Jun 172011
 

The past umpteen years have been marked by many milestones as I make progress towards ordained ministry. Today’s was a significant one – the end of the final probationers’ conference. Although there are further conferences and retreat days after ordination, this conference, in particular, is worth noting. This is the one where much of the ‘practical’ information is imparted. There’s almost a sense of leaving it until now, because if you knew then…
Well, not really. I don’t think there are too many who go into ministry these days wearing rose-tinted spectacles.

The focus on the practical brought it home, perhaps more than many other conferences, that it will get ‘real’ very soon. I was absolutely shattered today as I hadn’t slept well. I rarely remember dreams, although I suppose I must dream, but I had a very disturbed night having a classic anxiety dream. That said, in true, modest, presbyterian style, I did not find myself lacking clothing – maybe I wasn’t as anxious as I thought.

The dream has a pretty obvious interpretation. I, in the company of a number of my fellow probationers, was attempting to get to an airport, but I simply could not find the way in. The signs were all there, but they never seemed to lead me to a door. I somehow always seemed to find myself trying to wade through a crowd going the other way, or discovering shops and market stalls in my way. Or I would turn in to what was a dead end. I knew I was near the airport – I could see planes taking off overhead, but I just couldn’t seem to get close to it. My fellow probationers all seemed to make progress, but I just kept getting lost. But they’re a good bunch and some of them kept coming back to find me and point me in the right direction again. Again, they would make progress, but I never seemed to. I guess I’ll never end up as an airport chaplain, anyway.

My lack of sleep was probably a contributing factor to me picking an argument with a professor of theology who was delivering the last session of the conference (but only because he got his diary date wrong and didn’t turn up when he was expected the day before). The ‘confrontation’ was an interesting experience. The ‘prof’ has quite an intimidating style, spearing you with an intense, direct gaze while challenging, quite robustly, what you are suggesting. In many respects it was quite out of keeping with the rather more gracious engagement in discussion that tends to happen in conference sessions. This was not, after all, a lecture or academic debate. Nevertheless, my tiredness, or maybe just my woolly theology, resulted in me backing off (although the debate was rather a tangent from the main purpose of the session anyway). I did spend the car journey home rehearsing all the arguments I could/should have used – but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

But it did serve to remind me of who I am and how I am. I don’t do well in such ‘up front’ debates. I like time to consider things; to work them through more slowly and carefully. As I’ve discussed before, I would consider my theology to be ‘restless theology’. I am happy to exist in the tensions of theological opinions. I can accept the ‘contradictions’ of scripture without having to find convoluted ways to reconcile them. I can even, graciously and with some sympathy, understand the reasons and rationale behind deeply held theological positions, even to the point of granting them acceptability. But my theological outlook (or maybe just the weird wiring in my brain) doesn’t allow me to stop at any of those positions, however well-argued and justified they may be, but insists that I give due weight and consideration to other views.

Such an approach may come across as indecisive or too accommodating or even just downright contradictory, but it works for me and allows me to reconcile such things as the ‘difficult texts’ (which that particular session was on) or the ecumenical interactions which take place in communities. I should point out that I still have limits and boundaries – they’re maybe just a little further apart than many.

So, if I’ve discovered nothing else at this particular milestone, I do at least acknowledge who I am and what I know of myself. Even if that means that I can’t figure out how to get to where I need to go.

Jan 172011
 

The recent probationers’ conference was packed with challenging and encouraging seminars. There was little that wasn’t potentially useful and even the one session I didn’t find very interesting still contained little nuggets of wisdom. And within the little nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout the sessions there were some excellent gems especially worthy of mental note and future reflection.

One such was the suggestion that all the people who do all the stuff that congregations do shouldn’t be referred to as volunteers.

Continue reading »

Jan 142011
 

Probation conference number 2 finished today and it was one of the best so far – I’m including candidates’ conferences in that too. All the sessions reinforced one another and the whole was challenging and encouraging. The theme was ‘Mission’ and the overarching idea was that the church is not called to ‘do mission’ but to ‘be missional’. Mission, in whatever shape or form it takes in any particular context should suffuse and shape the life of a congregation.

We heard some amazing stories of what can happen when people are empowered to follow through their vision of God’s purpose for them and for their community. Lives turned around through the witness of others, the simple expressions of love shown to the outcast and stranger.

There was so much to process that I’ll need to take time just to sort it through in my own head, but there was one particular, personal ‘urge’ I can identify, albeit in a fragile and immature form. The single biggest message was that mission takes time – years – to grow from the initial seeds through to even just the first tentative shoots. As I look ahead and begin thinking about where I might sense a calling to, I am beginning to sense that I want to be somewhere for the long haul. I want to be somewhere I can commit to. The first charge has a minimum time limit of 5 years and I know people do move on after that point. I sense that I don’t want to do that. There’s something that is telling me that wherever I go I want to be there for the  duration, so to speak.

In some respects that’s been the pattern of my previous employment. I was there 21 years all told, albeit working under different owners at different times, but any urge to move on was overcome by new challenges from within the company. Maybe a pattern for ministry? Who knows? And, of course, who knows what might happen when I get to that point. Sowing and reaping are not necessarily done by the same people. Either way, I feel it’s a step closer to knowing what shape my ministry might be.

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.