or even individual members of congregations) can place expectations on the spouse to come to the placement church, I hadn't really experienced it. I know Spot's supervisor made sure the congregation were aware of what I am doing, and it may have been to ensure those who would have expected me to turn up, had that 'nipped in the bud', so to speak.

It does make me wonder what congregations do when the spouse has little or nothing to do with church. They may still fully suppose their husband or wife in their calling, but not in the physicality of turning up. Or, they are very involved in their own church and, until they need to, don't want to move on. Or, especially where children are involved, want to give the children a bit of continuity while the other parent is off doing 2-3 placements.

As with many things, I've no solutions, only comments and questions. Of course, this could all also apply in situations where someone was employed by a church, but I think that's a reflection for another time!

Friday, 9 May 2014

What to wear - the (almost) 4 year on follow-up)

A few years ago, not long after being selected as a candidate for ministry, I wrote about 'What to wear' in that position. Because I'd deferred, I wasn't actually training at the time I wrote it, but it was part of things which were going around in my head at the time (none of which I remember, almost four years on).

Have my opinions changed about clothing? Yes and no. (Don't you just like decisiveness?!)

Yes, because I can really see how, depending on the context in which I may serve, how a cassock would be handy. I could roll up on my trike wearing cycling clothes (this is where I have to point out there will be no lycra in my cycling wardrobe - I am still recovering from seeing too many Lands End to John O'Groats cyclists' lycra last summer for my liking...), slip a cassock on and look all 'ministerial.' That's the theory at least!

And yes, because I do think there are times when people 'need' to see the minister as looking like one or at least be able to easily identify them. My supervisor at Highland Cathedral usually only wore a collar with his suit, when leading worship, but at baptisms he put the robes on. It wasn't that he was trying to be someone he wasn't, just he was serving the needs of those who were in the congregation for the baptism. Or, a retired minister I know of who wears his collar doing hospital visits, as he finds he can open doors which would be harder to push without. Again, because there are times when people need to see he is a minister, and it saves the hassle of having to explain who he is and why he's visiting someone.

But there's also a 'no' here, too. Though a collar can open doors, it may also close them, depending on people's perception (or relationship with) the church. I suppose it's about 'finding' what's right for a context - and what might work one month might not the next. But that would be in non-church situations.

And no because why is it being worn? I know there is sometimes an expectation probationer minsters wear a collar, if that's their supervisor's practise, to 'show' the congregation they are equals. Maybe it's just be, but 'clothes doth not maketh the man (or woman)' and I would suggests not being seen as an equal to the incumbent minister is (perhaps) their problem and wearing or not wearing some clothes won't change that. Besides. with the best will in the world, probationer ministers will never be the 'equals' to their supervisors, as the congregation did not have a choice in their placement and, until ordination, they cannot administer the sacraments.

Another 'no' is ministers in the early reformed kirk (can you tell I'm studying for a protestant Scotland exam?!) wore their 'ordinary' clothes, with a gown to show their educated status. So, if we are in keeping with 'good' reformed practise, why don't we just wear ordinary clothes? These days, having a degree level of education isn't that uncommon (in fact, almost all candidates already have a degree of some sort - or more). And there's a 'thing' (does it need to happen?) where outside the church (oh, and these days, sometimes on the website) is the minister's qualifications (or at least the letters after their name - I so often forget I technically have them, but in the scheme of things do not view them as important). So, why aren't ministers wearing what they'd 'normally' wear to church to lead worship? Yet, and this is where I could argue I am a bit of a hypocrite, I would turn up to be a bum on a pew in jeans and a top, but to lead worship I wear a suit and blouse (more like a shirt - no frills or bows or puffs). But it is work and I would want to be appropriately attired for it.

I suppose the bottom line, for me, if why a minister is wearing what they are wearing. If it's a 'I'm the minister and need to show that I am' in a very authoritarian, status driven sort of way, I think that if they need clothes to gain respect, well, I'll just leave it like that. I also know of a minister who was 'persuaded' by his session to wear a collar. Was that the 'right' reason to do it? I don't think so and, if you know me, you know I would have dug my heals in about that one.

Even without 'ministerial' clothes I have been regarded in a past placement and in other contexts as 'a minister.' Clothes don't do it, a call from God does. What we wear when following that call, I feel, should reflect the context in which we are serving and whom we are serving. And that will vary from person to person, parish to parish.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Hard to get to know

So, Spot started his second placement last week. Accordingly, his first Sunday was there.I had thought about going along to 'support' him in his new place, but the timings of services was going to be complicated, so I decided to visit the local Piskies instead.

The worship itself was good, with hymns pointed out as being the prayers. I actually quite liked that, though I'm not sure I would appreciate that every week. I was 'surprised' by the number of latecomers and assumed they were visitors to the town and didn't realise the service started at 10, but I established they were regulars who'd timed it to catch communion (I wonder if it was just that Sunday, or if they did that every Sunday?). One sat next to me and congratulated me for being able to look up the bible. (What, is this a rare gift that few in the SEC possess???).

Being Piskie, communion was celebrated. I swithered whether to go up, as I think those wafer things are howfing (no offence intended), but I can cope if I get some wine to wash them down. The problem was, as I watched the servitor(?) they were pouring the wine into the congregations mouths. No, that's not going to happen. So, rather than either (a) cause a fuss or (b) manage to pour wine on myself rather than in myself, I decided to just sit in the pew. Never did I think I would see the benefit of Kirk thimbles of wine is I can take it myself and drink it at my leisure!

The sermon was good, with a very enthusiastic preacher. The praise band were complementary, talented and didn't dominate proceedings. The building itself was very nice too, dating from the late 15th century, so I liked that.

But the welcome was...lacking. It all started with me landing up doing an almost complete circuit of the building trying to figure out how to get in. The 'Welcome' sign was not visible from the main road, which the church is on. When I went in there was a few conversations going on, so it was a minute or so till I was noticed. A bit disappointing.

After the service, the cuppa was reasonable, and those I eventually chatted to were friendly enough. To me as well as to others. I get the impression they really aren't used to visitors. Shame, once you get to know them, I;m sure they are a lovely bunch.