Monday, 16 April 2018

Got any carrots?

York Minster - reflected in a puddle!

Luke 24:41-45
While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

One of my favourite all-time jokes is one told by a colleague - about a persistent rabbit who continually asks: "Got any carrots?" It's lengthy and corny - that's what makes it so funny!
Jesus asked his disciples after the resurrection: "Have you anything here to eat?"
When Jesus rose from the tomb, he did not immediately return to the father. He spent 40 days, restoring the disciples' confidence in themselves and in the mission to which they were called. All of Jesus' resurrection appearances were aimed at teaching the disciples, revealing the scriptures and opening their eyes to what was "hidden in plain sight".
Jesus met them in community and he met them individually, always anticipating and tailoring his message to their particular needs, be that forgiveness, reassurance, explanation, affirmation or recommissioning. Those meetings, more often than not, involved food. And they always involved transformation.
From fear to love.
From doubt to wondering.
From remorse to joy.
That painstaking work of restoration, of discerning need, of affirming gifts, of patiently exploring and explaining ancient texts, of putting skin on the bones of the resurrection is the same work in which we are called to be faithful today.
In our communities, where there is doubt, where there is scepticism, where there is remorse, betrayal, loss of confidence or purpose, our task is to be present, sometimes bringing understanding or reconciliation, sometimes restoring confidence or joy, sometimes bringing food and warmth and love -  but, above all, being present in the ordinary things of life that become holy when shared with others around a table. The work of renewal demands persistence in making connection with individuals and with communities that brings transformation as the risen Christ appears in our midst, asking:"Have you anything here to eat?" before commissioning us as disciples in the work of the kingdom today.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Growing with God

At Monkton Prestwick North Church, the early adopters of Path of Renewal have been working hard to keep the congregation informed about and involved in the Path of Renewal movement:

Minister, David Clarkson shared this recently in the church magazine:
Groups were developed within participating congregations. These groups agreed that they would give time to learn, share and pray together and that the things they had learnt would be shared with the wider congregation. The changes are therefore neither cosmetic, nor dependent upon the minister currently in post remaining there.  Instead, the whole culture of the local church should be changed to become more outward focussed with revitalised worship and congregational life. Our local group has had twelve people who have been meeting together every fortnight. As well as learning, sharing and praying together the members of the group have been involved with leading worship.
Some of the group also shared their reasons for being involved. Here are just some extracts:
“Path of Renewal is a way for the congregations of the Church of Scotland to find out the direction God wants them to go in, for the next while: to learn to listen to Him, and be directed by Him. To change, and to grow up. To become the Church that God needs us to be, in Scotland, at this time. (Allan)

“Three important things I learned were that prayer is essential and very powerful!  Also, when God is asking you to do something and you feel way out of your depth and inadequate for the task ahead, all God really wants you to do is take the first step and lay your trust in Him. He will reveal the path ahead when you start walking!  Finally, the most important thing I learned is – everything starts with relationships - Our relationship with God, each other, our community and our world.  Building relationships is essential!  However, I can’t wait to see what our awesome God has in store for us here in Monkton and Prestwick North. (Elaine)

“Path of Renewal is an opportunity to continue growing with God, thinking more deeply about what I am doing and considering how best we can serve both our Lord and our community. I don’t know where this journey will take me or us as a congregation, but I am looking forward to finding out! “  (Margaret)

Path of Renewal has been another step on this faith journey as I've been challenged about my relationship with Jesus and how I share it with others.   This journey continues and although it may continue to be a bumpy one, I pray it will also be one of challenges, growing faith and a closer relationship with God. (Maureen)

“I have grown up within the Church here and have seen many changes.
On Path of Renewal?  I still don’t know what my role will be but I am excited to be part of this and really looking forward to where this will lead the Church in the future.”

“…Then I concentrated on the word renewal and began to realize that this wasn’t just a path for a few people, this was renewal for every single person sitting in the pews Sunday after Sunday and that included me.”(Irene) 

“I wasn’t brought up in church and it never entered my mind to go.  I have now been attending church regularly for one and a half years.  I attended an Alpha course, which is a great opportunity for people who want to find out and ask questions about God, life and Christianity.  It was there that I started to fully understand it all I now have the joy of Jesus in my heart and my life has been transformed.” (Jacqui)

A new part of the process in this congregation is the development of Growing with God groups. This gives the opportunity for more people to begin to learn, share and pray together. Encouraging everyone to ask: “What can I do that will help this congregation to grow?”;
“How can I grow in faith?”; and, “Could I get more involved in the life of the church?”

Recently, a member of the congregation shared: "I'm still not entirely sure what Path of Renewal is all about - but I can see the difference in those who are involved."
That is a story of Growing in God, affecting not just individuals but a congregation and whole community.


Saturday, 24 March 2018

Where we learn best...

Exodus 15:22-27
Bitter Water Made Sweet
Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” He cried out to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.
There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test. He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”
Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they camped there by the water.

Among other things we've been sharing in our latest round of Regional Conferences is a reminder of those places that bring the most fertile learning: the Israelites in the wilderness learned more in times of adversity than in those times when things seemed to be going well, they learned more in Marah where the water was bitter than they did in Elim where there were springs.
In an article in Developing Leaders, Eve Poole, based on research conducted, states that "under pressure, you learn faster and you acquire memories that last."
In this season in the church, as we seek to find new ways of being in the wilderness, we give thanks for learning that comes when our hearts are in our mouths, when we are trying new things and sometimes failing and for the resilience that comes out of difficulty.
We are facing challenges that are rarely simple or even complicated, where we can call in expert advice or rely on a previous tried and tested solution, but that are complex and can only be navigated by trial and error, by taking risks and learning from outcomes, whether success or failure. The bigger challenge is, perhaps, to rely on the assurance that, with God, we can find a way through - just as the church has been called to do in every age and to keep others on board as we do that, learning together and sharing those lessons as we go.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Longniddry - Reaching out in faith

How journeying with others on Path of Renewal is affecting Longniddry Parish Church:

Over the years, Longniddry Parish Church has used its building space in a variety of imaginative ways, whether for hosting exhibitions or running special festivals (Christmas trees, wedding dresses, etc.). More generally, when we re-ordered our space in 2006 we did so with the express intention of providing rooms which the wider community might wish to use for a wide variety of their own purposes.
Our engagement with Path of Renewal over the last couple of years has, however, made us think quite deeply about how we should be using our building in terms of outreach to the community. The focus is shifting away from “making our resources available” towards “reaching out in faith”.

 The most recent census results revealed to us the extent to which our community is aging, with our part of East Lothian now featuring a great many “old” and “very old” residents. With this trend comes the issue of dementia, with increasing numbers of people in our parish living with Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurological issues. Realising that this is one crucial area of needs-based pastoral outreach for our congregation to tackle, we have set up two new activities: a Monday singing group for all people of all ages and abilities; and a Thursday “sporting memories” gathering. These have been well appreciated both by participants and their grateful families.
The next step, earmarked for summer 2018, is to knock three spaces together to create an attractive living room area which can be used as a homely and adaptable seven-day-a-week facility, allowing the congregation’s outreach to develop further. (The planning for this has had dementia-friendly factors built into it from the outset to ensure that we get basic design elements right.)

Meanwhile, Path of Renewal ideas have been filtering through to our kirk session and congregation, with people keen to find imaginative ways of sharing faith in our building which lies at the heart of the community. In December 2017 we staged a Festival of Nativity Sets, which told the story of Jesus’ birth through 85 different exhibits from around the world. This will be developed in 2018, with plans for a retelling of the Luke and Matthew birth narratives using three-dimensional tableaux featuring large knitted figures. In addition, we hope to stage an Easter event focusing on crosses and eggs.
While these may be viewed as small steps forward in outreach, they certainly represent big steps in congregational awareness of mission and discipleship, in which we as a church are now working intentionally towards sharing the message of God’s Love with our neighbours.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Changing the metrics

Luke 13:6-9
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

I've always wondered how the fig tree in the vineyard fared once the gardener gave it some special attention. Did his efforts pay off? Did the pressure of a deadline bring a useful focus to his work?
Sometimes, in the church we can be very fuzzy (and sometimes lazy) about how we measure things, perhaps because, often, the metrics of church growth don't allow enough leeway for less quantifiable aspects of ministry.
Faithfulness, a quality revered in church speak, may be ineffective while fruitfulness may only result in poor quality produce.
We need a much more multi faceted way of measuring ministry efforts and the impact, not on the church, but on the kingdom of God.
Some of that will involve numbers, but those numbers must always be tempered by stories of lives changed, of glimpses of God along the way, of accountability for resources assigned and of learning gleaned as risks are taken.
Communication and evaluation are important in ensuring that our focus remains clear. And, difficult decisions and pruning are also a part of good stewardship. The extravagance and abundance of God's gifts means we should be more, not less, careful of squandering them but, rather, seek diligently to discern those tasks to which God calls us and equips us for the mission of God in our world today.
Over the next few months, reporting on the movement that is Path of Renewal will require focus on articulating our discernment of God's purpose and calling in all our different ministry contexts, gathering together stories of lives changed and communities impacted (obeying Christ's commission to "Go and make disciples"), reconciling church growth and kingdom growth and disseminating the many lessons learned that will contribute to our continued ability to be a "sent church" that takes seriously the many and varied ways God invites us to be partners in mission and ministry today.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Missional Cartography

For some time, I've been meaning to update the SatNav in my car. Recently, a trip to the North East of Scotland became more of an adventure than I would have preferred because of the outdated information currently on the device. Fortunately I had a companion on the road who provided amusement and a non anxious presence! Sat Navs are only as good as the latest update.
With the addition of another 25 congregations on the journey that is Path of Renewal, it has been affirming to review what has already been learned in the process. It feels like we are beginning in quite a different place from where we set out with 40 congregations 2 years ago, bearing out our assertion that we would learn with and from those involved and reshape the process as we went. But, while we can point to some markers along the way, charting changes and discoveries, even pinpointing growth, Path of Renewal remains a work in progress. And, I suspect, that as soon as we tried to draw up some kind of blueprint, the contours would prove fairly elusive, being so dependant on context and lived -out experience, on the groundwork being done and the pilgrims we encounter on the way. The tools we are using are simply clues along the road to discernment of the purposes of God and pointers to the change of mindset it takes to recognise God at work in ever new ways.
There are some fascinating facts about cartography in a Wikipedia article, many of which highlight how much the culture of those who produce maps affects how they draw and what information they include or deem important. The article also highlights how ever changing technology affects the drawing of maps, still subject to the bias of the cartographer.
Just as the skills of cartography are always changing and evolving, dependant on context and culture, subject to information being sought or questions being asked, so, when we seek to join with God in mission, a prerequisite is being light on our feet, with the ability to change and adapt at the drop of a hat. And there's a requirement to keep getting the latest updates by staying close to the map maker. That's a tough call for individuals, but there is also something renewing about living on the edge that makes it worthwhile and that lends every experience - even those experiments that don't quite turn out as we'd hoped - with a sense of adventure and learning. Giving thanks for all who are on this particular journey bringing humour and calm when the maps are out of date.

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Power of Stories

Hebrews 11:37-40
We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless— the world didn't deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.
Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.

Two years ago,when Path of Renewal was being launched, I shared with congregations considering embarking on the journey the hope that we would pitch in with our stories, discerning God in those tales and, together with God, look forward to writing the next chapter, as we discerned God's ways of Renewal for today.
Stories are such a powerful way of connecting. Indeed there was, in most Scottish communities a designated story teller - a Seanachaidh - charged with keeping tradition alive by passing on tales from generation to generation.
Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh recently hosted a conference, collaborating with the HeartEdge network. Practitioners came together to share stories. The ethos of Heart Edge is bringing folk together to give and to take. People, no matter who they are or where they come from have something to share and much to learn from one another.
I was asked to share some of the stories of Path of Renewal.
And, while we don't have a set of blueprints to hand to the church, or instructions to be followed that will bring about growth and renewal, we do have stories to share of hearts and minds being changed, of ways of being church transformed and of the rediscovery of God inviting us to mission where we are with the people we encounter everyday.
Like one man in a congregation telling me: I'm still not sure what Path of Renewal is all about but I can see a huge difference in those who are engaged in it.
Or the minister with almost 30 years experience in ministry saying: I've discovered a whole new way of being in ministry that has revolutionised my practice and my preaching.
And the young woman on the fringes of church who has found faith and purpose through being invited to experiment with spiritual practices, finding that habits form character.
Along with the stories, however, there are also a fe principles emerging - including:

  • Being too busy prevents us from discerning God's mission. 
  • Spiritual practices - individual and corporate - take us to a place where we are more likely to hear God and understand what it is God is asking of us today. We become what we practice.
  • Cultivating relationships and being intentional about discipleship works. Whether dog walking or coffee drinking is our thing - doing it with others allows us to have faith conversations as we go.
  • Transition is hard work - acknowledging the loss folk feel when change occurs, journeying with them and helping them see the promised land - even and especially when it seems far off in the distance is sacred work. We are called, not to complete the journey but to begin the journey now.