Dec 062011

I just realised that I’d updated Facebook, but not blogged about the latest developments in my search for a charge. Since my last post on the subject there have been some positive and negative developments. Well, not negative, I suppose, just not positive.

The interview that I had, I thought went well, but, as is my custom, I probably over-analysed the event. I could have been better in some areas, but overall I was happy with how it went. I felt I represented myself fully and honestly and that, as far as I’m concerned, is the crux of the matter. I don’t want to be accepted for a charge and I’m not what they expect. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m passionate about something I’m not, or have skills that I don’t. By the same token, I don’t want to miss anything that might be of use in a committee’s deliberations of whether I’m the right person or not. There were one or two answers that I could have dealt with more ‘slickly’, but they caught me slightly by surprise (and they probably shouldn’t have).

I also fired a number of questions at the committee and suspect I poked a few ‘sensitive’ areas judging by the reactions. When I asked that ‘catch-all’ awkward question, “What question are you hoping I don’t ask?” there was a muttered, “You’ve already asked them.” That said, the answers (or lack off) weren’t a problem, but simply highlighted areas where work would be needed.

The upshot though was that they did eventually get back to me with a ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

Which left me with one remaining ‘live’ application. That committee got back in touch to arrange to hear me take a service and that was duly arranged (and has now taken place). In fact, it was the day after the above-noted interview, so it was a fairly intense weekend. The visiting group stayed for a chat and although it wasn’t an official interview, these things are never really as ‘informal’ as they might be. But it was a good opportunity to sound each other out and form some tentative first impressions. On my side, I noted some potential ‘issues’, but nothing off-putting. I’ve also been able to have a chat with another minister in the area and that resulted in some good food for thought and some encouraging prospects.

I guess I didn’t make too bad an impression either as I have now been invited for an interview, which, as the post title suggests, is one step beyond where I have been getting to in previous applications. My interview experience with the other committee should now stand me in good stead, which is why I don’t view that experience as a negative one. Mind you, it’s unlikely they’ll ask the same questions, but the bulk of them should come up in some form or another. So, watch this space for an update in due course.

Realising that this is the last of my live applications, I have also decided that there is no harm in doing a bit of contingency planning either. If the interview goes well, and I progress with that charge, then I can always withdraw any other applications. But the thought of waiting to get the outcome before starting from scratch again would, I think, be foolish. That said, at this point of the year now, very little is likely to happen with new applications until into January. Hopefully by that time, I should have a clearer indication of how things are going. Anyway, one other application has been sent off and I’ll likely follow up with one or two more in the near future.

Oh, yes, and I’ve also signed on the ‘buroo‘. It’s unlikely that I’ll get any benefit money as I have gaps in my NI contributions from being a student, but we’ll see. First time I’ve ever signed on, but I’ve certainly carried my tax burden in years past, so I don’t exactly feel like a sponger.

Nov 262011

Apologies up front. This is a bit of a ‘brain-dump’ post as I try and sort out some thoughts that have been running around my head. It largely draws on a number of different strands of thought coming from books I’ve read recently, sermons, and just general thoughts that are always lurking around. It’s also an opportunity to engage critically with one of those ‘light-bulb’ moments when things, for an instant, seem to make a little more sense.

Continue reading »

Nov 132011

Today held an interesting ‘first’ for me – two ‘firsts’, if I was being pedantic. At last year’s Remembrance Service I was preaching, and that was fine. I’m on comfortable territory with that. And it was made easier by the fact that the usual gathering of British Legion and Armed forces representatives were at a different church in the town as part of their anniversary celebrations.

Having preached last year, it meant that it was my turn to take the Act of Remembrance this time – only this time with the full attendance of Legion, Forces and various local dignitaries. There are times when it has to be ‘right’ and I would suggest that this is just such a time. I know there are all the arguments about whether the church should be supporting such militaristic activities, but I would rather there be a Christian voice heard in these situations than a withdrawal and sniping from the sidelines. Hosting and participating in such activities does not imply that we condone war, but recognises that there is a distinct Christian voice which can be spoken into the occasion.

Not that that was the sum total of my involvement for the day. It fell upon me to lead the service at the war memorial too. Bigger crowd, very public and with all the burden of responsibility and solemnity of such an event. It generally went well, I think, with only a couple of minor hiccups as I tried to speak over the top of a parade-ground voice giving orders at times I didn’t expect them. (Oh, and a little argument with the local MP as he turned up early, complained about the service not starting early enough to give him time to get to the next one, laid his wreath before the service started, and legged it. Anyway, I was feeling bold enough to be in no mood for such drivel and told him to sort his diary more efficiently next time.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share the short reflection I gave at the war memorial. Spoken pretty much as written, with the odd, on-the-fly alteration (which I no longer remember exactly).

As the years pass and the memories of the two world wars become barely even a second-hand memory, it is often asked whether it is still appropriate to mark this day and time, at least in the way we do.

Quite apart from the fact that the legacy of those two wars still continues with us, the list of conflicts in which the British Armed Forces has been involved grows ever longer; and conflicts around the globe continue to exact a toll, both on those who are on active service and those who support them.

And so I would say that the Act of Remembrance has, if anything, become even more significant; even more crucial in our present day.

Remembering and honouring those who have died, those who have suffered, both military and civilian lives; remembering courage, and bravery, selfless sacrifice and duty are all part of this Act of Remembrance, and rightly so.

But such an Act is also an intensely political statement – and I use that term in its broadest sense: the exercise of power and governance in a country. And as a democracy, we all play our part in that process. We, all, help shape the country we would live in, and the ethics we would live under.

And so, when we join together in the Act of Remembrance, we are not simply paying tribute to those who have served in conflicts over the years. We are also saying that such events cannot be set aside; their significance cannot be diminished; they do not simply belong to the past, but are a challenge to our present reality.

When we forget, we trivialise.

When we forget, we diminish and devalue sacrifice.

When we forget, we dishonour those who served and who continue to serve.

In remembering, we do not condone war, but speak a word of challenge to governments, and to the people, that says, “We have seen, and we remember, what humanity is capable of.”

In remembering, we also say we demand a change, saying, “As it was, is not how it needs to be. Let that which has happened in the past guide us to a better future.”

“We will remember.”

Nov 112011

‘They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun
and in the morning,
we will remember them.’

Nov 022011

Not long after I posted about being back to square one I did actually kick off a couple of new enquiries. I was also fortunate enough to be able to arrange to visit them at fairly short notice. I did hum and haw a bit over which to apply to, but the upshot of those deliberations was to apply formally to both. Better, I thought, to have the headache of deciding on one, than extending the whole process unnecessarily (and potentially missing out on whichever I put into second place).

If it did come down to a choice I have a gut reaction for one over the other, but that’s not based on any sort of informed decision, merely a ‘feeling’ (it’s that discernment thing again). In many regards either ‘would do’. But expressing it in those terms gives a very negative-sounding spin. I mean it in the sense that either would offer a very fulfilling ministry with plenty of scope all the things I’m interested in as well as scope to grow the congregation’s gifts and community involvement. Although in that last regard, maybe that’s where one has a potential edge over the other.

Whatever, the story so far (and hence the post title) is that I have been offered an interview for one of them and the other meets this week to consider their response to my application. In the second case it’s my understanding that, as yet, I’m the only applicant. They are, however, relatively ‘new’ in their vacancy and so they may not feel that they need to grab the first ‘live one’ that comes along. We’ll see how that pans out though.

As for the interview for the first one, I really need to come up with a list of questions for them as well as preparing for what they may well ask me. So it’ll be a case of going back through the Parish Profile and unpicking some of the items in that, as well as looking for what they’re not saying. I also want to sound out their reaction to what I see as my own particular areas of interest. And, of course there’s also the killer question, “What question do you not want me to ask?” (Although I have my own spin on that one.) So, what are the ‘big questions’ worth asking?


Oct 182011

Having had a knock-back from my first (and only – so a 100% record so far) proper application, I am now kicking off a number of new enquiry/application processes. Obviously I’m a bit down at not progressing in an application for a place I was really keen on, but, as my supervisor said, now I know how it feels to really want somewhere. The side-effect of that ‘wanting’ has been to sideline another enquiry I had on the go. I’m unlikely to push that one too hard now as I now realise that it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. It’s a good charge, and it ticked many boxes for me, but I don’t really want to settle for somewhere that seems to be, at the moment, in an ‘it would do’ category – at least not until I’ve explored some alternatives.

So, in one respect, it is back to square one. I have no other ‘live’ enquiries on the go. But it’s also not square one because of what I have learnt of the process so far and of my reactions to it. My previous reflections on discernment still stand, with only a little modification. I think I need to be a little more proactive in extricating information about a vacancy rather than ‘just’ listening. But that’s probably because I now know more of the sort of questions to ask and more of the direction I’d like things to go.

So although it may seem like square one, the move to ‘square two’ should be easier this time around.

Ho! Hum! Back to scouring parish profiles for the clues to the right questions to ask.

Oct 172011

The primary purpose of this blog was to act as a vehicle for my reflections as I went through the ministry training and formation process with the Church of Scotland. It has acted as a place to journal my thoughts on issues and situations and to be a place to raise questions over what I’ve studied and experienced.

In a sense that purpose is coming to an end – although reflecting and questioning will continue. It will be in a different context though and I’m beginning to wonder how to reshape the blog to better reflect that. As I see it, I could use the blog as a continuing reflection of my greater immersion into full-time ministry; or I could use it to reflect on wider issues of faith and culture. I’ve never really used the blog for the latter. Other people cover that more regularly, more effectively and more sensitively that I think I would.

I flatter myself to think that my often rambling thoughts have proven to be useful to those also going through ‘ministry formation’ in whatever shape or form that may take. I suspect that many of the issues I have reflected upon are shared by others. I don’t flatter myself that I have the answers to these issues, only that I have grappled with them in my own way and come to some sort of understanding which sits with some integrity of faith and life. Continuing to reflect on a journey further into ministry possibly smacks a little of pride; that what I have to say may be useful. And yet, I really only ever write for my own benefit/pleasure. The simple fact of making it public though does give a bit of a lie to that thought.

And then there is the problem of what to do with the current blog. Do I draw a line under it and move it to an archive, beginning afresh? Or is a continued reflection on ministry a natural continuation of what I have been doing anyway? If nothing else, I may mark the occasion with a theme change and a tidy up of the various links that lurk around (if yours disappears then it’s nothing personal, just part of the spring-cleaning and different focus). After all, it’s been a while since I’ve actually made any changes to the site itself.

All of this assumes, of course, that I will even have the time to blog, but I have learned the value of the activity over the last few years and I would be keen to continue. Anyway, change may be coming, but there are a few more reflections to go on actually getting a ministry to write about.

Oct 072011

On a previous post I was asked how the process of discernment worked for me.

Just to provide some context, just in case you’re reading this from scratch – it’s a reference to my process of determining and assessing a call to a currently-vacant charge (parish) in the Church of Scotland. It’s also worth adding a little bit of background for anyone reading who is unfamiliar with the CofS’s vacancy process. Ministers are never ‘sent’ anywhere by the CofS. One responds to a ‘call’, both in the sense of God calling a person to a particular ministry and also in the sense that it is a congregation’s jealously-guarded right to determine who their own minister shall be and not have one imposed upon them. (With the caveat that presbytery has a right of veto if the called minister’s life and doctrine are deemed to be inappropriate.) There are other ins and outs that can complicate things, but that’s the general idea.

So this splurge of thoughts is ‘call’ and its discernment from my perspective – that of someone seeking to determine where I shall be ‘ministering’ for the next five years at least (you are expected to stay at least five years in a first charge).

I suppose I should also say that whatever I write here is probably a much too neat description of what, for me anyway, is a far from tidy and obvious ‘process’.

I guess the process started a few years ago. A large element of the ministry formation training and preparation is about knowing your self (and I’ve become a huge advocate of the professional journalling/reflective practice ‘thing’). But that’s not about self-centred, navel-gazing. It’s a genuine process of understanding the type of person you are, your strengths (without the false humility that we Scots seem to revel in), your limitations (genuinely understood), your passions, your challenges, and so on. There was much grumping at times during the preparation stage, but let me say (and I say this from only a personal perspective – I can’t speak for anyone else) that it is now that the various activities and exercises and self-reflection all become enormously useful.

When I first started at university (and wasn’t yet a candidate for training), a number of my fellow students who were candidates had a very clear picture of where they would be ministering and of the type of ministry they wanted to do. I didn’t have that and it caused me to question my call on a number of occasions. Now, I don’t know if those people just happened to know themselves really well (I’m not convinced) or had simply been given a different form of call from me (a more convincing explanation) but it is now, knowing myself so much better, that I have that sense of call to a particular ministry.

So that is the first element of discernment for me – knowing ‘me’; the gifts and talents I have, the passions which enthuse me, the challenges which don’t, the people I like to work with, the environment I can flourish in (again, not in a self-serving way, but simply being able to live and work effectively so that I can serve others). It is knowing that piece of the jigsaw that enables me to see if it might fit into the various ministry opportunities which are available. I suppose it’s not really any different to anyone else who is job-hunting, but I suspect there are more and different factors at work than come into play when one is simply ‘looking for a job’.

But that also opens up the question of whether the available ‘job’ has appropriately-shaped jigsaw ‘holes’. There’s only so much information to be gleaned from parish profiles and mission statements and ministerial profiles. And much of it has to be taken with a degree of scepticism; a nominating committee is not in the job of making their charge look unattractive. So that means other avenues of research need to be opened up. Talking to people works wonders. There are times when the Church of Scotland seems like a very small world. Everyone seems to know someone who knows someone. And there are even a few people who seem to know everyone (and every congregation, and every minister who has been through the door, and where they came from and where they went). So word gets around about places. If I’ve learnt nothing else over the last several years, then I’ve learnt that it is very often through what people say to me, almost unintentionally, that I can often hear a prompting from God. So I listen carefully (or try to) and try and pick up the clues from what I’m hearing. This makes the informal chats and emails with interim moderators interesting. They seem to expect me to come laden with questions about a place. Actually, I just want to listen to what they have to say and pick up what’s being said and not said. I may then be prompted to ask a question, but often I’ll just take time to reflect on things.

What else is in the mix? Visiting a place; seeing it in context and seeing what its context is. Simply stopping, in a place, and ‘listening’; feeling its ‘vibe’ (the church building, the manse, the town, the churchyard, whatever). There’s more too, but the more intangible it gets, the more difficult it is to put into words. There are also very personal considerations around family which are part of the discernment process but are not appropriate to mention here.

You’ve maybe wondered why I haven’t mentioned prayer. It’s there in the mix, of course, but, as I’ve said, I’ve learnt to listen for God through what others say more than anything and so the riposte “have you prayed about it?” tends to grate on me a bit. If ‘praying’ is about listening out for God’s guidance then the answer is yes. If it means closeting myself in a quiet room, getting on my knees with an open Bible in front of me, then the answer is no. All of the above ‘methods’ or process elements are, for me, a form of prayerful, spiritually-reflective activity.

So, is it working? I’ll let you know when the call comes and it is still coming 5 years into ministry.

Sep 262011

Today I had another cross-country jaunt to check out another possible vacant charge. My primary purpose was to ‘compare and contrast’ with the one that it currently bubbling away as a distinct possibility. I had various reasons for not being too interested, but its ‘c&c’ role made it a potentially useful visit.


Now it’s top of my list!

And it still has some of the issues that put me off it in the first place.

And one of the main reasons why I was being advised against it (sort of) is the very reason I like it.

All this ‘discernment’ stuff is really doing my head in. Just when I think I’ve got somewhere more or less sussed, along comes something to muddy the waters. (s’pose that’s why it’s called discernment.)

Actually, it’s not really a muddy-ing of the waters, to be fair. Either of the two places currently attracting me would be good charges. Both are quite different from each other and both have, I’d say, quite different challenges. The issue is less about how unclear a call is, but rather making a decision between two clear, to me, calls.

Mind you, I’m somewhat jumping the gun. As far as I know, one of the charges only has me interested. The other appears to be fairly popular. A little bit of me is saying, “Well, you’ll not get it anyway. There are loads more ministers out there who are better than you. You don’t deserve such a great place.”

It’s hard to ignore those thoughts and turn the focus on the apparent ‘certainty’ of one of them. But that doesn’t feel right either. But I don’t want to get my hopes up on what might only be an outside possibility. And I feel a bit guilty about appearing so keen for the first one and now I’m looking elsewhere.

And all that makes me feel confused. Probably not the best state of mind to be making decisions and a definite sign of needing more time in contemplation and prayer.

In the meantime, two applications will be getting put out and I had better stop looking for the moment until some of the confusion clears.