Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ministry - finally, acceptance

Sunday was the first time, since beginning probation, that I've been leading worship where The Boss wasn't around - either sitting up front or in the pews. Had to be when it was readings and carols, so most of my role was making sure things went smoothly, which wasn't that onerous in this congregation.

Though sharing the service with members of the congregation (who were reading the lessons) and the parish assistant, I was very much seen by the congregation as being 'in charge' (oh, if only they knew...) and being 'the minister' in The Boss' absence. And for once, maybe really for the first time, that didn't daunt or terrify me at all. I seem to have 'finally' got, in a deep and real way that I am a minister (let's not get too pedantic about not technically being one until ordained, I'm looking inwards towards my calling and outwards towards how others perceive me).

This feeling, this sense of acceptance in a 'new' way is really hard to explain and I wonder if I am alone in the feeling that somehow, all along, I was going to be 'found out'? I doubt it, but few would want to admit it (or maybe even realise it wasn't truly there).

I do know having a mirror put up to me, by my support group and supervisor, combined with the total immersion in the life and work of Airside for 6 months has allowed this part of my formation (oh, I do hate using that phrase!) take place. I know an unwillingness to fully embrace who I am was out of fear I would lose who I am, if that makes sense at all? God calls me to be a minister, so gifts me with the skills and talents to be a minister, therefore I become a minister, I am a minister, in following and responding to that call. (Ooo, this is a bit deep, isn't it?).

I don't think this process will be complete, ever. Though a minister, I still want to be Mrs G - I am Mrs G and the 2 are inseparable, but there will be times where people will only see 'the minister', no matter what I do. And with that comes certain expectations, some right, some wrong. Sorting out which are which, and which is right for my calling will be an interesting challenge. And sometimes busting people's ideas of what a minister is like is no bad thing. God called someone like me, after all.

In a slightly bizarre twist, I find I am trying to be a better, more circumspect, more listening, more reflective, more compassionate person as I try to live up (or grow up?) to where God is leading me. I suppose it's a bit like getting fit for cycling. A couple of miles is hard graft when you've not cycled for years, with the need to get off the bike and push for any hill. With perseverance and determination, cycling trips become longer and easier, the hills taken with pleasure, rather than pain. All because there was the willingness to keep trying, to keep going, and to enjoy the hurl down the other side of the hill, with minimal effort (or nailing it in the hope I'll get up to 40mph - yes, this has happened!).

I can't believe how far I've travelled these last 6 months (or is it 6 years?). It's been fun, challenging, difficult at times, but mainly fun. That's how I know this is my calling, because I believe everyone has one and, the way we know is that we enjoy it, deeply and fully, even in the hard and difficult times, because it is what the deepest parts of our souls' know is the right thing for us to be doing. Ministry is it for me.

Next week, I have my interim review. I pray it goes well and God is with those present (especially me!). Then bring on 2015 and all the excitement and risks and challenges it will bring.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Just get on with it

On Sunday, I woke up with a throat so sore, it felt as though I had swallowed a packet of razor blades. Thankfully, I still had a voice (especially once lubricated with about half a gallon of tea) and, due to the nativity play being staged during worship, I wasn't speaking that much.

By the time I went to bed on Sunday, I knew a cold was brewing (I know, not unusual at this time of year, but bear with me, there's a point, honest!). Monday was a morning of a bit of prep for the coming couple of weeks. I had planned on fitting in a couple of pastoral visits, but decided it wouldn't be that pastorally sensitive taking my virus out to those who are vulnerable (oh, they were okay, until Mrs Gerbil visited, now they have pneumonia). By lunchtime, I could feel I was getting a bit worse for wear, as I was putting extra layers on. I don't feel the cold. This was not a good sign.

But I had to head out in the afternoon. I was leading the Advent study and, with The Boss being unavailable, it was up to me. It did go well, but I could have done without it.

Then, yesterday, there was the funeral I was taking. Okay, had push come to shove, I could have contacted the pastoral assistant attached to Airside, to see if they could step in, but didn't want to do that. Firstly, due to distance, I hadn't actually met the lead mourners before the event, only been in contact via phone and email. At least I knew the voice, but that was it. But more importantly, I had a pastoral responsibility to conduct the funeral - to those I had met, to those I had spoken to and to the funeral director.

Fortunately, I managed to carry out my duties. I don't think the mourners or my fellow professionals realised I wasn't well, which is good, as I would hate to think they were more concerned about me than being given the opportunity to mourn their loved one. It's amazing what a packet of cough sweets and 2 aspirins before a service can do!!!

But today, I'm missing a couple of school assemblies. Yes, I've a lot better, but don't think it would be a good start to children's (or teachers') holidays them getting my cold. It would have been nice to go and support the nativities, but certainly not a priority.

Which gets into the territory of what is a priority? And, me being very much aware in a parish, 'on my own', I may well just have to get on with stuff, irrespective of how I am feeling (within reason, I know there may be times where that isn't an option). But where's the line (and is there a line?) and what is and isn't a priority. I suspect that will change and evolve as I go on. It's also highlighted, for me, the necessity of having some people within a congregation who could step up to take a funeral or lead worship. And, of course, maintaining good relationships with neighbouring colleagues, as they may have to be called upon to step in, if necessary (and they are available).

So, felling rotten? Might just have to get on with it.

Monday, 8 December 2014

I am the sort of person who becomes a minister

The road to ministry has been a long one, for me. It was back in 2008 I (finally) attended an enquirers' conference (now known as a vocations' conference). But my call to ministry, or the seeds of that call, were first sown when I was in my early teens. So, if I start the journey there, it is over 25 years - well, you don't want to rush these things, do you???

When I was getting to that stage in life (17 years old), when I was trying to figure out what I should be doing with my life, the call began to be a plant, rather than just seeds. I prayed; I thought long and hard about it. Looking back, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had accepted my call then, but I also look at the things (good and bad) I have experienced and see how much I have already been able to use in my ministry.

Being someone who had a strong church connection, and a school friend whose Dad was a minister, I decided to confide in my friend and their Dad. Their reaction - my friend laughed and her Dad told me "People like you don't become ministers." Being somewhat naive and respecting that man's opinion (at that time), I realised I was wrong about my calling.

Now, you may be wondering why that minister said what he did. I didn't challenge it back then, but I suspect it was because I was brought up by a single parent; wasn't "righteous"; I came from one of the less attractive areas of my home town; hadn't become a member of the church by that stage (that come when I was 21, when I was right for me, rather than the 'natural progression at 15/16 from Sunday School.); am a bit of an introvert, and basically am not your 'normal' ministry fodder. Okay, this is all speculation, but it did mean I ignored and fought my call more than I may otherwise have, all due to one person's comment.

But here I am. With 2 degrees (still wondering how that happened), more than 5 months through probation in my journey to become a minister. Actually, no, I am a minister. I may not be an ordained minister, but I am a minister. I believe it, Airside Kirk congregation relate to me as their assistant minister and God calls me as a minister.

So, perhaps people like me don't (usually or normally) become ministers, but God doesn't look at what's normal or usual. He often calls the unlikely and the outsider. And I, in many ways, am one. But he still calls. And I am glad I now am a minister, even if it took me a while and I am not the most likely candidate.

It looks like my school friend's Dad was wrong. I am the sort of person who becomes a minister.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

100% Mrs Gerbil

Airside Kirk really is the best placement I have been on. The others were, in their own ways, places where I learnt and grew. In some cases, it is only with the benefit of hindsight (and a bit of distance) that I can now see how they have moulded, challenged and encouraged me. But, for each one before now, I was going where I didn't want to go (well, Highland Cathedral may be an exception, but I was only there for a short period of time, compared to Airside).

I was persuaded to go to Eagleside, but had somewhere else in mind. And Caledonia Kirk - I deliberately chose because it was so different from any church I have experienced - in worship and leadership style and theologically. The bottom line with those two placements, in particular, is I never fitted in. And that was inevitable, but a strain too. I never really could be who I am and, I suppose, that meant I never truly embraced that I am called to be a minister. Yes, I knew I had been accepted to train, I was training, but maybe I wasn't fully there. Partly, I have had the feeling I am going to be 'found out' at any point and the powers that be will realise they've made a terrible mistake.

But, over 5 months at Airside, I have truly accepted where I am heading. I am getting used to being looked to for as a source of advice, teaching, listening ear, etc etc. I am accepting when I stand at the front of the congregation, they want to listen to me (yes, I know, to me).

This 'transformation' is partly due to being immersed in congregational and parish life, being on this 15 month full-time journey. It is partly due to a great congregation, who I have fitted in so well with. Mainly, though, it is working with a brilliant supervisor who, in the way she is as a minister, has given me the permission to be the minister I am called to be. And I am so aware just how lucky I am to be serving my probation under her guidance.

I know I have commented, in the past, that I have tried to emulate Laura, but I don't anymore, as I am who I am. I cannot be someone else. A few years ago, in this post, I talked of my first minister and how I would want to be a portion of the minister he is. The other day, a respected and senior minister in the Kirk told me if I became half the minister Laura is, I would do very well. But now I don't want to be 50% her or 10% him. I am called to be 100% Mrs Gerbil. Nothing more, nothing less. That is who God calls me to be and that is how I should follow.