Grown Up Politics

While briefly listening to the Jeremy Vine show between appointments at lunchtime, I caught him introducing one of today’s news items. Len McCluskey, a senior figure in Unite, a British Trades Union, as apparently called on union member’s to use the opportunity of the Olympics for Civil Disobedience.

What caught my attention wasn’t the story, or how I felt about such a call, but instead the response that the Government and the opposition have given. The ConDems have apparently called such action “unacceptable and unpatriotic”, while Labour’s leader has said it’s “wrong”.

The words on both sides just seem wrong. There’s no gravitas and while on this occasion there is no opposing pole of opinion, there’s no strength to the words. They sum up the lack of persuasive argument either way when there is something worth fitting over.

The local evening paper then added to my frustration of political words, as I read the letter of response by a local MSP to a letter earlier in the week from a hoping to be local councillor. The letter sounded of childish tantrum, and what I read from the other person involved sounded smug and nasty.

And do you know, I know that is politics. I know it is about one-up-man-ship, and undermining another’s position and view. But I don’t like it.

Just as I wonder on an almost daily basis why people are no longer seem to be interested in church, I find myself wondering the same about politics. Has it got something to do with the way in which politicians show little respect for each other? Does that translate as having little respect for other people?

I want politicians who do more than give a good impression of knowing their political ground. I want people who care patiently for the communities that they are elected to serve, but also beyond that who care for a society where people can grow and thrive because opportunity is available for all.

Maybe I need to stop reading the evening paper and listening to Jeremy Vine, in the hope that there are other politicians are out there somewhere.

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Accepting the oddity

One of the many things that I love about being a parish minister is that you can have an off-the-wall idea and for the most part those who work with you seem to see it as a reasonable thought to have. It has taken a while to get to this place, but I am grateful for the elders and the church administrator who do not look at me as though I have lost my marbles.

Yesterday was one such experience.

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to have a better labyrinth experience within the Church sanctuary without the need of a complete refurbishment. Fixed pews don’t seem to offer the opportunity.

We do have a very small labyrinth that we have used at Holy Week and other times. To use it, all the furniture in a side chapel has to be removed for a suitable floor space. This can take a considerable amount of people and energy. It has been worth the work for those who use the labyrinth. However it is not very big, and there is not much space to journey between differing stations. If more than two people are using it you can find yourself almost on top of the other person even when standing in a different section of the mat.

Standing staring in the bathroom mirror looking at the large spot that had appeared on my nose and wondering how to deal with that for the full diary of encountering people, a labyrinth solution appeared. Don’t ask me the relevance of the two, for I have no idea.

I’m sure plenty of others have had and used the same idea, but it had never occurred to me before. Why fight against the pews? Why not use them? I worried a little about stumbling through them, but then thought in Holy Week perhaps stumbling invited us to encounter a more rugged journey. What about those with movement difficulties? My thought was that with clear areas to pause and reflect around the building, there was still an opportunity for them to take part by using these areas as prayer stations. My friend Nikki also would remind me that I could lay out some finger labyrinths, for those who would prefer something more personal.

The congregation I serve can sometimes seem a little traditional, and I thought perhaps I should check out the idea on a couple of folk. As I mentioned it to the church administrator, she seemed to not think it was completely off the wall – either that or in my brain patterns it seemed normal. I saw a couple of other folk and again no hands in horror to say absolutely not.

So last night as I tried to think of a pattern that would work, I wondered about the path of the Chatres. Of course we don’t have places for curves, but would their path work in a linear format, crossing pews and aisles?

Would you believe it, it fits!

So following the Passion Sunday service, I will be crawling around on the sanctuary floor with some white tape marking the path. There are a few repeats in the side aisles, but carefully marked it should still work. Then in the evening the service will offer a guided labyrinth walk for those who are not sure how to walk, and those who want to think of others way to encounter prayer.

Holy Week will have opening times, for anyone who wishes to use it.

I’m quite excited now, and for once feel I have done something proactive.

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Touring Faith

As a family we are just back from a short trip to London. We’ve tried to pack us much as we can into two days, and as we headed home on the train late yesterday afternoon all were exhausted but happy.

Much of what we have seen has been from the top of a bus this time, although we did see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium and the inside of Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey was amazing in side, and definitely worth the visit. As an early teen attending a London suburb school I had the opportunity to sing there one Christmas with the school choir, but I had forgotten, or maybe had never taken in, the size or extent of the decoration around the building.

I know others complain about the entrance charges to historic places of worship, and while I wonder at the amount of them, I do recognise that it is one way of recouping many of the costs of up-keep, maintenance and daily running costs.

My gripe is instead with the increasing desire in historic sites to herd people around in the same direction with recorded guided tours. I have two complaints. One is that what interests one person about a building may not be the intrigue for another. Some of us like to start at the west of a building ( even if we came in a different door) and take in the design that the architect intended as the first view of their understanding of the wonder of God expressed within the architecture.

Then secondly, I’m not keen on recorded tours. I won’t take away from the fact that they relay historical information in an easy format for many people. What I find frustrating is that you feel compelled to listen to the whole thing, and rather than enjoy the moment have to enjoy someone else’s key points. In foreign countries, the translated guide is a God-send, but at home I want to be able to wander freely and decide which bits of our country’s history will meet my quest for knowledge.

Of course I know I don’t have to take the guide, so I didn’t. The rest of my companions did. We joined the herd, and I know I haven’t appreciated the wonder of the vision from the West door, having entered in the north and immediately entered the Quire.

(photo from Wikipedia)

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Friendship Cake

10 days ago I was given a German Friendship Cake by a friend. We’ve been nurturing our house guest with occasional stirring and then, a couple of feeds. Last week “Herman”, as he appears to be called, came to church with us and put in an appearance while I chatted to the children about friendship and encouragement.

Like the sourdough that has been brewing this week, we need people around us to stir us up, and feed not just our tummies, but our imagination and spirit. They do so with encouragement and teaching new things. Starved of human contact we will not grow.

7 days later and at the end of our 10 day cycle, Herman appeared again at church. This time he was in four pieces. Three of those sourdough mixes have been passed to members of the congregation that they may grow and encourage the cake. While the fourth is half way through baking here.

This week we spoke about faith. That in passing on the cake, we are not just sharing friendship but faith that another will care. Then the next family will do the same. Sharing faith and friendship is an important pay of congregational life, and it is great to have a symbol for the words for a change.

So our cake is cooking. I’ve had to take it out of the oven even though it’s not quite ready, as I need to get the chicken cooked. It’s still a bit doughy in the middle, but it looks like the kind of cake I can pop back in the oven in a while.

Meanwhile I’m hoping someone might return a piece of Herman to me in 10 days time, as I think there is more potential in this cake for a variety of things.

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That Guilty Feeling…

I’d always planned that this would be a desk week. I had a list of 16 things I needed to do at my desk this week, and I was going to tackle them so I could head off on holiday next week with a clear conscience.

To date I’ve managed to achieve 9 of the 16. But as I cross things off the list, other things seem to get added. By this end of this afternoon I hope to have at the very least finished Sundays prayers and started on a sermon.

However I feel guilty. I can think of a good number of people who would appreciate a visit, and yet I feel like I’m wasting time at my desk and not achieving anything. Of course the week hasn’t just been desk sitting. I did make it to Presbytery on Tuesday and on Monday afternoon a class of school children had a tour of the church. Tonight I will see a couple considering marriage, and tomorrow morning the organist appears to plan hymns for the next two months (I’ve not prepared for that yet).

And while I feel guilty I also know I’m tired, and not really giving my best. It’s a long haul from October to February without a break. In past years I’ve managed to fit in a few days off in the first few days of December, just to ease into the almost daily activity of a Christian community expectantly awaiting the birth of Christ. This year I never found those few days. And while there were one or two quieter days in the gap between Christmas and New Year, there was no holiday.

So I wear the guilt of my own expectations and the tiredness of my keeping on.

The holiday will start on Sunday after the after worship coffee. Monday will be a long lie, followed by some packing and a trip to the cattery so the tigers can have their holidays. There’s a trip on a train planned, a show to be seen, and some sights to take in.

While I feel guilty, I also know that those I’ve not visited will still appreciate a visit in a fortnight’s time for they are unaware of my time scales.

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Opportunity for more

Over on Minister? Me? Mrs Gerbil has been asking about how Board member’s might feel when a Congregational Board is replaced with Unitary Constitution. I’ve tried very hard to write a comment below her blog and failed miserably, probably through my own incompetence with the new computer. So I thought I would write my thoughts here. Not just for Mrs Gerbil, but as a reminder to myself of why it has been the right choice to make.

The choice for the congregation was not just about reducing the number of meetings, but instead about having the opportunity to engage with the broad range of thoughts and activities that happen in congregational life. A congregational board was actually quite limiting in what members of the congregation and not just elders were allowed to have opinion on. The Board was limited to looking at Fabric and Finance, and with that knowledge we had found that people were put off in being part of the Board as they didn’t have the skills or knowledge to contribute to these.

Those who were involved in setting out what might become our new Kirk Session structure took time to look at other congregations for ideas, and out of those enquiries we recognised that what might be good was to have a structure that allowed congregation members to be part of smaller teams that focussed on specific areas of the Kirk Session’s work. In Unitary constitution, we now have teams representing Fellowship, Parish Mission, Worship, Fabric, Finance, World Issues and Education. Each of the teams is made up of half elders and half congregation members, and when we have a need of a task group we also try to match elders and members.

Rather than removing congregation members from our leadership and ideas forums, we hope that we have instead opened up the possibilities of how people might be involved. Each of the teams appeal to the different gifts that lie within our congregation. Where there are no major changes in Kirk Session thought and planning, teams tend to progress events in between meetings. Where a new idea is put into a public forum or where it might need financial support, it tends to come back to the Kirk Session for full discussion.

Of course not everything we do slots nicely into one team, and at times teams can be working together on ideas. I suppose on such occasion was our “Messy Church” that brought together our Worship and Education Teams, while “Back to Church Sunday” is a collaboration of Worship and Fellowship. This year’s Autumn Evening Talks will see the Education Team work with the World Issues Team as we explore different faiths.

It’s hard work as minister ensuring that all the teams have full representation, although team leaders do offer suggestion as to who might be helpful. However I would say that I think there are now more people involved than the Board and Session ever allowed. It also seems to be more representative of the profile of the congregation, whereas the Kirk Session tends towards the older age group. I find it tough to remember not to go to all the meetings but to trust them with what is to come – I’m working hard on the letting go.

What we have now is by no means perfect, but because we have a framework to begin with, we are not afraid to change and amend as we find what works best for us now.

We appear to have no regrets that we changed, and are happy to evolve as our needs change and grow.

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Building with personality

A number of churches of varying denominations have been, currently are or will be involved in building projects. Behind these projects there are good sound reasons for getting involved in refurbishment, new building, and re-ordering.

For some the projects are relatively simple and involve decorating and new furniture, making the space more welcoming and inviting to those who wander in to encounter something of a congregation’s faith.

For others the projects are more complex. In times of rising utilities bills, those with two sets of buildings are looking at ways of reducing costs, but still offering the necessary spaces used by church organisations and community groups. Ancient buildings don’t always offer the welcome or space needed to accommodate the differing physical needs of those who use the building, let alone come to worship.

Whatever the reason for engaging in building and changing, those involved in such projects seem to try to keep the purpose of being a group of people gathered under one roof to the forefront of their minds. Their church buildings are places that they want to offer a space for encounter with God, not just for themselves but for those who wander in to be welcomed. Each of those buildings is shaped by the worship practices of the people who meet there and by the story they want to tell of God in their lives, but also include the dreams they have of what their sharing of faith might bring to the community in which it is placed.

Worship space and hall accommodation tell the story of the personalities that have inspired and inhabited them. In some way they also shape the present life of those who wander in them, and while occasionally there are breaks in patterns and new forms of worship and presence that happen, sometimes they find themselves constricted and restricted by the surrounding walls.

Thinking about personality within the shaping of future building has been part of much of my thought for over a year now. The type of worship and ministry of a group of people seems to me to be shaped by what surrounds them. I’ve been wondering about the impact of changing buildings, and the shape that brings to the way in which people share their faith; about how personalities within a congregation might impact on the design of something new; and how about how much the ministry’s understanding of worship, theology and faith should shape the thoughts of others in thinking about the relationship of a congregation to it’s building.

I don’t know I’m looking for answers, but engaging outwardly with my thought processes. I’m spending time with those who have inspired me and exploring their thoughts in how they feel their person has impacted on the places they have served and serve.

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