Affirming and Affirmation

What a wonderful faith family we reside in.  From last week’s General Assembly where worship was simple, contemporarised tradition to worshipping with anglican charismatics who really know how to let go this week.  If I am truly honest I felt a little out of water but in the midst of it all God spoke to me with affirmation.  As many of you know women in ministry is still a problem for the major denominations including the church of England and the church of Scotland (even if we don’t want to admit it). New Wine, the charismatic movement (known as CLAN within our borders)totally affirmed women in leadership, giving us our place in the body of Christ. The affirmation is a real boost because we often feel marginalised, pushed out in favour of male colleagues or patriarchal language.

However the most powerful affirmation in all of today’s material was listening to Alan Hirsch remind us gently and not so gently about the place of Jesus in our faith. How often have we used him to the fringes of our faith, marginalising him and hiding him in nice gospel stories? Or make him so sacred we cannot draw close to him?  What would we do if Jesus came to our church? Run him out of town? Kill him again? 

This was followed by a session that reminded us that we need to rest in God. How do we put God back at the centre of all we do and more importantly are?

So often we get caught up in the mundane or the paperwork or the business of our lives that we miss God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit working in the people around us, and touching us in the process.

Let us affirm each other, male or female, young or older, traditional or contemporary, contemplative or charismatic, valuing each other in our differences. But most importantly let us affirm once again the real Jesus Christ, the one who make God known to all.

I am the vine. You are the branches. John 15

God bless

Love Sarah

Practical considerations

The last day of the General Assembly considered mainly its practical issues. How on earth we afford the insurance on some of these glorious yet often impractical buildings? How do we look after our buildings from halls to manses and of course sanctuaries? And how do we look after the staff in the infamous building of 121 (a building we are keeping for the foreseeable future)? Media stories from the weekend told the world that moral is low in 121. Probably no wonder when 121 is often a dirty word and covers a multitude of people, councils and committees.  I resisted suggesting in my question re the nomination committee that people are afraid of becoming a 121 person.  I did ask the nomination committee to include in their reflections and statistics the number of people who move from committee to panel to council. I voiced a question that others think but didn’t ask but most of all I am impressed I got the courage to ask and challenge.  I was saddened at overhearing conversations at coffee about how we could be done in 3 days if we simply banned personal comments etc yet the beauty of the assembly is recognising that we are family united in common purpose and each person brings something important to the body of Christ.

I must admit to feeling very low last night about all things Presbyterian! And rather like the cold wet fog of this morning I couldn’t see very clearly. Yet when the love of God burns through like the sun, the fog clears and spirits rise.  I am glad the assembly has finished and for all it was a gentle stroll through all things Presbyterian I am glad to be returning to my first love – my parish.  Developing this wonderful group of people in my congregation, exploring apostolic vision, embracing risks for and with God, building up the disciples He has given me and seeking to be missional – I am grateful for the freedom within the Presbyterian system to do this.  I just hope one day there is a real flavour of these issues in the General Assembly from start to finish.  

The most practical thing we can do is let God have his way.  His church is living, vibrant and beautiful today, and the foundations of tomorrow.  God has his mission and he has called his church to participate in it.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog series. Comments and questions welcome.

God bless,

Love Sarah

Distractions and Worries

When our Moderator spoke so movingly and passionately today about the worries, stresses and fears we face I didn’t realise his word would be so timeous. As he got slightly carried away with himself regarding the lack of support and appreciation, or even affirmation that ministers receive there was a quiet consensus that he was right.  He did ask when was the last time the congregation bought the minister a Christmas present, much to the amusement of some.  Not that I am hinting…

However a moving and supportive report from the chaplains to the armed forces many moved through for coffee (sorry to the pension folk!). The military report, questions and comments was well worth listening too and they are indeed worthy of our prayers.  It would seem tht I have still a number of years before I am too old for them!

There was I landed with a ticking timebomb which may or may not explode in my presence. Suddenly the 3am moment which I haven’t had for awhile is back.  But as Albert reminded us from Romans 8 there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Yet I was struck at the tenure report that said ministers were called by congregations to be pastors and teachers.  Sometimes, (and thankfully only sometimes) I wish I could turn round and say no to all the other things I am asked to be by the General Assembly and Presbytery!  But then I would not be Presbyterian! 

So now I am off to enjoy the sunshine after an early finish and pray! For first and foremost we are all children of God. A week buried in motions, amendments, reports and deliverances becomes a bubble you want to pop. But God appears in the most wonderful ways and bless Albert for without knowing it he prepared the path I had to walk today. 

Tomorrow is the last day of the General Assembly. After that I am on study leave for a fortnight and I am hoping to blog on my study leave journey.

God bless

Love Sarah

Imagination at the General Assembly

Another day, another dollar! I had hoped that the theme of today might be imagination. And I am sure it was there but perhaps not how I imagined it! 😉

Our Moderator Albert is perhaps the minister who bounces the most! His energy and enthusiasm is infectious and at his heart lies a desire to unite us despite our differences. Do you know who the evangelicals are because they mention Jesus Christ at some point in their speeches? Do you know the cynical because they sit arms folded? Body language sometimes says more than speech and one thing you can’t deny about Albert is his passion for the Gospel and people.  I think if it weren’t for him this Assembly would not be so enjoyable and I have to say that I barely know him except by reputation.

As we pondered how to engage with those who don’t know we want to engage with them, there were good ideas and desperate ideas. The report on parish ministers was basic, general and worthy of discussion but just too vague for my liking. how do we get more young ministers in the church? To me it seems obvious – by investing in the young!

As a young minister of the Church of Scotland (55 out of 906 are under 39 years old) I cant help but wonder at where the priorities of the church have been over the years.  And  yes I know lots of wonderful reports and work has been done but I want to ask why we keep talking about the church of tomorrow when it is the church of today that needs to change? My mother always said “tomorrow never comes” and for the church to move forward it needs to stop looking for the church of tomorrow and engage more fully with the church of today.  The imagination we need is here now – let us embrace the Holy Spirit, discern Gods will and move with Him rather than wait for the magic plan to arrive in the blue book.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

I finish this reflection caught in a vibrant thunderstorm with the rain lashing down, unable to get to my car without getting soaked. As the the thunder cracks, the wind blows though and the rain falls, I imagine the people of God being invigorated by his voice, being soaked with the Spirit, refreshed by the breath of God and becoming his church today for the people of today. If we want a church tomorrow we need to be Gods people today.

God bless

Love Sarah

Pondering people

Today the major theme at the General Assembly had to be people.  If yesterday was about following money then I have to say people with their potentials and flaws were most apparent today.  The praise for the Guild was well deserved and offered generously. Their work of tying together worship, service, commitment and finance together would appear unrivalled. Without doubt they are a force to be reckoned with as the Moderator freely acknowledged.

They were followed by the panel on review and reform who took quite a beating last year at the assembly.  Their report didn’t appear on the surface to be very controversial but it was a mixed bag.  They were seeking permission to explore the reign of the era digital and how that might impact on what is arguably still an analog church.  Mixed were the responses with concern not to miss out those who are not of the digital age.  Perhaps there is scope for pastoral care development in this area.   The other major element was on moving from our adversarial way of doing business to a consensus based model.  General consensus seemed to approve of this! Despite the discussions of technology this report was all to do with people.

This was followed by the National Youth Assembly report which I stayed for because one of my own young people had secured her place on the dias and I wanted to support her (even from the heavens which was the only place I could get a seat!). But I am glad I stayed for their report was refreshing, stimulating and gently but powerfully proved that we should not underestimate the young people of our Kirk. At their age I would have loved the opportunity they now enjoy and I am blown away at how seriously they take their opportunities. Again people – often judged, too often ignored and yet Gods gift to us all.

How brilliant that in the same morning we celebrated two fabulous organisations who bring much light, life and Gospel to our work in God’s kingdom.

This afternoon saw the report of the mission and discipleship council along with their powerful paper on marriage. Hidden in its treasure troves was the realisation of the important role people play in the life of the church, inside and out.  There is much more to be said on this but for now my train draws closer to my stop and my daughter awaits me to celebrate her 3rd birthday. I hope for her that the church will always remember that the greatest resource God gave us was each other, with our flaws and our potential

God bless you.

Love Sarah

Follow the money

Another day has drawn to a close at the General Assembly and what a day it has been.  Starting with the Communion service was spiritually uplifting and challenging to exploring issues that often seem a million miles away from parish life yet are also on our doorsteps.  To sing accappella was mind blowing and the Spirit danced and loved.

Anyway to the title of my reflection.  There was much on the agenda today for it was the turn of Church and Society.  However money formed a major element of the day for me.  Housing and Loan and the special commission on economics plus the living wage and credit unions all featured heavily.  We spoke long and hard about the issues of poverty and economics and the multi layered problems and concerns that come from this.  The question was posed (asked originally by someone famous!)  why should a Christian want more than another Christian?  A challenging question really. We were encouraged to want to share generously and not build up wealth for ourselves whilst other struggle.

I then had to balance all this alongside the fact that Jessica turns 3 tomorrow and I passed people begging on the streets of Edinburgh as I went to spend far too much money on her (and I know I spend less on my children than some). As I reflect on the fact that I am fortunate enough to have the money to spend as I like, I am challenged by the facts presented that for many money is short and the basics are luxuries.  How can we embrace the great words, the great thinking, and share the wealth we have not because we have to but because we want too?

There are no easy answers but if the church is to be counter cultural as some like to say, then one of the most powerful places in society to be counter cultural is with money.  Money might make the world go round but love is what hold the world together.  The challenge facing the average church in the average parish is to bind the two together.

Love your neighbour as you love yourself.

God bless

Love Sarah

Honesty at the General Assembly 2012

Today the General Assembly opened with its usual flush of pomp and ceremony. And my first thought as I watched some of the amazing costumes and hats was whether any of them wanted to be there? Perhaps I do them a great injustice to think that the passing of letters and speeches were just tradition but it seemed somewhat ironic to make Alec Salmond sit though the royal material.  Of course his face gave nothing away.  As the day progressed though I was struck by the careful answers of Convenors to questions that tried to dig below the surface. Are we as transparent an organisation as we like to think?

Later I was blessed to have an honest conversation with a supervisor but wished I had said that I am more guarded with others if they were to ask me the same question. We share information readily with some and not with others. Not that we are telling fibs but that we choose our answers based on place, time and people.

Is allowing other religions to worship in our buildings a form of deception where we are unfaithful to God? This question was posed on the floor of the GA and if I am honest I agreed with the sentiment of it.  You can’t take the evangelist out of me that easily. However as the debate progressed I was challenged to look deeper. How big is my God? How confident am I in him? Therefore I had to leave it to the minister’s prerogative because God works in mysterious ways.

Should the vision statement include the words to love as Jesus loves? Do we need to be explicit on that? Shouldn’t we do that anyway? Are we being transparent if we add the words to all our public documents? I suspect we would be deceiving ourselves if we thought all it took was to put it in words. 

The last comment I want to make in a day filled with fascinating thoughts, challenges and mind boggling minutae belongs to Helen who spoke so passionately about the church in china.  I admit to not hearing all of the World mission report as was deep in conversation elsewhere over coffee.  But if listen again was possible for the General Assembly I’d send you to it right now.  Her closing phrase and forgive if it haven’t got it 100% right was this

If you want to walk fast, walk alone.  If you want to walk far, walk together. Love never ends.

I pray that the General Assembly walks together with each other in her myriad forms and the congregations under her care. But more importantly I hope she walks together with our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, sharing Jesus’ love.  

Let God multiply

Reading:  John 6:1-15 The Feeding of the Five Thousand.

I want to ask you one question. 

How many people knew where the bread and fish came from? 

Think about the scene for a moment.  Do your best to imagine what 5000 men sitting in one place look like.  It is more people than are to be found in our entire parish.  So when bread and fish turn up to eat you ponder where it comes from but do you know that Jesus provided out of 5 loaves and 2 fish?  As the lunch progresses then gossip gets back as the story passes down the line.  But let’s focus on the front row.

You have Philip who is asked to buy the lunch doing the mental sums in his head…lunch for this lot would cost almost year’s wages.  Allowing for a basic average wage – you are talking around £17,000 (in Scotland in 2011) and as Philip points out you wouldn’t get much. 

Andrew offers what they do have, a wee lad with 5 loaves and 2 fish.  I wonder how many sniggers there were.   It would be like me holding up a tenner and offering to my Kirk Session out for dinner (About 24 of them).

Yet Jesus takes the little they have and offers it to God, saying thank you. 

“Thank you God that in your wisdom you have provided us with food.  I ask that as creator, provider and my most generous Father you would take the little we have and multiply, that all might be fed and give you the glory.  Amen.”

How often do we say thank you for the little we have and then offer it to God, praying with confidence that he will take the little we have and multiply it for his glory?  How often are we more like Philip worrying about the fact the sums don’t add up instead of like Andrew offering what we have?

The Church has become guilty of being like Philip and ignoring Andrew.  Let’s be grateful to God for the little we have knowing that with God that’s all he needs.   When it comes to our family, parish, community, and church what can we thank God, offering it up and allowing him to multiply it for his glory?

When the Kirk Session started thinking about this on Wednesday they realised they had a lot to thank God for and the list given was no where near exhaustive.  Sometimes we spend more time worrying about what we don’t have that we don’t realise what we do have.  The rest of the meeting was a joy despite the challenges and concerns because we knew who was in ultimate control.  Forth St Paul’s might not be a mega-church with loads of money or resources, but the little she has is being well and truly multiplied by our generous God.

Offer your little to God and thank him for it.  Gratitude is the key.  It might be a little faith, it might be something you are a little good at, it might be the resources or contacts you have – thank God for the little and let him do the rest.

May you be richly blessed by our God who just loves to give.

Love Sarah