Friday, 26 September 2014

What will I be like next year?

At the beginning of the month, the National Guild convener, vice-convener and international delegates were worshipping at Airside. Laura and I shared worship, which had a World church theme.

The service was very well received by the guests, the congregation and my support group. There was a lot of effort had gone into it, which had paid dividends. (I was even complemented for doing my talk without notes...).

But that was a few weeks ago, and probation (and life) is moving along. The other day, I was at an event where the National Guild vice-convener was also present. We got chatting and she was still waxing lyrical (where does that phrase come from?) about the service. In the conversation, she asked where I was heading once I finished probation. My reply was, no idea, as it's almost a year till I finish. She was totally taken aback by that - thinking I was at the end, not the beginning of my probation. Her reaction? "If that's what you're like at the beginning of probation, what are you going to be like in a year's time?."

A couple of people I've mentioned this to have been impressed and pleased for me, and I know it is a huge compliment. Yet, it actually scares me. Have I peaked too soon? Can I maintain this 'level'? How do I continue to improve and not flatline? Etc, etc, etc.

I know I've always said I want to be the best minister I can be, but God, I just want to be an ordinary minister. Why am I getting the feeling that isn't your plan for me?

Keeping up with Soaps and football?

Over the last couple of weeks, it has been suggested to me that it is a good idea for ministers to keep up with the soaps and have an idea what's going on with football. The argument being, it shows we are engaging with what people see as interesting, important (sorry, struggling to express this) in their social lives.

I do get the logic. For many, football is almost like a religion. And the soaps can mirror what's going on in the 'real' world. Corrie, I heard, is going to have a gay vicar, so there is a bit of social commentary going on there too.

But, just because I don't watch these programs (ah, the great advantage of not owning a telly), doesn't mean I can't listen and engage with people when they talk about them. The same goes for football - if a person I am with wants to talk about football, I'll listen and they can actually teach me. (Actually, from previous experience, as long as I have a willingness to listen, people have been happy to try to 'teach me/mock me' for my lack of understanding of the 'beautiful game.') I'm never going to be an expert, but neither am I going to be an expert in particle physics, yet I would listen and engage with someone who wanted to talk about that.

I suppose, watching the soaps and football is so counter to who I am. It's well known I don't have a clue about football (besides, rugby players have better legs!). So, for me to suddenly seem to take an interest would come across as insincere or forced. The same goes for the soaps (though, I have occasionally listened to The Archers). Occasionally looking in wouldn't, I think, give me any more knowledge than I currently have. I would, if trying to engage with people on that topic make ill-informed comments and judgements, due to lack of knowledge, and they would soon pick up that I really didn't have a clue. If someone was doing that with something I am passionate about, I'd find it a wee bit wearing and, potentially, quite patronising.

At the end of the day, I have to be sincere to who I am. I don't do football nor watch telly. If I try to look like I know, I might just come across as, at best, an idiot (no change there) or, at worst, the educated person who really doesn't have a clue. Basically, I think I would come across as totally insincere and that would, in my opinion, lead to a breakdown in trust in the relationship I was trying to forge. Surely, it is more about a willingness to listen, engage and understand, in a open, non-judgemental way, which is important, rather than knowing everything about everything in 'average' Joe Public's social/recreational life?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Getting in a Fankle

I wouldn't in a million years say I was a great preacher, but thought, for this stage in my training, I wasn't that bad. Feedback in varying contexts has been positive. Yes, there have been things to improve, not nothing drastic.

Yet, somehow this isn't the case at Airside. And it's not that I am being unfairly criticised, but some are generally not coming together as well as they could, or are a little jumbled, or I go off script and loose my place. This isn't something which has happened elsewhere, so what's changed. Why am I, quite frankly, getting in a fankle?

Strange as it seems, I think I am trying too hard to impress. Or, I am trying to be too clever for my own good. When I do talks (which aren't children's addresses - more sermonettes), I seem to get the pitch right. So what's different about a 'real' sermon?

I think part of the problem is I am (once again) trying to meet a standard/style I can't. Partly, that isn't who I am. Mainly, though, I neither have the experience of Laura nor am I she. I am me (and I know this is so obvious, but I need to actually say this, because I need the reminder). So, I need to find my way, my style, my way of opening God's word to the people at Airside.

Looking back at the first time I preached at Airside, the feedback was positive. Tweaks needed made, but nothing bad (perhaps a mention of a parable, a deeper explanation of a point, a less oblique reference to a passage). In my determination to improve, I fear I have lost sight of the good things in what I did and can do, and focused on the things which need improved. In focusing on the negatives I have actually dug a deeper and deeper hole for myself.

I suppose this is all part of the learning process and, just to be clear, this isn't as negative as this post may project. I am actually a wee bit disappointed in myself, as I can do so much better. As I've said before, I need to chill a wee bit and get what I know I can do well right, then the negatives won't seem so daunting after all.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Turning up without him indoors

Last month, I wrote about the importance, as I see it, of 'just turning up.' Not for showing face, but being supportive of events, people, building relationships.

But there's a (or a few?) double-edged sword to this. Firstly, I don't want to get into a situation where it's expected I turn up. Yes, there are things in church which I have to be part of, but I am thinking of the more social things. I don't want to be expected to be at every cat and dog fight. But, I suppose if I usually turn up to most things, people will understand when I don't go to other things (or am I being naive? Perhaps people will wonder why I turned up at even A, organised by person X, but not at event B, organised by person Y...)

Then, there's the expectation on the family. There are people who have seemed somewhat confused Spot hasn't been at ever Sunday service with me (though, by now, most of them know the reason why). I do know some do wonder why he doesn't come to other things with me. Well, for a start, why should he? After all, this is my work place. I have to be 'on', but it's unfair to expect him to have to be 'on' too, for what should be something social. I am lucky this is not the prevailing attitude at Airside, though it's there.

This is an advantage with Spot also training for ministry. We have the genuine excuse there are times where the other is busy. At no point do either of us want to do the dutiful husband/wife thing which is expected of us. But, I sometimes wonder if, but one or other of us not turning up at our respective other's congregation, people get the impression we are not supportive of the other's training. The irony that by us turning up to be supportive, the other is not seen to be supportive. Sigh, sometimes it is a case of cannae win, so stick to what we know is right for us, and our callings.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Thinking better before I speak

One of the many things I am realising I need to learn is the 'right' way of self-censoring what I say. I say 'right', as what I can and can't say varies for many reasons. Not least, because I am now the porbationer minister in Airside parish, not just a member of a congregation, not just the part-time placement student, but more than that. I suppose, to those outside the church, I am a minister, as they will not understand the difference (and, where I am leading funerals or undertaking other parish work, they don't want to think they are getting 'second best', by way of the 'trainee' doing it).

For some, I am a professional, being asked to carry out a professional service on their behalf. That may be in conducting funerals, or visiting schools or the like. As a professional (and I am looking at my role to those on the 'outside'), there are expectations on my conduct, my words and my actions. The bottom line is, can they trust me to say and do the right thing when it matters.

But, on the flip hand, God has called me to be a minister because of who I am. I firmly believe that while he wants me to become the minister he has called me to be, he does so by working with, not against my personality. That's not to say there are no rough edges which he wants to tackle, and that is part of the self-reflection, growth and maturity process too.

The bottom line is finding the 'right' balance. Being human and approchible, while being trusted with important things in the life of the parish.

Being Mrs G and being 'the minister.' Being true to who I am and being true to God and the path he calls me on.

It's not black and white, but shades of grey. I am more and more concious of where the line is in different circumstances, though I also know I will sometimes get it wrong. I pray when I do get it wrong, those who have heard will have the courage to 'correct' me and the grace to forgive, as I learn to think better before I speak.

Monday, 15 September 2014

New experiences

Yesterday brought with it a new experience, but one which I think even The Boss was surprised was new to me. I sat on the 'serving' side of the communion table as it was served. Not being an elder, nor having been involved in communion in any of my placements (except by way of sitting with the congregation), I had never had the opportunity to be involved. It's a strange experience seeing it from 'the other side' and one I will need to get 'used to.'

Apart from communion, which Laura administer, I led the rest of the service. Again, linking the sermon to communion was a new thing for me, as the way things have worked out thus far, I had never preached when communion was being served before. Generally, I think the sermon and prayers I led went well, but perhaps should stick more to my notes. Going off script seems to lead to unforeseen issues, as I loose track of where I am and panic when I realise I have no idea where in my script I am.

The children's address didn't come together as well as I would have liked. It may have been a disconnect between me and the congregation, as I talked to the children (who aren't that chatty). I also thought I had what I was going to say sussed, but realised as I got little reaction that I perhaps hadn't thought it through as well as I thought I had. After the service, someone did ask why I came off the 'stage' (their word), as that means the congregation can't see me as well. Yesterday, with extra things around for communion and the praise band, had I stayed on the 'stage', I would have been a fair bit away from the children, with lots of stuff between us too.

In 'opposition' to my normal custom and practise, I also didn't use the pulpit. This was not down to any 'big' reason, of linking word and sacrament through preaching the sermon from the communion table. No, it was down to having really painful knees and struggling to stand and sit. The short walk and few stairs up to the pulpit could not have been done with any sort of gravitas or dignity yesterday.

Not much comment was really made after the service, except regarding the children's address. One person, who I didn't recognise, did say I was finding my feet (yes, they are at the end of my legs!). I will take that as a complement, though I really realise just how much I still have to learn. Argh!!!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Supportive support group

I can't remember I've mentioned this, but on probation we are to have congregational support groups. These are people drawn from the congregation, who offer support (funnily enough) to the probationer. But, because they aren't ministers, they 'look' for different things to the supervisors. Which is great. And, I am also finding, they are a group who I can ask questions of and feel supported by any time, not just when we are having our 'formal' (that is a misnomer) meetings.

We've met twice as a whole group. They are really great, all wanting the best from me and cover a reasonable diversity of the congregation. Again, great. But they think I am brilliant. In our first meeting, there were some 'negatives' (which were more questions than anything). In our second, it was all a bit too positive. (Yes, what does it say about my mindset that too much positivity feels wrong?).

There is one person in the group who, while all their comments where very positive and encouraging at our last meeting, seems to have got it right in terms of telling me what I need to hear. She was the person who asked questions the first time and in our second meeting talked about more than just the latest service. It's not to say the others aren't good, but she seems to have really got it.

The 'trouble' is, it's all very positive. I know I shouldn't be complaining, but I am all too aware I learn from my mistakes (oh, and how well educated should I be?), rather than always getting things right. Again, perhaps I am being harsh on myself and must remember my support group are doing exactly that - supporting me. They know I am 'new' to all this, and are taking that into account. I just hope and pray I can live up to their expectations of me, when I am a minister. Mostly, I don't want to let God down, but suspect he won't let that happen.

Friday, 5 September 2014

I am who am

A while ago, someone said to me "you don't realise the impact you have on others." Me being me, wasn't sure that was intended in a positive way. It was a statement within a particular context, where I was struggling with something and how I am in relation to others was part of that 'struggle.'

But now, I wonder if it was intended as a compliment. Most people I have encountered at Airside (and previous placements) have commented how I seem to just get on with people - be able to listen and engage with most folks (there will always be those we all just 'can't', but that's life). Both in my time up north and in a week or 2 of being at Airside, I felt I had fitted right in. Again, others commented (and complemented me) on that.

Then via Spot and other contacts, heard of people in previous placements and fellow candidates wondering how I was doing. I even had people from one group I have left say they will miss my take on our discussions.

So, am I underestimating myself? Am I harking back to past criticism from one individual and holding back from being who I really am, as called by God, as made and loved by God?

Yet, I realise I have to be careful with this. Being who I am, who I truly am is not about putting on a front to hide behind, but being willing to be open and vulnerable so God's love can (I pray) shine in and through my engagement with others. Putting on a facade, they will see me, not God's love. But to be fully me opens me up to vulnerability, to pain, to rejection. Potentially. Or, it opens me up to joy and laughter and hope and peace and love.

So I pray I am who I am (oh, better be careful with that expression), created in the image of God and a follower of Christ. Called to minister in his name. Called to follow where he leads. Lets hope my engagement with people is right in and through that calling.