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.

Aug 292011

I suspect that this post may end up somewhat incoherent because I’m still absolutely knackered from the weekend and my brain is somewhat mushy (moreso than usual, anyway). The reason I’m so tired is that I spent the weekend with 32 sixth-year pupils and around 10 staff from Grangemouth High School at their team-building weekend. We were across at the Scout centre at Fordell Firs in Fife. The weekend was a mixture of of team-building exercises, activities and challenges. Add very little time off and very little sleep to that mix and you have a very intense weekend.

The purpose of the weekend is quite clear – the school hopes to benefit from a sixth-year who can work as an effective team, encouraging each other, acting as role-models for the lower years, and maintaining and enhancing the school’s reputation in the community. The way this is done is through breaking down the natural, small teams of friends and demonstrating, through the challenges, how much can be achieved when the bigger team is working effectively. It helps highlight individual capabilities and promote the shared pleasure of success when a task is completed.

Whether that worked or not can only be assessed by the school over the coming year as the group take the skills they have developed and begin to apply them to the work they do with the rest of the year group and with the rest of the school.

I, personally, very much enjoyed the weekend, for all sorts of reasons. Much of the ministry formation training covers team-working, team-management skills, self-understanding and so on. It was fascinating being on the other side of that – ‘teaching’ it rather than being taught it. it was also fascination seeing how others seek to ‘build teams’. I don’t want to appear critical of any staff or of the methods used, but it seemed there was a little too much focus on the ‘correct’ method. We’ve had the benefit of having many different approaches, often accompanied by the grumble, “Oh, this again. Same stuff, different words.” It’s only when you see it being applied that you begin to appreciate the variations and the nuances of the various approaches. I’m very glad we didn’t get exposed to the ‘correct’ way of doing team-building.

As I say, only the school can judge the success of the weekend through the effectiveness of the current sixth-year, but there were a few personal highlights from the weekend that are less about the team and more about individuals.

Over the weekend I got to interact with most of the pupils, and with some more than others. Sometimes you just ‘get’ someone and realise there are underlying issues. When, over the course of the weekend, you see those underlying issues being dealt with and the affirmation of a positive change being stated, then that has to be celebrated as a major triumph. (Sorry if that’s a bit vague, but, for obvious reasons, I don’t want to give too much detail.) And when someone else overcomes a deep fear of doing something, bites the bullet, and succeeds, then that too is a major triumph.

Of course, these personal successes feed into the overall effectiveness of the team, but in focusing on the team, these personal triumphs can often be overlooked. But it is through building on strong, confident individuals who know their capabilities (and limitations) and their worth, that teams are indeed greater than the sum of their parts.

So, a ‘very well done’ to all the sixth-years who took part and ‘grew up’ so much over such a short time, and also a hearty ‘thank you’ to the staff who give of their time for the event because they believe in the value of it, not just for the school, but for the young people themselves.

Mar 162009

One of my favourite blogs, Internetmonk, recently posted a video which was a pretty good parody of too many Christian youth programmes. One of the commenters made a good point about youth ministry and family ministry. He asked the question, “How can we expect parents to teach their children when adults are largely ignorant of the gospel?” His suggestion is a move, not necessarily away from youth work but to a more inclusive ‘programme’ for a whole family.

This is a hugely challenging area and one for which there are no easy answers, but I wonder if there is another issue lurking here – that of children/youth teachers. Sunday schools, for example, are usually more than willing to welcome anyone who will give them time to help on a Sunday morning. But is getting a willing volunteer becoming more important that getting the right person? Surely teaching children the correct foundations is crucially important for their future development as Christians? So why do ministers have to be degree-qualified and fully trained before teaching adults yet the only qualification for teaching children is willingness? Furthermore, those who do volunteer are often giving up their time in the Sunday service. So where are they getting their ‘feeding’ and teaching from? My home congregation has two services on a Sunday and there is an expectation on those who teach in the Sunday school and Bible class to be there. But we are fairly unusual in having two services.

I’m not sure that a move to all-age worship all the time is entirely appropriate or desirable, but I do think there are underlying issues which need to be dealt with in order to provide a more holistic approach to nurturing the family of God. Bible study groups and house groups are useful places for such nurture. But who organises those?

Aug 222008

Stewart is currently mulling over a discussion topic for this year’s Church of Scotland National Youth Assembly. Unsurprisingly its focus is on the use of media and technology in a church setting. Unsurprisingly I remain to be convinced of its effectiveness. That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s useful. Rather, I’m not convinced that it’s useful yet.

Web2.0 evangelists would have you believe that by making things, like the web, more interactive and with the ability to contribute then that is ‘a good thing’. Now, in a sense I don’t disagree. The ability to share information and knowledge is, I believe, a very good thing indeed. One of my own personal hobby-horses is theological education (it’s lacking and, what’s more, it’s getting drowned in a sea of voices usurping the language). The ability to educate, through technology has to be a good thing. But the big problem I see is that, whilst we are uneducated we are non-discriminatory. Everything becomes ‘valid’, information overload is a reality and rather than being turned on to education, many are turned off. “Just tell me what to think” becomes their mantra. In a Christian context this means not questioning economic policy, tolerating injustice or marginalising those who can’t cope.

The problem with technology is that it does those very things – it marginalises those who cannot understand or use it; it has an insatiable ‘upgrade’ appetite; it favours those who ‘have’. All of which are, or at least should be, anathema to the Christian community. But that doesn’t mean that technology is, in and of itself, ‘bad’; just that it needs to become more egalitarian and imaginative.

I believe that one of the fundamental works of the Christian church is to build ‘community’. Scripture’s repeated reporting of ‘God’s people’ isn’t an example of exclusivity, but an encouragement to be inclusive as we are, surely, all God’s children? Community means so much and it’s such a huge, all-encompassing term that I wouldn’t even attempt to define it here. In the discussion on Stewart’s blog, he suggest that the members of Second Life do have a sense of community. I’m sure they do, but the question is, is it a model of Christian community? I don’t think it is. It relies on pretending to be something/one else for a start. God accepts us as we are. Where is the irl (in real life) fellowship? Meeting virtually seriously undermines your opportunities to really get to know someone. How do you build a relationship of trust with someone you have never met? (And yes, I do note the implications of that statement with regards to a Christian’s faith in God, but that’s what the Trinity is all about). So, useful, yes. But certainly never a substitute for ‘real’ relationships. (Not that Stewart is suggesting technology should be, I hasten to add.)

But back to the earlier point of information v. knowledge. I was sitting in a waiting room the other day and the radio was on. It was the hourly news bulletin and a lady nearby was showing no particular interest until an report came on about a ‘celeb’ having been recently diagnosed with cancer. At this she cocked an ear, looked shocked and then somewhat sad. World events were of no consequence, but a ‘celeb’ with an illness was earth-shattering. But why was this even news? If you walk down the high street in any town you’ll pass a significant number of people with a terminal illness. None of them make the news. At best, such ‘news’ is information. But because it is presented as ‘news’ then we are trained to think of it as such. We become non-discriminatory and treat all information as of equal value. Then, inevitably, we ignore it because it eventually has no value.

Where’s this going? Stewart also mentioned that ‘tags’ are set to become a major aspect of how we deal with information. They certainly have the potential to be, but are just as readily open to abuse. Tags then become useless and we then rely on technologies to scrape information from web pages. Not so long ago Google got slammed for doing just that and searches for news ended up returning millions of blog pages and feed aggregators talking about the news and not the news itself. Where technology really needs to develop is in the processing of information. Or we have to become more intelligent and discriminatory in our finding and using information. And that brings us back to the point of needing to think for ourselves and to learn through interaction and so we’re back at community again.

As I said on Stewart’s blog, I don’t think technology is wrong, but I think we need to be a lot more imaginative in its use. In this respect I would entirely agree with his comment that it is through the creative misuse of it that will drive future development.

To address Stewart’s question, maybe what the church needs to do with technology isn’t so much jump on existing social media bandwagons but be a lot more creative in its thinking and drive new uses (misuses) of technology. But then that would require the church to be inventive and creative and radical and I think it would need to discover those things first (which it is doing in places). I think it has forgotten, in many respects, just how radical the Gospel is and should be.

Just to end on an ironic note. Earlier this week I was participating in a follow-up survey about e-learning being done by Dr Constantinos Athanasopoulos. He was most enthusiastic when he learned I use a blog for journalling (so if you’re dropping in from there, hello!). So I’m not a luddite really. I would just like to see technology used for the benefit of others rather than the promotion of some.

Jun 192008

One of my tasks in looking after the Crossover web presence is to keep an eye on the Crossover Bebo page. We get a regular flow of people signing up as friends and I do have a quick look at their Bebo site. Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy but what I see, I find quite depressing. The language and innuendo to be found on young teenagers’ pages is pretty shocking. With Bebo it’s fairly easy to hide behind the ‘friends only’ restriction, but that, to my mind, encourages this duality in public and ‘private’ personas. One of the sites I looked at belongs to someone I know and I have to ask myself, which is the ‘real’ them? Is it the foul-mouthed, world-hating ’emo’ on Bebo or is the approachable but loud teenager I see from time to time? Or is the real person some complex mix of the two? Which one is the facade? Or is peer pressure so great that there is an expectation to be as ‘bad’ as each other or even to outdo one another?

I did actually toy with the idea of ‘purging’ those friends who did use offensive and crude language (and advertising the fact that I’m doing it) but who am I to judge acceptability. Crossover is a Christian festival but it certainly doesn’t lay down any kind of standards to be met before you can associate with it. That would be, very much, in contradiction to the gospel message. But where does one draw the line? By accepting such sites as friends, is one condoning them? This, to me, is one of the issues of social networking sites – there is little or no control over associations that are made and the assumed ‘privacy’ allows the presentation of public and private faces which, very often, are contradictory.

Jun 152008

Not long back from Crossover.

Although the numbers were well down this year, there was still a great atmosphere and most things went well. Interestingly, even though the numbers were down, the activities were still very busy. It was just that there were fewer groups simply hanging around.

The labyrinth we ran was good, with only one ‘dissenting’ voice. It’s fascinating to hear youth leaders comment on their ‘hyperactive’ kids as they watch them sit through fairly lengthy ‘meditations’. And the reaction from the kids themselves is always encouraging. Even the ones that you’d perhaps label as being ‘uninterested’ come out saying how great it was.

Highlight of the weekend? Quite possibly the thrashy, rock version of ‘How great Thou art’.

Will comment more later after I’ve had some sleep. Although it was a great weekend, there were still a lot of points worth chewing over.

Jun 062008

Next weekend is Crossover and my old youth group are going – a great mob of them too, something like 27. Anyway, I was helping out tonight and, by way of preparation, everyone with a tent was invited to bring it along to try pitching them in the church hall. It meant that we could see just how serviceable they were and what their actual size was.

I was seriously impressed by one that was there – a popup tent. It was so cool. It was erected in seconds, literally. You can see a video of them here (scroll down the page a bit). Mind you, it took us considerably longer to work out how it folded back up. I wish I’d seen that video before trying to decipher the instructions.

That said, I’m not even camping at Crossover. I’ve got a bed for the night in one of the accommodation blocks.

On the subject of Crossover – I’m heading up the pastoral team again and, once more, we’re hosting the labyrinth. I’m really keen to get feedback on it this year, particularly the music. It was specially composed for the labyrinth by a friend. I think it works well, but it’s more ‘classical’ than we’ve used before, so I’ll be interested to hear how it works for the age group.

Jun 042008

A while ago I offered to help out at this year’s school show. The main reason for doing so was that the sound quality was always a bit ropey and, having had a bit of experience with our worship group, I thought I might be able to help.

What makes me qualified to offer assistance as a sound engineer?

Absolutely nothing other than a techie’s insatiable desire to tinker.

Nevertheless, I now find myself as ‘sound supervisor’ for Falkirk High School’s production of Bugsy Malone. What I thought might be a wee fiddle with level and eq has now turned into trying to optimise mic changes for 15 or so speaking parts and 7 mics, two of which are on the same channel and can’t be on at the same time. Add to that 6 static mics, sfx, audio from video clips and 5 somewhat enthusiastic teenage sound crew and the job is rather more than I bargained for.

And why is it that as soon as you give someone a mic they feel the need to pop it right up to their mouth and shout ‘hello’ into it, yet put them on stage with the same mic and they mumble a few words?

Ho, hum! Dress rehearsals on Friday and Monday, performances on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Must learn to say no.