Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Panning for gold

I've come to believe that, when writing or planning it is often necessary to clear the detritus that floats on the surface in order to reach the more valuable nuggets that lie underneath. I'm hoping that that was what was playing out this week in a Ministries Council Consultation planning for a Decade for Ministry, an initiative being undertaken to encourage vocations and re-imagine ministry for the future. None of the "starters for ten" showed any imagination or any indication of a willingness to take risks in order to resource the church to serve neighbourhoods and to build new ecclesial communities for the future. Paradoxically, a session that talked of "The Threshold of Death" and other such grave like symbolism was the most animated and life giving as we considered the trajectory of change.
Another aspect that was sadly lacking - and has been for some time, was consideration of how to build up, equip and support ministers who are currently engaged in serving the church, some of whom, contrary to assumed national intelligence, serve healthy, growing communities, effective in their neighbourhoods and some of whom serve in less encouraging ministries that nonetheless require faithfulness and perseverance. Of course it is important to look to and try to re-imagine the future but that does not have to be at the expense of nurturing those whose calling is to serve what may well become "the remnant" in an age of exile and change.
An element that tends to be overlooked and underestimated is the ministry of encouragement. Such a ministry is entirely possible and, I would contend, necessary, even as we grapple with new horizons.
So, having spent 24 hours putting to rest the unimaginative, uninspired, lifeless suggestions currently in play, can we now get down to the business of harnessing the unpredictable, life giving Spirit of God, following her lead as she nudges and cajoles and maybe even shoves us onto unfamiliar dirt tracks, all the while weaving her restless energy, encouragement and healing balm to the blisters and weariness encountered on the journey? And, in that Spirit of discernment, can we catch too,the excitement and privilege it is to be at such a liminal point on the journey of faith and in the Decade for ministry. Liminal places are creative places.
Already, I believe, the disappointment of the last 24 hours, is a potentially fruitful place from which to continue the journey  with renewed purpose and increasing awareness of the presence of the God of death and resurrection who calls us today to step out in faith and in service to a land we have not seen but for which we hope and pray.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Rekindling the flame

As the sun rose on the day after the Referendum
I made my way to the beach.
Not all the results had been declared
But it was clear that dreams of an Independent Scotland
were not to be realised 
My heart was heavy
My spirit subdued.
But as I trudged along the sand
the stillness of an unseasonably warm autumn morning
bathed my soul
as surely as the ebbing tide
bathed the shore.
The sense of the Creator's presence all around-
In the sun creeping over the horizon
In the waves gently lapping the sand
In the quiet and the calm
reminded me
that grief too is a part of life
and broken dreams
are preceded by the spirit of hope.
Hope that cannot be snuffed out
but that continues to burn.
And when part of the dream dies
or is extinguished
the flicker that is left
must work harder
to illuminate the darkness. 
We are not defeated.
People of all hues
The yes and the no
have glimpsed the promised land
albeit from different perspectives.
It is now that, together,
they can step out in faith
to claim that promise
for themselves
and for generations to come.
Hope has not died
but has been rekindled
in ways we would never have imagined.
The fight is not over
but has only just begun.
All is not lost
and there is everything to gain.
And the tasks of grieving
for those who mourn involves 
acknowledging the dream
that we have lost,
gathering up the passion
that remains,
Moving on with renewed energy
and new friendships
to achieve that promised land
that we envisaged
where all are valued,
and where we share resources
with the poor and the vulnerable.
Together we can fan the flicker
of our wavering hope
into the flame
of love and justice
and peace in our land.
We have it in us
to realise the dream 
The work has only just begun.


(Liz Crumlish 19th September 2014)

No - and yes!


Scotland has voted No to Independence at this time. It was a fairly close run thing. I believe it would be more difficult to move to Independence without a much bigger majority. Healing in a country retaining the Status Quo is probably more achievable than healing in a country where there was only a small majority for independence. I believe that Change requires a bigger mandate although the freedom of democracy decrees otherwise. But what of the future? With the energy of the campaign and the unprecedented level of engagement in the democratic process, can we really hope for change? There are claims that Scottish politics has been changed forever. I would like to think that this is the case. But there are no guarantees and there is no clear pathway to harness the energy that the Referendum has garnered. Promises of change have been made. Declarations of enhanced devolution have been articulated. Time will tell whether those hopes of the Scottish people will be honoured by politicians and by the Westminster government. I do, however, have faith in the people of Scotland to dust themselves down. I have faith that those who hoped that the result would be otherwise will soon return to the level of good humoured banter that is so characteristic of our Nation. Those outcomes are not in doubt.
Throughout the campaign the National Church has called for folk to move forward together whatever the outcome. I know that this is entirely possible in this country that I love. More than that, I believe that people of faith have had a wake up call in this Referendum process. We have been made more aware than ever of the needs and aspirations of our neighbours. We have been incensed at the level of injustice and poverty that sits on our doorstep. And we have been reminded of our call to work alongside and to serve the poor and vulnerable and the marginalised in our own communities. I have faith that we can and will address that with or without a mandate for Independence. Referendum - a wake up call for the government. A wake up call for the church. A wake up call for the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom. In the words of our usual Sunday morning benediction: " We move on from here to love and serve God by loving and serving one another."

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Referendum's Eve

.

People make their morning journeys as usual
Bleary eyed
Thinking of the day ahead
Or the night before
And those whose shift takes in
the wee sma' hours
are already tucked up in bed
storing up energy
for their next shift.
At this early hour
there is little sign 
that we are a country poised
at a major political crossroads
with the decision  on our future direction
firmly placed in the hands of the people.
Only a discarded saltire that has blown into the gutter
bearing testament to the effervescent campaign
that has amused and annoyed in equal measure.
At this juncture,
from this perspective,
the result seems far too close to call
and that brings its own momentum.
There is all to play for.
But even the good natured Scottish spirit of banter
is being stretched to the limit 
as each side makes their last ditch attempt
to win over the electorate.
The reality is that on Friday morning
as the results are declared
we will still be a Nation
Proud to be Scottish
Whatever the Referendum brings,
Will we be a nation that shows
what it is to be divided politically
and united in indomitable spirit?
That is what matters
for our Nation
and for the world
that waits and watches
on this eve of Referendum.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

What if...?

Genesis 12:1-3
The Call of Abram
​ Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

I'm reflecting today on the Call of Abram and the covenant God makes with him. Here is something that I won't be sharing in the pulpit tomorrow:
Abram was a man who didn't have any answers as to what the future held but you would never have known that from his actions. He caught the scent of a promise of a better future and stepped out boldly. His actions shaped history for a whole people.
If Scotland elects to leave the UK next Thursday in the Referendum, perhaps, in our quest for a better Nation, we are not abandoning our neighbours in the rest of the UK to the ravages of unjust policies and ineffective politicians or to further decline and a widening gap between the rich and the poor (as have been just some of the accusations made),perhaps we are not abandoning our neighbours.
Perhaps we are leading them, by our example, into the conviction that there is another way, that we can make a difference, that things can be other than they are at present and that our communities, our Nation and our world can be a better place, where all are valued for who they are, where all are afforded opportunity, where wealth and resources are shared, even if that costs some of us a bit more.
What if our calling is not to fear the unknown (and, at this stage, an independent Scotland is very much an unknown) but, believing in a better future for all God's people, to lead the way to make that future a reality? To model a future that others will want to follow and, by our example, will be inspired to pursue?
That old Scots saying "Better the devil you know" serves to keep us sticking with less than we might encounter simply because we fear the unknown. Conventional wisdom urges us not to become foreigners, not to give up all that to which  we can already lay claim.
Abram modelled a response to God's call that took him from certainty to uncertainty, from a familiar landscape to unknown territory,from tentative options to bold faith. What if this is our time to do the same?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Orderly Care

"The church - It's no' for the likes o' me" was the claim made to a colleague involved in caring for an itinerant parishioner over a number of years. Yet this man had no fewer than four members of the clergy whom he had touched in his own,unique way, present at his funeral service. While he saw the church as too ordered and respectable, he nonetheless knew where he would receive help. And, as my colleague pointed out so eloquently at the service, the giving was by no means one sided.This man, whose social skills were very different from those usually encountered in our pews, taught us about hopes and dreams of "being normal", about life lived on the edge, about building a different kind of community and about traits deemed necessary for survival.
Today, I'm left pondering: Is there a way to lessen the gap between the respectable church and the serving church? Is there a way to become less of a do-gooder and more of a servant? Will it always be necessary to separate the very different demands and calls that we encounter, being one thing and then another? Can ministry feel more integrated and less fragmented? Or is the compartmentalisation just something we have to live with in an imperfect church and world?
I've never believed that to be truly helpful to someone in crisis, we must also have experienced something akin to their experience. However, as I become more involved with those whose lifestyle is so very different to mine, I question my usefulness. And perhaps therein lies the difficulty. Do I need to be useful? Is it enough simply to be? Is the vulnerability I feel in such situations a tool for learning and growing, creating, as it does, a space for God? I fear that having a servant heart is not enough but am at a loss as to how to encourage those who can teach us most to share their journey with us.
I want to serve a church that is not respectable but is nonetheless respected as a companion along the way.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Respectful Dialogue

With just a few weeks to go to  Scotland's Referendum on Independence, the temperature is rising on both sides of the debate. As Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond and the leader of Better Together, Alistair Darling engaged in an acrimonious debate that, I'm sure, helped neither side's cause, folk are left wondering, where can answers to the questions they have ahead of the vote be found?
The Church of Scotland is attempting to facilitate respectful dialogue throughout the country. A debate was held during this year's General Assembly and, next week, the Moderator of the General Assembly is facilitating a further debate and encouraging churches around the country to become involved too. The rules of engagement are very different from those employed in the televised debates we have witnessed between our politicians. Above all, positive regard and respect is the order of the day.
When I intimated to my congregation that I would be involved in one such debate, a few people questioned the mixing of faith and politics.
Faith demands that we are political. Jesus was not crucified for being apolitical. And, especially in this historical era in Scotland, while it is possible to fail to engage with the question of independence, that would seem to be the same as failing to engage with life and with those we are called to love and to serve.
My congregation does not need to know how I will vote in the Referendum. I do not need to know how they will vote. But, together we are compelled to engage with this political moment in the history of Scotland. And, if the church can play a part in helping folk to find answers to their questions that will help them to make a decision on how to vote, then it is right that we facilitate debate.
In addition, I believe that, after the Referendum, churches will have a vital part to play in bringing folk together to make the best of whatever form of government we determine, in healing hurts and in helping folk move on and seek the best for the nation, community by community. Independent or part of the Union, churches in Scotland will continue to love and serve God by loving and serving the poor and vulnerable in our midst, for the love of Christ who never shied away from politics.

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