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.