Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A last Eucharist

Good morning God,
Its amazing how the knowledge of impending absence is affecting the way I feel about this week's Eucharist. This will be the last supper that I will preside at for a long time. The words of the liturgy seem to have acquired a hitherto undreamed of meaning and clarity as I prepare to leave a people that you have enabled me to love and serve by your grace.

Please don't misunderstand God,  have no 'fear' for those I love. I know that in my absence they will be more than well provided for by you and others - Christ alone is the indispensable minister of grace (I learned that a loooong time ago!)
But I find I am torn by conflicting emotions and grief competes with joy as I prepare.
Reflecting on this, and on the words I will be saying, I am astonished to discover an absence at the heart of the Eucharist which I had not allowed myself to notice before, probably because I have always been so concerned with trying to mediate your presence God.

The words of the liturgy are very definitely all in the wrong tense -
We declare the mystery of faith
Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again ,
instead of 
Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is come again...
and we pray -
'send down your Holy Spirit' - rather than giving thanks that your Holy Spirit is already present.

In these, and so many other ways, we speak eschatalogicaly - in terms of a promised future presence - ie a very present absence! (and for the theologically aware - nope, I dont really think realized eschatology cuts it here)

Lex orandi, lex credendi -  what we pray is what we believe.. in which case,  liturgically speaking at least, I  would have to say that the Church believes in your presence as the risen Christ by praying about Your absence!

This 'last' Eucharist will be a very special. We are a small group, who have learned to bear one another's burdens. My presence is not an essential component of this act of worship, merely a welcome one. Your presence on the other hand, is crucial. Without YOU God, the Eucharist is merely an empty ritual, a remembering less we forget.. that once, a long time ago, you loved us enough to come as one of us.. and that you promise, one day, to come again.

do this - to remember me...

like binding words on our foreheads, counting beads, or tying knots in tassels

I can find nothing in the words we say, in the liturgy we use, to suggest that you are present in anything other than the future promised to us..

which begs the question God...

is this why transubstantiation is deemed so necessary by so many?!!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cat heaven

Good morning God,
I really miss Velvet this morning.

When we took her to the vets last night to put an end to her pain and suffering, it seemed like the right thing to do, but was it? Did we have the right? Is there an afterlife for cats, a heaven where she is finally free?

She was one of those who never stood a chance. As a result of being terribly abused by her first owners, she never learned to trust humans. In 12 years, she never once sat willingly on a lap and she only tolerated being stroked when and where she wanted, once a day, just before feeding!
But she seemed content with us and over time had managed to make a space in our home and in our lives that she knew was her own which she was comfortable with.  As long as we asked no more of her than she was willing to give - all was well.

We saw the first signs of the cancer in July, and it has been a rapid decline since then.
Her tumor was on her face, blocking her nostril, closing one eye, giving her, in the early days at least, a sort of sleepy lop-sided look, as though she couldn't quite bring herself to wake up.
And the weight just fell off her.
We could do nothing but watch as our beautiful british blue, was ravaged by this insidious disease.
There was no comfort we could give - she still didn't want to be touched or stroked, we could not give her oxygen or help her to breathe and we failed to find a food that could tempt her to eat.
We knew that we were not prepared to let her 'suffer' - but how do you know when the time is right?
Were we taking her to the vets because we could not bear to watch, or because it really was the best thing to do for her?

It's hard enough to make such a decision at the best of times - but, if you don't mind me saying God, it seems particularly cruel to have had to make it at a time when my health has been so problematic.

Like Velvet, for the last three weeks breath is something I have no longer been able to take for granted - it has been, and still is, hard fought for following a serious chest infection.  Although the infection has cleared up and I am managing to work, my breathing is still not good and by the end of each day I am completely exhausted by the constant effort of just trying to get enough air into my lungs to live another day.

When the infection was at its height - there was a time when I almost wanted someone to end my life - the pain and terror of not being able to breathe was more than I thought I could bear, as was watching Brian's distress at not being able to help in any way...
Was that memory what persuaded us to take Velvet to the vet yesterday..?

Projection - when one problem or situation is projected onto another to create enough distance to allow the more personal or difficult problem to be either dismissed, or dealt with.

Anthropomorphizing - attributing human traits and attributes to animals or objects..

Prayer - the gift you give of honest enquiry.

I believe I will live after death - and yes, I believe we made the right decision for Velvet - she is at peace, freedom from her pain and her suffering was a gift we could give her. But what I don't know - and what I need to know at this moment in time (even if it is just projecting or anthropomorphizing) is  whether there is an afterlife for cats.

What say you God?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ministerial whining?

Good morning God,
It has been seriously suggested to me that I rethink my vocation, that I have misunderstood what ministry is and that I should look to leaving the Church if all I want to do is whine about my working conditions. It has also been implied that I am taking a pop at the Connexional team, that I am out to slur them and make mischief or worse at their expense..

What on earth could I have done to have blotted my copybook so thoroughly?

Oh, yes,, that's right, I have dared to suggest that the Church considers practicing what it preaches, and updates the working conditions for circuit ministers as laid out in CPD so that they are a better reflection of its theology of grace.

Perhaps I should have been prepared for it God, but I have been astonished by some of the responses I have received over the last week. In amongst the many replies recognising the need for the Church to have a debate about current working conditions, there have been a small but significant minority who have decided that anyone who wants a change in their 'terms and conditions' must somehow be less of a minister...

To those who say ministers are not employees -
Hurrah... I too believe in the Covenant relationship and do not want to be an employee. The expectations of the Covenant vis-a-vis our working conditions are already spelt out in CPD - updating them will not suddenly make us employees.

To those who say ministry is who we are, not what we do -
Agreed again.. but let's not lie and say that ministers don't need or enjoy our days off or holidays like everyone else! Updating the conditions in CPD will not make us LESS ministerial by encouraging us to have a more realistic work-life balance!

To those who think I'm having a pop at the Connexional team..
The fact that ministers who work at Methodist Church House or outside of circuit ministry usually have contracts which stipulate a 5 day working week is cause for thanksgiving not ridicule - surely!
To make mention of this is not some subtle or perverse way of saying that I think the Connexional Team dont work hard enough.
To ask for the same notional working conditions for circuit ministers is simply to point out and ask for an extension of existing GOOD PRACTICE.

To those who think I have lost my vocation...
Asking for a change in working conditions does not mean that I am only interested in putting my material interests before those of my flock.  As someone who has been involved in the training and theological education of many of our ministers, I'm just not prepared to ignore the fact that too many ministers are falling sick and leaving the Church because they cannot live up to the increasing demands of some circuits based on current expectations.(not my own circuit I hasten to add!)
A small change in CPD could make a big change in how some people feel about their ability to minister. To watch over one another in love is part of our shared ministry.

In 'What is a Presbyter' we are told that

A presbyter is a ‘whole' person, interconnected with others through family, friendship or other close relationships
A presbyter ensures that his or her family and personal commitments are not neglected

The same is true of Deacons..

To ask that CPD is updated so that this is implicit in our working conditions is not whining - its practicing what we preach.
Isn't it?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

35 hour working week for all ministers?

Good morning God,

A 5 day, 35 hour working week for all ministers - yes even CIRCUIT ministers? Is it possible, is it desirable? As promised, here's the text of a circuit memorial which, if adopted and sent to Conference, might at least persuade us to examine the working conditions of circuit ministers.
What do you think God? I know, I know, we would all do the work anyway, but if we felt we were only supposed to be 'working' 35 hours a week, we might at least give ourselves permission to stop after 48.. instead of the usual 60-70..
It might even encourage more lay people to become actively involved again - or even consider ministry as an option if they saw half-decent working conditions..

Anyway.. here's the first draft to be put to our circuit meeting.

Text of memorial: The xxxx Circuit draws the Conference’s attention to the increasing number of ministers leaving circuit ministry for reasons of stress, finance and poor working conditions and asks Conference to address the issue directly by implementing the following changes to ministerial working conditions without reduction of Stipend from the start of the Connexional year 2011:
1) Standardise on a notional 5 day, 35 hour working week for all ministers.
(These are the working hours of ministers based at MCH)
2) Remove the 12 quarter days per year
3) Require Circuits to comply with the European Working Directive and ensure that no minister works more than 48 hours a week when averaged over a 17 week period.

Background or supporting statement:
Ministry is a vocation which demands sacrificial giving of time and energy. As the Church has declined however, more and more is being asked of few and fewer ministers. The review of the pension scheme has highlighted the fact that there has been a significant increase, year upon year, in the number of younger (below 50 years of age) ministers retiring early on the grounds of stress. The call for a ‘Year of Jubilee’ at Conference 2010 is further indication of the extent to which the whole Church is beginning to feel pressured. For the Church to flourish and grow it needs a ministry which is energised and refreshed not permanently tired. It also needs for ministry to appeal to a new generation as a vocation which, whilst it may be both challenging and dynamic, is nonetheless still doable. It is our belief that the current Conference ruling (given below) is no longer able to achieve that objective.

The Conference recognises the impossibility and the undesirability of too strict a rule on a minister’s or deacon’s use of time, such as a sessional apportionment would entail, and it also recognises the economic restrictions which make the ideal unachievable; but it considers that the application of the principles of any person’s need of rest, recreation, exercise, fellowship, and above all a full family life, would require:
1. 35 days’ holiday each year, plus the equivalent of statutory public holidays. Such entitlement would include five Sundays free of duties, of which at least two would be consecutive Sundays and, for ministers, one Local Preachers’ Sunday.
2. A break of three consecutive weekdays (if possible away from home) each quarter.
3. A minimum break of 24 hours each week, without structured work and if possible away from the manse.
4. A period of up to an hour’s break each day for recreation and exercise.
5. Where there is a Sunday between Christmas and New Year probationers should be free on that Sunday.
The Conference recommends each minister and deacon to cultivate a hobby from the outset.