Dec 242013
 

The ‘tradition’ in one of my church’s has been to have a Christingle service on Christmas Eve. I’ve nothing against them, but I wanted to do something different this year. Relying on last year’s example of a good number of visitors, I decided that I was going to have a nativity play – where (almost) everyone got a part.

So, we had loads of props and dressing-up stuff, and even those who didn’t get that into things were expected to join in the heavenly choir of angels shouting ‘Hallelujah’ at appropriate points, or providing animal noises for the stable. It was first come, first served for the main parts, but there was the possibility to be part of the group of shepherds, or join the angelic ranks.

In the end, most folk participated to some degree. It was all a bit chaotic as I tried to narrate and provide some scene-setting direction to those about to have speaking parts.

It was all a bit of a laugh, with the Christmas story being told through song, readings, and the nativity scenes.

But the main point was that everyone had an opportunity to join in, and it was this point I made when I summed it up. Christmas is an invitation to participation – through God’s ‘participation’ in our life through the incarnation. We could sit back and be passive spectators, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the cute presentations, but Christmas is a call to become involved; to be part of the good news story.

I hope everyone who came along ‘got’ that tonight, even in the messiness of it all (and there’s a message there too, I suspect).

I hope that you too will be blessed this Christmas, and that you get that bit more involved with God, as he calls us to participate in the ongoing story of his love come to us at Christmas.

Nov 102013
 

poppyIn remembering the dead,
we do not forget or forsake the living.

In remembering war,
we do not forget our search for peace.

In praying for peace,
we do not dishonour those who have given
their body, their mind, their life.

For we give thanks
for the love
which enables one
to give selflessly for another,
even unto death;
while at the same time,
we lament the necessity.

And in the grief we bear
for those who have lost
a limb, a mind, a life,
we hold fast
to the hope we have in God,
and in his Son, Jesus,
who gave his life,
so that we might understand something
of God’s love for us.

And so that we might seek
the gift of His Spirit
so that we will have the strength
to show love,
and mercy,
and forgiveness.

All of this we do,
as we remember
those who have served,
and who still serve.

We will remember.

Oct 272013
 

Today was our family harvest thanksgiving services in both churches. It was also communion in one.

I had chosen some familiar harvest hymns. We had a short video from our Messy Church – Messy Harvest morning from a couple of weeks back. I’d even dropped one of the hymns to make the service a little shorter – my earlier service congregation has an auction of the harvest produce offerings, the proceeds going to a particular charity; and since it was communion in the other church, I didn’t want the whole thing to run on too long, especially as it was a family service.

And so I didn’t want to do a full sermon either, and sat down yesterday to write up a harvest reflection. I took a lead from the Spill the Beans harvest material and wrote a reflection based on Psalm 8.

And I never delivered it.

Not that it was rubbish (at least I don’t think it is), but that after it had stewed in my brain for a few hours afterwards, I realised it was entirely inappropriate for a family service. No bad words (or even long words). Nothing like that. Just that the tone of it was a bit ‘serious’.

And so, as I was heading to bed last night (and looking forward to the extra hour) I realised that I would not be delivering that reflection, but what I would be saying was something else entirely.

Actually, I did ‘borrow’ from it as I did an ‘off the cuff’ all-age talk instead. It wasn’t entirely spontaneous – I did have a ‘framework’ in my head, and a handful of veggie props to talk about harvest.

Don’t know if it was better or worse for that, but it was certainly more suited to the overall tone of the service, so in that regard it can be considered better.

But what of the sermon I didn’t preach?

Maybe it’s something to file away for another time. Or maybe it’s something I had to hear for myself.

A little while ago I commented on Facebook that it was sometimes frustrating that the sermon I should have preached was the one going through my head after the service. Maybe this time I got the message early enough (and was listening).

Sep 202013
 

“In the beginning, when God created…”

The opening verses/chapters of Genesis are almost guaranteed to excite debate. Whether it is science v. creationism, or poetry v. history, interpreting the opening part of Genesis seems to cause splits between Christians and atheists, and Christians and other Christians.

Creationism (and its associated ‘young earth’ and ‘seven literal days’ doctrines) has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons (actually, maybe for all the right reasons) in recent weeks here in Scotland. A Christian group, working in primary school chaplaincy, were handing out creationist literature to the pupils, even the very youngest. Chaplaincy is a privileged position in schools. Chaplains are allowed in only at the invitation of the Head Teacher. It is clearly understood that proselytising is not acceptable, although that is not to say that we cannot share an understanding of our Christian faith. Handing out faith tracts which represent a fairly marginal position to children who do not have the critical faculties to assess it is, I would suggest, an abuse of that privilege.

Continue reading »

Sep 202013
 

This is just a short post to re-establish my blogging habit.

I had intended starting to blog again a while ago but struggled to work out what to write about, and what direction to take this blog. I’ve previously used it to reflect on ministry, but that’s perhaps a bit too close to home now that I have responsibility for two congregations and two parishes. There’s only so much you can say without it getting very personal, very quickly.

However, I was cycling with a friend recently and I was saying that the one thing I really miss from my period of supervision is the opportunity to chew the fat on theological issues. I’m a (not so) closet academic. Not that I’d ever want to teach/lecture, but in the sense that I enjoy exploring theology in a more academic, almost detached manner. Coming back to parish work always keeps that well-grounded though, but it’s too easy to get caught up in just ‘doing’ and not take a step back to ask ‘why?’ every now and again.

Student placement and probation reports encouraged us to think theologically in our reflections on ministry. But I want to do more than just that. We don’t stop learning, and theology, albeit that it flows like treacle at times, also doesn’t stand still. I want to get my brain working again  and discuss the ‘angels on pinheads’ stuff as well as the genuinely challenging theological issues.

Given that it’s not going to be done on a Sunday morning in a sermon, or at a Bible study group, I need to find other outlets. Online discussions are useful, but, ultimately, get messy and unfulfilling. Nevertheless, blogging is a useful outlet for brain-dumping, and sorting through thoughts and ideas, so this is a re-start to blogging again.

As always, the primary purpose is for my own benefit, sorting through thoughts and ideas. But if I can be presumptuous enough to expect some people to read what I’m writing, then you are welcome to contribute your thoughts.

So, write then!

Feb 242013
 

One year ago, last Thursday, I was ordained and inducted into my first charge.

One year ago today (Sunday), I had taken (actually, shared) my first service in that new charge.

I had also done a funeral visit, and was preparing to take it in just a few days time.

I’d sat in the car park on Kirriemuir Hill looking out over the stunning views of the glens and the southern reaches of the Cairngorms.

I’d been at a fundraising bash in one of the churches.

And we were about to head back down to Falkirk as we were still living in two places at that time.

It’s hard to believe that that was a year ago, and as I quickly survey my blog, you’d think little else had happened – well, very little has been written about anything. But there’s plenty that has happened during that time – it’s just not all been blog-able.

There have been small triumphs, huge-grin inducing moments, times of real challenge, the odd ‘dark’ moment when it all gets called into question. In that regard, it’s pretty much life as most people experience it – just in a very different context, and, quite possibly, with a variety not found in many occupations.

There is the strange position of being the one people look to for guidance, and yet thinking that those looking have probably more life and faith experience than I’ll ever have. There’s the challenge of finding the right words for people you know little or nothing about. (There’s also the challenge of getting to grips with names that are pronounced, and abbreviated, far beyond how they are written – no wonder I don’t know where anywhere is!)

But he truth is that that probably won’t change much in the next few, or many, years. There will always be a sense of inadequacy; of always wondering if that was the correct thing to say, or the correct way to say it.

There will still be the privileged moments when stories are shared and burdens eased. And there will still be the times when it all goes utterly wrong, and you realise it’s time to stop digging a deeper hole.

The blog has been somewhat neglected because much of my reflection on what’s happened is around situations which are much too identifiable. In some senses it’s now about others, and not about me. Up until this point it’s been about my journey to ministry, my steps into a charge, my grappling with new and challenging ideas.

This last year has been about others – getting to know them, understand their context, their dreams, their anxieties. It’s been about finding my place in their life, and in their community. Unless you’re born in Kirrie you’ll always be an outsider – you’ll be welcomed, but that’s your status nevertheless. As a minister, I’m very much aware of being even more of an outsider, and, in some sense, the ‘passing trade’. I could be here for 5 years (minimum sentence) or 25 years (theoretical maximum). That sense of impermanence both underpins and undermines what I do. I would like to effect change, but it needs to be sustainable beyond the potential of my moving on. There are long-term plans I’d also want to implement, but wonder if they’re just my passing interest.

Either way, being ‘trapped in the headlights’ is not an option and movement is necessary. Quite where that will be is not so much anybody’s guess – I still have plans and ideas – but it will, largely, depend on the enthusiasm and inclination of others.

Now that really is deserving of a blog entry, but it’s definitely getting a bit too identifiable.

Maybe next year.

Sep 242012
 

Apologies up front – this is yet another ‘brain-dump’ post as I attempt to get my head round some thoughts.

One thing I miss about not having a supervisor is the opportunity for theological discussion. And since I haven’t been blogging much either then I’ve not had an opportunity to engage through that medium either. That’s not to say there hasn’t been ongoing theological engagement, but it’s been in settings where the topics up for discussion have tended to be the same old contentious chestnuts – and it’s fair to say that it’s getting a tad wearisome.

However, I have been dipping in and out of some other theological reflection areas, and one that has my old grey-cells working at the moment comes from some of the writings of Andrew Perriman. In particular, his Kindle book, Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective, has got me thinking about all sorts of issues. The Kindle book is a collection of selected blog posts, so it’s not really necessary to purchase it, but it does help having it all in one volume, and with a bit of editorial gloss.

His key premise is that scriptural interpretation of crucial parts of the New Testament ought to be approached with what he refers to as a ‘narrative-historical’ hermeneutic. This, he suggests, is a paradigm shift in approaching these texts. And, to be fair, I’m having a hard time readjusting my perspective to see the texts in that light. And I’m attempting to do so, because I think his approach has some merit.

My own theological progression has moved through a number of stages, and is now a significant distance from the conservative-evangelical approach I was primarily exposed to in my early years as a Christian. I can identify a ‘paradigm shift’ when I first read NT Wright. His writings had a major impact on my eschatological understanding. Exposure to Barth at university reshaped my outlook on revelation. The blog and books of Scot McKnight had a further impact on my understanding of ‘God’s Kingdom’, and also refined what was already my general approach to scriptural interpretation.

Perriman’s work though, challenges me in a new way. If I’m reading him correctly (and this is part of the issue of getting my head round his approach) what he seems to be suggesting is that much of the ‘future-focused’ aspects Jesus’ teaching in particular have already come to pass (but with resonances for a future still to happen). Jesus’ teaching, he is suggesting, is about the consequences of conflict with Rome, and holds a much stronger ‘corporate’ dimension than most western evangelical teaching allows.

It is this ’embedded in (already happened) history’ which shapes Perriman’s hermeneutic. And it does pretty much make sense as he presents it. One can see how the NT’s warnings on future ‘consequences’ have already been played out in the early centuries AD. The implications of this for thoughts on hell in particular are especially crucial. The ‘destruction’ and distress can be found, quite readily, in the historical events of the Jewish revolt (and remember, these warnings have a Jewish context, first and foremost) and its aftermath.

Perriman is not, I think, suggesting that these warnings, and the teachings we derive from them, are ‘time-limited’ – they are pertinent in all ages, I’d suggest. But his eschatology takes a quite different shape as a consequence. Where I’m struggling is how this impacts on our teaching of the Bible in our present day and age. In one sense, there is the danger of history repeating itself, and so that certainly becomes a focus. And his thoughts on hell and heaven fit into those I already hold as a consequence of other theological development. But I guess where I am struggling is how to present such a ‘paradigm shift’ to ‘the pew’. And I think that that is because I’m not fully clear on the implications yet of such a hermeneutic. More thinking required.

Sep 242012
 

Oh look! A blog!

I’d almost forgotten this was here. Well, not really, but I have been neglecting it somewhat in recent months.

Once again, it’s not that there’s nothing to report, just that the time needed to get it sorted in my head and then formulate a suitable blog entry has always been a bit better spent on other things. But I was beginning to miss doing the odd brain-dump. In many ways it’s a great opportunity to sort out the mental clutter that accumulates when you have such a varied, and oft-times challenging, job.

So what has been keeping me occupied?

Bits of everything: a few new experiences, and some twists on some of the more familiar.

Since the last update we have finally completed our move to Kirrie, but we still have a stack of boxes to empty. The house in Falkirk is up for sale, but that’s not looking like it will come to anything any time soon – at least not for a price we’d be happy with. The downside being that it’s still a call on our time. I did get some time off over the summer, and that was much appreciated. But things have all started up again, and for me much of it is new as I wasn’t around at this time last year.

At the start of the school holidays I was involved in the joint-churches kids’ mission (or holiday club). It’s been a few years since I was last involved in one, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed them. We had a good-sized team, with plenty of teen helpers (for whom we ran a youth-cafe type event for 3 nights mid-week). Mixed feelings about the overall experience, partly because I wasn’t a main leader, and so wasn’t one of the ones setting the ‘tone’. A bit too much of the hard-sell in my opinion, with a not-so-subtle altar call on the last day. Not really my style with a primary-school age group (or any age group, for that matter).

I’ve also had a couple of baptisms to do since then too. A very special ‘first’.

A couple more weddings as well – both quite different, and one in particular prompting some additions to my pre-service questions and preparation.

And finally a chance to use some of the photos from my trip to the Holy Land last year. The Guild in one of my congregations, and another local one, were the recipients of my (over-long) “what I did on my holidays” slide show. It was good to revisit some of the places I saw, and to remember some of the sensations and thoughts they prompted.

Apart from that, I’d say it was pretty much the usual daily routine. But as there is really no such thing, then I suppose what it’s been is the usual mix of all sorts of things – from the mundane business activities, to the special moments.

May 282012
 

Yet again, I’ve been caught out with blog updates. And yet again, it’s not that nothing has been happening; merely that it’s all sorts of little things rather than any one thing that causes me to stop and reflect (and blog).

Perhaps most worthy of note though is the continuing ‘unsettledness’ as we’re still not fully ensconced in Kirrie. However, the and is now in sight and, due to other diary commitments, it now looks as though we’ll aim for a full and final move in July (followed by a holiday, I think). I can’t help but think that I’ll feel more ‘involved’ once that move happens. Not that I’m not involved at the moment, just that there’s a slight feeling of detachment still lingering.

However, one area I can’t complain about detachment is with one of my school chaplaincies. (I have three – two primary schools {one’s a shared chaplaincy} and chaplain to the 2nd years at the high school.) The smaller of the primary schools is keen to encourage my involvement with them (and I’m keen to promote it) so they arranged a day of ‘meet the minister’ classes. There were four main sessions (and 2 stints in the nursery) arranged where I was bombarded with questions. Everything from “What’s your favourite meal?” to “Are you good at maths?” to “Who’s your boss?” Of course there were also ‘ministry’ questions, so as well as an opportunity to get to know me, it was a great opportunity to speak about what ministry is all about. So now I have an open invitation to drop in to the school whenever I like – playtime, lunchtime, etc – as well as the promise of being involved in class activities and social events. Work in the other two chaplaincies is also growing. I had the P3 class from the other primary school along to the church last week to find out about what’s in it and what we do. Both primary schools use my churches for end of term services as well, which is great fun.

The chaplaincy work is also part of our ‘strategy’. Both congregations were asked at recent session meetings to identify short, medium, and long term goals. Top of the list was ‘more young people’. But for one congregation in particular, and for the other to degree, the best start for that is through the chaplaincy work. Once relationships are built through that, then other work can follow. So, one in particular has agreed that I need to be ‘freed’ to pursue that work.

It was in discussing these goals that it became very clear just how different the two congregations are. That’s not to say that they don’t have some common aims, but they certainly have distinctive needs which drive priorities. And both congregations, I think, need to be driven/directed in quite different ways.

But between them they’ve identified some very interesting and challenging projects. It’ll be interesting to see how they come to fruition and what the impact might be.

What else? Funerals have hit a quieter spell, for which I’m thankful. Not that it was ‘busy’, but I find funerals quite a drain on my energy. I think I place very high expectations on myself when it comes to funerals and I’m always conscious of there being only one shot to ‘get it right’. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t had their lighter moments. A recent one challenged me deliver a short anecdote that was borderline dodgy for polite company. Actually, it was a tad over the line, but never mind. But it was an important and meaningful story to tell and my sensibilities should not be a factor anyway. But it was a reminder that some of the best stories can be a bit ‘earthy’ and it’s not my job to censor them – simply present them in a ‘diplomatic’ manner.

I think I’ve finally got my timings sussed for each service – enough to leave me time for a coffee and chat after the first one, which means the second one isn’t open to complaints of being too long. More importantly, the ‘themes’ emerging from the services are beginning to marry up with the issues and needs in the congregations (I think).

Just on the horizon is the kid’s holiday club – a joint project run by (almost) all the churches in Kirrie. I seem to have volunteered myself to organise a youth cafe for three of the evenings. Messy games time!!

given that there is no one thing to be blogged about, then maybe what that’s saying is that life is beginning to fall into a more ‘ordinary’ pattern, where ministry isn’t a series of one-off, big-bang items, but the ‘routine’ of developing relationships, building on what can be done, and sowing the seeds for what needs to be done.

May 072012
 

Those who’ve heard me rant about dualism in contemporary theological understanding need not worry. This post is nothing to do with my usual witterings on the subject. Rather, it’s a reflection on how I am finding my ministry developing.

My charge is a linkage and I’m perfectly happy with that. I very much enjoy the variety and differences a linkage brings to ministry. But perhaps in my naive and unprepared way, I wasn’t expecting to deal with two such quite distinct ministries. A union, even one with two centres of worship, has the ‘advantage’ (and I use that word very advisedly) that the office bearers are generally heading in the same direction for the ‘whole’ charge. Perfectly understandable when it’s the same body of people. Linkages, I am discovering, don’t work that way.

I suppose I should have realised. After all, why shouldn’t each congregation be quite distinctive? Each serves a different community. Each has an entirely different make-up of congregation. And each has an entirely different group of people determining the direction they are headed.

Like I said, that’s great in terms of offering a broader scope of activity and challenge to any minister than they might find in a single congregation, or even a multi-site union. But it leaves me feeling ever so slightly schizophrenic. I am the same minister in both places. Indeed they get the same service in both places. And yet I feel like I’m two entirely different people at times.

In part that is due, I think, to the different focus I think each congregation has. That difference is, I’d say, down to the quite different demographic of each congregation; and so it’s natural that each would wish to do things that meet the needs of the particular congregation, and are supportable by the abilities of each.

That then means a mental shifting of gears when making suggestions or offering direction to whichever congregation I’m engaged with at the time. That welcome variety though also means an increase in workload. And maybe that’s the root of the feeling. In trying to optimise my time for both congregations, I’ve started off on the wrong basis. Perhaps if I had acknowledged the different starting points from the beginning then I would be feeling this ministry dualism now.

But, better late than never, and it is, to be fair, early days. Maybe over time the split personality feeling will disappear and it will simply be ‘natural’ to be doing different things with different groups.

One place that will begin to tell, I think, is in the preaching. In the past, as I’ve built relationships, my preaching has become more ‘pastorally sensitive’. (Although, in the past that’s also often been because of the slow come-down from academic mode into placement mode.) That, I think, is beginning to happen again, so it’ll be interesting to see whether I can sustain the same sermon in each place.

That all said, there is a good lesson to be drawn from the local team ministry (WAAM – West Angus Area Ministry): do together the things that make sense to do together, do separately the things that make sense to do separately.

Over time, as I get to know both congregations then it will, I believe, start to become a ‘whole’. Not in the sense of everyone doing the same thing, but in the sense that it all fits together. I’m reminded of a phrase oft-used in a slightly different context: unity doesn’t mean uniformity; diversity doesn’t mean division.