Friday, 4 December 2015

Daring to risk

John 1:14
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

Our visits around the country, with congregations involved in discerning whether the Path of Renewal is right for them at this time are almost complete.
Next week, we meet to choose the pilot congregations.
This stage has been positive and encouraging : so many parishes are enthusiastic about engaging with God in mission and, in particular, about being part of a project that promises companionship along the way.
Many of the congregations we have met have affirmed that engaging with the questions raised so far has helped them to reflect on where they are and consider possibilities of where God might be leading them - and so, for them, the journey has already begun.
There is a desire to equip and resource Christians to share their faith in their daily lives
Congregations have expressed how they have felt valued by being included in the discernment process, countering the isolation that many experience.
There has been excitement about the possibility of being involved in a national project, the opportunity of journeying with others, sharing insights and encouragement and daring each other to take risks, as well as the acknowledgement that, even in "failure", or when outcomes are not as anticipated, there is much to be learned.
Although some folk have, understandably, been frustrated by the lack of a specific programme or even measurable outcomes, many others have welcomed the notion of the path of renewal in their communities being shaped by context and by the unpredictable spirit of God.
There are signs that God is already renewing communities throughout Scotland and that many congregations have gifts and skills to be involved in that.
In transitional terms, as described by William Bridges, many of the leaders in congregations who will participate in Path of Renewal have already embraced or are close to embracing the ending of one thing and are preparing the enter the Neutral Zone that will lead to new beginnings. It's a messy, challenging but extremely creative place to be, where support and encouragement is key. But it is also a place full of opportunity to discern God at work in the neighbourhood.
We look forward to continuing the journey together with God.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Where is God

Diana Butler Bass, in "Grounded," talks of the demolishing of the three tier world in which God exists in heaven, humans exist on earth and, further down, there is an underworld that we hope to avoid.
This perspective was largely laid to rest after the first and second world wars when, in the rubble, folk were asking: "Where is God?" It was clear that only a God who would be alongside people in their suffering, not some remote being far removed from reality, would make any sense at all in a world changed beyond recognition.
This weekend, as senseless acts of terrorism were unleashed on Baghdad, Beirut and Paris, once again, we confront the question:Where is God?"and, once again,we see God in the ashes and the rubble, in emergency and relief workers, in fleeing and frightened refugees. Hell is no longer a place to be avoided. Hell stalks the lives of countless men, women and children caught up in violence perpetrated by fellow human beings, often in the name of religion. Religion itself has become a term that, rather than drawing people together in community and in a quest for God, has become largely associated with extremism and barbarity. But if Hell is no longer remote, neither is Heaven where the remote, benign God was deemed to dwell. Glimpses of heaven, too, are found among the carnage. In those who protected others. In those who opened their homes to strangers, offering a place to rest and find safety. In those who headed toward danger to rescue and comfort victims. Only a God who is present in all that afflicts our world makes any sense today. We have no use for a God who is so far removed as to be uninvolved in human suffering. Many folk, who have not already rejected any notion of God out of hand, yearn for a God whose presence can be discerned in the here and now, in the unfathomable horrors of life and, in the very ordinary routine of everyday. A God who is not far off but all around us is the God with whom humans want to connect to fill the void that many experience in their spiritual quest, a quest that pervades every day, in times of communal mourning and in the mundanity of life. Those who seek to find meaning in Spiritual things are employing very different questions and means of discovery, searching for an intimacy with God that was previously largely unimagined or reserved for a few. Today, those who seek God, seek a God who is within reach, intimately involved in the experience of human life. And as the quest for God and for spiritual connectedness is changing, so too, must our language about this God shift and change and connect with the questions that folk are now asking. Unless we are to leave God inert in the carnage of human tragedy, we must find a new way to speak of and reveal a God who is closer than our breathing, a God who leaks out in our tears, a God who surprises us with glimpses of light in our darkness, a God who weeps with us.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

With all the saints...

Hebrews 12:1-2a
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith...
To understand the present, we have to look to the past. Many of the traditions in our congregations that bewilder, challenge or comfort us today are rooted in the stories of communities evolving and growing together. Each congregation has a unique story of how it came to be in a particular time or place, how it developed its foibles and quirks and, if we want to move into the future together, we must first listen to and understand the stories of the past.
The Church of Scotland has a rich heritage, serving every part of Scotland and "furth of Scotland". Each parish has a story to share, a story to be honoured even and especially in times of change. Being reformed and constantly reforming involves finding creative ways to celebrate and, where necessary redeem the past as we move into the future.
Journeying with scripture, we gain the awareness that we do not journey alone, each of us builds on the work of another and, together, we stand in line, part of a continuum. A continuum of love, of persistence, of adaptation and of blessing.
We are empowered by the Spirit of God to continue the journey in the company of saints - the living and the dead. We are encouraged by that same Spirit to forge new paths, not with disdain for the old but out of the cognisance that God continues to relate to each new age in unique ways, inviting us on a journey of discovery.
As people of God today, we are called to honour what has gone before by following God on a new path in company with all the saints, past, present and future, discovering God, already there.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

God in the neighbourhood

John 1:14
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.

We've just moved to a new home and are enjoying exploring our new community, especially the plethora of coffee shops and restaurants.
Our daughter was excited to discover, the week after we moved, that the local Episcopal church was hosting a Pet Blessing service. At the service, our Border Collie was blessed, along with a number of other dogs, 8 cats, whose pictures were presented on their humans' mobile phones, two rabbits and a goldfish. The life of St Francis of Assisi, whose feast day was approaching was remembered and celebrated in story and song.
Over refreshments after the service, a pet psychologist was on hand to answer questions.
It was a lovely introduction to the community of pet owners living around the church and, in particular, the dog walkers, some of whom we already recognised from our outings on the seafront.
We discovered that the church has built quite a rapport with the dog walking community, providing teas, coffees and snacks on Fridays in the church hall, where dogs and their owners are welcome. It is gaining a reputation as a dog friendly church.
The leadership team saw an opportunity to connect with the community around them and have engaged in effective mission.
In discussions about the Path of Renewal,  we often speak of the need to discern what God is doing in the neighbourhood and then go and join in. That will more often be in the small and quirky than in the big and bold. It seems that, in this neighbourhood, it is amidst the doggie tales that grace abounds and love walks on four legs as well as on two.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


Mark 3:13-14
He climbed a mountain and invited those he wanted with him. They climbed together. He settled on twelve, and designated them apostles. The plan was that they would be with him, and he would send them out to proclaim the Word

How will we know when we have achieved what we set out to do? What will it look like? What are the markers along the way?
These are just some of the questions we have been grappling with in this discernment phase of the Path of Renewal.
For some, Outcomes are an essential part of the journey.
Others are content to proceed with less discernible direction.
In an age of quick fixes and off the shelf solutions, that can feel like a risky place to be.
Scripture gives us countless examples of journeys undertaken with no idea of the destination or even direction in some instances: The journeys of the Patriarchs into unknown, sometimes hostile, territory.
When Jesus called fishermen to leave their nets or tax collectors to leave their businesses, he didn't offer route maps or travel guides. Rather, he warned of hardship and loss. Yet the disciples were compelled to follow. Gods Spirit called to their spirits, tugging them out of all that they knew, propelling them to embrace an uncertain future.
However risky, that place of uncertainty, where we wait on Gods Spirit prompting us on, is a sacred space, filled with possibility. We cannot dwell there but are invited to sit awhile and listen to the One who invites us on this journey of discovery into and out of the communities and the neighbourhoods that God inhabits today. And, even in those spaces where we cannot see any evidence of God, we are called, simply to be, to practice faithfulness in our frustration.
At present, we may not be able to nail down the outcomes, but we can pinpoint practices that will prepare us for the journey and help us in our discernment of God's path to renewal.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Journeying with the right questions

Over the last month, we've been sharing some of the hopes and dreams and the vision of the Path of Renewal. We've explored our context and culture and how we've come to the places in which we now find ourselves. And we've outlined the need to let go of some things (not least control) in order to free up space and energy for Missional thinking and activity.
One of the crucial discoveries is that we must be asking the right questions - those questions that will allow us to truly connect with others and with the God who walks alongside and is also way ahead of us.
Whatever techniques, gifts or skills we feel we might bring to the work, it is the questions that allow us to drill down beneath the surface to mine the rich soil that just might be the fertile ground in which God nurtures the Kingdom.
The right questions elicit passion, connectedness, common ground and paths to journey.
Asking for directions may not be enough. We may need to journey before we even reach the point from which we might embark on a Path of Renewal.
The congregations and the leaders we have encountered in this process of discernment are all at different stages of the journey, bringing different hopes and fears and expectations, all willing to be companions on the road, holding up the Christ light to shine on the shadows of uncertainty. But all bring a healthy sense of trepidation and of excitement. The prospect of discovering alongside these sojourners the questions God places before us that will lead to springs of Renewal and that will equip us to support and mentor and nurture God's people through what will be difficult transitions is at once exciting and scary and filled with possibility.
The energy of God's creative Spirit drives us on to hold all things in tension as we discover the questions that will lead us forward on a Path of Renewal.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Entering the stories

The Church of Scotland is launching a new pilot project: Path of Renewal. The next three months will be spent in conversation with Congregational leaders who are discerning whether this pilot might be appropriate for their communities at this time. It is, in a nutshell, an initiative that seeks to support and mentor leaders as they experiment with new ways of being church in the places they are called to serve.
An initial round of conferences are being hosted over the next few weeks to begin the conversation, rooting the pilot in scripture, in worship and in Missional thinking. All of these elements are crucial to the Path of Renewal. 
So, too, is hearing each other's stories- who we are, where we have been, what shapes us and the places we serve. Listening to each other's hopes and dreams, recounting "successes" and "failures". And, above all, discerning our place in God's story and, in particular, those chapters yet to be written.
Stories create community. 
Hopefully, as we enter into each other's stories, as we support each other and pray for one another, as we give one another permission to try new things, to experiment with God,we will be creating new stories together that will inform and resource the Church and lead us forward on a Path of Renewal.