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  • Marriage Metaphors

    I've just completed the first draft of the address for a wedding I am conducting on Saturday.  I haven't done very many weddings, and most (though not all) have been for people with whom there is a genuine and long standing connection.  Even with people I don't know very well (or at all) I do my best to personalise the ceremony and tailor the address to their interests, personalities and needs.

    So, on Saturday, I am working with the metaphor of knitting.  I won't say too much lest someone who knows the couple sees this and accidentally lets it slip, but it's a great metaphor to play with, and I've had fun.

    Around eighteen months ago a couple had chosen a poem about an arch as their 'non religious reading' (I always offer this option as it means they can choose something really meaningful for themselves).  This was another fabulous metaphor, allowing my mind to explore ideas that were significant for them and help to craft a meaningful address.

    Once I had a toy Eeyore, although that was a slightly sideways move from the writer of Ecclesiates.

    A couple times I've had three branched candlesticks, with various symbolism.  The first time was for a Hindu-Baptist wedding, emulating and adapting the 'fire rite' from Hindu tradition, with each mother lighting one of the outer candles to represent the birth families, then together lighting the central candle for the new family.  The second time was for the threefold 'faith, hope, love' with a single origin.

    And with an older couple, each having been married (and widowed) who chose the KJV version of 1 Corinthians, my sideways step to C S Lewis's 'the four loves' involved, among other things I have since forgotten (and did not write down) a coffee mug (or two).

    Marriages are always both privilege and challenge - like all the best services I suppose - and I do enjoy trying to personalise them.  Probably as well I don't get too many though, as I'd inevitably run out of ideas and start having to 'mass produce' them!

  • Volunteering - Reflections

    Sometimes it seems to concern people that I devote some of my time to supporting women affected by breast cancer.  The concerns are well intentioned, people who fear that somehow I am being held back in terms of 'moving on' or that I am not getting on and living my own life.  So I thought I'd try to explain a little of why I do what I do.

    It usually starts with a phone call from one of the staff at the charity to see if I am free to take on a new 'client' along with a brief outline of her needs.  Very rarely has it been necessary to say no, and then only because I had a large number of exisiting support relationships.

    I dial the number, carefully witholding my own, at the agreed time and introduce myself to the new person.  Often her voice trembles, she may dissolve into tears or she may stoically assert that she just has to get on with this.  I listen, reassure her feelings are quite normal, answer her questions and offer a follow up call.

    Sometimes calls are just a one off, a person with very specific questions to which she seeks answers.  More often a support relationship will last several months, as the client journeys through chemotherapy and radiotherapy (neoadjuvant chemo is still the exception, so most of my clients have already had their surgery).  We talk through side effects, travelling a path I know quite well, yet always with its own twists and turns.  I notice the terror in the voice subside and usually an easy relationship forms, with banter and laughter as we move forward, more quickly than they ever imagined was possible through the treatment phase.

    And then comes the point where we work towards an ending, treatment is past, the once terrified woman is moving forward and to prolong contact would, in the end, hold her back, force her to return to a bad place when now she needs to seek the sun, fly free and build her own future.

    It's always bittersweet making that last close-out call.  I am happy that this woman is through treatment and moving forward.  But there's always a slight wrench in saying 'goodbye'.

    What strikes me above all, is the incredible gratitude of these women... so appreciative that someone would give them time and space, so thankful for a listening ear and a reassuring word, so grateful for any nugget of advice or reassurance that they aren't bonkers...

    "Thank you" they say to me, at the end of each call, at the close of each relationship.

    "Thank you"... that makes it all worthwhile, helps me to weave it all into the tapestry of my life, assures me that I have, for me, made the correct choice.

    This month my 'activity report' shows around seven hours, which is pretty average - the equivalent of one short working day... not much really, yet the rewards are immeasurable.

  • Feeling Proud

    This morning our congregation was pretty small - around half to two-thirds the usual numbers, and of those present around a quarter were visitors, mostly first timers.

    After the service, I noted that all the visitors were being chatted with, that they all stayed to share some of our 'now we are six' birthday cake and that there was a really friendly, welcoming atmosphere about the place.

    As we gathered round the cake, topped off with candles and sang "happy birthday to us" I felt very proud of my people.  Sure, we sometimes disappoint each other or have our niggles and disagreements, but overall we stick together through good and challenging times.

    As my sixth year draws to its end, and as the seventh will soon dawn, I can confirm there is absolutely no trace of 'itchy feet' in this minister person...

    Love you loads, Gatherers, and very grateful to God for bringing us together at the right time for us all.

  • It's the thought that counts!!

    It is now just days shy of the sixth anniversary of my arrival in Glasgow - if memory serves I arrived on about a week before starting work, just as September morphed in October.

    As I've posted a few days ago, I'll be away on my hols on the date of 'our' anniversary so I'm marking it tomorrow... and in a moment of utter nuttiness decided to bake a cake.  Not my finest attempt at decorating, but it will do the job, and hopefully taste nice... afterall it's the thought that counts!

    Anyway, happy birthday to us - and hopefully many happy returns still to come.

  • Coming Soon to a Bookshop Far from You...

    This morning in my email I found the final 'page proof' of the essay I presented at the conference on Spirtuality, Theology and Cancer in New Zealand roughly 18 months ago.  Despite having had various things published at various times, it always excites me to see my stuff in print, and amazes me that what I write is judged worthy of publication.  Afterall, I'm the girl who got good marks for English because her grammar and spelling were decent (before typing made me lazy!) and could construct a half-decent argument for a discursive essay, not because she had any creative writing ability whatsoever. 

    I am especially excited because my essay is going to be Chapter 1.  This is the position to which real writers of theological essays aspire... either be the key note speaker and get Chapter 1 by default, or be judged good enough to go first.  This is the 'make or break' chapter - the one that hooks or repels the readers.  Can it really be that I wrote something worthy of this slot?

    The book hits the shops at the end of November, and I have been invited to the launch party, but suffice to say won't be attending.  I'll just have to have my own mini book launch at home!

    Anyway, if anyone is interested, here's the 'abstract' as it will appear in the book:

    As an ordained minister I have sat alongside many people affected by cancer, sharing their bewilderment, refusing to avoid tough questions, and modelling a response many found helpful. When I was diagnosed with cancer in August 2010 my own response was to be honest and open, free to name anger, fear, doubts, and questions that arose along the way. And yet, it became clear that “the minister is still the minister” and that the responsibility of caring for others affected my quest for authenticity. In this essay, I reflect on my experiences in an endeavour to explore attributes of “authenticity” for a religious professional living with cancer.

    The essay uses anonymised/masked identities in accordance with good practice, however it is entirely feasible that anyone who is part of my local church would recognise themself or others in the reflections... anyone wishing to read the essay, once published, should be aware of this.