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?