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.

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).

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

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.

Apr 152012

Not quite sure what that title will do to my search rankings, and it’s maybe just as well I don’t have any ads on the blog. Perhaps I should explain though.

Marrying my brother-in-law was one of a number of recent ‘firsts’. And, of course, I mean that it was the first wedding ceremony I officiated at. No pressure of course: first time officiating, in front of family, lots of overseas guests, in the Signet Library, seriously ‘mega’ do, Saturday of the Easter weekend (so nothing else to do anyway).

It was a great day, and there was something special about it being a family affair. It certainly wasn’t the case though of there being less pressure because it was family – if anything it was even greater. But as my first time officiating it was good to know that being family was all in the mix of making the day particularly memorable for all concerned.

But I was also able to look on the event with a ‘critical’ eye and have a few things mentally tucked away for future weddings. Little things like: make sure the pianist has all the music they need. Singing the Aaronic blessing unaccompanied, and with so few knowing it, was probably not a blessing on the hearers. Also, make sure the pianist (who was very, very good actually) is familiar with the hymns. Played too slowly, and in ‘piano-bar’ style doesn’t really work for hymns. And another: when you’re doing the ‘stole thing’ (thanks so much, Will and Kate), wrapping it around held hands, make sure that ‘leg’ is long enough to start with so that you don’t have to haul more stole round. There are plenty more tucked away in my head, but I’ll save my blushes.

Regardless, it all went well overall, and much of the nitpicking is me doing that over-analytical thing I do. One more though – I’ll not be rushing to book a wedding on Easter Saturday again though. By Sunday I was somewhat frazzled.

Another first?

Maundy Thursday was my first communion with my new charge. It wasn’t the ‘formal’ Sunday one I had thought would be my first, and so it was very different to what I had anticipated. On Maundy Thursday, one of my congregations has a meal moving into communion. Everyone sits around tables set up in the (relatively open) chancel area. There are a few hymns, a prayer and readings. Then there is a simple supper, at the end of which the sacrament begins.

It’s a very good way of telling the story of the Last Supper, and allows it to be very symbolic, with more than just the words telling the story effectively. In fact, the ‘narrative’ can be pared down significantly, without losing any of the story, which has, in effect, just been re-enacted. I suppose there’s scope for further dramatisation, but I think that risks detracting from the ‘simplicity’ of the service, and possibly getting in the way of the ‘event’ if not done exceedingly well.

The only thing I struggled with in preparation was wondering how to finish the service. I suddenly remembered though, one of the candidates’ conferences. Much to everyone’s annoyance it was held during Holy Week, but it was the only time available to fit it in. On the Thursday of the conference we had our evening meal, followed by communion (sound familiar?) and then I suddenly remembered how we finished. We went out into the garden and completed the ‘story’ of the events after that first Last Supper. So that’s what we did the other week. We went out into the church grounds (nice night, dry, under the trees, very quiet {the joys of a rural churchyard}) and read the rest of the story up to the point when the disciples all fled. No blessing, no more words. Just the symbolism of the assembled company dispersing. Who says there’s nothing to be gained from conferences?

And another first.

This time for the congregation. On Good Friday we had a Tenebrae service – something the congregation were unfamiliar with, but, according to feedback, very much enjoyed. I was a little sneaky though. There’s still a little bit of suspicion concerning the West Angus Area Ministry setup, of which I am, officially, a team member – it was part of what I was inducted into. Anyway, the area team decided that this would be the Good Friday evening service in Kirrie, and the other congregations were invited to attend. Other members of the team participated in the readings and so it was very much a WAAM event. Drip! Drip! Drip!

There have probably been a few more ‘firsts’ in recent weeks, but they’ve probably been overwhelmed by some of those ‘biggies’.

I wonder what the next ‘first’ will be? It surely can’t top marrying my brother-in-law!

Mar 252012

I still can’t quite decide which direction to take my blogging thoughts. But as this blog has been about thoughts and reflections on the challenges, events, and learning ‘moments’ of getting to this place, I suppose it makes sense to continue in similar vein. After all, getting to ‘this place’ was never an end in itself, but merely the place where the next part of the path opened up before me.

Anyway, here are some initial, somewhat random, thoughts on the first few weeks.

Perhaps the dominant thought at the moment is that I wish I had paid a bit more attention to certain things during placements or conferences. Not so much that I have come across things that are unexpected.It’s just that you hit that point of having to do them yourself and suddenly detail matters. You can remember in vague terms, or even in fairly clear terms, what a particular activity entailed. But what about the detail? What about the nitty-gritty of procedure? And does it actually matter here, or is it just a reflection of past practice? This is, in no way, a reflection on my supervisors or on the training, but simply a matter-of-fact note on my ability (or lack of) to retain ‘detail’ information.

Another passing thought concerns making things up on the hoof, as it were. I don’t mean inventing stuff, but I mean working out how and why you might want to do a particular thing. For example, I’ve now had two wedding arrangements to sort through and I’ve never given much thought previously to what I would like done, the specific words to use, or the precise order of things. But as I was going through options with folks, I realised that I would prefer a certain order to things because it makes more liturgical sense to me to do things in a particular order, or use particular words, or perform particular actions. And, of course, how do you respond to the request that begins, “We were thinking we’d quite like to…”? Because you can be pretty sure that it’s not something you’d thought of, and it will almost certainly push against that notional boundary you have. And it’s the, “we’d quite like…” that means that an awful lot of pre-planning can only take you so far. Unless, of course, you’re the sort of person who will dictate how it will be done. But that’s not me. Theology is much more fun than that.

I would dearly love to have a foolproof method of remembering names, and the faces they are attached to.

Bizarrely, I still actually enjoy doing funerals. There is no better sense of satisfaction than the one you get when someone says, “You summed them up just spot on.” It means I’ve listened and cared enough to get it right. And my hope, and prayer, is that they’ve sensed that ‘the church’ cares enough to want to do that.

Balancing the ‘squeeze it all in’ and ‘save it for another time’ in sermon-writing is still a challenge. Especially at the start when I’d like people to get a grasp of where I’m coming from. But settling in to the necessary time constraints of preaching in two places on a Sunday morning is a work in progress, and one where, I think progress is being made. Having only 50-55 minutes or so to squeeze a service into (if I want to spend any time with people afterwards) really focuses the mind.

I really ought to plan ahead a bit more. Diary events seem to hit the radar sooner than anticipated. I guess that’s just a matter of getting into routines and knowing what the ‘shape’ of any given period actually is.

Mark out time in the diary for family and leisure. We were told this so many times in conferences and by supervisors, yet it’s often the first thing that slips. Reminder to self – don’t let it!

That’s probably enough to be going on with. As always there are things that are not really appropriate to comment upon; at least not while they are still fresh. And there are plenty of things that have cropped up, been dealt with, and have passed by with barely a chance to register because the next thing has come in.


Mar 122012

Well, that’s just over two weeks in ‘the job’. Three Sundays, albeit one where I was preached in, two funerals, initial contacts with one of the primary schools, time with local colleagues, and lots of unpacking and manse-readying. Oh, and a rapidly filling-up diary.

If I was being totally honest, I would have to say that it still feels very much like the honeymoon period is in its early days. I’m probably getting off very lightly at the moment, but that’s fine. It’s time being used to settle in. And attempt to tune my ear to the local accent. I suspect people are just being very polite and speaking ‘properly’ around me, because when I hear the locals speaking together I wonder if it’s a different language. Mind you, Kirriemuir itself seems to attract a lot of ‘incomers’. It is, without a doubt, a beautiful part of the country and is eminently commutable to Dundee, Perth, and even places like Aberdeen if you don’t mind a longer drive. It’s well-served with amenities and not too far from places like Forfar if you need a bigger supermarket. You can hit the huge retail park on the north edge of Dundee in under half an hour. A drive through Edinburgh or Glasgow to somewhere similar is probably shorter mileage, but possibly longer in time.

So living here in Kirrie is not a great hardship. Mind you, I’m writing this in Falkirk as I’ve popped back down to load up the car with more bits and pieces.

Settling in comfortably to a new living place certainly makes it easier to settle in to the main reason I’m here at all – ministry. Like I say, I haven’t been overly-burdened so far (maybe I shouldn’t admit that publicly) and that has given me an opportunity to reflect on what I have been doing.

Two ‘proper’ Sundays is not enough to evaluate how things are going generally, but they have still provided enough of a challenge to think about things.

Yet again, sussing out the hymn repertoire of two new congregations is fun. That said, they’re both very good at giving it a go. You know it’s a new one to them by the near silence on the first verse; but there’s certainly a lot more volume by the last. Prayers have been appreciated and commented upon. The children are great to work with, but present some interesting challenges too. we’re both ‘unknown’ to each other and it’ll take a little while to build up a rapport.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the time constraint between the two services. It means sermons are shorter than I would usually do – well, if I want to fit in the same number of hymns, etc. That’s a good discipline to say things more succinctly and perhaps get to the point more quickly. I’m still very guilty of trying to squeeze too much in and will also need to ‘tone down’ the ‘level’. That’s not any criticism of the congregations, but of me. My ‘fallback’ position when I’m not so sure of what to say, is to make it too academic. It’s where I’m most comfortable and is perhaps a way of not wanting to make things sound too basic. Once I get to know folks better then I’m sure the right level will be found.

Actually, on a related note – I was asked if I might consider re-introducing the mid-week Bible study group. That’s certainly something I’d want to do, and might even, depending on who’s up for it, convene in more comfortable and convivial surroundings. That’s maybe one step too far at the moment, but you never know.

And the relatively quiet start has also allowed me to think ahead a little bit. Not that I’ve spent any time preparing anything, but just beginning to get my head round some of the medium-term issues which need addressing.

So, all-in-all, definitely settling in. And very much looking forward to what’s ahead.

Feb 262012

Well, rather a lot has happened since my last post. I’d been meaning to slip in a few little updates since announcing my ordination and induction, but it always seemed I had so much to say and never quite enough time to sit down and order my thoughts into a coherent blog update. Now there is just so much to try and condense into a few thoughts it feels like a bit of a mammoth task, but one that I feel I ought to do to make note of the significant events of, well, the last few days at the very least.

Since I intimated the ordination and induction date almost a month ago, life has been a bit of a whirlwind of preparation and decisions. Stuff for the service, for the move, for the ‘job’ – it has often felt like the time passed in a complete blur. Some of it was frustrating – knowing that something had to be sorted but couldn’t be until something else fell into place. It also meant that there was a growing ‘intensity’ of activity as the ordination date loomed. But, one by one, pieces fell into place, things were decided upon and arrangements were finalised.

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