Pigeonholed

Last year I wandered into the church offices to pick up a couple of banners for an exhibition that I was taking part in with some colleagues, and was caught by the Communications Department who asked what I was up to.   Within hours what was a participation in a local event became at least local news, and a colleague and I were being heralded as instigators of a new practice.   We weren’t and on several occasions mentioned that what we were doing was an imitation of others.

In the weeks that followed the event colleagues from other areas of Scotland contacted us for advice, and we shared our leaflets and plans so that for those who were trying something new there was a starting place for them to enhance and develop.

We ourselves have returned to the same event three times now, and will be back again at the beginning of January.   The organisers expect to see us, and they have made us welcome.   They think it is important that the Church is part of what they are doing, and encourage people to come and chat with us.   They also know we can’t make their April event as it tends to fall too close to Easter for us to find a team of colleagues to be available.

So although only three shots in, we feel like old hands and participating is old hat.

The story has reared its head again this year, in part because in another area in Scotland another group of colleagues were attending a similar event and it made news.   But the story also gained more ground as an article in “Life and Work” was noticed and then pulled into national papers.

While heading to a meeting this week I received a phone call asking me if I would be prepared to speak on radio about why we do what we do.   Not overly keen on being “live” I chatted with “Comms”, and found myself doing something I wouldn’t normally do.   I hope that in doing that I represented myself, faith, and our practice as a church fairly.

What struck me though is while I think participating in this particular event is important, it is not the beginning or end of what I or the church does.   Its one of a number of ways in which encountering people and telling the Christian story happens.   To some it will seem like the most ridiculous place to be talking about opening doors and offering welcome.

Its difficult to be truly welcoming when some are still not welcome.   We stand at our event and have to admit that some can have the conversation but at the moment it can be no more than a conversation.   There is two-way sadness felt in that conversation.

But welcoming conversations for me are about more than this one event and activity in the calendar of a church’s year.   Those conversations include how we encounter and meet the diverse needs of the people and places around our building and the world.

My struggle with the attention on this one activity is that potentially it looks like a one-legged donkey, when instead the faith I hope to demonstrate is a string of ponies – multi legged and diverse in nature and activity.

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I cannot sing…

Today I discovered how deeply music and words touch personal situations.   There is no need for detail, other than someone I love has let me and others down immensely.

Every hymn this morning had me wrestling with the hurt and heartbreak I feel.   Emotions are easily held, and strength shown, when I don’t have to sing.   Start singing, and I can find no power in my voice.   Sing of forgiveness, and I know I am struggling to forgive.   Sing of moving on, and I can’t because I feel betrayed.   Sing of hope, and I feel my wound.   Sing of love, and my heart feels shattered.

All of this seems overdramatic written down, and it feels overdramatic in the way I live on a day to day basis.   But today I cannot sing…

I cannot sing because I am afraid that if I do the tears may never stop falling.

And perhaps that is because I am scared that they are selfish tears about how I feel, but I hope that they are tears of the pain of the others who are hurt and of the remorse of the one who has caused the pain.

 

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It must be a Christian Festival…

This one is not just me because I see it and hear it elsewhere.   All Christian festivals come with their highs and their lows.

At Christmas time we get caught in the excitement, and love the crowds coming to greet a baby.   We try to fit too much into a week, and then have to add in the funerals, schools and other expectations.   By the afternoon of Christmas Day, we are collapsed in a heap, promising ourselves that next year we will pace ourselves.

The highs and lows of Lent, Holy Week and Easter come in a different form.   They begin with the small niggles about unfamiliar, dreary hymns.   They are unfamiliar because unlike Christmas carols, they are not belted out at every opportunity in a hurry to get to the main event.   No-one wants to hurry to the crucifixion.   At times Lent is dreary, because the Gospel stories within that period ask us challenging questions about how we cope with grief, ill health and loneliness.   These are not topics we talk about easily.

There are of course good moments in Lent, when the stories blow open the door and throw a breeze through encouraging all to travel a well-worn path.   We like the familiars of Mothering Sunday, even if it is confusing with lectionary stories about fathers and hymns about shepherds.   But we enjoy the notion of nurture, and sharing in the potential to encourage growth in others.

By Holy Week we are all hoping that the hymns might get better, but if you thought we hardly sang Lent hymns, then we sing Holy Week hymns even less.   It starts well on Palm Sunday though, we know those ones.

Of course, heaven help the clergy who like a bit of play acting.   With Sunday Schools on holiday, processions can seem a little flat – although there are those who will give of their best to create a festival with twelve.   Wandering into the church singing cheerfully, to a band of folk sitting in Presbyterian gloom is always amusing.

Monday to Wednesday are a struggle for for a congregation.   They came on Sunday, why do you want them out the door again?   Nothing much happens these days – according to sum.  I’m not sure how to get across the fact that Jesus and the disciples visited the temple every day, walking from Bethany to Jerusalem.   Most of a congregation don’t see or hear that.

Instead it all kicks off on Thursday, and there might be a hymn or two we recognise that night.   So Maundy Thursday still has meaning for more than a few.   They sense the purpose of the words and the action, a recollection of a night when life was changing.

Good Friday has too many emotions for some.   It opens the bottle of uncertainty, guilt and grief that we have contained all year, and we fear that once opened we may never get it closed again.   The pauses, the changing light, the fragrances, the voices…all of these seep into the unconscious self, tearing at emotions we didn’t know we felt.

Few mark Holy Saturday in a Presbyterian tradition.   Vigils don’t fit in our pattern of worship.   Three hours of waiting, and nothing much happening.   Except new beginnings happen.   The soil gets disturbed, and light seeps through.

By Easter Sunday its good to see the crowd return.   We know these hymns and we’ll sing them with full volume.   After all we’ve had seven weeks of hymns we didn’t know.

There are those among us who sometimes feel we wear the Christian festival we are sharing.   Advent and Nativity comes tooquickly, and we’re never quite ready but we just get on and celebrate.   Lent and Holy Week sometimes hurt, as the discomfort of the journey spills in silly comments and misunderstandings without experiencing.

But Easter will be worth it, as the light shines from the darkness of the journey.

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Frustration

It’s a long time since I’ve hung out here, but I’m back to let off some steam safely and to begin to think through the last four years and how to move forward.   It’s post a Kirk Session meeting in the early hours of the morning, and my head has not yet switched off.

So before the careful laying down of the issues, the state of play so far.   I am in no doubt that this is where I am meant to be.   Every day is exhausting.   There is more to do than one person can possibly do, and in a five minute gap some time I hope to put together a proposal that might actually provide me with the help I desperately need in some form of paid, part-time assistant (lay/ordained).    Doors open regularly to new possibilities, and perhaps my biggest problem is wading through the mire of what I can reasonably do in the time a day offers and what will have to wait.   We have fun, with new opportunities to worship in new ways or different places, with meeting new people, and connecting to new organisations.

In that last sentence though is perhaps my biggest concern – “we”.   “We” sounds like huge numbers of people making a big impact.   In reality it is a very limited group from a large pool of resources.   I’m working on the saving starfish model, that even managing to do one thing is better than nothing.

So here I sit post Kirk Session meeting quite frustrated and thinking through possibilities. There is always a lot on an agenda at a meeting here, and so I want to get through most of it as quickly as possible so that we can all get home to bed at a reasonable time.   On the agenda this evening were two opportunities for elders to leap to the fore and take up the mantel of leading a project.   Both items were short term projects.   One to happen later this year with an already thought out plan and list of people to contact.   The second needing a bit more vision to happen over three years, involving some thoughts on celebrations and events that could place.

Looking for volunteers both events were presented, but there are no volunteers.

A frustrated minister closed the meeting with a reminder that the task of the Kirk Session is not to agree to ideas and leave the work to the Session Clerk and the Minister, but for them to be involved in the shared leadership and serving of Christ in this place.   As always those who heard were the ones who already do help, as they apologised for not being able to offer more time.

So we now have two projects to happen but no-one to take the lead on them.   The first one, I can organise the speakers, venue and advertising myself.   Someone else can worry about funding.   The Kirk Session agreed to underwrite it and if they are not willing to organise finding finance then they will bear the cost.

The second is more difficult and quite important that someone is identified.   My head is busily scurrying across members of the congregation who might be willing and able to lead on event planning and organising, and have some idea of how to identify appropriate funding for each event.   I may have to get the congregation roll out on my day off, and work through the list with LinkedIn on screen and see if I can identify someone who might fit the bill.

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Freedom

 

In marriage do we give away our “freedom”?

There is a context to the question which gives away too many details, but even in that short question I wonder what it tells us about how we view marriage of any gender.

I’ve been married for nearly 22 years, and at no point have I felt that my freedom has been removed.   My feeling is lack of freedom happened with the arrival of children, and even there freedom was not lost but instead responsibility established.

Giving away our freedom in marriage plays into that notion of the other person as your ball and chain.   It sees marriage as a prison, a place we cannot escape from.   It becomes a room in which the corners never change, as we pace the floor in desperation knowing that the door is in front of us and yet we cannot get out.   We end up longing for time off for good behaviour, and an early release from the chains that we perceive to bind us.

My understanding of marriage is about gaining freedom.   We’re freed to be the person we truly are because we know love.   The doors of our personality and capabilities are opened because we have the support and encouragement to explore our whole selves, without bowing to social convention because we want to be liked or loved.

Of course that understanding of marriage extends to the best of friendships and to the relationship with the divine found in faith.   Finding we are loved by God opens up the possibilities of our lives to be our true selves, for in God our whole person is already revealed and so there is no escaping that which we would hide from others.   But our best friendships should also allow us the freedom to be ourselves.   Not the perfect, polished, careful, clean self, but instead the self that snorts with laughter; that sometimes says the wrong thing; that dresses unusually; that holds a contrary opinion.

No marriage is perfect, but in binding one to the other it becomes a place for security and growth.   We find ourselves better with, than better without.

And perhaps there lies the gap for when marriage becomes the prison of harm and abuse where our freedom is no longer offered.   It is a place where we should be better with, than better without.   That is the hope of marriage and sometimes experience does not always match the hope.

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Mixing It Up

Church study groups are an interesting lesson in social dynamics.   Sometimes I think that the group itself could form an interesting study, as the individuals, their relationships, and the internal turmoil are played out in the discussions being had.   Even more interesting might be the conversation not being spoken, but instead the unheard stories (known and unknown) that are told in the action, silence and vulnerability of each individual.

Being the minister at these studies is the most revealing, and potentially the most powerful role to play.   As the one who is most likely to have met each person individually you become the guardian of each of the stories they have told.   One or two others within the group may know parts of each others’ stories, but very often only one person is in the unique position of knowing most if not all.

Study groups are an amalgam of a congregation, and people come for all kinds of reason.   Some come because they want to learn more; some because they are intrigued by the topic of each meeting; others because they have been brought by a friend; and others because they are looking for friendship.   These widely different groups allow for a breadth of conversation, some of it on the subject of whatever the theme for the night is, at other times the discussion can take a tangential course as thoughts have prompted a new direction in discussion.

The material is fascinating.   I desperately hope not to have to say much.   I prepare questions in the hope I won’t have to use them.   There is much interest in the planned item for study, and people frantically reading, and then I find I say more than I ever wanted, I hold opinions that aren’t really mine, I sound like I might know something when in fact I know nothing of note.

This is week two angst, I know.   The week where people who have seen each other across a sanctuary are still sussing out those around them.   Its the week when the real vulnerabilities begin to be revealed.   So within discussion at times there is awkward silence, and a leader frantically digging to find a new way into a question that will allow everyone a way of expressing how they feel.

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New Arrangements

There is a new kitchen being fitted this week, and so today I have found myself caught on the hop.

We thought we had covered all our bases for the next few days yesterday as we cleared the kitchen and put things in places ready for the next week or so.   We have a basin for washing dishes.   Our fridge is in the conservatory.   The coffee makes, kettle and toaster have all moved to a new home.   The hall and dining room are full of boxes.   I even found time yesterday to prepare a stew for tea tonight, which could be reheated this morning and put in the slow cooker.

Twelve hours on, and I feel that we are ill-prepared.   We forget the boiler was being done today as well, and hadn’t realised they would turn off all the electricity too.   I’m now freezing cold.   I’ve emptied the cupboard where the hot water tank is, and the one for the shower pump.   They can’t get access to at least two radiators as the kitchen is packed in boxes around them.

The day started well.   We were up and ready to go before 8am.   All had eaten breakfast, I’d washed dishes and reheated the stew.   It was put in the slow cooker, to just get on with it, and now I know it is no longer gently bubbling so I suspect it may be beyond rescuing by tea-time.

So looks like it is a shop bought roast chicken, bread and salad or a search for some different menu.

 

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