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.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Noticing signs of the Kingdom

Sherwood Greenlaw Parish Church

I have noticed that …
people are smiling more
and talking more in our church. 
Some people are praying more,
others are caring more,
and some are thinking more. 
I have noticed that people are willing to give things a try,
and experience something new. 
people want to get involved,
and we now have a number of babies and young families
coming regularly to church on a Sunday morning. 
and more parents
have supported the Remembrance Day
and the Uniformed organization services. 
I have noticed people being kind,
and saying thank you
for what other church folk have done for them. 
not many folk fall asleep during the sermon,
and people in our community
recognise some of the things we are doing as a church
to be good and healthy and wholesome.
I have noticed new people joining our choir,
And the fun that the Time out Group have at the manse.
people are being generous
with their time, talent and money.
People are asking questions,
And probing for a deeper understanding about God.
I have noticed, faithful men and woman,
who come week in and week out to worship,
and bring something of themselves to Sherwood Greenlaw,
and offer themselves for the work of the Kingdom of God.

I have noticed, growth and optimism in people,
and a real willingness to take on board
new opportunities as they arise,
that expand the Kingdom of God in this place.
All this suggests to me that God is not dead here.
That something of his Spirit is afoot in what we do,
A little spark of the Spirit
that seeks to kindle a deeper fire for God and this Kingdom work.



Rev John Murning, of Sherwood Greenlaw Parish Church in Paisley, reflects on their journey through Path of Renewal:

Friday, 11 May 2018

Local Partnership

Rev Julia Meason
Another Path of Renewal Congregation shares their story:

Shapinsay Parish Church is located on an island of about 300 folk.
In the summer we have a cafe which is open every day but in winter months there is no natural gathering space for people. We noticed that lack of opportunity and decided to enter into partnership with the Shapinsay Development Trust who have a new building, far better located than the church is. They give us the building free of charge, we provide homebakes, teas, coffees and some activity for the children.
It is very successful. We certainly tapped into a need - people come along, enjoy one another’s company, we build relationships. As an aside we raise money for local charities (people like to give a donation for what they’re getting).

Our learning is that it is possible to build something new on a small island that is successful when we identify a true need in the community.

We have had our sabotage when we were accused of taking trade away from the local cafe - which we are not since it’s not open when we operate! We intentionally chose to operate in winter months only in order not to compete. It upset us quite a bit until we realised it had nothing to do with us - it was part of a bigger issue with somebody else and we were used as an argument.

I think all of us realised also how much we were hoping the coffee afternoons would bring people to faith and church. This didn’t happen and our loss is this deep disappointment.

There are good things happening though - folks are more than happy to volunteer to bake and host, whether they’ve got a church connection or not. Some began taking ownership of the place too - recently a family who have been very faithful at coming along, started sweeping floors and tidying up afterwards. They joined us for the beach clean up we organised in our community. I feel they’re beginning to feel like they are one of us, that they belong. And that is a truly great thing.


Monday, 7 May 2018

Fair warning!

John 16:1-4a
“I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

It is only after having first brought about a change and then subsequently enduring the resultant sabotage that the leader can feel truly successful. Ed Friedman - A Failure of Nerve.

Tod Bolsinger, author of Canoeing the Mountains, reminds us of these words of Ed Friedman, that sabotage is a normal part of leadership.
Sabotage often comes, not from inherently bad people, but from those close to us. It may come from those who feel that things aren't changing quickly enough, who have become discouraged and impatient along the way. It may arise out of good intentions. It may come from those who know us best and want to move things on and feel that, out of love and friendship, they are uniquely placed to do just that.
Sabotage is not something to be avoided but, rather, something to navigate. Surviving sabotage is a necessary part of leadership that promotes resilience and may even help leaders to clarify the journey. It enables healthy conversations that help people journey forward together with a clearer focus and renewed energy and stability.
Sabotage is to be taken seriously but not feared as we continue to lead people toward the hopeful future that God envisages and as we continue to discern and engage in the Mission of God today.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Path of Renewal - The Next Generation

The old and the new - Girvan Lifeboats
"Every generation blames the one before. And all of their frustrations come beating on your door..."
Mike and the Mechanics - The Living Years

As we seek to find ways to work intergenerationallly, rather than multi-generationally in the church, there's a glimpse of that being modelled in Path of Renewal. As we work together with 25 new congregations, the lessons learned, the things discarded and the discoveries made are still fresh enough for us to move forward together without one cohort feeling alienated from another. We're still in the business of learning together with all our different ministry contexts informing how we are involved in God's mission in the world today.
Perhaps that is the nature of a movement - that learning and practice is always fluid and adaptable and that each will contextualise what we process together.
As we learn how to be church in this generation, sharing and valuing the gifts that each different generation has brought and continues to bring, we are careful to honour the treasures of the past and to value how those inform the present, unafraid to lay down those that weigh us down and, together, forge a way forward blending the old and the new, guided by one whose love exhorts us to be one.
None of this is easy work but it is vital to our witness and service today. By valuing each other's stories and, through listening and sharing, understanding one another, we are building the kinds of relationships that Christ envisaged that enables us, together with God to build the kingdom of God.
Romans 12:2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.