Professional?

This week has proved an interesting one. The first day of my working week was spent in a day-long meeting discussing the needs of ministers and whether we need a ‘professional’ body to address them.

The assessment of what the minister should be doing was accurate: the need for spiritual guidance and accountability; the need for continual reflection on our practice as ministers; and the need for continuing learning and developing both academic and practical.

What I am not sure about is the need to be a’ professional body’ – whilst I think we need to be ‘professional’ in our ministry I am not sure I want to be seen as a ‘professional’ in the way that a lawyer is seen. (maybe thew difference between being seen as a ‘post-holder’ and an ’employee’ and why i want to retain the former)

For most of this week I have spent many hours with someone who is dying – each day we thought it was their last but a week and a half on that has not yet proved to be true. I’m sure there are many who would feel that my sitting next to the bed of someone who is unconscious, for many hours a day, is not the best use of my time when there are so many other pressing needs and jobs that I should have done this week.

But for me it is my ‘being’ that needs to be the best that I can be as Christ’s follower and all the book learning and professional appraisal in the world will not necessarily address that. How would I quantify all those hours against all the tasks not done in an appraisal?

Or the time that I have spent on the phone talking with others about important matters in the life of the union – how would I justify that against tasks undone?

All the time spent listening to someone who has been very hurt, as have others that they work with, as people have lost jobs and endured a massive re-organisation.

I can’t tick these off my to-do list which looks much as it did five days ago and so I look like a failure in a ‘professional’ sense but I pray that in God’s eyes I have done the right things with my time this week.

We need to find a way to encourage and support ministers to continue to grow and develop as they should so that they fulfill Christ’s calling on their lives to the best of their human ability but we need to beware calls that move us into a business model of ministry:

Eugene Peterson comments: ” The vocation of pastor(s) has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.” 

Instead Eugene asks a question we all need to ask:

“How do I keep the immediacy and authority of God’s call in my ears when an entire culture, both secular and ecclesial, is to give me a job description? How do I keep the calling, the vocation, of pastor from being drowned out by job descriptions, gussied up in glossy challenges and visions and strategies, clamoring incessantly for my attention”.

 Eugene H. PetersonThe Pastor: A Memoir

 

Redemption and Grace

Last night I went to see the film version of Les Miserables.  I confess I went with some trepidation as this is my favourite musical: I have seen the stage show, the concert performances, and often listen to the dream cast singing it. How would actors cope with the demanding singing? But I went waning to like it, even love it – so what did I think? (Beware there is at least one spoiler in what follows so if you don’t know the story you may not want to read on until you have seen it)

Mostly the singing was okay: Ann Hathaway and Hugh Jackman did very well, especially Ann’s ‘I dream a dream’ which was heartbreaking. All the other actors also did well but as expected the disappointment was Russell Crowe, whose voice is not up to the role of Javier.

I felt the film was beautifully made and, for those who find plots difficult to discern from pure singing, was well illustrated. I confess I cried more than I did when I saw the stage show because the film allows you to get very close-up and personal when tragedy occurs.

Inevitably for me it is the story of redemption and grace that captures me and again that was well thought out in the film with the possible exception of Crowe’s Javier whose suicide because he could not process the grace that had been shown to him was less than convincing for me.

This is a film that churches could use either as a whole or in parts to discuss a great many moral issues and the role of grace and redemption within them.

I am glad that I saw the film and would probably watch it again although for me the stage with its professional singers would always be my preference.

Reflections

So here we are in mid-January and I am finally feeling that I have come up for air. My sabbatical was amazing: such a privilege to be given time to study and research, to reflect and pray, and travel.
My research of the Baptist Deaconess Order proved to be much more fascinating than I had anticipated and because I had to stop myself after three weeks there is much yet to write down and reflect upon. My reading on mission both stimulated and confirmed the way I had begun to think but now the task is to envision the leadership and the church in the task of mission in our community. Coming back straight into Christmas was a very stressful thing to do and for a couple of weeks I felt depressed and overwhelmed but then we had our Christmas family service which the previous year attracted no-one but this year we more than tripled our congregations – testimony to the success of the new ventures we began that were designed to be a stepping stones. Now the task is to diversify our activities but also how to help people move from them towards a more obvious seeking of faith. One picture that helped me was that a stepping stones across the river which we need to provide.

The other activity that was very rich for us us was the travelling around the world to see relatives in the states, our Foster daughter and the son of some friends in New Zealand, and a few days in Hong Kong. In the states we experienced beauty of mountains and sees, the excitement of a college American football game (where I was told I was going to hell by a street evangelist because I was a Minister – the captured crowd stood with me on the traffic island quickly turned against him at that moment: a failure in transmitting the faith for him). I was privileged to go into a high school and see lessons in Spanish, English and special education – the best question from the students to me was: ‘how did they teach you your accent?’ My reply: ‘how do they teach you yours?’. ‘But I don’t have an accent’, Came the expected reply! Oh how easy it is to see what is normal for us as the norm and everybody else who is different is wrong.

New Zealand brought so much beauty again from snow laden mountains, sees, ice blue lakes, sperm whales, seals, an albatross and beautiful empty roads. I decided I must be a New Zealander at heart because I have never known people who are so willing to speak and share their lies with strangers- they will talk to anyone. The most friendly place I have ever been which was quite a contrast Hong Kong which I think must be the friendliest place I have ever visited though the food was great!

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But also what interested us was that each country had its own particular interests and fears of those entering: USA-terrorism, New Zealand-biodiversity, Hong Kong-illness. I wonder who it is that we in our churches fear and what we can do to take down the barriers between us those who have not yet found God but also how we can stop ourselves and try to make them like us and allow them their individuality, even as we all seek to be more Christlike.

But it’s back to normality now, and yet I have been changed by those three months and so normal is different. I look forward to what God has in store for us as a church in the coming months and I’m excited.

 

A Journey

Today is my last full day of reading and research on my sabbatical – I have writing up to do on both projects but today I put away the books. The next few weeks will be taken up with travelling, meeting family in two different countries and seeing four very different cultures in the USA, New Zealand and Hong Kong. We arrive in the USA the day after presidential elections and so will either be celebrating with the family we are staying with or help them drown their sorrows. This will be a time of new experiences but also of reflecting on all that I have read and experienced in these last two months – a title God to impress on me what are the key things that I need to take back into ministry.

The work that I have done on the Baptist Deaconess Order needs completing but that will have to now wait until next year. It has been both fascinating and, to some degree, depressing to read the story of women serving churches within the union and the immense difficulties that they faced, and to some degree, still face. But the biggest challenges how to do ministry as ‘me’rather than how it has been done in the past or how others might expect me to do it. God called me with all my faults and idiosyncrasies and I believe God wants me to minister as me whilst all the time learning to become more and more Christ-like in all I am and do.

The book list for the sabbatical was planned over six months before I started and directed by a tutor at a Baptist College and what has amazed me (though it shouldn’t) is that it has confirmed as well as stimulated ideas that had already been forming within me. The changes that I need to make in how I do ministry, and that I believe churches need to make, represent a fundamental shift in the way we ‘see’ church and how we see mission. Clearly, the ideas that have been growing in me are not new as they have part of every book that I have read and yet they feel scarily risky and challenging.

My task now is to see what God has been saying to the community whilst I have been away and how we move forward together into God’s mission for our local community.

The physical journeys that I am about to go on feel like a transition from the old to the new – it is of course actually the same journey and the future is just a continuation of that even though it feels like I’m going a whole new direction. Exciting and scary all at the same time.!

Wonderful Opportunities

I have just come back from a really varied few days in various parts of the Midlands. It began with a train trip from home to St Pancras, then King’s Cross up towards Peterborough. I had just settled myself on the train with the book I wanted to read when it was announced that the train was not functioning correctly and we all needed to change to the train on the next platform. This was fine but it meant that the train was very full and so reading became impossible as I clutched my suitcase to me. Everyone seemed to go into commuter mode so conversation was also not possible.(I love my train conversations)  I have noticed a young girl sitting opposite me look sad but it wasn’t until most people got off at Stevenage that we caught one another’s eye and began to talk. She was off to visit her boyfriend in prison, leaving her toddler at home with her mum. As we talked she opened up and t was clear that she needed a parent and toddler group, the health visitor was nagging her, so I asked where she lived. Turns out she lives just up the road from me so I was able to give her my card, tell about our toddler group, and encourage her to visit it.

What a wonderful opportunity I had been given.

I arrived at St Neots and was met by the wonderful Chris Duffett, currently President of the Baptist Union and evangelist extraordinaire. We went back to his house and spent the afternoon chatting before I accompanied him on one of his Big Hearted training courses at a local church. It was wonderful to listen once more to his stories and his passion for reaching people with a good news that God loves them.
The following morning we went off to Peterborough, where I accompanied one of the new members of his team who was spending her first morning visiting the shops in the town centre.
I was amazed at how delighted many of the shop workers were at meeting her and welcoming her into their shops in the future. In the afternoon a group of us went out onto the streets, to give away free cookies, free hugs, and to just sit and listen to people.

We got to talk with so many people, to listen to their stories, and so often to have the opportunity to pray for them – and even be given cans of beer from one person who was trying to give up alcohol  Yes, many people walked past us trying to ignore what was going on, looking at us as though we had completely lost our minds! But so many responded with real surprise and willingness to engage with us. Many gave us the opportunity to pray for them there and then, or at least to offer to pay for them and we got home. It was also a privilege to go in to a tattoo parlour and see how Chris was welcomed with open arms. Building relationships with people had taken time but he really was ministering to those folk as we get to the people we encountered on the street. He gave me such confidence in offering prayer to people.

What a wonderful opportunity I had been given.

I was then going up to Leicester to spend the night with some friends but had to wait an hour for my train and I got talking to a young Muslim girl who lives just a few streets up where I used to live in Leicester. We had a fantastic discussion talking about faith, culture, and lifestyle.

What a wonderful opportunity I had been given.

The next day it was off to Peterborough with my husband and some friends to see Jesus Christ Superstar. An interesting production set against the background of Occupy, the riots, banking and the law. As we waited for the show to start I overheard two women behind me talking and one asked: “do you know what the plot is?” The friend began explaining. Afterwards, as we lfet, I overheard two women who were walking by the side of me trying to work out who the judge had been betraying, arguing as to whether it was Pilate or not and so I was able to tell them that it was indeed the character of Pilate. It was good to see the show again, especially to see it set against a background that connected with today’s culture.

What a wonderful opportunity I have been given.

And so now I am back in the last two weeks of my reading and writing part of my sabbatical, continuing to reflect on what mission looks like today. The events of these last four days have reminded me about how different the world is to when I became a Christian many decades ago: the lack of knowledge of the basic stories of the Bible and especially Christianity, the fact that so many would never darken the doors of the church and yet responded so positively to offers of care, listening, and prayer, that people are open to the gospel just as they were to Jesus’ teaching but we, as Jesus did, need to go to where they are, and where the need is.

What a wonderful opportunity I have been given.

An African Creed

We believe in the one high God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world in every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this high God in the darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the Bible, that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

We believe in God, made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, he left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptised in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce a good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen

Christianity Rediscovered: Vincent J Donovan.