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!

Jan 222012
 

I suppose that over the next wee while I will experience lots of ‘firsts’ as I take up the reins in my first charge.

But there can be few ‘firsts’ quite so special as being invited to officiate at the wedding of a family member. One of the slight added pressures of getting into a charge was the request to conduct the wedding of my brother-in-law and his fiancée. However, the charge has arrived in good time and so I will be able to do the honours in due course.

So, last night was an opportunity to sit down with them and go through the order of service. Of course, never having done one of my own before, it was an interesting experience working out what was to be included in the liturgy, and why (and where). I know the CofS doesn’t hold to a sacramental view of marriage, and I’m happy with that, but I’ve recently been wondering about how we lift a marriage service beyond the ‘legalities with frills’.

I was slightly surprised to discover that the couple wanted something solidly Christian and with ‘gravitas’ (not the word used, but fitting). I was also keen to create the liturgy in such a way that the ‘congregation’ were more involved, or ‘invested’ in what was happening.

I think what we’ve come up with works really well. I suppose it’s loosely based on the 2nd order in Common Order, but definitely only loosely and with other bits thrown in. Broadly speaking, after the first hymn, and a short preamble, we’re into a reading (1Co 13:1-8, nothing original, but by request). This is followed by a short reflection setting the context of Christian marriage in the bigger picture of God’s love and restored relationships (a bit of a hobby-horse theme of mine at the moment) – relationships we are all part of. This then leads to the unifying recital of the Apostles’ Creed. On this basis of God-reflecting, loving relationship, we move into the marriage ceremony itself, finishing that part with a sung Aaronic blessing. There’s then a specially written choral piece during which we may or may not go and sign the schedule, then it’s a prayer, Lord’s prayer, 2nd hymn and benediction.

I like the ‘shape’ – the way it establishes a Christian foundation that is inclusive. I like the way it encourages participation – this is not ‘just’ about two people, but of a much bigger set of relationships. I also like the way that it manages to combine a ‘high’ approach with inclusivity (well, I think it does).

Downside is that it is quite lengthy, but the view of the bride is that it is this part that is the focal point of the day and if that means shaving 10 minutes off the drinks reception immediately afterwards, then so be it.

I doubt that this will become my standard liturgy, but having had this first go at one, and ensuring that it is ‘special’ for people I particularly care about, it has been a very helpful ‘first’. I think it’s really only when you do your first liturgy for anything that you really question why something is there, and why you are using particular words, and why it flows the way it does.

Like I say, it’s the first of what, I’m sure, will be many firsts. Not all will be so pleasurable, but all will be a challenge to ensure God is properly ‘included’ and given His proper place.

Oh, I didn’t mention that the wedding is on the Saturday of the Easter Weekend. Hopefully that will be a first, and last.

Apr 082011
 

Hebridean PrincessFor the last five years, every time there has been ‘holiday’ break, I’ve never really had the opportunity to take advantage of it. Quite apart from the lack of funds, it seemed that every Christmas and Easter break was spent either revising for exams or doing stuff for placements. It has been a long time since we’ve just had the luxury of saying, “Fancy going away for a few days?” In fact, so long that we had forgotten what to do with the opportunity.

However, I needed to take a break from work, it happened to be during the school holidays, and so we thought we’d go for it. Nothing fancy, just a few days away with nowhere we needed to be and nothing we needed to do. A few days of easy touring around the West Highlands fitted the bill perfectly. Except it didn’t quite pan out that way.

The original plan was for three of us to go away and then there was the sudden realisation that a concert had already been booked for a night right in the middle. Problem easily solved – just two of us will go and then all get together afterwards. That all went to plan and Inverness was the agreed (and already booked) rendezvous. But it also meant that the planned sight-seeing didn’t work out and to see everything we ended up retracing our steps, adding to the driving mileage, but ensuring everything got fitted in (I’m sure I said something earlier about not having specific commitments… hmmm!).

It did actually work out for the best. Our third day was a washout – seriously heavy rain. But, as we were mainly driving, it wasn’t too big a deal. The forecast for our last day was much better and so it turned out to be. So now we got to see all the things we couldn’t because of the rain. And they were worth waiting for – very spectacular scenery in the main. All-in-all I ended up doing 800 miles of driving, 350 on the last day alone. But it was great just getting away.

So, here’s where we ended up going:

Falkirk – Erbusaig (we stayed 2 nights in the Tingle Creek Hotel – very nice) – Skye (as ‘around’ it as possible, including a trip to Dunvegan Castle) – Plockton – Lochcarron – Applecross – Torridon – Kinlochewe – Inverness (overnight – then return journey) – Kinlochewe – Torridon – Applecross – Lochcarron – Kyle of Lochalsh – Armadale – (ferry) – Mallaig – Glenfinnan – Oban – Crianlarich – Callander – Falkirk

Photos are here.

Oct 252010
 

I hadn’t realised how long ago I’d last blogged anything. It’s not that I’ve been overwhelmed with work and it’s not that nothing interesting has been happening. But nevertheless, I haven’t felt terribly inspired to blog about anything. Somehow writing about the ‘normality’ of life seems to be contrary to what blogging is about.

When I started probation, I was asked what I hoped to get out of it. My stated aim (and it hasn’t really changed) was to get into the rhythm of ministry; to experience a ‘normal’ week (or several) so that I got a sense of what needed juggling, what needed prioritising and where, if anywhere, there was ‘slack’ time. I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced the true reality of that yet and yet there have been pressure points and slack times that, only with hindsight, could be seen for what they were.

Over the last fortnight we’ve been moving the contents of the loft around. Initially the loft was to be cleared for fitting new insulation. So the contents (and there were a lot) were moved to the garage. Then the garage had to be cleared to accommodate a birthday party. All-in-all about 5 days of moving and re-arranging stuff and, all the while, keeping up with worship prep, meetings and visits. So, a bit of juggling experience that more or less worked.

What didn’t work so well though was dealing with a distraction during that. I was preaching a week past Sunday and was fairly sure in my head what the topic was going to be. And then the Chilean miners’ rescue hit the headlines and I felt pressure to respond and include that in some way. Ultimately it skewed the sermon topic and I ended up approaching things very differently to accommodate it, even though it was only a passing reference in the end. But I was unsettled before the service and this was noted by my supervisor. In the end the sermon worked well enough and seemed to be well received, but I wasn’t happy about it. In hindsight the distractions of the loft move combined with a perceived pressure to be totally topical left me feeling that I had not ‘juggled’ well at all.

However, it will be interesting to see how that all pans out in the next 7 weeks or so. In that time I will be preaching 4 times, including taking a full service once and doing just over two weeks of pastoral cover. Add to the mix the usual round of meetings, visits and other stuff and perhaps that will be much more indicative of ‘normal service’.

It will also take me hurtling towards the end of my fourth month in probation. I’ve already mentioned that the time seems to be vanishing rather too quickly and there is already a sense of staring into a growing chasm of inexperience. The natural reaction is to say, “But I haven’t done anything like that! I need more experience!”

But I guess the real benefit of probation is not experiencing the extra-ordinary, but rather getting to grips with the ordinary so that, in many respects, the routine becomes just that – routine. When juggling the everyday tasks becomes second nature then one has lees to worry about when the extra-ordinary hits the desk or the inbox.

When viewed from that perspective, that chasm of inexperience is somewhat less daunting. There are bridges across is that are the routine, the mundane and the do-able. It doesn’t mean, of course, that the extra-ordinary is not challenging and it doesn’t mean that some juggling balls or spinning plates won’t be dropped from time to time. It does mean that normal service will resume with much less of a hiccup than it might.

Jul 192010
 

It’s been almost a month since I last blogged anything (and then, only briefly). I’m not on placement at the moment, so there are fewer things to reflect on in that regard; I took a break from the academic work to catch up on some house maintenance that has been sadly neglected over the last few years; I’ve been on holiday with the family (photos can be found here); I’ve even found the time to read some non-theological books.

I suppose I could have blogged on some of these things, but then I didn’t really feel any great urge to do so – a bit of a break from blogging as well, I guess. Stewart has been covering the issue of resting and priorities with recent posts on ‘always available‘ and ‘busyness‘ – a useful reminder that we need, and benefit from, taking time out from our routine and the demands that are placed upon us. It’s also not been an issue of having nothing to have a rant about (OK, I admit it, I love a good rant) – there have been numerous things which have got me grumping (mostly associated with misrepresenting the Church of Scotland, misunderstanding the Reformation(s), and generally being utterly contradictory (that’ll be church services then). But again, I haven’t felt the need to rush off and blog about it (well, I was tempted, but really couldn’t pluck up the enthusiasm).

But perhaps the main purpose and benefit from this blogging/academic/placement interlude has been to clear the decks somewhat in anticipation of a panicked and pressured dissertation-writing drive. I’ve put off the writing for as long as could get away with as ideas and thoughts and readings all bubbled around in my head. But now it’s time to get that lot down on paper and see where it all ends up. So, chances are, this is not really an end to the blogging interlude, but it’s certainly an end to the timeout from academic obligations.

Apr 152010
 

If you haven’t happened upon it yet, let me recommend at eighty one. Avril writes very movingly and powerfully about her journey alongside her elderly father as he (as they both) come to terms with his vascular dementia.

At yesterday’s candidates’ training session (MTN) we were discussing the difficulties faced when visiting elderly people in care homes. It can be easy to forget that the disconnected faces and the disruptive outbursts are only a snapshot of the person here and now. It’s easy to forget that they have a history, a family, a life. We may never get to hear their stories and so may be utterly unaware of their past. And yet that is what we need to hold in mind during a visit.

This is where Avril’s writing is both profound and necessary. We become privileged sharers in the story and through that sharing come to see others as having a story which, though we may not share it, we acknowledge it before God by valuing our time spent with them and in our prayers for them.

Jul 302009
 

IMG_3188.JPGHaving got bored with Brussels (kidding!), we decided to take a daytrip  to Bruge (or Brugge, depending on your preferred language). Photo album here.

It’s a very busy touristy place but it is still a very beautiful old town. many of the buildings date back to the early 17th century. The photo on the left is the Belfort, the bell tower.

I’ve been to Bruges before. The company I used to work with were bidding for a contract with a company in Bruges. I spent some time in the town working on the bid and had a bit of a chance to see some of the sights. We didn’t get the contract, but it was nice to revisit the town.

To finish off the day, we had a very nice meal in La Taverne Brugeoise. The apple pie with flaming Calvados was most excellent.

IMG_3217.JPGHad a quieter day today with lust a little walk to a nearby park. Brussels has some very beautiful green spaces and some interesting architecture. I am no expert when it comes to architectural styles and it’s not something that really interests me, but I find the sheer diversity of buildings in Brussels quite fascinating. Anyway, some more pictures to view here.

Jul 022009
 

I’m back home for a couple of days. I graduate tomorrow (Friday) and I’m not looking forward to being kilted and gowned if the weather is as hot and humid as it is today. I still hold to the vain hope that despite all the ‘hospitality’ in Brussels I can still get my kilt on without ‘sooking in’ too much. If you read reports in the Scottish news of someone being clobbered by a flying belt buckle, that’ll have been my fault.

It’s also great to see the family again – Skype just isn’t quite the same. Plus, the girls have even offered to make the dinner tonight. Result!

Jun 162009
 

Yesterday I moved from the apartment I was sharing in Zaventem to one in Brussels city centre. In this one, I have the place to myself so I’m not imposing on others (although I couldn’t have been made more welcome in my first digs) and it gives more space when the family come over on holiday. I should have been really pleased getting ‘my own place’ (and I am), but it was tinged with some sadness when I closed the door on the place as the person who had given me a lift left to head home. In fact, truth be told, I felt lonely. Yes, I’ve been keeping in touch by phone and skype and that helps, but it’s just not the same.

Just last week, Andrew (my supervisor) and I were reflecting on ministry being a ‘lonely’ job. We are entrusted with many life stories, cares and concerns, not all of which can be readily shared with a trusted friend. And the problem is, many of them are heavy burdens to bear. Many of them are personally challenging. And many of them strike to the root of our understanding of our faith. Having someone else to share our thoughts and concerns with, even if only at a relatively superficial level, is an enormous benefit. Now, it would be easy to say that God is there to share our burdens with, and I’d never deny that. But we’re made to share with one another as well. Our relationship with God is imperfect and never will be perfect this side of resurrection (word chosen carefully). But then, our relatinships with one another are far from perfect and face the same limitations. But they are what we have and when we don’t have them, we miss them and are so much the poorer for that.

I was able to sit in, recently, on a confirmants ‘class’. As it was the last one it was a summary of all that had been done previously and a reminder of the vows that were going to be taken. One of those vows is tha promise to join regularly in corporate worship and Christian fellowship. I was asked for a contribution at this point and spoke about our need for relationship with others. This, surely, is the root of our claim to be made in God’s image. We are made to be in relationship, with God and with each other. The Trinity is the very model of that. On a recent visit, I heard about past broken relationships and others that had had to be reconsidered. So much of how we relate to others affects so much of our life and the lives of others and we can never know the full consequences of what we do. Mind you, if we did, we’d probably want to live in isolation for fear of what might happen.

This all sounds a bit gloomy and ‘heavy’ but maybe that’s just the mood I’m in at the moment. But of course there is a positive. Perhaps the single most awesome consequence of Christ’s death and resurrection is that of restoration of relationships. Forget ‘going to heaven’, forget ‘sin being forgiven’. forget ‘the price being paid’ (well, don’t but you get the point). All of these are about removing the obstacles in our relationship with God. Not perfected yet, but certainly the signed, sealed and delivered guarantee for the future. But, even better (in a sense), is the beginning of restoration now – with God and with one another (let’s hear it for inaugurated eschatology). No ‘guilt-trips’ about doing our best for God – after all, look what He’s done for you. Just the ultimate example of love healing the most fractured of relationships and through that, a sense of worth and value and inclusion which can only (surely) result in a response of love, to God and to each and every part of God’s creation which He loves enough to save.

So, a glorious promise, intended for the now as much as anything, but, at the moment, highlighting that being alone is not a comfortable place.