Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Cultivating empowerment

For some time now, I've been pondering the difference between enabling and empowering. Often it seems as though these words are interchangeable.
This week, I may have discovered something of the fundamental difference between them.
In many ways it is easy to enable people, to make room for them to step into roles and be supported as they discover their particular gifts, even as they experiment to find their niche.
However, once that support is removed, for whatever reason, other forces come into play and, unless the one enabled has also been empowered, they will succumb to sabotage.
This is particularly pertinent in church settings, where there are often unhealthy behaviours at play. While ministers and/or leaders can mitigate the underlying sickness for a time, unless the root cause is addressed, once the leader moves on, people default to what they know best and, in a short space of time, good work can be demolished. Those enabled by a supportive leadership now feel disempowered and back down, deeming the struggle too much. And so the church loses out on those who have gifts to share but do not want to fight for their place in a corrupt system.
Ironically, those whose behaviour leads to division and strife are endlessly patient, largely content to wait in the wings until opportunities present themselves to assert (or re-assert) power and destroy any positive strides made. Often in the minority, they are nonetheless powerful in the tools they employ - undermining, disarming, spreading doubt and fear, insidious in their reach.
Empowering others involves addressing the systems and forces that seek to undermine. It involves setting in motion a cultural change that will withstand the temptation to default to previous unhealthy behaviours when a leader moves on, empowering folk to recognise and stand up to negative forces. Changing a culture takes time but empowering folk to recognise the signs and the forces at work will go some way to maintaining ground gained when leadership changes.
Regretfully, enabling is not enough without the work of empowerment.
A lesson learned the hard way.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Looking for one more sign?

Judges 6:39
Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.”

We need one more sign
One more word of reassurance
One more affirmation
One more marker by which to gauge 
the evidence of God at work
It's not so much
that we are unconvinced
by the evidence all around.
Its not that we doubt the presence
and the leading of God.
But we question our own preparedness
our own competence
our own suitability
for the task that lies ahead.
We know that God is faithful.
The question is: are we?
Are we up to the task
of stepping into the unknown
And if, by some amazing quirk
others should journey with us,
can we keep our nerve,
remain resolute along the way?
Are we able 
to keep on discerning
and to follow the prompts revealed?
Are we able to bear the burden
of those who will grumble
when we cannot chart the territory
or the fear of those
who see no need to change direction
or the scorn of those for whom
the old ways are working just fine?
Do we have the resilience it will take
to weather the saboteurs
not least the doubts and fears within us
that whisper that we're not fit for the journey?
May the God of infinite wisdom and patience
give us one more sign
against all the odds
that we are called to this journey now
in faith
in hope
and in love.
We are called 
to step out
with the God of mission
who maps out a new path
and call us
to journey alongside
and who grounds and resources us
from the depths
showing us in ancient stories
the way
to God's promised future
one step, one sign at a time.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Telling a different story

A Reflection on a Conference of Women in Ministry:
I'm always struck when women who minister in the church get together, how quickly stories of being discounted, discriminated against and other such appalling stories emerge. Alongside our personal stories, there are also legions of stories told on behalf of others. Stories that tell of the love of God being withheld and the call of God being denied. There is, undoubtedly, a place for such stories, such vulnerability, such sharing.
But I am concerned that by continually sharing these painful narratives, psrticularly long after we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down and, dare I say it, triumphed in spite of such experiences, that we perpetuate the culture of strife and division.
I want to see women in ministry claiming their rightful place in the Kingdom of God, even if that erodes and destroys the institution that the church has become. Displaying their femininity, owning their power as bringers of life, harbingers of light, beloved children of God, called, commissioned, sent.
As long as we accentuate the stories of our oppression and injustice, we overlook the subversive stories of the positive effects of our ministry ordained and enabled by God. I suppose I'm subscribing to the notion of "by their fruits shall Ye know them." 
Two of my Biblical heroes are Shiprah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who defied the orders of the Pharaoh and spared the lives of Hebrew males whom he had ordered to be killed at birth - one of whom was Moses. And my modus operandi in the church has been to find a way to work around whatever obstacles are put in the way of ministry.
The stories of difficulty and trial should not be denied or suppressed but we can be - and are - engaged in writing a new story. A story of love and strength and of making a difference where it matters because God enables us so to do. That is the story I want to be shared, that is the perception that I want to overtake all the negativity that is there in abundance. That is the record that I want to overtake the history of women in ministry. Called, commissioned, sent - servants of God making a difference in the Kingdom of God.

Friday, 9 September 2016

What happens in the church stays in the church?

For the past few years, I've met up with women clergy colleagues early in the year on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. They are part of RevGalBlogPals, a supportive network of women clergy who initially connected virtually through blogging. We invite a facilitator on the cruise and hire the cruise ship's conference facilities and embark on 20 hours CPD while cruising the high seas. Just some of the things we've done together are: studied the Enneagram, written new liturgical material, critiqued books and considered how to be a Missional church in a changing culture.
Of course, in addition to the time we spend studying together, there is also plenty of fun time - we call it Galship - where, just like all the other passengers on board, we enjoy the facilities that the cruise ship has to offer.
The onboard Cruise Director, when announcing the day's choice of activities, always reminds folk: "What happens on the ship stays on the ship." - an encouragement to loosen inhibitions in the knowledge that no one who wasn't involved will find out.
For quite some time now, it appears that many of us have treated Sunday worship in a similar manner, preferring to keep the activities we undertake in worship week by week within the confines of the church building. Not that we ever loosen our inhibitions in worship anyway. But we participate in worship, perhaps enjoy some fellowship, and then head home to get on with the rest of the week, neatly tucking away our church involvement until the next Sunday. And, whether we have been moved to tears, joy or whatever else, we put everything away safely and tidily until our next opportunity to get together to worship again.
And so those who are not involved don't see any need to be, far less pick up on any lasting effect or difference that worship makes to our lives or the life of the world.
We might as well be on a cruise ship in the Caribbean if we do not allow what we do within the walls of the church to make a difference to how we live and serve every other day of the week.
Discipleship 101 - take it outside!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Stories and journeys

Once again I had the privilege of leading the Pastoral Team at the Church of Scotland's National Youth Assembly. And, yet again, I've been blown away by the stories and journeys these young adults shared.
I've also been energised, encouraged and strengthened by their enthusiasm and passion.
This year we tackled some weighty topics - Gender Injustice, Mental Health and the Future of Ministries. 
Discussions and debates were filled with knowledge and experience and comducted with compassion and energy, inexhaustible energy. After long days, discussions and support carried on well into the night - and then, the next morning, after just a few hours rest, delegates were ready to do it all again - which is more than can be said for staff, although, somehow, the energy and enthusiasm of the young people was contagious - thankfully.
Today, I have an image in my mind of these young people back in their on contexts. Some will be missing the companionship. Some will be sharing the experience. Some will be viewing the church from a different perspective than before. Some will be discerning "What next" for their journey with God. All have been part of the story of NYA and now go to continue that story and to continue the unpredictable journey of faith. My prayer for each of them is that their journey has been enhanced by the experience of travelling together and that their stories are the richer for having shared the road of NYA.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Capturing is not enough!

Judge me if you must - but I am a fan of Pokemon Go! 
I eagerly awaited its launch in the UK and, ever since, have been happily capturing Pokemon and storing them. I regularly expanded my storage capacity to accommodate over 600 Pokemon. After all "Gotta Catch 'em all" is a tag line for the Pokemon franchise.
I've enjoyed discovering Pokestops at churches, monuments and places of historical interest. I even discovered some interesting facts about some of the places we visited in Paris this year - Pokemon provides details of Pokestops that can be more fun than official guide books!
This weekend, serving on the staff team at the Church of Scotland's National Youth Assembly, however, I discovered that capturing Pokemon is not enough!
There's more to it - much more to it, than simply capturing!
Pokemon have to evolve.
It's not enough to capture them and store them in an ever expanding facility - they have to evolve to the next (and subsequent) level.
And then, they are equipped for battle in Pokemon Gymns.
Pokemon evolve by being  fed Pokemon candy.
Evolving the Pokemon I have already captured has greatly reduced the number I have but has vastly increased their quality and resilience - simply by using the Pokemon candy I had in abundance
I know this is going to make me sound like a geek BUT that immediately struck me as a metaphor for the church.
Often, our goal seems to be capture. To reel folk in, to expand the facilities if necessary, (though that's rarely necessary these days) and to be happy that we've done our bit - When what is really required is to feed people and continue to feed them once they appear on our radar or cross the threshold of our church plants.
Faith is not the destination but just the start of a journey that requires nourishment.
As folk are fed, they grow in faith, they evolve. They become stronger, more equipped for the struggles of faith. And the resources for nourishment are abundant.
Today, I'm giving thanks for connections, physical and spiritual, made through Pokemon Go!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Ruined: A book review

I met Ruth Everhart last spring when I hosted her in Scotland for a few days before leading a retreat on Pilgrimage, based on her book: Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land.
We had fun exploring parts of the west coast of Scotland before heading to the east coast, where the retreat took place.
I was pleased to receive an advance copy of Ruth's book for review.
Ruined is a moving account of rape and robbery perpetrated on Ruth and the other women she shared a house with while she was at college and the rippling effects that brutal crime had on all of them.
Ruth tells her story with clarity, describing the rape and its aftermath in detail.
Although she does not gloss over the details of that terrifying night, she tells it in a way that enables the reader to remain engaged.
Brought up in a sheltered, Christian home, attending a Christian college, the horrific crime dredged up for Ruth all manner of questions about the presence and purpose of God.
Ruth describes, with candour, how the crime affected not just those violated but also their relationships with each other and with their family, friends, and college community.
Her telling is insightful with flashes of humour, as she describes some of her more reckless actions and love interests in the wake of the trauma.
Ruth's honesty is refreshing, particularly when she recounts her struggle with racism, reacting to the colour of the perpetrators.
Much of the sometimes simple faith with which she had grown up was challenged and pulled up by the roots as she dealt with her experience but Ruth emerges with strength and love and a faith that is all the more robust for having being forged and reframed under such a traumatic spotlight.
There are so many themes vying for attention in this memoir that more than one reading is required to explore those.
I am grateful to Ruth for allowing such darkness to be brought into the light, for sharing her pain filled story and her fight with faith and her discovery through all that of the sometimes impotent God who walks with us in the shadows.

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