Tag: church of scotland

meeting people. considering #people in #meetings

Over the last few days, Monday and Tuesday, I have been involved in two similar efforts be two different organisations. Both efforts tried get a similar outcome while using two different processes. The aim of this post is to try and consider both processes and critically engage with them. I am not trying to comment upon the content of both conversations as this is not public information, and it is not my place to reveal that content.

Effort 1 – Format
Effort 1 was on behalf of the Church of Scotland, the effort was to answer the challenge given by General Assembly 2016 to the Mission and Discipleship Council.
Instruct the Council to report to the General Assembly of 2017 its initial outline of a proposed theme(s) for the following five years from 2018 onwards to focus the worship, witness and work of the Church on every level throughout the Church of Scotland’s parishes, congregations and communities.
The process used was to widely invite representative stakeholders from the Church of Scotland to a one-day conference. This conference would enable conversation and an emerging set of themes to answer the challenge.  The conference was well attended (around 50 people) and seemed to have good participation.

The format used was a form of the World Café method. Having read about world cafe as a method within my academic research I was keen to see it in action. At a basic level it is a way to get allow large groups to divide into smaller groups and allow for the group to split up and form new groups regularly. Functionally a volunteer “Host” stays at each table in order to anchor the conversation at that table and allow others to join in and build upon the previous conversation strands.

Effort 1-Reflection
When I say a “form of “above, my brief reading of world cafe had informed me that the world cafe method works with tables of 4 people and 20-minute conversation sessions therefore it should be short and sharp chats. The format we used yesterday was tables of 6 with 50 minute sessions which surprised me as going about 5 people seems a non-negotiable for the world café people.

Our facilitators facilitated us. The facilitating seemed a bit awkward during the introducing to the world café and the presentation of the café etiquette, although I wonder if it was just me, it felt hesitant and unsure, rather than calm, confident and paced. During the introduction section there was a deliberate and conscious repetition of words like “purposeful” I wondered about why this was emphasised, I guessed it was an attempt to emphasise that we as participants had made a participation agreement with ourselves and everyone else in the process, but at the time I heard it as a warning rather than an encouragement to participate

In the conversation groups there were times when I felt they had got too large to keep focused. The questions in section two were too big. The conversation times were too long. In one group there was a couple of times where the conversation seemed to draw to a close naturally or conversely go too far down side alleys. When we came to the third session as a group we started by sitting in silence as trying to sum up the wide ranging conversations all six of us had been party too was overwhelming for all of us. This seemed to have a detaching effect. There was a dissonance between the conversations we had and the way we were attempting to summarise and reflect back.

I had to leave before the final session so I am conscious I have only a broken form of the model to reflect upon. I am not sure it worked well to achieve the aims of the day. I think it did allow for lots of different conversations to happen and I am positive about that although I wonder where these conversations go after the day. I am also hopeful for the results which will come from the day. I left with a feeling of dissonance, of being unsatisfied.

Effort 1 -future development
The facilitators will write up a report which will go the Mission and Discipleship Council. The Mission and Discipleship Council will then report back to General Assembly 2017 on these themes.
This is a reasonably clean method of getting a result with participation and consultation with stakeholders in a defined timescale.

Effort 2 -format
Effort 2 was in response to an open request from the primary school my children go to. The school sent a letter inviting parents to a consultation upon a set of values for the school. The session was attended by 4 parents who all contributed.

The format was in 2 stages the head teacher introducing the context from a policy and educational background which was motivating this development and the second section was the parents discussing and working on a vision statement for the school and motto, aims and objectives which would support this vision and an initial list of supporting values. This section was unstructured. (I am unsure if a larger attendance would have been handled in a different way.)

Effort 2 -reflection
The slideshow introduction was helpful in clarifying what was wanted as an outcome.

There was a lack of guidance as to how to go about the task of writing vision statement for a school. This was the first consultation in the process and as such we (the parents) didn’t have a guiding foundation to work from. That stumped us for a few minutes, the head teacher waiting with us in the struggling to work out a way forward without imposing or suggesting a method. for a process which was absent. as soon as the group took control to get the job done it was done quickly with agreement and contributions from all. (thankfully amongst us was a parent who had a background in facilitating meetings within large multinational companies. Our wee group flew with skilful facilitation, producing a solid set of answers for the Head teacher to work with.
It was notable that half the group had a professional background in business where achieving tasks within timescales is a key skill. This maybe a key skill but I am not sure we got to actually converse about the issues before getting to the task. I felt that was an absence from this effort.

I felt like this had something substantial and that we got something achieved as we walked out the door

Effort 2 -future development

The group asked the head teacher to take forward the future development in a specific way. The head teacher accepted that, and outlined a larger process that would now take place including, a full consultation with all other stakeholders of the school, including a wider internet survey open to all parents, as such the process has a long way to run.  In some ways that is frustrating as our effort maybe amended beyond recognition when actually it is ready to go tomorrow should it be wished. as the facilitator at effort on emphasised “Hold your ideas lightly during this process.”

It has been an interesting two days and the contrast between the methods significant.  One is big and varied and felt too long, the other is small, focused and fast. I really enjoyed the space of effort 1’s big conversations are fabulous, and effort 2’s tightly packed let’s get this done now attitude.

For the positives effort 1 left me with a dissonance between conversation and outputs while effort 2’s brevity and ability to reach a quick conclusion may turn out to be pyrrhic in the long term.

The highly guided form of world café method seemed to not give the outputs the focus it needed while the method of an absence of guidance seems dangerous while the outcome is possibly as important and long lasting as a school vision statement could be. As methods for working with groups to achieve specific outcomes I am not sure I would want to use either of them again in the forms they were presented over the past two days.

I wonder how I will feel about both efforts in May 2017 as the results from both are made public and put into action.

On “How Will Our Children Have Faith?” a resource from @churchscotland

(Click photo to learn more)

On Saturday I had my first read through of the newest of the Learn series of publications from the Church of Scotland, titled “How Will Our Children Have Faith?”.

‘How Will Our Children Have Faith?’ is a short discussion guide which explores the reasons for working with children and young people. It also works through developing a successful model in each local church setting.

It is encouraging churches to stop asking the “How?” questions of children and youth work, instead ask “why?”. What follows are some general and hopefully constructive thoughts and opinions based on my first read through.

General thoughts.

– I am glad this exists. I think a small approachable resource material for youth workers and children workers is necessary within the Church of Scotland and is useful.  It does feel quite small.  The first thing I noticed about the publication was its size. It is a pamphlet, (12pages), as opposed to a booklet, (The booklet on eldership is 72pages). Does the role of working with children and young people on behalf of the church require less exploration than being part of the church management system?

– I wonder why is a pamphlet exploring “why” we do youth work in churches, is titled with a “how” question? I realise that it maybe a reference to Westerhoff’s 1976 book “Will Our Children Have Faith”, one of the classic critiques of Christian education, but this book isn’t referenced or pointed to in anyway.

– This text is for childrens work and youth work specialities, the absence of the voice of the Young People’s Development Worker employed by the Church of Scotland is strange. Likewise there is a lack of young people’s voice.

– There isn’t a lack of resources which deal with children and youth work, yet there is no recommended further reading for any of the sections.

Chapter one is an attempt to get provide a biblical basis to the question why we work with young people written by Barbra McDade of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland.

– I like a lot of what she says. I like the biblical basis of “family” and “body”, questioning of what it means that be a family, to worship inter generationally. I have for years wondered what would change if instead of having family services, we had church for everyone. Family service implies talking down to the level of the children, for the sake of the children. Church for everyone asks very different questions and reveals a very different way of thinking.

– I felt there was a missed opportunities to to examine what it means to become a child of God, McDade refers to this and then doesn’t go anywhere with it, also opening a thought about the practice of baptism, asking deep questions of a denominational sacrament that is primarily, within the Church of Scotland, practiced with young children. Yet this line of thought doesn’t get developed, which is unfortunate as the discussion about the practice of baptism has been recently illuminated by Bård Nordheim’s 2014 book, Practicising Baptism. This issue could have allowed this publication to be sited and engaged within a wider active conversation.

Chapter two suggests that the needs of children and young people can be indentified statistically using the Church of Scotland’s “statistics for mission” data analysis, arguing that statistics should provide a direct link to any work you want to do with YP and children while also ensuring that duplication of services is avoided.

– I like the idea of using the stats to inform mission. But wonder if people will surrender to stats rather than keen observations and local knowledge.

– the text is very short.

Chapter three helps us to consider the importance for reflection, evaluation and wise feedback on current work and future plans, these skills are also useful while establishing what the needs of the children and young people are. This should also be spiritual, including prayer and seeking Gods face.

-I felt the explaination of the importance place that reflection and evaluation inhabits was too short. I would have preferred maybe a briefer introduction, and an expanded guide to the questions provided.

Chapter 4 is a practical chapter providing a way to develop a successful strategy.

– Part 4 is the part I had real trouble with. It seems a bit strange that in trying not to be a “how to guide”, it finishes on a note of “go write a 3 year strategy” and while your there, work out what your training and development needs are. (How do you write a 3 year strategy for a churches youth work? Well, you just write a 3 year strategy for youth work.) There seems a lack of how the “why” corresponds to the concrete “how”.

concluding thoughts

A couple of days after reading I am still glad it has been written. I think this is a useful resource in what it is trying to do and I am looking forward to facilitating conversations within my local church on its points over the next month or so. I think a lot of the strength of this material will be due to the way conversations are facilitated.

(If you want me to come and facilitate the discussions upon this material, drop me a line. and we will see what we can do. scott(at)schlep(dot)co(dot)uk)

“We will consider it” Youth ministers in the Church of Scotland. #ga2015

Over the past few days, the Church of Scotland may have decided to do something significant. At General Assembly 2015, (its annual big church meeting), the church decided to consider whether those involved in youth work and youth ministry for the Church of Scotland should be regarded as official ministries of the church.

Good. I like this recognition that youth work and youth ministry can contribute towards the life and health of the church. By giving considering giving parity to Youth Ministry, the work with young people on behalf of the Church of Scotland becomes a valuable partner and tool for the existing ministries.

It is a great opportunity to ask the question “what do we want the work with young people on behalf of the church to look like?” Is it a space for conversation and dreaming. At the heart of the conversation will be issues such as proper support and oversight from ministries council, the possibility of a process of discernment before employment and a provision of training for youth ministry from the colleges that train ministers for the Church of Scotland.

I do hope for a wider consideration of issues such as what is the difference between youth work and youth ministry. (Can the CofS work out what Youth Ministry is and can be when the theorists don’t agree?) Further is official Youth Ministers actually a thing the church wants to embrace. Do we really want to have age defined ministers, and do youth workers want to become ministers and ministry staff?

As someone who volunteers carrying out youth work and youth ministry on behalf of the Church of Scotland, I honestly don’t know but I look forward to the discussion.

Sex and church


The Church of Scotland has been at the receiving end of two contrasting but linked stories recently. The first happened while I was on holiday, the Daily Record providing the headline “Kirk bid to recruit sex beasts”. The story claimed, that by issuing guidance around the issue of welcoming convicted sex offenders, the church was setting out to actively recruit sex offenders into it’s church.

The key issue seemed to be that the guidance did not say you should tell everyone in you congregation that the new attendee was a sex offender. The papers wanted openness so we can protect our children from sex offenders. The story was quite alarmist, but the quotes from the politicians were perhaps more alarmist than the article. (Although the LIb Dems seemed reasonably sensible when in their quote.)

The second story regard the appointment of Rev. Scott Rennie to a church in Aberdeen. Although his election was voted for by 86 per cent of the church’s congregation, and then that decision was ratified by the Presbytery of Aberdeen by 60 votes to 24, a minority of the Presbytery have appealed his appointment to the churchs highest meeting, the general assembly.

The guy was open about his sexuality, about his life and the reaction is one of denouncement, vitriol and people talking nonsense. Forward Together already issuing one full apology to Rev. Rennie and his family on one issue.

The linkage in these cases is obvious and clear. Both involved sex and the attitudes of those within the church to do with sex. Both involve a perceived need for openness and the reactions to that openness. They also are linked by the press linking church and sex.

The link which the press portrait between church and sex is generally sensationalist. It appears that the only way that the press are comfortable talking about church and churches is either in a noble dignified way in the wake of disaster, or in a “Look at the dodgy Christians and their sex lives, they are all hypocrites anyway” way.

For me, the bigger question is around the former two issues.

There does seem to be a perceived problem with sex and the attitudes of those within the church to sex. Sex is a normal everyday activity. for some people sex can be everyday. Sex can be good. It can also be bad, (as illustrated in the Pulp song – do you remember the first time). Within “the church” there are people. Sexual beings of all kinds. Often this recognition of people having a sexual side and sexuality has been hidden. A reserved, pious, devout, purity stance has coloured sex as something dirty, something other, something somehow anti-God.

Within the current church i don’t see that issue. There seems to be a willingness to see sex as a normal activity and something to be enjoyed and indulged in. (perhaps a more permissive society is being reflected and have caused this attitude change. ) A new openness is there. This is a good thing and something to be welcomed.

The other issue is around openness and our reactions to it.
Openness brings with it power. Being open holds up your life for complete examination. It forces others to tell you what they think of you. Judgment follows. But the power of openness is that it forces self reflection and self protectionism. both in yourself and in those you are open with.

Openness is brilliant, dangerous, unbalancing, wonderful and damaging.

Openness, in the case of Rev Rennie, forces people to consider and reflect on what they thought they knew and believed. It forces everyone to become theologians, to work out what and why they believe what they do about God. That’s a good even great thing. it also causes people to self protect, by shouting, protesting and being hurtful. That’s a bad thing

Openness in the case of sex offenders is meant to be claer and bring knowledge to those who could be affected causes suspicion, nervousness, a change in acceptance levels. It causes panic. It creates a place where church is seen as dangerous and no longer safe.

The current debate is distracting for what christianity is and how it should be. even from how christians should live. It provokes a basic question to us all. what is church?

Church is a group of people of all different types, sizes and shapes.
Church is a place where people can come and be broken and desperate, and themselves within a community of others who are also broken and desperate. It is where people worship a perfect God, in whose shadow our frailties, rough edges, brokenness and pain are loved, accepted, forgiven, and we are accepted.

In both these issues what is displayed is mistrust, judgement, rejection, accusation, language which will cause offense.
And that is not what church is about.

Church without Walls National Gathering part 3

The question which has stayed with me from Johnny Bakers talk at the National Gathering is quite key it think.

“can new types of church come from the established church”

this question has two roots. first the histry of church change is littered with new denominations being formed as a reaction to and from something else. new expressions of church seem to be primarily reactions against established church or another church. Martin Luther didn’t set out to divide the catholic church. (or form catholics and prodestants) The Salvation Army’s early development was financed by backers who supported William Booth, after having an arguement with the methodists over wether to have an organ in church or not.

secondly this article at adbusters speaks of the way the art work deals with the new and the powerful types of art by adopting and absorbing them to the point where the lose their power and ability to be different.

It’s a cycle that has become all too familiar. Anything subversive, anything meant to disrupt the status quo and challenge traditional models of thought and behavior is eventually adopted into the mainstream it is swimming against. Once caught in the currents of convention, it becomes powerless. Just another commodity to be traded in the system.

The Church of Scotland has reportedly started a 1.5million pound fund to invest and allow for new types of ministry and mission
I wonder if this money would be better spent challenging artists, anarchists, creative people, homeless, and heretics to react to the church and see where that could take us. (perhaps a kind of Dragons den spin off.)

but that wouldn’t be very presbyterian would it?

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Church without Walls National Gathering part 2

The Good

– meeting up with people i hadn’t seen for ages. It was nice to see so many people
– morning worship with John Bell and Archbishop John Sentamu
– Catching the end of Johnny Bakers Talk – Grace for a Mosaic Generation
– Hearing Alistair McGrath (only slightly disappointed that he was wearing a cord jacket rather than the assumed oxford uniform of a tweed one.)
– catching myself talking about how and who could change church, only to think do i really think this and answer, yes i do.
– parking the lack of a traffic jam there and back.
– agreeing to write a letter to someone i think is great
– getting recognised from my bebo picture. (yeah really)
– having the planes take off in the background as Edinburgh airport was right next door. not much noise but a cool view.

The Bad
– Food provision – come on guys, could try harder i think
– the art exhibition – not extensive or varied
– taking your shoes off in the prayer tent. – understandable but I hade large 18 eyelit boots and didn’t want to spend too long there. Hmmmm. my fault but still bad.
– the sunday afternoon outdoor love, worship, feast, stuff. no really it was attrotious to be honest. kinda had a bad family service feel to it. not impressed.

The needing attention
stage 2 – what was that all about. putting a spoken word stage next to the come and try an organ stand?

youth zone – needs alot of work. a bad use of space and had no flow or rythmn to it.

site layout – the tents were a good idea but the layout of the site meant they were external to the main walk ways to the other venues rather than intergral to the natural flow of foot traffic.

Morning worship was good but evening worship provided less incentive to stay. I did want to see Johnny Baker but in a double header with stuart Townhead I decided to give it a miss

Under 5’s provision – none, where was the creche or creche space. (Kids zone being for p1-p7’s) The main baby change facility in the main hall was terrible and only in the female toilets. C’mon we can do better than that surely.

– The idea was great but to many were similar and not enticing to stop at. very little interactivity for those walking by.

Tents – Some bizzarre opening and closing times from Tent holders.

in conculsion, overall it felt good, but with some big room for inprovements

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Church without Walls National Gathering

we spent last weekend at the Church of Scotland Church Without Walls National Gathering

further posts to follow but in general had a decent time
we got to see people we hadn’t seen for a while. One old friend we saw greeted us with the statement

“hi there, this is just like heaven isn’t it. Everyone you have every known in one space at one time.”

I put this to a minister friend of mine, his response was

“Heaven, Hell, at the moment it’s kinda similar!”

anyway it was strange seeing people you haven’t seen for years or people who know you but couldn’t remember who you are. What was really strange was how many people I know without being “church of scotland” yeah I have dabbled but never joined so it was quite weird.

anyway I think it achieved what it was trying to do. It got me thinking about church, carberry, mission, youthwork and how to do big events. Like I don’t get enough of that at work. Anyway I will put some more thoughts up soon.

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