Oct 182009

For various reasons, my first Sunday in my third placement isn’t until next week. I have had a couple of very fruitful meetings with my supervisor, so I have, in a sense, already started – just not been there on a Sunday yet.

Until today, when I decided to go along to get a pew-side perspective. My supervisor knew I was coming but had promised not to draw attention to me. It was mentioned in the notices that I’d be along from next Sunday, so the congregation were aware of someone new appearing in due course, but nobody knew who I was. That said, I do know a few folk at my placement church, so I was curious about whether anyone would give the game away if they spotted me.

The pew-side view is an interesting one when you’re in this position. You’re obviously conscious of how you are greeted, made welcome and generally treated. But I wonder how much more sensitive we are to it? By the same token, any newcomer is going to be very sensitive to the welcome they receive. It’s not quite the same, I don’t think, if you are visiting, say, on holiday. Anyway, I’m pleased to report that the welcome was warm and friendly and I was even ‘rumbled’ by one person. It’s an amusing story. About four years ago, during my first enquiry placement, I visited this same church and was greeted by this particular person in a way that I have, ever since, held up as a model of a good welcome. Rather than making me feel awkward as ‘the visitor’, they were the one who was apologetic for never having spoken to me before and now was a chance to remedy that. Today, they came to speak and said that they remembered, they were sure, having spoken to me before, but couldn’t remember when and that they had forgotten my name. Names were exchanged (only first names at the time) and I reminded them that they had indeed spoken to me, all those years ago and that I remembered their welcome. They then asked if I was doing the rounds of churches again and I had to confess that I wasn’t exactly doing that. At that moment the light went on, connections were made and my cover was blown.

Curiously it all fitted very nicely with the theme of the service today, drawing from Proverbs 5 and James 3, about how the things we say to others can, so often, dishonour God and how, with the Spirit’s aid we can put our tongues and words to better use. The welcome we give in church in almost certainly a visitor’s ‘first impression’. What a difference when the words of welcome we use are gracious and kind.

Oct 012009

It occurred to me that I hadn’t blogged for a while and indeed the last one was over a week ago. But that last blog post contains the root of the lack of blogging – the usual step change in activity when a new semester starts.

I’m also conscious that, in previous years, my semester-time blogging is often dominated by whatever theologian is occupying my thoughts at the time. Usually this is simply a way of getting their ideas straight in my own head – the by-product being that I inflict my ramblings on the wider world (well, those who choose to read them anyway). So, in keeping with tradition, it looks like it’ll be Barth this semseter. And that’s where the catch-up comes in. We had approximately 40 pages ‘left over’ from last week’s class. That meant that we had 110 pages to do for this week. Amazingly I got through it (more or less – to within a few pages anyway) and feel as though I have actually ‘caught up’. The slightly bizarre aspect to this week’s reading though was the language. I could actually hear it being spoken! You can’t spend four years studying Divinity at New College and not be exposed to Barth and so as I read I could hear echoes of the words Barth uses from past lectures (and all delivered in an Irish accent).

The side-effect of having churned through so much reading is that I feel my brain is back in gear again (to a degree) and so future reading assignments don’t feel just so daunting. It’s also helped by starting to get the measure of the ‘Death’ course and realising that it’s not going to be onerous.

There has been catch-up in another sense as well. At the beginning of the week I got an email from Andrew, my supervisor in Brussels. He was popping over for a training course and we managed to get together for an hour or so as he passed through Edinburgh. As is often the case we ended speaking about people and realised that the old adage that “it’s a small world” is so very true. It also made me realise (upon reflection) that the links we make at university, on placement and just generally through the church, will stay with us and that that ‘small world’ can often be our source of support and encouragement. It provides the breadth of experience that we can bounce ideas off; it is a source of ‘corrective’ voices when we get too carried away with our own ideas and lose sight of the bigger picture; it is the community that provides the sense of being part of a bigger plan, a bigger ‘work’.

So, duty done – blogging caught up with – but, as always, in the ‘duties’, the opportunity to keep reflecting.

Aug 242009

On my way back to the apartment tonight I was thinking about the good and bad of Brussels. Nothing major, just some of the little things that have caught my attention. Anyway, the good in no particular order:

  • Classical music in the underground stations at night
  • Getting around easily
  • Lots of green space
  • No such thing as architecture ‘in keeping’ with its neighbours
  • Leffe Blond (that’s a beer, in case you’re wondering)

And the bad:

  • Graffitti
  • Dog fouling
  • City prices
Aug 152009

I have about a week and a half left of my summer placement and it’s paperwork time. I’ve been thinking over some of the ‘big’ things from the placement as well as the individual tasks and activities. My mind was working overtime last night and I couldn’t really settle to sleep. The family are back home (or continuing their holiday) after their extended stay here in Brussels and I was on my own again. I was thinking that I’d now like to be back home as well. But I don’t mean that in any negative sense; I’m not homesick and pining for my own house; nor am I desperate to finish here and be away. As I was thinking this over last night, I realised it’s been a factor in all my placements so far. Continue reading »

Aug 132009

I was going through my diary for the next wee while and realised that many of the items appearing on the horizon are after my placement in Brussels. Twelve weeks, a time that seemed so long before the placement, has simply flown past. I also realised that I haven’t blogged for a while but that’s not an indication that I haven’t had much to do. But, in a sense, it’s been the ‘same routine’. Like doing laps, the routine can seem repetitive, but there’s always some little nugget tucked away that sticks with you and lifts any routine task out of the simply mundane. So, for the sake of future memory jogging, here are some ‘nuggets’. Continue reading »

Aug 042009

One of the things you notice when you visit people is that you will often hear the same stories on subsequent visits. With many people you’ll get a ‘but I’ve told you this before’ comment, but what happens when it’s someone whose memory isn’t what it once was? My supervisor asked me the question a while ago about whether such visits continue to have value or whether there is better use of a minister’s time. It’s especially pertinent when the person visited has little or no recollection of you even having visited previously. It may sound a little callous but it’s a legitimate question (and especially when time pressures come to bear).

I’m not sure I have any kind of answer and I expect that whatever thoughts I have now will almost certainly change when the reality of ministry hits. I believe that stories are important. They define, in many ways, who we are. They are our condensed memory of an event, an experience or a relationship. They are coloured by our prejudice and edited by our ego. But they are important to us and telling them to others allows our stories (and ourselves) to have a place in a bigger story. By hearing stories we give a sense of value and worth to the teller. By bringing their story into our story we grow our own story and allow it to grow and change. And of course, by integrating our story, and the stories we hear, into the ongoing ‘narrative’ we have with God and our faith, then we also grow. And, of course, we have an example in Jesus who ‘unravelled’ people’s stories and opened them up to allow the gospel to become part of their story.

So, when we visit and hear a story, we continue to affirm the life of a person, the importance of their story and their continuing place in the broader story of the church family. When we hear the same story over and over again it may try our patience and we may doubt the use of our time, but it is a way of showing we value the person who is a loved creation of God.

All well and good, but can the reality be sustained in ‘real ministry’?

Jul 302009

IMG_3188.JPGHaving got bored with Brussels (kidding!), we decided to take a daytrip  to Bruge (or Brugge, depending on your preferred language). Photo album here.

It’s a very busy touristy place but it is still a very beautiful old town. many of the buildings date back to the early 17th century. The photo on the left is the Belfort, the bell tower.

I’ve been to Bruges before. The company I used to work with were bidding for a contract with a company in Bruges. I spent some time in the town working on the bid and had a bit of a chance to see some of the sights. We didn’t get the contract, but it was nice to revisit the town.

To finish off the day, we had a very nice meal in La Taverne Brugeoise. The apple pie with flaming Calvados was most excellent.

IMG_3217.JPGHad a quieter day today with lust a little walk to a nearby park. Brussels has some very beautiful green spaces and some interesting architecture. I am no expert when it comes to architectural styles and it’s not something that really interests me, but I find the sheer diversity of buildings in Brussels quite fascinating. Anyway, some more pictures to view here.

Jul 192009

PlantainsWell, if I learn nothing else from this placement, I have learnt that I love red plantains. Can that fall into the category of self-understanding and self-awareness?

I was on a visit a few nights ago and was invited to stay for dinner (yeah, I know, visiting is tough here). One of the things on the menu was red plantain and it was absolutely delicious. So, I had a go at making the same thing myself this evening and, with all due modesty, it was most tasty. To be fair it can’t be simpler to make – thick slices of plantain, shallow fried until it’s dark golden in colour. Ends up slightly crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. They taste a bit like banana but not as sweet. They go well will something like a veggie rice or even risotto.

But there’s a little catch – red plantain isn’t red, it’s yellow. What’s red is the inner fleshy bit – well, sort of orangey – the skin is yellow. You also get green ones, but you boil them apparently.

So, never mind the theology, there are practical lessons to be learnt on placements too.

Jul 122009

Today, after the morning service, I stayed on to sit in on the afternoon service that takes place in the church hall. It’s a regular event, every Sunday, but it is most definitely not something I have ever experienced – a worship service by an African church (Ghanaian, specifically). Yes we (Caroline was with me) stuck out like a sore thumb, being the only white faces, but we were made welcome and everything was translated so we could follow (not sure it that’s the norm or if it was for our benefit). It was loud, cheery, somewhat chaotic, very scripture-led, with lots of prayer and lots of dancing and lots of ‘participation’. It wasn’t charismatic, but there were lots of hallelujahs and amens and when prayers were being led, basically everyone joined in with their own. The message was very good (an underlying current of liberation theology, if one wanted to be academic about it) and was delivered well and with passion.

We actually arrived part way into the opening Bible study. A passage had been read and was now being discussed (by the congregation). The topic in question was the ‘headship’ of a husband over his wife, modelled by Christ’s headship of the Church. ‘Reverend Andrew’ was spotted and invited to contribute to the discussion. It was obviously well received given the number of amens he was getting. Andrew then introduced me as a theology student and I was invited to speak. Now, it was clear from the earlier discussion that ‘complementarianism’ was the order of the day. But I’m more of an ‘egalitarian’, with a leaning towards using the gifts each is given with no privileging of either gender for specific tasks. Anyway, I fudged and my score of amens definitely didn’t match Andrew’s. It was, however, an interesting challenge to come up with something off the cuff.

The Bible study was followed by music (loud) and prayer (everyone joins in) then the Bible readings, then the sermon (delivered by a woman, despite the earlier discussion). So, in a sense, it wasn’t hugely different to any other service I might have been to, just that it had a very particular cultural slant. Oh yes – there was also the dancing down the aisle to drop your offering in the box. Then there was the time of testimony and singing happy birthday to a couple of Sunday school members (did you know there were 4 verses that could be sung to Happy Birthday?). Then more prayer and music (at which time we made our excuses and left). Apparently it’s not unusual for it to go on until after 6 (having started at around 2.30).

Definitely worth going to. I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable (we were, as I say, made very welcome). Not sure me ears could have held out for the full service though.

Jul 092009

IMG_2530.JPGI had a little day trip to Rotterdam yesterday, to the ‘Scots International Church‘. There are a couple of things I want to blog about that arose from the visit – ‘blended worship’ and their Mamre project. So, those posts will follow in due course, but in the meantime, you can find some photos here which were snatched quickly as we scooted round Rotterdam.