Jan 162012
 

At least I’m beginning to know what to think. After the ‘confusion‘ of last week, I am pleased to report that that has now given way to a mixture of excitement and trepidation – and there’s no confusion; that’s exactly how I feel.

Sunday was the ‘big day’, preaching as sole nominee at Kirriemuir: St. Andrew’s l/w Oathlaw Tannadice (must program a shorcut key to type that lot) [oh, and I’d link to the website but it seems to have exceeded some quota or other and isn’t working – an opportunity to move it to some more reliable, free hosting {me, in other words} I think]. Did it all go smoothly? No! I had a few glitches, of my own making. Managed to skip a hymn, but that helped claw back some time since I’d gone on a bit long, and so we finished on time after all. Struggled a bit to connect with the kids on the second service. Forgot to take water to the pulpit so had a bit of a dry throat at one point. And various other little hiccups that probably weren’t really noticed, or if they were, people were too polite to say so.

But, in the end, none of that mattered. The votes were counted and a unanimous decision was returned. We heard the enthusiastic applause as the result was announced and received the same when we went out to say hello officially. I can say that I was utterly overwhelmed. The warmth of the welcome and the enthusiasm was obvious and I still couldn’t quite believe that they had accepted me.

The rest of the day passed in a bit of a blur. We had lunch with some folks from the churches and had a good look round the manse. I think my brain had shut down by that point and I was running on autopilot. By the time we got home I was absolutely shattered and felt totally drained.

It’s really only today that it has started to sink in that it’s time for a change. As messages and calls of congratulation hit the pone, txt, email and Facebook, the sense of joy and excitement gradually started to make its way into my own head and I’ve been going around in a mild state of euphoria for most of the day. There’s still a slight sense of unreality about it all. The whole process must be the most bizarre way of getting a job anywhere. There’s always one more ‘thing’ to happen it seems. For me now that is settling on a date for ordination and induction. That’s likely to be the 23rd of February, but the date’s not fixed yet. That’s far enough away to give me time to prepare, but scarily close to realise that real life, and real ministry, kicks in very soon. That’s the trepidation part.

But, for now, I can enjoy the setting aside of confusion and think about what an exciting next phase of life and ministry is about to begin.

Jan 092012
 

With less than a week to go until I preach as sole nominee at Kirriemuir: St. Andrew’s l/w Oathlaw Tannadice, I find my emotions and thoughts in a state of turmoil. In a very real sense I don’t know what to think.

There’s the natural anxiety of preparing for such an event (and all my classic stress triggers and reactions are there); yet the rational part of me is saying that I’m not doing anything different to what I would do any other Sunday morning I’d be leading a service. And of course that’s true – it’s just that’s there’s the added pressure of knowing that two congregations will be deciding if I am to be their minister for the next while. (And that in itself is a somewhat bizarre situation – voting based on an hour leading a service to determine who will be involved in their life for far more than that.) But leading services is what I have done, in large part, for quite some time and I know that I am perfectly capable of doing so competently. And so there is a mix of anxiety and confidence and that it exactly what I would expect, so, in a sense, it’s what I would expect to be thinking and is not, therefore, a problem.

So where does the problem lie?

Everyone has been enormously supportive and I have had all the usual ‘it’ll all be fine’ comments from lots of people. And there’s a big bit of me that says/knows that, yes, it will all be fine. And that’s the root of the problem, I think. I don’t want it to feel that it’s a foregone conclusion. There’s a bit of me that feels that that is almost arrogant (but not really), yet it’s born of a confidence, not only in my competence, but the unanimous decision of a nominating committee, the good references from previous supervisors, and even the words of encouragement from people associated with the vacancy itself.

Oh yes, there’s also the big issue of ‘call’. After all, that’s the very root of my being here in the first place. And even that all feels ‘right’, for reasons I’ve explored in other posts and for all sorts of other reasons I haven’t mentioned but all affirm this call, and this place, and this ministry.

When all these things are brought together it’s difficult not to feel confident and positive about the whole thing. But I don’t, as I’ve said, want that to tip over into arrogance. And I don’t think it will. There’s still enough humility there to hold me back (I think, and even though it doesn’t necessarily sound like there is) and there’s also a sense in which this confidence has its proper ‘place’.

I was praying about this very issue and about my conflicted emotions and as I did so, I sensed an overwhelming affirmation of being in this ‘place’, emotionally. It’s difficult to explain – it was, itself, a rush of ’emotion’ that was both uplifting and humbling; a sense that it was understood, and accepted, and ‘allowed’, and was, therefore, ‘right’.

So I will, no doubt, continue to walk my tight line of confidence and humility. And I will continue to feel conflicted about it. But I can stop over-analysing it. It’s not something to be picked apart and have a decision made one way or another. It is simply how I am and who I am. It’s also good to know that who I am and how I am right now is quite fine with God, who calls me. Now that does sound arrogant, but I can’t help myself.

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.

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.

Nov 192010
 

Last night I was at regular commenter Crabbit Besom’s ordination service. Apart from some slightly odd hymn-tune choices (nothing to do with CB), it was a great evening and one I was very pleased to attend.

I’ve been to only a few ordination and induction services and the last one (if I remember correctly) was a few years ago. This one was particularly notable because it was of someone who is more a ‘contemporary’ than the others. CB and I were at assessment conference together, but that was the one I didn’t get through and was obliged to go round the loop again.

But being at CB’s ordination last night was a reminder that it won’t be too long before I go through the same process. There was, in a sense, a ‘reality check’ to being at the ordination of someone not too far ahead in the timetable, as it were. It’s a little bit like heading up an escalator. SO long as there are plenty of people in front of you, then it’s a long way from needing to take that step on your own. When the people just in front of you are beginning to step off the escalator, then you realise it’s just a matter of a short time before you have to do so too.

What was encouraging though from last night was the warm welcome CB received and the sense of promised ongoing support. That makes the step off the escalator somewhat less daunting. More than that though is the greater sense that that support is not just from ‘bruckle pigs’ (you needed to be there) but from God. This milestone is, after all, the response to a call from God and that too was made clear last night.

So, every blessing to CB for the next exciting chapter.

Nov 242007
 

Today has been a bit of an odd day. For the last couple of days I’ve been putting my uni notes in order and giving some thought to the specific areas I’ll concentrate on for revision. But today we had some visitors so the place has had a bit of a tidy-up and I haven’t been doing a lot of uni work (we’ve got our 6-year-old nephew staying overnight).

But the really odd thing about today is that I’ve had the strongest feeling that there’s something I ought to have been doing and haven’t done it. Then earlier this evening I realised what it was – I’m not participating directly in worship tomorrow. And that feels really odd. It’s like something’s ‘missing’ or I’m not doing what I’m supposed to. Maybe it’s just the relative novelty of not ‘doing’ on a Sunday morning but maybe it’s a feeling worth exploring further. ‘Why’ do I feel like this? Is it simply a feeling of wanting to be involved or is it symptomatic of a more questionable ‘need’ for purpose? I guess there is the potential for both the good and the bad in feeling this way. There’s a risk that ‘value’ is only sensed when ‘doing’. But then there’s also the outlook that this is an effect of a sense of call, a desire to serve.

Hmmm… a bit deep and meaningful for a Saturday night. Off to read some 5th century Christian history. That’ll put things back in perspective, I’m sure.