Thursday, 1 November 2018

Auchterarder - "Out there"

Path of Renewal has involved working with ministers in charges, with the proviso, from the outset, that the minister should then gather together a group of folk who will engage with the missional context in each parish and work out what it is that God is asking of them in their particular time and place. Ministers are being equipped to equip and empower others to respond to God's call on their lives.
Over the three years, some of the congregations involved have become vacant and, in two charges, where seeds had taken root and where folk were grasping the nettle, following Christ's commission to "Go and make disciples" it has been a joy to continue working with and celebrating progress in growing missional communities.

The congregation in Auchterarder describe the task like this:

"Path of Renewal's purpose is timeless in that it is to honour God and spread the good news of Jesus in a fast changing world... Connecting with the two thirds of people who claim to believe in God or some higher spiritual power who are not in church. The challenge is to be variable in our approach and portable with our message... a bit like BBC iPlayer which is a variable and portable way of accessing our favourite TV programmes. Engaged in ministry "out there" in public as Jesus did."
  • The congregation are hosting a drop in cafĂ©, initially set up by the NHS and the local Council that helps folk connect, recognising countering isolation as a factor in wellbeing. And the church mini bus helps folk get there.
  • There is a range of activities with children, young people and families throughout the community.
  • Participants in other activities, from lunch club to men's group to walking groups are encouraged to introduce friends to share in food and fellowship and, in time, faith conversations.
"Action often speaks louder than words and in 2018 our journey along the Path of Renewal at APC has been moving increasingly into the things we do, rather than just the things we say. The Kirk’s Path of Renewal process started intentionally with words, in this case as found in the Word of God, which is and will remain at the core."

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

What's the story - in Burra?

Debbie Dobby, minister in Burra, one of the Shetland islands shares their story of Path of Renewal:

Changing perspective

Path of Renewal has changed us. We have a much more inclusive view of who is part of our church, it is not just those who come on a Sunday. Our church is all who participate in its life, those who help us in cleaning and maintenance, those who decorate the church for special events, those who see the building as theirs. We are more tolerant and understanding of one another and of our community. There is no longer a “them and us,” now it is just us.

Sharing Faith

We are now more confident in speaking about our faith outwith a Sunday. We can express our differences and listen to another’s point of view without feeling intimidated or threatened. We have listened to each other, much of our conversation taking place over a Saturday breakfast of bacon butties. Path of Renewal has allowed and encouraged to have conversations that would not have happened otherwise. We have learned to trust one another.


Out of Path of Renewal has come Your Space, where the church is open one day a week for people to come and have quiet space, with WiFi, free tea and coffee. A craft group meet for two hours during this time for chat and friendship, and have welcomed new people, one person comes because, “it does me good.” The ‘welcome stop’ where folk can make a cuppa and use the facilities has proved popular with visitors during the summer.
At Christmas to celebrate our wide church family we had a party in the village hall and invited all who are part of our church, we had over 50 adults and children, who enjoyed an afternoon of fun, fellowship and food.

Path of Renewal for us has been an interesting and challenging journey, with the odd detour along the way, but we have changed, and we have loved it.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Finding our niche?

Ephesians 4:4-7
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
I had a really interesting discussion with a retired farmer last week: he was sharing how, with all the pressures and setbacks that continue to assail farming communities, farmers are having to be fairly creative, finding 'an angle' that will get them noticed and encourage folks to choose their produce over others.
Just a few days before, I'd listened to a young farmer describing how he had managed to leverage his way into becoming a 'barista-preferred' milk supplier. After months of trials and failures, he'd finally convinced a coffee shop to accept his farm's milk as their preferred option. That success led him on to other ways of specialising - the farm has recently achieved organic certification and, his latest pursuit, currently being crowd-funded, is the ditching of single use plastic by going back to bottling milk. He"d already sourced and restored the machinery necessary for washing and filling bottles but crowd funding was needed to purchase the glass bottles which are really expensive.
This resonated with some thoughts I've been having about church- What if the people of God, gathered as community "found their niche" in all their differing contexts?
I don't mean finding a gap and filling it.
Rather, by waiting on God, by taking time to discern the peculiarity of our gifts together, to discover that one thing that we can do well in and with our community alongside God.
It seems we're always looking for the next thing, or simply trying to keep things on the road. But what if we were to stop and ask God: what is required of us for this time and this place? What would church look like then?
And would we have the nerve to do what God asks of us (no more, no less) and trust others to live into their calling, each playing their part in building the kingdom?
Ephesians 4:15-16
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Knowing our Story

Mark 1:9-11
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Sometimes in our attempt to fit in or keep up, we look for the shortcut to success or pursue goals that are more important to others than to ourselves...It’s impossible to be intentional and deliberate if you don’t articulate and prioritise what’s important to you.
(Story Driven - You don't need to compete when you know who you are. Bernadette Jiwa)

Just one of the observations made by congregations involved in Path of Renewal is the sense that we are engaged in kingdom work together. It is not about growing one congregation at the expense of another but discerning the mission of God in each particular context. It is also about embracing the reality that Christ has given all kinds of gifts to the church and that we operate out of abundance and not scarcity 
Ministers are experiencing collegiality rather than a competitiveness as they learn and grow together and, as they share their vulnerability, there is a real sense of being held and affirmed in their calling and encouraged in their leadership.
Early on in the process we considered - and continue to recall - that we are called, affirmed and equipped by God for the tasks of mission today.
In each of the three years of involvement on Path of Renewal, we have journeyed with Scripture that develops each of those aspects of who we are - beginning with the story of Jesus calling his disciples and sending them out to the harvest, then journeying with the risen Christ on the Emmaus Road and, this year, considering the five-fold gifts we have been given and how those complement the gifts of those around us. All of these scriptures have enabled us to better discern the mission of God and the part we are called to play in that mission today.
Mission begins then, with remembering our story - remembering by whom and to whom we are uniquely called.
Mission involves being reminded that we are God's beloved - and in that knowledge, in the light of that story, we are challenged to use the gifts that we have been given, enable the gifts of others and, together to build the Kingdom.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Writing in the sand

John 8:3-9
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

This incredible story of grace in the gospel of John testifies to the practice of putting aside tradition, taking a moment to breathe, and opening ourselves to the possibility of other options that become apparent when we don't simply succumb to what has always been.
As Jesus doodles in the sand, he creates a moment for reflection, for contemplation, for consideration of alternatives rather than acting on default. A simple space for breathing made space for a new perspective.
I'm sure there were those in the crowd that day who grumbled at Jesus' seeming indecision. I'm sure there were some who were disappointed that he didn't assert tradition or even institute something new. And yet, his simple doodling enabled others to be awakened to a grace filled possibility - that of setting aside their righteousness and showing compassion for others, a compassion in which there was the potential for change and for growth.
As we begin to review the experience of the first tranche of congregations involved in Path of Renewal, it is apparent that, at the very least, what has been achieved is that space for grace. A space to step back, take a breath, review the defaults and begin to achieve a new perspective. God enters that grace filled space changing hearts and minds, changing a culture that feels as though it is set in stone.
There is a time and a place for drawing a line in the sand and beginning something new. There is also a time and place for doodling so that a fresh perspective that can be the seed of renewing an inherited culture is planted. What will emerge is as yet unknown but a seed sown in love and grace carries the potential for a great awakening to the wisdom of God and the mission of God for the world.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Pursuing new ideas in Melness and Tongue

Path of Renewal in Melness and Tongue
At Melness and Tongue, the Kirk Session and Minister were 100% enthusiastic about beginning the Path of Renewal project at the start of 2016. But it did take some time to figure out and understand what Path of Renewal was all about! Initially, the recruitment of a part time worker who would free up some time for the minister to be engaged in Path of Renewal, took up a lot of time.
Some folks were brought together to form a New Ideas group, the name being chosen to reflect what they were about, consisting of two Elders (one in their 40s), two members of the congregation, two newish attendees (one of whom was 25 years of age), and two men in their 30s/40s who were interested and supportive of the congregation, but were not attending regular Sunday worship.
The New  Ideas group was enthusiastic about developing new ways of being Church that would help to draw others into Fellowship, although not necessarily lead them to join in traditional Sunday worship. At one of the occasional Church & Community lunches, a survey was conducted, asking participants: “What is Missing from our Community?” and “How could that Gap be Filled?”. Several things were suggested, but one that appeared several times was “There is no Dog-Walking group”. 

Other New Ideas that emerged were: Messy Church, Creative Space, Family Games Events/Group, Christian Music Group, Community Shed Group, Dog-Walking Group. This was a significant set of new activities. Knowing that they could not all be  launched at once, it was decided to begin with the Dog-Walking Group, which was the easiest to organise and would raise the profile in the Community. After starting the Dog-Walking Group (meeting weekly), a trial Family Games afternoon was organised and,  most recently,  Messy Church began, the third of which will be held in June. 
In addition, there was a willingness amongst some of those who preferred not be in the New Ideas group, to be more involved in preparing and leading traditional Sunday Worship, to free resources for those developing New Ideas. With the advent of the Dog Walking Group, Messy Church and the Games event, friendships are developing, conversations are deepening. and ecumenical relationships are being strengthened. Developing a Community Shed, a Music Group and a Creative Spaces group are ideas that, hopefully will be taken further in time.  What is clear is that God is at work and we are being invited to join in, learning and growing as we go.

Monday, 28 May 2018

God's mission and our transformation

"Don't focus on whether you are dying. Focus on God's mission and your transformation."
Tod Bolsinger, author of Canoeing the Mountains.

It seems inevitable that any institution would rather talk endlessly about change or even instruct change when that change will not, in fact, carry any personal cost to those charged with driving and defining the future course of the organisation. And so statistics are quoted, dire predictions are shared and, when those predictions are realised, folk can rest in the knowledge that they were right.
What is much more difficult and way more costly is to BE the change that we need to be. To submit and be challenged by personal transformation in order to effect organisational change. Indeed it may even be that our personal transformation is not enough to change the institution. But that does not mean that we should avoid it. 
When God called Moses out of his self imposed exile to go and lead God's people out of Egypt, Moses recognised all too well how ill-equipped he was for the task but, in humility, he responded to the call of God. And all through the years in the wilderness, time and again, Moses was forced to return to that place of inadequacy and ineffectiveness, that place where only reliance on God allowed God's purpose to be fulfilled. The Moses we see glimpsing the Promised Land, a land he knew he would not enter, is a man who was prepared to submit to incredible personal transformation, the kind of transformation he could never have imagined. Other leaders emerged along the way and were mentored by Moses as he modelled for them the transforming power of God.
As we navigate our way through this wilderness season in the church today, our task as leaders is not to provide answers but to model transformation through which God equips us for the journey, calling us into God's mission today. At the very least, that requires humility and dependence on God. It requires us not to lead with answers but to lead with questions, the kind of questions that seek to discern God's will and purpose for our lives and that enable and empower others to discern God's will and purpose for their lives. God's preferred and promised future is writ large in Scripture. God's peacable kingdom has been outlined by priests and prophets through the ages. That kingdom will be realised when we respond to the challenge to be transformed as we participate in the mission of God.
Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.