Feb 202011
 

I’ve just had a week off and did very little – an ideal way to spend a break. The relative inactivity did give me some time to think though. In a few weeks I have my interim review and that reminds me that this final placement is hitting the half way mark. If the second half disappears as quickly as the first then I have the reality of finding my own charge hurtling towards me very quickly. That first charge is also becoming an increasingly dominant topic of conversation between probationers (and with those who have taken an interest over the whole period).

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Nov 252010
 

I’m coming to the end of my second week of holiday cover for my supervisor. Such periods are very useful as times of juggling priorities and different tasks. It’s been a fairly busy couple of weeks, but not for the reasons I had anticipated.

For a start, I’ve only had one funeral come in (that’s the¬† “shhh!!” bit – there’s still Friday, then the weekend). It’s funerals that cause most disruption, simply because of their unpredictability. And the preparation for them is also an indeterminate task.

But I’ve also discovered another activity that eats up time in unpredictable ways – visiting. A number of the visits I’ve tried to do these last two weeks have come to nothing. A half hour drive to the hospital can often end up with the information that the person has been transferred, or sent home, or is unable to receive visitors. Or, in a couple of instances, the person has been sound asleep. And whilst it is tempting to ‘accidentally’ make a noise to announce your presence, that’s more about your needs than their needs.

It’s not so much that they feel like a waste of time, because it’s just as likely that you’ll find them, awake, in the right place and keen to have a visitor. But they do mean that they throw off the planning and rhythm of a day. The half our or so that you didn’t get visiting can’t really be used. It’s too short a time to get into anything and often isn’t enough time to revise plans for alternative visits.

Or maybe that’s the secret that you eventually work out – how to make best use of these little fragments of time that get ‘left over’.

Whatever the answer, just don’t say anything about only having one funeral to do. I’ll have every other one that comes in for the next month assigned to me to make up for it.

Nov 072010
 

Once again, the time between blogs has got away from me and now that I try and think back over the last week or two, I struggle to find something that is blog-worthy. Blogging, I find, is often ‘of the moment’. Something happens, or makes a big enough impact, to trigger an urge to get it down on paper (so to speak). It’s an opportunity to sort through and make sense of the challenging or the confusing or the annoying.

But I’m finding that life isn’t like that at the moment. There is much that is new, much that is challenging, much that is annoying, but all in a way that needs dealt with simply, not through rushing to make sense of it on a blog in a reactionary way. Perhaps it’s the ‘reality’ of what crops up now in probation. It all seems much more ‘real’ in a way that term-time placements don’t always feel. Perhaps it’s the detachment from the academic that begins to settle the theological reflection down into the ‘real’ rather than a mental exercise in drawing theory and practice together.

What is interesting though is that this past week or so has had ‘remembrance’ as its main theme. And that’ll be true over the week to come as well.

Last Sunday afternoon, the Sunday closest to ‘All saints/souls’, there was a service for those who had been bereaved – an opportunity to remember those who had passed away either recently or in the distant past. Time was not the issue. The issue was permission to remember; to acknowledge the reality of a present grief, however raw and hurting, or faded but still felt. It was an emotionally-charged and very ‘delicate’ service, but very powerful and, I would say, very much appreciated by the people there (of whom there were many more than anticipated).

This week we have the High School Remembrance Day assembly (and it’s Ian and me leading it this year) and next Sunday is Remembrance Sunday when I’ll be preaching. the initial thoughts of this blog entry come back to challenge at this point. If separation of only a week or two makes issues less blog-worthy, less noteworthy, what of events of almost a hundred years ago? Of course, war did not stop with the ‘war to end all wars’ and conflict is in the news still; and more recently than a week or so back.

The grief of a bereavement service is every bit a part of a Remembrance Day service. Separation in time of days, weeks, months or many years does not make it any less powerful. A bereavement service looks back, acknowledges the past; times which can never be recaptured. And yet it allows a space for moving on, not in the sense of leaving the past behind or of setting it aside as if it was of no consequence, but through allowing the present to be shaped by the past, acknowledging that is does indeed shape our present, whether we like it or not.

Remembrance Day also remembers a past which is difficult to acknowledge and which we recognise as never being left behind. War and conflict continue to haunt us, but in a similar way to bereavement, it must never debilitate us and render us utterly hopeless.

The High School assembly has an interesting mix of musical and performance pieces which have been chosen by the school. Any one of them might arguably be considered inappropriate for a Remembrance Service and yet, as a whole, they offer that tension of looking back and lamenting, acknowledging the good and bad in the present, and looking forward in hope. I wonder if this was in the mind of those who chose the pieces? Let’s be generous and say it was, but I wonder if they were aware of how much it captures the essence of a Christian approach to such things?

As a Christian, looking forward and looking back, whether on the mundane or the momentous, is a reminder of who we are and were, of all that we have done, the good and the bad and of the grace that allows us to look forward in hope. Not the rose-tinted version, but in the God-centred way that sees that love, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation  need more than our own efforts, but the very presence of God, who knows all about reconciliation and hope.

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.

Oct 012010
 

I’ve been thinking about ‘endings’ today. In part this has been prompted by taking two funerals, but that’s not really the sort of ending I have in mind. I’ve also had a few hospital visits and it is with these, or rather, one in particular, that I have been pondering the issue of ‘endings’.

In this case, the issue is of bringing a visit to an end. The person I visited obviously had short-term memory problems. We circled round the very same conversation several times. Every time I got to point where I thought it was appropriate to take my leave, a ‘new’ conversation started up. I finally grabbed my chance when I was asked a new question about what else I had to do that day. The other visits had more ‘natural’ conversations and were easier to guide to a conclusion. Maybe I just need to develop a slightly more robust disengagement strategy.

The funerals were, of course, endings as well, but there were particular thought-provoking issues there too. Again, in bringing them to a close. At the recent probationers’ conference there was some debate over the appropriateness of the we/you language choice in benedictions. There were some suggestions that probationers still shouldn’t be using ‘you’-oriented blessings. I’m not convinced there is a theological, ecclesiological or ontological argument to justify this. Nevertheless, it came to mind at both funerals, because I did not know the deceased or any of the families and so including myself seemed inappropriate.

My final reflection on endings was associated with this morning’s funeral. It was in the church and then on to the cemetery. In my head the ‘conclusion’ of the service is at the cemetery and so that is where the benediction should be said. But it occurred to me that many in the church did not go on to the cemetery and so were excluded from that blessing. Would it have been inappropriate to do it twice? I felt the church part was somehow left ‘incomplete’ because of it, but then the ‘completion’ really comes afterwards. I’d be interested in the opinion of any liturgists out there.

And so, having burbled on about endings, here endeth this blog entry.

Sep 272010
 

This past weekend has been the first or four probationers’ conferences. (The next one, including the candidates’ conferences, will be seven of nine thus establishing the uneasy link that we are being assimilated into the CofS collective. Apologies for the obscure trekkie reference. I am not a trekkie – my brain just makes these bizarre trivia links at times.) It’s a very different atmosphere to candidates’ conferences I’d say. It’s also quite a different ‘style’. That’s not really the correct word, but I can’t think of what I mean. Yes it’s a series of presentations, with discussion groups, tasks and so on, but they’re just ‘different’.

One of the key issues of course is that the sessions are not attempting to be relevant to such a broad range of educational and placement experience. Pretty much everyone at a probationer conference has done all their academic and placement training. So there is a more definable baseline for one.

I think there’s also the sense that this is the last lap. The reality of a charge is beginning to loom on the horizon (and I’ve already blogged about how quickly that point seems to be approaching, even here at the beginning of my fifteen months). That means there is a heightened sense of needing to accumulate and consolidate knowledge and ideas. The ‘been there, done that’ attitude quickly gives way to thinking, “Do I know this as well as I need to?” That’s combined with sessions that are (generally) much more focused anyway.

I also have to comment on the group dynamic. It’s quite a disparate group this year (moreso than in years past, I’m told). There is no one particular year group or university group which dominates. In one respect this is a good thing – there are fewer group ‘outsiders’. It does mean though that ‘close’ relationships are in much smaller groups. One of the things about the social time at candidates’ conferences is that you build up a network of trusted colleagues, who know each other well, are supportive and understanding and with whom one can share… well, almost anything. I’m not suggesting that such relationships will not be created, but that there is a slight sense of starting from scratch as each of us ‘susses out’ the others. Whether that will have any sort of knock-on effect on support networks later on will need to wait and see. I guess it’ll just take a little longer for that ‘comfort’ level to be built up.

Regardless, this weekend marked a milestone on the road – a road that is fast turning into an expressway towards a destination which, although still unknown in detail, carries a growing sense of excitement and purpose.

Roll on the next one and further assimilation.

Sep 222010
 

I’m beginning to get a sense of why those who are in probation begin to disappear from Facebook and the blogosphere. It’s not that I’ve been especially busy but it’s amazing how many things there are to eat into your time. I know it’s only been three weeks since the start of my probationary period, but when you begin forward-planning, a quarter of a year just seems to ‘disappear’ and you begin to worry about needing a diary with bigger pages to make reminder notes in. I recently asked a fellow probationer how they filled their day. I should just have been patient.

Friday brings the first of four probationers’ conferences and it will be good to catch up with people. But I then have the ‘real’ work of a week and a half of pastoral cover while my supervisor enjoys a holiday. The first funeral is already in for later in the week.

I’m very glad of having been allowed the luxury of a gentle start. It’s an opportunity just to catch the ‘rhythm’ of a place for the first few Sundays and to get to know those first contacts. That easy exposure helps to be able to stand back a little and get a sense of where everything fits together without getting overwhelmed by the details. But the details are now arriving and time is definitely beginning to fly.

Except when I look forward to getting paid. That, for some reason, always seems to be a long way away.

Sep 102010
 

Since I’m being allowed a gentle start to probation, I thought I’d take the opportunity to get myself organised ‘administratively’. I’m not a natural organiser. I have a bunch of notebooks with no order to them where jottings of meetings get put – along with to-do lists and ‘notes to self’ and contact details and reminders and… You get the idea. Basically, I need to find a system of work that… works.

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Sep 022010
 

Yesterday marked the last day of my final candidates’ conference: today marks the beginning of probation.

Endings and new beginnings are, I suppose, the very marks of a Christian’s story. That grand meta-narrative of scripture is a cycle of endings and new beginnings; enslavement and redemption, death and resurrection.

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