Monday, 12 October 2009

Book Review - The Shack by William P. Young

Have you ever asked or been asked the question “where is God when the worst things happen?” If so, I highly recommend reading The Shack, it has a lot to say about life, God, the Trinity and religion. It made me laugh, smile, cry, sob, gasp and ponder; both for the characters and for my own self. So what is it all about….

The story revolves around Mack, who has been living in the shadow of his Great Sadness since an event at “the shack” four years previously. And then he receives a note from God (Papa) who invites him to return to the same shack for a weekend. Mack has no idea what to expect, and he gets the unexpected through his experience with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (Sarayu) in human forms.

Mack’s weekend at the shack is organised to help him deal with his Great Sadness and its pain and anger. Through conversations with each member of the Trinity and by seeing their relationship with each other; Macks understanding of God is changed. His faith is unwound and then rebuilt through a new relationship with God. He leaves the cabin a changed man.

A word of warning though; this is no theological textbook. It criticises aspects of religion, it rarely mentions the Bible and it disapproves of much Christian doctrine. For these reasons it has received mixed reviews including being charged with heresy. If pushed I would tend more towards the proclamations that it is our generations’ Pilgrim’s Progress. It gives much to ponder, what can be more important than that?

I recommend it whole heartedly as a book which refused to be put down, which spoke straight to me heart and has given me much to think and pray about. I would love to chat with anyone who has read it, or wants to; I will put a copy in the church library.

Being an LLM Portfolio

And so I felt energised and, determined not to loose my enthusiasm, I started work on my second portfolio. This one could have been produced first since I had received back the marked assignments first, but I was so disappointed with the marks I had received that I had put the whole competency to the back of my mind. It was only when I started thinking about my ministry with my vicar that I realised marked assignments are just that, they are theory; and the competency is about practice and calling. So I set about looking at what was needed to produce the portfolio and was pleasantly surprised to realise it was less onerous than I had imagined.

note - read all this is context - I have not yet received my mark so it might need some additional work!

The course for this competency Ministry in the Church – Being a Licensed Lay Minister was a one day event. It was divided into two elements; the theology of ministry and especially lay ministry; and support and supervision for ministry. We were expected to then write two assignments, one on each segment of the course.

for the theology of ministry I wrote a presentation for a church group on "what is a reader/llm today" which included the presentation itself, speakers notes and a paper with backup information and referencing. the writing of this presentation brought to me a real understanding of what it means to be a lay minister and what the rules and regulations are; it also developed my ability to be able to explain it to others - also helpful.

the support and supervision assignment I chose was an essay on evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the field of support and supervision which I minister; both in terms of that I receive and that I provide to others. Having read the advised documents I felt that they were too narrow and overly prescribed; I therefore brought in my experience of counselling supervision and also the way that volunteers are supervised. I was pleased with the essay but it apparently was not what was expected, hence my disappointment with my grading. I have thought about the issue much in the weeks since and decided that to provide strength to my portfolio I would include a document of reflection on my essay, its mark and the advised texts for inclusion. I am sure this is a challenge to the system, but it is thorough and true and surely that is what matters.

Other information I have provided are documents on my ministry, my role within the ministerial team and my experience of supervision and review sessions. And finally there are the introduction, conclusion and another annotated bibliogrpahy.

as I said, my mentor is currently marking this portfolio so I wait to hear if there is anything I need to add or change; but I think it provides what is needed. and then it will go to moderation in november along with the preaching one.

Preaching Portfolio

Swine flu has struck me down so I'm using the enforced period of rest to.... not rest so much as sit on the sofa and update my blog! close enough to rest, right?!

And the first thing I'm going to share is my experience of pulling together my first portfolio - preaching.

I have blogged about the preaching course I went on previously ( ). Following the course I then wrote two essays; the first entitled One picture is worth a thousand words. How can we make good use of all of the senses of our congregation to enable understanding and retention of our message? this looked at how a preacher needs to be able to connect with as many people as possible with the one sermon. I concluded that by thinking about what the congregation needs, as individuals and as a group, the preacher can look at the message and work to make it accessible, understandable, interesting, engaging and memorable.

The second essay was: Does preaching still have a role to play in communicating the Gospel in a multi-media society? This is something I feel passionately about and I looked at the society which the church currently exists in, the role of the sermon and the way preaching is part of Christian life, relating preaching to Jesus’ own life and his use of stories about the lives of the people he met. I reviewed the possibilities for new forms of preaching and personal growth during and after sermons; as well as new forms of church. However I concluded that what matters most is the human connection, in whatever form.

The essays were well received by the tutor, which of course matters; but what is more important is that I gained a lot from writing them and thinking about the issues involved.

So that was the marked assignment section of the portfolio completed; but that is just part of the requirement. In addition there were at five sermons with feedback and analysis to be included, an introduction and conclusion, an annotated bibliography and some supporting information to show my completion of the competency - a document on my theology of preaching and one on the church calendar and use of the lectionary.

The two pieces of work which took the most time were the annotated bibliography (a list of all the texts read around the competency with a 100-200 word summary of each) and the theology of preaching. the latter was extremely involved since I have not yet taken the theological reflection course, but with some guidance from my mentor and some good reading material I managed to capture my theology in words on paper.

and the sermons. I included three from the family communion service to show progression of learning and development of style. I then included one from the all-age monthly service and one from the adult midweek communion service; showing breadth of experience and adaptability of style. Each one was provided with the feedback, analysis and a reflection on my learning.

the portfolio ended up much larger than I expected, but then the sermons themselves and all their supporting information took up the majority of it. I delivered it to my mentor, rather than trusting it to the postal system, and he has subsequently delivered it to church house for moderation next month. I await to see the grade I receive but no matter what it feels fantastic to have got one portfolio completed.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

LLM Conference

Two weeks have passed, sorry for the delay, since the Oxford Diocese LLM (Lay Minister) conference and I am ready to blog, so here goes.

Before I head into the actual formal bits of the conference I need to share my highlight and that was the people. To meet so many lay ministers and those in training was fantastic. I compared notes about portfolios and callings and churches and balancing ministry with life. I have even got a buddy for my training, she has offered to just be there through the ups and the downs of the production of portfolios. Thanks Elizabeth!

The theme of the conference was preaching "how do they hear" and there were speeches, workshops and seminars on the various aspects of preaching. On top of that there were services of various formats and styles throughout the weekend. It was busy, really busy, and I could have done with just half an hour at some point to reflect and absorb, but that is the only negative I have of the whole weekend.

We met on Friday afternoon and started with a service before dinner and then the first speaker Rev'd Stephen wright "Cutting out the interference: letting the voice of scripture be heard today". He started by highlighting that the way we as preachers help people hear scripture can be hindered by all sorts of interference from the simple misunderstanding of words in daily life, to the affect of historical context, to the delivery we use which can confuse the scriptural message. Stephen's summarised points:
- the important of attempting to recover some of the biblical meanings and resonances of words by explaining the scripture accurately
- it is good to counter our own ways of explaining by listening more carefully to the scripture itself and use it's tones and performance to come into our sermons
- we need to inhabit the meanings of the words as written and perform it for the audience of today by bringing if to life
- we are asked to enhabit and enact the scripture so congregations can be moved and transformed by words crisply and clearly

Saturday started with worship before moving into seminars and workshops. I chose "preaching in a sermon series" by Rev Philip Tovey for my first seminar. We started by comparing how our churches programme their preaching, to a one we follow the lectionary; before looking at how we could produce a series of sermons on a subject of interest or on a biblical book. It was fascinating to think about this possibility and is something I hope we might be able to use.

The second workshop I attended was "storytelling". I apologise profusely for forgetting who presented it, but suffice to say he was the most amazing storyteller. The workshop started with him telling the parable of the good samaritan from Luke 10. He then asked us to go into pairs and tell the story to each other purely from memory. It was surprisingly difficult to get started but the interesting point was that once we got into the zone the story just flowed. I have been interested in story telling since I saw Bob Hartman speak last year, this workshop has peaked my interest further still and I intend to try and use it in the future.

After lunch it was free time for some, but for those of us in training it was a meeting about our training, how we feel about it and how we would feel about possible changes for the future. As a new trainee I appreciated hearing from others and voicing my experience, but it was clear from those who are at the end of their training that this was a very new and extremely welcome experience.

It was then time for the third workshop of the day and I went for "communicating to those without a church background" by Sheila Lloyd. We started by thinking about what we know about church, what those who have been coming to church for some time know and what those 'out there' know. we decided that it was probably along the lines of:
Us: 90%
few years in church: 65%
Occassional visitor: 35%
concluding that if visitors don't know things about church then they might be less inclined to come along to church; they might in fact be ashamed of what they don't know. We need to be aware of this in our preaching. We also looked at how a persons age affects their knowledge. Fifty years ago most people would have a biblical knowledge of some overview and social morality was common to Christian. This commonality changes for those under 40 who have not had the same backgrounds as previously.

How can we make it more accessible?
- set the scene
- talk about mountains and geography
- introduce the characters
- explain what transfiguration is and include examples eg butterfly
- catch peoples attention so they are interested to keep listening
- retell the story in normal language - perhaps with story telling
- use pictorial aids
- make sure it's not too long
- reduce the scope of the sermon - clarify the message
- relate the story to real life - in context
- encourage reflection on the feelings of the people in the story
- ensure we provide some challenge so that the more knowledgable are fed and extended - leave them with questions to take away

We have to make sure we have caught peoples interest and that there is opportunity for them to ask questions of people within the church. If we touch peoples' hearts then we are doing our job.

It was then dinner time before our evening speaker; Margaret Withers who spoke on "hearing in their own language - communicating with all age congregations". she started by asking what makes services easy to access; we concluded that the following elements increase accessibility:
- Familiar structure
- Less words and more visual impact
- Easy songs to sing
- Not much to learn

She then went into some details about how we can make workship more accessible, interesting and useful.
- It's not about adding gimics to a dull service but about providing ways for the congregation to participate more usefully.
- The way lituurgy is led and presented is about deepening the experience of worshipping god, the delivery can make it dull or exciting.
- Using settings in different layouts can refresh and invigorate a service.
- Music is often the main aspect of a service that people are affected by. Therefore the length, type, mood, subject and speed of the chosen music are important.
- Drama works for many old and new testament stories. Drama bibles are great. It is powerful to have someone mime whilst the gospel is read.
- Often the dramatic part can replace a sermon or even the whole service (eg the passion on good Friday). Actions can speak louder than words but you need to keep it simple.
- Posture and movement have meanings and impacts - don't disregard them.
- The church itself and all it's furniture are the most amazing signs and symbols. Fonts, crosses, banners, stained glass. Even 100 years ago most people couldn't read and therefore the culture was to learn through pictures and muiral. We then focussed on words. But now we as a society is back to focus on short texts and animations - we need to use the same.
- Visual images last longer.
- The most evocative sense is smell.
- Every service is all age because every person is at a different stage in their spiritual journey and life. Make sure you challenge the regular and mature congregation members in every service, do not just drop to the lowest common denominator. We should challenge not entertain. We should ensure that we give the full Christian message at every service.

Saturday night concluded with an Iona service, perfect!

Sunday morning started with breakfast before our Eucharist service. The reading for the day was on Joseph which a number of us read out in a dramatic style. There was then a sermon on the importance of preaching and how we can and should reach outside the church in our ministry. We then broke into our area groups for a bible study before lunch to complete the weekend.

I left for home physically exhausted but spiritually buoyed. I was apprehensive about what the weekend would be like but am now determined to attend all future conferences, next years' weekend is in my diary already.

Oh and finally, we are going to try and call ourselves Lay Ministers from now, it should be more accessible than LLM.

Power of Prayer

This is a post out of sequence and a little bit off subject but I feel it's important to share it.

Rachel has been really ill this week with asthma, she has had a couple of episodes with blue lips and we had to call the doctor out in the middle of the night on Tuesday night because she couldn't catch her breath properly. The doctors were great, they gave me advice on upping her ventolin inhaler and how much paracetomol I could give her, I can't fault them. But this didn't do anything for her fear, and I know from my own asthma that if you can stay calm then the attacks are much easier to manage.

So I prayed. I prayed whilst I held her, I prayed whilst she slept, I prayed with her when she was awake. And then she asked me if we could go to church and have Neil pray for her. So we went to the Wednesday morning Eucharist and afterwards Neil prayed with her. During the service she was wheezing and just curled up with me, but within 5 minutes of laying on of hands she was wondering around and asking to eat cake (not even chocolate had tempted her for 3 days before this).

I leave it to you to draw conclusions, but it is all too much of a coincidence for me. I have never myself experienced the immediate effects of prayer, but for Rachel something happened.


Monday, 7 September 2009

Prayer walk and prayer workshop

Yesterday was our long awaited for prayer walk day. One of the amazing ladies at church had this idea many, many months ago and through planning meetings and schedules and practice walks and sign up sheets it actually came together.

The day started with an all-age family communion and a fantastic sermon from NVN (new vicar neil) on prayer including making paper aeroplanes and throwing them across the church. The service was followed by parish lunch – ploughman style and fruit. Then the walk process began with prayers. We all wore orange, red, yellow and pink (Pentecost style). The walkers headed out on their 6 mile walk around the parish. I took the kids and anyone else who couldn’t walk into the church for a prayer workshop activity.

The organising committee had established 8 prayer stations along the walking route, each one providing a different place to pray and a different issue for focus. So that those who could not walk could be a part of the prayer day we arranged that the walkers would ring me at each station so we could share the prayers together.

I also wanted to make sure that those who couldn’t walk could have a positive experience and so we made posters about the subjects for prayer as our way of thinking about our parish and its issues:
- transport
- shops and businesses
- sports
- police
- medical community
- schools
- countryside and wildlife
- homes

Here is the police one:

I wasn’t sure how well this idea would work; we had a diverse age range with children from 2 to 12 and then adults of varying ages. However we handed the activity over to God and asked that it became whatever it could be. And it worked. The younger kids took pictures I had found and stuck them on the posters whilst the older ones wrote prayers and drew their own pictures to go alongside. It all came together; the kids worked well together and came up with ideas and produced wonderful posters which we put on the windows of the church for the walkers to see when they returned.

And the prayers. When the phone rang all the kids went quiet and concentrated on the prayers that were being said. And the final prayers were for us to give and we choose to sing “All things bright and beautiful” as our form of prayer. We also sang this outside the church as the walkers returned, our way of welcoming them back.

It was an exhausting day but truly amazing. To see the church coming together and sharing in an outreach activity was fantastic. This is the start of our prayer mission, the start of reaching out. We are in our community, for them and with them.

Here is Rachel’s view on the day:
I liked the paper aeroplanes, I wrote “God Loves You” on the one I sent and when I got one back I wrote “Rachel” on it and drew some ladders to show how to get to heaven. Having lunch at church was fun, I ate French bread and quiches and cucumber and I didn’t eat my tomato. I also had crisps and two bananas. When everyone went off for the walk I stayed in church with mummy and the other kids, we coloured pictures, stuck collages and made posters on things we could all pray about. When the walkers rang we heard them pray and then we sang “All things bright and beautiful” to them. We all had cake when the walkers got back. It was a wonderful time.

Now all I await is the photo and article in the paper, hopefully I will be able to put it up for you all to see.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Clean and Unclean - Sermon on 30th August 2009

At last I am getting around to blogging the sermon from last weekend, I have been extremely busy but I was also waiting to receive feedback forms so I could blog and full picture of the sermon and how it was received.

The Lectionary provided readings from James 1 and from Mark’s Gospel (7:1-8, 14, 15, 21-23). Having read both I settled on focussing the sermon on Mark 7 with the title “Clean and Unclean”. I focussed on how Jesus spoke about being transformed on the inside and this being as important as being clean on the outside. I looked at how living faithfully means so much more than just following a do and don’t list of life. Talked about how we can act out a Christian life but miss the real relationship with God; be too caught up in rituals and traditions to see what we need to do. I briefly reflected on the difference between obsessive behaviours and practical actions which can be important and useful. I spent some time on the meaning of defilement, how it could mean a lack of active relationship with God and how with God’s help we can remove our strong emotions and be more able to share true love with fellow men. I then took the sermon a step further than a proportion of the congregation were comfortable with (but I had been encouraged to do) and suggested that we ourselves are more concerned about our services and cantors and known styles than we are with the purpose behind them. That we could consider trying worship in a different form and see how God might speak to us.

I know that this is just a brief overview and that I have previously included detailed notes of sermons and even scanned mind maps, but this time I’m not going to. I can’t say exactly why, but I have this strong feeling that I need to leave the sermon where it was last week and move on. Yes learn from the fact that I gave it, but reflect instead on how it felt to receive congregational feedback face to face without request; something I wasn’t expecting.

So lessons:
1 – it is fantastic to discuss ideas, thoughts and content of a sermon with someone else before a service. I had the opportunity to plan it verbally with our associate clergy and she encouraged me to take the thoughts I had had further and provide a challenging sermon rather than a comfortable one.

2 – a sermon never comes out exactly as it was planned. I managed to forget a chunk about half way through (apparently no one noticed – I asked!) but it wasn’t right to go back and try and slot it in. I thought I would be able to push the envelope as far as I had discussed in my kitchen, it was clear that it would not have been appropriate on the day. Basically; sermons are written for a specific congregation in mind but I now know that you need to engage with the congregation and feel their emotions in order to gauge the sermon to them. I don’t feel that I “wimped out” on some of the even more challenging ideas, but that by providing them I would have been hitting them over the head. As it was, I raised questions and left them thinking which must be good, right?

3 – people actually come with their opinions after sermons. Seven people came up to me after the service with their opinions. They all started by being extremely positive about my style and the sermon overall; they then went into specific discussions about their thoughts. Some were excited about what they could do to change their prayer lives, some were scared, and some were completely opposed to what I had presented. The fascinating thing though was that these conversations were even more challenging than the sermon itself, they required me to think on my feet, to have backup to what I said and to have an opinion that I could debate. If beforehand I had been told I would need to do this I would have been petrified, but as it was I found it stimulating and filling and gave me a lot to reflect on. It was like a sermon to myself!

And the feedback forms. They were similar. They were all positive about my mannerisms and format and style. They all understood the aim and subject of the sermon. They were split as to whether they liked where I took them or not. And mostly they have also said how it got them thinking, and perhaps that is the aim of a sermon, to stay with people as they leave the church.

Thoughts welcomed.

Monday, 31 August 2009

The greenbelt 2009 experience

The greenbelt 2009 experience

We went to greenbelt 2009 on Saturday 29th to try it out and see if it's something Rachel and I could do next year for the whole weekend.  I won't keep you all in suspense, we had a fantastic time and will definitely be going again next year.  This is what we did.

We left Reading at 730 and were parked by 9am. We met up with another family from church and made our way inside the Cheltenham racecourse grounds. We spent the first 15mins or so pretty disorientated, we couldn't even find anyone who knew where we could buy a map!  But within 30mins we had a map, had met up with everyone else who was there from church and were in a queue for a talk at the centaur.  Now I have to say, queuing is a major downside of greenbelt, I wasn't expecting it and I didn't enjoy it (especially with a 4yr old!). Eventually though we got into "Shame and how to survive it" which was well worth the wait.

From this I decided it would be great to spend some time in the quiet reflective space called "soul space" (grandstand level5).  I was extremely impressed with this, there were books, pictures, stations and lots of places to pray.  Rachel really enjoyed it as well, she made a few stars and drew sone wonderful rainbow pictures.  As an added bonus I caught half of a talk on spiritual direction which gave me much food for thought and makes me more determined to take a retreat soon.

As we exited the grandstand we found "messy space" - an area set aside for anyone to worship thru play and craft and mess. I was disappointed that all the messy church was on Sunday but this more than made up for it.    

From there we had lunch - I never expected to get a wonderful fresh tuna baguette - yum. And then we wondered  round the shops, stands, tents and displays including Greenhaus (fab) before meeting everyone else in our group to plan our afternoon.

This brings me to the 2nd downside of greenbelt; there is too much to do - and yes I know this is a dichotomy.  it can be a real challenge to decide what to see at any particular time, which one is going to be best? In the end I decided to just put my afternoon in god's hands and see what I'd see.

So first off we went to hear "Debunking Dawkins: How we can engage the New Atheism". I haven't mentioned the fact that Mike had come with us, Mike the staunch atheist, my unconvertable husband; he wanted to check it would be ok for R&I  next year! Well he enjoyed the talk as much as I did, I'm not saying it moved his mindset at all but it got him thinking and that's a big deal! As for me, I giggled, I enjoyed and I took a lot away that I will mull on in the future.

From there we hunted for ice creams - R had seen lots of people with one and deserved one after quietly sitting thru an hour talk. We found her desired form of ice cream by the big top; whilst she ate we wondered around and heard some interesting music - "the fancy toys". So into the performance cafe we went and listened to their set, R fell asleep on me but that's no comment on the band or their set!

They finished just in time to get to Bethlehem for "Time Heals & Other Cliches"; a panel talk on grief. This was something I had planned to see and most of us from church went along. It was truly fantastic; moving, emotional, sad, funny, true, hopeful. I have experienced grief (I've survived 4 miscarriages) and studied bereavement and held others' hands as they walk the same path; but never before have I heard such an open discussion on the process of grief and what we can do to help others as they walk the path. 

And so it was dinner time; R had pasta bolognese (recommended to me thru Twitter) and we had hog roast. Everyone from church got together, huddled behind a tent (as a wind break) to eat, chat, share experiences and express thoughts. The kids played with bubbles and a beach ball - what else can 5 kids from 4 to 13 need? (the teens were staying well clear ;))

And so our day came to a close, with a 90min drive home we decided that we didn't need to stay all night. We heard a band on the mainstage as we meandered out and we headed for the car.

I can honestly say greenbelt was nothing I was expecting. It was smaller than I thought but with more to do; it was even safer and friendlier than I'd hoped and it had a vast range of activities for us all to enjoy. We will come again and in the meantime I'll be downloading the talks I missed!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

my first "adult" sermon

I may have been preaching for 10 months but this is the first service I have preached at which is purely for adults; all previous services have been all age or child focussed. I had been dreading the day when I would have to jump into the "adult sermon" boat but in the end it was out of my hands (funny that hey) and I offered to help out so that an incredibly overloaded NSM could concentrate on the funerals she is taking this week.

I have to smile at the fact that my comfort zone is a pre-planned and organised life and yet three times now the Spirit has brought me to new experiences with very little notice. I am learning that my "comfort zone" in facts allows me to panic unduly ahead of time of events. When I allow myself to be guided I find that a couple of days notice is enough for me to psych myself, prepare and not get to the total panic place. learning!

The lectionary was Matthew 20:1-16 The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. I went about preparing the sermon very differently than previously. Instead of a practical example coming to mind and my building a sermon around that, I found myself reading various translations, commentaries and undertaking more study than intuitive process. However the middle stage was the same, prayer, contemplation and time for it to come together. Then the final stage and it came together straight away as a mind map and there it was ready to give.

The service itself is lovely, it's the older generation, entirely women today, and they are friends worshipping together. They were excited to have someone different preaching and extremely welcoming. They were also bowled over by having Rachel (very almost 4) with us and thrilled that she sat quietly throughout the service except for at the end of my sermon when she turned to the congregation and said "that's my mummy!"

The sermon went well, it took me a few minutes whilst I felt extremely nervous and a bit stilted but then I felt it change and knew that I was being guided; it all flowed from there. I managed to get in everything I wanted to; mostly about the importance of us all realising we have roles to undertake for God but there is no hierachy, we're united in our faith and share in the grace. I had quite a few people congratulate me and ask me if I would be coming back to do another, I await clergy feedback.

All in all I am thankful for the guidance I am given daily, for the experiences that are offered and for the ability to provide my role the best I can.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Ponderings and wonderings

Ponderings and wonderings

It's August; it crept up on me without enough warning! 

This is the month our daughter turns four.  Therefore it will include parties and fun along with my celebration of 4 amazing years as a mum knowing the love and wonder of a child.  

It's also my "month off from preaching" as promised by Neil.  Can you guess how much time I have for relaxing?  

But to start, ponderings on today ....  It was fantastic to be in the congregation this morning and absorb someone elses sermon, that has barely happened in 6 months. Having now experienced writing and delivering sermons I got so much from watching and listening.  The theme was the bread of life and it's given me a lot to take away.  I also found I was much more prayerful and connected during the rest of the sermon.  When I'm delivering then I'm filled with anticipation and nerves before it and still buzzing with adrenalin afterwards.  Today I could just listen, absorb, sing, pray and worship; a filling experience.  So today I've confirmed that I need to have time for me to be filled!

The other positive that came out was that when I'm just one of the congregation I can use my pastoral gifts.  A lady i know caught my eye after the service, I spoke to her and we spent time together talking about her grief. I don't know how much I helped but this is how I know I'm called to minister and that seems to be more possible when I'm not 'upfront'. 

So, this month off!  I have 4 weeks off from preaching and that is wonderful.  After that I've been convinced to make my first move into a different service and will preach on Sunday 30th. 

I obviously needed the month off from preaching because my diary is already filled with meetings and events.  I have a couple of LLM events; intercessions for a few weeks; the prayer walk preparation and also Children's and young peoples developments. 

But I am learning.  All this activity could get too much, but I believe I'm meant to take this time to think about my calling and it's aims, focus and direction.  I am reading books on book lists and Finding more prayer time.        

So here I am using this time I've been given to look at different areas I'm drawn to.  An idea for the annual carols round the crib nativity came to me "just like that" so I've knocked together a draft script to see if the young people and leaders like it.  At the same time I was able to enjoy and fully engage in a bible holiday club I took Rachel to.  It hit me so strongly that this is something we could provide and now I gave time praying for guidance on providing our own.

The last thing I have time fir is the review and renewal of my calling, perfectly timed as Neil has asked me to meet with him on Tuesday to tell it all to him.  It's all coming together!  but why am I surprised? When I hand it over and let God use me then it all makes sense.  Amen. 

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

Today was our new vicar's first Sunday. He asked me before we went on holiday if I would give the sermon at the 1130 family service. To be honest my feelings about this were mixed; on the one hand I was appreciative of his backing for my calling and open support, but on the other hand I had been hoping for a Sunday off. But I agreed and today was the day.

I knew it was going to be different when he arranged for us to meet on Friday to talk through my thoughts about the sermon and his plans for the service. The meeting was inspiring; he was positive about my sermon plans, excited about my abilities and totally downplaying of my self-stated flaws/weaknesses/concerns. He prayed with me and gave me lots of food for thought. The main one being "I know you'd never have given a professional presentation with notes so why do you produce notes for your sermons"; he showed me his mind map method and left me to ponder.

So yesterday I spent some time meditating on the sermon I'd written (see below) and guess what - a mind map produced itself. Believe me I've tried mind maps in the past and they've never appealed and never come together for me, but this time it just worked. And today I took my mind map with me (just in case) and I left my notes at home.

When I got to church this morning I did all my usual; chat to people from the previous service, banter with some of the teenagers, get out the candles for the 1130 service if it hasn't been done and generally make sure it's all ready to rock. Then Neil (yes, he has a name and I might as well use it since it's no secret and you could find it out for yourself if you wanted to) asked me to spend a few minutes in prayer with him before the service. This might be regular order of play for most people but not something I've ever had before and it made a huge difference; it calmed me and brought me into God's presence.

The service was lovely, it felt so energised and spiritual. And the sermon went just as I'd hoped. Of course I didn't mention every word I'd written but that didn't matter because others came to mind and it all came together. Everyone seemed to love the actual sharing of the loaves (biscuits) and fishes (sweets) and they brought so many feelings out when I asked them about it. I had two people from the congregation actually tell me how much they enjoyed it and Neil had nothing but positive comments.

So before I post my notes I just want to say; Thank you God for the blessing of Neil at our church, for his insights, positivity and manner. Amen.

Today the theme of the gospel reading is “Jesus makes a difference”.

In the story, Jesus wanted to be alone with the disciples to mourn the death of John the Baptist. They had gone to the mountain, away from the crowds so that they could spend time in reflection together.

But the people followed, they wanted to be near Jesus, they wanted to be healed by him and to hear him speak. And Jesus didn’t turn people away, never. Jesus always had an open door for people to come to him; he would welcome them, heal them and feed them.

And that is what he spoke to the disciples about; he wondered how he could feed these people. The disciples managed to find a boy with 5 loaves and 2 fishes and they brought them to Jesus.

The disciples felt that the task was impossible; they could not feed the huge crowd with so little food. They did not know what to do.

But Jesus blessed the food and thanked God for his gift of food. And as he thanked God the food multiplied until it was enough to feed the entire crowd.

All this talk of food is making me hungry. Anyone else hungry?
Bring out 4 plates; each with 5 biscuits and 2 fish sweets.

So who would like a plate of food? Come and get it then.
But wait, hold on!!!! There are not enough plates for everyone, but each of you with a plate has 5 loaves and 2 fish. How about you share this gift with other people, can you share what you have with others here please.

It is not always easy to share what we have is it. Did that feel ok, or was it difficult? Jesus wants us to share no matter how hard it may be; and he promises that he will take the little that we have and use it.

Now look what I have here! When Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes they multiplied, there was enough for everyone. Well I also have enough here for everyone - so come and get it!

God does the same for each of us. He takes the small gifts we have and he makes great things out of them. He takes our loaves and fishes and feeds the crowd.

For example; he takes the gift of musical ability that so many of our young people in this church have and he brings them together with passion to play. And voila, a band, a music group and more besides in the worship of God! With God’s blessing and by working together great things are achieved.

Dear Jesus. Please help me to share what I have so that you can use it in a special way. Thank you that nothing we bring is ever too small for you to use. Amen.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Reflections on holiday

Llm calling blog post - holiday thoughts

As you will have noticed I have been AWOL for 3 weeks; in fact I've been on holiday in Georgia, North and South Carolina.  The time away has given me a lot of time to relax, reflect, ponder and pray. In the month before the holiday I was caught in a tornado of events that left me feeling dizzy and confused:
- LLM courses started, filling me with excitement, awe and passion
- I delivered my 16-18th sermons in 8 months
- I wrote and took my first service on my own
- I got caught in church politics as the only possible mediator
- everyone nicely forgot I was allowed a holiday and decided I had to get 3 weeks worth of activity done in the week beforehand
- I was asked to give the sermon for the Sunday After our holiday so that needed preparing
- I decided it was best to write the 4 essays for my LLM courses in the week before holiday meaning I worked till 2am 5 nights in a row

And the final event - several hours before we went to the airport I got two of my essays back (understanding ministry - theology and supervision) and they were a disappointment to my standards.  It was this that sent me reeling.  

I was over-tired, over-wraught, over-stressed and over-done; now I was also under-achieving and not good enough.  I decided I had to analyse a bit before I left for holidays and am pleased I did because it confirmed that although the essays had been done quickly, they had also been done thoroughly and that the information missing was from courses I had not yet taken - an issue but not of my own failing. 

So we came away. 
I put my stresses and worries behind me and asked people to pray for me. I relaxed and enjoyed spending time with my family.  For at least 4 days I didn't even think about church.   And then I found time and peace in my head and heart to reflect and this is what I've learned:

1- I must say no more - at church especially but also in my wider life - j have been taking on too much and it leaves me exhausted and depleted

2- I must remember that I am good enough, that I've been called to be an LLM and that whatever the path is it is the right one

3- Llm training is challenging and I am allowed to ask for support along the way

4- I need to be open about my workload (home and church) with my new vicar so I don't get so overloaded again

5- I need to be less expecting of myself and just let it flow - I have never been a slacker and if the training takes longer than I hoped then so be it.

I am sure there ate other things I've learned but these are the major ones.  I am coming home different; knowing I will ask for help and being kinder to me.  I am always ready to give to others but I need to know when to take instead.      

Ps - the other 2 essays were good, I need to keep everything in balance!

Pps - our new vicar is installed on Sunday - it feels like the start of a new era!

Ppps - the southern states are wonderful; friendly people, relaxed way of life and enough churches to keep you busy visiting for 10 years! 

Monday, 22 June 2009

Jesus Calms the Storm/Fathers Day

Yesterday I gave a sermon which combined the lectionary (Mark 4:35-end) with fathers day. I thought I might be pushing it but both were important and I think I managed to pull them together and pull it off. The feedback was really positive, clergy really liked it and so did the congregation (adults). Best of all the kids had fun and were moved by the physical experience and that means it will stay in their minds allowing the holy spirit to do it's work. So here it is in it's written form:

1. gospel reading and acting
Lay a huge blue ground sheet down the church aisle and ask the congregation what they think it repeesents. Get the kids to stand on the sheet as if in a boat. Adults hold the edges of the sheet and are in charge of the waves.

Read a rewrite of the gospel getting the waves to change as the story denotes.
"One day Jesus had been talking to a crowd of people all day near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and his close friends, the disciples, decided that it had been a long day and that they where all really tired, so they got into a boat to sail to the other side of the lake.

Once in the boat, Jesus fell fast asleep from the rocking of the boat. He might even have been snoring.

It had been a good day and the sea was really still, the waves were gently beating against the side of the boat and the gentle breeze helped it move across the water.

All of a sudden the clouds turned grey, the wind grew stronger and the waves began to toss the boat about in the sea. A real storm was brewing.

The disciples became really frightened and feared they were going to drown. Jesus was still in the back of the boat, snoring his head off, fast asleep when his friends started to shout and tug at his clothes for him to wake up.

When Jesus woke up, he opened his eyes and sat up.
He looked all around him to see the commotion in the storm. He then stood up and to get things to calm down he said to the wind and the waves, 'Peace! Be still. Quiet. Be still.'

After the wind and the waves had calmed down, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, 'You did not need to be frightened of the storm. All you need to do is to trust me!'"

2. Then bring in the fact that today is Father's Day.
When we think about Fathers Day we think of our own dads and grandads; how they love us, guide us, make us laugh, look after us and rescue us when we need it. We thank God for the fathers in our lives and the precious gift that is fatherhood.

3. Remember that God is our father
Of course in this thanking of God, as in the Lord's Prayer opening "Our Father, who art in heaven…"; we are thanking the father of us all; God. The calming of the storm story shows that God, father to each of us, loves us, guides us and when we need it rescues us, even if only from our own fears.

So today we are joyful for the love of our fathers; those here with us, those gone before and the one father who we all share together.

4. Prayer
God, who is both a Father and a Mother to us,
we thank you for your love to us from before we were born;
your guidance and protection as we have grown;
your wisdom and strength when we have sought to be parents to others.

We take time today to bring to mind our earthly fathers,
to give thanks to you for all that they have done for us,
all that they have been to us;
to thank you for the good times we have shared together and to thank you for bringing us through hard times together.

There are also those here for whom memories of their fathers are painful, or for whom there are no memories at all.
Heavenly Father, may we find in you a loving embrace that more than makes up for the inadequacies of our earthly fathers.
Gracious Lord, no human father is perfect and we who are fathers today confess our failings.
We pray that you will help us to love our children as you love us, giving generously with wisdom and forgiving freely with justice.
In the name of your Son, our brother Jesus, we pray.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Parable of the Mustard Seed: Growing in Faith

Today I took a great leap into the unknown, I met a need and allowed the Holy Spirit to work through me. Today is a day to be remembered.

Best to start at the beginning.
Yesterday afternoon I got a call from one of the church wardens "Emma, clergy A is ill and clergy B has a service elsewhere so we don't have anyone to give the 1130 Family Communion Service; could you do it for us?" My first question was one of legality, is it allowed? My fears were put asunder; I would use reserved sacrement and clergy B would discuss with me how the service would need changing. So as I managed to quash my fears and feelings of unworthiness I agreed.

The first thing I did was pray. I prayed for the strength to cope with this next step, for the inspiration to write a last minute sermon and for the peace to deliver the service. Then I took myself to the study, looked at the lectionary, prayed and after a couple of hours had an interactive all-age sermon written on the parable of the mustard seed, focussing on growing in faith.

And here it is, the words and the instructions for myself.

Sit the children around to hear the gospel reading.

Mark 4:26-34 (New Living Translation)
Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”
Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”
Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.

Bring out a piece of paper with pictures of four seeds, showing the different sizes of those seeds

Mustard seed size: 1.2mm plant height: 85cm
Poppy seed size: 1.5mm plant height: 75cm
Marigold seed size: 10mm plant height: 15cm
Sunflower seed size: 20mm plant height: 300cm av (record: 716cm)

As you can see there are four seeds here, even the biggest is still small.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus told us about the mustard seed, the smallest seeds in the lands of Israel.

Jesus tell us how this smallest of seeds, grows and grows and grows and grows to become one of the biggest of the plants in an Israeli garden.

So who would like to take this piece of string and walk to the back of the church with it to see how tall a mustard seed plant can get?
That’s 85cm tall, a very tall plant.

Now how about other small seeds. We have the poppy seed which is only a tiny bit bigger, how tall do you think that gets?
(ask child to take string towards back)
That’s 10cm shorter, just 75cm tall.

So how about if we get to slightly larger seeds, the marigold seed is still really small, how tall does that get? 15cm, a lot shorter than the other two.

And finally, how about the one I’m sure you’ve all planted this year, the sunflower. It has a huge seed, 20mm long and how long does the sunflower get? Well who will take it to the back, it gets to about 3m tall in good conditions (7m in world records). But it came from a big seed, not a tiny mustard seed!

And so we come back to the parable Jesus told us. Yes there are huge seeds that will grow tall above all other plants; but the mustard seed is tiny, like the seed of love Jesus planted in each of our hearts.

It’s tiny and yet it grows, and it grows and it grows (walk down to the flower at the end of the mustard string length).

This is how the seed of Jesus grows taller and taller in each of you.
He grows in our hearts until our knowledge of Him, our love of Him and our faith in Him is so massive that we know that “Nothing will be impossible in Jesus”!

Three children helped me with the pictures and the string, at the end we had a visual image of the way seeds can grow tall and the children were all standing by the heads of the flowers.

During the service we had three hymns which I was able to choose to go with the sermon, I chose from Junior Praise:
No 188 – One more step along the road I go
No 258 – This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine
No 149 – Kum Ba Yah

The feedback on the service itself was that it was well explained to the congregation and that they were aware why I was taking it (clergy being unwell). That I made the necessary changes fluently and the congregation understood what was happening at all times. Overall the feedback was that the worship experience was enjoyable.

The sermon feedback was entirely positive with one exception which stated that the sermon did not match the gospel; I remain confused by this. The congregation felt that I had aimed at the right level by ensuring the children all understood and were involved, thereby allowing the adults to ponder on the issues further.

So what have I learned from this week and the preaching course last week?
I need to have a printed order of service for Laiety lead services.

I need not spend tens of hours writing a sermon; by following the process introduced at the preaching course I can trust the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts and words to bring the message of the gospel to the congregation.

The use of illustrations and practical experiences increases the learning for children especially; they will remember the colour and sizes of seeds, height of plants and therefore hopefully the parable of the mustard seed.

This sunday has been one of considerable learning, mostly in my own abilities with the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Preaching course

Today was my first LLM course in Oxford Diocese; planning and leading worship - preaching. Given by a vicar who I have always enjoyed listening to and whom I was therefore excited to learn from.

There were 11 of us I think, mostly authorized preachers with 3 LLMs and a few considering ordination.

We started by thinking about what preaching is with the following ideas:
- giving the word of God
- relating the bible to real life
- delivering a message
- moving a congregation closer to God
- teaching
- engaging
- bringing a view on difficult issues
- explaining complex topics
- getting the congregation to think and feel what God is saying to them

"we are a window, through Gods grace, between God and the congregation"

Then what is a preacher:
- they have convictions about God
- convictions about scripture - God gives the words
- conviction about church
- conviction about preaching

And balancing this they must remain a pastor - sermons will hopefully effect congregations and it's the preachers role to ensure they are looked after.

So once we were ok with what our role is we moved onto the ingredients of preaching:
- congregation: they all hear differently and understanding this is key
- preacher: they are part of the contregation and must stay as learners and listeners
- sermon: they contain words and messages that are to be heard
- presence of Christ: the Holy Spirit gives the right words from the preacher to the congregation

The preacher is part of the sermon. Their style, experiences, personality and life all colour the sermon.
The congregation however are the listeners; they own the sermon once it's delivered and this depends on their own filters, therefore impacted by their experiences and lives

Different models of preachers.
Steward - faithful, duty bound by calling, preaching whole word of God
Herald - proclaims the need and reconciles the world
Witness - called to witness of God, of Jesus' story and use the Holy Spirit
Father - pastor - root preaching in life, get into congregations' soul, gently lead, provide easy explanations, balance kindness and earnestness, live the Christian life and pray!
Servant - be humble with power of word of God, in cross of Christ and with power of Holy Spirit
Storyteller - poet - get involved in the gospel stories

What is a good sermon:
- engages biblical text
- proclaims gospel
- connects Gods word to life
- is well organized
- easy to understand
- engages imaginations
- is well delivered
- orients congregation to a life in Gods world

How to prepare a sermon:
1- read bible passage several times
2- pray
3- ask 3 questions
a) what was interesting
b) what didn't I understand
c) what might I include in the sermon

4- meditate on passage
5- study around the passage - concordances, lexicons and dictionaries
6- write an outline of 3/4 bullets
7- expand outline
8- review sermon with questions:
a) is it aimed at right congregation
b) why am I preaching
c) is structure right
d) what is God saying
e) have I used the right strategy
f) should I do anything differently

9-revise if needed
10- pray again
11- preach
12- review

And some tips for preachers:
- use a varied tone of voice
- use a microphone
- don't be afraid of gestures
- use notes but don't read; perhaps bullet points
- keep eye contact with congregation
- illustrate words with pictures, objects, technology or stories
- don't reuse a sermon

And after it's all done; review and get feedback from congregation and clergy.

We had a go at writing our own sermons on a section of Nehamiah which was really interesting in groups, made me wish I could always design sermons collaboratively.

All in all, it was a really interesting and succinct introduction which reassured me and gave me ideas. It's late so I'm off for now but I'm sure I'll be back with more thoughts later, not least on the essay.

Friday, 5 June 2009

And so it starts

At 10am tomorrow I go on my first LLM training course; preaching. I will post on that after the event, I have no expectations so am going with open eyes and heart.

In fact that's how I'm feeling right now; open. After several months feeling lost whilst the parish is in interregnum I have finally accepted that I have come to the bottom of my self reliance pot. And I have shared that with others. It may not sound like much but it's a big step in my self knowledge and acceptance. I can't do it all alone; I don't have to!

The key thing that was said to me and hit home was simple. I just have to keep following the path God leads me on, no more and no less.

So tomorrow I go on the preaching course. I go, I listen and I don't worry about the next steps; those will come in their own time.


Friday, 29 May 2009

Steward of God's grace.

I am reading the book "Bridging the Gap - Reader Ministry Today" edited by Gordon W Kuhrt and Pat Nappin. Within the first few pages it was speaking to me and I was underlining every second sentence. So seeing as how it spoke to me, I thought I would share some of my thoughts, here goes.

"Christian Ministers are simply 'stewards of God's grace' which will never run out even when the steward tires or wears out". This is such a reassurance for both myself and for others. We can do all we can and that is enough. I do not have to find time I don't have, I don't have to sacrifice my family, friends, energy, health or sanity; in fact those are all part of my stewardship of God's grace in themselves! The form this grace takes is not defined by me, it is given by God; I just have to be open to it and ready to use it when needed.

And so it was that as I was reflecting on the book and the issue of grace I had a 'strange' encounter with a window salesman of all people. we were signing the contract for a new back door when he suddenly told me that he was having a hard week since it was the 6 month anniversary of his daughters death. I asked if he would like to talk and he did, so the coffee was made and I was there for him. It took nothing of me other than the skills/grace I have to listen; I had the time and I was happy to be there. Mike has always laughed that I attract these people (it happens to me all over the place) but I now think that actually God puts me in the places He needs me to be to be a 'steward of God's grace'.

I know this post is short and sweet but it is a learning for me and who knows, perhaps for someone else who reads it. With blessings.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Ascension Day

Finally I have got onto my laptop and here is the post I wrote on Ascension Day.....

Ascension day

Today we as a church remember Jesus ascending to heaven, his risen form ascended to heaven leaving the disciples waiting, confused. They were told to wait in the city for, as we now know the coming of the Holy Spirit, but they had no idea why they had to wait or what for.

This has so many lessons for us; about waiting, obedience, patience, faith.

Would we wait without any knowledge of what we were waiting for?

Would we blindly obey even the most charismatic, holy leader?

Would we have the patience to trust that something would happen?

Would we have strength of faith to keep believing for 10 whole days?

Would I? I like to think do but if I honestly look inside myself I am not entirely sure I could. Or more truthfully, of course I Could but I doubt I Would.

Sure I would wait a bit but then I would let life butt in and I would get on with the normalcy of events whilst waiting. And I would start to question what I was waiting for, perhaps anticipating something fantastic and get overly excited, or perhaps decide it wouldn't be worth waiting for anyway.

Obeyance, well that's not my strong suit. I try, but then I get my head involved. I analyse everything and doubt and debate until I finally obey, or not.

"but if it was Jesus I'd be different" I hear myself say. Well I again hold up my hands, I don't know whether I would obey without question, I can't imagine it for all the wishing I could.

Patience, I point you in the direction of my blog articles on waiting for the results of the selection conference - enough said!

So to the strength of faith. Here I am drawn to the miscarriages and the years of the unknown path and pain. Somehow through that I kept faith in God and His plan as I lost all faith in myself and mother nature and science and medicine. So yes, I believe that I could retain faith and would.

The disciples were truly amazing men; the more I ponder and understand their journeys the more in awe I am. Could any of us truly say we could do the same?

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Love one another sermon - feedback and reflections

I gave the "love one another" talk today at the 1130 family communion service. Here are some thoughts, feedback and reflections.

I started by asking one of the older children to open the box from Jesus and read the gospel - this worked much better than I imagined, he could even read my writing! To see a young person read a gospel is an inspirational thing, I am sure it's the first time he read that passage and he didn't stumble, he just used his gifts and read it.

I then moved into the interactive session on love. The kids were great providing their thoughts on what is love, how it's different to "like" and how they show love. However when the subject got more theological the adults didn't get involved, a few tried but there wasn't the enthusiasm I'd hoped for. Luckily I had my thoughts that I provided but I think it lost some if the impact. However when asked about how we love God one of the boys wisely said "communion" - fantastic.

I asked for feedback on forms; these asked questions including:
1- what was the sermon about?
2- did the sermon relate to the reading?
3- was the sermon interesting/thought provoking?
4- did the sermon interest children and adults?
5- were there any distracting mannerisms?
6- any other comments?

I am awaiting my clergy's feedback but have back 5 from the congregation. 3 said it was an excellent sermon with all comments positive. 2 were more reflective and rated the sermon as good. One of these stated that the subject matter was excellent for the children but difficult for the adults to interact with in that environment but had given much to think on. The second said the sermon could have been one question shorter since the kids got bored.

My immediate thoughts were that there were too many questions and that I could have combined some together for the adults. It is a constant problem in this all age service how to entertain and educate the kids whilst also engaging the adults. I think the sermon could have worked better with just adults or just children.

My further reflection after seeing feedback and some prayer is that I need to find a way to give a message to the adults which they can ponderon afterwards, they find it hard to interact whilst fielding the kids. Perhaps sending them home with an activity could work? I know as a parent who listens to sermons that it's incredi my difficult to get much out if the kids are bored, but sometimes this means it's all focussed off the adults. I am also thinking that I could have had pieces of A1 paper to write down ideas/answers on which could have been more engaging.

I have to say there are a few further lessons I've learned:
1- feedback is really useful when I take the criticism aspect out of my mind
2- I can reflect and come to possible improvements for the future, this is the real learning
3-adults with children present are a different audience than purely adults
4- children have some of the greatest insights into faith and love

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Without prayer I'm bumbling in the dark

Thanks to an article on prayer and meditation by Mata H (author of Times Fool) on BlogHer, I got inspiration together to post on the importance of prayer in my life and realised I should share it here. so here it comes, with thanks for its inspiration to Mata and with thanks to many many others for their help in developing my prayer and meditation practices and life.

Without prayer I'm bumbling in the dark.
Literally!! I'm trying to run the shop myself and that quickly leads to bad decisions, muddled thinking, quick judgements, confusion and spiralling into my dark places.

I have had my christian faith for all my adult life but it's only in the last 2 years that I have finally handed my will and my life over to God. It sounds simple, it's no longer my decisions on my judgements; now it's God's will for me acted out by me. Of course hearing that will for me is the tricky part and that's where prayer and meditation comes in.

Every morning I spend at least 15 minutes (if I can I get 30minutes) in quiet reflective meditation and prayer. the location changes depending on the awakeness of the rest of the family and the pattern of the day ahead but what really matters never changes, I hand my day over to God. I start by thanking Him again for the blessings of yesterday and the good nights sleep. I then hand myself over with the serenity prayer
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen"

After this I try to empty my mind of worries, concerns, resentments, fears and anticipations and let myself be open to hear what I need to hear. This period is often noisy as my mind has trouble letting go of fear especially but sometimes that blessed silence comes down and a deep feeling of being open is achieved. Once I have really reflected on the importance of me not being in the driving seat I start to think about the day ahead; the activities, the challenges and the excitements to come. I hand myself over with
"God, I hand myself over to you, to do as you will and to relieve me of self. May I always do your will."

I remember that yesterday is past and unchangeable and that tomorrow is still to come and uncontrollable; all that I have to worry about is what has to be done today and it's purpose.

And so I start my day, I am focussed, I am listening and I head out into the world. Several times a day I try and stop and listen again and I end the day in a similar vane, handing over my day with thanks, handing over my resentments and fears so they no longer haunt me and asking for the night to fill my spiritual vessel with energy for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Best laid plans

This morning was my time, to check over sermon, review essay, write in my journal about counselling course last night and perhaps even meditate. Wow, what luxury.

But best laid plans got changed, got to preschool and suddenly
"emmmmmaaaaa (like a child would moan) are you free?"
me: "not really (and the fatal hesitation)"
"it's just that we are running interviews and need someone who doesn't know the candidates and seeing as how you're becoming secretary tonight we thought .... (loaded hesitation)"
Me: "no one else available?"
"no, we forgot we needed to ask you"
Me: "ok but please give notice in the future!"

See the issue isn't that I can't do it, it's that I need notice so I can plan my life.

Of course this is not a rare occurrence and I know it's about me, I need firmer boundaries about what I am and am not willing to do. But that's something that takes time to set out with new people and that takes courage; I worry I'll be seen as less than!!

However I know I'll get better at it, and learn to tell people that I am busy when I have time scheduled for stuff that's about my emotional health and development. Or perhaps it's just me and that's why I am called the way I am

Things to ponder, any input welcomed


3 hours later - further thoughts

God moves in mysterious ways, I was meant to be there! Personnel unhappiness emerged and I was needed to calm, to contain, to appease and to help put back together.

So this makes it more tricky to get the balance right, how do I know when to put myself first and when to let it all happen? I know God needs me physically, emotional and spiritually well and that needs time for me

Still welcoming thought!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Preparing a sermon on "love one another"

Next week I am giving the sermon to the 1130 family communion service (an all age workship service where the talk needs to fit for both the young children and their parents). The gospel reading John 15:9-17 for this week has the theme "Love one another as Jesus loves us".

Normally I try and work on my talks (I just don't like the word sermon but that's another issue that reaches into my psyche) a few weeks beforehand but I haven't had a chance. Today I have been nursing aches and pains when I suddenly got some inspiration and decided to try and get some of it down on paper. so here is the process I go through when writing talks/sermons:

1 - I write out the reading for the day.
This time it's John 15:9-17
"9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other."

2 - I read it at least 3 or 4 times.
3 - I note down anything at all that pop out at me.
4 - I go to the resource our church uses for sunday school and all age workship services - Roots and look at what angle they are taking on the reading and make more notes

5 - I stop and think and pray (this stage can take a loooong time because often I just don't get any inspiration when I am hoping for it) and so I wait till I am meant to be writing the talk.

6 - I break down the talk into an introduction, which especially gets the kids attention; the main part which brings the reading alive and gets them thinking about the subject; and the final section which brings it back to the reading and something to take away. (you can tell I haven't done my preaching course yet can't you because I'm not able to explain it very well)

7 - I review and review and review again and add prayer into the mix to make sure the message I'm meant to give gets given.

Because it's an all age service I try to include something fun for the kids, be it making something, or a physical activity or some Godly Play or similar. This time Roots provided a great idea of having the gospel written on a scroll as a letter, this is then put inside a box with a note on top saying "to my friends, love from Jesus". And that's where I started, I wrote a scroll, made a box and had a starting point which will grab the kids attention, I hope.

So to the main part. This needs to talk to both the kids and the adults and I try to make it that the family groups can work together to think through the issues. Although the subject of this talk seems very straightforward at first sight "love one another" it's actually quite a hard concept for young children who won't necessarily know what love means. come to think of it, it can be a challenge for us adults to define. This time I decided to come at the main part with a series of questions for the congregation to answer. Here's what I have written to allow me to lead; the provision of my own thoughts might or might not be used depending on how forthcoming the congregation is but I have learned that it's best to have some ideas in case it all goes eerily quiet!

This gospel tells us we are loved, Jesus fills us with joy because we are loved.

So what is love?
We often say we "love" something but is this real love?
- Eg I say I love chocolate but it's not really love, I just like it a lot.
- what do you sometimes say you love but really it's a liking a lot?
- ask for responses

What is the difference between liking and loving someone?
- ask for responses
- Its difficult to define but I think to like someone is to take pleasure in being with them, feeling happy and having fun. where as to love someone is to have a deep affection and attachment to someone so I think about them all the time and worry about them.

How do you know when you love someone?
- ask for responses
- for me it's easy to define, when I love someone they're always on my mind, where they are, what they're doing, and their happiness is more important than my own.

The gospel refers to "remain in Gods love"; other translations refer to "make yourself at home in Gods love"; I like this concept, being somewhere safe and comfortable; wrapped up in a blanket of love.
- How does it feel to know you are wrapped in Gods love?

Where do you feel at home apart from your own home?
- ask for responses
- I feel at home at rachels grannys house, and at good friends houses and sometimes anywhere where Rachel and I can cuddle up together

How do you make your friends feel at home with you?
- ask for responses
- I make their favourite drink, let them sit down and welcome them anytime

And so to the crux, the final section when I know the kids have started to drift away and when I can speak to the adults and try to link it all back to the gospel again. So to the big question and ending with a prayer which came from Roots again.

How can we be at home with Jesus?
- ask for responses
- it's all about prayer for me, to let him know I love him and that I bask in his love and to know that he is always there for me

The gospel ends with "love one another" to know we are loved by God and give that love to everyone else around. To support each other, to enjoy each other and to know that we are all responsible for each other.

So let us pray:
Loving God
Thank you for this time we have spent together.
As we leave this place, may your love shine through us and on others Amen

And so it's written, I will review it 3 or 4 times during the week to make sure it flows, has the right messages and that I know it since I stand at the front with no lectern, no reading a sermon for this service! On top of that I will spend at least an hour praying about it on Saturday afternoon at which point I will leave it in God's hands that the right message comes across.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Loss and bereavement part2

So perhaps I'm not so bad at endings as I thought. Sure I don't like them; and true I always had problems with them and abandonment issues; but it appears all that counselling and self reflection has brought about a change in me. But on what do I base this turn about? All shall be revealed I hope ....

We started the day looking at the losses we can suffer through life such as birth, weaning, starting school, leaving school, friendships, relationships, clubs, pets, status, age, retirement and ultimately death - the only guarantee in life! We then looked at the feelings around loss: shock, sadness, panic, anger, despair, numbness, guilt or relief.

And so to the first exercise; personal history of loss, and there's where it got emotional. First death I remember, grandad; memories of that, everyones relief because he'd had alzheimers; most recent loss, mikes gran; most difficult death - pass me the tissues!!! I have had 4 miscarriages, 3 before Rachel, and the 3rd (Kendi) was the worst thing I have ever been through. The exercise asked us to write why it was difficult and the feelings of guilt, failure, loss of hopes and dreams all flooded onto the paper. But although I was upset I was ok, it's not like it's not something j don't think about all the time. So to question 12 - of the important people in my life, the most difficult death for me would be: well it's a no brainer, Rachel of course and that thought was horrific. It's something that was always in my mind in her early months but now rarely raises it's head so it was an immense emotion.

We took a break and I sat with my feelings and realised that I have managed to deal with kendis loss, it has taken over 4 years but I have completed the grief process. His loss will forever be a part of my life but it is in it's place. And yes his loss, and that of the others, heightens my valueing of Rachel but that's ok, I can do endings!

Next we looked at theories of mourning. 4 phases:
1- numbness and disbelief immediately afterwards
2- searching and yearning
3- disirganisation and realization
4- ring your new identity

We also looked at the 4 tasks of mourning:
1- accept reality of loss
2- experience pain if grief
3- adjust to the environment as it is now
4- reinvest energy into other aspects of life

And this confirmed that I have passed through the stages and completed the tasks, although of course sometimes they need re-reviewing.

After lunch we examined influencing factors on the mourning process:
1- mode of loss
2- attachment to loss
3- past experiences of loss
4- social factors
5- personality variables
6- belief systems

And that's where it became clear to me. I have changed in 2 ways:
1- I am much more self aware, reflective and able to sit with my feelings; this has happened in the last 2 years or so and allows me to now experience the emotion of loss and accept the processes needed. Before this I couldn't bare being alone or saying goodbye to anyone; now I like myself and know I am never really alone.,. Which takes me to

2- I have a strong faith now. It was always there butnit in the same way as it is now where I know I am loved by God, know I am fulfilling a plan, know that He never will give me anything I can't cope with. I can now deal with loss because I am not alone, through friends, family, church and God I am supported. Don't get me wrong this does not make losses easier but it makes the coping acceptable.

I know I have dumped my thoughts and it doesn't particularly relate to LLM training but perhaps it is useful for someone else apart from me.
Actually, I am exempt from the pastoral care element so won't be blogging on that but at least this brings some knowledge if bereavement care which is essential for LLMs.

Sonow to see Rachel, I haven't seen her today yet so there'll be big hugs I hope.

Loss and bereavement

It's the last full day on my counselling course and the theme today is loss and bereavement. It could obviously be emotional but I am also expecting it to be insightful about losses and endings which happen throughout life.

For example; we lost the safety of the womb when we were born, lost the our baby years when siblings were born, lost the companionship of colleagues when we changed jobs, lost our loved ones when they passed over.

So why am I posting before the course? Well mostly because I have become aware that I have never dealt well with endings and still don't, I prefer to leave in a hurry because this is easier than facing the emotions. However, interestingly, I know I am good at helping others through their endings and find myself helping others through the miscarriage association and at church. So I ponder now - why is that?

I will be back later withthoughts from the day and possibly some idea on the answer....

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Christian Values

Thanks to @dailyprayers and their tweet "Pinpointing Christian values at the heart of great schools" I have been led to the Christian Values for Schools website.

15 values are provided by the Church of England project, these have been identified as the distinctive values that make Christian schools popular. The website then provides ways of living these values in the day-to-day operations of a school. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone, surely these values are important not just for our schools but for every aspect of our lives.

so to the values:
Reverence - profound respect for God
Wisdom - insight into the way life works, understanding consequences
Thankfulness - seeing the world as a gift, not a right
Humility - we should living in trusting dependence upon God
Endurance - important not to give up in the face of adversity
Service - in a life of service we become truly free
Compassion - imagination and humility sharing in the lives of others
Trust - be enriched by trusting in others
Peace - harmony, stability and security
Forgiveness - forgive and keep on forgiving without limit
Friendship - acceptance and close companionship through knowing God
Justice - giving all people what is right and fair
Hope - God can be relied upon
Creation - life is God's gift
Koinonia - fellowship - all are needed and valued and each is important to the whole

Most ministry is unseen

Again I take no credit for the wisdom of this topic, the wisdom originates from the book Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis via Alan Knox at his blog "The Assembling of the Church"

However I feel compelled to do some sharing on my thoughts since I think it relates to the role of an LLM.

Here's the quote which spoke to me:
Major events have a role to play in church life, but the bedrock of gospel ministry is low-key, ordinary, day-to-day work that often goes unseen. Most gospel ministry involves ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality. Whether it is helping a friend, working at the office, or going to the movies, there is a commitment to building relationships, modeling the Christian faith, and talking about the gospel as a natural part of conversation.

Do you see what I mean? LLMs provide a preaching, teaching and pastoral care ministry and that can often be seen; but they also have jobs and lives in which they live the gospel.

So how about my life, how does this look?
I look after Rachel - that's love, moral values, right from wrong and more love
help at preschool - I listen to the Aunties when they're stressed and I chat to mums and I read bible stories at christmas and easter
volunteer with at need families - just being there for several hours a week, playing with the kids and listening to mums, it's not much but it seems to help and if Jesus taught us nothing it is to help those in need in whatever way we can
love family and friends- the theme for today is love.

Through the explorations, interviews, selection conferences and starting training portfolios I got focussed on the role of an LLM within the church and yes that's important. but thanks to this book's quote I now realise that it's the small things I do out there in the world, with the people I meet, know and love that matters the most. It's the living of the gospel more than the preaching and teaching of it that can really make a difference.

this has been you reading the messy inside workings of my mind and I'm sure it doesn't make much sense, but I make no apologies because it's been invaluable for me. thanks for sticking with it to the end.

Twittering the Gospel

I found this blog by Kingdom Grace entitled Twittering the Gospel and just had to share it, not only does it have a lot to say of interest but also it has a challenge to twitter the gospels in less than 140 characters.

so who's up for it, comment your results, here's mine

140 characters might not be enough until we know that what matters is “God is Love”

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Meeting my Mentor

So I have had my first meeting with my mentor this morning which went very well. of course I have to say that seeing as how I gave him this blog address, only joking!

After my mad burst of activity getting my portfolio started at the weekend I feel quite relaxed now. I seem to have everything in order and I know where I'm heading so now I just wait for my first course on 6th June and take it from there. Of course there will be a lot of work to do, but I will just take it one step at a time.

Which reminds me, I had a minor wobble last night in the counselling course experiential session when I realised that this June and July could be difficult with the end of my counselling course and the start of the LLM training. I tried to emotionally pull back from the counselling element but realised that's not possible and that I still have things to learn, I will just have to do what I can; that's all anyone can ever ask or offer!

As a quick sign off, I also wanted to share the Maynards Groovy Bible Tunes website which provides bible songs for children. I have downloaded one and it's already in my head (for good or bad) so will be something I will be looking at for future kids worship.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Pastoral Care - encouraging help seeking

I was reading The Psychologist this morning and found an article entitled "Encouraging help seeking" which spoke to me. The article referred to how people access therapy when they are in need but it strikes me that as pastoral carers within the church we have the same issue getting people to ask for help.

we have spent a lot of time setting up pastoral care systems at church to help support those in need physically, emotionally and spiritually; we can help a large number of people. However we hit a metaphoric brick wall when we realised that we have problems identifying those in need. There are the obvious cases such as those who go into hospital or are diagnosed with a terminal illness or those who have just had a baby. But what about the unidentified others, those who would accept help if approached with an offer but wouldn't offer themselves for fear that there are many others more in need.

Believe me I am the first to not ask for help when I need it. No one knew I had been in hospital until I was back in action and at church again. No one was told how depressed I was when I was in the depths of post natal depression, not until I started feeling better. So how do we conquer this reluctance to ask for help?

The article discusses how a person's identity is closely linked to their wellness. They might find it hard to admit a need since this could dent their identity of themselves as a vibrant, healthy, human being. This requires changes in others rather than the helpers but to do this we need to normalise the asking for help such that it is part of what strong people do to know that they need help and can be vulnerable.

The article mentions that one of the key issues is being able to identify emotional distress in others and offer help. This focusses on the helpers who need to know their community, their church members and notice when someone isn't quite themselves at the moment. Of course this is too much for the small number of pastoral carers and therefore it requires the whole church/community to share in the togetherness of knowing each other and identifying those who are suffering.

Interestingly the article states that the main factors which help people in distress are not the major changes but the small ways that churches and pastoral carers are excellent at: warmth, acceptance and unconditional positive regard. This in itself is reassuring that people who ask for help do not need to be scared about what they might receive; the simple things have the greatest impact, we will not be scaring anyone who asks for help.

So can I conclude my ramblings, possibly not, but I am heartened to know that we can continue in our pastoral care developments, being open about what we offer, showing that we will be caring for those in our community and asking that people come forward in the surity that they are no weaker for doing so.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Tweeting at Church

Through twitter, thanks to @pgw71 and @CynthiaWare, I have discovered that tweeting in church services might become the norm. I know many people will read this with shock and disdain but as far as I'm concerned it can only be a good thing, and here's why.

1 - it brings communities together; those within a specific church, those from different churches and those within and outwith churches. if we can tweet our thoughts, feelings and learnings from inside our churches then it can start to break down the barriers both physically and psychologically.

2 - it might start debate; about sermons, format, impact, music, ways of worship and many things besides. if we are all open about what's going on for us inside our churches then the discussions can start and we can figure out what works and what doesn't. don't get me wrong, this isn't me meaning that we should hear the tweets and change church, no; I think it means we can be more aware of works for each of us individually on any specific subject or day, this can only help us all.

3 - for many people (I'm sure I can't be alone) they remember things which they act on and summarise for others; therefore tweeting sermons and thoughts might mean they have more sustainable impact in our memories.

4 - you can review your tweets after the service and reflect on what you heard and said, keep that worship experience alive longer.

5 - you can't drift off or fall asleep whilst you tweet!

I would love to hear what anyone else thinks about this subject and if you'd like to read more, here's the Time article and the article that led me to it digital sanctuary

I for one will be tempted to tweet in church no matter how many dirty looks I might get from those who think I'm just "messing about on my phone"

Update 14May09
Orlando Sentinel provides an article further looking at tweeting in church. Flocks in for a tweet.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Portfolio taking physical form

Of course nothing has changed in my knowledge or skills since 6pm but I have now produced a physical portfolio of both under each of the gifts and competencies required of an LLM. It has taken 3 hours and it has been worth every second.

I have a file (well two actually, one physical and one electronic) with each of the gifts and competencies in a separate section. Under each section I have a cover sheet (as required) and the details of the gift/competency.

Under two of the gifts and competencies I have actually provided information which I think might be valid.

Planning and Leading Worship
* Summaries of the sermons/talks I have given over the last 6 months - 12 in total with links to the written sermons, feedback and photos.
* Details of the lent service that I designed with someone else from church this year including the order of service, instructions, introductions, photos and feedback.

Pastoral Care
* details of the courses I have taken related to pastoral care and counselling
* summaries of the work I do in this field
* linkings between the specific gifts and competencies in this area and the courses I have taken, the experience I have and the essays I have written
I have been told that I am exempt from this gift/competency but I wanted to provide some information just in case this is disputed for any reason. It has also been useful because I now am happy in myself that I can accept my exemption if this is seen as appropriate.

It's been quite a Saturday evening but it's done now and I feel prepared for my meeting with my mentor on Wednesday; what I have any experience in is documented, the rest I will learn as I go.