Ruth and myself are currently undertaking the 'Foundations in Christian Ministry' course by the Diocese of Exeter. This is a foundation course which can lead on to Lay Ministry or Ordination training. As part of our course we had to write reflections on our experience on the course. Here are our reflections
I learned of the FICM course from Karen who very enthusiastically encouraged me to apply in 2019. I had been thinking and praying for an opportunity to explore my faith and future Christian service having retired in 2018, so this course appeared as an answer to prayer. I have attended church all my life but had been asking myself how was faith influencing me now.
I attended an Alpha course in 2015 at a Pentecostal church. By doing this Alpha course I gained a greater understanding of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it further opened my eyes to the fullness of redemption only Christ can give us through faith in Him.
On the FICM course there are a diverse group of people ranging from Theologians and scientists to people like myself (retired midwife). We all have a common purpose to grow in faith and explore our Christian ministry further. Some are looking to become readers others for Ordination, I am seeking to grow in the love, knowledge and service of God
My bible knowledge continues to be a work in progress as I now see this as an essential part of growing closer to God.
To date I have attended 2 study days. I have found the teaching to be of a high standard whilst challenging and thought provoking holding my interest throughout. I leave wanting more, looking forward to the next study day.
During the day we have time within our tutor group for group discussion and one to one time with the tutor if required. Whilst it’s still early in the course I am certain it’s the right course for me and I’m looking forward to what is to come.
Proverbs Ch1 v5 “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtains guidance”.
Please pray for me to grow in the love and knowledge of God
As you may be aware, Ruth and I commenced the year long Foundation in Christian Ministry course in September through the Diocese of Exeter. This is my reflection on the course so far.
For me it was my first experience of Christians on a large scale. On the first day we arrived at the Chapel to find noise. Lots of noise - Christian noise - and whilst it was somewhat loud it was a happy, friendly, excited noise. A noise of people who belonged - joyful at being amongst each other. And that was wonderful!
However it wasn’t long before the feeling of self doubt reared its head - I was with Christians who had been Christians all their lives - or at least for many years, and many it seemed held positions in Churches. And me? Well at the time I had been a Christian for less than a year...
But it has in fact been ok. I am learning so much. My previous learning has been quite undirected and I have been reading what I want to read - rather than what I need to read. We are given suggestions of books to read and this has helped so much. We were given a book list prior to the course and I managed to read 8 of them. This opened my mind to different aspects and perspectives of Christianity. And on each study day we are given suggestions of books to read which relate to that day’s study topics. I am sure even after the course has finished I will still be reading the books as there are so many. But there is no pressure… it is suggested reading, not compulsory.
During the study days there are different sessions for Bible Study, Theology, Pastoral Care, Ministry Skills, Spirituality and Vocations - so the content is very wide reaching. However despite my initial fears, it is imparted in a very accessible way so that all can understand - and with the further reading suggestions you can expand your knowledge of each topic as far as you would like to.
I would certainly recommend this course to anyone who wants to expand their knowledge. Everyone on the course seems lovely and the organisers and lecturers do everything they can to put everyone at their ease. The course is for everyone of any age - not just those who want to progress to lay or ordained ministry - and there is a mix of ages - young and not so young. I was a bit worried about my age but needn’t have been. And I can’t emphasise enough how enjoyable the study days are!
I would like to thank you all for allowing me to undertake this course. Without your acceptance into the Church and support as a new Christian I would never have progressed on my Christian journey and been in a position to apply. And I would like to thank Father Simon for his encouragement and help in applying - and importantly his faith in me that despite my short time as a Christian, this was something I could do.
Well it is 4 weeks later and a lot has happened to my family. Sophie had her operation and was in the most incredible pain afterwards and had to stay in hospital for 4 days. It was heartbreaking seeing my child in so much pain even though she is 25.
At the same time ‘something’ happened to my hip and I could barely walk. This continued until her return home and whist Lawrence was at work I was having to look after Sophie using a crutch! What a pair!
This last Monday Sophie started bringing up blood - she is on blood thinners - so this was quite a worry, Quick dash to A&E resulted in 2 days being spent there. Thankfully the bleeding stopped and she came home
The following day Lawrence came home from work with his complete leg below his knee swollen, bright red and incredibly painful. Fearing a blood clot it was off to A&E again where we were informed it was a very bad infection. Lawrence hasn’t been able to work for a few days now which being self employed and having to pay for a city centre shop puts a lot of financial pressure on us.
And next week brings a huge challenge. My dad is undergoing an operation on his very large aortic aneurysm.
I have had many emotions. Thankfulness, and at other times asking ‘what is going on?’, ‘why is this happening?’ The ‘camels straw’ happened after Lawrence’s leg - and I did momentarily question my Faith. But then I tried to look objectively in terms of there being suffering in this world and there also being a God.
On the assumption that all suffering is bad, my first thought was that God cannot discriminate between who suffers and who does not. That seems wrong on many levels and also I believe could possibly have a ripple effect affecting theological theory. I then looked at the suffering my family have and are going through and I was guided to find some positives. Interestingly I did find some. I won’t write them here as some are of a personal nature, and there is nothing black and white about this - more of a grey. But the positives are there.
Up to now I have avoided reading books about pain and suffering as I thought they may be a bit depressing. But now I welcomed the chance to learn more. I have now started reading ‘Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering’ by Timothy Keller. Wow this really is an extensive subject and is going to take some learning!
The book looks at this from an Atheist, general Theist and Christian point of view. The parts I have really taken on board so far are examples of people who have suffered greatly yet come through the other side grateful for the suffering. On the face of it this sounds ridiculous, but hearing the stories you can really see the possibilities of this. I am around a third of the way through and so am yet to form conclusions on this subject - that is even if it is indeed possible to form a conclusion. For now I am going with the fact that there are some positives in our situation.
I am so grateful to have found God and become a Christian. I am also so grateful for my Christian friends who have given such unbelievable support. It does make you think how much kinder the world would be if everyone was a Christian….
Church this morning was overwhelming and full of kindness and love. A kindness and love I have never felt before outside of my immediate family. The service was very relevant - about suffering and healing - a last minute change. My family was prayed for and I felt warmth spreading through me and a surreal experience of being protected. Was this God? I believe so. I now believe he really is with me through my family’s suffering. And I can’t thank enough all the people at Church this morning for the kindness I received.
I will go into this week with God by my side - and the feeling of love and kindness, received this morning from all at Church. Thank you and God bless x
Saturday 14 September 2019 - Enjoying my writing I am really enjoying writing it and I think it is bringing me closer to God. Looking back at the past few months I have focused on reading as many books on the ‘course book list’ as possible. But whilst I managed to read 8 of them, my focus was on reading books.. Not on my relationship with God - which it ought to have been.
Since the first course day I have read none of the course books and instead have been thinking, writing, listening to Christian YouTube videos and downloaded a Christian book of my choice from Audible. The videos and book have been in the area of apologetics which for some reason I have a real interest in. I am presently listening to various videos from Ravi Zacharious’ YouTube Channel, and the book I am listening to is ‘Defending your faith’ by R C Sproul. Fascinating stuff!
I have also been looking into Celtic Christianity and have been wondering if this contemplative form of worship could be a good fit for me. I do have a ‘thing’ about mountains, snow, the sea and weather, and love to be ‘at one with nature’. Anyhow we will see…
Tomorrow is an important day for me - I am doing my second sermon at Church. It is about Idolatry and Identity. Have been practicing today and it comes out at about 10 minutes. I am going to record it so have been setting all that up and a clip microphone with a lead to my phone seems to work ok - then I will upload it to my Podcast Channel - Space for Faith. This has been put on the back burners for a bit as I think it was a case of learning to walk before you can run.
Anyhow, doing all this has I think improved my relationship with God - I do feel closer. I will of course continue to read books on the book list - but perhaps at a bit more of a leisurely pace so I can also focus on my relationship with God
Sunday 15 September 2019 - Sermon Day Well today was the day I had to stand up in front of Church and preach a sermon. It was the second time I have done this - and I think I really love doing this. I love the writing - this time I had to few weeks notice so was able to have a more leisurely approach to writing.
However I was a bit more nervous this time delivering it. I have an idea why… I wanted to record it for my journal and bought one of these collar clip microphones, with a lead which went to my phone. So walking up to do the sermon I had this wire hanging down plugged into my phone which I carried, and also had my Kindle which contained my sermon. Think next time will just put the phone on the lectern, it was all a bit of a palava. It was also a longer sermon at just over 10 mins.
I was fairly happy with the content … I think. However I do feel I may have added Bible passages for the sake of it - grasping at straws. I was not happy with my delivery. My nervousness showed - I did not flow too well and got some words mixed up on occasion. Next time I will hopefully do better.
The recording is in my journal - here is the link
So a lot to reflect on for next time.
This is the sermon I did on September 15th. It focuses on idolatry, identity and how that relates to Christianity. Below you will find the audio of the sermon along with the written transcript
IDOLATRY - CHRISTIANITY AND IDENTITY - WHO ARE YOU?
Good morning. Today I am going to ask - who are you? Who are you, really?
We have heard the reading from Exodus 32
‘The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried’
God was not happy at all.
Why? His people had made a calf of molten metal to worship. His people had committed Idolatry and had worshipped ‘things’ other than God
This was not an unusual occurrence - Idolatry occurs many times in the Bible. This very much angered God
We see in Exodus
“You shall have no other gods before me”
(Exodus 20:3 NIV)
Yet still the people worshipped idols.
The definition of idolatry is extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone.
Idolatry worship does not need to focus on a physical object, it can also be a person - it can in fact be anything. And involves worshipping ‘something’ more than God.
In Genesis 22 we see Abrahams worship of Isaac. He made his son into an Idol.
He longed for his promised son and this wait made Isaac even more special in Abraham’s eyes. God asked Abrahim to sacrifice his much loved son Isaac so that Abraham could demonstrate that he trusted God completely and placed him above all else, even his own son.
And of course Abraham passed the test… he was prepared to sacrifice his son. And thankfully he did not have to sacrifice Isaac.
Now that all happened a long time ago, and I don’t know about you but I don’t have any molten calves at home and don’t actually know anyone who does. Does that mean the end of Idolatry? Well no…
Society today has its’ own forms of molten calves. We worship money, careers, beauty, sporting achievement and our children.
Matthew 6:24 (NIV) states
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
And whilst Matthew uses money - this could equally be valid be it career, beauty and any of the many things we could worship.
So what do you worship?
Is your love of God greater than anything else in your life? For many in society sadly this is not so
This brings me onto the title of this reflection - Who are you? You see there is a relationship between what we worship the most and our identity. What we worship the most, usually forms our identity.
Identity is something we all have, even if we are not aware of it. It is ‘who’ we are. It is the image we project to others, telling them ‘I am this - this is who I am’ and whom we know ourselves to be. It is the ‘who’ that others see us as. And it provides our self worth.
So who are you? What is your identity? Well it could be that you have a solid fixed identity as being a Christian and one of God’s Children. But that is not the same for everyone as we shall see.
Jesus knew who he was - and was keen for his Disciples to know who he was too.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples ‘Who do the people say the Son of Man is?’. Peter replied correctly with ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Sociologist Anthony Giddens writes on identity in relation to late modernity. He highlights the shift from the fixed identities of earlier ages, formed from gender, class, family or locality - to fluid, unstable and reflexive identities of the modern age. Giddens cites many reasons for this such as globalisation and the breakdown of traditional structures, but will leave the reasons for another time.
Our ancestors knew who they were - they were given their identity. If their family were blacksmiths, then they would be a blacksmith and their identity would be as such. Nowadays, it is more likely for young people to be told to follow their own dreams and become who they want to be.
So how does this relate to you and I, Christianity and wider Society?
New York author and Pastor Timothy Keller talks about the problem of identities in today’s society. He points out how the shifting identities of today are risky and also have to be achieved. (thegospelcoalition.org accessed 23 July 2019)
Non-Christian identities are indeed risky, they need to be earnt and achieved and can be taken away at any time.
What happens to the lady who pins her identity on her outward beauty when she ages? Or the person whose identity is based on money if they lose it all? Modern identities are always at risk and subject to others approval and circumstances beyond that person’s control.
Let’s look at John the banker. He went to university and once he had his degree he gained his dream job in a bank. He worked hard, obeyed all the rules, was promoted and at age 40 had achieved a top position with his bank.
When he attended social functions he was ‘John from the Bank’ - and he enjoyed being known for that - it made him feel good. His wife and children however missed him. Late nights at the bank, weekend working - John’s career was everything to him. He did not need to work as hard but he enjoyed his work and wanted to go higher and higher in his career.
John’s identity is clearly someone who is a ‘successful banker’, and this is more important than anything to him. His Idol. He seems himself as a successful banker and others see him as such. He gains his self worth from this.
Sadly during the banking crisis he loses his job. John feels destroyed. Not only has he lost the most important thing to him, he has also lost his identity.
And due to his neglect of his family, he does not even have a close relationship with them anymore. The whole of him was tied up to him being a banker. Along with his identity he has lost his self worth. And due to disordered priorities he has a poor relationship with his family.
John as we can see is destroyed. Now let’s consider the situation if John had been a Christian and had his identity in God. It could be argued that instead of feeling ‘destroyed’ he would be ‘disappointed’. It could also be argued that he may not have neglected his family as he wouldn’t have felt the need to work extra hours.
In this fictional story you can substitute someone who spends hours in the gym trying to achieve the perfect body, the lady obsessed with her beauty. And how often have you heard of ex-footballers finding it hard to settle down to normal life after being a ‘footballer’?
On a personal note it has seemed that I have searched for my identity all my life - that is until I became a Christian last year. My identity has changed frequently.
In my late teens and my twenties my life was ‘skiing’ - that was the most important thing in my life. But in my late twenties I thought, I can’t do this forever and returned to the UK. It was awful - I could not settle - I had lost my identity. However it wasn’t long before I gained new ones - career, mother, student, ‘weight loss’, business woman and many more. It sure got confusing at times…. I would wake up in the morning and have to remember which identity I had decided to adopt of late…
And then I became a Christian - and my identity finally was a perfect ‘fit’ I am no longer searching for who I am - I know who I am - I am one of God’s Children - and I love it!
You see, as Christians, we worship God above all else. We are given our identity - we don’t even need to earn it - it is given freely through Faith. Our identity can never be taken away from us and is not subject to other’s approval. No risk.. And this is the identity I found
This does not mean we have to change our enjoyment of performing well at our jobs, looking our best, or any other parts of our lives we enjoy or are important to us. But we can do this without the permanent fear of having our identity taken away.
But we do have to be careful as Christians. We must be careful not to get confused with our Christian identities. It is very easy for our identities to shift from worshipping God to worshipping what we do in Church. Everyone, from Priests to Church Treasurers must ensure that their identity is not formed around their ‘function’ rather than the worship of God
To sum up we can see that the Golden Molten Calf is alive and well in today’s society. However, we, as Christians are lucky. We can still enjoy our lives, careers and interests. In fact we need not love them less, but we need to love God more. With God we can have an identity that is fixed and risk free. We can love God and know he will always be with us
So who are you? I am a Christian and one of God’s children - that is who I am and this cannot be taken away. My identity is fixed and it is wonderful!
Let us Pray
Dear Lord, thank you
Thank you for your love
Thank you for allowing us to love you
Please help us with our faith
To never forget what Jesus did for us on the Cross
To never forget who we are
To keep you in our hearts
Giddens (1991) Modernity and Self Identity, Stanford University Press
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/tim-keller-our-identity-the-christian-alternative-to-late-modernitys-story/( accessed 23 July 2019)
Friday 13 September
Well my anticipated daily journal has been anything but. 5 days later and we are at Friday. Every day I have been ‘meaning’ to write - even opened this file, but alas no writing took place. Don’t like to make excuses but it has not been a good week - daughter Sophie it would seem has broken her knee - her tibia and fibula too, and has to have an operation next week, which makes me a very scared mama! There has been much praying and I have to say God is helping me with my worry. If only Sophie would accept the Lord, but she may one day.
Theologically speaking, I have been wondering about life on other planets. Like, what impact would that have in terms of Christianity? I kind of knew that it would not affect whether God exists or not, but was wondering on the implications. Anyhow my wonderful Minister friend Janet explained it in terms of ‘if a mum has more than one child, it doesn't affect the others.’ and also ‘if there is life elsewhere, there is still only one God who cherishes all life and interacts with those who can have a relationship with him.’ That really makes sense to me.
Today I have started to think what surrounds all the universes. Like if we are still expanding after the big bang, what are we expanding into? I am thinking God must be there too.
So that is it for today in mine and my daughter traumatic week, which will be even more traumatic next week. However I am a Christian, I have the wonderful support of God.
Sunday 8 September 2019
Reflection of Day One of Foundations in Christian Ministry Course at Marjons
Day one completed. My thoughts are wow what a lot of walking and where was the water.. (oh why didn’t I bring a bottle of water with me…). To get the walking bit out of the way - a few months ago I would not have been able to do it. Losing a bit of weight enabled me to be ‘normal’ just like everyone else.
So Ruth and I arrived at the same time as one of the Vicars and followed him… But why did I decide at that time to Blaspheme? A very mild word - but all the same, not the best way to start. A hang over from my non-Christian days.. But have to say I am getting so much better - this rarely happens now… but yes I choose my moments!
We arrived at the Chapel and then there was noise. Lots of noise… Christian noise and whilst it was somewhat loud it was a happy, friendly, excited noise. A noise of people who belonged - joyful at being amongst each other.
Time for Worship and then to formal classroom based lectures. There was a sense of nervousness and people sussing each other out.. At least I was. It was like entering the unknown. A year ago I was not a Christian, and now I was with people who more than likely had been Christians all their lives, or at least many years. I have worked like crazy during the last 11 months but will I be totally out of my depth?
I was pleasantly surprised at the Theology lecture, I guess because I have been focussing on this and philosophy in my studies at home. However the Bible lecture was hard. I really felt I lacked the in-depth knowledge of the Old Testament. I also know that whilst I feel a familiarity with the Gospels, I really need to learn more about the other books of the New Testament.
I found everyone on the course to be lovely and there was a mixed age range. The organisers and lecturers did everything they could to put everyone at their ease. And everyone seemed very educated…
What would I do differently? Well I felt I had to try to answer questions - maybe this is because I feel insecure in my ability. I need to realise that I don’t need to do this. My ability won’t change just because I answer questions. Also I will dress more as ‘me’. I am a very casual dresser unfortunately and what I wore whilst to others would be casual, to me it was smart - and I did not feel comfortable as it was not ‘me’. So going to go down a notch in terms of casual (but not a scruff..) I will also bring water with me!
A reflection on my reflection. For next time I must write more from my heart. I think my Christianity will develop and maybe change into directions I never imagined. I think by writing it really helps to get to the heart of how we feel and where we should go and I am hoping by regularly writing that this will happen. Often it is hard to see the wood but not the trees.