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  • Thou shalt not covet...

    Now and then I talk to friends who are part of Team Ministries in large churches and I hear the sound of a creaking and groaning commandment in grave danger of snapping as grass on the other side of the fence appears so incredibly lush.  I am not sufficiently green (as in naive) to think that all is roses in large churches or team ministries, but I do find I get green (as in envious) quite easily when I compare and contrast.  The nice, holy, 'I'm where God wants me' answer doesn't always work.

    If I'm totally honest, I miss the camraderie of office life - the banter between colleagues, the pleasure of watching new staff grow and develop, the people to bounce ideas around with, and the 'critical friendships' with peers.  It ought, I am sure, to be possible to see these things in church life, whether you are a sole minister or part of a team, but the reality seems somewhat different.  I assume - though it may not be true - that in minstry teams there is a greater sense of being in this together and working for a common aim. 

    I'm not daft enough to think that those in ministry teams do less work than I do because they 'only' have to do the sermon, and maybe 'only' once or twice a month, but I do find myself envying the time they seem to have to prepare - though at least nowadays I only preach once a Sunday most weeks.  Someone told me they spent 10 hours per sermon - I don't even get that per service... pity those poor Methodists and Anglcians who have to race around three, four or however many churches every week...

    I also know that I have freedoms that have to be let go as part of a team - at least I don't have to worry which songs will be chosen, or how many 'really justs' will litter the prayers of approach let alone the structure of the service.  I know it is a privlege to choose which parts of scripture we will explore and I value the opportunity to work with a theme over several weeks rather than the kind of 'hit and run' approach that can arise if you only get one out of a set.

    Whilst I'm being honest, it always grates when people perceive bigger churches as a 'step up' from small ones, (well done good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little church so here is your reward of a bigger one) and that the 'goal' is to be team leader in a massive church.  It grates a bit that our system means that big churches with lots of people can have two, three or more ministers, sometimes paying them obscene sums of money, while small churches may not have anyone, or if they do it's a struggle for all concerned.  Tricky not to envy the minister in the big church sometimes... 

    This has the danger of turning into a self-obsessed griping session, which is neither healthy nor constructive.  I guess the truth is that if we believe that God does call some people to large churches or teams and others to small churches and solo ministry, we should see them as equally valuable, if different.  One of the things that saddens me about Baptist churches is that the richer churches tend to have more staff and/or pay them more money while the poorer churches sometimes don't have any.  If instead of choosing to pay more to 'our person' or having more people for ourselves we all paid into Home Mission maybe there would be a few less emerald coloured, commandment breaking small church ministers...

    Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's church, not his worship group, nor her youth specialist, neither the four bedroomed manse with a shower nor the idyllic views over open countryside, nor anything, not anyone that is thy neighbour's...

  • Dissertation Humour

    (Courtesy of Zoe, CTF ...) 

    One sunny day, a rabbit came out of her hole in the ground to enjoy the fine weather. The day was so nice that she became careless and a fox snuck up behind her and caught her.

    "I am going to eat you for lunch!" said the fox. "Wait!" replied the rabbit," You should at least wait a few days." 

     "Oh yeah? Why should I wait?"

    "Well, I am just finishing my dissertation on 'The Superiority of Rabbits over Foxes and Wolves.'"

    "Are you crazy? I should eat you right now! Everyone knows that a fox will always win over a rabbit."

    "Not according to my research. If you like, you can come into my hole and read it for yourself. If you are not convinced, you can go ahead and eat me for lunch."

    "You really are crazy!" said the fox, but since the fox was curious and had nothing to lose, it went into the hole with the rabbit.

    The fox never came out.

    A few days later, the rabbit was again taking a break from writing when a wolf came out of the bushes and was ready to set upon her.

    "Wait!" yelled the rabbit," You can't eat me right now."

    "And why might that be, my furry appetizer?" said the wolf.

    "I am almost finished with my dissertation on 'The Superiority of Rabbits over Foxes and Wolves.'"

    The wolf laughed so hard he almost let go of the rabbit. "Maybe I shouldn't eat you--you really are sick in the head! You might have something contagious."

    "Come and read it for yourself, you can eat me afterwards if you disagree with my conclusions."

    So the wolf went down into the rabbit's hole...and never came out.

    The rabbit finished her dissertation and was out celebrating in the local lettuce patch.

    Another rabbit came along and asked, "What's up? You seem very happy."

    "Yup, I just finished my dissertation."

    "Congratulations! What's it about?"

    "'The Superiority of Rabbits over Foxes and Wolves.'"

    "No way! That can't be right."

    "Oh, but it is. Come and read it for yourself."

    So the two rabbits went down into the rabbit hole. As they entered, the friend saw the typical graduate abode. A computer with the controversial work was in one corner surrounded by discarded papers. And on one side of the room there was a pile of fox bones, while on the other side there was a pile of wolf bones. And in the center, there was a large, well-fed lion.

    The moral of the story:

    The title of your dissertation doesn't matter. The subject doesn't matter. The research doesn't matter. All that matters is who your superviser is.

  • Monsoon Season Studies in Berkshire

    Strange driving home on a day the country is in turmoil following more flooding, to find the roads dry and, mostly, clear between Reading and Leicestershire.

    It was a good couple of days in which my worst fears evaporated fairly quickly and. monsoons aside, I had a good time.

    One of the things that really struck me is the relationship between narrative (story, especially 'my story' or 'our story') and theology, and the need for some good basic systematic or dogmatic theology alongside the 'practical' or 'contextual' stuff.  Our keynote speaker David Lyall was skilled in showing how the two speak to each other in a creative manner and are not, as some seem to think, diametrically opposed.

    During one of the early plenary sessions I shared that I was keenly aware of the paucity of my theological undertsanding, not having studied systematics.  Outside of the session another person said she was relieved when I'd shared that because she hadn't either, and had thought she was alone (ironically, in my view she is one of the more able theologians on the course).  I guess what did amuse me mildy was that my own ignorance was at least conscious - and I was secretly a little smug when I had to explain perichoresis to a systematitian!!

    My own view is that all good theology is, ultimately practical, and that all theology, good, bad or indifferent, is contextual.  One of the tutors astutely recognised that in sharing our case studies we were far better at description and being nice to each other than we were at identifying and discussing theological issues.  I think that this, in a nutshell, is why so many people dismiss practical theology - it can all too easily drift into some kind of mutual navel gazing exercise which is possibly cathartic or even therapeutic but not even vaguely theolgocial - unless one subscribes to the view that everything is theology.

    I think I left the event feeling that, actually, I'm a reasonably competent practical theologian, and that one of my strengths is that I know my weaknesses.  I could, if I had the time/inclination, pick up either McGrath's or Grenz's summary theologies, which are on my book shelf and I periodically glance through, and really read them, but maybe I have, by other means (an engineering degree and a systematic brain?!) acquired many of the skills if not the detailed knowledge they would give me.

    It was good to catch up with people from the two centres, but also quite challenging to see the gulf that is already apparent in both skills and knowledge.  There are some really bright (in every sense of the word) people with whom it is a privlege to share; there are also others who it feels are already out of their depth and I feel for them as the theological water gets deeper (rain or no rain).

    As we left we were told we were the 'big siblings' who were about to get baby triplets in the autumn (new Manchester intake of up to 15).  It will be intriguing to see what the new session brings and how the course develops.

  • Scripture Meme

    I am honoured - I have been tagged along with the great and the good to share a scripture which 'haunts me', which I (try to) inhabit.  It has to be James 2:26b 'faith without deeds is dead.'  I loved this verse when I first heard it many years ago, I love it still, and it challenges me always.

    As I studied a bit of theology, I found out that James was one of the 'dodgey bits' that nearly didn't get canonised, that people think, as well as they can think about any Biblical author, it "might well have been Jesus' little brother" who wrote it - might not have been, but it might.

    The text is not salvation by works, but something more subtle - faith is manifest by what it does.  It is incarnated or inhabited or just plain lived!

    My ordination service drew on two passages that for me exposit something of what James is saying (even if they were perhaps written down later) - Matthew 25:31-36 (sheep and goats) and Matthew 28: 16-20 (the Great Commission) which give the 'both/and' of 'mission in many modes.'  My call to ministry came from 2 Timothy 4: 1 - 5 - showing God's warped sense of fun that part of one of the allegedly more misogynous epistles was the call to a woman minister, but it too fits with what God says to me in James 2: 26b - 'Catriona if you have faith, then do it' (Which, by the way, reminds me of a memory verse from a GB parade service when I was about 14 'faithful is he who also will do it'.  I have long ago forgotten chapter and verse but the words came back as I typed).  Oh, and I love the bit about people wanting to hear things that 'tickle their ears' (thank you to those who slogged to teach me Greek) rather than what God actually wants them to say - this challenge to a prophetic edge also haunts me.

    On the 'Fresh Expressions' DVD is a minister (Methodist I think) who says that when his number is up and he stands before God, he wants to be able to say 'I tried' - this for me is the practical outworking of 'Faith without deeds is dead.'  I get loads of things wrong, I struggle and sometimes have to say 'I believe, Lord help my unbelief,' but I try.

    Faith without deeds is dead - a truth and a challenge.  I love it, it scares me, but I try to live it.

    Most of the best people to tag have already been tagged, so I can't tag them but I'd love to know the responses from fellow Baptist bloggers Kez Lama, Andy Amoss, URC's Craig and K8, and "anyone else who knows me."  (Sorry Craig I don't seen to have a working link for you)

  • SCVK

    In this role you deal with a lot of pain - other people's and your own.  Sometimes the former causes the latter; sometimes it just goes with the territory.  A while back a friend (not one who reads this, to my knowledge) off-loaded a lot of stuff and thanked me for being a 'sponge' - but not like 'Bob' - and the expression "Sponge Cat Vicar Knickers" emerged spontaneously, abbreviated SCVK.  Well, maybe.  But even sponges need to wrung out now and then, and we all feel wrung out from time to time.

    Trawling round blogs this week, I have seen a lot of pain - some posts written then pulled because the honesty is perhaps too raw to share with the world, some people bemused or confused by injustices on their doorsteps.  I have also worried lest comments I've left have caused pain for others when their posts vanished or when rereading what I'd written I cringed (so if my words have hurt you, I am truly sorry).

    As well as that real life and emails have shown me that I am in contact with lots of hurting people and people who are hurting others, sometimes wilfully.  Researching the Elijah sermon was helpful for me.

    On my latest trawl I came across this post by internet monk, Psalm 13: 1- 2, which seems to me to say what a lot of us feel, at least sometimes...


    alone.jpgHow long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

    How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

    Psalm 13:1-2

    I miss you, God.

    It’s like you’re not around.

    I see your world. I’m with your people. I’m surrounded by books about you. I read about you and talk about you. I teach others about you.

    But I miss you.

    I believe you’re there. I believe the Bible. I believe in Jesus. I don’t doubt your existence at all.

    I miss you.

    You. Not your people, or songs about you or books about you. I miss you.

    I don’t miss all the theology in the books, the blogs and the lectures. I don’t miss the points of all the sermons. Or the answers to questions.

    I have all those. Far more than I need, to be honest. But when David says, “Why are you hiding from me?” I know exactly what he is talking about.

    I’m missing you, God.

    All of the activities that go on where you are talked about don’t bring you to me. Nothing that’s said or done in church fills this empty place.

    When I pray, I feel like I’m talking, and that’s all. I don’t feel like I’m your child and you are there delighting in me. I feel you are far away.

    It’s like you moved on and didn’t leave your address. It’s like we lived in the same house, but you’ve moved out without telling me where you went.

    I cried out to you last night. Over and over. I want you to hear me. I don’t need to get your attention. I believe you’re close by. But I can’t see, sense or feel you. I feel alone. Like I am talking to myself.

    I am starting to resent those who know you are close to them. Why am I different?

    When I knew less, when I was considered young and ignorant, I felt you close to me. Then I grew up, and now I’m in the middle of life. It feels like I have lost you along the way. Somewhere in the crowd I let go of your hand, and now I’m alone. I’m calling out, but there is no answer.

    There are people who will ridicule me for saying I want you. They will say I’m too interested in emotion. I don’t care what they say. This isn’t about my theology. My theology is as good as I can make it by all my efforts at study. No, this is about being able to stop and say “God is close to me. God delights in me. God is my friend, my father, my ever-present Abba.”

    Where did you go? Why did you go away? Did my sins make you go away? Are you teaching me something? Are you taking away your presence so I will walk on, by faith, without you? Is this the “trough” C.S. Lewis wrote about? Will there ever be an explanation?

    I’m weary of explanations and answers. I’m worn out with principles and illustrations. I’ve heard talking for what seems like an eternity and it doesn’t bring you closer to me.

    When this happens, I hear voices telling me I shouldn’t need to feel you, and I shouldn’t even want to feel you. They will say I’m not reading and believing the verses. They will tell me I’m not trusting.

    I may not be trusting you as I should. It’s harder and harder to trust you in this loneliness. It’s hard to turn away from this emptiness and tell myself you are real. I believe all of the right things in my mind, but my heart is aching to have you close to me again.

    You’ve seen my tears. I don’t suppose they impress you. Maybe they are selfish, or sinful. I just don’t know anymore. Those tears are my way of saying I want you again. I want you in the way I experienced you before anyone said “He’s smart” or “He knows about God.”

    I miss you so much.

    Please come back to me. Please tell me what to do. Please.


    It is a perverse kind of privilege to be SCVK and I hope these stolen words offer some comfort/encouragement/reassurance to those who this week have need of it.