Dec 062010

Of the point behind my Masters thesis that is.

My mate Bryan at Greyfriars Parish Church, Lanark, has recently started streaming the Sunday morning services. No bad thing and on, Sunday’s snowy morning, an ideal opportunity for those unable to get to church to do more than just listen in, but to get to see what was going on. Undoubtedly, using video technology allows people to feel more part of something than simply listening to the audio.

Sunday had a slight twist to it – it was communion. A short flurry of discussion on Facebook certainly gave the impression that some who were tuned in from home shared in communion using what they had in the house. I somewhat cheekily wondered if epiclesis worked through cyberspace and that comment triggered a little bit of a (gentle) bashing.

But it’s a serious question (even though it makes something that ought to be simple, more complicated) and, in my opinion, impacts on our understanding of sacramental ministry. Bryan suggested that it was sufficient to rely on Jesus’ promise that where two or three are gathered in His name, He will be with them. Which begs the question, “Why do you need an ordained minister to pronounce an invocation, when it’s God who does all the work?” This was the core of my thesis – the Church of Scotland needs to get its brain round sacramental ministry if it is going to encourage more innovative forms of worship – and video-streaming services isn’t exactly at the extreme end of the innovation spectrum.

Someone else wondered whether it would therefore be possible to perform a baptism over the airways, so to speak. It’s exactly the same issue. Is there some sort of ‘essential presence’ that a minister, and only a minister, brings to these sacramental acts? Or is it simply a case of the practical consideration that it gets done ‘properly’, with no under-the-table jiggery-pokery?

The point I made in my thesis was that conversations around these issues really need to be happening right now, otherwise we end up with a free-for-all which will, ultimately, cause further argument within an organisations which could well do without further cause for dissension in the ranks. And these conversations need to be focused on what is happening in churches now and not just at some academic, ivory-tower, theological level.

Sep 202009

It was a visit to the third possible probation placement church today. This was my ‘wild card’ one but it’s also the one I’ve been feeling drawn to. It was odd sitting in the nearby car park and feeling a sense of excitement and trepidation. What if I had created a ‘fantasy’ of what it would be like? What if my expectations were unrealistic? What if I ended up deeply disappointed? It was a useful corrective to the purpose of my visits. They’re not about where I want to be or where I would feel comfortable but about discerning where God wants me and where I can learn the ropes.

Anyhoo… this was a very different experience from either of the others and, for that matter, any other church I have been in. But I liked that. There was something about the worship that was very appealing: the choral music; the sense of ‘ritual’ or at least a sense of structure. I particularly liked the way the theme wove through all aspects of the service, where certain key words and phrases were repeated and emphasised and reinforced.

I was also struck by one part of the service in particular. There was a baptism today (two in fact) and the point where the congregation stood to respond to the responsibilities laid upon them was split in two. First of all the gathered Sunday school children were asked if they would look after the newly baptised infants as if they were a younger sibling, hug them when they were sad, pick them up when they fell and continue to love them when they were not so well behaved? They then responded with a, “We will.” Similar questions, in the more conventional wording, were put to the congregation who also responded with a particular formula (written in the order of service). I thought the extra kids’ bit was really good and a great way of making the baptism more meaningful (and inclusive) for them.

On the negative side, although the welcome was friendly enough, no-one was in any rush to speak to me, even over a coffee in the halls afterwards. It would be a relatively easy place to remain ‘anonymous’ given the size of the congregation and the number of visitors it probably attracts. But then it’s probably not fair to make that judgement on the basis of one visit. Mind you, I did happened to bump into one of my former lecturers who sussed out that I was probably on a ‘recon mission’. They did promise to stay silent on the issue but it was a chance to get a little bit of insider knowledge (and I may well speak to them again if I decide to include this on my short-shortlist).

So yes, an overall positive impression but I don’t want to jump the gun just yet. I have one more church to visit before I turn my thoughts to narrowing down my choice to two. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel visiting that fourth possibility.

Mar 142009

This story must surely be one of the most ridiculous I’ve read in a while. It simply makes no sense to me at all.

Or does it simply reflect the level of (superstitious) ignorance that can be found in ‘Joe Public’? Or does it reflect the confusion and ignorance found in pew-sitters about the rites and practices of the church?

Mar 102008

At my recent local review I was asked for my views on a couple of specific subjects – the ordination of women and infant baptism. These are standard questions so they weren’t a surprise really. But why, oh why, do I always make life difficult for myself by not giving a simple answer – especially as I don’t have any particular issues with either subject? A simple ‘no problems’ answer would have sufficed, but I have to go and add ‘kind of’ to the end of my reply about infant baptism. This is not because I have an issue with infant baptism – I do think it is justifiable. Nor do I have issues with baptism being a ‘once-and-for-all’. But I am sympathetic to those who reach adulthood, come to faith and look to be ‘baptised properly’. But I’m only sympathetic in the sense that I know what they’re trying to do, but I believe their understanding of baptism is lacking.

Anyway, I decided to give it a bit more thought and, coincidentally, there was a question about this very issue on a forum I look in on. So I jotted down some thoughts and thought I’d share them here so that the gaping holes could be poked at.

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