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.



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.


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.



Accidental Hurt?

Today was the first day back after a fortnight of study leave and holiday.

The Study Leave has been a good experience and offered so much to think about that in the next fortnight I will sit down and write a piece for myself and possibly the Kirk Session to have to reflect upon.   The holiday allowed me to chill out and forget what day I had got to, and instead enjoy sometimes just doing nothing.

Thrown in at the deep end this morning I headed up for our Bereavement Support, expecting to have to play a part – only to find out that I was not needed as the other all had it in hand.   Instead a Session Clerk appeared to catch up on what had happened and was still to come, and offering an outing for a coffee.   So instead we moseyed into town, and chatted through the previous fortnight from both sides, and worked out how family was.

Returning to the office an elder caught me to ask about a new couple they were to visit.   I exchanged what I knew, trusting that new perspective on a situation could enrich a sometimes difficult situation for a previous visitor.   There was other news exchanged of others, and then a casual comment about someone who now only comes when they know a man is preaching.   With my being off they had been afforded this opportunity twice over.

I asked if there was something that could be done to change that situation, but apparently not, they have decided that they only want to hear men and are part of a small group who feel the same.   So for most of the year they don’t come, but wait for a visiting man and then reappear.

I’m long enough in the tooth to know that people are people and they do daft things for daft reasons, and there is an element of having to live with it.   The cantankerous part of me is tempted to only invite women to preach whenever I am off from now on, but the reality of that even in a church approaching 50 years of women’s ordination is difficult.   It has made me more determined to ensure that at least half of those I invite should be women.

The soft part of me is hurt, but not because the person doesn’t come.   Instead because the elder didn’t challenge them, didn’t stand up for the role of the minister whoever that might be.   Instead they (probably much like me) sat and listened and let the person think that that was an okay choice to make.



Message Me!

I’ve been on Facebook since around 2008 (my head says 2007 but I’m not 100% certain.)   Without a shadow of a doubt I was one of the one billion people who logged on last week.  

I signed up at a time when it was a relatively new media.   At the time I only knew about ten other people who were signed on as friends, and none of them were my mother.   In its infancy, much time on line was spent playing the apps that could be accessed through Facebook.    

Not long after signing up, I was to find Facebook invaluable.    Unfortunately I had had my first lot of cellulitis, and in my reluctance to go to a doctor had ensured that the infection forced me to rest and be off work.   The first couple of weeks saw me being virtually housebound, with an extremely swollen leg, and raging temperatures which meant I couldn’t leave the house.   No fun when you had one child to take to school and another to get to nursery.   Thank goodness I had great friends and family who were able to offer support in the simple tasks.

At times when I felt that I was cut off from the world, Facebook was able to remind me that there were people around getting on with life, but also interested in how I was getting on, and if the husband and the kids were coping with my inability to move.

These days I’m more than a Facebook user.   I tweet, although not regularly and usually about rubbish.   I blog, again not always regularly, and these days even less as more caution about what to say comes into play.

What fascinates me is how I’ve had to change how I use social media as different people use different platforms for being in touch.    Email for me was always the way in which people got in touch about substantive issues.    Facebook was for friends only, and tweeting was just for fun.   

However it becomes difficult to turn down friend requests from those who see their minister as their friend, and these days I find myself saying yes.   It’s good in some ways.   It allows a quick window on where in life some are at any given time.   When births, deaths and marriages happen, there is a possibility to respond naturally.   

Of course the more open pattern of friendship means that you either learn to use Facebook properly, and make use of the folders to ensure that some know different information from others, or you learn to moderate yourself.    Of course the second is possibly worth doing anyway.    In the times when you are angry, annoyed, desperate to be noticed, it is usually best to post a cake than angry, harsh, hurt words.

As we engage with people, it is also necessary to respond in the way in which they feel it is appropriate for them.    While much of my congregation continues to use the traditional phone, letter or email approach, there is a younger group who prefer the private messages of social media platforms.

I’m still learning.   Learning what is the right thing to say. Learning that it gives a suggestion we are always available.   Learning that sometimes every gadget needs to be turned off and put away, so a little space is found.


Tea and Toast

In the next month or so, the congregation will be welcoming over 400 people to worship one Sunday morning as the local Logistics Corp have a Standard blessed.   Like many of these event style acts of worship there are meetings that take place beforehand to ensure smooth running on the day.   Its not just the military that like to run with military precision, but it is good fun being allowed to watch real military precision in action.

This morning was the fourth time I have met two of this group, but the second formal meeting for planning.

Prior to the meeting we gathered in the Mess for a cup of tea, and were joined by the base staff for their morning break.   It wasn’t long before the toaster was working at full capacity as each of the staff came in to have their break and a chat.

I live with a teenage boy these days, so I’m growing used to seeing large amounts of carbohydrate put away.   However there was toast, butter, cheese and jam in vast amounts.   Sometimes all three substances found their way on to the same piece of toast.

It’s obviously hard and energy consuming work at a Logistics Corp base, and perhaps most impressively a real sign that the army really does march on a full stomach.

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A Time for…

In the early months of this year I was invited to join a group who organise an annual retreat.   It’s been a long time since some of my contemporaries and I enjoyed conferences, and the last year has taught me to step out of my comfort zone.   So here I am on retreat.

Second night in, I’m hoping that I will sleep tonight.   Strange bed, unusual noises and the concern that I wouldn’t be up in time for the period of silence at 7.30am this morning all meant I didn’t sleep well.    So hopefully tonight, the darkness will win and once my head hits the pillow I will be gone.

The retreat has offered opportunity for theological reflection, and prior to meeting there was reading which could be done.   So I did.   Perhaps more importantly it has allowed space and time for silence.    In each day there are marked times when silence can be held, and there is no need to engage with those around.   It makes for a restful day.   During some of the spoken reflections some become so relaxed that occasionally sleeping takes place, not helped by a warm church building.

Time to enjoy the space and energy of a building or of the world outside is precious.    Much of our lives are lived at full throttle as we run from one task to the next, ticking the boxes so that we can achieve something.   This three days I will achieve nothing, but space in my head.

It is amusing to think that today I sat in a pew for over an hour and a half, and would have quite happily stayed a little longer but unfortunately nature called.   Amusing because come Sunday at worship I will be working against the clock, because there is a sense from some in a congregation that worship should be time limited.    No more than an hour for some, because we need to keep our encounter with the Divine to a limited period.   You never know if we don’t we might hear something that will encourage us to change, and who wants to the let the Creator of our lives cause us to be different.

Time to ponder and reflect on how we measure our days, because if it is only with minutes and seconds they will fly by too quickly to spot the unusual and the spontaneous.