Thursday, 29 October 2015

The next step

I thought those of you who occasionally drop in on this blog, through a sense of morbid curiosity, because you've found my trials and tribulations interesting or as you've supported me through parts of the process of discernment and training through your comments here, would like to know how things are going.

Well, I completed my probation at the brilliant, amazing Airside Kirk a the end of September. I still can't believe it's a month since that finished. The people there are extraordinary (though I may be a smidge bias!) and I learnt so much, and truly accepted I am a minister. My wonderful Boss helped with that a lot (am I am struggling to get out of the habit of calling her The Boss, as she's not anymore...).

As a leaving gift, they gave me this ark:

My Ark
All hand knitted with great love and affection. Even the rainbow's knitted, which is especially cool. They also gave me a quite large cheque, to spend how I wish. Though I've not thought of anything yet, I am going to get something keepy (like a good bit of furniture or something like that).

It's odd not seeing that church family. They became my church family really quite quickly after landing there and I know I will always be part of that family - will be welcomed back with open arms (perhaps a little too literally!) anytime I do visit.

But I have to go away. No really, I will be moving, because earlier this month I preached as sole nominee for linked charge in a a beautiful area of the north of Scotland, with amazing, wonderful people whom I just know I will be able to work with. They voted in my favour and I am their Minister Elect. Exciting times ahead.

When I look back 4 years ago, when I started training, I can hardly believe the journey I've taken. Looking even further back, and as some people who I know have pointed out, it's been a long and not especially straightforward journey for me. But, who wants a straightforward journey? The more circuitous routes may be harder to get to, but they've more often than not worth it, for the views, for the new experiences, for the self learning. That happens in road trips and cycles and walks, and, I think, in life in general. Looking back, though there have been tough bits (and I did make some things tough for myself), the journey's been a great one.

And now I am about to head off to begin the next bit of that journey. A journey, a road, a way I will never stop travelling, as I follow the path God leads me on, knowing that Jesus walks at my side.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Letting go

In 1 week's time, I will be unemployed. No, I won't sign on, for a variety of reasons, though it may be a useful bit of research into how those on benefits are treated. Over the course of probation, I've been setting aside a bit every week, so there's something to keep Spot and I going until I an 'in charge.' And I know we are very fortunate to be in this position.

Next month, I'll be preaching as sole nominee for a charge. After the service, the congregation will vote as th whether or not they want to call me as their minister. So, it's not a done deal quite yet. It does feel like the 'right' place, even though I go through waves of 'what have I done' and excitement. The excitement waves are longer and higher than the doubts, you'll be pleased to know!

But, at the moment I'm doing lasts. Last visits to people I've offered regular pastoral care too over the last 15 months; last meetings; last coffee mornings; last service (where I'm wondering if it was a good idea agreeing to take the service - done now, though!). Etc, etc.

Then, there's trying to visit people who have supported me, in many ways, through this placement, but who won't be there on Sunday to wish me well (I could, at this stage, have a bit of a rant in saying if they wanted to, they could come to me...but I won't too much!).

Then, there's trying to convince people I will not be around after 30 September. While I won't have anything church-wise to do, they need to let me go and know I am not part of Airside anymore. Or, maybe it's me who needs to go. I have a (possibly very bad) habit of going, preferring clean breaks to long, lingering goodbyes. Sooner or later, I will be (God willing - the congregation I am preaching as sole nominee for may still vote against me) over 150 miles away.

Yes, I know some will come to my ordination, and it will be lovely to have them there with me. 150 miles, I do think, is a great filter, as nosey people won't make that sort of journey just for the nebbiness factor.

It's hard this, harder than I thought it would be. But, as Spot said last night, I am a big softie, who doesn't like people knowing that I care. I need the clean break so I can let go.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


I am getting somewhat neglectful of this blog, aren't I? A combination of time and inclination. It's not that there's nothing happening, it's what/when to post on and, increasingly, I am using other platforms to post (not so anonymously on those).

Since I last posted (goodness, over 2 months ago), working out where I may serve has been an 'interesting' time. I'm not entirely sure when I decided it, but I realised with all the other things I thought about call, it occurred to me that part of it was a congregation had to 'make the first move,' on some way. That could be by email, phone or in writing, but they had to be one of the churches who bothered to get in touch - who bothered to call me. I know that isn't the norm, but I never said I was normal, did I?

The scary thing is, of the almost 180 charges currently advertised, I think I've heard from around 30. Yes, I accept there's been summer holidays and some charges may not want a probationer, but when I've heard tales of those who've recently gone before me getting 70+ profiles through their inboxes/letterboxes in the first few days of being granted permission to look for their 'own' charge, it seems not very many.

But, so far, I have had 3 Nom Coms come to hear me. Which is really encouraging. I also preached away from Airside, so another Nom Com could hear me.

I have also had 2 interviews. Both were good congregations, with plenty scope for my gifts, but 1 felt 'right.' It's hard to fully explain why, but I really do think the one which felt more 'right' certainly seems to be the place God is calling me to minister. The exciting thing is, they seem to think so too.

So, it may have not been quick, though a couple of months isn't really that long. I do think the various visits to Airside Nom Coms have made, and which I have made, have helped prepare me for when I preach as sole nominee.

It's exciting, a but scary and really quite wonderful too. Much like love, this call can't be fully explained, but I know it's there.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The assumptions people make

Over the last couple of weeks, it has been my privilege to be at the ordination of a couple of friends as priests in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Though merely a member of the congregation, on both occasions, I was there to offer my support in events which marked important stepping stones in their journeys of faith and calling.

Being a service in the SEC, there was communion. As I watched those gathered going up to receive the elements, virtually everyone kneeled. I struggle to kneel, though I don't look like someone who would. Though I know I don't have to kneel, I did not want to look disrespectful, so made the decision I wouldn't go to receive communion.

Which is where others, who don't realise I am attempting to be respectful, may draw the wrong conclusions, and I suppose I have to live with that, keeping a focus on thinking I was trying to do the right thing. I wonder if they maybe thought it wasn't communion or I was being disrespectful? Oh, the maze of trying to be sensitive to others, while realising there's sometimes I won't win, whatever I do. These were among those times.

Among those gathered were some who obviously couldn't go up the the altar to receive communion - those in wheelchairs, with walking frames etc. The stewards asked each one of those if they would like communion brought to them. While I am delighted this happened, it was interesting this offer was only made to those with outward signs of infirmary. Which makes me wonder, how many others did not look as though they would struggle to go up to the altar to receive communion, but would struggle and, due to conclusions made, were not asked if they wished communion brought to them.

Just for the record, I was more interested in the judgement calls which were made by the stewards, rather than anything else. I suppose I am concerned there are those who feel they aren't allowed to go up to receive communion (and may need gentle encouragement) or have a unseen reason that going up to receive communion at the altar is difficult.

I know we all make assumptions about things, this has been a learning process for me, to consider how we make assumptions in the church, and how to allow all to worship, without being pushy or patronising.

Friday, 26 June 2015

The last year

I can hardly believe this time last year, I was about to begin a journey which would take me to visit Airside's twinned congregation in Malawi. It was an exciting opportunity and real privilege, which I know has lived with me since.

It was while in Malawi I began probation. I'm glad I was able to take the risk of going there - not only to an unknown place, but with an unknown group of people (and that was just those from Airside. Maybe I hadn't really thought about the fact if things hadn't gone well (with people being tired and not in their 'own' places, we can all be a little more grumpy than normal), especially as I was sharing a room with The Boss, probation may have been pretty awkward, to say the least!

But it was a great start and it's been a great year. Yes, there have been, especially in the early few weeks, a sense of me wondering 'should I really be here?' and me (stupidly and unfairly) comparing myself to The Boss. Once I got my head round I am who I am (oh, maybe I should rephrase that...) and I can only be the person God has called me, and to accept I am a minister, things started to fit into place. Consequently, I have become the minister I am now. And it's great.

I know I wouldn't be here without the support of many people. Spot, obviously; those who left positive and honest comments here over the years, especially during my struggles of enquiry - it was good to not have that sense of isolation I know some have during that; various supervisors and congregations. The biggest help this year has been The Boss, though she'll not take nearly as much credit for it as she should.

So here I am, 1 year on since the beginning of a journey at Airside. I can honestly say I have loved 99% of it and the other 1% was still good. God has certainly blessed me this year,

Which lead to a very positive final review the other day. The panel were broadly the same as those I met with at the half way point, so not an unknown quantity. I'm not sure how long these interviews are supposed to take - most people I've spoken to say 25 minutes or so. Then the probationer is invited to go outside, while the panel make their decision. I'm sure my interview only lasted 15 minutes maximum. The panel felt my and The Boss' reports were excellent (and I think they mean in terms of who I am as well as content). They asked a couple of questions, which were very specific to a couple of things I've been involved with and that was about it.

They didn't deliberate for long, a minute at most, and invited me back in to the good news that they are delighted with where I am and I may now begin the process of applying for my 'own' charge.

At the time, I was simply relieved. Not euphoric, not elated, just relieved that what I've done this year has been acknowledged and I was affirmed in my God given calling. It's only beginning to sink in.

Now, where is calling me to be their minister? Watch this space.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The final probationers' conference

Last week, I was at my final probationers' conference. Before going, I was a little apprehensive, as conferences 2 and 3 had not been as useful as we all had hoped, though I do wonder if that brought us together as a group! On the other hand, I was looking forward to catching up with my peers.

It was a good week, despite our reservations. On paper, some of the topics seemed very dry - "The Vacancy Procedure," "Living in a manse," "Moderating a Kirk Session," to name a few. But, due to the quality of those leading the sessions, they turned out to be very useful indeed. In the former of those sessions (along with "The first year in ministry) we were asked what our hopes and fears were. That was really helpful, as we were all coming from the same place, so what I was feeling wasn't unique (*wipes brow in relief*).

It did seem a little odd the probationer Deacons not joining us for the first year in ministry session. Yes, I know there's a difference between being the minister 'in charge' and the role of a deacon, but in 1 year time we will all be well into our first year of ministering.

One of the best sessions was around Moderation Kirk Sessions. The person leading this is an exceptionally experienced minister, with great insight and wisdom, which I know I will tuck away for future use. As part of the session, we had a mock Kirk Session and yours truly was 'The Minister.' That was very useful, and I actually was 'pleased' to have had the chance to do that. As a group, we had become comfortable with one another, so I knew it was a supportive vibe in the room, even though everyone had their 'roles' with the session. It gave the chance to put into practise some of what we'd been taught. I suspect my peers also saw me in a different light, as I 'filled' the role as minister.

Of the week, the only session I struggled with was the Preaching Difficult Texts session. It was run in a very proscriptive way by the session leader, which came after a day looking at collaborative ministry. I don't think the irony was lost on anyone. And, as we approach the end of probation, it is odd to give us this at this stage - one in a parish, we can completely avoid them if we wish! Maybe this would fit better in the first probation conference - then the OLMs could also benefit from it.

Which does make me think there's a lot the OLMs miss out on. They do not get told about their roles as trustees, which they will be as a member of a Kirk Session; they do not get the sessions on Mission, moderating Kirk Sessions or chaplaincy, to name 3, though depending on their deployment/situation, they maybe well be involved in this.

Overall, what I've taken away from these conferences has been connecting with my peers, getting support from them, getting to know them. And, we've all seen one another grow. At the end of conference, 1 of my peers told em they were a little unsure when they saw my name on the list of probationers, as they thought I was very uptight, but they had found I can funny and wise, sometimes at the same time! From that individual, that was praise indeed.

The question now is, how to keep in touch with them all...maybe I should consider joining Facebook?

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Getting ready

Blimey, probation isn't half flying in fast. Sunday will mark the 11 month mark. I really can't believe there's only 4 months to go!

Added to that is the realisation that there are some things which, in the next few weeks, I'll be doing for the last time at Airside Kirk. Or, the next time they happen may be less than 2 weeks before my time there is up!

I can honestly say, I have loved it. And continue to love it. Yes, there have been lower times, but that was me getting to grips with where I am spiritually and as a minister, rather than anything at Airside. I know I've come a long way, as the confidence in who I am, and what I am called to do is truly part of me, in a very real and deep down way.

Even more scary is in less than 4 weeks, I will have a review which will determine if I can begin the process of 'applying' for a charge. It's exciting and really quite terrifying all at the same time. Though there doesn't seem to be anything major, I'm taking nothing for granted about that.

Worryingly, or maybe not, there is one church which would like me to apply to them. That's not official, official, it you know what I mean, but they are quite keen on me. Not sure if I feel called, which is a shame, as they are lovely.

This week I've been filling in my forms which look at what I've done, how I've develop, over the year. I HATE FILLING IN FORMS. But I want to get them right, and give a fair and honest reflection on what I've achieved. The Boss also writes a report and we get to see one another's. I've always like the openness of this system. In this case, because supervision has been spot on, I suspect 121 might think we've copied and pasted from one another. But, that shows The Boss has done her job right, I think.

Then, the other night, I have a mock interview, as if I was applying for Airside. It was really useful and I can see where I could have answered better, where I answered well and questions I would want to put to a nom com. It was a bit surreal, too, though, as the group and I know one another very well. It's lovely how seriously they took it, how much effort and prep went into it and how much they want to help me as much as they can. Pity I can't take them with me, but I've been told I can't have them by The Boss!

Wherever I go I know it will be the right place and I will be the best minister I can be because of all who've worked with me since I began this journey 7 years ago, especially Airside. I'll miss them; boy will I miss them.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Getting real

Ten and a half months, that's how long I've been on probation. On one level, it feels as though I've been at Airside Kirk for years, but on the other hand, the time hasn't half flown in. So, deadlines are coming up. And they are making me 'glup.'

There's a church law essay, which I have been procrastinating over for a while. (Actually, still am!). Then, at the same time, the various forms The Boss and I need to fill in, assessing and reflecting on all I've done, go into 121. They form the basis for the discussion at my final review, which is towards the end of June. If that review goes well, I can 'properly' begin bouncing up and down and saying "pick me, pick me" to various churches.

And this is where the 'what church would be daft enough to take me' doubts creep in. On one level, I really do know I can do this. Since beginning training, I have experience how God has, and continues, to gift me with what I need to follow my calling. That has been most in evidence through this probationary period.

People, especially within the congregation, have told me to have greater confidence in my abilities. And I know where they are coming from, but I also know there's a fine line between confidence and complacency and/or cockiness. There's being realistic, without being self-deprecating, while always relying on God.

Oh, and before the essay and forms are due, before the final interview, my wonderful (and I do mean this, they are wonderful) support group are going to put me through a mock interview. For which I'll (I think) need to prepare a CV. And work out what questions I'll ask. I don't want to do it, but know I need to...

And a CV. Oh, there are people in the congregation who can help with this, but I am really bad at selling myself. If I'm being honest, I sort of object to having to sell myself, but how else is a congregation who may want me going to know what I am coming with. I know an application form, then I have fixed questions to answer. Argh. But needs must. Must remember not to be flippant with it!

It's all getting a bit 'real.' Was always going to. But it's definitely where I should be going and I know God is with me and before me and around me every step of the way.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Be careful about jumping to conclusions

Now that I am heading closer and closer to the point where, God willing, I can begin to formally apply for my 'own' church, many questions are beginning to spring up. Where to go? What kind of minister am I? How do I sell myself? (that is one of the questions I don't like at all).

People get concerned for Spot - what would he do? It's nice people are interested, but I don't think people really believe he will go wherever I go. He's studying for his degree at the moment, distance learning, so that isn't a barrier. And we, and I know we're very luck in this regard, can manage quite comfortably on 1 salary. The joys of being mortgage free!

I do suspect there are some who wonder why we manage. Again, it's nice they are concerned, but it really isn't anyones business but ours. Funny, I think some people put 2 and 2 together and come up with 73. Does get me thinking about all the ways we all jump to conclusions about people's circumstances, based on what we assume is going on, or based on who we think they should live. Just a wee bit of me thinks that's going on with Spot and my circumstances. I just wish those who wonder would just ask. They may get a surprise.

And maybe that's a lesson for us all. Ask before drawing conclusions and find out all the facts before drawing them. But, we're all human, we all jump to conclusions. The key, I think, is to realise when we're projecting our own standards onto others, and those standards aren't right for the other.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Messy Church - it's not really for everyone

As with a growing number of churches, Airside Kirk host a regular Messy Church. Over the time I have been involved in these at Airside, I have seen a growth in numbers attending and a deepening of relationships between families, and between those of us from Airside Kirk would help run Messy. There's definitely something happening there and I will be sad not to be around for much longer.

The thing that gets to me about Messy is the argument that Messy isn't for children, it's for all. While I agree with the former part of that statement, I do not agree it is for all. That's not just from my experience at Airside, but based on a lot of thinking about this over the last wee while. (Triggered, in part, with thinking about how to 'attract' couples without children to hear and learn about the gospel).

If Messy is open to all, then I wonder how organisers of Messy churches would react if a single person (especially a man on his own) came to Messy. I don't think we'd know what to do. Yet, I'm told Messy is for everyone.

And, if I'm being totally honest, if I wasn't involved in church, I would not go to Messy. Yes, Spot and I are a family, but we are a family without children. Where would we fit into Messy? And how would those who come to Messy react?

This isn't a criticism of Messy church. Not really, honest! I think there's never going to be a one size fits all model of church. Messy is one way of being church, it's not the only one and that's great, because there's diversity in God (the trinity) and people reflect that diversity.

I still have no answers as to how Messy could become truly for all. Maybe it never can, is that a bad thing? I don't think so, I think those of us who are involved in Messy should acknowledge that.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Worrying about others or myself

It's nearly 10 months since I began probation at Airside Kirk. Wow - that's certainly flown in, but with it comes the ever growing realisation that it won't be that long till I'll be moving on from there. Aaaaarrrrgggghhhhh.....

God willing, I'll 'pass' my final review (the intensive interview which decides if I can can proceed to ordination, and which allows me to being the formal search for 'my' church). Then I have 3 months to find a job, before I'm unemployed. I know everyone tells me I'll find somewhere without a problem, but I'll begin counting chickens once they've hatched!

I have been looking, on occasion, at parish profiles, so I have a bit of an idea where I may go. I am trying to be as open minded as possible, as if I say I am not going somewhere, I can guarantee that's where I'll end up.

In among this all, I am still learning (but that will never stop), still growing, still doing what I am called to do, which includes supporting colleagues - especially (at this stage) those of us who are also on probation. I have been sometimes concerned how they will manage once 'on their own,' but I now realise it's been a whole load of projection on my part.

I am concerned how I'll manage once I am 'The Minister.' Once there's no more buck passing (not that I get to do that much, but I hope you know what I mean); once I go somewhere new and I have to begin the whole process of getting to know the congregation, the parish etc again.

I know this is the way it much be. And there are things which, I completely support, I wouldn't necessarily do it that way, long term, where I might go. There's things I may say in another context, I would not say at Airside. Perhaps not because they shouldn't hear it, but because it would not fit with what they're used to (sorry, being deliberately vague!).

So, I need to think, when I wonder about others, am I really wondering about myself? And, if I am being honest, the answer is yes.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Taking time to think

Because I have (I was going to say had, but thought that wouldn't be completely true) a tendency to, on occasion, put my foot in it (I know, don't we all?), sometimes I take a wee bit longer than normal to answer a question.

It may be while I work out what the real question is; it could be I'm aware the person speaking to me is a little fragile and I need to be careful how I answer; or it could be I'm trying to work out whether or not they are being really sarcastic. If it's the latter, I need to take that second or too longer to (a) work out whether being cheeky or sarcastic back would be appropriate or (b) decide to answer politely and move on.

This will take a moment. Just a moment, as I try to use a wee bit more sensitivity than I think I need. Okay, so I'm usually very quick at answering, so that may confuse you. But, sometimes, as I am learning, a wee pause to think it better than putting my foot so far in it that it'll take more than half a second to correct.

Of course, this all depends on who I am talking to (and where I am talking to them), the context of the conversation, who else may hear what I am saying, my state of mind and my awareness of the state(s) of minds of those with whom I am speaking.

So, if I pause to think before I reply, don't worry, I am listening. Really, listening and thinking and watching. Honest.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

This stage in my journey

Airside is currently 'doing' (oh, that sounds really bad, doesn't it?) its stewardship season at the moment, which is focusing on talents. I've enjoyed being part of the planning and preparation for this, which began back in September, just after their 'money' season. The team who organise and promote stewardship at Airside are a hardworking, dedicated and fun group (boy, am I going to miss this congregation...).

There's a coffee morning next week, to for the congregation to come to and see what they can maybe offer, to help the church. Maybe for a one off, maybe for a year. I know, there has already been people coming forward, to help with things, as a result of hearing and reading about the stewardship campaign. Which is great.

Today, was the 'main' service, focusing on talents, how we are all gifted, all called, and all can do something. And it was well thought out and planned, which was reflected in the service.

What I wasn't expecting, was elements of it to freak me out. Some of the words of hymns, or prayers, or even looking around and realising what a great community there is at Airside. Mainly, it was comments about gifts - unearthing them, trying something, taking the risk to see if that's where God is calling you at the moment - all not directly intended for me, but just were.

I'm so conscious of how much I've grown in faith and experience and trust in God during my time (so far) at Airside. I have unearthed gifts I didn't know I had (and they can only be from God, because how else do you explain someone who's musically inept, who can't read music and who can't sing, being good at choosing the 'right' hymns, not just for today, but 99.9% of the time? And that's just one example). As my trust of God has deepened, I have felt better able to have confidence in my abilities. All just goes to show how getting the 'right' probation placement was worth it.

And, if you've been with me from the start, you'll know the route has been the long-way-round. If things had gone smoothly, I may have been an ordained minister for over a year by now. But all the waiting and difficulties have allowed me to understand who I am and accept God's calling. Really accept it. Besides, if I'd have a smooth run, I wouldn't have got to do my probation at Airside, and I know this is exactly where I have needed to be for this stage in my journey.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Ripple Effects

Oh, I have been somewhat neglectful of this over the last few weeks (months?). As I get further and further into ministry, I realise there is less and less I feel I can post in a public forum, even in an anonymous blog like this.

So, what's been happening? Quite a lot. Spot and I managed a wee break a couple of weeks ago, getting away for our anniversary for the first time in since I began training. We won't get used to us, as it's on Palm Sunday next year. God willing, we'll both be ordained by them, and that's not a Sunday we can take off, is it.

But, there's nothing like a gentle, quiet beginning to being off work for a week. And I had nothing like it, but it was all my own fault, as I'd organised what was going on. Namely, The Easter Code (scroll down page to see what it's all about). I'd heard of it via Spot, who'd helped with it on his first placement, floated the idea with The Boss back at the end of January and was trusted to run/organise it. We invited all the P7s from both primaries in the parish (around 120 pupils all in) and they said yes, which was pretty impressive.

It was brilliant to be trusted to do this, to contact the schools, co-ordinate who did what (in background prep and leading on the day) and recruit the volunteers needed. (It's funny, the other places I know of which have run this have a chaplaincy team for a primary, due to the overlap in the catchment areas for the primaries, meaning straight away there may be 2-3 ministers available to take part. Not for Airside, where there is 1 church in town, with 1 minister and me!). It was well worth the effort, as the children really got a lot out of it, as did all of us from Airside Kirk who were involved.

The schools have also been really impressed, with one now asking if they can come to the church more often, to hear about other Christian festivals, baptisms etc. And, the people who helped run it are really keen on running it next year, and are looking to maybe run it's sister program, Bubblegum and Fluff, nearer Christmas. Oh, the ripple effects of my comment about perhaps it could be something Airside Kirk could run a little over 2 months ago!

Now, I'm in the midst (as with almost every minister) of services for Holy Week. But I'm loving it. Loving the chance to take time to worship God, to listen to his word afresh, to walk with Jesus to the cross and, once more, realise how much God loves me and his world.

I am so blessed to be in this place. I am so blessed to be called by God to ministry. I am just burstung with delight at the moment, even when things seem dark.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Blessing of ministry

I can't believe it's almost 8 months since I began probation. In many ways, I realise I've come a long way. I've grown confident in the gifts God has given me. Discovered gifts I didn't know I had, or had not had the chance to use. In a strange way, I feel more reliant on God since I began back at the beginning of July than I ever have been, and I feel almost as though the stabilisers are being taken off (if they were even there in the first place!). It's like God's hand's no longer holding onto the saddle, running along beside me and I try not to look back, try not to worry he's not right there, least I fall off.

Yesterday's service was, in many ways, testament to that. I know I can write good prayers, to which people relate, and for which I am regularly surprised at, too. Sermons are better, with more things for people to reflect on; chew on. And it seems my presentation style is more and more relaxed and natural. As I feel comfortable, the congregation listens to what I am saying, engages (I pray) with the message, and is not concerned for me.

This 'change' (oh, we're the Church of Scotland, we don't do change, do we?) is helped by being allowed to be who I am, as called by God. That's not to say I get away with things; not to say I haven't been challenged and stretched and questioned and criticised - far from it. But I have also bee affirmed, encouraged, supported and loved, by The Boss and the congregation. This has made me want to be better at being a minister, as I live up to the high standards to which God calls me.

And here I am, this week, "The Minister". It struck home yesterday when an elder asked how I wanted the bible taken into worship - as I was the boss. It was my call, and they were letting me take that call. What a privilege to have gained their trust and respect - they are a fabby group of people and I am so pleased to be where I am (not sure if I've mentioned that recently!).

With the relationships I'm building up, I realise this is going to be a hard place to leave. It was almost inevitable, being embedded somewhere full-time for 15 months. I knew that intellectually, but it really struck home the other week, as I watched someone who'd worked at Airside for a few years move onto pastures new, and I 'saw' the future. It has also struck home to me on the back of a couple of pastoral visits I've done recently, as I have grown to know and love these people.

As I've grown to know and love them, I see ministry becoming more and more blurred. Perhaps not so much here, but in the future. When am I minister, or friend. When are they talking to Mrs Gerbil, as the minister; Mrs G as Mrs G, who just happens to be the minister; or the minister, who just happens to be Mrs G? Oh, how much easier (though probably much less fun and more boring) ministry would be if it was back and white, not the many shades of grey it is. With the shades of grey, it's harder to divide life from work and work from life. But that's the blessing of ministry, though one I think I'm still to 'work through' properly.

Monday, 23 February 2015

It's not me in charge

So, with The Boss being away, I'm "in charge," or so I'm told! Well, no, I'm not. God is. And, besides, I need to live up to the trust The Boss has placed in me.

At the same time, I  have to figure out what/who/when I should visit or read or prep etc, etc. Always, and this is coming exclusively from me, in the shadow for what The Boss would  do. It's not about emulating, but living up to the standard I am setting for myself. This hend in tension with the expectation the congregation have on me, as their assistant minister - or for this week, their minister. (This is one of those things where the expectation I place on myself is greater than anyone else's).

The complication this week is I don't have worship to prepare for next week, as I'll be at probationers' conference. Sad as it seems, I was looking forward to an opportunity of juggling church life/responsibilities as a whole, including Sunday worship. Hopefully, there will be other times I can do that, before I'm 'really' on my own.

Having said that, today's service went very well, in the main. It flowed, it linked and I don't think I made any errors of note. A couple of people thought it was my best sermon, yet. Not sure about that, but that's me being very self critical. The thread ran through the whole service, but there was one things, though linking to the readings and theme, I could have dropped and made a 'neater' package (sorry, couldn't think of a better way of phrasing that!). I even got the intimations 'right,' which was something I really needed to improve, as they'd not flowed or I'd missed stuff (though recovered well) previously.

It's funny, I wasn't necessarily feeling more confident inside. I have high standards to live up to (self-imposed, I hasen to add), along side the realisation that it's up to me to make sure worship is as good as it can be. Actually, just before the service the Session Clerk asked me how I was feeling - honestly. Bricking it was my response. Well, she wanted my honest answer!

Afterwards, some did comment I seemed to be more confident (that'll be because The Boss wasn't there - suppose it's better than being less confident, or complent because The Boss isn't watching). And I know she'll listen to the service recording when she gets back, but she wasn't present. Though the congregation assess every week (and this week around 15% of them were asked to fill in a critique form, which I knew about. That alone may have dropped my confidence, but the questions it asked are things I know I am doing well already and, if I wasn't, The Boss would be addressing), it's not the same as when a supervisor is in the congregation. As a minister, they will pick up on things most in the congregation will not. It's funny, she shouldn't make me nervous, as we have a very good working relationship, but she does. This out of deep respect I have for her, not fear.

Now, for the rest of the week, with all the challenges, decisions, choices and general stuff I need to/want/would like/am 'expected' to do. I may be "The Minister" this week, but it's definitely God in charge, not me.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

I love my job

I'm not going to lie, the last year of academic study was tough. Actually, it wasn't so much the academic study, as the other stuff I'd taken on (too much), the stuff I needed to do on the back of an annual review and the niggling feeling that I was going to be kicked out of ministry training. Long story short, it was more about my fears and doubts that anything else. (Why is hindsight always 20:20?)

Now, I look around and I can't believe the change. I am able to be the minister I am called to be, which (and she'd completely deny it) is in no small part down to The Boss. It's funny, I don't think she realises the impact she has had on me and many others, just by being the person she is.

I am so lucky and blessed to be serving my probation at Airside Kirk. The combination of minister and congregation mean I am exactly where I need to be at this stage in my journey. The funny thing is, had I had an 'easy' ride to beginning training, I could never have gone there for it. God really does have a plan, and he's taking me alone for the ride. These days, rather than the ride being daunting, it's fun and exciting and exhilarating (yes, and sometimes a little terrifying, but I trust God and the path I'm on).

And it's not like I'm getting an easy ride or little to do or not being 'properly' supervised. The Boss is on the ball about this and I (for the first time in training) actually look forward to our weekly meetings. Yes, those meetings where I reflect on what I've done or see or read or witnessed and where I am asked to reflect some more - those meetings I enjoy, because I trust and respect The Boss, so can be open when things have been a struggle or gone wrong, not because I want to mope or because I think I'll get tea and sympathy, but because I know she wants to support me the best way she can to be the best minister I can be.

The thing is, and it won't be for 7 months yet, but I will be leaving Airside and going into the big bad world. And I will miss them, even those I get on with less than others. I will especially miss The Boss, because she's a good guy and we have a good working relationship, which I wonder how it will pan out once I'm gone.

Anyway, enough of the navel gazing, off to eat some pancakes and get ready for this evening's meeting.

I love my job.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Old ways of worship in new ways too

There are some things I never thought I would do. I would have regarded them as too 'new age' or 'arty' or 'vague'. Now, I am trying them out, especially as I've learnt 2 important things about where 'my'ministry.

Firstly, and this is really obvious, but sometimes has to be restated. It's not about me. Ever. Yes, I do firmly believe God works through us, through our life experiences, through our personalities, through our knowledge and understanding of the world. At the end of the day, it should still be God working through me.

Secondly, just because its something I may not 'get' anything from, it doesn't mean others won't find something in the space which has been created. I suppose that refers back 'firstly'.

A recent example was me leading an evening service through Lectino Divina, following a pattern from Church in a circle. Had I been one of the participants, I would have probably wondered off with my own thoughts (maybe, at one time even wondering if the person leading had actually done any prep), perhaps even feeling a little empty because I hadn't got what I either (a) expected or (b) needed. As the person leading the service, actually more facilitating it, I was more focusing n what was coming next, watching body language to see who people were reacting etc.

Afterwards, a couple of people thanked me of the service and how much they got from it. Another commented how it gave them space to 'be' and permission to think. Someone even liked it so much they posted something on facebook (so I'm told, still avoiding that one!).

So, just because that may not have been my cup of tea doesn't mean I can't/shouldn't offer it as part of the diet of worship. I don't, generally, drink coffee, but once I am in a manse, it will be available for others. Maybe worship is a bit like that. There are elements which I wouldn't necessarily seek, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be made available for others who may want them. Some can be included in the 'normal' (whatever normal is) Sunday service. Others, such as Lectino Divina would sit better as a stand alone service, which, over time, might be lead by those other than the minister (oh, heaven forbid!).

Exactly how I would try to launch these different ways of worship is grey - because it would depend a lot on the situation, people involved and, from my point of view, the guts to see if there's a will. In some ways it's been easier trying new things - which are new to the congregation at Airside, not just me - because I am in a position where I am expected to try new stuff. But, maybe part of working out where I am called to minister sits with working out whether the congregation, at the right time and pace, are willing to at least dip their toes and see how the water is.

Much to ponder, on so many levels. Glad I've tried this sort of worship; glad it went well; and surprise in myself that this is something I can see myself offering, in one way or another, in the future.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

When will I get the hint?

I can't apply for my 'own' church until July. And I really have little idea where, geographically at least, that may be. But over the last few week, and especially the last week, I have been asked where I'll go at almost every turn.

Now, I know I take a while to get a hint - it did, after all, take me nearly 20 years to actually do something about the nagging in the back from God. I am the sort of person where, in these sort of cases, I don't need subtlety. I need thing IN BIG BLOCK CAPITAL LETTERS, MAKING IT ABSOLUTELY CLEAR. But I know it won't work like that; it doesn't work like that. So, maybe God's getting me to get my finger out.

Yet I come back to my original statement, I can't apply until the beginning of July. Oh, and that assumes a positive outcome to my final review, which will be at the end of June. Yes, I can have an idea where I may go, even have some applications ready to fire off once I can apply, but that's 5 months away and some churches I may be interested in may have called a minister meantime.

I have to admit, though, I may be slightly burying my head in the sand. I know I am a minister - Airside Kirk is allowing that to grow and flourish. Everyone else (including The Boss) is certain I will find a church no problem - which is a huge complement. If I really start to think about it, it all gets a bit real. A bit, I need to move, I need to 'stand on my own two feet' (okay, so it's my feet, but with a big lean into God, without whom I couldn't do what I do), the responsibility of being The Minister. Not just a minister, probationer, or assistant, or whatever they want to call me at the moment.

And the more I think about it, the more I think that's the thing - I don't want to think about it. Sigh. Maybe I should wait for churches to start battering down my door, but the number of vacancies means there's plenty of choice.

A choice, but I need to be called. This isn't like any other job, it's deeply relational, deeply exposing myself to others, and deeply reliant on where God is calling me to be. With so much choice I have a genuine concern the 'right' church may not be that easy to find at all.

But maybe it will. And maybe I need to take on board people's advice, concern, interest and realise God is dropping a hint. When will I get it?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Community building and working together

At the moment I am reading a lot. There's various blogs, reports, articles, books, daily reflections etc. They are written for a range of contexts (though church is a recurring thread), and prospectives, yet there are a couple of things that are drawing them all together - and it seems a bit more than coincidence.

The recurring themes are:
  • Discipleship - what it is and how to build it.
  • Moving from worship in rows of people listening to one person talk.
  • Importance of intergenerational relationships in building community.
  • And some sort of looking towards a less clergy (or top-down) model of church. (This is a bit more of a hard one to explain, as I do believe in any community, there needs to be leadership, but it's how that leadership is perceived and deployed that, as I read it, is the important thing here).
Now, I must admit, there is an element of 'chicken and the egg' here (oh, it was the egg, there is evidence from paleontology that eggs were around before chickens evolved), as I may be reading what 'agrees' and confirms my standpoint, but some of this did come from a book I was given to read by my supervisor, which I may not have chosen in different circumstances.

Part of what I keep coming back to, from all this stuff I am reading at the moment, is the importance of community. Community does not happen by 1 or 2 (or even a handful of people) leading a service in front of rows of people in a packed church. Do those gathered talk to one another beyond basic courtesy? How do those in the congregation interact with the scripture, the prayers, the sermon? Are they allowed to? How is what does on in worship built up through the congregations lives in the coming week (months and years)? How are the gifts of those gathered discovered, developed and deployed in God's service? In some ways, I a starting to wonder if my role is to work my way out of a job (or parts thereof) as I enable others to do stuff? (Or am I just getting that confirmed?).

In many ways, now I am involved in Messy Church at Airside Kirk, I see that happening in the community that is building up. It's families worshipping God together, and the leaders of Messy aren't the minister and I - it's proper team work. I suppose, it's collaborative leadership in action (121 will be pleased!). Those who come know who the leaders are, as we're showing crafts, or setting up games, or welcoming them, or doing the talk, or leading the music, but there's no distinction between the leaders. We all muck in where needed, take in tasks which we're able to do (or gifted to do), and we all wear our ordinary clothes - jeans and a top sort of stuff. Yes, some there know who The Boss is, as they've been to church at normal Sundays or through her school work, but some don't. And it doesn't matter, because we're doing this as a community, serving the community and, God willing, through building up our relationships with those who come, showing Christ's love working through us. Bottom line is, there's no perception of 'rank' by those who come. (Yes, I know there shouldn't be rank, and that ministers are not above anyone else, but people don't always react that way).

Perhaps, looking longer term (which is a dangerous thing to do, I know), my role is more one of facilitation, getting the congregation(s) I serve to grow and mature in their Christian faith, but with us all working together, sharing together, growing together. Then, if I am called somewhere else or am away for a prolonged period, things will still happen, the church will (and does and should) go on without me.

Maybe part of my call is to work my way out of a job? Or, at least some of the jobs ministers seem to take on, but they don't need to do and, through doing too much themselves, the priesthood of all believers is not reflected. The calling and gifts of all the Christian community are not found, not grown, not nurtured.

And, as for people sitting in rows and listening, I did wonder how that could be 'worked around' in a large congregation. Well, Airside is one. Though sitting in rows for the 'ordinary' (oh, believe me, I don't think there is such a thing there!) Sunday service makes better use of the space, I have introduced the congregation talking to one another on a couple of occasions (once in a children's address and once as the intro to a sermon) and it worked! I wasn't sure how it would go down, but took the risk. Not sure I could do it all the time, in the Sunday morning service, but certainly something I will use from time to time and in smaller contexts too.

I know all of this will feed in (in a scarily short period of time - run around the room with arms in air going arrrrrggggghhhhhh!) to figuring out where I am called to minister. No, I've no idea, but with God's grace and guidance I pray to go where he wants me to go.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Looking to where I may go

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my interim review. This makes sure probation is on track - that there are no major issues and may set new goals/objectives, depending on new/unforeseen/changing circumstances. The bottom line is, that things are confirmed as going well.

At the end of the review, the subject of 'looking for my own place' came up. Though I cannot formally apply until after a positive outcome from my final review, which is likely to take place in late June, it is recommended I have a 'clear' idea of where I may apply once that time comes. Clear? Well, me being me, I need things painted in BIG, HUGE CAPITAL LETTERS, as I can take a while to get the hint.

But I have, on occasion, been looking at the vacancy list on the Kirk website. There are some which seem to have been there for years. Yes, there may be reasons, but I wonder if it's a bit like the property market (especially when things are going well). When a house has been on the market for ages, people assume there's something wrong with it, but it might be perfect. Some of the long term vacancies may be the same. Not that I am saying that's where I will go, but I won't automatically disregard them.

As I look, there's the things which aren't there. Details of how to look at the parish profile without contacting the interim moderator. I only want a neb, not to implicitly indicate interest. In my opinion, if a church has a website, that should be used as a 'recuritment' page as much as direct contact, Life and Work adverts etc. And, if a church doesn't have a web presence, in some shape or form (even if it's a facebook page - and, well, I'm not exactly a fan of that platform, am I?) how does it reach beyond the 'normal' congregation or reach potentially their prefect minister, who lives at the other end of the country, but through looking at their web present can, to a certain extent, get a feel for the church and community. Just a feel, but a feel never the less. I could go on about my opinion of the importance of a half decent website here, but I'll just link to Spot's post on the matter instead.

Today, I looked at the new adverts in the Life and Work. The way most of those are worded, it seems the congregations are wanting an all-singing, all-dancing minister who is brilliant at almost everything. While I am sure that is not the case, on the ground, unfortunately, that's the impression many leave me with. Oh, and if you're going to have a photo of the interior, could it have some people in it, please? Pretty please, with sugar and a cherry on top?

So, do I know where I am going? No. Do I know I need to begin thinking where I am going? Yes, but with as open a mind as I can, trying to pick my way through what's said and what's meant, remembering who I am following and what gifts and talents I have, as they will influence where I am called to serve. With the added factor of Spot also being called to a recognised ministry in the church. Life, it's fun and exciting, and a little bit terrifying too. I go in the assurance I am being prepared for a congregation and community and they are being prepared for me.

Monday, 19 January 2015

God's spirit moving within me

I'm Scottish Presbyterian, so inevitably, I do not do change. Change, that's an anathema, a heresy, come on, let's all say "It's aye been" in a resounding chorus!!!

But I have been changing, and it's brilliant and a little scary all at the same time. The rawness and roughness are fading - I don't think they will ever disappear, as sometimes that's what gives me the 'breath of fresh air' attitude people commend me for (well, most of the time!). I suppose it's the rawness and roughness which were my barriers or my 'shields' as I was perhaps (what do I mean, perhaps - certainly is more like it!!!) concerned I wasn't cut out for this ministry role, that they had accepted the wrong person, that I was nervous of the labels and attitudes other's placed (and will continue to place) on me.

And now I stand, as me, just me. In the knowledge I am really, really, deep down in my soul, called by God to be a minister in his church. I stand in my brokenness, in my wounded state, with a willingness, a desire, a hope, to use that brokenness and those wounds to bind up other's. I know this sounds very deep, and it is deep. I am more and more amazed at how God is working through me, using me and gifting me in ways I could hardly have imagined even 6 months ago, never mind 6+ years ago when I began this part in my faith journey.

Because I have (finally) started to set aside those things which prevented God working through me, fully working through me (which I hasten to add, I believe is an ongoing process, one which will never be finished), my ministry gifts are further released. My preaching has improved enormously over these past 6 months, especially since the end of November, where something The Boss said was a bit of a light bulb moment. And some of the prayers I am writing, well, I write them, then use them for leading worship and even I am stunned at their content. The other week I included a line which said "may our praise and prayers be like sweet smelling incense, wafting up to heaven to mingle with the angels and saints..." If you wanted evidence of God working through people, you couldn't get more evidence than that - I mentioned this to a probationer friend last week and she looked me straight in the eye and asked "What have you done with Mrs G?" It is a very fair point, but one which shows how this acceptance of God using someone like me has allowed me to be so much more open to the Holy Spirit moving in and through me. (Sorry if this sounds like bragging, it's not my intent, I am just amazed at how God is working through me).

Even my interaction with people has changed. This is more difficult to get a handle on, but I find people are no longer wanting to scrape the surface when I am with them, but we enter a deeper place more readily, even among those who I know well and less so. Again, this can only be through God's presence being with me as I go about life.

One major thing I've notice is at training conferences I am no longer concerned that others have greater bible or theological knowledge than I do (and I mean both of those in the very academic sense). I no longer feel 'inferior', but look to the multitude of gifts we each have and how amazing it is that God called all of us to minister for him, because of our gifting. My gifts are just as valid as everyone else's. I do take a while to get the hint about these things, but I've got there in the end!

The journey continues, but it couldn't be more the right path, for me, if it tried. Of that there is no doubt. It's not that, with this new, deeper, understanding that the journey will suddenly get easier, or that I will be able to ease off the gas, but I feel fit enough to take on the steep climbs and the narrower paths in this knowledge, this amazing knowledge that, even though I ran away for years, God always gets it right. The more I learn to trust the more I am used for his glory and, I pray, others feel in some way God's spirit moving through me.