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.

Sep 022010

Yesterday marked the last day of my final candidates’ conference: today marks the beginning of probation.

Endings and new beginnings are, I suppose, the very marks of a Christian’s story. That grand meta-narrative of scripture is a cycle of endings and new beginnings; enslavement and redemption, death and resurrection.

Continue reading »

Apr 112010

Another conference done and dusted. This time, “Church and Society”. It was the usual mixed bag although I have to say this one was, I think, biased towards the better end of the spectrum.

The Good

Some very challenging and encouraging presentations on HIV/AIDS, working with children and work-life balance.

The Bad

The “you will be working a 70+ hour week; get over it” attitude when we’ve had repeated conferences reminding us to take our leave entitlement, protect our day off and achieve a sensible work-life balance.

The Ugly

You know who you are! (Or maybe that was just the mirror after one too many late nights?)
Or maybe it was the ugly reality of some of the situations we may well come across. Not always easy to find love, never mind beauty, in some situations, yet who are we to deny God’s outrageous grace to anyone?

Memorable sayings

“We decide what we spend our time on.”

“Never underestimate the Guild!”

“Try not to be busy.”

and my choice when asked which statement struck a chord with regard to church:

When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new forms are created by people who are not afraid to be insecure.

Rudolph Bahro

Aug 302009

There is a time for everything…
… a time to weep and a time to laugh.

It would seem that the task of training for ministry is a serious one – and none would deny it. But it seems that some candidates just don’t take their spiritual formation seriously enough. After all, every task must be an occasion for sombre reflection, for appraising weighty matters and for pondering the very essence of ministry itself. So, when some tasks become the time for laughter then that is surely entirely inappropriate is it not? Surely when there is laughter the task is not being taken seriously; it trivialises the issues; it is disrespectful.

Yesterday evening’s workshop session ended up being a bit ‘manic’. The subject – our prejudices – was serious enough. But the task – populate a church plant of 12 people from a list of 20 volunteers – ended up as a source of considerable amusement. The justifications for selecting the old lady with the walking stick over the former beauty queen or the 19-year-old shop assistant over the trade union shop steward became increasingly outrageous. And why not select the pregnant school teacher on the grounds that you’ll get a flying start on a Sunday school class?

The very contrived list was intended to throw a light on our potential prejudices as we selected one over another. The question is, did creating humorous scenarios from an already very contrived scenario diminish the teaching points intended to be made? Some would say yes and the task should have been treated with due solemnity for what is a potentially serious issue – prejudice. Yet, through the increasingly exaggerated caricatures, it was clear that we read so much into a very minimalist description. And I would hope that a group of mature and reflective people would be able to see the point in that and to recognise that, if anything, our ‘prejudices’ are even more exposed when they are caricatured. And I would further hope that rather than trivialising the issue, the humour is a way to open up the seriousness of the issue.

The caricatures will stick in the mind far more effectively than dry, serious analysis. They will act, I hope, as reminders of how rapidly we put together a fabricated image of someone from the smallest piece of information and how outrageous these fabrications can become. That’s not to say that humour is always the appropriate vehicle for learning. But nor is it to say that those who approach a task ‘seriously’ have a right to suggest that the humourists are trivialising a task. Questions may be asked, but openness to the possibility that humour also works must be allowed.

This, I confess, is a thinly-veiled rant about the reaction to a particular session. But I do object to the suggestion that I don’t take my faith and my ministry development seriously enough. In every caricature I questioned my reaction and reflected on whether any innate prejudice was driving my keep/leave decision. I believe that I can do that with maturity and balance, regardless of whether I laugh or remain ‘serious’. If I must remain po-faced in my ministry development then I fear that it will be a time to weep.

Apr 222009

At the recent Candidates’ Conference, Ministries Council outlined their revised plans for the ongoing assessment part of the training. Candidates are now encouraged to continue journalling to record their thoughts on situations and challenges encountered during training. Many will continue using diaries and the like, and I will continue to blog my thoughts (nobody forces you to read them).

But, I decided to have a bit of a play so I set up a new website – Eutychus – for Candidates to start blogging on. It uses WordPress (because it’s excellent) in it’s multi-user (MU) guise. But it also adds some rather nifty social-networking facilities as well, along the lines of Facebook or Bebo.

I’d be interested in suggestions for improvements or ideas for other features. Or, if you’r interested in something like it for a group or organisation you’re part of, get in touch and I might be able to help.

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.

Sep 102008

David and Stewart have both been blogging about the Paralympics and both making similar points about the lack of coverage. I confess I haven’t watched any but then I didn’t watch the Olympics either – only what I’ve spotted on the BBC News website. But what’s that got to do with Candidates’ Conference? Well, one of the more challenging presentations was from a retired minister by the name of Graham Monteith.

Graham is a wheelchair user and has uncontolled body movements. His mind, however, is as sharp as a tack and he has a great interest in theology as it pertains to disabilities. But the main points of his presentation weren’t theological but practical and they highlighted the many ways in which we inadvertantly discriminate against people. Simple things like moving around too much when speaking makes it difficult for anyone who lipreads to follow what you are saying. Or the bigger things like not taking into consideration who is likely to attend the funeral of a disabled person – other disabled people and not being able to accommodate the number of wheelchairs.

His main piece of advice was to look at the person, not the disability (something he readily admits isn’t always easy). From a Christian perspective this is not an unreasonable requirement. After all, we should be well beyond the idea that disability is some sort of punishment or judgement. Each person, regardless of physical or mental capacity is accepted and loved by God. We cannot presume to limit God’s grace based on a level of physical or mental ability.

But back to the points Stewart and David make. Why is the Paralympics given less coverage? I can’t say whether it’s an issue of embarrassment or awkwardness or some other factor. But it seems to me that each is about individuals and teams achieving their maximum potential and each should be celebrated. And that’s not about celebrating some sort of ‘second best’ either. All of the Paralympians display a far greater level of dedication and commitment than I ever do. They certainly achieve, in sporting terms, far more than I ever could.

Whether it is acknowledging sporting achievement or simply giving thought to how we ensure maximum involvement in church life it’s an issue each of us should be aware of. Most especially, those who are in a position to effect changes, in however small a way. Encouraging greater exposure of events such as the Paralympics can only be a good thing to break down the barriers of prejudice and ignorance.

Sep 042008

Sometimes the biggest thing that gets us into trouble, I would suggest, is presupposing a person’s position on something. Despite having been gently reminded of the dangers early in my field assessment, it’s still something which catches me out now and again (and again, and again). These pre-judgements are based on all sorts of factors – a passing comment, another person’s opinion, an assumption based on insubstantial rumour or gossip, an overheard discussion. These things often become the sum of what we think we know about someone before we’ve even had a chance to speak to them directly. And, of course, it then colours how we hear whatever they have to say to us. (I suspect there’s a legitimate lesson for Biblical interpretation in there as well.)

One of the pleasures of a Christian community and, especially, a reflective community, is that you can throw ideas around and test them against different understandings. There is a danger though that when we participate in that, our opinions are not seen as being put out to be tested, but being up for challenge, vehemently. And thus our presuppositions come into play. We hear with bias and we respond gracelessly. We attach labels, all too often with superglue.

I had a conversation with a person one evening during the conference which was heading towards a bit of a fankle until we stopped and cleared away the presuppositions. That’s not to say we suddenly saw eye-to-eye on everything, but what we did discover was that we had very much more in common that perhaps we had previously realised. Perhaps the significant thing was that we were both prepared to step to the side of ourselves for a while and listen to the other. Not just the ‘I hear what you’re saying’ listening, but the genuine ‘I want to understand you’ listening.

But there was more to be had from the conversation than just the satisfaction of knowing a bit more about someone. What I (we?) got was a bit more of the excitement that can be found when we hear of how God works in others. Whether it’s sharing experiences or sharing ‘academic’ insights, there’s always the sense that God is so much bigger than anything we can think of.

Our presuppositions not only put inaccurate labels on people, they also put God in a box. Perhaps one of the most important things we can do during Candidates’ conferences is take time to really know others and through them, learn a lot more about God.

But it’s also fun to play ‘the game’ – the one, that seems all too prevalent, of pigeonholing people. The ‘fun’ part is to play the game by confounding expectations and refusing to accept the label or fitting neatly into the pigeonhole. I’m looking forward to the next 4 conferences and continuing to play the game with spoilers. Maybe we’ll stop playing the game and just start talking.