The events of a weekend and preaching sometimes lead to times of reflection for a minister. It’s good to discover and remember that preaching serves a purpose for the preacher as well as for a congregation. In the weeks when the writing purpose is tough, and what is on the page does not appear to make sense, it can be amusing to find mid-sermon a recognition for yourself what the message us supposed to be for you. Some might call that inspiration…
Each week here the sermon gets two airings and it has been interesting to discover that even between the diverse nature of the services that there is a difference in context and meaning. Sometimes the first allows for appropriate changes to be made before the second.
Mid sermon in recent weeks there was a realisation of how much of my understanding of church is bound into food as a means of establishing community and purpose.
Within the Gospels there are a number of easily recognised meals that tie community and purpose together. The Feeding of the 5000+ establishes the diversity of God’s kingdom; the meal with Zaccheus uses food for forgiveness and reconciliation; the Last Supper has food used for memories and binding together.
In human life, food and relationships are so often tied together. And it is that tying together that sometimes makes particular times of year difficult when relationships are strained. Is this because in encountering the basic need to be fed that we become vulnerable?
Sometimes as a church community we have built our understanding of God’s love and community around one meal, that we forget that the purpose of God’s love can be gifted within other community meals. Coffee mornings, soup lunches, fellowship evenings can offer for those who are there a renewed sense of belonging and a reminder or refresher of Christ’s purpose in life.
For some reason I found myself talking about this video earlier today. It’s well shared by colleagues over recent years, and today it made me smile. Sometimes a little help is needed.
Any resemblance to any member of any congregation is entirely the fault of Richard Stilgoe and Peter Skellern.
The second Kirk Session meeting in these early months of being in a new place and it’s good to know that just as each Kirk Session carries similar characters, a new set of people don’t change the patterns of a minister.
Prior to the meeting, there are the usual routines. Finding an appropriate reading; considering the prayer – sometimes written in notes, sometimes taking a favoured book for support, sometimes knowing that when it comes to the moment the words will appear; sitting with the agenda and methodically working through what bits of information you need to take with you. Slowly the sense of unknown grows in the imagination, as the thought of what might be debated floats around. This sense of fear of the unknown never seems to diminish no matter how well known the elders who will sit before you, because a Kirk Session meeting is always a surprise.
Setting off from the Manse to the Hall, the pile carefully placed upon the floor to go with you is moved to the back seat of the car, and then once at the hall transferred onto the table and carefully laid out so that at the right moment the correct piece of paper or book will come swiftly to hand. Thank goodness for Session Clerks, who will always have the bit of paper you didn’t think to bring.
It’s probably just as well that no elder can read a minister’s mind during a session, as they might encounter the waves that move from “keep talking” to “why am I talking nonsense” to “I’m sure I said that was last word” to “where did the time go”.
Finally the ordeal is over. Some nights its worse than expected, other times the sense of heading in a positive direction prevails. No matter what, at home the head is filled with revisiting bits of the meeting. Questions are pondered over, silence is examined. It would be good if the pulling apart of the evening took just a matter of minutes, but sometimes there are little corners that thought they had been missed, that need to be peered into.
Eventually sleep will come.
On Low Sunday last year, I was helping out a friend by preaching in their church so they could be in mine. It was an interesting experience. It was congregation of which I had very little knowledge, although at one time in the early 20th century my great-grandfather had been their minister.
It had been a little bit of a journey to get there, and I thought I had covered all my bases. The sermon was on the iPad, and the night before I had spent practising the Children’s Address. As I reached into the back of the car I suddenly realised that the items needed for the children’s address were not there. In fact I knew exactly where they were – on the dining room table 50 miles away.
It being Low Sunday, I quickly sat in the car again and looked up some jokes that could be told in church. Perhaps I could wing it with “Holy Humour Sunday”. One or two children and I should be able to persuade them to help me with jokes. Sadly it didn’t work. Unlike my then congregation, they were quite obviously uncomfortable with informality with the children, and so I had to move swiftly on.
The experience made me think a lot about “Holy Humour Sunday” which is an American practice that some have adopted at times here. On the Sunday after Easter, when the celebration of the past two Sundays is over, and with many people on holiday, it can seem a quiet, unspectacular day. There’s none of the fun of Easter, and instead an opportunity to wrestle with doubt.
I don’t think there will be jokes this year. Instead of trying to put the celebration back into a day when it might be quiet, it could be an opportunity to think about the moments that dent our confidence. Those times we thought we knew just who were were, and who were in relation to God, only to have that certainty slide away so that we could explore the un-ventured regions of all we had been given by God. The lows of life and liturgy should be allowed to be part of the flow of a church experience if we are to enable those who venture through the door to encounter the God who invades every part of creation.
I’m sitting waiting on a baked potato for my lunch in a local eatery, and so passing a few minutes as people wander by. Like many people I’m quite fussy about where I eat. There are many restaurants that I’ve eaten in once, and never returned having visited the loos. The loos for me are the key indicator of the hygiene of a place.
However I think that we sometimes forget that we are as much a part of the hygiene of a place, as the place itself. I appreciate those hostelries that remind their patrons that they are to play their part in keeping the place clean and tidy.
It’s probably much the same with churches. They are probably only as clean as those who form the worshipping community and visitors. By the time regular worshippers have gathered on a Sunday, they will have touched several door handles, wiped their noses, shaken hands, stretched their hands across the pew and hymn book. If you were a germ freak the building could seem like a place of harm rather than a place of welcome.
My 12 year old reminded me recently, “we’re only saving up harm for the future with our continuing need to be overly clean.” Thank you first year science!
I will however continue my weekly Sunday morning bathing regime, as I like to be overly clean for worship. It also allows for the necessary thinking moment – although I haven’t shouted eureka yet.
Once of the frustrations of being a parent has been trying to think of food that everyone might eat at mealtimes. It is not an easy task. Usual at a mealtime there is at least one person who decides that what we are about to have is not something that they like, and they then proceed to ensure that all at the table know they are not happy. Negotiations wrangle as each mouthful is encouraged over reluctant lips, and eventually a good portion of the meal is consumed and the unhappy consumer is allowed to leave the table.
I find the situation all the more upsetting, because I’m not a terrible cook. Instead those who come to eat at our house usually leave quite happy with what they have received. Unfortunately the residents don’t seem to be happy.
All our meals include a broad range of vegetables, and we work our way around proteins and carbohydrates. That’s where the problem lies. One resident would prefer red meat in its variant forms and potatoes, while the other is more a past or pizza fiend. My belief though is no negotiation. I do not have time or imagination to cook more than one meal, so what is on your plate is what you are having.
That of course does not mean that I have not listened to the differing tastes and ideas. Instead the breadth hopefully contains something that is liked by at least one person each day. However there is also an element of being the parent, the one responsible, that has to come into play. We can’t just eat what we like, we have to make sure that meals offer all the nutrients that are needed to ensure we are eating healthily.
Is this just a family post? Perhaps not. For there are areas of ministry where what is on offer may not suit keep everyone happy. Instead sometimes ground has to be held, as we look for ways to ensure that as the people of God we encounter the fullness of the Holy Spirit.