Friday, 16 March 2018

Midwife and Palliative Care Specialist

Isaiah 43:19
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
As a hospital chaplain, the two areas I spent most time in were the Maternity Unit and the Palliaive Care Unit.
As one life was being propelled into the world or as another was ebbing slowly  out of it, I was often called to be present, to wait quietly, with nothing to bring except my presence in beginnings and endings.
Sometimes, in the maternity unit, new life emerged in a wail of protest, sometimes it slipped in calmly, with a sense of timeless wisdom.
And, two floors away, death oft times withstood raging and protest and, other times, snuck in with hardly a murmur.
In the ministry to which I am called today, I often find myself tiptoeing through those sacred spaces of life and death, of birthing and dying. And, once more, I am not sure that I bring much more than a quiet affirming presence. And, having learned in the stark corridors of the hospital environment, the value of that calm accompaniment, I seek to focus, not on the impotence but on the vitality of persistent non anxious presence.
As the church struggles with the throes of death and in the places of new birth, our call requires the gifts of midwifery and of practitioners in palliative care, letting go of one way to take hold of another in the calm assurance that the God of all life invites and inspires us to bring about good death and to make room for new life, sometimes at one and the same time.
Unless we are prepared to sit with death we have no right to expect to welcome new life.
Birthing the new requires letting go,of the old and taking care of the tasks of grief as we do that.
Resurrection demands that we position ourselves by the empty tomb, in prime position to witness new life when it comes.
Midwifery and palliative care - skills required in ministry today.

Friday, 2 March 2018

A right perspective

As I sit looking out at the snow in Londom, in an overcrowded airport lounge, hoping for a flight home today, I'm trying to regain a sense of perspective. 
I'm warm and dry. I have coffee! I have a mobile phone and tablet and can speak to loved ones and catch up with work. I'm also in my own country, albeit south of the Scottish border!!!
This is not the experience of many, in their normal, everyday life, never mind in this snow caused chaos.
And I'm drawn back to these words that I've come to know as the Isaiah vision: 
Isaiah 65:21-22
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

We pay more attention to refugees or to those sleeping on our streets in extremes such as the last few days, yet tolerate it all the other days. Suddenly the homeless are newsworthy!
Of course there are no easy solutions. Injustice is convoluted and complex and the vulnerable are always the ones who suffer most. But I'm trying to dial back on my first world frustration and regain a sense of perspective on what, in the end, is a mere inconvenience.

Thursday, 1 March 2018


For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert 
Isaiah 35:6
It's been an inspiring few days at NEXTCHURCH 2018, a gathering of leaders mainly from the Presbyterian Church USA.
Probably the most affirming aspect, for me, was a sense of belonging. Belonging with people who welcome and are prepared to embrace the new thing that God is doing in the world today - and the implications that has for church. Belonging with those who are re-imagining church for today. Belonging with those who value ministry in all its varied forms and who welcome creativity. Belonging with those who are not threatened by others who are called to non traditional forms of ministry. Belonging with those who value the support of an institution and who are not afraid to challenge that institution about its priorities. Belonging with those who are hopeful and encouraged about God's purpose and vision for church today - and who gathered to tell their stories, to share their pain, to listen to God and to one another, to acknowledge that this work in which God invites us to participate is hard and that makes it all the more important that we support one another in it. Belonging with those who believe that the desert will bloom.

Friday, 23 February 2018


I spent yesterday travelling - from Glasgow to Lomdon and then from Heathrow to Baltimore USA. Some 17 hours travelling!
After clearing Passport Control and Customs, it was such a relief to see familiar faces right at the place I exited the clearing hall.
One of the questions I was asked by Homeland Security at Baltimore airport was: "How do you know these friends you are visiting in the USA?" That wasn't the time to go into an explanation of how Martha and Kathryn had been part of my supportive online community for the past 10 years. Or of how I first met them in real life by a hotel pool in Florida right before we went on one of the RevGalBlogPals Continuing Ed cruises. I just said that I knew them from church - which is also true.
But, as I enjoy hospitality here and participate in the PCUSA Next Church Conference, I give thanks for these and the other women who have been supportive through all the ups and downs of ministry. Women who simply get what it means to be a woman in ministry and to lead in a patriarchical institution with all the peculiar challenges that that presents.
And I give thanks for the grace to receive and extend hospitality to one another in person and virtually in the name of Christ.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Identity and Subversion

I've been reflecting on and writing about identity quite a bit since changing roles in the church. Too often, who we are becomes confused or subsumed by what we do.
It has been an affirming challenge to recover and live into my identity as a beloved child of God and to resist the, sometimes but not always, well meaning intentions of those who try to define or label others, stipulating how identity should be lived out. Well meaning phrases, like "You just need too..." or "You could always..." or "you should..." abound as well as paternalistic directives that one comes to expect in the church.
A huge part of my identity is subversion. Working in a male dominated and very patriarchal institution, one has to be fairly creative about how to get things done. I've always been one to demonstrate how something might work rather than argue  the toss. And so subversion has become a healthy, sanity saving part of my identity. 
The new role I fulfil in the church, encouraging others to think outside of the box, to reimagine church, the Mission of God and the call to discipleship has been a thrilling journey that involves accompanying others in transition as we each discover and/or recover our identity in Christ and respond to God's call for today.
Recently, however, in the hierarchical institution, some colleagues sought to shut down such creativity and, in particular, my ability to process and reflect on transition and transformation - something I often do through writing.
The thing is, that attempt to shut down was partially successful:
Whilst their opposition, based on their insecurity and inappropriately garnered authority, gave me a determination to "get on with the job", to let the results speak, it also had the effect of silencing me in large measure.
And now I am struggling to recover that voice, particularly in writing, even writing about the difference my role makes.
It was only as I reviewed my spiritual practices recently that I realised how much the discipline of writing had become absent.
That's how insidious paternalism and patriarchy is, particularly in the church- its damage creeps in, restricting and destroying in myriad ways. The fight never ends, though one may tire of it.
And those who perpetuate patriarchy remain oblivious or, worse, convinced of their good intentions.
Subversion may go some way to dismantling the patriarchy but so too will the practice of continually calling it out.
I guess it's time to find my voice again!

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Ready or not

Advent this year has been filled with boxes - not those that contain advent gifts but those that are produced by moving house. The packing and unpacking has lent a very different backdrop to the season of preparation and readiness for the Christ child. The spiritual practices of Advent have taken place amidst the chaos of packaging materials, paint tins and step ladders and not in the usual, for me, daily meditation and  reflections on the scriptures and season of waiting. And yet, the same God who deemed human beings as worthwhile companions, who determined that we were worth God's coming to earth, has continued to show up in myriad ways this Advent. We may not have tracked down the Christmas tree or the outdoor lights and cards were not even bought never mind sent but God has been more present than ever in the simplicity of creating a home in which there is room for hope, peace, joy and love and room for the baby whose birth heralds those gifts for all creation. And so, on this Christmas Eve, a thanksgiving and a prayer:

Thank you baby God
that gathered around the manger
in which you were laid
were ordinary people
whom you surprised with love,
sharing the good news
with unlikely suspects
whom you deemed worthy.
Thank you baby God
that you did not wait
until we were ready to receive you
for that may never have happened.
Instead, you showed up
without fanfare - 
(although a choir of angels must have been quite spectacular.)
You showed up among people displaced 
and disorientated
pushed from pillar to post
by the whims of government.
You showed up and made your home among us
asking only that we make room for possibility
- the possibility of hope, peace, love and joy.
And today, God with us, still you ask us to believe
that those possibilities might become reality.
God, we believe.
As we make everything ready to herald your birth once more
may our belief become action.
Empowered by you in our midst
may it be so - for the love of God.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Moving worship

I recently wrote a Liturgy for celebrating Communion, and realised how long it had been since I'd had occasion to do that.
Crafting worship, once simply part of my identity, is now a welcome and refreshing pastime as I contribute to Spill the Beans and other worship publications.
Leading worship, however, is something rare in this new role, something to be cherished and for which to be grateful.
It's another transition that has come about in moving from one call to another as I navigate what it means to be "minister without charge".
Two years ago, as I left one ministry for another, thankfully I did not anticipate the loss I would feel when I no longer had to put together, often twice weekly, services. And now I am grateful for the sense of having journeyed through the grief to a place of acceptance - and more - to rediscovering the joy and privilege that it is to occasionally lead God's people in worship.

FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed