May 282012
 

Yet again, I’ve been caught out with blog updates. And yet again, it’s not that nothing has been happening; merely that it’s all sorts of little things rather than any one thing that causes me to stop and reflect (and blog).

Perhaps most worthy of note though is the continuing ‘unsettledness’ as we’re still not fully ensconced in Kirrie. However, the and is now in sight and, due to other diary commitments, it now looks as though we’ll aim for a full and final move in July (followed by a holiday, I think). I can’t help but think that I’ll feel more ‘involved’ once that move happens. Not that I’m not involved at the moment, just that there’s a slight feeling of detachment still lingering.

However, one area I can’t complain about detachment is with one of my school chaplaincies. (I have three – two primary schools {one’s a shared chaplaincy} and chaplain to the 2nd years at the high school.) The smaller of the primary schools is keen to encourage my involvement with them (and I’m keen to promote it) so they arranged a day of ‘meet the minister’ classes. There were four main sessions (and 2 stints in the nursery) arranged where I was bombarded with questions. Everything from “What’s your favourite meal?” to “Are you good at maths?” to “Who’s your boss?” Of course there were also ‘ministry’ questions, so as well as an opportunity to get to know me, it was a great opportunity to speak about what ministry is all about. So now I have an open invitation to drop in to the school whenever I like – playtime, lunchtime, etc – as well as the promise of being involved in class activities and social events. Work in the other two chaplaincies is also growing. I had the P3 class from the other primary school along to the church last week to find out about what’s in it and what we do. Both primary schools use my churches for end of term services as well, which is great fun.

The chaplaincy work is also part of our ‘strategy’. Both congregations were asked at recent session meetings to identify short, medium, and long term goals. Top of the list was ‘more young people’. But for one congregation in particular, and for the other to degree, the best start for that is through the chaplaincy work. Once relationships are built through that, then other work can follow. So, one in particular has agreed that I need to be ‘freed’ to pursue that work.

It was in discussing these goals that it became very clear just how different the two congregations are. That’s not to say that they don’t have some common aims, but they certainly have distinctive needs which drive priorities. And both congregations, I think, need to be driven/directed in quite different ways.

But between them they’ve identified some very interesting and challenging projects. It’ll be interesting to see how they come to fruition and what the impact might be.

What else? Funerals have hit a quieter spell, for which I’m thankful. Not that it was ‘busy’, but I find funerals quite a drain on my energy. I think I place very high expectations on myself when it comes to funerals and I’m always conscious of there being only one shot to ‘get it right’. It doesn’t mean that they haven’t had their lighter moments. A recent one challenged me deliver a short anecdote that was borderline dodgy for polite company. Actually, it was a tad over the line, but never mind. But it was an important and meaningful story to tell and my sensibilities should not be a factor anyway. But it was a reminder that some of the best stories can be a bit ‘earthy’ and it’s not my job to censor them – simply present them in a ‘diplomatic’ manner.

I think I’ve finally got my timings sussed for each service – enough to leave me time for a coffee and chat after the first one, which means the second one isn’t open to complaints of being too long. More importantly, the ‘themes’ emerging from the services are beginning to marry up with the issues and needs in the congregations (I think).

Just on the horizon is the kid’s holiday club – a joint project run by (almost) all the churches in Kirrie. I seem to have volunteered myself to organise a youth cafe for three of the evenings. Messy games time!!

given that there is no one thing to be blogged about, then maybe what that’s saying is that life is beginning to fall into a more ‘ordinary’ pattern, where ministry isn’t a series of one-off, big-bang items, but the ‘routine’ of developing relationships, building on what can be done, and sowing the seeds for what needs to be done.

May 102011
 

I’m wondering what has happened to the month that has passed since I last posted anything. Once again, it’s not a case of nothing happening; more just a case of lots of little things which eat away at the time and are, in and of themselves, not really worth a blog post. But I suppose that’s a reminder of just how quickly time slips away when there’s constant activity. And that’s a reminder in itself that things come around all too soon and before you know it it’s a bit of a panic to get everything sorted that needs done.

I was speaking with someone recently who was asking what I was up to in the next wee while. By the time I’d rhymed off what was definitely in the diary I realised that a chunk of May had been accounted for, June was a complete goner and July signalled the time for my final report in anticipation of the review in mid-August.

Time, it seems, is not willing to stand still to allow me take stock for a bit. And when I do snatch a moment, I keep thinking in terms of, “But I’ve still to do…” or “I’ve never done…” And, of course, there are all the things that I’m blissfully unaware of that will hit me from out of the blue. But when I snatch a moment and look back at all that I have done, I realise that there has been a lot packed in to what seems a ridiculously short time. And it will soon be time to start dredging it all up and putting it together for a report.

It also came as a shock that I had passed that halfway point and the second half of probation looked an awful lot shorter than the first half. I’m really not convinced that time is constant at all. I think there is some bizarre warp effect that comes into effect the moment you take your eye off the clock to do something. Or maybe time is just downright sneaky.

Anyway – a couple of tangents.

I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s,  The Contemplative Pastor and have decided that it should be required reading for all ministers. More to the point, it should be mandatory reading for all vacancy committees.

I’ve also been getting agitated reading recent postings and comments on many of the US-based theology blogs I subscribe to. The issue, of course, is bin Laden. I can’t decide whether to be irritated or saddened by much of the rhetoric that passes for ‘Christian justice’. The, generally, triumphalist attitude is really quite sickening and when respected UK voices are pilloried for daring to question the tone and the actions then I do begin to realise just how vastly different US and European culture actually is. I don’t particularly want to unsubscribe from some of the blogs, because it’s mainly commenters I take issue with, but I see very little response from the bloggers to gainsay them. I’m generally quite happy to read stuff I disagree with, but this recent activity has just left a particularly sour taste.

Oct 252010
 

I hadn’t realised how long ago I’d last blogged anything. It’s not that I’ve been overwhelmed with work and it’s not that nothing interesting has been happening. But nevertheless, I haven’t felt terribly inspired to blog about anything. Somehow writing about the ‘normality’ of life seems to be contrary to what blogging is about.

When I started probation, I was asked what I hoped to get out of it. My stated aim (and it hasn’t really changed) was to get into the rhythm of ministry; to experience a ‘normal’ week (or several) so that I got a sense of what needed juggling, what needed prioritising and where, if anywhere, there was ‘slack’ time. I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced the true reality of that yet and yet there have been pressure points and slack times that, only with hindsight, could be seen for what they were.

Over the last fortnight we’ve been moving the contents of the loft around. Initially the loft was to be cleared for fitting new insulation. So the contents (and there were a lot) were moved to the garage. Then the garage had to be cleared to accommodate a birthday party. All-in-all about 5 days of moving and re-arranging stuff and, all the while, keeping up with worship prep, meetings and visits. So, a bit of juggling experience that more or less worked.

What didn’t work so well though was dealing with a distraction during that. I was preaching a week past Sunday and was fairly sure in my head what the topic was going to be. And then the Chilean miners’ rescue hit the headlines and I felt pressure to respond and include that in some way. Ultimately it skewed the sermon topic and I ended up approaching things very differently to accommodate it, even though it was only a passing reference in the end. But I was unsettled before the service and this was noted by my supervisor. In the end the sermon worked well enough and seemed to be well received, but I wasn’t happy about it. In hindsight the distractions of the loft move combined with a perceived pressure to be totally topical left me feeling that I had not ‘juggled’ well at all.

However, it will be interesting to see how that all pans out in the next 7 weeks or so. In that time I will be preaching 4 times, including taking a full service once and doing just over two weeks of pastoral cover. Add to the mix the usual round of meetings, visits and other stuff and perhaps that will be much more indicative of ‘normal service’.

It will also take me hurtling towards the end of my fourth month in probation. I’ve already mentioned that the time seems to be vanishing rather too quickly and there is already a sense of staring into a growing chasm of inexperience. The natural reaction is to say, “But I haven’t done anything like that! I need more experience!”

But I guess the real benefit of probation is not experiencing the extra-ordinary, but rather getting to grips with the ordinary so that, in many respects, the routine becomes just that – routine. When juggling the everyday tasks becomes second nature then one has lees to worry about when the extra-ordinary hits the desk or the inbox.

When viewed from that perspective, that chasm of inexperience is somewhat less daunting. There are bridges across is that are the routine, the mundane and the do-able. It doesn’t mean, of course, that the extra-ordinary is not challenging and it doesn’t mean that some juggling balls or spinning plates won’t be dropped from time to time. It does mean that normal service will resume with much less of a hiccup than it might.

Apr 152010
 

If you haven’t happened upon it yet, let me recommend at eighty one. Avril writes very movingly and powerfully about her journey alongside her elderly father as he (as they both) come to terms with his vascular dementia.

At yesterday’s candidates’ training session (MTN) we were discussing the difficulties faced when visiting elderly people in care homes. It can be easy to forget that the disconnected faces and the disruptive outbursts are only a snapshot of the person here and now. It’s easy to forget that they have a history, a family, a life. We may never get to hear their stories and so may be utterly unaware of their past. And yet that is what we need to hold in mind during a visit.

This is where Avril’s writing is both profound and necessary. We become privileged sharers in the story and through that sharing come to see others as having a story which, though we may not share it, we acknowledge it before God by valuing our time spent with them and in our prayers for them.

Dec 042009
 

Sometimes I wonder if this whole process of training and placements and calling is worth it. Don’t get me wrong. I am in no doubt about my call, or my faith, but sometimes it seems that life would be so much simpler (and just as interesting, before anyone suggests otherwise) if you could just get on with life, working, having an income, a social life or even just a more ‘settled’ home life.

And “worth it” implies some kind of future reward, or better times. I’m not so naive to think that life will suddenly become wonderful when I end up in my own parish. That, judging from what I hear, is just the beginning of a whole new set of ‘challenges’.

I guess what I’m saying is that in the intensity of it all (and it is intense), it’s easy to overlook other things, other people. Little things cause a lot of friction, because they get into the apparently smooth-running machine which is the routine of study and preparation. And yet, it should, in a sense, be the other way round. ‘Life’ was there before studies and so study is the intruder, the grit in the life machine.

Sometimes it’s necessary to stop for a bit of maintenance and to gain some perspective. It’s a shame that it’s the ‘grit’ that forces a halt. Much better to have planned maintenance.

Sometimes I do wonder if it’s ‘worth it’. I need to recognise that that is not the advance warning signal, but the emergency stop on the machine.

Time for a maintenance schedule to be put in place.

Jan 052009
 

I haven’t blogged properly for a little while and so the beginning of a new year seems like a good place to pick it up again. But first the formalities – I hope those who may be reading had a relaxing and joyful Christmas and that you are blessed in the coming year.

I don’t generally do ‘looking back’ but I guess it’s been a year with some pretty momentous (for me anyway) events. I guess being selected as a candidate has to be considered a ‘biggie’ and I could add other things like conferences, placement and so on. And I suppose it’s only right to acknowledge their significance. But looking back at them I don’t feel any particular sense of achievement as such. Had I gained these things through my own efforts or my own hard work or my own diligence then I could rightly note them as achievements. However, that’s not how I look at them, especially in retrospect. All that I have done is tried faithfully to tread the path that I feel God is urging me along. I suppose that’s a pretty big ‘all’ when you think about it, but there’s a sense of ‘rightness’ about it that makes the events of the past year less momentous. That’s not to diminish their significance but simply to note that following God should be the rule rather than the exception and so such things become, in a sense, unexceptional.

Looking forward is a rather different matter. There’s the old joke that if you want to give God a laugh, tell Him your plans. I’ve given up on plans (sort of). Mine never seem to work out anyway. So, rather than plans there are hopes. There is the hope that I can continue to sense what that right path is. This is particularly true for when it comes to putting in place my options for future placements and, looking further ahead still, probation. There is a possibility that I might be able to do my summer placement in one of the European locations. That might sound like a ready-made holiday, but there are lots of family considerations to account for. There’s also the pretty major issue of what I’ll be doing after the summer. Do I go back for a Masters or do I push for a part-time, paid, post somewhere to get experience and cash? That’s actually something that will need resolved sooner rather than later as I’ll need, at least, to apply for a Masters place by the end of March, which means investigating options before that.

In the meantime there’s still the small issue of finishing fourth year.

And that’s just me. There are also some ‘minor’ family matters looming like my older daughter going to uni or possibly embarking on a gap year later this year.

Ah well, to take a liberty with scripture, I will not be anxious about tomorrow and let tomorrow take care of itself. Rather, I will continue to seek God’s Kingdom and allow it to add what it will.

Nov 242008
 

BBC News headlineMaybe the headline editor wasn’t quite awake when they wrote this BBC News headline and summary, but I can’t help but think how awful it reads. There’s an implicit sense of shock that anyone would continue with the pregnancy of a Down’s syndrome baby. To be fair the article is much more positive and I suspect that the headline may well change. Nevertheless, it still shows, I think, an underlying problem of attitudes towards anything or anyone who might be considered ‘less than perfect’ by some arbitrary personal or societal standard.

Unfortunately the church isn’t immune from this. I still hear, all too often, about how bad and horrible and corrupt this world is. That, in my opinion, sends out the entirely wrong message. It implies (or even overtly states) that this world is worthless and shouldn’t be bothered with. There is the implicit “but we’re alright; we’re going to heaven”. Gnosticism is alive and well in the church today it would seem and will only reinforce attitudes such as the one found in the headline writer of that article.

Creation may well be far from ‘perfect’ but it is not worthless. Regardless of how you would read the Genesis creation narratives, there is no escaping God’s pronouncement that creation was ‘very good’. So, rather than be in a rush to get away from it then maybe we need to look for the worth in it. To see the value that God saw in it. To love it through God’s perspective and not our own. Maybe then the life of a vulnerable baby will be respected and there will be joy that more babies are being born rather than an implied regret that they are.

Jun 282008
 

Not me, but both daughters. Only problem is that they have to be at Glasgow airport before 4am tomorrow, so it’s a case of grabbing a few hours rest and heading off very early and putting up with the inevitable overnight roadworks.

And where are they off to? Malawi, via Amsterdam and Nairobi, for a 2 week visit to a school that Falkirk High School has links with. You can keep tabs on it all on their website. There’s a group of 12 pupils and 4 teachers going for what, I suspect, will be an eye-opening, life-changing adventure. I’m a little jealous – I’d love to be going but that’s maybe a trip for the future.

The school they are visiting, an all-girls secondary, was established on a mission station by the schoolteacher wife of the missionary. She, Mamie Martin, just happens to be the grandmother of one of the teachers who is going. The school has a very Christian ethos with many meetings often opening with prayers. The group will be expected to attend church on Sunday as well. Not a problem for my two and a few others but it may be interesting to see how the others in the group react to an African church.

Anyway, this is just me killing time. I really should go and do another ‘kit inspection’ and grab some rest.

Jun 192008
 

One of my tasks in looking after the Crossover web presence is to keep an eye on the Crossover Bebo page. We get a regular flow of people signing up as friends and I do have a quick look at their Bebo site. Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy but what I see, I find quite depressing. The language and innuendo to be found on young teenagers’ pages is pretty shocking. With Bebo it’s fairly easy to hide behind the ‘friends only’ restriction, but that, to my mind, encourages this duality in public and ‘private’ personas. One of the sites I looked at belongs to someone I know and I have to ask myself, which is the ‘real’ them? Is it the foul-mouthed, world-hating ’emo’ on Bebo or is the approachable but loud teenager I see from time to time? Or is the real person some complex mix of the two? Which one is the facade? Or is peer pressure so great that there is an expectation to be as ‘bad’ as each other or even to outdo one another?

I did actually toy with the idea of ‘purging’ those friends who did use offensive and crude language (and advertising the fact that I’m doing it) but who am I to judge acceptability. Crossover is a Christian festival but it certainly doesn’t lay down any kind of standards to be met before you can associate with it. That would be, very much, in contradiction to the gospel message. But where does one draw the line? By accepting such sites as friends, is one condoning them? This, to me, is one of the issues of social networking sites – there is little or no control over associations that are made and the assumed ‘privacy’ allows the presentation of public and private faces which, very often, are contradictory.

May 192008
 

I was at the funeral of a former colleague today. John Wilson was certainly one of those people of whom you could genuinely say they were unique. I had worked with John for a number of years and he was at one and the same time the fount of all knowledge and the source of all manner of frustrations. There’s little point of recounting tales here because most would be utterly meaningless without extensive explanation of characters and situations. But the sad thing is that however much we can tell about a person, however much they have been involved with work or personal life, you never really know the person. You realise that when you hear a eulogy. I knew about the love of jazz but never knew John sang in the church choir. He could type ludicrously long memos and emails in no time but I never knew he was an accomplished pianist. I knew he worried over the minute details of a project but never knew his concern extended to supporting environmental charities and Oxfam.

His passing was sudden and unexpected but, as was said at the funeral, it meant he avoided old age and dependency. Maybe not a lot of comfort, but for someone who was always there for others, perhaps fitting.

The occasion also gave me the opportunity to catch up with other former colleagues. Despite my good intentions of ‘popping through sometime’ I never do and so it was good to catch up with what everyone is doing. It’s been almost three years since I took redundancy yet it seems like no time at all. But in that time people have moved on, circumstances have changed and yet, apart from looking a little older, everyone readily drops back in to shared stories about work, family and life in general. So, much as I would have preferred a Guinness over lunch rather than an orange juice, I’ll make do here with a virtual toast to colleagues and friends and catching up.