Sunday, 24 April 2016

Evocative or prophetic?

Walking down past the golf course to the beach this morning, I was assailed by the smell of the gorse bushes, that coconut-like tang that mingled with the sea breeze, awakening my senses and stirring my soul. And as I inhaled the scent I was transported back in time - right back to a memory of a day when I was 11 years old:
I was walking home from primary school on my own. My older brother was already in secondary school and my twin brother and my younger sister were attending a brand new school that had been built nearer us while I completed my final year of primary school in a school further from home. (Shock, horror, I probably walked a round trip of 3 miles every day!)
As I walked past similar gorse bushes that day, I decided to stop for a moment, to savour the freshness, to revel in the alone time and to thank God, whose nearness I sensed in that moment.
I probably didn't know the term "introvert" then, but I did know that I needed to carve out space and time to get away from people and sit by God's side.
That moment this morning, reminded me that, while, today, I am called to journey in faith with people, in sometimes very full-on ways, I still need the restorative time alone with God who feeds my soul and who nurtures my spirit, the God who leads beside the still waters (or the gorse).
The signs were there early on - and they still are!

Friday, 22 April 2016

The school gate

When our children were small, (aged 8 and 3), we moved from town life to village life when I accepted a call to parish ministry. As soon as the call was confirmed, I began a conversation with the village school about the childrens' education. And so it was, that for 6 weeks before the move, I was transporting my son to his new school. By the time I took up my post in the local parish church I had hung about at the school gate, meeting other parents, picking up on the local gossip, gauging the pulse of the neighbourhood and had already begun to form relationships within the community. My role then allowed me to deepen and develop those relationships begun at the school gate, as I moved around the neighbourhood, on the streets, in the pub and at the village shop. Perhaps it is no surprise that my ministry there was always more affirmed and accepted by those in the neighbourhood than by those in the church.
Fast forward 15 years and, once more responding to God's call, we have recently moved to a new neighbourhood. This time we do not have the school gate initiation process. Nor do I have a public role in ministry in this community. How does one form relationships and find a sense of belonging in a new place? How does one find the points of connection? Attending one of the local churches has helped, as has spending time in the (many) local coffee shops, walking along the promenade and shopping in the local stores. It's a much slower process, exacerbated because my work takes me away for long days, but there are signs of the beginnings of belonging - occasional conversations with regular dog walkers, a welcome by staff at my favourite coffee shop, recognition in the grocery store, life giving signs that begin to soothe my disorientation. 
The sense of not belonging has come as a painful surprise for me in this move, a soreness that has chafed and eroded part of my being.  But it has also given me helpful insight into an experience that is surely common for many people who move around for whatever reason. And so I continue to discover and explore and, hopefully, in time, intentionally or otherwise, create those places of connection and belonging for me and for others as we grow into this neighbourhood - where surely God is.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Protestant Reflections

John 6:66-68
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Along with a colleague, I've just spent a few days at a conference in Wittenberg: Re-imagining Protestantisms.
Before I left Scotland, someone asked:"Why Protestantisms?" Why plural?
Being here, among such a diverse group of people has revealed some of why Protestantisms is an accurate term. There is no one picture that describes Protestantism in Europe , far be it in the rest of the world.
Most of the conference speakers and participants are involved, at some level, in Pioneering, Renewal or Fresh Expressions of church - diverse, multi-hued and multi faceted responses to our culture today. All of these initiatives are directions of travel that encourage us to redefine the basic tenets of faith, to rediscover what is important about our faith, what it is we want to share with others and to constantly remind ourselves of Why the gospel is good news today.
Here, in the city where Luther nailed his 95 theses, from where Reformation spread across the world, I've been struck by the pastoral impetus of his protest - a protest against people being exploited by religious authorities and I'm pondering the causes that might unite us in protest today. Of course there are many possibilities but,once again, it is likely that we will be informed, not by the institutions but by those on the margins.
Stefan Paas reminded us that renewal does not come without struggle and pain. 
Are we up for that kind of reformation in the church today?

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Discontinuous change

John 21:15-17
Jesus and Peter
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

A wee snippet from today's sermon:

This Easter season, I've identified with the disciples more closely than ever before.
I've felt more keenly their disorientation, their fear, their uncertainty - because that's where I am.
For 20 years I've been a parish minister and my whole identity has been defined by that.
Now I'm floundering.
And I've been called to walk with others in their floundering.
God surely has a warped sense of humour.
The picture in our gospel reading this morning, of the wounded Jesus on the beach, feeding his wounded disciples speaks to me in a whole new way this year.
Jesus doesn't wait until we've got it all together.
Jesus calls us as we are to feed his sheep today.
And he promises to sustain us in a changed and changing world today as the disciples whom he loves, whom he encourages and whom he nurtures.
Even when we lose sight of who we are and what we are about, Christ loves us and feeds us and trusts us to feed his sheep today.
In Christ we are loved, forgiven, healed and made new.
We are commissioned to Feed his sheep.

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