Sunday, 21 June 2009

Reflections on almost a year at STETS

I haven't blogged for a little while - a flurry of activity when I first started and then.....nothing. I had this in draft, so I've decided I better finish it off!

As mentioned in my previous post, I've just finished the last weekend of the academic year on my training course for the Anglican Ministry. I thought I would drop some thoughts here as well as some achievements (achievements in my view only, of course!).

This time last year I had just had a 'recommendation' for training from my Bishop to train for three years at Salisbury, part-time and, all being well, to be ordained as a 'self supporting' or 'non-stipendiary' Minister in June 2011. I had also (rather crucially) been offered a place on STETS starting in September 2008.

The course, in my view very well structured, consists of 6 residential weekends and an Easter School a year, 6 academic modules each lasting 7 weeks and concluding with an assignment, three study days per annum and what I would call a 'pastoral' module that runs above this that involves me preaching, observing my congregation, undertaking listening exercises, etc. This work should take about 16 hours of my time in study per week.

I was going to say that I was a fresh-faced student last September; but I would be lying. I'm almost 40 so there's nothing fresh-faced about me. Maybe slightly weathered would be a better expression - although some may disagree and just say knackered! Anyway, in September 2008 I commenced my course, a Diploma in Theology in Christian Ministry and Mission. It was daunting to say the least. Along with 33 or so other ordinands we all turned up to our first weekend in September for 'Orientation'. We were let in gently.....just before the hard work begun!

For me, it didn't get off to a great start! I rather threw myself in; studying evenings, and both days of the weekend. After about three weeks, Nikki (my wife) sat me down and told me essentially that something had to give and we (I) needed to find a way to do the required hours, but not so that she or my sons didn't see me. We agreed that I would study on Sundays but Saturdays were out; these would be family days. This works very well now. I read on the train for a couple of hours each day, do some study at home in the evenings and spend hours in the study on a Sunday. By doing that I can get the work done. Some modules are 'easier' than others, though!

I didn't think it would be any different, but I am enjoying it. I have a great group of fellow students, a very supportive &Co group (a small group of students brought together to support each other and share the work of worship, duties etc at weekends), a great Training Minister (my Incumbent) and very patient tutor! I seem to be keeping up and have had OK marks for three assignments. I would love to do more work on my assignments but I would then have to find some more hours!

Now finishing this, I've just had my first year's assessment and am trying to write my final assignment of the year - this blog is delaying that as I don't have any inspiration for it! Bu as I look back over the year I have been so blessed. Everyone, from my family, home parish, fellow students, tutor and staff have been hugely supportive. I am counting down to my ordination - 100 weeks from this coming Saturday (and that's 12 assignments, 12 residential weekends and two Easter Schools)! But I can't be let loose into the community! But also all the learning along the way, both in the next two years but also in the years of my ministry. And to truly discover where God will take me.....who knows where?

I'm going to be posting again tonight, but don't want to get too many subjects mixed into one!

The beauty of the countryside

This weekend I've been down in Salisbury with my fellow students on STETS (Southern Theological Education and Training Scheme) for the last weekend of our first year together. I think to an individual we questioned where the year had gone - one Easter School, 6 residential weekends, a few study days, five modules and assignments and more than 20 tutorials.....time has truly flown! I will write about that more later.

What I really wanted to reflect on was the weekend and the wonderful experience I had at the hands of the community in the Chalke Valley; 13 Parishes with 9 PCC's! Quite a handful. However, I think that we felt (I did, anyway), a real sense of community and togetherness with the people we met who spoke with real pride and positivity of their community and how it had really grown. I am sure there are 'issues' and everyday challenges to be faced, but it seemed that they were able to face them as a community. I was also struck with the true partnership and relationship between the URC Minister and the CofE Team Rector; I think that much of the success of the ministry will be down to this relationship working well.

The valley was truly an area of beauty. It coincided with a new album I bought on Friday by Sarah McLachlan; Ordinary Miracle (not a new album, just one that caught my eye), called Rarities, B-sides and other stuff. Listening to the words of the first track really talked to me; is it a contradiction to refer to an 'ordinary' miracle - not in the words of this song; everyday occurrences that are truly miracles, but things that we consider ordinary and perhaps take for granted. Lyrics below:

It's not that unusual
When everything is beautiful
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

The sky knows when it's time to snow
Don't need to teach a seed to grow
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

Life is like a gift, they say
Wrapped up for you everyday
Open up, and find a way
To give some of your own

Isn't remarkable?
Like everytime a raindrop falls
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

The birds in winter have their fling
And always make it home by spring
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

When you wake up everyday
Please don't throw your dreams away
Hold them close to your heart
'Cause we are all a part

Of the ordinary miracle

Ordinary miracle

Do you want to see a miracle

It seems so exceptional
That things just turn out after all
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

The sun comes out and shines some bright
And disappears again at night
It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

It's just another
Ordinary miracle today

Wonderful words that really struck a chord in the light of this weekend. The villages of the Chalke Valley might be living in an 'ordinary miracle' but we mustn't take places like this for granted.

Added later...I've just discovered this song is from the film 'Charlotte's Web'. Link below (if it works):

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Do nothing....

Today, like many Thursdays, I went to the church across the road from my office for the weekly communion service. It's in a church that's pre-Great Fire, where Handel played the organ (still in place - the organ that is, not Handel!), with a most magnificent stained glass window above the High Altar. a magnificent building that whilst a little tired still shows the splendour of it's age - and there are ambitious plans to make it great again!

As I walk in every week, I draw in a wonderful waft of incence and enjoy this sanctuary from the hum-drum of my daily working life. Taking time out to communicate with God.

Today the sermon (short as befits a lunchtime service for City and other workers on their lunch break), we were introduced to 'doing nothing' and there was a little plug for Bishop Stephen Cottrell's book 'Do nothing to change your life'. I am dreadful at remembering fully what the text of sermons generally are, but this one really struck a chord. How often do we (me, actually) really stop and do nothing? Whether that nothing is for me, God, the family etc. The blurb on Amazon quotes Isaiah; 'In returning and rest you shall be saved.' (Is. 30:15). How true this is. I know that God is with me in the workplace, actually with me 24/7. However, when do I stop, do nothing and just 'be'. I was going to say (write) probably, but there's no probably about it; I don't do this anywhere enough. Not to self; from now on, think about doing nothing, just 'being' and through this God will shine through.

Tomorrow I have the dreaded visit to the dentist. I haven't been for ages - years actually. Much brushing of teeth leading up to this visit. I'm sure it doesn't do any good, but it helps me feel better! Fingers crossed there won't be anything terminal!

After the dentist something much more pleasant, off to lunch with my wife at the restaurant where I am having my 40th birthday celebrations next month. Great to spend some quality time with my wife before I go off to a residential weekend in beautiful Salisbury to learn all about Rural Church. Looking forward to everything that's happening after the dentist!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Fresh Expressions

I already feel like an inadequate blogger. Having spent a while reading other people's blogs, they seem thoughtful, well written and full of insight. It rather puts me off writing anything at all, but I thought I would give it a go as one has to start somewhere!

So, here goes!

A couple of weeks ago I was at a service under the banner 'Fresh Expressions'. I had, of course, heard of the expression and 'movement' (it probably shouldn't be called that, but I can't think of another word for it right now). I had, to be honest, a very blinkered view of 'Fresh Expressions'; that it was something from the charismatic wing of the Anglican Church and that under the banner of Fresh Expressions there was an encouraging of break away groups from the mainstream and established church; possibly using excuses to do so along the way. In my view parishes should be able to adapt and provide worship and ways to God without the need to do this under the banner of 'Fresh Expressions'; it should be something we do as church in a community.

My experience, I think very much down to my preconceived ideas didn't do anything for me; in fact exactly the opposite; I needed to take the air after and go for a walk to burn off some angst. However, I felt it important to talk it through with my Vicar to really dig a bit into what Fresh Expressions truly was - and apart from anything else, dump on him my angst. We talked and I did some research. My incumbent lent me a DVD to watch.

A revelation! My eyes were opened! I still feel uncomfortable with anything termed 'Fresh Expression' and seeing it as a seperate entity to the mainstream church as I feel that it perhaps encourages people to breakaway from the church in the community rather than encourage people finding new ways to be part of church in the community. However, there are some truly great things happening that involve people taking the Gospel and church to a wider congregation. Street Pastors, Cafe Church, Church in sports halls etc etc.....I found the DVD both moving and encouraging. But.......I still have an issue with the term and there being a seperate 'entity' that is called 'Fresh Expressions'; after all, should church in itself be a fresh expression? I am called, I believe to be a fresh expression, to evangelise, to practice mission in the community and find ways to take God to the wider world. Do I need to do this under a banner, under a title? No I don't.

It got me thinking, which is always a dangerous thing! How do I take church to people who don't experience church on a Sunday (or any other time)? My mind is buzzing and there are a number of things that I am now thinking through to put in place.

So, my preconceived ideas about Fresh Expressions were totally misguided. I am sorry for that. I now look at it in a totally different light. I still have an issue with how it is perceived, but for one am now understanding of it and will seek to create some Fresh Expressions.

I would strongly recommend 'Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition' (ed. Steven Croft & Ian Mobsby, Canterbury Press). As an Anglo-Catholic this also gave some great perspectives on Fresh Expressions.