Sunday, 30 November 2014

Teaching and growing

A couple of months ago, I wrote on my feelings on people thinking I was near the beginning, rather than the end of my probation. Bottom line, it terrified me.

I talked this over with a couple of wise friends and with The Boss. All pointed out I should be enjoying it, rather than beating myself up, or trying to 'find the flaws'. And they were right. I have noticed, by focusing on the positives the things I needed to improve on have done so actually quite naturally. It also means I am more and more comfortable, not only in what I am saying and doing (and being) as I learn and grow at Airside, but I am really beginning to accept the congregation there are looking to me to teach them, to listen to them, to (a certain extent) lead them.

It hadn't really occurred to me that the 'expectation' placed on me, the congregation wanting to listen to what I am saying, wanting to seek me out to listen to them, wanting me 'just' to be there was something I wasn't that comfortable with. Every Sunday (though not only on a Sunday) I had been looking out, seeing all those faces looking at me and not really 'got' that they wanted to listen. (Does this make sense?).

Yet, that's part of what I am called to do. Lead worship, preach the good news, teach the congregation. After the conversations about the pressure I felt of 'being too good' and realising how much I have been taken to the hearts of Airside congregation, I realise I need to be who I am and accept (really accept) the calling placed on me. And accept, despite some highly educated people (much more educated than I am) in the congregation, including retired ministers, when 'up front' it is me they are wanting to hear (well, actually, I really hope they hear God's word, working through me, but that's probably a post for another time).

Which means I am much more comfortable in more than scratching the surface in preaching, much more comfortable in trying things out (last week, I included pictures in the sermon, which really worked) and making a fool of myself if necessary. The people gathered have come to worship and hear the word of God preached. When I step up to do that, they want to listen to what I have to say. It's a great privilege and honour to be called to do this, to be allowed to do this too.

The good thing is, despite my concerns (or was that fears?), I am still improving. A member of the congregation mentioned that my confidence has really improved, but I wasn't un-confident to begin with - we knew what she meant, but it's hard to explain. I do hope that confidence doesn't turn to cockiness, as then I would fall on my face.

The whole teaching thing is a little ironic, as I originally 'planned' to become a chemistry teacher. Many people once told me I would make a good teacher, but I never did fulfil that ambition. Yet, there I am, 5 months into probation, being a teacher of sorts. It hadn't really occurred to be until last week, when a member of the congregation (who is a retired teacher) told me "It is the sign of a good teacher that they allow their pupils to think and work out things for themselves. You do that, Mrs G." Wow. Looks like my ambition to teach was a calling too, I hadn't realised it till now.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

5 months in

I'm really settling into my role at Airside Kirk and the congregation are definitely getting comfortable with me, which just makes everything so good. There's not really a whole lot of other ways to put it.

The other week, I was leading the children's address and put a silly hat on. I knew someone in the congregation (or The Boss) would comment, and they did. Without being fazed or pausing for breath, I thanked them (not in a sarcastic way, I hasten to add) and carried on. A few people after the service commented on how great that was to see and The Boss was well impressed, as it showed just how much the congregation have accepted me as their assistant minister.

And, I am much more comfortable in the 'role.' That's not about doubting the call, but it's different as I am on many levels being a minister, rather than 'just' a student on placement. I am taking the lead on things, being sought out for advice or for a listening ear and it's great.

It's not without its challenges, but what job isn't. Most of those I can't really post about at the moment, but they aren't anything I can't learn and grow in and through. Of course, it does help that I have a totally brilliant supervisor. For me, both at this stage in my training and who I am as a person, Laura is just perfect. I respect her enormously and love her to bits. She's tough on me when she needs to be, but it doesn't actually feel tough, if that makes sense, because I know she wants the best of me.

I am just so blessed to be on probation where I am. Yes, it's not just the minister which makes it a fabby place to be, but as I am working so closely with her, it is just a bonus which I thank God for.

5 months in and I can see I have grown in confidence, experience and understanding of where God is leading me. And I absolutely love it. I love the people, I love the variety and I love that God has invited me to be a minister. Where I will land up (this time next year - argh!!!!!) I don't know, but I do know this is exactly where I need to right now, at this stage in my journey of faith.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Ministerial clothes

It's a funny thing, the ministerial wardrobe. So far, all the supervisors I have had have not worn robes. For a couple, it's been smart or semi-smart for most during the week stuff, but a collar for Sunday worship, funerals etc. For another, just ordinary clothes all the time (like, jeans and a top). One was smart shirt and trousers all the time, with a gown worn on request for funerals and baptisms.

Then, I when working during the week have smart jacket and trousers with smart-enough blouses. For Sunday worship and funerals, it's suit with (almost) tailored shirts. I must look smart in those as people who've known me comment on how well I scrub up (well, give half a chance I would wear jeans and a top 99% of the time). The reason for the smarter clothes, especially during the week, is I could be visiting schools or the recently bereaved, where I am there in a professional capacity. While I know 'clothes do not make the (wo)man' I wouldn't feel right not being 'properly' dressed. I also think it gives a little reassurance to those I visit who have not met me in church, as I 'look' more the part. As I look at it, I would expect a police officer or nurse or funeral director to be appropriately dressed when they are being professional, so why shouldn't the minister.

But (oh, you just knew that was coming, didn't you?) I am increasingly wondering if there's a need for me to wear a collar when I get to the point of ordination? I'm not going to undergo a major change in who I am when that happens. Also, in the main, I have not been treated as 'less' of a minister because I don't have a clerical shirt nor am a probationer, thought that may be the context I am currently working (actually, the congregations I served up north last summer saw me as a minister then too).

That said, there a a few factors in Airside parish which help. There's a parish assistant, who people know and love, who is not a minister, so can't wear a collar. And, one of the local ministers, from another denomination, who shares school work with The Boss does not wear a collar. So, again, context is something.

And, especially when visiting care homes, where people may suffer from dementia (and, I will point out, here, that I know that isn't necessarily the case) if it were more pastorally sensitive for me to wear a collar than not, I would (yes, even now, when it's theoretically a 'no'). The same could be said for hospital visits, not only for getting into wards outwith visiting time, but being identified by those I visit.

Yet, taking all that into account, I am becoming less and less inclined towards the idea of wearing a collar as the norm for worship when out in the big bad world. There's practical reasons. I hate things too close to my neck, so would need to wear a shirt a size larger, which wouldn't look smart. Ladies clerical shirts are pants (and rarely come in anything other than poly-cotton - believe me, this is not a good idea for me!). And, they are expensive. Maybe I'll get a decent shirt and get Spot to convert it to a clerical shirt for me...

And, as for cassock and gown and hood and scarf - oh, and preaching tabs, mustn't forget them - do ministers who wear them not get really hot with all that on? I can see the advantage with a cassock, as I could be wearing anything under it. And, knowing what I'm like, I'd land up looking less smart, as a hood or scarf would not sit 'right' and that would annoy me. Of course, I know ministers who wear all this, and in their contexts and because of who they are, it is absolutely right that they wear all the stuff. I'm just increasingly convinced that#s not me and if I were to wear it all, I would be being a bit of a fraud.

Of course, should I land up in a church which is freezing cold, all this could go out the window, as I realise I could do with the layering...

Monday, 17 November 2014

Remembrance 2014 reflection

Oh, what with one thing and another, I am realising both time and situations mean there's less and less I can (or an willing to) share in a public forum, no matter how anonomysed the content may be. So, apologies in advance for the intermitancy of postings.

But, what's been going on? Well, Remembrance Sunday went really well. Yes, I was nervous, mainly due to the nature of the service rather than the increased numbers present. Finding the balance which leans towards commenoration, without celebration, triumpalism or nationalism is hard to trend, especially with the knowledge there were former and current service personel in the congregation. But, with proper preparation, I got that balance right.

Everything went really smoothly, especially the public act of memorial. That says a lot of those who, not only attended, but organised the order of the laying the wreaths, music, etc. All I had to do was say the right words and trust the other things would come together - and they did.

And the church service was pretty cohesive. I think that was the best service I have lead, thus far, at Airside, so it's good to feel I am improving and learning. The only 'glitch' was the point after the final hymn when people, not familiar with church services began to sit. When everything had gone well, thought - "don't do this to me" - but a voice in the back of my head reminded me to ask the congregation to remain standing. A minor glitch, but a lesson learned from it was to ask people to remain standing after the final hymn, in such services, in future.

Since the service feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, both on the day and throughout the week. Even The Boss was pleased. And I don't mean that in a she's really pedantic and niggly way, but it's her job to point out where I could improve etc. The only thing she asked about was my use of the pulpit, but that was more to see if I'd thought that through, rather than to critique.

So, I'm pleased I had the courage to ask to lead this service while I had someone to 'hold my hand.' Much of what I may encounter in any parish was covered and I have learned I can do this well.

But with all that in mind, I am also mindful of the additional time in prayer and preparation I needed for the service. And, though I am gaining confidence and experience, I am all to mindful that is only possible through my continuing reliance on God to lead and challenge and grow me into the minister I can and need to be.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday 2014

As part of probation, it is strongly encouraged by Ministries Council (or so I believe) that we lead the majority of the Remembrance Sunday act of worship, if possible. Though I have lead a service before (last year), I wanted the opportunity to do it under supervision at Airside.

I've volunteered to do it as most of the elements which might come up in a parish are there. The act of remembrance at the town war memorial; local dignitories laying wreaths; various youth organisations in attendance; a respected RAF vetern in the congregation; etc, etc. Leading in its entirety the act of remembrance and taking the lead on the church service immediately after while there is someone to stand along side and support me is exactly what I need.

So, would I say I am a little concerned about the idea of leading this on Sunday. No, I'm totally wetting myself (using the polite term). This is one of the times of year where people come to church that otherwise would not darken its doors, but the other really big hitter - Christmas - has a really positive message. I'm not saying a Remembrance Sunday service can't have that, but there's the extra pressure of commenoration, without celebration and without belittling the work of those who will be there who have been and currently are in the armed services.

Then, there's working out how to express the theology, without it going over the heads of the gathered, who don't come to church as a matter of course (I am reluctant to say regularly, because if they come annually for this service, that is regaularly!). Again, guidance from The Boss has firmed that up a bit. I think that is a confidence thing, of being 'prepared' to preach the good news, rather than give a history lecture (which it so easily could be, as it's maybe easier to state facts than describe how to work towards peace).

I'm feeling a little more comfortable with what I have to say on Sunday, knowing it comes together and has a reasonable balance. I also know I will be supported throughout by The Boss and my support group. I'm even getting The Boss to do a bit of the service, so it we're sharing it. (There is something a bit weird about 'telling' your boss what to do, or is that just me?).

The bottom line, for me, is I am praying God will use this service to take the good news to those gathered.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Rev Dr Nikki

Back in 2008, I began this blog and, as happens, people began to read it and comment on what I had to say. Especially through enquiry (as was - now it's called discernment), I found the support and encouragement of those who had 'gone before' me exceptionally useful. I know that part of the process can be very isolating, as we really think about our callings, our faith, our lives etc, etc. Knowing that what I was thinking and feeling wasn't unusual let me know I was not alone.

Among those who supported me, since almost the beginning, is Nikki, who I met in person at one of those 'candidate socials' before uni begins. In the 4 years since then, she has been a fount of wisdom and support. I hope I have been able to reciprocate. It's my privilege to call her friend.

(When 4 probationers are together at 1 table, at the social after wards, this is not necessarily a good thing. I think most of the laughter came for our table! Not helped by someone saying 'oh, there's another one bites the bust...')

So, I was delighted to attend Nikki's ordination on Wednesday. It was a great night, where Nikki became Rev Dr Nikki. She'll be a brilliant minister.

You're great Nikki. Really, you are.

PS You must take time off. We will get on to you about this. Really, we will.