Compensation

When I first came to preaching, I thought it would enhance my personal Bible study by increasing my knowledge of the books and of their origins. While my knowledge is growing, my personal Bible study is non-existent.

I am spending more time studying the Bible each week overall but it is for Faith & Worship and for writing worship material – and it is not daily.

I don’t know if it matters why I am studying the Bible but it feels to me like it does so I tell myself to make sure I am still spending the same amount of time at my daily devotions. 

‘Myself’ does not listen!

This has been bothering me for some time and I have been worrying whether I am a fraud to be training as a preacher despite not opening the Bible every day.

Thanks to a BBC programme about weight loss, I know why I am not studying every day. When people start exercising a few times a week, their activity levels increase overall but drop on the days they do not exercise.  This is called compensation.  Presumably this is why, despite doing substantially more Bible study overall, I am doing less each day.

How to fix it though? The programme recommended tracking activity levels using pedometers which is not particularly useful for me but I did wonder about keeping a diary. If anyone has any experience of doing this, please leave a comment letting me know what you did and whether it brought you closer to God.

Good afternoon and God bless x

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It’s been a long day

It has been a long day – and an even longer time since I last blogged.  I have had tutorials on units 4-6, handed in and received back marks for the units 4 & 5 assignments and am working on my unit 6 assignment as well as the end of section 1 exegeses and trial service. Oh, and I’m preaching next week.

Which brings me to why I am here, blogging, right now: next week’s readings are tough!

John 1: 1-18.  Very little narrative just tons of symbolism that, I am sure meant something to 1st and 2nd century Christians in Turkey but means very little to me. Having worked my way through four commentaries, I am little the wiser.  There are clear echoes of Genesis which can be interpreted as reference to a new beginning through Christ.  The notion of Jesus’ godhood runs throughout the passage as does that of Jesus’ superiority to John the Baptist and to Moses. The question is, what am I supposed to do with it all? What is the message within this message?

When preparing to write a sermon, the Faith & Worship course gives a list of over 20 questions to answer about a passage.  These questions are separated into groups: the preacher’s perspective, the peoples’ perspective (congregation and wider world), the church’s tradition, and biblical exegesis.  The questions about the preacher’s perspective are:

  1. What echoes are there in this Bible passage for me?
  2. Are there any links with my own story?
  3. Does this passage raise questions for me?
  4. Does this passage challenge, confront or confirm me?
  5. What are the key words and key ideas in this passage for me?

How can there be any links or echoes for any human being in this passage? The passage raises many questions for me which can be summarised as ‘eh?’. It challenges my understanding and confronts me with the idea that I am not up to the task of preacher.  I find no confirmation in it. And the key words and ideas? Well, the writer uses the word ‘light’ a lot. As mentioned, there are links with Genesis and the writer is very clear about Jesus being God and of God and with God – and about John the Baptist being sent by God but not being God.  Not much help there then.

The next section, the peoples’ perspective, has eight further questions:

  1. For the congregation: does the Bible passage ring any bells?
  2. For the congregation: does the Bible passage echo the congregation’s own story/experience?
  3. For the congregation: does the Bible passage raise questions or problems?
  4. For the congregation: does the Bible passage challenge, confront or confirm?
  5. What words or ideas will stand out for those who hear it?
  6. How might the world outside the Church react to the passage?
  7. What questions might be raised for the world outside the Church?
  8. Does the passage offer a critique or confirmation to the contemporary world?

This is the first time I have visited this church so I do not know the congregation.  The only information on the Church’s worship profile is that there are ten regular attendees and that they are all over 50. Additionally, though the church is a member of the local ecumenical partnership, it is not a Methodist church and has different practices and traditions. This makes answering questions 1-4 rather tricky. Question 5 is a tricky one as history teaches us that that there are as many different versions of an event as witnesses to it so everybody will pick out different words or ideas from the passage.

What about the world outside the Church? It is difficult to see how anyone without at least a basic understanding of the New Testament could come away with anything more than Jesus is God.

Let’s look at the Church’s traditions:

  1. Are there any echoes in the liturgical life of the Church? Church year? Festivals? Rituals? Special Services?
  2. How has this Bible passage been understood in the history of the Church and in preaching?
  3. Are there hymns, creeds or prayers which echo this passage? (confession, thanksgiving, dedication, etc?)
  4. How might this passage be handled in worship?

It cannot be a coincidence that this reading is during Christmas so that is the beginning of an answer to question 1. A copy of the 1893 Methodist Commentary on the New Testament often helps with question 2 though, having been written by very learned clerics on a very dense passage, it has not enlightened me today! Question 3 is the most fun question: which hymns could be used.  The hymns might emphasise a particular aspect of the passage or echo a general theme for the service as a whole. The Methodist Church has a fantastic resource http://www.singingthefaithplus.org.uk/ which gives suggestions for hymns linked to the lectionary readings.  Question 4 is, in my opinion, somewhat ahead of itself – it is to decide how to handle the passage that this exercise is required. However, I have already determined that a dramatic re-enactment of the passage’s events would be tricky.

And, finally, the research element of the exercise: the biblical exegesis.

  1. Why is this Bible passage where it is? What comes before and after it?
  2. What might it have meant to its original hearers/ readers? What reactions did it provoke then and why?
  3. What is the cultural background of the passage? (author, type of literature, audience, etc?)
  4. What themes/ theological ideas are touched on in this passage?
  5. What are the key words?

The passage is the introduction not just to John’s Gospel but to Jesus’ divinity. It immediately precedes John the Baptist’s denial of Messiahship. I often think 2 and 3 would be, more usefully, answered in reverse order so: the Gospel of John was written around 100 CE in Turkey.  His audience would have been mainly gentile with limited understanding of Jewish tradition. The passage reads like a hymn with the addition of information about the ministry of John the Baptist. It could have acted as a creed for the new church showing the differences between it and the followers of John the Baptist and of the Jewish people.  It would have reminded the listener that Christ represented a new beginning in humanity’s relationship with God because, for the first time, God and truly walked among us. Lived among us. The main theme is of the eternity of Christ: His relationship to God and His eternal nature as well as His nature as an intermediary between a Heavenly God and earthly man. The key ideas are that God was made flesh, that knowing the nature of Christ brings us to God, and that the darkness of man cannot subsume the light of God. The key words are light, logos and life.

And, after all that, I still have no idea of Sunday’s theme.  The solution? Pray on it and try again tomorrow.

Good night and God bless xx

First Solo Service – the sequel

This morning, I lead my first service as an On Trial Preacher. It was a morning of firsts as it was also the first time I had preached in a URC church. The circuit I belong to is ecumenical. Some of the churches are an amalgamation  of URC and Methodist congregations, most of the churches are Methodist and a few are URC.

The only difference in the preparation for preaching for a URC congregation rather than a Methodist one was the use of Rejoice and Sing rather than Hymns and Psalms or Singing the Faith.

That isn’t to say that my preparations for the service were easy. Now that I do not have to send my sermon to my mentor for checking, I found myself niggling away at it until it became so convoluted that I deleted the whole thing and started over. Twice. Most recently, yesterday.

That’s a good note: each time I change a sermon, I will save it as a new version so that I can go back to what I had before I complicated it with unnecessary additions.

As the URC congregation meets in the next village I decided to walk there. Not wearing a watch, I panicked a little when I arrived to find several cars in the car park. Entering the church I, rather breathlessly, asked if I had arrived late and I was relieved to discover that I had half an hour before the service started. It seems that that the elders of the church are in the habit of arriving early for a brief meeting. Phew!

This week’s readings, from the book of Jonah and the gospel of Matthew, suggested a theme of the dangers of being angry at God.  As unit 4 of the Faith and Worship training course requires a narrative sermon, I got some practice by interweaving an exegesis of each reading with the story of Bruce Almighty focusing on the change in Bruce’s relationship with God.

With the exception of the second hymn, ‘For the fruits of all creation, thanks be to God’, which nobody – including me – seemed to know, the service seemed to be well received by the congregation. It being the third Sunday of the month, I was able to talk to several members (about slugs, snails and compost; we were typical gardeners!), over a cup of tea and a biscuit afterwards.

And, as quickly as that, my first service was over and it is time to begin preparations for the next.

This seems to be a natural point to look back on my decision to heed the call. 

It has been a surprising and rewarding few months. I had thought my knowledge of Scripture was not great but, at least, reasonable but I knew not one tenth of my current knowledge and, I am sure that in six more months I will be able to look back to today and say the same. 

My faith is calmer than it was; I don’t know why, and I am not sure I could explain how, but I feel almost serene on occasion. I like to think it is because I am no longer fighting the call to preach.

In some ways, I have started to think of preaching as my true work funded by my day job. That is not to say that I have lost my sense of vocation for my paid work; more that it has a more balanced position in my life.

I have had many hugs, hundreds of handshakes and, every time, compliments on my speaking voice. Never a mention of my singing voice, thankfully.

Even during the periods of controlled panic immediately before – and after – each service, I am very pleased I stopped protesting and very grateful for the opportunity to facilitate the worship of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I heartily recommend giving into the ministry to which you are called.

God bless you and keep you x

A lot has happened

Yes, a lot has happened since I last posted. I have been to a retreat centre as a volunteer, finished the introductory units of Faith & Worship, had a breakdown and passed my trial service.

So, in order, I had ten days available while my son was away with Scouts. Between my poor mental health, and the library of religious books I knew to be at the retreat centre, it seemed like a good idea to have a plan rather than sit alone at home.  I am so glad I went. To live within a christian community, sharing a common purpose and fellowship was wonderful – if only I was childless and a Roman Catholic, I would take holy orders. 

Coming home to my son was wonderful too – it is remarkable how much a 13 year old can change in such a short period of time. He seems to have become a man in the time he has been away – or maybe I could look at him with fresh eyes.

The introductory units of Faith & Worship conclude with an in-depth study of the Gospel of Mark. Using several commentaries from the house’s library, I completed a verse by verse study of the Gospel.  It took the full ten days and, even now, I am adding to it most days with further commentaries lent to me by friends. I think this is a project that will never be finished!

The next unit requires me to do the same for the other synoptic gospels which means cross-referencing them with Mark for a comparative study.

My breakdown I will say little about except that I am glad it is over.  I was fortunate that people who care about me sought help on my behalf. I am improving each day.

Finally, my trial service.  What a rollercoaster of a day that was.  The service was scheduled for 6pm and, when I got up that morning, I wanted to glance over the service I had planned, make a few improvements and print it off.  I couldn’t open the file.  Somehow, in the space of a day, it had corrupted.  Cue grabbing a huge pile of books, my notes and the laptop and starting over.  I ended up (I think) with a much better sermon.  And I passed.  The next step is to be passed to On Trial which will happen at the next Local Preacher’s meeting.  Once that happens, I can fly solo.  I don’t know if I am excited or scared but, sometimes, I think there is not much difference between the two anyway.

God Bless You x

 

 

Trial Service

I heard from my mentor (M) yesterday in an email that gave feedback from Sunday night’s service. 

We had decided that the service would be a trial-run for my trial service so I was on tenterhooks beforehand and wanted to do the best job I could.

First, my own views of how the service went:

The hymns were sung with gusto despite the small congregation (9) so I was happy with the choices.

There were a few smiles and nods when I introduced the theme of the imperfect christian but, during the sermon itself,  nothing. I felt as though I had failed to engage with the congregation. I was quite downhearted and could not help contrasting this experience with the extremely positive response I had to my first address last month.  When I spoke with church members after the service, they were complimentary but I was concerned that they were being polite. I should have recalled the many (MANY!) stories I have been told about congregants (is that a word?) being extremely blunt with preachers.

M’s feedback was more positive. She must have spoken to the steward separately because she said that they were keen to have me back. She also said that the service had flow and the sermon itself built on the chosen readings and real-world examples I had chosen.

M suggested that, as I gain confidence and experience, I will become more comfortable with a simpler sermon with fewer Bible quotes. However, I suspect it may be a result of having had the need to show evidence while studying for my BSc that causes me to quote so much. Time will tell!

M has been in touch with my new tutor (P), who is taking over supporting me through the Faith and Worship course following the retirement of my previous tutor. Having also received M’s feedback from Sunday, he has set my trial service for mid-August. If all goes well, I will go from being On Note (preaching under supervision) to On Trial (preaching with guidance as required and feedback to the group from stewards or attending preachers) at the following Local Worship and Preaching Group meeting (I hope I got that right) in September!

Good night and God bless

Helles x

The preparation for yesterday’s sermon

This topic was assigned following a discussion between my mentor and I when we decided to stick to the theme of Trinity Sunday.

Step 1: I brainstormed ideas about the topic (the Holy Spirit), use the Internet to search for inspiration and readings.

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Notes from my planning boom

Step 2: This was my first go at writing the sermon. I did this in longhand because it made it easier to add to whenever inspiration struck. This was written in three sessions.

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Step 3: This was typed up. I read it out loud to myself and made amendments. I then sent it to my mentor for checking.

Step 4: I made the amendments suggested by my mentor (a couple of introductory sentences). I read it into a voice recorder. I made further amendments as I listened to the recording.

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I added potential breathing breaks (green lines).

Step 5: deliver sermon.

Sounds so easy!

Good night and God bless x

How was my first sermon?

I have felt wretched about preaching for days. Would the words resonate with others? Would I deliver it suitably? Would I be doing God’s work?

As today is Trinity Sunday, my mentor (M) and I decided we would preach on the trinity with my address being on the Holy Spirit. After all, what could be easier for a first sermon than preaching on one of the most difficult Christian concepts?

After I had written my sermon, I emailed it to M who suggested one amendment which I readily used: I needed more of an introduction to the topic.  I then read it to myself and amended anything that felt out of place or poorly worded.  Once printed I read it into a voice recorder and listened back before making further, more minor, changes.

Despite all this preparation, and despite having run it past a couple of friends, I was very nervous before this afternoon’s service.  I was pacing the vestry and fiddling about with everything I found – it must have been incredibly annoying for M!

My first part of the service was to read the story of the elephant and the blind men. In this story, none of the men have come across an elephant before and go to feel it to find out what kind of a thing it is. One man falls against its side and thinks an elephant is a wall; another feels its trunk and believes that an elephant is a snake; still another feels the ears and thinks an elephant is a fan; and so on. We used this story to demonstrate that God can be viewed in different ways. The congregation seemed to enjoy it and I got a few smiles and laughs as I read it.

My next task was to lead the prayers of adoration, confession and thanksgiving. Within these, I used a hymn as a prayer. I announced this but quickly realised that I was the only one without a copy of Hymns and Psalms!
Note to self: bring own copy in future or, better yet, put it on the print out.

Once I had announced the next hymn, I could sit down and enjoy M’s reading and her address on the Father and the Son. The whole thing was engaging and easy to follow. I really liked the way she used pictures and props to demonstrate her point – not just explain it. I need to think about how I can engage more of the senses in the future.

And then, the dread moment arrived when I had to deliver my reading and my address!

My throat was aching and dry and there was no water at the lectern. I kept having to clear my throat as I read.

Once the reading was over, I began my address and I felt a strength rise within me. I felt more animated, more sure of the words I was saying. As I looked around me, I could see people smiling and nodding their heads as though what I was saying made sense. And when it was over, when I had finished, I was so full of emotion that I was worried that I would cry!

I started us all off on the final hymn feeling full of God’s love and sang with gusto. This left me with barely any breath for the blessing so my final lesson learned was this: take the last hymn more steadily!

Good night and God bless x