Tag Archives: Glens and Kirriemuir Old Parish

Absence Makes the Heart Grow More Contemplative

  I wish we encouraged our workers in the States to take extended vacations, rather than just take a long weekend here and there with the occasional week long time away. My pulpit exchange/time away is five weeks long. Yes, there has been bit of work involved while I’ve been here but it has still benn a long holiday with my family in France, England, Scotland, and Iceland. 

We assumed we were so unique in taking this trip – that hardly anyone else would take this much time away in a row. Yet we encounter many British folks over here who regularly “holiday” like this. Most people seem to enjoy two weeks in a row at a minimum, with others using every available day in a month or month and a half stretch to truly tour. This holiday season is full of people traveling near and far, but doing it for a long time.

The advantage to leaving work, home, and our normal routine for that kind of an extended break is just that – and extended break. You actually disconnect. Think about it. If you leave for a weekend or week, you are still probably checking email from work, thinking about the house, and making plans for what will happen after you return. Family, friends, and work will, more than likely, still touch base with you and expect some type of response from your to their questions, comments, and requests. When you leave for two weeks or more, you can realistically make the claim that you are unavailable. Things in the office can usually wait a few days until you return but they typically cannot be delayed for two weeks or more, in which case, someone else will generally have to deal with the issue at hand. You are unavailable.
And it is glorious.

Before I continue my pretentious diatribe on the joys of a white collar job that allows me the opportunity to actually take a number of days away, let me recognize the absurdity of our vacation system in the states and acknowledge that many, MANY people back home do not and cannot take days off for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: 
1.) Lack of allocated vacation time (some jobs that won’t even provide the laughable 1 week off until you have proved yourself over a series of months)

2.) Fear of job loss and retribution for taking time away

3.) Lack of full-time employment that provides paid time away. The growing trend in the U.S. is to cobble together multiple part time jobs or contracted work into a livable wage, thus missing out on the benefits of full-time work, including health benefits, ETO, retirement options, and salaried pay.

4.) Our culture has deemed working to be synonymous with proper, good, and right behavior. There is an underlying sentiment in our society that says those who do not make work their number one priority are somehow less ambitious, less productive, less meaningful, and less motivated than those who do devote all their time and energy toward their place of employment.

We seem to brag to one another about how many hours we worked the past week or month, wearing a 60 hour work week as a badge of honor.  

 We have created an environment were most people take their job with them everywhere through tablets, smart phones and a constant tethering to the office through email, text, and social media. And we not only expect it but we declare that these hard workers are to be applauded for their devotion to their craft.
Someone here in Scotland was taken aback when I referred to my ministry position as a job.

“But it’s a calling, Pastor. It’s not just a job, is it?”

I’m tired of clergy saying things like this and I had hoped our congregants would think differently by now.  Unfortunately, we humble clergy have allowed and even encouraged people to see ordained ministry as somehow more noble, more difficult, and moredemanding than other vocations. This is not the case anymore than being a teacher is more noble than being a doctor.
Yes, it is a calling…in the same way parenthood, administration, marriage, IT work, accounting, cleaning, and any number of other activities and states of being in our lives are callings. The idea of vocation is not limited to ministry, nor should it be left in the realm of things we do for money. Vocation extends so far beyond that and I wish we would teach that to our children.

Whenever we ask kids, “What do you hope to be when you grow up?” we seem to expect them to answer with a career or profession. Doctor, lawyer, business executive… How do we get children (and adults) to answer, “When I grow up, I hope to be happy and make other people feel necessary and loved. When I grow up, I hope I am called to be a good sister and friend. When I grow up, I want to make my community more graceful.”

  My calling, my vocation, changes daily. Today, I am called to be a present father who listens better. Yesterday, I was called to be a patient and loving example of trust. Tomorrow, I may be called to be something else. In the midst of all of this, I am called to serve God with my gifts of preaching and teaching by ministering in Scotland through The Peoples Church. I’m not sure what my vocation will demand of me next year, ten years from now, or thirty years down the line. I do know that my faithful service of Jesus Christ did not begin with, nor will it end, with my position as a minister of word and sacrament who currently works as the senior pastor at a multi-denominational institution that is The Peoples Church.

Being away…I mean REALLY away…has helped me remember that. Being reconnected to my wife and children has helped me redefine my priorities. Being in foreign countries has helped me appreciate the world as much as I appreciate my home. Being in churches abroad has helped expand my parochial vision of the Kingdom of God. Being away has changed me, refreshed me, and renewed me to follow my calling in all places and all times and I am forever grateful to The Peoples Church, the West Angus Area Ministries, the Glens and Kirriemuir Old Parish, the Kirk of Scotland, Rev. Malcolm Rooney, Rev. Linda Stevens, Rev. Drew Filkins and so many others who made this exchange possible.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We return home in a little more than a week. Until then, I hope to continue appreciating this opportunity with my family before reinvesting myself fully into The Peoples Church. Thanks for being a part of our journey.


An Anecdotal View of the Parish System

The Kirk of Scotland practices the “Parish” model of ministry for this lovely county. While I’m sure I am over simplifying this complex system, I’ll take a stab at explaining what I have observed before offering my questions on how this concept may or may not work in my home context of East Lansing, MI, USA. 

 Scotland, the whole country, is divided into parishes, or regional/neighborhood parts, that are served by the whole Kirk.  Each person in Scotland belongs to a particular parish and is served by the minister assigned/called to parish. As a result, the whole country is part of the Kirk and the spiritual and chaplaincy needs are, ideally, met by the pastor in each parish.  

 So whether you ever attend worship or church activities, you are still considered a part of the local kirk and have a minister who is there to marry, bury, baptize, and support you and your loved ones. Yes, there are a few other denominations represented in each parish. And, of course, just because you are considered part of the parish does not mean you will ever call on our contact the kirk or minister. In fact, you may not only be a non-Christian, but you may be vehemently opposed to the church…yet you are still a part of the parish and are prayed for and served by the local minister.

I’ve asked this question of myself and fellow Peoples Church clergy without obvious answers – To whom are WE called to serve? 

 Case in point – When I go to Sparrow Hospital, am I there to visit our church members or all people? Is there a priority ranking between Peoples Church people and non-Peoples people?  Are we ministers to our community or the neighborhood/parish? Is our parish only those who self-identify as “members” of The Peoples Church?

I realize the parish model is not unique and has been practiced by a number of churches/denominations in the States and internationally. However, in my tiny Reformed/Presbyterian worldview, this is a relatively new concept. 

To use the shepherd image, I have been trained to watch over one particular flock to which I have been assigned. When I see one of “my” sheep in trouble, it is my call to step in and assist. I am not called to “all” sheep and would not be readily expected to help any and all sheep in whatever field that might be in need of a shepherding hand. 

 That is not the case here in the Church of Scotland.

I am AMAZED by the amount of weddings and funerals officiated by my Church of Scotland colleagues for what I observe as smaller congregations on Sunday morning. What I failed to recognize was the size of the whole parish. They are ministering to EVERYONE. In addition to their ecclesial responsibilities in the kirk, they are called to be chaplains in the community, teach religious education in the gov’t schools, and work with and through middle governing bodies as representatives of the church and state. In short, they are stretched awfully thin out here and I am truly impressed by their ability to help, serve, love, and support ALL their neighbors, not just those who attend the parish kirk on Sunday mornings.

Is this model better than the one we live within in the US? 

 I don’t have a clear answer to this one. I am quite attracted to the missional/evangelical notion that all people are a part of God’s family and are equally deserving and in need of pastoral care, regardless of whether or not they tithe, worship regularly, or participate in the active fellowship of a congregation.

But what does that say about the responsiblities of a pastor in a particular place and time, called to be the minister of a church/parish/congregation?

My call as the senior pastor at The Peoples Church is relatively clear cut. My job description includes preaching, head of staff responsibilties, and the administration of the sacraments. Of course, there is that wonderful line about “other duties” that would take a novel to fill with all of the “jobs” of a minister. Still, my call is very distinctly articulated in my job description as the senior minister of The Peoples Church, not East Lansing or the Lansing area.

This pulpit swap has left me a bit anxious about the following questions:

1.) Do I treat members of The Peoples Church differently from non-members? Should I?

2.) Does The Peoples Church exist for our community, the community outside our walls, and/or  God?

3.) To whom am I most accountable and why?

Only a couple more weeks overseas before returning home to address these questions within the faith community that I know and love. Until then, I hope to continue learning with and through the faithful people here in the West Angus Area Ministries of The Kirk of Scotland. It is such a privilege and joy to be here.