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- Page 6

  • More Technological Tales!

    Yesterday we used the new BUGB DVD in the service.  Technology triumphed once again in causing confusion.

    Using Media Player we had no problem showing the image on three screens simultaneously (pace all those who say you can't, maybe it depends on versions and how the DVD is set up?) but no sound because the laptop had its sound muted and its owner (who hadn't arrived in time to check it out first) didn't know how to unmute it.  Hey ho.  Ever tried to lip synch with Jonathan Edwards or John Bayes?!!!  I'm glad my people are accommodating.

  • Influences?

    In a few weeks I have to attend a Summer School as part of my University course.  Just in case getting the essays tidy and submitted on time wasn't enough, we've now been sent two additional tasks, for the summer school, with the same deadline.  One is to write a reflection on professional experience - not a good thing to say to a recently ex-NAM who has just spent three years doing this every week... mutter, mutter, mutter.  The other is: -

    Try to identify  the three or four factors which have most shaped your theological understanding. These may be people met , books read, life events, courses attended etc. etc


    If didn't have 'the' and 'most' it would be an easy task, but then maybe that's the point, they want me to be discerning.  So, with my virtual paper before me, I'll have a think, because it is a good question to address.


    The first book that comes to mind is David Bosch Transfroming Mission which was the first 'real' theology book (as distinct from Kingsway or IVP type stuff) I recall.  It was a slog, but well worth it, did transform my thinking about mission and has undoubtedly infleunce the shape of my ministry.

    Paul Fiddes Participating in God gave me an understanding of the Trinity, with perichoresis as 'dance' which I have devloped in my own slightly nutty way so that it combines a divine 'reel of three' with a 'missional grand chain.'

    Miroslav's Volf's Exclusion and Embrace and L Gregory Jones Embodying Forgiveness made me think.  Adele Rienhartz Befriending the Beloved Disciple affirmed me in my struggles with anti-Semitism and the fourth gospel, especially part of John 8 and all of John 19, but offered me a constructive way forward.  More recently, Brian McLaren's New Kind of Christian trilogy has been significant, not in shaping but in affirming, my understanding.  I love Barth, but only in English and in small chunks.  Kung's The Church was significant as was Brian Wren's What Language Shall I Borrow - in fact I could go on for ages listing books.

    Events and Experiences

    I think the most significant experience in shaping my theology was a year spent working with an RC church.  It caused me to think very hard about communion, and in particular who is permitted to receive it.  The upshot is that I cannot refuse to give communion to anyone who responds to the invitation (and my wording of invitation is pretty inclusive!) no matter who they are or what is going on in their lives.  The experience affirmed my strong ordinance theology and I wince when people say to me 'so that's the only reason you don't see it as a sacrament' - I want to yell (it makes me cross!) 'you try a year of being excluded from communion three times a Sunday and see how it feels!'  I have studied theologies of 'sacrament' in depth and fully understand the metaphorical 'body of Christ' 'blood of Christ' language, but the experience has been so significant that it has affected my practice ever since.

    Funerals offer ministers the equivalent of fishermen's tales - we all have horror stories to tell, and yes, we probably do embelish them.  Even so, funerals make me think about theological issues - from doctrines of what the RC call 'the four last things' (death, judgement, heaven and hell) to the purpose of the funeral (who is it for, what does it do).  As a minister who will 'bury anybody because everybody deserves a decent funeral' (which is a theolgocial statement in its own right) I have to trust in a God of mercy and compassion, and often find myself hoping that God's a universalist even if I can't quite get there!


    Obviously (I assume it is obvious?) a degree in theology has shaped my thinking.  I have had to challenge many of my ideas and to rediscover others I had long ago forgotten.  It was fantastic to have the opportunity to think so hard and to take risks knowing that I was blessed with tutors who would catch me if I fell (thank you all).  I suspect I mostly stayed well clear of the 'edge' cos I'm not a natural risk taker but once or twice it felt perilously close to it all falling apart.

    One course which was signifcant was with the Industrial Mission of South Yorkshire, where I honed my understanding of the pastoral cycle and began to develop it myself.  As we reflected on questions of short term projects, two things struck me and have stayed with me.  Firstly, the historical Jesus had a public ministry estimated at around 3 years.  That's not very long - but look at the impact it had, and continues to have, even on people who don't recognise his divinity.  Secondly, Moses and the Israelite entered the wilderness not knowing they'd be there for '40years' (literal or figurative) but it turned out to be the length of time they needed to be ready for the next phase in the story.  We don't always have a fixed end date for things and we can't see the future, but our wilderness experiences take the time they need for us to do/become what we need.


    Who should I pick?  Those who taught me - in Sunday School or in College?  Those who supported me in my questions, struggles, successes and moments of understanding?  Well, yes, but who has stood out?

    I think 'Auntie Biddy' as we all knew her, someone who was always 'old' but who incarnated faith and showed me how to value everyone.  Auntie Biddy was always 'ready to meet my maker' and quietly supported many of us practically and prayerfully.  She once said to my little sister 'I hope Catriona doesn't end up an old maid like me.'  Auntie Bid was no old maid, she was a star: if I can be half the woman she was, I'll be happy.

    Then Jean, a loyal friend who lives hospitality.  A few people who read this know her.  She can conjure up a feast for 5000 from leftovers and her door is always open.  I'd like to be half the hostess she is.  She also understands my explanations of my research which makes me feel good!!

    'My girls' - that's GB leader speak for the many girls I've worked with in more than quarter of a century.  We get a bit possessive of them because we love them.  But they have a wonderful capacity to challenge and surprise me.  I remember one (aged 5) in 1981 who said to me one day 'God's everywhere isn't he.'  I recall only months ago the response of our girls here to praying for people in tricky situations that we should ask God to 'help them cope and stay strong.'  I love teaching my girls to 'fly' - nothing pleases me more than seeing a five year old skip for the first time, or the times we've been roller skating and a hesitant little girl takes my hand before suddenly discovering she can skate and whizzing off leaving me to plod round!  Some of my girls have achieved things I'll never achieve, and in which I take delight, but above all they have taught me much and shaped my theology on the way.

    The Most Significant?

    That is tricky.

    Probably Bosch on mission.  Undoubtedly the RC experience.  And maybe GB (which includes Auntie Biddy) as people, if only because this was really what drew me into the church long term and without which the rest might not have happened...

  • Disproportionate Delight!

    I have finally got a completed draft of my essay and it is only 100 words over the limit.  I am way too glad about this!!  I am fairly confident I can get rid of 100 words with a bit of sentence restructuring.  Whether it's a good enough essay remains to be seen but I am happy with my last section which effectively says it is!!!  So, with the editting and tidying up done I can hit the deadline, hurrah!

    Now I need to buy more double ended candles and midnight oil ready for next year.

  • Hymn Ignorance 2 - The Questions

    "We don't know any of these hymns" ... please choose some we do know.

    In the dim and distant past when I played piano (and sometimes even organ sans pedals) for small churches with no other musicians I was often given the hymns literally five minutes before the service.  Whether I or we knew them did not matter, my task was to get through them the best I could.  Latterly, I had a minister who'd arrive having chosen nothing and say 'I think we'll have open worship today' - i.e. the congregation call out songs and you play them.  I would not wish to return to those days, I think it is common courtesy to let churhces and musicians know at least a few days in advance what the hymns/songs will be.  I am not anti 'open worship' but it is nice to know more than five minutes ahead that it's coming!

    For all that, there was an acceptance that if you invited a speaker he or she was free to choose their own hymns and our task was to sing them (I got quite adept at changing tunes).  There was no way we'd have told the visitor to choose another set of hymns - that would have been utterly rude.  I think it still is.

    Manners aside, the need to sing things we know speaks to me of making church comfortable for us - a place where we know what to expect and can have a nice time.  Not knowing any of the hymns puts us in the place of the person entering church for the first time or who does not speak our language - we find oursleves excluded, uncomfortbale, not knowing what to do.  I think it is good for us to experience this once in a while as it keeps us alert to the foreigness of church.

    Baptists are good at criticising more liturgical traditions for their 'vain repetitions' of set prayers, and can even be wary of the Lord's Prayer and 'The Grace' becoming little more than formulas.  Yet in some churches a repertoire of half a dozen songs each sung 37.5 times is not questioned - can these too become vain repetitions?  I think they can.

    What I have learned from this latest experience of hymn choosing is that the good people of Dibley are to be applauded for their willingness to sing whatever I throw at them.  My pianists both know that they are free to alter tunes, and the couple of times a year that members choose all the hymns gives them the chance to get their own back!  We fairly regularly learn hymns/songs that are new to all of us and even sing in French, Latin, Spanish and Xhosa on occasion.  We might be seen as stuck in the dark ages, but in no way are we hymn ignorant!

  • Hymn Ignorance?

    A week tomorrow I will preach at D+6, whose 'senior pastor' is on sabbatical.  It is apparently a church where 'hymn wars' are quite common and a truce operates most of the time so long as the choosing of hymns/songs is shared between the parties.  However, during this period it has been agreed that visiting preachers will select all the hymns/songs.  I dutifully sent off my order of service, with a mix of hymns and songs, old and new, naff and meaningful, and even some alternatives - then they rang me up and said 'we don't know any of these' - i.e. please choose another set.

    This raises some questions for me - and I'll post on them later - but I am surprised that they don't know any of the following: -

    •  The King is Among Us
    •  I’m special, because God has loved me
    •  Show me, dear Lord, how you see me
    •  Jesus take me as I am
    • He gave me eyes so I could see
    • Whether you’re one or whether you’re two
    • Take this moment, sign and space
    • I’ll go in the strength of the Lord

    So, nice kind readers, please don't comment on their naffness (I know which are really bad) because they do all, in some way, connect to the theme of the service.  I know I probably have a wider repertoire of hymns/songs than many people because of my diverse church experience, but I kind of hope that most people regularly in churches would know at least some of them.

    Now I need a set of songs that relate to my theme, 'God made me to be me,' and are known to these good people.  Maybe I should dig out 'If I were a butterfly...' Hmmm.