NSM pt.2: herding cats

This week I are been mostly… herding cats.

I’ve been working on the service rota for September. Currently at All Saints’, St Andrews we have around 11 people who can be on the service rota helping to conduct services.

From Sunday 30 August to Saturday 3 October, which is what the September rota covers, there will be 40 services. That’s three on a Sunday plus one a day, except Saturdays.

The matrix

When I took over as keeper of the rotas in November 2014 I created what I called the clergy availability algorithm matrix. It’s a spreadsheet that describes in the style of a puzzle book who can do what:

  • Priest A will not preside at 08:00, but is is happy to celebrate or deacon at the 10:00. He is happy to preach at the 10:00 two Sundays out of four, but only as a deacon not as celebrant. He cannot take any other services.
  • Priest B can preside at the 08:00 but only on the first Sunday of the month. He is happy to celebrate or deacon two Sundays out of four at the 10:00 and preach one Sunday out of four (as either celebrant or deacon). He is available for Tuesday night or Thursday lunchtime.
  • Professor C may preach but not preside, and only on festivals.
  • Priest D can preside three Sundays out of four at the 08:00 but not at 10:00. He is available for Tuesday night (if required) but prefers Thursday lunchtime.
  • Priest E. My first is in Episcopal but not in Anglican. My second is thurible but not in thurifer.
  • Etc.

That in itself makes for an interesting mind game, trying to hold that all in mind when allocating people to services

Workflow

I have the following workflow for creating rotas:

  1. Create a blank rota (filling in dates, saints’ days and festivals, etc.)
  2. Email people to ask for their availability for the next rota period. Text the one person who isn’t on email.
  3. Receive people’s availability.
  4. Create a draft rota.
  5. Email draft rota for feedback. Print out and post draft rota for the one person who isn’t on email.
  6. Make updates.
  7. Email second draft for final sign-off. Print out and post second draft rota for the one person who isn’t on email.
  8. Receive feedback.
  9. Make updates (if required).
  10. Email final version. Print out and post final version for the one person who isn’t on email.

And then the rest of the month is spent making tiny changes here and there depending on people’s changed schedules. The July rota, for example, is now on revision 20.

It’s takes a considerable time. For example, I worked on it for about 30 minutes this morning, and this evening for about two and a half hours. Over the last week there haven’t been many days when I’ve not had to tweak the rota in some way.

Folks go off sick, or have family crises, or swap with one another. Rotas are living documents that ebb and flow, merely suggesting who may turn up to lead the service. A serving suggestion, if you will.

I do quite enjoy organising it and setting it out nicely on the page, but to be honest I am quite looking forward to handing it on when the new rector arrives in mid-September.

Next up…

I’m presiding on Sunday at 08:00, which will make it four Sundays in a row that I’ve been on. So that means preparing a short (five minutes) homily, plus intercessions, plus printing out the Bible readings in font size that is big enough for my myopic eyes to read.

Then I’m not on again for 11 days.

And for a moment after writing that I felt a sense of relief… until I remembered the rotas. It’s always with the rotas…

As an NSM, this week I are been mostly…

I love the light in the morning in the sacristy (clergy vestry) at All Saints', St Andrews.
I love the light in the morning in the sacristy (clergy vestry) at All Saints’, St Andrews.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking that I need to blog more, and more than just music videos of Star Wars game demos (though those things are exciting me just now) but some real life stuff: what’s going on for me just now, where my energies are being spent.

I was standing in church on Sunday, after the 08:00 Eucharist had finished, the congregation had left and stillness had filled the building once again when I remembered that a while ago I’d wanted to write about what being a non-stipendiary minister (NSM) means to me and what I do. So here I am, on the first of what I hope will be many posts reflecting on this.

Stipendiary vs non-stipendiary

The first thing to clear up, I guess, is: what is a non-stipendiary minister? Well, it’s a minister, a member of the clergy, who is not paid a stipend. (How nice to be defined by something negative!) In the church, stipendiary clergy get paid a a kind of salary to enable them to carry out a role that the church has asked of them without the need for them to also go out and get a job to earn money to live on.

 

There are all sorts of legal and tax—and I dare say historic—reasons why clergy don’t get paid a salary, related to employment status and whatnot but that is the crux of it: in order to be available 24/7 to carry out a particular role, the church pays some clergy some money so they don’t need to get a ‘proper’ job.

Non-stipendiary clergy, like me, do the role without getting paid.

From 1999 to 2006 I was a stipendiary clergyman. Now I’m not, for all sorts of reasons not least of which was that that job was literally killing me. And making me depressed. And I rarely got to spend time with my wife. And we were on an IVF programme, which was stressful enough. And I was upset about how many of my NSM clergy friends were being treated, so I crawled under the fence and joined them. And probably a host of other reasons…

This week

Clergy meeting

Today we had our monthly clergy meeting, where the five NSMs who are currently looking after All Saints’, St Andrews get together to organise rotas, and worship, and share pastoral information.

The meetings have only been going on since Fr Jonathan left in November 2014 and we were invited to keep things going during the Rector vacancy.

I take the minutes for this meeting, usually writing them up on my laptop as the meeting happens which gives me less to do later on, and then emailing or posting them out in the evening.

I really enjoy these meetings, which usually last up to 90 minutes. We ramble our way through a very loose agenda, taking many a detour but usually ending up back in the right spot. And there is quite a lot of laughter. Oh, and fellowship—Christians like to use the word “fellowship” when they really mean friendship and fun.

Homily

I’ve got a homily (a short sermon) to write for the 08:00 Eucharist on Sunday. I need to get started thinking about that today. I need to find the readings, print them out (so I can scribble on them), and read them over a couple of times.

And I don’t ever look up old sermons that I’ve preached on those passages. Nope! Never do that. No, sirree! That’s one thing that I definitely don’t do.

Erm… actually, that is something that I do.

I also subscribe to the Midrash lectionary discussion email group which I find really inspiring.

Admin

I’ve also got a few other admin-type things to do this week:

  • Update the website with service times for August.
  • Update the 1970 Scottish Liturgy booklet we use at the 08:00 service, to include the peace.
  • Type up and distribute clergy meeting minutes.
  • Begin work on the September rota.
  • Update and print a set of A5 booklets detailing saints days’ collects and short biographies.
  • Create a poster.

So, not much then… I’ll blog again later this week with an update and further reflections.

Richard Holloway on BBC HARDTalk

First broadcast on Tuesday 27 August 2013 this is a remarkably moving and honest interview with the former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway.

I’ve always loved +Richard. As my bishop I found him compassionate, loving, and intellectually challenging: he always encouraged me to keep searching for the truth, to keep asking questions.

The cup goes to the garden

lsupper

On Thursday night at All Saints’, St Andrews we celebrated The Solemn Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper.

This service on Maundy Thursday is the Eucharist of the Eucharist, the Mass of the Mass. We remember the origin of the Eucharist: Jesus’s last supper with his disciples before he retired to the Garden of Olives and was handed over to the Romans by Judas Iscariot.

Maundy Thursday always reminds me of someone I knew during my curacy at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Inverness. His name was Cathal and he was a member of the L’Arche community in Inverness.

Every Sunday after the service Cathal would process solemnly up the aisle to the west door, holding his prayer book above his head as though carrying the gospel, where he would look you in the eye and would say quite sincerely “the cup goes to the garden. The cup goes to the garden.”

“That’s right, Cathal,” I’d say, to reassure him that I’d understood what he was saying, “the cup goes to the garden”.

And it was about this service, the Solemn Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper, to which he was referring. Because after the Eucharist the priest, deacon and sub-deacon take consecrated bread and wine to the “altar of repose” (which is an altar usually in a side chapel decorated with flowers) to remind us of Jesus moving from the Last Supper to the Garden of Olives.

It showed to me how important the liturgy is. It showed me how these dramatic, choreographed parts of the service can speak to people at different levels and to people of different abilities. It showed to me how liturgy is more than just the words, and that by acting something out it can go deeper than just understanding it with the mind.

(It’s taken me three days to finish this blog post… off now to the Easter Vigil where I’m singing the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation.)

Ash Wednesday

Priest, Deacon and Subdeacon standing before the altar

Priest, deacon and subdeacon standing before the altar, taken from Ceremonial Pictured in Photographs (Alcuin Club Publication)

This evening I was involved in my first Solemn Eucharist at All Saints’ Church, St Andrews, where I took the role of deacon during the liturgy of the imposition of ashes and Solemn Eucharist; my first Solemn Eucharist since I left St Andrews Cathedral, Inverness in 2003.

A moving experience

I found it a very moving service, and one that I was easily able to enter into without being overly distracted by where I should be or what I should be doing next. But that I put down to trust in my fellow ministers of the sacrament, the priest and subdeacon, who gently guided me and prompted me when required.

Like when I forgot to say the offertory sentence and just began to lay out the altar in preparation for the Eucharist.

“Offertory sentence,” Fr Jonathan prompted me.

“Oh! Sorry!” I said, pulling an apologetic face that probably made me look like I should be in a scene from Wallace and Gromit.

I turned to the congregation. And then back at Fr Jonathan. “What is the offertory sentence?”

He smiled. “Let us present our offerings to the Lord with reverence and godly fear.”

I turned back towards the congregation. “Let us present our offerings to the Lord with reverence and godly fear,” I said before returning to ‘setting the table’.

But I digress.

I found it a very moving service and a perfect start to Lent.

Our observation of Lent

I don’t have the words before me that were used during the service this evening, but here are similar words that I’ve used in Ash Wednesday services before, taken from the Church of England book Lent, Holy Week, Easter: Services and Prayers (Church House Publishing/SPCK, London, 1986):

Brothers and sisters in Christ: since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord’s passion and resurrection.  It became the custom of the Church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting.

At first this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for Baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the Church’s fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In course of time the Church came to recognize that, by a careful keeping of these days, all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

What really spoke to me was the Hebrew Bible reading from the prophet Joel:

[12] Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

[13] rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing […]

[17] Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
“Where is their God?”‘

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1996)

The sentence that stuck out for me most was in verse 13: “rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”.

Rend your hearts not your clothing. Lent is about a change of mind, a change of heart. It’s an internal thing, not external. The external comes later, once the heart has been changed.

“Remember that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.”

With those thoughts in mind I now feel prepared to enter Lent.