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.

Friday, 13 June 2014

All coming together

It's like everything's coming together at the moment. Last week, my annual review allowed me to proceed to probation, which was a relief. At the start of this week, the degree classifications were out, and I have been awared a 2:1. Really chaffed with that, but once I'm on probation, degree classification will count for little. I's also better than the Desmond (a two-two) I received last time roudn. To think, I wasn't sure if I could manage an other degree, especially one so different from my first one. Just goes to show how hard work and persiverance pays off.

A couple of days ago, I had a meeting with my supervisor for probation - Laura Roslin. Mainly, this was to 'sort up' what we'd be doing while in Malawi, but also to get a bit of a grounding for when I come back to Airside in mid-July. It was a really good meeting and I know I will learn and grow a lot under her superision.

So, at the moment, I've been slowly but surely gathering various odds and sorts I'll need for visiting Malawi. Sun screen, travel shirts, head torch, duct tape, etc. While doing that, I am concious this will be an experience which will be full-on, as I live and eat and worship in Airside's twin community - learning and getting to know both those in Malawi and my fellow travellers. I am so looking forward to it and open to all it brings.

In  the meantime, there's photocopying and packing and briefings to do before we travel. But, in 2 weeks time, I'll be in Malawi and seeing, tasting and feeling it all for myself. Wow!

Monday, 9 June 2014

According to God's will - follow up

Despite it being several days since my annual review, I have been somewhat neglectful in posting an up-date. Apologies.

Well, the meeting went well. There were probing questions, yet these were in the context of a warm, supportive atmosphere. Once the 'questioning' had finished, I went outside while the panel made their decision (this is the norm for all annual reviews). Though there was still an element of uncertainty at that stage, as nothing weird or left-of-field had really come up, I hoped things would be okay.

And they were. When one of the panel came to get me, they whispered 'it's all fine,' which was both lovely and appreciated. No 'issues' were raised, but I am to export with my supervisor how I ensure I get a pattern of spirituality (not sure how that will be worded). Fair enough, as I've not had the need to develop that in full-time ministry, which probation will be. I have a hunch, though, I might already be doing it, I just don't realise it. But, it's something to think about - how I ensure my own spiritual health in the midst of the busyness and demands of ministry.

So, the journey continues. All pretty cool and now I'm really looking forward to starting probation and all the challenges and privileges and wonder and demands that will bring.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

According to God's will

Tomorrow, I, along with about a dozen or so of the candidates in training, have our annual reviews. The outcome of these will decide whether or not those having their reviews can proceed to the next stage in their training. For most of us, the next stage is probation.

As I know all too well, the annual reviews, which take the form of an interview by a panel of three, are not 'tick-box' exercises. This is only right, as otherwise they could be a bit of a pointless exercise, though they can also be very daunting, as one wonders what the interview panel will pick up on.

I know I had an 'interim' review back in March, but no formal decision was made there. As such, there's no room for complacency on my part tomorrow.

I know I have worked hard this year, academically and pastorally. I trust the panel will see that and I will be the best I can be in the situation.

I suppose this is a 'big' review, as three weeks tomorrow I am due to fly out to Malawi with members of the congregation I will be serving my probation with.

I hope and pray God will be with all of us being interviewed tomorrow and with the panel members. And, ultimately, the decision made by the panel members for all the candidates is according to God's will.