You’d think that starting probation in September would be enough to be going on with and that writing a dissertation on the Church of Scotland’s relationship with Emerging Church would keep things ticking over in the meantime. However, a tentative enquiry about the Mission Shaped Ministry courses has now resulted in the Candidates’ Task Group giving me the go-ahead to take the course starting in September. I’m a bit of a ‘test case’ (maybe that should read head-case) to see if it’s do-able. Strictly speaking you are not supposed to undertake additional training courses during probation, but this one is very much about where the CofS want to focus in the future, so they’re taking the opportunity to see if it fits with probation work as well. Useful as well to be able to compare the academic (dissertation) with the practical.
In the spirit of not making any public statements, but encouraging discussion and understanding of the subject which cannot be named (why do I feel like we’re in a Harry Potter story?) I would like to point to some good and thought-provoking articles which were themselves pointed to in JohnFH‘s blog which I sometimes dip into (except for his Hebrew stuff which goes whizzing over my head).
The first is an article by Richard B Hays which is an adaptation of a lengthier book section. It is a pretty comprehensive statement of the conservative position on homosexuality. I recall reading the full book section in 2nd year New Testament studies and found it to be useful then. That was not long before General Assembly discussed the issue of human sexuality. The Mission and Discipleship report (.doc file, via OneKirk) and the congregation discussion resource document (1.5M pdf file, via OneKirk) they produced drew heavily on this work for the conservative perspective. It was also at the heart of a ‘refutation‘ at the time by Paul Middleton, but that work never fully engaged with Hays and so I was left feeling that it was a somewhat selective and not entirely convincing counter-argument.
The second referenced article is by Kim Fabricius (on Ben Myers blog) is a useful ‘in a nutshell’ view from the other side of the debate. The comments are extensive and worth a skim through. It is not a point-by-point argument and assumes a degree of ‘honest’ scholarship which recognises the ambiguity in many of the scriptural references to homosexual activity. If that’s not your ‘place’ then I would recommend doing some wider reading before decrying what Kim says. An ‘honest’ approach will/should leave Romans 1 as one of the few ‘unambiguous’ texts which need to be dealt with. Thereafter you may engage with his propositions and reach your own conclusion.
Finally, the third article referenced is not a theology one, but rather a media comment on a recent sex scandal in Australia. It makes some very valid moral/ethical observations which, I think, are quite pertinent to the whole discussion.
*Updated 18/7/11 to fix dead links
There are times when life seems to pass by so quickly. That seems never more true than when you are on a placement. Uni term times whizz past, but they’re only ten weeks. Holidays whizz past, but they’re only a couple of weeks tops. Placements though are 8 months and when that last Sunday rolls round, as it did for me today, then 8 months seems to disappear in a flash.
It never seems long enough to get to know all the people you would wish to. It’s never long enough to get to know those you did as well as you should. It never seems long enough to cram in all that you would want to do with the safety net of a supervisor to hand.
I’ve said it before, but finishing up a placement is a strange time. Although the time does seem to flash past, 8 months is still a long time. It’s plenty of time to begin to get to know people’s stories; it’s plenty time to begin to build up emotional bonds with people; it’s plenty of time to really start to care for folks. So when it’s time to move on, it’s a wrench. But behind it all is the knowledge that it is only a part of the journey. Knowing that the move is inevitable means, for me anyway, that towards the end of the placement you cannot help but begin to look forward, to a place beyond the current placement. It means that when you do hit that end point you are already a little bit disconnected. It all adds to the strangeness of the whole process of formation for ministry.
What I do need to do now though is begin to think through what I’ve done, not just in this placement, but in all the others, and begin to work out what I need to focus on for probation. On this placement in particular I have felt that inexorable march towards ministry. It has been an opportunity to tick a handful more boxes on the ‘should have done’ list. It has been an opportunity to refine skills and to keep working on the ones which are still very rough round the edges. It has been an opportunity to make mistakes knowing that, as a student, some allowances are made and that there is someone there to pick up the pieces if things went drastically wrong (which they never did, I think). It has also been an opportunity to experiment and test out ways of doing things, again knowing that an experienced voice is on hand to help analyse and critique in a positive way.
Of course, all of this means that a lovely bunch of people have to put up with a lot of the ups and downs as well. The congregation have been nothing if not supportive and understanding, gracious with feedback and encouraging in their comments. Many commented today that they too couldn’t believe 8 months had passed so quickly. (Perhaps that’s a blessed relief from their perspective.)
So now there is the small matter of a dissertation to write over the summer (now watch the time really disappear) with probation starting on the 1st of September. Given the speed with which time seems to fly by at the moment, maybe it’s time to start ringing those warning bells for when I get let loose on my own.
Oh yes, and there’s the ‘Not a licensing’ Service of Recognition organised by the presbytery on the 24th of June, 7pm, Larbert East Church, where Andy and I will be given a slap on the back in acknowledgement of putting up with it all thus far.
I was a conference yesterday about Emerging Church within the context of the Church of Scotland. It was both inspirational and frustrating. Some of the projects are doing fantastic work and really growing as ‘church’ – and not just in the outreach work sense that I’ve been having a go at in recent posts. We’re seeing embryonic communities which are growing into worshipping communities and then hitting brick walls. Many of these projects are reaching unchurched people and making Christian faith relevant and meaningful. And yet there is a sense of ‘so far and no further’.
And, unfortunately, it’s the Church of Scotland’s law and structures that are often the problem. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t people who are trying, often creatively, to provide solutions, but there was still an underlying sense of not taking Emerging Church seriously. If I may parody it somewhat, it seemed that there was a willingness to set up a working party to look at the questions that would need to be addressed by a committee who could produce a report to create a task force who would consult widely to produce a report that could go to a council and be presented to GA for consideration by presbyteries to ascertain whether there was support for changes to develop a new style of ministry.
Meanwhile community projects are being slapped on the wrist for overstepping parish boundaries or are unable to share the sacraments because their eminently qualified leader doesn’t have the ‘right sort’ of theology degree and isn’t ordained. There was much talk about training and the need for a new focus on missional skills for ordained ministries. But I can’t help but feel that a more open approach to development of lay leaders or the already qualified members needs a better look at. Why do we allow someone to ‘preach and teach’ at a youth club yet become very cagey when they might do it from the pulpit, as it were? There was also talk of a more modular approach to training, building on existing skills. So how about an approved ‘sacramental theology’ bolt-on to make sure it’s all done above board and with theological rigour and that makes sure the appropriate box is ticked for church law? And maybe it’s time to get over the suspicion and angst about it that has persisted for several hundred years since the Reformation.
So, what’s the solution? A presbyterian church with flexible structures, “boundary blindness” (thanks to Peter Neilson for that one) when it comes to parishes and a real commitment to training its people to become the body of Christ in the community. And maybe a church that relaxes its ecclesiology and grasps more of the kingdom instead. Shouldn’t be too tall an order. Maybe a report to GA is called for.
I’ve been working my way through Emerging Churches, a very useful book giving a survey of what Emerging Church is all about. I came across a reflection from Doug Pagitt who sees three ‘types’ of EC and one of them really struck a chord with me. He doesn’t see the church as “necessarily the center (sic) of God’s attentions” and that God is already at work in the world; the church “has the option to join God or not”.
As I read it I was reminded of an observation from Barth which I think I’ve previously mentioned – that the church has always been a minority. The implication is that it always will be, and that that’s no bad thing. In the light of Pagitt’s comments it even makes sense (to me anyway). It opens up the whole question of the purpose of the church. In a sense it only ever needs to be a minority if it sees its purpose as finding where God is at work and joining in. ‘Church’ then becomes the place where church members are spiritually renewed and sustained and sent out to mission again. Their mission purpose is to make disciples of all nations. But does that need to mean growing a church congregation? OK, so it raises issues of ‘Christian imperialism’ when we count those who are working for ‘the good’ to be disciples, but then the issue is about the kingdom, and not the church. It also ‘meets the requirement’ for the church to be ‘in the world, but not of it’. And it has a somewhat liberal, vaguely universalist, soteriology. But that’s just theology and a few proof texts will soon take care of that. 😉
But it also throws into question the whole issue of the EC movement. Is it actually necessary to establish churches to do mission work? The answer must be, “no,” but what then is EC for? It seems to me that EC is, in a sense, a by-product of missional work. Or, at least, it can be. It can also be a project in and of itself. Context is the key, I suppose.
It also raises some interesting questions for the Church of Scotland, particularly at this cash-strapped time and as it considers its ability to meet its Third Article and be a presence in every part of Scotland. Maybe by trying to be ‘church’ everywhere it will never succeed; but as the missional bringer of the kingdom, that may be a different story. A lot of joined-up thinking required I think.
I had a very useful discussion last week with my academic supervisor. Very shortly I will have two research essays due and a presentation to do for what my dissertation will be about. All well and good if I knew where I was going, which is where the discussion ended up being very useful.
Last week I was in 121 at a seminar/conference thing organised by the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council. The topic was “Moral Maze on Virtualisation and Society” and was, ostensibly, a initial discussion into the morals and ethics of such phenomena as social networking and online role-play/immersion activities. The discussion topics were billed as follows:
- How has virtualisation impacted on notions of identity?
- How has virtualisation impacted on our values as human beings?
- How has increased connectivity impacted on the nature of our organisations?
- How has increased connectivity and virtualisation impacted on our ability to develop meaningful communities?
- Is a regulatory framework desirable?
What are the theological implications of the changes being brought to individuals, to society and to organisations by increased connectivity and virtualisation?
This is all good stuff and very relevant in our technology-oriented world.
The minutes of Monday’s GA session are available online and the wording of the so-called ‘gagging clause’ read as follows:
Instruct all Courts, Councils and Committees of the Church not to issue press statements or otherwise talk to the media or to make decisions in relation to contentious matters of human sexuality, with respect to Ordination and Induction to the Ministry of the Church of Scotland, until 31 May 2011;
There were, of course, some get-out clauses for some projects and councils. It seems to me that this is aimed primarily at the official bodies of the Kirk and not at individuals. In other words, there cannot be an ‘official response’ to the discussion, but personal opinion should be allowed.
I just caught, on the webcast, a statement about the moratorium. It is, as yet, a draft but it states that individuals are also expected to comply with the spirit of the agreed motion.
So, whilst not a hard and fast ruling on individuals, there is an expectation that individuals won’t make statements to the press. It still leaves a bit of wriggle-room to allow public discussion.
To steal a phrase from my placement supervisor, the Church of Scotland has managed to kick the ball into the long grass again, but they’re running out of long grass. In a ‘compromise’ motion, which I suspect the Assembly was only too happy to go for, the Church will set up a special commission to consult with presbyteries and Kirk sessions and report back in 2011.
I guess it wasn’t entirely unexpected and I don’t think that this assembly was the time or the place to discuss the matter, especially with emotions running high over the Scott Rennie situation. It is a little disappointing though that the debate continues to trundle on. That said, the debate, in reality, will trundle on forever because there will always be a group at one end or the other who will not accept the views of the other. I do hope though, that the opportunity will be taken for ‘proper’ dialogue on the whole issue, largely so that the ‘middle majority’ in congregations can actually be exposed to the understanding of all aspects of this issue and not simply exposed to the rhetoric that comes from either extreme.
I’ll also be interested to see what the implications of the second clause in the motion are. Maybe this’ll be my last blog on the issue?!
I’d been following the debate via the webcast, the online updates and Twitter (who says men can’t multi-task). I was almost tempted to sign up for Twitter when I read some of the comments appearing after the motion was accepted. Apparently the CofS is now an apostate church and all the ‘real Christians’ will leave. Apart from finding this comment extremely offensive, my concern is that this is now reflective of a growing view of the Church.
I think the Special Commission has the potential to do a lot of good, particularly if it encourages the right sort of open dialogue. I do pray that the Church will use this opportunity to put to rest a lot of the homophobia that surrounds this issue and that, even if positions aren’t accepted, they are at least respected. Furthermore, it has the potential for great education in theology and Biblical interpretation, because these are at the heart of the debate.
Anyway, off to find the correct wording of section 2 which spoke about the moratorium on press releases and other such public disclosure.
Update: I think the amended section 2 (if I’ve followed the amendments correctly) reads as follows:
Instruct all Courts, Councils and Committees of the Church not to issue press statements or talk to the media or to make decisions in relation to contentious matters of human sexuality, with respect to Ordination and Induction to the Ministry of the Church of Scotland, until 31 May 2011
Update 2: This from the CofS website:
There is a moratorium on direct public discussion until May 2011 but in a way which allows councils of the church to carry on with their necessary work.
Hmm.. this is more than a little concerning. I think I’d still need to see the final wording to know whether I can continue to blog on it – after all I am under the courts of the church.
I’ve not had a chance to blog about Saturday night’s session at the General Assembly, but it can’t have escaped your notice that the Church of Scotland are inducting gay ministers. Unforunately, that story, and many others, are reporting a somewhat distorted view of what the session was all about. Stewart gives a fair summary of the bigger picture on his blog (btw – big thumbs-up to Stewart for getting a mention in the Times Online – that’ll be why your web traffic has gone through the roof).