Tag Archives: Malcolm Rooney

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.

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Three Sermons, A Foreign Staff Meeting, and Dreadful Predictions

A gentleman at yesterday’s Kirk team meeting said one news outlet recently made this bold statement: The last parish in the Kirk of Scotland will close it’s doors in 2034.

Yikes.

Obviously, this type of doom-and-gloom prophecy is meant to be jolting and distressing. Just as obvious is the lack of good statistical analysis used to extrapolate these results.  

 This declaration is based off the current number of church closures and membership decline felt in the Church of Scotland over the past number of years. Assuming those numbers continue at the same rate, one could argue that the church will cease to exist in a mere twenty years.

I’ve heard nearly identical predictions about the Presbyerian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and a host of other smaller and larger mainline denominations in the States that are going through a similar struggle with numbers.

There is no denying the numerical depression. However, based solely on anecdotal evidence, there are plenty of faithful men, women and children who will no doubt continue the good work of the church regardless of what the church resembles in the future.

This much is assuredly true – the church will not look the same twenty years from now.

  I’d make that statement for any and all denominational expressions of the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the world – fundamentalists, Catholics, Baptists, and Presbyterians alike.

At 35, the Presbyterian Church today looks vastly different than it did in my teen years before cell phones, rapid information sharing, social media, and the “shrinking” of our global community. The pre-digital church was something very different from our ever evolving digital landscape that the Kirk in all times and places struggles to make sense of. When I am 55, I’m not sure what the congregations I have served will resemble, nor am I sure what type of church I might encounter that proclaims the gospel. But it will be there, of that I’m am sure.

  I preached three times on Sunday in Kirriemuir and Memus, here in West Angus, Scotland. My pulpit swap counter-part, Rev. Malcolm Rooney, is part of West Angus Area Ministries, a team ministry approach where a number of pastors serve as ministers for a variety of churches in one given area. The ministers serve the pastoral needs of the various congregations, while sharing the Sunday morning leadership roles, rotating between parishes. Because there are more churches than pastors, each clergy person might be expected to drive between parishes on a Sunday morning in order to preach at all the locations.*

*(as an aside, I also learned about a sever minister shortage in teh Church of Scotland. In 2014, there were only 13 divinity students preparing to be ministers in the CoS and this year there are 19. Friends in the PC(USA), if you are looking for a call, there are LOTS of opportunities for American pastors to serve here in the Kirk)

  My rotation this past Sunday included the 9:00 service in Kirriemuir Old Parish, then drive ten minutes to make the 10:00 service in Memus before hopping back in the car and driving to Kirriemuir again for the “big” service in the Old Parish at 11:15. It was a whirlwind. I’ll never complain about our bakc to back services at The Peoples Church. At least in Michigan, I stay in the same building!

And here is the most stunning observation from my weekend that flies in the face of the predictions about the demise of the Church of Scotland – the congregations were so absolutely connected to one another. There was a genuine sense of fellowship and community. 

  That is where the church will survive and eventually thrive.

Rather than speaking to the fears of closing church doors, I believe an emphasis should be placed on the existing faithful who come week after  week to express their faith in Jesus Christ while supporting and loving their neighbors as themselves. That is an attractive church. That is an evangelical church.

I am so filled with hope for the Church of Scotland…but I believe they need to refocus their efforts on building up the faithful who are there, rather than bemoaning the missing numbers who are not present. Instead of reporting about the fifty who have left, celebrate teh fifty who are there. I would gladly be a part of those congregations and I believe many others in my cynical, authenticity-seeking generation would as well.  

On Tuesday morning, I attending two “team meetings,” staff meetings really, for the parishes. The volunteers there were charming, loving, kind, grace-filled, and full of pride in all the right ways. I was honored to be a part of their discussions and I truly look forward to more of these conversations during my time in Scotland. I pray for the Church of Scotland and I give thanks for their good work. A time of contraction is difficult, but not impossible. Let this be a time of rebirth.

Friends at The Peoples Church, please join me in praying for the Christians here in Scotland, that they would be confident in knowing that they are not alone in their faith. We break bread with them each time we share communion. Remember them this week and give thanks.