May 302010

There are times when life seems to pass by so quickly. That seems never more true than when you are on a placement. Uni term times whizz past, but they’re only ten weeks. Holidays whizz past, but they’re only a couple of weeks tops. Placements though are 8 months and when that last Sunday rolls round, as it did for me today, then 8 months seems to disappear in a flash.

It never seems long enough to get to know all the people you would wish to. It’s never long enough to get to know those you did as well as you should. It never seems long enough to cram in all that you would want to do with the safety net of a supervisor to hand.

I’ve said it before, but finishing up a placement is a strange time. Although the time does seem to flash past, 8 months is still a long time. It’s plenty of time to begin to get to know people’s stories; it’s plenty time to begin to build up emotional bonds with people; it’s plenty of time to really start to care for folks. So when it’s time to move on, it’s a wrench. But behind it all is the knowledge that it is only a part of the journey. Knowing that the move is inevitable means, for me anyway, that towards the end of the placement you cannot help but begin to look forward, to a place beyond the current placement. It means that when you do hit that end point you are already a little bit disconnected. It all adds to the strangeness of the whole process of formation for ministry.

What I do need to do now though is begin to think through what I’ve done, not just in this placement, but in all the others, and begin to work out what I need to focus on for probation. On this placement in particular I have felt that inexorable march towards ministry. It has been an opportunity to tick a handful more boxes on the ‘should have done’ list. It has been an opportunity to refine skills and to keep working on the ones which are still very rough round the edges. It has been an opportunity to make mistakes knowing that, as a student, some allowances are made and that there is someone there to pick up the pieces if things went drastically wrong (which they never did, I think). It has also been an opportunity to experiment and test out ways of doing things, again knowing that an experienced voice is on hand to help analyse and critique in a positive way.

Of course, all of this means that a lovely bunch of people have to put up with a lot of the ups and downs as well. The congregation have been nothing if not supportive and understanding, gracious with feedback and encouraging in their comments. Many commented today that they too couldn’t believe 8 months had passed so quickly. (Perhaps that’s a blessed relief from their perspective.)

So now there is the small matter of a dissertation to write over the summer (now watch the time really disappear) with probation starting on the 1st of September. Given the speed with which time seems to fly by at the moment, maybe it’s time to start ringing those warning bells for when I get let loose on my own.

Oh yes, and there’s the ‘Not a licensing’ Service of Recognition organised by the presbytery on the 24th of June, 7pm, Larbert East Church, where Andy and I will be given a slap on the back in acknowledgement of putting up with it all thus far.

May 042010

At the end of this month I will have finished my third placement. This is the last one before probation (starting on the 1st September – or rather the 2nd, as the 1st is a conference day). As with any placement there’s plenty of paperwork to do and I’ve been finishing off my placement report. This means looking back over the past (nearly) eight months, working out what I’ve done, how I’ve done and how I feel about it all.

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Feb 082010

I’ve not blogged much recently simply because I’ve been pretty busy. I know I owe Scott a post about my own theological stance but that’s going to have to wait a bit longer as well.

I finally got the first of my research essays handed in last week. Late, but accepted, after a slight misunderstanding over due dates (and how ‘fixed’ they were). A week past Sunday I was preaching and Sunday past I was taking the entire service. So I’ve had little time to focus on reflection and even less to blog my thoughts.

I’m also in the middle of preparing the devotional slot for Wednesday’s MTN and was exceedingly grateful for the distraction of Dorothy’s blog post here which fitted very nicely with where my thoughts were headed.

But I didn’t want to witter on about how busy I am and go for the sympathy vote. I wanted to blog something that is more of a reminder to myself than a full-on, warts-and-all description and reflection.

Yesterday evening was the monthly evening service in my placement church and the theme for the evening was “Sing a new song”. It was an opportunity to learn a few new songs which would be getting done over Lent and Easter. It was in part my fault. Whenever I send a list of suggestions for hymns each week, invariably there are a few (many) which aren’t known. So it was decided that it would be a good time to expand the repertoire a little.

Let’s just say that reactions were mixed (but generally favourable) but the way the service was done was a masterclass in the art of the  ‘ gracious and gentle rebuke’. Sort of like being pummelled by a giant, soft pillow, but one that weighed a ton so that you knew when it landed on on you.

I know that hymns can be an especially emotive subject with people and I do sympathise. I have ranted about it before (can’t remember if I’ve ever blogged about it though). Communal singing is one of the few times when the congregation gets to participate directly and actively in worship and I get very annoyed when that opportunity is compromised through inaccessible hymn tunes and words or overly complex arrangements which only the trained choir can do justice to.

But anyway, there will be a few new tunes over Lent and Easter, and we may even do them several times just to be sure they stick.

Jan 202010

I’ve been struggling with an essay for the last couple of weeks or so. Not that I don’t know what to write or that I’m not interested in the subject, but simply that I am struggling to motivate myself to get on with it. Part of the problem is a busy time on placement. I don’t mean that I’m being over-loaded, it’s just that the placement work has been far more interesting and not merely as a ‘work-avoidance’ scheme, but genuinely interesting and challenging. And so I have probably agreed to do more than I ought and have probably spent more time on placement work than is required.

Ultimately, of course, this is all to my benefit. It’s the ‘real’ part of of ministry preparation. But I still have the academic stuff to do, although, technically speaking, I am as qualified as I need to be. Once again it’s not a lack of interest in the academic that’s a problem. I love studying theology. For me it’s the underpinning of who I am as a ‘minister’. It goes hand-in-hand with Biblical interpretation and it’s the dialogue between the two that defines my faith and its outworkings. For me, pastoral/practical theology is a result of these two things rather than being a more intimate part of the loop. Of course the pastoral and practical have to inform, or at least question, the Bible/theology ‘loop’, but it it those two which define whether our works are specifically Christian or simply philanthropic (although it’s an interesting argument over the distinction, especially if one is a Christian).

Anyway, this placement has, as placements do, brought the pastoral/practical to the fore and I’ve been busier with these than in any of my previous placements. And the encouraging thing is that as I engage more and more in these, I become more and more interested and excited and committed to them. I suppose that if you take a step back and have a more objective view, you could say that the third placement is the time of moving away from the academic and is the preparation for moving into probation and, ultimately, full-time ministry. So I guess it’s no surprise that this should be happening.

In a sense this gives the lie to the blog post title. Progress is being made in a particularly crucial aspect of my preparation for ministry. It’s just not happening in the area that I am obliged to do as well. Maybe in that there is a greater metaphor for ministry. There will be aspects of it that will excite and enthuse and these are the areas we will naturally wish to focus our energy and attention on. However, there will be areas of ‘obligation’, and they may even be areas we are interested in, but that simply don’t hold our attention as they should. Finding the motivation to do them is important to stop them piling up – they will need done sometime.

If anyone has found the answer to this, I (and the rest of the world, I suspect) would love to hear it.

Jan 042010

Apologies up front – this is very much a ‘thinking out loud’ blog entry and may well descend into a bit of a rant. You have been warned! Even so, I’d appreciate your thoughts.

On Sunday I was leading the whole service and the choice of hymns, reading, sermon, etc was entirely mine. Over Advent we have spent a bit of time in Luke’s gospel and finished off towards the end of Luke chapter 2. I decided to pick up from that point and deal with a passage that isn’t (in my experience) covered very often – the incident of Jesus, as a boy, doing a bunk from the family group and being found in the Temple. I felt it fitted well with a Ne Year start as I believe the passage does a number of things, including giving a glimpse of Jesus’ future life, ministry and purpose but also leaving us with a challenge also very appropriate for the beginning of a new year and a new session – where would we expect to find Jesus if we went looking for Him?

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Dec 302009

Today was my first solo funeral service and I was happy enough with how it went. I made (so far as I’m aware) only one verbal gaffe but it was a fairly minor one and not something that would be likely to cause upset. I managed to lop 10 years off the person’s age. I realised it was wrong as I finished saying it but correcting myself would have ended up with me getting tongue-tied, I think. Anyway, nobody commented but I’m sure they noticed.  I even managed to get some chuckles at the places where a humorous memory was recounted so I think that speaks well of the tone.

The timing was absolutely spot-on and I’m glad I looked up the running time of the song they wanted played part way through.

As everyone was filing out the church, the sleet and hail was coming past horizontally and it didn’t bode well for the cemetery. However, it stopped just as we arrived and held off just long enough to complete the ceremonies there.

So, in hindsight, would I do it differently at all? Probably not too much. Without the musical interlude the tribute would have needed to be a little bit longer. I probably had enough material to work with, but as I was going over it again I spotted a few gaps that I perhaps ought to have asked about. Not a problem give the slightly reduced time for the spoken tribute, but something to be aware of in future. I was also pleased to be able to accommodate the various requests of the family but made a mental note to check the lyrics of requested song tracks. Not a problem in this case, but again, something to bear in mind.

All in all I suspect this was a pretty easy introduction to funeral services.

Dec 182009

This blog forms part of my ongoing journalling and reflection on my training process into ministry. I generally blog about particular theological issues I’m wrestling with and those discussions are open to all as I seek to understand different viewpoints. Sometimes the topic is about particualr situations or events that have been part of my placement. Whilst I try to keep descriptions suitably vague and avoid naming names or otherwise make people/places/events as anonymous as possible, there is the strong probability that someone associated with what I am writing will know exactly who and what I mean. And sometimes there’s a back history to things that I am unaware of and so inadvertently move the can opener closer to the can of worms. The blog entry “2 school services” has been put under ‘lock and key’ just now for this reason. I hope anyone reading will understand why I have to do this at times. Where I can extract a ‘discussion point’ from such an entry, I will attempt to do so.

Nov 162009

Yesterday I had the opportunity to lead the whole service in my placement church. Not a big problem – it’s something I’ve done many times. That said, being somewhere new has the added pressures of not knowing what they know, not knowing how recently they may have covered the chosen passage (an advantage of following the lectionary), whether you are about to utterly contradict previous teaching or whether you’re getting too close to personal/pastoral issues. On the plus side, such pressures do help focus the mind and maybe force you to take that bit extra care of how something is worded.

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Nov 032009

… one not so giant leap.

Today I got to participate in a funeral for the first time. It might seem odd that I haven’t done so before now but the opportunity simply hasn’t arisen (and I’ll not mention the microscopic funeral count, relatively speaking, to be ‘enjoyed’ in Brussels).

So having had the opportunity to participate in the pre-funeral visit, it was good to get the chance to play a little part in the service itself. In the liturgy used by my supervisor, there’s a brief welcome, the opening hymn, a short opening prayer, a reading and then the tribute. Thereafter, there’s another longer prayer, the ‘intimations’, closing hymn and benediction. I was down to do the short prayer and reading but with 10 minutes to go it was suggested that I might as well take it from the start to minimise the swapping back and forward.

I know some people would throw their hands up in horror and suggest that that was unfair to spring such a thing on me, but, let’s be honest – it was only a few words of welcome and announcing the hymn. If I can’t cope with that, even at short notice, then I’ve got other things to worry about.

The service went well, I thought, and there was only one verbal trip and that wasn’t mine. It was received with good grace and some amusement so perhaps it was a good reminder that, even if we do slip, the world isn’t going to come to an end.

One of the mourners was particularly emotional at the start of the service and my supervisor commented that I had done well to keep it from putting me off. To be honest, I was so focussed focused on getting my bit correct that you could have marched a band through the place and I wouldn’t have been put off. But that’s also a useful reminder. It can be easy to get so wrapped up in what we are doing that we can forget that there are others there who may need an extra word of encouragement or a little time to gather themselves. Being sensitive to that is a large part of what has to be learnt in the formation process.

So, another pre-funeral meeting tomorrow with the funeral on Friday, this time doing the latter part of the service, after the tribute. By that time I’ll practically be an expert.

Oct 262009

Yesterday was my first official Sunday at my latest placement church – Larbert East. I had snuck in the week before didn’t announce who I was or why I was there (apart from to the one who sussed me out). Anyway, it was in at the deep end, doing the opening prayer and the all-age talk (primarily aimed at the young people). The children were (mostly) all wearing their name badges to help me out. It was a very considerate thought but nearly ruined my opener. But that still worked and helped break the ice and I got plenty of enthusiastic participation thereafter. I’ve been involved in children’s work in some shape or form for years and yet it’s the one aspect of a morning service that is the most daunting for me. Simply because you get away with nothing. There will always be someone with the utterly bizarre answer or the loooooong explanation that completely throws you off your stride. I was spared that on Sunday and hopefully got a message across as well as introducing myself a bit to everyone.

It was also good to get a warm reception from everyone – but I knew it was a friendly and welcoming place already. And my low-key visit of the previous week had confirmed that it was simply because of who I was but was a welcome that would be extended to anyone.

So, an encouraging start to a placement that is shaping up to be an excellent learning experience judging by some of the goals mapped out already.