Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Initmate situations

Fundamentally, I am actually quite a shy, introverted person. I don't especially like large gatherings of people - especially groups of people I don't know. And I am pretty much allergic to anything at all which places me at the centre of attention, in any shape or form. Yes, and I am training for ministry...

So, what do I get myself into these days? I stand at the front of a congregation most weeks, trying to 'proclaim the gospel'; I turn up at church social events; I go into schools and care homes; etc, etc. I know, I am (I really, really hope) pointing to God in all I do, but with the best will in the world, it's me they are seeing 'up front'.

But, especially when leading worship in church, there are places I can 'hide', be it behind the communion table or in the pulpit. It's just a little bit, but something. Other times, there is no 'hiding place.'

Leading small groups I find very intimidating. There's the proximity of everyone, so less 'room' for those nervous ticks which are normally hidden from view. I can, so to speak, see the white of their eyes, really see how the group are interacting with me, and one another.

I especially find this hard when leading bible study (which, admittedly, I've barely done much of). As the person with theological training, I am expected to have all the answers (to one extent or another). And, though it's genuinely great to learn what those there thoughts are on the passage, I have struggled to work out exactly when to 'fill the silence'. That fine line of allowing people the chance to add thoughts, ideas, questions, without letting it go in too long (but then, I am really quite comfortable with silence, so they don't seem that drawn out to me!).

But, you know what they say, practise makes perfect. And, boy that's what I need, not only for leading bible studies, but for being 'the minister' in these more intimate of situations. Strangely, one-to-one or one-to-two pastoral situations don't have this effect.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Not feeling guilty

It's been a quiet week this past week. The Boss has been in holiday (following my week off - could look like we've been avoiding each other!) and, with it being the school holidays, some of the activities in the church and parish haven't been on.

As a consequence, though I have, when I list it, done a reasonable amount (hospital and pastoral visits; attend a couple of funerals; go to a fund raising concert; Presbytery committee meeting; prepare Sunday worship; coffee morning etc), I haven't been too pressed for time, I haven't bust a gut to 'prove' I am busy. And I don't feel guilty about it at all.

As The Boss has pointed out, until Boxing Day, things are going to be very busy. So, when I have the chance to take it a little easier (and it's not just because Laura wasn't around), I have. I know I like to be busy, but also need time, now and again. It's a balance, and one which isn't always easy to get right (or even achieve). But I know it's one I need to strike, so I don't burn out once I am a real minister.

I suppose it's easy to feel I (or, indeed, any minister) need to fill my diary to 'justify' myself. To prove I am serving God, the church and the parish. But, if I work 60, 70+ hours a week, week in week out, I will get tired, ineffective and no longer be able to serve.

I know there are times when that level of workload will have to be done, but it's not sustainable, not for me anyway. I need time to spend with those who are important to me. I need time to spend with God, and if I don't do that, I get spiritually, emotionally and physically tired. Then, what use am I to those I am called to serve?

So, a 'quiet' week, but I am not going to feel guilty about it. God knows, I needed it.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Defer, without deferring

There are many things (most) ministers defer responsibility to others to carry out. Be it teaching children (by having Sunday School, or whatever we're calling it this week), maintaining the congregational roll or managing church bookings. One way or another, these (and other things) are the responsibility of the minister.

Yes, there is a difference between responsibility and actually having to make sure it's done. While I was at uni, I was exempt from Council Tax, so full responsibility for that fell on Spot's shoulders. But, 6-7 times out of 10, it would likely be me making sure it got paid. (Okay, so not a church example, but work with me here).

I wonder, though, what happens when people who have taken on that responsibility don't do it as 'expected.' Perhaps music is offered for an event, not used, but that which is used doesn't tie in with the theme of the even. Or, the teaching of the children doesn't fit with their age group or stage in their faith journey or with the 'ethos' of the church.

I suppose, what I am getting it is how to defer responsibility, getting others in the congregation to use their gifts and skills )and lets face it, they may well be much better placed to do some things,  than the minister, for a whole load of reasons) while encouraging and supporting them, but 'correcting' (I know, not really the right word, but I hope you know what I mean!) if necessary.

There's the obvious - preaching. Maybe the right word at the right time. And, picking the 'battles' or working out what matters and what's less 'important'. Oh, all these sort of questions that I just wish were straightforward and black and white. Like most of ministry, so much shades of grey!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The blank sheet of paper

I don't really like blank sheets of paper (which they aren't anymore, because I type onto a screen, but the phrase remains.) Some hook, some word, some phrase to guide, cajole, encourage, challenge even is great. I can work with that. I can play with that. But a blank sheet, I struggle with.

Though it's only the beginning of October, I need to write an article for Airside church magazine - the Christmas edition. I've been given that blank sheet. Naturally, there's an expectation Christmas or Advent forms part of the underlying blankness - with the knowledge this is the edition which goes to the whole parish, not just the congregation. So, no pulling and adapting last year's message for Quarry Kirk.

So, I have had a think. That's about it. And, due to deadlines, I have to have this in by the weekend. Perhaps a bit of procrastination will help. (Oh, that's what I am currently doing!).

Monday, 6 October 2014

A Good Conference

Over the time I have been training for ministry, I have been to a few conferences. Firstly, there was enquires conference (vocations conference, as it is now known), then assessment conference and 4 candidates' conferences. Over the weekend, I was at yet another conference, this time the first of 4 for probationers over the coming 9 months.

I remember the relief of knowing I was not 'alone', in my fears, doubts, feelings of not being the 'right' sort of person etc, etc. While there, among others, I met one person who is now also on probation and, told me over the weekend, that she had absolutely no doubt in her mind from the first time she met me that I was called to me a minister. Knowing the journey she has been on to get where she is made that all the more humbling.

Assessment conference I, bizarrely, quite enjoyed. Yes, it was pressurised. Yes, I was 'on' for the weekend. But, there I had a sense all of us there were in the same boat as it wasn't about numbers, but about callings. And, we were all at the same stage, with the 'same' pressures.

But come my first candidates' conference, I didn't get on too well. Due to deferring, there was no one in 'my' year group I knew. No one I had met before at the same stage as I was. In retrospect, I felt overwhelmed, isolated, inadequate and completely out-of-my-depth. Everyone else appeared sorted and comfortable, even those in my year group (though I know know that was definitely not the case!).

So, at that conference I hid as much as I could. I went for walks on my own. I went to my room as soon as sessions finished. I barely spoke and, when I did, as little as I could.

Things got better at the following conferences, as I became more comfortable in my own skin and more aware that the fears and doubts and being out of my depth everyone else was feeling too (well, almost everyone, but there's always someone who seems to be totally sorted). When new people 'arrived' I saw it as my 'role' to look for those who were struggling and (hopefully) give them some reassurance and encouragement.

But I still didn't really 'settle' at them. I suppose it's a mixture of reasons, but perhaps that feeling of inadequacy lingered. Or, my first conference 'clouded' my vision for future ones.

Now, though, that feeling seems to have passed. I enjoyed the weekend. I enjoyed catching up with people, some of whom I haven't seen since August last year. I enjoyed meeting people 'new' to the group - those transferring from other ministries or other churches, or those who have been out of the 'system' for a few years. I enjoyed the support and encouragement we gave each other. The reassurance that what I am being stretched or questioned or probed on others have. With the reassurance we are all in this together.

I think this acceptance and enjoyment of this conference is part of my journey to ministry. Part of my acceptance that God has, and continues to, call me and my colleagues. Part of my journey of accepting that the person who told me in my teens that people like me don't become ministers was wrong. Part of that acceptance is where I am serving probation. Part of that acceptance is the journey I've been on these 6 years.

Funny how others 'saw' that before I did. Funny how others 'accepted' that before I did. Funny how this journey works out. Funny how I just know, deep within me, I am in the right place at the right time for me, for the church, for God's calling on my life. That, I think is why this conference was good.