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  • Questions, Questions!

    Yesterday was my first Church Meeting since moving north.  It was a good natured affair and people seemed to engage well with the material I gave them to help us begin to reflect on the next step of our life together.  As part of this there was an opportunity to ask any questions they wanted about the story to date concerning the redevelopment of our premises (yes, my role in life is a bit of a Joshua-meets-Samson-meets-Nehemiah role it seems!) as well as starting to think about life beyond that.

    So, on Friday the question was 'what does the minister do all day'?

    On Sunday it was 'what do the Deacons (by any other name) do?' (and also one of the other groups)

    I think the follow-up to these must be... 'and what does the congregation do?'!

    Once you move beyond the laughter, they are actually not bad questions to think about.

    Anyway, I have collated more than two dozen questions raised by our folk, am seeking answers from those in the know where I don't yet, and am yet to collate the ideas and thoughts about "what next" which is where the excitement really begins.

  • What Do Ministers Do All Day?

    Apart from posting twaddle on their blogs of course.

    An interesting conversation with one of the toddler mums this morning, who asked me this question but didn't give me the opportunity to answer!

    I did wonder if she twigged that the conversation we were having just might be part of the answer.

    The conversation made me think - another part of what ministers do all day - about how the church, and even Christianity, relates to her and others like her.  This was a very intelligent young woman, her father a theology lecturer, her grandfather and great-grandfather clergymen, and she had been brought up in the church.  She spoke of recognising a void in her life, of her innate spiritual yearning, of her guilt at having left the church, of her struggle with committing to any particular faith, of her anxiety that her child was missing out, of her fear of what church might be like (physically cold, old people, condemnatory attitudes) and a longing to be part of a worshiping community.  All this in five minutes - no wonder I didn't get a word in!

    What do ministers do?  Listen to people like this young woman, come alongside them and give them space to ask the questions, avoid the temptation to offer trivial responses, go away and think and pray about just how the church might respond creatively, authentically, open-handedly.

    There are no quick answers.  Building relationships takes time (and every week I have to explain to someone that no, I'm not one of the mums!) and risks rejection or misunderstanding.  If I can help these parents (we do have one dad) to feel that this is an OK place to be, that actually we do care about them and are interested in them, then maybe more good conversations will follow and one day I will be able to offer useful answers to 'what do you do all day?'!

  • Moving, Learning, Changing

    A busy few weeks coming up one way an another...

    On Monday I begin a module on mentoring with Scottish Baptist College.  This is a pilot of a new undergraduate course and I am interested to see how it works.  A great opportunity to meet people and build a few relationships.  And by the end of the course presumably I will be qualified as a mentor for the third time in my life.  I'm looking forward to it (even if it does mean yet another round of compulsory journal writing).

    At the end of this month, last minute hold ups notwithstanding, I will move to my lovely new manse, joining the ranks of city ministers who live in flats rather than houses, having no massive lawn to mow (bliss!) and the pleasure of being above the street lights so I can see the stars.

    I am also about to switch my 'day off' from Monday to Friday for the duration of Lent.  This is partly because the college course is on Mondays and partly because the least-bad day for the Lent group I'm running was Monday.  I have found it disorientating taking Mondays off after eight years of Fridays, so it will be interesting to see how the old pattern feels now.

    I am looking forward to beginning my 'stewardship' series on Sunday, complete with some multi-media stuff, and even to my first church meeting since moving north.

    Otherwise things poddle along as usual and I will continue to post my ramblings, reflections and rubbish for your delectation and delight.

  • Thanksgiving

    Tomorrow at the bottom of England are two special services at the centre of which are women of God whose paths have crossed mine to various extents.  In Kent a good friend of mine, Julie, who blogs here, is to be inducted to her new pastorate and in Hampshire the thanksgiving service will be held for the life of the young BMS worker Fay Martin who died in Afghanistan.  As it happens, both women were pictured in last week's Baptist Times, and both were met during my time in Leicestershire.

    These two women are (were) very different in their experience and expectations of Christian discipleship and service, yet each had heard and responded to God's call on her life.  Fay's path crossed mine only for a week, whilst Julie has become a firm friend with whom many coffees and sandwiches were shared in "Mrs B's" cafe where we put the church to rights, if only fleetingly.

    This Saturday I will pause for a moment to think of the two gatherings, one full of joy, one a place of bittersweet remembering, and I will give thanks to God for the blessings these two have brought to God's world.

    In these moments of pause, when joy and sorrow are juxtaposed, when beginnings and endings sit side by side, I find I glimpse something of the mystery of life in all its fullness.

    Thank God for those hear the call, and having heard offer their simple 'yes' to walk in the footsteps of Jesus to Calvary and beyond.

  • Getting in on the ACTS

    Yesterday evening I went to my first Churches Together meeting.  Nothing inherently exciting about that.  Let me try again!  Yesterday evening I went with a couple of other folk from my church to the local Churches Together meeting.  So what?

    As an English person that would be an obvious reaction, but in Scotland Baptist involvement in Churches Together is sporadic and, technically at least, unofficial.  A Scottish Roman Catholic nun I knew once described the Scottish ecumenical scene as being like a park bench - if too many people get on, someone gets off.  When the Catholics joined the Baptists left.  Things have moved on since then, and at a grass roots level there is a good smattering of Baptist ecumenical involvement but so far the BUS has not rejoined ACTS.

    So, we met in one of the local C of S churches and I discovered how things work around here.

    The one key thing that we agreed on - after having to go to a show of hands at one point! - was to hold hustings for the upcoming General Election/Westminster Election (depending which sub-British nationality you claim to be!).  It seemed a very long discussion, but in the end we opted for a Sunday evening hustings and an eve of election prayer gathering.  Some were uneasy with a Sunday hustings, and asked what would become of the evening services (cancel them just this once....?) and others were unclear why we'd want to hold a prayer meeting on the eve of the election, but in the end we got there.  And I think that what we have ended up choosing is a good model.

    By holding the hustings on a Sunday evening and the prayer meeting on a week night we subvert everyone's expectations - it isn't the 'obvious' way round.

    By advertising the events as Churches Together (by any other name) it sends a clear signal that we are on the same side in thinking this is an important public topic.

    By holding the hustings in the premises of one tradition and the prayer meeting in that of another we show that this is not the initiative of any one Christian tradition or any one political opinion.

    There seems to me something instinctively good that there is both a hustings and a prayer gathering.  The former allows absolutely anyone to ask the various candidates their questions and for those of faith to be informed in their thinking and praying about their electoral choices.  The latter allows absolutely anyone to pause on the night before the vote and consciously to bring to God the needs of the nation (i.e. UK in this case) and the work of parliament as well as their voting decisions.  The reality is that we will all then go away and vote in different ways and worship in different traditions. At least we will remain united by a common belief that our believing and our behaving are inter-related and in that in some way our praying makes a difference.

    To be in on the ACTS seems far more sensible than watching from the sidelines - but then as a thoroughbred-mongrel Christian I would say that wouldn't I?!