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  • The Light of Unknowing?

    No, I have not got my title muddled up, I think there is a light of unknowing - of realising what it is I don't know, or don't understand, that is constructive.

    I am now technically ~8 weeks into my "Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology" but despite the best efforts of teachers and supervisors have yet to make much progress.  In the last week or so, my unknowing has coalesed (however that word is spelled) into some sort of knowing - I now know what it is I don't know or understand that would enable me to get going with any degree of confidence that I was on the right track.  Hurrah!

    Way back when I started to learn theology one of my then tutors told us not to worry about big, grand sounding words, we'd soon grasp them and it would be the little words like 'sin' or 'God' that would cause us to wonder as we began to realise the enormity of the concepts to which they referred.  He was right, but as time has passed I have discovered that it is not just the theological words that matter but the grammar and punctuation that trips me up!

    I once wrote a shortish piece on 'Credo in Ecclesiam' vs 'Credo ecclesiam' (Kung and Barth) which hinged on the import of the 'in.'  I have even pondered on one occasion the placing of the comma in the Isaiah 'voice of one crying in the desert.'

    So now, here I am wondering what the university actually understand by "Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology" with the key question being over the word 'in.'  Am I meant to be undertaking an exercise in the study of the disicpline called 'practical theology' i.e. that it is the subject of my research?  Or I am meant to be conducting a piece of academic research employing the skills of practical theology in a new application?  I thought it was the latter but now I am not so sure!  At least I now am a little clearer what it is I do not know, and have begun tentatively to pose the question to those who may be able to help me.  I think I have a light of unknowing - but that still leaves me with an enormous task to turn that into a cloud of knowing!


  • Contrasts

    Back in the days when I was a relatively normal 'person in a pew', I used to wonder what ministers did apart from writing services and visiting sick people!  At one stage when I was reflecting with my mentor I commented that I still don't know what ministers do - I know what I do, but whether or not that is what ministers in general do, I have not a clue!

    Whilst I was in my first year of training I realised that it is a role that requires the ability to 'flip' from mood to mood, siutation to situation, often with minimal notice - the day I realised this I'd spent the morning working in the kitchen of a drop in for people with learning disabilities, run straight to a funeral and then joined some people celebrating a big zero birthday.  It is a job of contrasts - and this week has already seen a lot with more still to come...!

    Monday morning I wrote the service for a 40 year's marriage thanksgiving and renewal of wedding vows service then met with two 70-somethings to talk through the plans for their marriage service due to to take place in January.  Then it was off on a 15 mile jaunt to look at chairs for our less mobile members - and two trips to bring them back to Dibley manse where they will sit for 4 weeks until we are back at school.

    Yesterday after some admin, I raced into town to bank my stipend (so that there was enough in the bank to cover the cost of the chairs which I'd had to lay out as we bought them on Ebay) and to get the props for the carol service.  Then it was back home for lunch time prayers before a trek to the far side of Leicester to see three people in hospital, one of whom is 'very poorly', and then back to the joys of the Girls' Brigade Christmas play.

    Today after producing a poster for the Anglican church hosting the carol event and putting it up for them, a flying visit to Manchetser University Library to return a book that had been recalled before I'd even opened it, before joining my old colleagues for their Christmas Lunch (that's not work of course, even though I still sometimes act as father confessor to one or two of them...).  I was particularly struck by the contrast bewteen trolling round my old stamping grounds in Hulme and Knutsford respectively.  I parked outside a heavily armoured pentecostal church in a side street in Hulme to go to the library - all the car parks were full or had mega queues - and passed people of many ethnic and religious groups on my way to the library; in Knutsford I parked on 'bottom street' car park - miraculously finding a space straight away - before joining a group of predominantly white professionals (though not all) in a restaurant for some very pretty but not very large portions of food at high prices, where my old boss told me about his wife's new jaguar!  Two very different worlds, but two I value greatly as part of my experience (even if I only ever got paid enough to buy a metro once every 10-12 years!).

    Tomorrow I have a first aid course all day and a deacons meeting in the evening.  Friday is allegedly free - but who knows?  Saturday the wedding vows renewal and a concert, Sunday the carol event...  Then start over again on Monday!

    Yup, seven years from the realisation that this job was one of immense contrasts, nothing has changed.  Seeing my old colleagues was good and I have to confess to sometimes missing the 'concrete' aspects of the job I used to do, but it could never in a lifetime match this one for variety which is, after all, the spice of life.

  • This is fun

    Not for those who take themselves too seriously, and definitely not for those who have a prosperity theology (oh, I dunno, maybe it'd be good for them...).  From U-tube and as seen on Chris Tilling's blog...

  • Surely not...?! A Word on Season

    Many thanks to Julie who sent me this.  Irritable Clergy Syndrome, don't be ridiculous, I'm never grumpy!!!  Least of all near Christmas.

    Evil-minded parishioners making life hell for clergy

    • Vicars stressed by the need to be nice
    Churches in Britain are a “toxic cocktail” of bullying and terror, as parish priests struggle to lead congregations dominated by neurotic worshippers who spread havoc with gossip and manipulation.

    The “dark side” of parish life is detailed in a report published by the Church of England, which describes how peace and love are in desperately short supply in the pews of churches this Christmas.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is among the contributors to the report, The Future of the Parish System: Shaping the Church of England for the 21st Century.

    One of the authors, Sara Savage, a psychology and religion researcher at the University of Cambridge, reports how increasing numbers of ministers are going down with a new illness, irritable clergy syndrome.

    Priests are being torn by the pressure of having to be nice all the time to everyone, even when confronted with extremes of nastiness, she says.

    It is worse in the suburbs, where Christians can choose between a variety of “gathered” churches, all offering different styles, from tambourines to High Mass with incense. Here, troublemakers indulge in “church hopping”, moving on to the next church once they have had enough of the one they are in.

    Dr Savage says that these people suffer from neurotic personality disorders bordering on the psychotic.

    But even where a church has none of these in its congregation, other problems arise.

    One difficulty is how to motivate the “settled blancmange” of the softly acquiescent majority, described by Dr Savage as “social loafers”. “Bums on pews are often just that,” she reports.

    Dr Savage says one of the problems is that churches are hierarchical systems, with all the attendant echoes of feudal society. Thus they elicit bad behaviour such as status seeking, fawning, bullying, passivity, blaming others and gossiping.

    Clergy soften the impact of this, while at the same time preserving it, by being “nice”, she says. “The norm of Christian niceness is ubiquitous, despite the portrait the Gospels paint of Jesus as an assertive, sometimes acerbic personality who readily confronted people in order to pursue their spiritual welfare.”

    She agrees that nastiness is unproductive, but argues that niceness “can tie churches up in knots”. Because lay volunteers, such as churchwardens or vergers, are unpaid, they do not expect to be confronted by their “nice” vicar over the way they fulfil their role.

    “Clergy desperately need their lay workers and volunteers, of whom there is a limited supply. Organists know this,” she writes. “I am reliably informed that one of the most stressful features of ministry is the effort to be nice to difficult people.”

    The report comes as the Church of England is in the process of looking at new ways of “doing church”. Two years ago Dr Williams called for an overhaul of the traditional parish system to meet the needs of modern society

    Read Ruth Gledhill's religious affairs blog

  • I don't belieeeeeeve it

    Today I was in the congregation at the church where I 'do' Girls' Brigade as it was 'parade' service and having our own service at 3 p.m. means I can get to both.

    It was the Junior church play.  During the course of the play, the narrator informed us that it was exactly 2005 years, 350 days... (he looked at the clock)... 10 hours and 55 minutes since Jesus was born.  Maybe he knows something I don't, but it brought out the Victor Meldrew in me!

    Wonder what people will make of our wise princesses in Tuesday?!