Apr 152012

Not quite sure what that title will do to my search rankings, and it’s maybe just as well I don’t have any ads on the blog. Perhaps I should explain though.

Marrying my brother-in-law was one of a number of recent ‘firsts’. And, of course, I mean that it was the first wedding ceremony I officiated at. No pressure of course: first time officiating, in front of family, lots of overseas guests, in the Signet Library, seriously ‘mega’ do, Saturday of the Easter weekend (so nothing else to do anyway).

It was a great day, and there was something special about it being a family affair. It certainly wasn’t the case though of there being less pressure because it was family – if anything it was even greater. But as my first time officiating it was good to know that being family was all in the mix of making the day particularly memorable for all concerned.

But I was also able to look on the event with a ‘critical’ eye and have a few things mentally tucked away for future weddings. Little things like: make sure the pianist has all the music they need. Singing the Aaronic blessing unaccompanied, and with so few knowing it, was probably not a blessing on the hearers. Also, make sure the pianist (who was very, very good actually) is familiar with the hymns. Played too slowly, and in ‘piano-bar’ style doesn’t really work for hymns. And another: when you’re doing the ‘stole thing’ (thanks so much, Will and Kate), wrapping it around held hands, make sure that ‘leg’ is long enough to start with so that you don’t have to haul more stole round. There are plenty more tucked away in my head, but I’ll save my blushes.

Regardless, it all went well overall, and much of the nitpicking is me doing that over-analytical thing I do. One more though – I’ll not be rushing to book a wedding on Easter Saturday again though. By Sunday I was somewhat frazzled.

Another first?

Maundy Thursday was my first communion with my new charge. It wasn’t the ‘formal’ Sunday one I had thought would be my first, and so it was very different to what I had anticipated. On Maundy Thursday, one of my congregations has a meal moving into communion. Everyone sits around tables set up in the (relatively open) chancel area. There are a few hymns, a prayer and readings. Then there is a simple supper, at the end of which the sacrament begins.

It’s a very good way of telling the story of the Last Supper, and allows it to be very symbolic, with more than just the words telling the story effectively. In fact, the ‘narrative’ can be pared down significantly, without losing any of the story, which has, in effect, just been re-enacted. I suppose there’s scope for further dramatisation, but I think that risks detracting from the ‘simplicity’ of the service, and possibly getting in the way of the ‘event’ if not done exceedingly well.

The only thing I struggled with in preparation was wondering how to finish the service. I suddenly remembered though, one of the candidates’ conferences. Much to everyone’s annoyance it was held during Holy Week, but it was the only time available to fit it in. On the Thursday of the conference we had our evening meal, followed by communion (sound familiar?) and then I suddenly remembered how we finished. We went out into the garden and completed the ‘story’ of the events after that first Last Supper. So that’s what we did the other week. We went out into the church grounds (nice night, dry, under the trees, very quiet {the joys of a rural churchyard}) and read the rest of the story up to the point when the disciples all fled. No blessing, no more words. Just the symbolism of the assembled company dispersing. Who says there’s nothing to be gained from conferences?

And another first.

This time for the congregation. On Good Friday we had a Tenebrae service – something the congregation were unfamiliar with, but, according to feedback, very much enjoyed. I was a little sneaky though. There’s still a little bit of suspicion concerning the West Angus Area Ministry setup, of which I am, officially, a team member – it was part of what I was inducted into. Anyway, the area team decided that this would be the Good Friday evening service in Kirrie, and the other congregations were invited to attend. Other members of the team participated in the readings and so it was very much a WAAM event. Drip! Drip! Drip!

There have probably been a few more ‘firsts’ in recent weeks, but they’ve probably been overwhelmed by some of those ‘biggies’.

I wonder what the next ‘first’ will be? It surely can’t top marrying my brother-in-law!

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.

Apr 102009

… and other choice quotations (or should that be quotes?) from Candidates’ Conference.

I’ve been away all week at my second Candidates’ Conference held at Gartmore. I am absolutely shattered but the week was really excellent. A bit of a mixed bag for the workshops – some really challenging ones and some that were a bit on the excruciating side. This conference’s theme was context and commitment, with a look at Urban Priority Area parishes, world mission, city centre challenges and much more. There was an excellent workshop on conflict resolution which could easily have been a full day.

Worship was good, lots of reflective moments and with an amazing communion service on Maundy Thursday evening. Communion is normally on the last day of the conference, but since it was Holy Week, it was more appropriate to have it on the Thursday. It was also decided to have it immediately after dinner, as we all sat at the tables at the end of the meal. When we had finished eating, we started reading various accounts of the Last Supper. A number of people had their feet washed. Then the bread was broken and, with the wine, was served and shared. After sharing the meal we then left the dining room and went into the garden where there was another reading and a song was sung. Celebrating communion in that context was enormously powerful.

The best bit, of course is the fellowship. It’s great to be able to spend time with other candidates and talk ’til silly hours of the morning about everything and anything, about God, life, hopes, family, friends, placements, supervisors, tough times, joyous times, trivia, the esoteric, the downright wierd and wonderful. And when you talk about everthing and anything it can get heated, funny, challenging, exciting and eminently quotable.

So, the top three eminently memorable phrases:

In third place, Howard, with “My, he’s a big one.” Howard’s 6’7″, preaches in a kilt, singes his hair on pulpit lights and was reporting the often-heard ‘whisper’ from the congregation when he first appears.

In second place, Daniel, with “It’s all about sex. Tom Torrance really does it for me.” The context was a discussion about the rubbish that women in ministry have to deal with. Daniel is Romanian, with excellent English, but an interesting turn of phrase at times. Tom Torrance is a theologian with good stuff to say about the power struggles in ministry.

But top of the pile, with a wonderfully quotable phrase, was Jane with, “Deep, deep down, men are really shallow.” Same conversation as Daniel and probably the best summary of the discussion I could offer.

And the UPA one? That was me. I feel no sense of call to a UPA and was fairly adamant about it in a conversation. I was made to sign a dated declaration of that so that it could be cast up to me when God decides that’s where He’s going to put me.

Dec 022007

Today was communion and I’m afraid I had a very mischievous thought at the way it’s done at KHR. It was prompted by a particular wording of the prayer I was saying near the start of the service. I was speaking about the bread and wine as visible reminders of the body and blood of Jesus. Only, as I said it, I realised that they weren’t actually there. At KHR they’re brought out just prior to the sacrament and removed again just after. In my home church they’re out for the duration of the service.

It got me wondering why it was done like this (in either place) and I guess that ritual is often historically inherited, but sometimes it’s the liturgical emphasis that’s needed.

Anyway, my mischievous thought – do we just ‘wheel out’ Jesus when it suits us and tuck Him away when we’re done? Actually, given one of the points in today’s sermon, it’s maybe not such a trivial question.