Dec 242013
 

The ‘tradition’ in one of my church’s has been to have a Christingle service on Christmas Eve. I’ve nothing against them, but I wanted to do something different this year. Relying on last year’s example of a good number of visitors, I decided that I was going to have a nativity play – where (almost) everyone got a part.

So, we had loads of props and dressing-up stuff, and even those who didn’t get that into things were expected to join in the heavenly choir of angels shouting ‘Hallelujah’ at appropriate points, or providing animal noises for the stable. It was first come, first served for the main parts, but there was the possibility to be part of the group of shepherds, or join the angelic ranks.

In the end, most folk participated to some degree. It was all a bit chaotic as I tried to narrate and provide some scene-setting direction to those about to have speaking parts.

It was all a bit of a laugh, with the Christmas story being told through song, readings, and the nativity scenes.

But the main point was that everyone had an opportunity to join in, and it was this point I made when I summed it up. Christmas is an invitation to participation – through God’s ‘participation’ in our life through the incarnation. We could sit back and be passive spectators, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the cute presentations, but Christmas is a call to become involved; to be part of the good news story.

I hope everyone who came along ‘got’ that tonight, even in the messiness of it all (and there’s a message there too, I suspect).

I hope that you too will be blessed this Christmas, and that you get that bit more involved with God, as he calls us to participate in the ongoing story of his love come to us at Christmas.

Oct 272013
 

Today was our family harvest thanksgiving services in both churches. It was also communion in one.

I had chosen some familiar harvest hymns. We had a short video from our Messy Church – Messy Harvest morning from a couple of weeks back. I’d even dropped one of the hymns to make the service a little shorter – my earlier service congregation has an auction of the harvest produce offerings, the proceeds going to a particular charity; and since it was communion in the other church, I didn’t want the whole thing to run on too long, especially as it was a family service.

And so I didn’t want to do a full sermon either, and sat down yesterday to write up a harvest reflection. I took a lead from the Spill the Beans harvest material and wrote a reflection based on Psalm 8.

And I never delivered it.

Not that it was rubbish (at least I don’t think it is), but that after it had stewed in my brain for a few hours afterwards, I realised it was entirely inappropriate for a family service. No bad words (or even long words). Nothing like that. Just that the tone of it was a bit ‘serious’.

And so, as I was heading to bed last night (and looking forward to the extra hour) I realised that I would not be delivering that reflection, but what I would be saying was something else entirely.

Actually, I did ‘borrow’ from it as I did an ‘off the cuff’ all-age talk instead. It wasn’t entirely spontaneous – I did have a ‘framework’ in my head, and a handful of veggie props to talk about harvest.

Don’t know if it was better or worse for that, but it was certainly more suited to the overall tone of the service, so in that regard it can be considered better.

But what of the sermon I didn’t preach?

Maybe it’s something to file away for another time. Or maybe it’s something I had to hear for myself.

A little while ago I commented on Facebook that it was sometimes frustrating that the sermon I should have preached was the one going through my head after the service. Maybe this time I got the message early enough (and was listening).

Sep 222011
 

Stewart’s recent running training (and fundraising success) has led him to think about running with others from time to time. It got me thinking about how we might use the ‘Park Life’ concept within the mission of the church. We are often quick to create events where we expect people to turn up. Whether that is a ‘back to church Sunday’ day or a revival rally in the local park, there is the expectation that people will come because it’s an event and therefore ‘special’ or even ‘worth it’. And it seems to me that we then have trouble sustaining the ‘special’ quality of the event thereafter in the ordinariness of our faith life and in our mission work.

But what if rather than expecting people to ‘join up’ we simply made it possible for them to ‘join in’? Being a Christian is not about being a Christian on Sunday morning between 11 and 12 (or whenever). I know it’s about that faith ‘ethos’ infusing all that we do, but often that’s not too visible. If Christians were seen to be at work or play in their community, not doing Christian things, but simply doing things, is that a way of enabling people to join in?

It would, I think, need to be something that was done regularly to avoid becoming that one-off event. And it would need to be something that wasn’t already happening otherwise you end up competing and setting a tone of ‘joining up’ rather than joining in. And it would need to be something that facilitated relationships rather than just doing the ‘thing’, whatever that might be. And it would need to have, I think, some sort of Christian ‘context’, otherwise you’re just doing stuff that is no different from the stuff that everyone else does.

So what sort of thing might work in this context? Some sort of regular ‘clean-up’ walk around a community? A bunch of families meeting up in the park to play games? I don’t know, but there’s got to be something that enables joining in as a means to establishing relationships and relevance between a church and the community.

Feb 202011
 

I’ve just had a week off and did very little – an ideal way to spend a break. The relative inactivity did give me some time to think though. In a few weeks I have my interim review and that reminds me that this final placement is hitting the half way mark. If the second half disappears as quickly as the first then I have the reality of finding my own charge hurtling towards me very quickly. That first charge is also becoming an increasingly dominant topic of conversation between probationers (and with those who have taken an interest over the whole period).

Continue reading »

Jan 312011
 

I was tempted to post this early last week after our presbytery meeting but it’s probably just as well I waited and calmed down a little.

Discussing reshaping the presbytery and dealing with the ‘1000 ministries’ issue was always going to be an emotive subject anyway, but that didn’t stop it being a frustrating discussion. Actually, that’s not entirely fair. The discussion was generally impassioned, but gracious. At least once it it was beyond the attempts to delay it all yet again.

And that’s really my bugbear. There is still a small, but vocal, group who seem to think that it will all go away if we keep ignoring it. Actually, what is sometimes said is not for public airing here.

But one person stood up and reminded everyone that there was a need for a ‘reality check’ and if they couldn’t see that, then they really had to take a think to themselves. It’s interesting, having been in industry for so long, that such issues and such ‘reality checks’ are not any surprise and there is the understanding, over many years, that such situations need to be managed and not simply given a knee-jerk reaction. But it’s easy to say that from the benefit of a bit of distance. I was also struck by a comment that ‘turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’ in reference to some of the hard decisions needing to be faced, and yet I had several bosses who, when redundancies were announced, always felt it was their place to put themselves in the firing line. They did it out of a sense of loyalty to those who who worked for them – both as an indication of solidarity and as a way of ‘sacrificing’ themselves in order to possible allow one of the ‘workers’ to retain their job. Sometimes their offer was accepted, often it was declined. And, of course, there were others who would never dream of doing such a thing and looked for ways to ensure their own survival.

Within the church, that whole situation is compounded. The minister is probably involved in, or at least aware of, a greater part of a parishioner’s life than a work boss might be. And so there is a greater sense of care and concern at the thought of a congregation being left without someone in the position of ‘shepherd’. And there is the whole issue of a congregation’s attachment to the building. However much we may say that the church is the people, the deep-rooted reality is that that ‘people’ are deeply attached to the building they worship in. It has a history and a sentimental attachment we cannot easily dismiss.

So what then is to be done? I think the reality check is definitely needed and probably long overdue. But it has to happen at the very grass roots levels. That, of course, is what the presbytery plan is aiming to encourage – dialogue about how to tackle the current issues. And that means both within congregations and between congregations. The problem is that the ‘between congregations’ part is seen as the most threatening and so it will inevitably loom larger in people’s minds. But I hope, and pray, that there is sufficient time and application given to the former. If a congregation is much more confident and aware of what its own (realistic) purpose and calling is, then it can engage far more effectively with others. And that might mean a long hard look at what it does and is able to do and ought to be doing. That, quite frankly, is a far more difficult and challenging task. It requires an honest look at every part of the congregation, asking hard questions of itself. It also needs to be looking outwards, asking how it is (or isn’t) engaging with the community it serves. In many ways, that’s where the reality check really needs to happen.

I can post this with the relative luxury of distance and no strong ties to a congregation. But it’s a situation I may well end up having to pick up the pieces of in due course. A daunting, but not unexciting, prospect.

Jan 102011
 

I’ve just finished Scot McKnight’s book, The Blue Parakeet and have thoroughly enjoyed it, both as a challenge and an affirmation. His basic premise is that we all read the Bible with our own bias and preconceptions – and we should all be honest about that. Nothing new there really – except perhaps the call for honesty from all readers and interpreters.

Continue reading »

Sep 022010
 

Many of the sessions at conference were worthy of note and I’ll probably be reflecting on some of them in due course. But here are some choice little nuggets from one session in particular. They’re probably somewhat paraphrased rather than accurate words and I offer no commentary, simply letting them stand as they are.

The scripture readings should not be ‘attacked’ in a sermon.

Christian is an adjective, never a noun.

The response to decline is not to build a fortress.

The clergy need to learn to be quiet.

Aug 012010
 

This little stint of pulpit supply has offered me a more interesting reflective opportunity than I first thought it would. As previously mentioned, I’m ‘optimising my time’ by using the same service in three different places (albeit with some revision of hymns and sermon duration).

The first one was delivered today and I wasn’t entirely happy with it. Too long, to overstuffed with information and didn’t flow very well. The main issue was that I now have a very different theology to my home church and I felt I needed to explain and ‘justify’ some of what I was saying and proposing, so there was more padding than absolutely necessary. But such is the main pitfall of one-off services. I feel the need to cram too much in rather than just delivering something that’s to the point but ‘lightweight’ (in my opinion). Today’s sermon should really have been delivered over no fewer than four or five sermons. Which says (to me) that it was the wrong sermon for the occasion.

When I got home I decided to ‘polish it’ from the thoughts I had as I was preaching. It now flows better but is still too long (certainly for next week). But then next week’s pulpit supply is the lectionary-following place, so some of the background will already be there. Mind you, I still need to sort out their dodgy theology (not really, just poking fun – a little). It means that I need to whittle down the sermon and can probably remove some of the explanatory padding. It’ll be interesting to see how that one ends up and how much, if anything, is ‘lost’ because of that.

The third one will be similar to today, albeit with the more polished version. Again though, I’ll be curious to see how it changes in the two week gap.

One thing I did notice today was that my voice is out of condition, not having been used very much for a couple of months. Too much time spent typing and not enough time chatting with real people. Unfortunately, until the dissertation is done, I can’t do much about that. I’ll maybe need to put some music on and start singing along.

Jul 242010
 

Many moons ago (well, it seems like it anyway) I agreed to do three pulpit supply dates in August. My thinking was that by the end of July my dissertation would be progressing well and things might be easing off a little. Aye right!

Now, one of those churches uses the lectionary and the other two don’t so that sets the agenda for at least one of the Sundays. All three churches are geographically diverse and so there is virtually no risk of ‘being followed’ from one to the other. So, given that it’s unlikely that the lectionary passage is going to crop up in the two other churches any Sunday soon, why not make life easier and use the same sermon and order of service for each church?

It’s probably what I’ll end up doing (with variations to allow for the different length of sermon anticipated at each), but part of me still thinks that it’s ‘cheating’. Mind you, a few years ago we were on holiday and happened to catch a visiting preacher in the church we went to. Soon afterwards we heard that same person in another church and, surprise! surprise! heard the same sermon.

Maybe I should look on it as way of reflecting on how the same text/message is received differently in different contexts. Or maybe it’s an opportunity to present the same text in different ways and so experience the richness to be found in scripture. The next question though is whether I start with the short sermon and pad it out or do the long one and trim it down.

Anyway, as I was saying…