Query Corner

You’ll remember that I have been going through the archives at Christ Church. In the magazines there are editions of The Sign which appears to be a publication from Mowbray which churches could add in to their own magazine. It is full of stories, articles about the Anglican church and Our Query Corner: Hints for some of our Correspondents.  Here are some of my recent favourites.

Need one go the Church when it is really very dull, except for Holy Communion?

You are no doubt aware of the obvious dangers of that neglect of the ‘assembling together’ which is the special temptation of the educated in all ages. It was the case with those to whom the Epistle to the Hebrews was written. Our attendance at the normal services is for corporate duty, and to help us not to forget the common good. We can put a good deal into our public worship, and use it for social needs, intercessions, organised worship and work, and the like. It is possible to become too selfish.

(oooh! Take that!)

Should one sit for the Epistle when others do not?

If you seat yourself quietly when the Epistle is read, it is right, and others will join you soon.

(You reckon?)

Why do strange clergy come instead of the vicar at special times?

One reason often is that a fresh voice in a pulpit may reach dull ears, or that a stranger may speak plain truths without being thought to know what has occurred in particular individuals and families to call for it. A stranger sometimes stirs up people not reached before.

(I’ve seen some strange clergy in my time, right enough.)

Mr X says women should not go to funerals; is there any rule against it?

If women want to go to funerals, why should they not go?  Though it should be remembered that in days when certain classes of women made “scenes” there was a wide-spread opinion against the practise. It is, as you may know, the growing custom for the bodies of children and adult communicants to be taken into the church (over night if there is to be a celebration of Holy Communion), and in such cases only intimate friends and relatives as a rule attend the conclusion of the service at the graveside.

(Now, don’t you want to know what those certain classes of women were and how the “scenes” manifested itself?)

Should one make a deep reverence to the Cross?

The deep reverence or bow is reserved for our worship. One does not worship a cross, but one may salute it. A man salutes it by a slight bow, and a woman by a slight curtsey. When going up to communion we ignore the cross, but we make a deeper reverence in honour of the Presence of our Lord in the Sacrament. On coming back we may ignore (or many people do) all signs and symbols, going straight back without a reverence to the place where we kneel down to speak to our Lord Himself. We hope that these suggestions may be helpful to you. They are not rules, but pious customs of some reverent-minded folk.

(Better get practising my curtseys.)

Could one tell a preacher that one thought he was wrong?  preaching

One would scarcely go up to a man directly he had finished preaching and tell him that one did not agree with him, and local circumstances and social opportunities might never make the conversation possible or desirable. We suppose one could consider for oneself the points as to whether one was free and able to go elsewhere; whether one only personally differed from the vicar’s temperamental point of view (as may most easily happen in this world of opinions) or, whether on one side or the other, one really did not consider his views were within the wide limits of the Church of England. “For every evil neath the sun, there is a cure or there is none.” One thing is, if you can’t find the cure, try to possess your soul in such patience that your devotions are not spoilt.

(I dare you. Really, I dare you…)

Leaving Church

When I was first ordained someone gave me a book of Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermons. I put them aside on a bookshelf meaning to read them some time but those early days of new ministry were awfully busy. Reading was way down on my list of priorities. I had had years of reading at University and Theological College… I wanted to be DOING.

Perhaps a couple of years later I heard someone raving about Barbara Brown Taylor, so I dug out the book and had a wee glimpse. Oh what a treat. What joys lay therein. These were sermons to dream over, to ponder, to come back to time and time again. And yes, I will confess to having pinched the odd idea from her.

A couple of years ago I heard that she had left the American Episcopal Church and my heart sank. What on earth had driven her to leave a successful ministry and go into teaching? She who was an icon for all women clergy in parish ministry. She whose preaching was so grounded in the people she served. She whose gift for storytelling and making connections was such an inspiration to the rest of us?

Leaving Church is the book that tells that story. I read it over two days with a pencil by my side marking phrases, paragraphs, whole pages to ponder again and share with my literary journal later. It is the book that you want all your busy, frazzled clergy friends to read before its too late. Passages like this:

I was not doing so well on the inside either.  In spite of my best intentions, I had dug myself back into the same hole that I had left All Saints’ to escape. My tiredness was so deep that it had seeped into my bones. I was out more nights than I was home. No matter how many new day planners I bought, none of them told when I had done enough. If I spent enough time at the nursing home then I neglected to return telephone calls, and if I put enough thought into the vestry meeting then I was less likely to catch mistakes in the Sunday bulletin.  As soon as I managed to convince myself that these were not cardinal sins, one of them would result in an oversight that caused a parishioner’s meltdown… (p98)

…Behind my heroic image of myself I saw my tiresome perfectionism, my resentment of those who did not try as hard as I did, and my huge appetite for approval. I saw the forgiving faces of my family, left behind every holiday for the past fifteen years, while I went to conduct services for other people and their families.  (p102)

In the end BBT ends up in a good place. She seems happy finding new ways of being creative with God teaching spirituality to young people.  Those of us who may not have such opportunities need to do something first before we end up disillusioned and very, very tired.

As my network of support seems to mainly come from social media like Facebook and Twitter these days, perhaps the church needs to look at ways of peer support in this area. As more clergy leave the church we need to ask why? BBT goes a long way to answering honestly some of those questions.

Leaving Church

The sermon: short and sweet

Yesterday I had the local 1st year class from the local secondary school in for a romp around the church. Their teacher gives them a worksheet where they have to draw holy symbols, find the font etc, and name the saints in the windows.  The eagle lectern is referred to as ‘that big burrd’. After they have finished I get the chance to tell them what goes on each Sunday in Christ Church. We all dress up for that bit.

So one little girl had begged to be the priest and we always like to encourage women in this church so she got to wear the green stole and chasuble and went around making a sort of popish blessing on everyone. It is funny what kids think we do. The wee server carried the processional cross like a bayonet and the ‘choir’ had to process lickety-splick behind him as he charged down the aisle. When we got to the sermon our priest climbed up the steps to the pulpit, nearly breaking her neck on the chasuble as she did so (don’t read this Health and Safety Officer) and stood there waving her arms about. We discussed what a sermon might be like: explaining the hard bits in the bible, telling us how to live today in the light of the gospel etc.

“So come on then,” I said, “give us a sermon.”

Long embarrassed pause.

“Come on, what do you think I might say to encourage people?”

Another pause.  Then…

“Eat your greens!”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

A Media Tart is born

Have I become a media tart?  Well it was only a matter of time, I suppose, for an attention seeker. For yesterday I spent a delicious morning with Carol (morning Carol!) from BBC Radio Scotland’s Religious department recording four programmes – New Every Morning –  which will go out on 29 April and 3 Sundays thereafter. But you’ve got to be up with the birds to catch it for it goes on air at 6.30am. However, you can listen again via the website if you’re not such an early riser.

Past little flocks might find the sermons a little familiar for I had to regurgitate some old ones and tart them up a bit. And current little flock can just come to church at 10.30am on those mornings and hear them live, as it were. No sense in letting a good sermon go to waste. Actually, they weren’t particularly good, it has to be said. Preparing four services in Holy Week will do that to a girl. There just wasn’t enough time for me to create something absolutely stunning.

The recording process was fascinating. One delightful woman, one small recording device the size of a mobile phone, some headphones and a lapel mike. That was it. Those with good hearing will notice the several downpours that we had while recording. Luckily we didn’t have to get the holy bucket out or there would have been some lovely loud drip/sploshes too. It was also fortunate that we didn’t have any fire engines or loud boom-boom music from cars at traffic lights which is our norm. And it was all over in just over 2 hours.  Thanks to Tom and Sandie who helped out with readings. We all had to do a couple of re-takes but just minor paragraphs which will get edited in. It was all quite painless – although I did find it odd not having any eye contact with my little flock.

And over a cup of tea I was asked if I’d consider doing Thought for the Day. Now that’s a whole other can of worms which will require some prayer. It is live, after all.

All Age Eucharist – Epiphany V

We don’t have a lot of children here at Christ Church. We would like to have some more but for now we rejoice in our teenagers and welcome any little grandchildren when they come along to visit. I think when I first came here the thing that people wanted most was more children. As Morag Buxel, the Diocesan Youth Officer, famously said at last year’s Synod, “If you want more children in church, it is up to you. Procreate!”  That didn’t go down terribly well with our Vestry, not many of them being of child-bearing age! At Christmass we did put on a Christingle Crib Service and there was a good number of grandchildren and other youngsters who came along. This gave us the confidence to try a monthly All Age Eucharist, the first of which was on Sunday.

The liturgy I used was cobbled put together carefully when I was at St Mark’s Portobello (with the approval of our beloved Bishop) and is simple and easy to understand. (In fact, one adult said to me that if we used that Creed every Sunday she’d be a lot happier and could actually join in!) All good, so far. But the thing that causes me most angst is the sermon. It can take me days to write something creative and memorable – and I know I don’t always get it right. In fact, I’m sure they are often remembered for what went wrong rather than the message I was trying to put across. It is agony for me. Agony, I tell you.  Then I came across this quote by M Craig Barnes from The Pastor as Minor Poet:

No one in the sanctuary should be more excited about the Sunday sermon than the person in the pulpit… If the preacher isn’t thrilled by the sermon, why should anyone in the pews care about it?.. The unspoken secret to great preaching is that no one should enjoy the sermon more than the preacher.

OK, so I’ve got a bit of work to do there then!

But the great success of Sunday’s service was the last song by Fischy Music.  I know that many adults are too embarrassed or reluctant to join in the actions with some choruses, but somehow Fischy have got it just right by using Sign Language. So we all sang along heartily to God Knows Everything and everyone left with a huge smile on their face. And, as a bonus, I’ve learned that some of our young people already know Fischy Music from school so I may well be getting them up to teach them in future.

And before we know it, we will have all the children up at the altar with candlesticks, crosses and thuribles. Well, that’s my hope anyway.

Breaking News

Just back from deepest Derbyshire and the College of Preachers’ Breaking News Conference. The College isn’t really a college. It is a kind of ‘virtual’ college. It is really a ‘body’ to promote good practice in preaching and it would appear you can’t even join it even although we all thought the money we had been sending them every year was a membership when in fact it was merely a subscription for what turns out to be a rather expensive magazine. But enough of such gripes.

This year’s conference, and my first, was to be about preaching among the news headlines. I’m not very good at that. The world could come to an end on Sunday morning at 3am and I will still be going with whatever I have slaved over all week whether it was apocalyptical or not. I don’t react well. I like time to think and plan. So I thought this conference might be helpful. You know the kind of thing – world comes to an end and by 8.30am Ruth has seamlessly managed to relate said end to all three readings with room for a joke on the subject too.

It was a bit of a hike to Englandshire on the train but at least I can now travel on my own without needing anxiety medication. (Don’t ask.) The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick was jolly nice and the room was spacious. I arrived in time for lunch and then it was straight into three long sessions, two from women in the BBC telling us about news gathering. How that affects my sermon, I’m not exactly sure, but it was very interesting all the same.  Then off to the bar and I’m afraid I didn’t make it to Worship led by the Salvation Army praise band. I was awfully tired. I was!

Wednesday began with the search for decent coffee which led to a trip along the M1 in rush hour traffic, a few junctions later and finally a Costa before discovering we couldn’t get back on the M1 in the opposite direction so had to practically drive to Birmingham before we found a junction. As a result we missed the first session which was a great pity as it seemed to be the one that most dealt with the topic in hand. But the next session was by Kate Bruce, Chaplain at St John’s College in Durham. I’ve heard Kate speak before at a Preacher’s Day in Edinburgh and she is good at doing imaginative preaching and stuff like that. I didn’t misbehave during that session once.  Mother K and I went to her workshop too and I did a little work on Sunday’s sermon. Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Our next speaker talked about the digital culture and how we need to communicate today. There were gasps of shock and disbelief from the grey haired ones around me. When I owned up to being on Facebook and held up my Blackberry I thought I’d be burned for witchcraft and magick. One delightful man asked for my blog address after though which was sweet. You will have gathered that the age profile of those attending the conference was considerably high. Put it this way, I was in the youngest percentage. Where were all the young ones who wouldn’t be shocked at talk of 2nd Generation and St Pixel’s?  Then over coffee I met a delightful NSM who said, “Oh are you Rev Ruth’s Rantings? I read your blog.” Small world, eh?

It was quite a commitment – three days away from the parish. I’m not sure that all of it lived up to the blurb. The speakers from the BBC were all very nice but they didn’t exactly write my sermon, you know?  In fact, only two of the sessions appeared to do that and I missed one of them! The Council of the College of Preachers (mostly men of course!) are all pretty old and I reckon it could do with a big shake-up. Maybe then it would attract some younger delegates.

The final preacher was Leslie Griffiths from the Wesley Chapel in London. What a hoot! He’s a Lord and does Thought for the Day and I could have listened to him all day. Jolly good.

Journey home in the Quiet Compartment, which never is, was uneventful. I even made it back in time to vote.

Preaching right?

The Church Times is talking about preaching this week.  The College of Preachers (of which I am a paid-up member, don’t you know?) commissioned a study into preaching at various denominations.

17% said that they frequently heard sermons that made them change their lifestyles. In my humble experience, whenever one is tempted to have someone in mind when writing such a sermon they invariably don’t turn up that week.

97% said that they looked forward to the sermon each week and 84% agreed that they should be closely connected with the bible.  55% said their knowledge of Jesus was frequently improved by sermons. But only 16% said that sermons helped them to understand events in the news or controversial issues. (Anglicans came off a wee bit better in that one.)

It has made me think about my own preaching style which varies from week to week.  Sometimes it is more of a story telling time with wisdom stories from all faiths being used as a tool. Sometimes it is much more imaginative, getting into the story by imagining I am there.  Sometimes it is focussed completely on one phrase which has caught my eye. Sometimes there is a bit more history and theology and maybe feels more like teaching. And often the type of sermon depends on the amount of time I have to prepare.  Don’t we all wish we could hearken back to those days when the priest spent every morning reading and writing his sermon and every afternoon visiting?

Of course, we didn’t really get taught how to preach. When I was at Tisec I think there was one session on it.  (40 mins)  Because of this I did opt for a course on Homiletics (the study of preaching) at University but it was more theory than practice. This may explain why I joined the College of Preachers!  Unfortunately most of their courses are down south and not easy to attend but they recently had a fabulous day in Edinburgh which made me promise myself I’d spend more time in preparation, fired with some great ideas. I managed it once!

I do remember a few really good sermons.  Not as many as I would like, however.  The ones that paint pictures work well for me. I don’t hear many of them. But then, I’m a visual person.  And I don’t get to hear many sermons these days.

So, my question today is… what style of preaching do you prefer?  Can you recall a memorable sermon which has stuck with you? Do you ever feel challenged to go out and look at the world differently or to live differently?

Over to you…

College of Preachers Day

Yesterday I was taken from my sick bed to Cramond Kirk for a day on Preaching Luke held by the College of Preachers. There were some very high calibre speakers: Larry Hurtado from New College Edinburgh; David Day and Kate Bruce, both from Durham University I think.  Larry did the biblical stuff about Luke and it took me back to my days at New College. David Day wrote a book on preaching which I read when I was first ordained and he has a wonderful sense of mischief and humour so it was a delight to listen to him.  He spoke about the Good News bits and the Tricky Bits. Kate Bruce spoke about Narrative Textual Analysis and Preaching Parables. It is so rare to hear a woman speaking about preaching and to hear a woman preach that I was in seventh heaven.

Which has made me ponder… why do women and men preach differently?  Or perhaps you don’t think they do? Let’s have your comments…

Go west

And I went west yesterday to preach at Fr Kirstin‘s institution at Bearsden (with Milngavie).  Kirstin’s driving instructions left a lot to be desired as she doesn’t know her left from her right. So when she said that Junction 16 actually comes off at the right and not the left, she lied.  So there I was at the last minute trying to cross 4 lanes of traffic mouthing ‘sorry’ as I went. Thank goodness for the traffic jam which I can been cursing not five minutes before for it meant that as we were crawling along at 5mph it was reasonably easy to lane jump.  Then my Sat Nav thought I was still on the motorway because the road had taken me directly underneath it so kept repeating ‘Leave the motorway at the next junction… Leave the motorway…’ you get the picture. I just screamed at it until it got it right.  But I made it to the church in time and with time enough to eat my lunch before all the Glasgow clergy and a few others descended upon the rather nice hall. In fact it is a rather nice wee church with lots of lilac glass in the windows and some rather stunning angels’ wings in the window above the altar.

I was preaching so I got to sit with the choir but I fear I rather let them down.  My favourite St Anne’s mass setting with an Agnus Dei from another MacMillan setting I think which was a bit weird. As there is no bishop in Glasgow at the moment, the Dean Gregor Duncan stood in for him and did a jolly good job. I was really nervous about preaching and it had caused me a lot of grief last week as I tried to get something down on paper. I’m not sure why it was so difficult. Was it because a friend had asked me and that, of course, is an honour?  Or because I would be preaching to so many peers as well as two little flocks? Anyway, it got done at the last hour and seemed to go down okay.

We then wandered down to the BB hall nearby and were treated to some rather nice sandwiches (crustless of course) and a cup of tea. Tea?! No wine?  No fizz? Outrageous! Then some of us went back to have a nosey round the Rectory. This is the real reason clergy go to Institutions. It is really only in the hope that they get to have a gander at the rectory and see how it compares to your own.  All I will say is: many more bathrooms, and lovely conservatory.  And yes I coveted. (Not only the bathrooms but the gorgous Juliet Hemingray green stole that Kirstin was presented with.)

Kirstin gave me 2 lovely books as a pressie which was terribly kind. (One for recent birthday and one for preaching.) They were on my wish list and it always astonishes me when people actually take time to look at the wish list and buy me something I really want.  They were called Imaging the Word and I’ll do a little review later.

And a shared journey home with Mother J and a good blether. So all in all, a lovely day.

Preaching The Street

You know how it is… you get asked to preach at a very special occasion and you are so flattered to have been asked you immediately say ‘Yes!’  Then as the time draws nearer you start to wonder why you ever thought you could offer some bon mots to suit the occasion.  Your mind is completely empty of any ideas whatsoever and inspiration is off climbing a hill somewhere.  Then you remember a book which might have something to offer and in it, sure enough, you find a quote about Coronation Street which seems terribly apt and you’re off!  Except now you remember you don’t actually watch Coronation Street and are not sure that you’re going to be able to pull it off.

That’s the stage I find myself tonight.  Please say a prayer.