In which Ruth ponders the M word

Some people in the church love the M word. They want to talk about it all the time. They want committees devoted to it. They want to throw piles of money at it to make it work. They want conferences and books and weekends away all dedicated to that M word. They reckon that if we’re not doing it, then the church is going to die.

So what do you think about the M word? Are you for or against? Do you love it or do you give an inward shiver every time you hear it? And you will hear it. There is no getting away from it. The M word is here to stay.

Mission. Of course. Mission is the word on everyone’s lips. If you’re not doing it then you have no life in you. Some dioceses have programmes dedicated to it. Everyone has to sign up and everyone has to share in buzz groups and pledge to do this, that or the other because if you don’t… dum, dum, dum… then surely the church will perish.

But what if you didn’t like the M word? What if you prefer another M word? What if you dreamed a dream that one day nobody would throw all the money in the diocese into M, but into your favourite M word? (Let’s call it M2.)

Ministry. Of course. What if all the money was ploughed into selecting and training and supporting and caring for fabulous priests who were so inspirational that they didn’t need to use the M word?  Those priests would love liturgy so much that people would be transformed by it. They’d literally be so moved that they’d want to tell their friends about it and bring them along for a slice of that loving. Word would spread and soon everyone in town would be wanting a bit of the action. They’d want to do some of that M2 word themselves. Because they realise that the M2 word was what it was really all about.

Today a lot of my friends are out marching at Gay Pride in Glasgow. They are wearing badges and carrying banners, proclaiming to anyone who hears that the Scottish Episcopal Church welcomes them and loves them. You might call it Mission. I call it Ministry. Because my job as a Minister of Religion (at least that’s what my Tax Office calls me) is to welcome all and to love all. That is my ministry. That is our ministry. Yours and mine.To proclaim a church for all.

When I first went to church (and that was in my late 20s) it was not because of any Alpha Course or Poster or Notice in the local paper. But more importantly, the thing that made me stay was the Mass. It was every part of that liturgy: the music, the Confession, the theatre, the stories, the food for the journey, the people, and yes, the priest too. Those were the things, most of which I didn’t understand, which made me want to go back and learn more. I went with a friend and I made a thousand more. It made me want to do that M2 word every hour of every day.

And it still does. But I do wish folk would stop banging on about that M word. Just sayin’.

holding hands elderly

Quaking with the Quakers

So you have a Sunday off and where do you go to church? Always a tricky one for clergy. You want to go. You want to receive the Sacrament, if possible. You want to check out what your sisters and brothers are doing out there in the vineyard. One of the difficulties I have here is that I am next door to two parishes where I used to be Rector and it is rather frowned upon to ‘go back’. Especially as they have a new Rector this year. I used to go back to my home parish in Edinburgh but things change and at some point it doesn’t really feel like home again. And if I was a bit braver with driving then I would venture west and try out a certain cathedral there, but that day hasn’t come yet.

quaker-peace-gardenTo digress a moment, one of my little flock has just left us to go to the Quakers. She has always wanted to be a Quaker since she was a teenager and as she is now retired she feels that she can finally do that. (There were a host of other reasons why she couldn’t do it sooner.) We have given her our blessing and she returns once a month when she is on the coffee rota and keeps in touch with old friends. Over a coffee she was explaining to me the preparation process and I heard myself saying, “Can I come with you on Sunday then?” (Well that’s receiving the Sacrament done for, I thought.)

I should perhaps say at this point, that I have worked in the past with many Quakers. When I worked for the Rock Trust with young homeless people we always had a Quaker on our Management Team and they were great contributors. Renowned for their interest in Justice and Peace, I met many in the Voluntary Sector and always had great respect for them. I always intended going to a meeting one Sunday but it just never happened. (Of course, I do know that they do silence rather well and I am not exactly renowned for it.)

And off we set on Sunday morning to the local Quaker Meeting House, which happens to be in a local community centre. As it was the first Sunday in the month my friend told me that the meeting would be slightly different. There would be silence but there would also be a discussion after so there would be an opportunity to talk. However as the group gathered a young woman arrived with two very young children and announced that she was meant to be doing the discussion but hadn’t been able to get anything together so there wouldn’t be one. It was all very relaxed. (How different in our church, I thought. Imagine if I turned up at 10.30am and said I hadn’t had time to do the sermon… Round of applause, perhaps?) There was a low coffee table around which the chairs were set. On the table there were some books about Quakers or Quaker sayings which I was invited to read if the silence got too much. There was also a plant which I took to be the equivalent of an icon or cross – it was our focus for the meeting. We numbered about 9 plus the kids.

The meeting began with no announcement so I nearly missed it (and spoiled it because I was going to ask where the loo was) and suddenly Quakers praywe just lapsed into silence. I was kind of hoping that the Holy Spirit might encourage somebody to ‘witness’ or ‘minister’ or whatever it is they do but sadly She was very quiet herself that day. Some sat with eyes closes, some with eyes open. One man read almost everything on the table. Another woman clutched a small piece of paper with something written on it. The rest of us sat and tried to avoid eye contact. The elderly woman next to me got very quiet and then did some gentle snuffly snoring before going completely silent. So silent, in fact, that I took to checking she was still breathing. The others took it in turns to go and look after the children in the room next door. Near the end the new Evangelical church which also uses the community centre struck up with High Five for Jesus, or at least it sounded like that. It was very jolly. And loud.

An hour later, during which I may have dozed off myself and dreamt or was visited by the Holy Spirit who showed me some birds of prey (? I know, go figure) a woman shook hands with the person next to her and we all joined in and that was it over. (You only shake hands with the person next to you, not like the Peace and go trying it with folk opposite. Oh no.) A wee bit of an anti-climax, I have to say. And then it was coffee time. I expected lots of conversation and interest as to why I was visiting but no. Not one person spoke to me other than to offer me coffee (no decaff available. Who ever heard of Quakers with no decaff?). Now, as you know, I am used to being the centre of attention so it did not sit well with me to be so completely ignored. Perhaps it is not part of their ethos to welcome the stranger. Maybe they don’t do Mission. (How refreshing, not to have to worry about Mission… ) Anyhow, they chatted among themselves about Quakery things and local concerts and Christian Aid. And then we left.

Now one must not make generalisations after only one visit and with only one group… you sense a BUT here, don’t you? No, I shall resist. But I will say that I was surprised that the hour passed quicker than I thought. I did manage some prayer. My observations lead me to believe that most, if not all, Quakers are probably introverts. I missed all the trappings of church to look at : icons, statues, smell of incense, pictures, etc. I missed the liturgy. But I’m glad there are Quaker Meeting Houses for quiet people to go to. Unfortunately I didn’t get to ask lots of questions, like Do you still quake before God or are you more on speaking terms now? Why is nobody wearing a stove-top hat? Why no sacraments? You could do them in silence, if you wanted. Why was your bible the Good News version and have you ever tried something better? (oooh, get her! I’d make a dreadful Quaker.) What’s with the silence anyway? Is it for prayer? Dialogue? Listening? Waiting? How often does the Holy Spirit lead you to speak up?

If you know the answers, please do comment below. I have bought a copy of Quaker Faith and Practice so one day I may get around to reading it myself.

1 star from this mystery worshipper. (If you’d spoken to me you’d have got a whole lot more.)

Ordained to be a …?

I’m often asked what I love about my job. And I often reply, ‘How long have you got?’  There are so many things I love about my job, but listening to peoples’ stories must be up there. Those often take place around the big rituals in our lives: birth, marriage and death. Worship is pretty cool too, and playing with it is even better. You know, making it more visual or thought-provoking. I’m a people-person, in case you hadn’t guessed, and I get my energy from being with people so there is plenty of that too.

However, when I was first ordained as a Deacon I did think that I had been ordained to be a janitor. Being a Curate in a cathedral involved a lot of ‘opening up’ and rearranging chairs. These past few weeks have seen a bit more of janitor-work as we have had big problems in the church and rectory with gas and plumbing. In fact, I have pretty much been housebound for practically a fortnight waiting in for various tradesmen. I’ve opened up bits of the church and boiler house and found things I never knew existed. The amount of coffee and tea I’ve made on an hourly basis must qualify me for any job going in the finest hotels. (Jaffa Cakes are a firm favourite with Scottish Gas.) I’ve discussed churchy matters while peering into sewers and listened to tales of lapsed churchgoers while watching the tree roots grow into pipes.  I’ve shared my downstairs loo with men on water pills (which involved long medical conversations) and now I need to mop the floor badly.  (That’s due to mucky boots by the way, not poor aim.)

I’ve quite enjoyed it actually. They have all been very pleasant and helpful and one DynoRod man even gave my oily drive a good high pressure skoosh with his hose. I’ve had great theological discussions and the mission opportunities have been many and various. But it made me think that if I didn’t live next door to the church how different it might have been. In fact, it would have been a pain in the neck I reckon.

My own little flock have not been visited for a good while now and although phoning is fine it is not quite the same. I’m hoping that by next week it will all be back to normal and I can cut back on my milk and sugar and biscuit purchasing. Thanks be to God.

Men prefer lingerie to church

According to a recent survey, men feel more comfortable in a ladies’ underwear shop than they do in church.  Gosh, how things have changed. I remember working as a ‘Saturday girl’ in Goldbergs and occasionally doing a stint in Lingerie and most men then were like startled rabbits caught in headlights.  And who can forget that episode of Father Ted when they had to employ army tactics to get safely out of said department?  Fr Alex tells a wonderful story of turning a corner in Gamarelli’s in Rome and finding himself in the nun’s underwear department and nearly fainting with the shock of so much pale pink and oyster white sensible undies.

So, I wonder, is the answer to sell lingerie in church then?  Set up a stall at the entrance offering rosary beads and prayer cards along with French knickers and plunging balcony bras? Is this the answer?

The other problem men appear to have is with singing hymns. 67% don’t feel comfortable singing in church. Wee lambs. What’s that all about? Hymns not butch enough? Too woosy to be singing about love and stuff?  Perhaps I shouldn’t have banned all those militaristic hymns like Fight the Good Fight…

Actually, we at St Mark’s don’t do too badly for men now. It wasn’t always the case, of course, but now there are a goodly number of youngsters who’ll happily (well perhaps not) humph furniture and leap up ladders to change light bulbs. And it looks to me like they are all singing like linties. But of course the ones who won’t don’t come, right?

Perhaps Karaoke is the answer?  We could use all those No Organist? No Problem! cds that we have.  What a fun evening that would be.

They never mentioned any of this in Mission classes.

Looking Ahead

It was the second of our Diocesan Conferences today at Haddington. The first one, a few weeks ago which I missed, was Looking Back. Today we were Looking Ahead. 100 years ago there was a famous Mission and Theology conference held in Edinburgh. Our conferences were paying homage to that and to the changes since and the prospects for the future.

One of our speakers was Rev Canon Anne Dyer from Durham University.  Anne has spoken before at our Clergy Conference and uses Fine Art to teach Theology.  I find her really inspiring. Art works for me.  Not all of the paintings she showed us today were religious ones, in fact most weren’t. But this one was new to me and I was really drawn by it.  It is called Les Disciples by Burnand.  It shows the beloved disciple and Peter rushing to the tomb on Easter morning. What do you see in their faces?  In the way their hands are held?


I wonder what blogs you all read.

I wonder how you read the blogs you read.

I wonder if you are contented with the amount of blogs you read.

I wonder if you are always looking for new and exciting blogs.

I wonder if you think that blogging and reading blogs takes up too much time in your day.

I wonder these things because there is not a day goes by when I don’t find something challenging or useful or interesting or … the list goes on… in the blogs I read.  I find worship resources, sermon ideas, jokes, politics, news, gossip, and a whole lot more in the blogs I read.  People who don’t read blogs are always surprised that I have about 200-400+ readers a day popping in to my blog. They don’t seem to get that blogs can be a mission tool. I can’t tell you how many times someone new pops up at church and tells me that they read my blog.

I read blogs via a blog reader. A blog reader gathers all my favourite blogs in one place and if they have written a new entry it shows it to me. I am now using Google Reader (just google it) where you just ‘add a subscription’ (the URL of the blog you want to read) and then check in every morning. Reading other people’s blogs takes me between 5 and 10 mins each day. I don’t have to bookmark their names. I don’t have to type in long, complicated addresses each day. I don’t have to google ‘rev ruth rantings blog revruth wordpress’ looking for it.  In fact, now that I am using Google Chrome the Reader button is on the home page for me whenever I open it. So easy.  I can go back to it throughout the day if I have time and I can go back to re-read or take notes from something that is useful. Easy.

Some of the blogs I read appear in the sidebar of my blog. Most of them are Piskie bloggers.  But I read so many more and keep meaning to update the list. (I read 60+ at the moment.) Often when I read someone’s blog that I respect and like they will provide a link to something else and often that is how I find other blogs. My latest fun blog to read was found via somebody I can’t remember via Maggi Dawn via Church Mouse.  Churchy folk might appreciate it so I offer a link to it here.

Lots of people read blogs but don’t comment. Well, often they will comment when they meet you face to face, but for some reason don’t like to put finger to keypad.  Someone recently said that it was an effort to make a comment and some blog-hosting companies do indeed make it a bit of a trial. This is usually to stop spam getting through. My last blog company was always getting spammed, most of it pretty rude and not what you want on a priest’s blog. Some bloggers thrive on comments and the banter can go on for days. (Madpriest and Fr Kelvin being two that I can think of.) Others are more reflective and almost journal like (perhaps Kate and Mother Kimberly?) which still merit comments of course but of a different sort.  We all like comments though, provided they are not abusive.  And yes, most of us do get abusive comments from time to time. Often I will publish them and try to respond but sometimes they are so bad that they have to be deleted.  (Can’t do that in real life, of course!)

So there we have it.  Why we read blogs will vary from person to person but the Church is finally recognising that blogging does go on, and that perhaps they don’t need to be as afraid of it as they once were.  Even bishops blog now and we all read them.  Blogging is a mission tool, a spiritual aid, a source of information, a network and community of Christians and others, and much more. For clergy living on their own it is probably a best friend too.  And some churches who can’t afford a website use blogs for that too. Check out St Mark’s or St Mary’s.  (St Mark’s is undergoing some new design work this week so not looking its best!)

So why do you blog, or read blogs?  Which are your favourites?  Any surprises? Do tell…

Travelling with the Saints

Today almost 30 children descended upon St Mark’s for our annual Mission Day. This year our theme was All Saints and All Souls and the church looked like a cross between the Hallowe’en aisle in Asda and a school for archaeologists. The Junior Church team have been working hard for weeks in preparation and it really paid off.

There was dooking and doughnuts, maps and saints, finger/foot painting and icons and candles, and not to mention a full-size buried skeleton. I was time-keeper and Registration monitor (getting permission and all that jazz) and got to wear my full-length black cloak and a large purple witch’s hat. I don’t know how we are going to top it next year.

Trinity Icon with candles

Trinity Icon with candles

Buried skeleton

Buried skeleton

Are church cafes worthwhile?

I’ve been pondering this question for a while now. One of my last churches had a monthly cafe and St Mark’s does too. There is a huge amount of effort that goes in to these cafes. There’s the furniture removal, tables put up, buying the food and preparation, soup making (in church now because of Health and Safety which has cut down on volunteers), getting volunteers, working together in teams (not always easy!) and after its all over there is the same process in reverse. All that for an average profit of £100 to the church.

In both churches I notice that most of the volunteers for the cafe are on the elderly side. Most young parents treasure their weekends, quite rightly, and usually stay away.

Ah but its mission, I hear you cry. Outsiders coming in to your church who might not otherwise. Quite. But most of the customers are current members, with a few supporters from other local churches who have no intention of changing allegiance. It is a rare occurrence when an unknown person comes in (not that we don’t pounce if they do!).

So what’s the point? Would two people handing over £50 each be just as good? If I thought that the Cafe brought people together in a loving way to work towards a common missional purpose then I’d be more than happy. But let me tell you, that ain’t happening. It is bloody hard work. Tempers get frayed and sometimes I feel my role is better served as mediator. And it is the same young-ish folk who have to come in every time to do the heavy work.

What do you think? Anyone out there have similar problems and have a solution?

Being Church in Contemporary Society

Forgot to tell you that on Saturday I attended a conference/workshop by Ann Morisy which was excellent. Ann is the author of Beyond the Good Samaritan and Journeying Out, both books on mission in society. Following our two recent conferences, one of which looked at the distinctive features of the SEC, Ann helped us think how we could put this into practice in terms of mission.

Ann is an amusing and motivational speaker and I am really glad I made the effort to go. (Only a pity that more didn’t do so.) She would be a great speaker for a Clergy Conference, if anyone is listening…

We looked at Learning from the Past… and Leaving the Past Behind. I wish some of my little flock had been at that one! But how would we have acted back then? Would we have done it any differently? When the powerful tell us how to behave, how hard is it to be critical? Appreciative Inquiry seems to be the way forward here because it works on the assumption that whatever you want more of already exists in the congregation. It does not involve looking for problems and how to solve them. It aims to maintain the best of the past by discovering what it is and stretching it out to the future. It is a co-operative search for strengths, passions and life-giving forces that are found in every organisation.

After thinking about the occasions when your church was at its best we must consider what was the unique combination of factors that made it possible. Then to dream about how your church would look if these best moments were the norm rather than the exception. I’m dreaming!

We then looked at Making Friends with Anxiety. How do we react to anxiety? We react rather than respond; we become more instinctual/cold-blooded; we look for scapegoats; we ‘herd’ and ‘distance’; we forget about fun. Fun is really important. Amen to that, sister. Haven’t I been saying that all along? To cope with anxiety there are 4 spiritual habits to cultivate: to become aware of one’s own reactive buttons; to discipline both our heads and hearts that problems have multiple and interrelated causes; a determination to resist picking up other people’s anxieties; use humour and fun. (There it is again!)

What I need to investigate further is my Differentiated Self. Apparantly this is essential to leadership. The DS is someone who can maintain emotional objectivity whilst in the midst of an emotional system that is in turmoil – and at the same time actively relate to the key people in the system. (To that end I am hoping to go on one of the Mennonite courses on Mediation and Facilitation in the Church.)

Finally we learned to trust God and to learn from the life of Jesus. Forget the death and resurrection (hard at this time of year) and focus instead on the life of Jesus. Then we finished by listening to two stories (and you know how I love stories) about two churches who have achieved great things.

So all in all it was a great day. You should have been there.

Promoting good communication

It has been a busy few weeks what with one thing and another so I have a pile of Church Timeses to catch up on. This morning I am across an article from a few weeks back on promoting good communication skills.

It would appear that the Archbishops’ Council’s Communications Training programme includes new courses entitled ‘Blogging for Beginners’, ‘Spreading the message in cyberspace’ and ‘Getting the most ouf of new media’.

It quotes Gillian Oliver, Head of Communication Development who says, “As technology moves on we have to be swift-footed in the Church. But there is little point in people launching websites if they are so poorly designed or so rarely updated that no-one will look at them.’

The courses are open to anyone who wishes to develop their communication skills in order to promote the work and mission of the Church.

Good for the CofE. I’ve always maintained that blogging is Mission. Now, when can we expect the same in Scotland do you think?

We could also do with training on how to hold conferences at long-distances.