Sunday, 26 December 2010

light into darkness into light

Rembrandt's 'the stoning of St Stephen', 1625
The way in which Christmas has fallen this year means that straight after the festivities and joyful celebrations of yesterday, we move immediately into the much less jolly suggested lectionary readings for today.  One track takes us to the stoning of Stephen - first Christian martyr.

The alternative track moves us from the celebration of the baby in the manger to the slaughter of the innocents by Herod.

Slaughter of the Innocents - Duccio Di Buoninsegna

It is odd timing.
and definitely discombobulating. 

Through Advent the build up of hope, the sense of expectation, of light in the darkness - of light defeating the darkness - led us to that blazing star hovering over a stable in Bethlehem.  Choruses of angels proclaimed the birth of the Messiah; shepherds and sages looked upon the baby with wonder.
For a brief moment in time, the light shone and fearful hearts were cheered. 
And then, in a fingersnap of time, the darkness seemed to descend again.

Is that it?
It feels a little like the police officer who tells onlookers:
'move along now, nothing here to see.'
Perhaps this is where faith comes into play?
We move from darkness to light to darkness.
Perhaps the glimpses of light are like stepping stones of hope along the way, that keep the fires of faith burning: sometimes a flicker, sometimes a steadier, brighter flame.
We move from darkness to light to darkness... but we do come back to light, and therein is the hope, the faith, that this is not all there is:
the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

a digital nativity?

This vid. has been doing the rounds on Facebook.  V. cute.  I think my favourite bit was the travel planning option 'avoid Romans'.  Enjoy!!

Friday, 17 December 2010

The welcoming church 3: Welcome - a simple and elementary matter...

I do love my research sometimes, especially when I come across such gems as the following entry from Kirkwall U.P. Church, 1894, re. elders and church welcome:

'they are not there for the mere purpose of standing at the plate, but for the purpose of giving a kindly welcome to the worshippers as they pass - were it but a pleasant smile or nod of recognition.  A shake of the hand would not be out of place....This would show the kind of interest which...elders are expected to take in the membership of the congregation....All of us should do what we can to promote each other's comfort, to encourage each other in well-doing, and to foster the spirit of brotherly love.  These are simple and elementary matters, but we require to be reminded of them.'

Seems the difficulties involved with regard to the 'simple and elementary matter' of welcome is no new thing!  Perhaps it's the raging extrovert in me, but I really don't see how difficult it is to welcome folks when they dare to cross the threshold... but it does remind me of a story.

I remember visiting a church [that shall be nameless] for a particular service held annually.  Dragged a pal along and we walked in and sat in the back pew [so we would know when to sit, stand, etc].  An older woman wandered in, stopped at the pew we were sitting in, fixed us with a baleful glare, made a loud choking noise of displeasure and then rather unhappily plonked herself into the pew in front of us, shaking her head.  Friend and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows, a bare glimmer of a smile, and together had the unspoken thought that we were, perhaps not this woman's flavour of the month.  Several minutes later, another woman, similar age, also wandered in, stopped at the end of the pew momentarily, and then spotted her friend - woman in front of us.  She waved and then sat next to friend, who muttered rather loudly 'we're having to slum it in this pew - ours is taken.'  Cue eyebrows in pew behind being raised even higher.
For sheer devillment, I tapped the woman on the shoulder and said in incredibly apologetic tones, and with the most sincerity that I could muster: 'Goodness, I'm terribly sorry, I couldn't help but overhear what you said.  We're visitors here and really don't know the drill.  We didn't realise this was your pew - would you like us to move?'
Said woman was about to open her mouth with what I think would have been a 'yes, get out of my pew' comment, when her friend turned around, gave us a huge smile, welcomed us to the church, made sure we had orders of service, invited us for the post-church cheese and wine, and said 'my dear, no, not at all.  There's no such thing as 'my pew' - we do normally sit there, but it will be good for us to sit somewhere else.  We hope you enjoy the service.'  Utter graciousness.  Although her friend was simultaneously giving her a death glare....

Many are called.
Few are chosen.
Some get seats.
Others get death-glares.

Welcome to the church... you're in my pew.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Feasting on the Word - review

Feasting on the Word - preaching the revised common lectionary [Yr A, vol. 1]; edited by Don Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. £26.99

This is yet another excellent edition in what is an absloutely superb series.  The overall series aims to cover the three years of the Revised Common Lectionary, splitting each year into several books. With an eye on the price, I wondered if collecting the whole series might be just that bit too pricey, but realise that I'd be short-changing myself not to buy into this brilliant resource; it is far too good an investment to miss.
What I've really enjoyed as I've prepared worship has been the layout. Sunday by Sunday, each of the four key lectionary passages are explored, examined and discussed - each of the passages considered by dividing them into four columns and using four different angles: a theological perspective, a pastoral perspective, exegetical and homiletical perspectives. This ensures that Feasting on the Word is indeed just that: a veritable feast of a resource. 
Truly, a must for the bookshelves of all those who lead worship - but also a great resource for lay-folk who want to dig deeper into the word. Perhaps a useful parallel function might be to employ Feasting on the Word not only as a worship leader's resource, but as a regular group study focus. Just a thought. Why should ministers get all the good stuff, after all!?  ;)
The entire series will be available to buy as a set from May/June 2011 @ c.£299.  Individually, or as a set, you can pick it up in via the UK distributor Alban Books or give Cornerstone Bookshop a wee call...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Great Expectations? A sermon for 3 Advent...Yr A

It's a little rough... but here goes:

'Great Expectations'

Isaiah 35: 1-10; Matt 11: 2-19

If Charles Dickens hadn't pinched it first, I think I'd have titled this sermon 'Great Expectations'...

Great Expectations -
the hope that something quite extraordinary is going to happen.
That sums up Advent.
It's the waiting time.
The time when we identify with Mary all those years ago in her time of waiting.
We wait with expectation to celebrate the mind-boggling idea of God coming to us,
to be with us,
to be one of us:
God coming to us on our own, very human terms.
Expectations that are great?
Expectations of greateness?
What is greatness?
And what happens when the expected...
is completely

The Third Sunday of Advent traditionally focuses on John the Baptist -
a man we heard a bit about last week...
a man who knew a lot about waiting and expectaion:
His entire life had been spent waiting for the fulfillment of God's word,
and his ministry was one of preparing the people of God for this event.

In our Gospel passage for today, we see John coming near to the end of his life and ministry -
imprisoned for speaking out against Herod's lack of moral character:
prisoners of conscience are no new thing.
But there he is,
languishing in jail at Herod's mercy.
John had spent the greater part of his life living out of doors in the wilderness - we'd say in Australia that he'd 'gone bush'.
William Barclay, commenting on this passage, describes John's situation like this:
'he was a child of the desert; all his life he had lived in the wide open spaces, with the clean wind on his face and the spacious vault of the sky for his roof.  and now he was confined in an underground dungeon.  For a man like John, who had perhaps never lived in a house, this must have been agony.'
Quite poetic for a commentary!  Barclay tries to enter into the mind of John, and, if John wore shoes, to walk in his shoes.

What was in John's mind when he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask the question:
'Are you the one, or should we expect someone else?'
What was John's expectation of who the Messiah should be?
Of what Messiahship should be about?
Were his great expectations of a warrior-hero, coming to liberate Israel from the Romans?
Or, since his role was that of a prophet,
a forth-teller of God's truth,
did he expect the messiah to be a mighty judge,
who would bring the divine fire of purifying judgement on the nation -
and we saw a little of that last week....
Did John ask because he was impatient
and wondered if Jesus was ever going to get on with the job?

Sometimes, because we know the story
because we've heard it so many times,
are so familiar,
we flick through the pages of the Gospels seeking for theological truths
but in doing so,
the people on the pages become like mere characters in a book:
we lose sight of the dirt-under-their-nails very human people -
everyday, ordinary, people caught up in extraordinary circumstances.
In asking the question of Jesus, was John, this wild-man of the wilderness,
who didn't know if his next day would be his last,
was he wanting to know that he hadn't got it wrong?
That his expectations
his hope in Jesus
hadn't been in vain?
Did he need to know that at this end-point of his life
that it hadn't all been a useless waste of time?
I wonder...
if the question was about his own faith and hope
and a need to seek confirmation of this hope
confirmation of his life's mission in his last days?
What were his expectations?

Whatever his psychological state of mind,
whatever the reason for the question,
I hope he found the answer he needed in Jesus' response.
At other times when such questions were asked of him Jesus was likely to say:
'happy are they who believe without seeing'
but here, Jesus shows great compassion in his reply:
'tell John what you hear and see -
the blind receive sight,
the lame walk,
the deaf hear,
and the good news is preached to the poor.'
Jesus is quoting the prophet Isaiah to John -
the last and greatest of the prophets.
And in doing this,
gives John what he needs to know:
Jesus is the one expected -
and the proof in the (Christmas?) pudding,
is the fulfillment of the prophecy.
What Isaiah never saw in his own lifetime,
John has seen in his -
though perhaps not quite in the way he'd envisaged or expected.

If John had to slightly revise his idea of the Messiah -
if even John the Baptist felt the need to ask if Jesus was the one -
how did the people of Israel imagine the Messiah?
What were their expectations?
Under the yoke of the Roman Empire,
longing for independence,
did they dream dreams of Messiah as a great freedom fighter?
I wonder if the people of Israel would have coped better with Jesus if he'd just done 'the decent thing'...
had conformed to the stereotype of what great deliverers should be like?
But then, from their very own history,
they should have known not to try and force God into a box,
because sometimes, God is a little like the jack-in-the-box
that you know is there,
that you know will appear,
and yet who still manages to surprise and startle when the lid finally springs open.
The expected
and yet the unexpected.

Can we really blame the people of Israel for maybe having these expectations of a mighty super-hero Messiah?
Don't we ourselves often define greatness as who the strongest is?
Now, if we were God, we'd probably plan this whole coming into the world business quite differently.
We'd arrive on the world stage as the big strong warrior-hero type
overpower those pesky Romans
make a real name for ourselves,
possibly even set ourselves up as Caesar -
be at the top of the hierarchical power pile -
that'd convince everyone we weren't to be trifled with...
But our God...
is the God of surprises.
The one who turns our value systems
our expectations
Who completely makes a nonsense of what we think of as great and powerful.
God defies our definitions.
Perhaps even laughs at our definitions
and challenges us to redefine them again and again and again.

Matthew goes to great pains in the Gospel to point out exactly where Jesus came from:
his lineage certainly contains a few surprises,
and who would think that a virgin would or could conceive?
And that the Messiah would, like us,
have to undergo the whole messy, undignified birthing process?
Yet, the prophets foretold it.
Who would think that the Messiah would be found in a stack of hay in a stable...
and not a grand palace?
Who would think that the 'little baby Jesus' could possibly be 'Immanuel' -
God with us?

I remember a conversation with a friend a long time ago.
Said friend was saying with some feeling that she was sick to the back teeth with the idea of the cute 'n cuddly 'little baby Jesus' -
helpless, sweet, inoffensive.
An anaemic, watered-down religious symbol for people not quite comfortable with the grown-up Jesus.
In many ways, she had a point... but...
let's not sneer at the idea of 'little baby Jesus' too readily:
without 'little baby Jesus' there can't be a Christ crucified.
Without 'little baby Jesus', we lose Jesus' humanity.
Without Jesus' humanity we lose the idea of the God who feels our pain
who knows us utterly,
identifies with us completely...
and who, in turn, we can identify with.
Without 'little baby Jesus' we lose the wonder of God who turns the meaning of greatness on its head
by coming to us as a helpless, gurgling baby
dependant on the hospitality of the human heart to take him in...
God needing us...
as much as we need God...
a mutual bond of relationship forged in fleshly incarnation.
The expected, yet unexpected coming of God-all-powerful
who comes as God-all-vulnerable
in that tiny scrap of human flesh:
'little baby Jesus'
and who, by doing so, puts hope in the heart of humanity.

We come full circle at Advent:
back to the waiting time
to the having of great expectations...
Great expectations:
the hope that something quite extraordinary is going to happen...
when the expected is completely unexpected.
And what could be more unexpected than the idea that a helpless dependent baby could be the God who created the universe?
The God who comes to deliver us
by becoming one of us in our frail humanity?
No wonder John felt the need to ask the question of Jesus:
'are you the one?'

May the God of surprises teach us to expect the unexpected,
and fill us all with joy this season.

Monday, 6 December 2010


The recent launch of the Not Ashamed campaign backed by Lord Carey leaves me a tad baffled.  I'm baffled by the use of such words as 'victimised' and 'persecuted'.  I'm further disturbed by the faint sounds of Christian jingoistic sentiments in the background that seem to run along the old, tired theme of 'our nation was great and we can be again.'

Times have surely changed since God and Empire were so tightly entwined, and, I think, this is for the betterment of Christianity itself.
Power and prestige are the antithesis of what I believe to be the message of the Gospel and the followers of God have always seemed to have done better when as the 'faithful remnant', not the dominant power group oppressing others.  And why is it that this particular campaign smacks of toys being thrown out of a pram?

But back to this victim mentality thing: what leaves a very sour taste in the mouth is using the language of persecution when Christians in other places on this planet are actually awaiting execution for just being Christian, as per the case in Pakistan with Asia BiBi.

I'm not ashamed to be a Christian, but sometimes I'm a little ashamed of the behaviour of other Christians.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Sunday song: 2nd Advent

Matthew 3: 1-6
In those days 
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, 
proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 
This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight.”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair 
with a leather belt around his waist, 
and his food was locusts and wild honey. 
Then the people of Jerusalem 
and all Judea were going out to him, 
and all the region along the Jordan, 
and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, 
confessing their sins. 

Advent: prepare - people, get ready...

Saturday, 4 December 2010

light in the darkness, and how...

I know it's the season of light... I'd just hate to pay the electric bill on this!!
You'll need your sound on to fully appreciate the display...  :)

Friday, 3 December 2010

Friday Five: December Survival Guide Edition

Gosh, haven't played this game for a wee while.  Over at RevGals the theme has turned to surviving the December busy time... Kathrynzj asks:

Whether a RevGal or a Pal most of us in this cyber community have enhanced responsibilities during this time of year. We also have traditions - religious and secular - that mark the season for us in a more personal way.
For this Friday Five please let us know five of the things that mark the season for you.
And the bonus? Tell us one thing that does absolutely nothing for you

The strange thing for me this December is that for the first time since I can remember, I have no extra duties at all... no placement and, subsequently, am a fairly free spirit, a luxury which I'm going to very much enjoy while I can!!  However, my five things:

1/ watching that first Advent candle lit and then the weekly progression until all are finally flickering
2/ the first singing of 'O Come O Come Emmanuel' - its bare-boned, simple, pared-back beauty: a plaintive yet hope-filled cry in the darkness
3/ lighting the fireplace for the first time
4/ when the eggnog and gingerbread latte arrives in a certain large chain of coffee shops that shall be nameless
5/ reading John's Prologue and the words that never fail to stir and move and thrill me: 
In the beginning was the Word, 
and the Word was with God, 
and the Word was God. 
He was in the beginning with God. 
All things came into being through him, 
and without him not one thing came into being. 
What has come into being in him was life, 
and the life was the light of all people. 
The light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness did not overcome it. 

Ahh, and the one thing that really doesn't do it for me... I almost forgot:
Seeing Christmas dec's up and hearing carols in September - people, please, no!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

the more it snows...

The more it snows
(Tiddly Pom)
The more it goes
(Tiddly Pom)
The more it goes
(Tiddly Pom)
On snowing.

And nobody knows
(Tiddly Pom)
How gold my toes
(Tiddly Pom)
How cold my toes
(Tiddly Pom)
Are growing.
                                                   A. A. Milne

The most amazing dumping of snow in 40 years, according to that vital arm of journalism The Metro [a boon for the weary traveller].  Having been relatively snowed in, I pulled on the sheepskin boots and trudged into uni. on Tuesday.  Oh, it's hard to be shut in when you're an extrovert and I was going a little stir-crazy; plus, I'd run out of chocolate and useful work books.  Mr Knox looked resplendant in his fluffy white bunnet.... and as I looked out at the New College garden I would not have been at all surprised to see Mr Tumnus rushing by with his brolly and packages. 

So many people complaining about the Council: how ineffective, how inefficient.  Grumbling that the pattern of life has had to s l o w down, and what a terribel nuisance it all is, mutter, mutter - and I grumbled at first too.  And then I began to think how amazing it's been, given the unexpected freak conditions that the Council's managed to keep some buses going, have main roads gritted, etc.  I think the bus drivers have done an heroic job.  And - good grief - I've still been receiving mail.  Astonishing.  Pity about the local shop running out of milk, but I can drink herbal tea!  It's also been fun seeing just what stuff is hidden at the back of food cupboards; various friends are counting how many tins of tuna seem to have gathered.  For what it's worth, I discovered amongst other odd things four tins of tuna, plus several jars of black olives and a bottle of cocktail gherkins... I'm sure I can make some kind of fascinating concoction out of that lot and team it up with all the various pastas and rice I've also got.

These are the times when I realise that we humans can't control absolutely everything, and perhaps it's good to be reminded every now and then.  It's been freezing, and yet there's been a glorious, quiet beauty as the snow has softened the corners of the landscape.  Perhaps time to give thanks for enforced slow pace, and possibly even a surfeit of tuna. 

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sunday song: time to light the advent candle

1st Sunday of Advent...
Today is the start of the Church year; the beginning of the season of Advent.

In the darkness we light a candle...
small, fragile, flickering
sign of hope.
Light amidst the shadows
in the doorway of our hearts -
hearts that watch, and wait and yearn.
O come, o come, Emmanuel...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

worship as a part of the hustle of daily life?

A wee while ago, over at journalling, Liz was reflecting on the hustle and bustle and lack of space that can often be found within worship as it is hurries along to the finish line.  She noted that she was 'sure God roars with laughter at the notion that worship can be packaged and condensed.'  And further, asked the question 'what elements are to be sacrificed in order to create space -
the space that we need in worship as a counter to the hustle of daily life?'

A good question.
Which, as I wrote on Liz's blog, sent me back to the basics and further questions:
*What 'is' worship?
*who is it we worship?
*why do we worship - purpose?
*'who' are 'we' anyway?
*how do we try in some measure to achieve whatever 'it' is?

And as ever, those words of Annie Dillard's ring loud and clear in my ears about life preservers and crash helmets, and that worship is an awesomely terrifying business...potentially.

Why is it we seem content to settle for less?
Opt for 59 packed minutes on Sunday at 11...? 
On the other hand, planning worship is risky:
one person's idea of fabulous worship is another's horrible nightmare. 
Are we guilty of worshipping worship, and forgetting to worship the One who brings us together? 
Hmmm, 'worshipolatry'? 
What is 'true' worship?
And how do we know - when it can sometimes be measured only by a sense of our non-objective, utterly subjective selves? 
I don't know.
What I do know is that even as we bumble clumsily along the road to authentic worship,
when in that set apart time of the community of the faithful we fill it to overflowing with words and noise and invoke God's name whilst simultaneously attempting to prevent hearing God speak...
even in the midst -
despite ourselves
and despite the noise -
in the hustle
of our daily lives.
I wonder... if we were to turn the question  
should worship be a counter to the hustle of daily life? on its head:
Rather, should worship be a part of / reflect the hustle of daily life?
Is the way we worship -
that bizarre thing we do when we gather together -
somehow strangely symbolic of the paradox of incarnation
when God broke through the hustle and bustle of our noisy, chattering humanity,
and, in the sound of a new-born's cries, the Word was made flesh?
A moment of gobsmacking awe
even in the noise...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Worshipping with Children...

and fresh out of inspiration? 
Or sifting through a 'spirituality/ theology of the child'?
Mary Hawes - a CofE pal of mine - has just flagged up a most excellent resource in the shape of a blog, appropriately entitled 'Worshipping With Children: including children in the congregation's worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary'
Do yourselves a favour and check it out.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

This should be absloutely cracking!

Here's the blurb:


Ever wanted to see four New College lecturers go head to head in a debate on the Virgin Birth?!

Well it's happening!

Theology Network in association with the Edinburgh Centre for the Study of Christian Origins present a special Christmas debate not to be missed...
On Monday 29th November at 4pm in the Martin Hall, Dr. Helen Bond (Biblical Studies), Prof. David Fergusson (Theology), Prof. Michael Northcott (Ethics) and Dr. Sara Parvis (Ecclesiastical History) are going to go head to head in the Virgin Birth Debate.

It's set to be very entertaining, at least a little bit controversial and just awesome!

So whatever your view come along, bring your popcorn, sit back and watch it all happen (or heckle if you want)!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Dulce et Decorum est

Dulce et Decorum est 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas!  GAS!  Quick, boys! --  An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime. --
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
 Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
 And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
 His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin, 
 If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
 Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
 My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie:  Dulce et decorum est
 Pro patria mori.
                                                                  Wilfrid Owen.

Monday, 8 November 2010

To Tarshish, or Ninevah?

When I was sifting through the whole 'minister, me?' question [hat tip to Mrs Gerbil *grin*] I was offered up a whole range of books as suggested reading fodder.  And oh, my goodness, did you know that there are multitudinous numbers of books on the subject of vocational calling?  I'm not sure whether this is alarming, affirming, or quite what it says about attitudes within various Christian commmunities about models of working/ ministry.  But I digress. I read many of these and yet, somehow, they never quite seemed to fit or ring a little bell inside my head.
Don't get me wrong, there was some very useful reflecting on some very helpful bits 'n pieces... and yet.  I was frustrated by a lot of them and I really couldn't work out why until I was handed Peterson's Under the Unpredictable Plant.
Bells rang a-plenty. 
The thoughts wrapped around me snugly like a warm, woolly fleece on a cold winter's day.
It spoke my language- and felt as if it could have been written just for me.
Happy day.

After long reflection, I realise that while the other books where fine, they were written within an Anglican theological understanding of priesthood.  It is a very different theological kettle of fish to a Reformed understanding of ministry.  Not saying one is better than the other, they are just quite different theologically and because of this, a different praxis emerges.  Of course, I began to wonder just why there were so very many Anglican 'discerning your call' books as per Reformed viewpoints on this topic and why they were all on the list of Ministries Council - but that for another day!

I love the way Peterson challenges the system, especially what he would perceive to be the creeping idolatry of 'careerism' within the church: very hard-hitting stuff and which he likens to Jonah buying a ticket to Tarshish, rather than doing the thankless, possibly less glory-filled job over in Ninevah.
The book cautions against pride, abuse of power, and hiding behind the detachment of a 'professional pastor' veneer.  It urges authenticity at nearly every sentence.  And it works for me.

I keep coming back to this book - indeed - I'm just about to re-read it to see where I may have moved, or what continues to feel affirmed, or where I'm still uncomfortable/ challenged.  No doubt, I'll blog about that at a later point.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Sunday song: Papal bulls, indulgences and transubstantiation...

Happy Reformation Day... 

Or perhaps instead of a polka, why not something a little more 'street'...

Saturday, 30 October 2010

25 or so things...

Meanwhile, over on yet another 'F' word - Facebook - a friend decided to do the '25-30 things about yourself' tagging thing.
I played: and proved number #1 on my own list....

1/ I will do anything to distract myself from my thesis: that I'm responding to this is proof.
2/ Although I am a fan of chocolate, and have been known to frequent my local chippie, the idea of a deep-fried Mars Bar actually *does* horrify me.
3/ I don't drink alcohol.
4/ I do drink ginger beer.
5/ The thought that scurvy is a possibility has been growing for some time now.  This is, in part, due to the fact that most of the food I eat tends to be shades of beige in colour.
6/ Love sailing - especially about the Whitsunday Islands.
7/ Swimming in the sea is a wonderful thing: but it happened more when I was younger and lived in the tropics!
8/ I once did a sit-down stand-up comedy routine on Iona with friend Helen one staff party night, centred on a running commentary on folk-songs to slash yer wrists by, with suitable guitar accompaniment.
9/ Apparently, I am like my dad: when I went to Oz with a friend several years back, she looked at him, looked at me, and then burst out laughing whilst simultaneously quipping: 'well, no-one will ever say that you're the milkman's daughter, will they?'  I'm not quite sure what she may have been inferring about my mother, however....
10/ Scrabble fiend - but prefer real, not virtual, games.
11/ The current man in my life has been dead for 438 years.  Great beard however.
12/ A well-developed love for the bizarre, the ridiculous and the silly.
13/ Dislikes pomposity.
14/ Struggles a little with overly-earnest people.
15/ Also dislikes pigeon-holes.
16/ In a Turkish bath-house in Ankara, was once told by a hopeful masseur: 'Nikki, Turkish sex, nice... you like?'  I never found out, for the record!
17/ Thinks Williams' 'Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis' is the music she will probably hear in heaven.
18/ Dislikes bad manners.
19/ Loves mangoes.
20/ Is currently reading her way through 'Acts of General Assemblies 1560-1618' and has uncovered the scandalous adultery of the Rev Paul Methven.
21/ Once dreamt of a WWF tag-team match - King Kong and Godzilla vs Knox and Calvin in which the predestined result was in favour of the two Johns.
22/ I rejoice when I see the first snowdrop of the year.
23/ Have just been prescribed varifocals and am coming to terms with being an aged hag.
24/ Purples and greens and blues are my favourite colours - remind me of the sea.
25/ I set aside time every year to re-read The Lord of the Rings and every year find something new.
26/ Friends are a tonic for the soul and I am truly blessed by them :)

Friday, 29 October 2010

the 'F' word, part two

Earlier in the year I was thinking about the 'F' word - the new, big, bad swear word that is apparently unacceptable in polite society... yup, 'feminist'.
I recall being rather frustrated with the expression I often hear -
'I'm not a feminist, but...'
I'd quoted from a postcard I keep on my desk which lists reasons for why one might be a feminist.  It's a good, strong, powerful statement.
I happened to pootle across to Mary Beth's blog: terrapin station a few moments ago.
MB has a postcard,
also on the 'I'm not a feminist, but...' theme.
It's neat.
I like it.
A more subversively upbeat tone...:)
[tho' I did point out that 'pants' mean something different over here! *grins*]

Sunday, 24 October 2010

zombies pt II: the inclusive and 'affirming' version

Public displays of mockery leave zombies' dignity in shambles

Well, it seems a small comment on facebook concerning zombies has ended up with a rather loooong thread.
I was challenged, quite rightly to come up with an inclusive and affirming version by a fellow ministry trainee last night [Saturday], to keep in line with our hymnbook CH4.  DMc observed:
'I think you should be making more effort to love the zombies. You're neo-imperialist religious zealotry makes for a rousing chorus but for CH4 purposes you may also need a more inclusive, Jesus would have dined with zombies refrain. A shine zombies shine, if you will.'
Of course, DMc is perfectly correct, and so, if you will, my humble attempt below:

[to the tune, naturally, of 'Shine Jesus Shine' -tried uploading a midi file, but no luck pardners] 

Zombies like to chase folk without warning,   
They find it fun to eat brainz in the morning.
Don't judge them all by their odd behaviour
...Even a zombie's in need of a saviour...
'dine with me...
dine... with ... me'

Dine, Jesus dine,
Even tho' it could be quite gory
Hey, Jesus, say,
They can sing in't choir.
O, zombies oh!
God's beloved undead creation,
We're not perturbed:
Lord the undead have rights.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

fear not the frenzied zombies biting...

So, there you are, faced with a teeming horde of brain-dead zombies in a manic and terrifying zombie apocalypse.  
Wotcha gonna do?
Indeed, WWJKD? [what would John Knox do]
Well, first, eat cake... courtesy of the excellent 'Apocalypse Bakery'
And second, write a hymn for the faithful to sing whilst fighting.
[Me? Thesis avoiding?  What gave you that impression??!]

[to the tune of 'Courage Brother, do not Stumble' see cyberhymnal.  Inclusive zombie language version.]

Courage, sister, do not stumble,
Though the zombies cause you fright;
There’s a star to guide the fearful:
...Trust in God and do the right.
Tho' their moans of 'brainz' be scary,
As they stagger into sight,
Fight them bravely; strong or weary,
Trust in God, trust in God,
Trust in God you'll be alright.

Some will hate thee, some will thump thee,
Some will splatter, when you fight;
Fling a pan, or fling a p.c.:
Trust in God and do the right.
The brain-dead undead need a hiding,
O fight the fiends with all your might,
Fear not the frenzied zombies biting,
Trust in God, trust in God,
Trust in God you'll be alright.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

the wearing of purple

I've always loved Jenny Joseph's poem 'Warning: when I am an old woman I shall wear purple'. 
Yesterday I, too, wore purple. 
And while I do sometimes feel positively elderly amongst the folk here at Uni., the wearing of purple was less about my old age, but more as a gesture of solidarity.
The recent spate of suicides by gay teenagers in the U.S., who were bullied for the crime of just being them, has been utterly tragic. 
It is bullying that is neither a respecter of people, nor of geographical boundaries.  LGBT folk are bullied worldwide - just for the 'crime' of not being heterosexual.
And it must stop before it claims more lives.

And it is why I wore purple: for Spirit Day 2010 -
a grassroots initiative posted on Facebook
aimed at honouring the memory of the teens who committed suicide rather than bear the bullying and humiliation any longer...
and to show support for LGBT youth and thus demonstrate that they are not alone.

As I wore purple yesterday I reflected on a meeting I attended earlier in the year in which a newly ordained young male minister was speaking in the middle of a discussion I've previously termed 'Voldermort' - that which can't be named in the CofS.  He stood at the microphone saying his piece passionately and loudly, finishing with the words 'and let's remember: they are an abomination unto the Lord!'  It was verbal bullying of the worst kind - implicit in his statement was the belief that there was probably nobody in that room who was LGBT, and so, it was completely fine to use such dehumanising language.  The group, although quite conservative, audibly gasped when the chap dropped the 'A'-bomb, and that at least was some small crumb of reassurance in what was a thoroughly depressing meeting. 

Symbol of solidarity, and yet in the church, also a symbol of penitence. 
This seems apt given that amongst LGBT folk I know, the church is largely seen as the face of the oppressor. 
We must repent for having allowed that perception to flourish by our behaviour.
We must repent for every dehumanising word and action that has caused people to wither and die, not blossom and grow and have life in all its fullness.

Over at the Huffington Post, Bishop Gene Robinson's column is worth a read.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Women and men in Christ...?

*sticks head above parapet*

I'm sure he is gracious.
I'm sure he is a lovely man and pastor.
I'm just not sure he should be on the list of nominations for Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
Why my disquiet over Rev. C. Peter White as a Mod. nom.?
As a woman training for ministry of word and sacrament within the CofS, a denomination which over 40 years ago through its system of governance passed legislation allowing for the ordination of women elders and women ministers of word and sac., I'm more than a little stunned to read his blog entry concering the role of women in the church.
To be fair, the blog entry is addressing a particular matter within his congregation, however, while I might disagree with some of his exegesis, the concern comes from the following comment:
Although I think Scripture allows for CoS women elders, a question remains in my heart.

To nominate someone for Mod who is not 'quite all the way there yet' with regard to particular roles of women within the CofS, namely women in eldership [and one is forced to consider the question - what about women ordained to ministry of word and sacrament?] ... and here I reiterate, an institution which recognises these roles in its law and practice, and which has done so now for over 40 years is just a bit of a bizarre thing to do - indeed a little bit of a situational oxymoron proceedurally, no?

This is not an argument about having to accept this opinion as a consequence of being a 'broad kirk'; it is a matter of kirk law.  
While we are indeed a broad kirk, we work within a particular structure in which there are regulations set down in order to faciliate how we go about being that broad kirk. It would be odd indeed to have someone who would seem to appear not to hold to the law of the kirk as Moderator. This particular broad kirk holds that we accept women for ordination both as elders, deacons and ministers of word and sacrament. This is not about bias, or even a matter for conscience, it is about keeping in line with thegovernance of the church structure one is working within.

That said, I do have to wonder: if this were not about women but about people of colour, and that there were entire presbyteries found in which there were white only sessions/ no ministers of colour, it would certainly raise a question with regard to the possibility of institutional racism. Maybe the question that is quietly being asked here is whether there is still institutional sexism?

Earlier in his blog, Mr White discusses the concept of male 'headship' and notes:
I appeal to those of you, therefore, who say that because there are no women elders, women are second class citizens in Sandyford. Hold on a minute. Respecting male headship does not make that young lady a second class citizen in her marriage, nor need it in church. Rather the reverse: look again at his commitments. When well obeyed it protects women and their ministries of service, cherishes their femininity and seeks their fulfilment.   

Here I would ask how we define what 'femininity' is exactly?  And further, who is it that gets to define the criteria?  But that, I think, is a discussion for another day.
I just find it extremely disappointing that at the highest reaches of the kirk's structure there are people who seem to think it is neither odd, nor proceedurally unfitting, to nominate someone who has difficulties with an aspect of kirk law that has been around for forty years.  While perhaps completely unintentional, particularly in view of this year's debate within the Ministries Council report which discussed women eldership and again affirmed women in ministry, it still does send out a negative message.
A little like a slap to all women who have been called into the various ministries within the kirk:
a wee reminder to us to not get too above ourselves, and that this situation could change.
And so, back to definitions: how do we define 'ministry'? And who is it that gets to define it?

In one of those fascinating little lectionary irony twists, this week's gospel passage is Luke 18:1-8, the story of the persisitent widow:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" 

The widow keeps 'bothering' the judge, insistent upon justice.  Eventually, just to get rid of her, the judge listens to her, and gives her the justice she is seeking.  How long must we, as women in Christ, as women of the kirk and the wider Church keep insisting that justice be done?  How long must we keep bothering the institution by reminding them that we, too, have a place at the [communion] table, both in front of and behind?

Friday, 15 October 2010

today is Blog Action Day 2010

...which is a very good reason to rouse myself from this stupor of dullness I seem to have been in for the last fortnight.  Too sleepy and too busy to blog, oh dear.
However... it's Blog Action Day and this year's theme is on water...
Why water?
Check out the video below.

Blog Action Day 2010: Water from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

Am reminded again of the situation in the Niger Delta, where the water of life has become a river of death.

Why not, for one day, blog with one voice?
Dive in, and happy blogging!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

the story of Goldilocks and the 'just right' affirmation of faith

The other week I was having dinner with friends.  They'd been to a church that shall be nameless which had, in its order of service, an affirmation of faith.  As we ate and blethered we recalled times when we'd been confronted with statements of faith - foisted upon us on a sheet within worship - with the expectation that we would, having never seen it before and thus, not had time to consider it, blithely utter it in some meaningful way.
Some affirmations, or statements, over the years have been cringe-worthy.
Some have been sailing close to the orthodox theological wind.
Some written so ambiguously and clumsily that one was not quite sure what one was actually attempting to affirm.
Others written focusing in on the language of power and domination and exclusion.

We generally agreed that the writing of creeds, or statements, or affirmations of faith is a pretty pernickety and difficult business.  I later wondered if writing such things is a little like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, and how to construct a statement that is 'just right'.  Given the breadth and diversity of the Church, is there a 'just right' affirmation?
That said, the affirmation of faith from church that shall be nameless is something I think I could mostly, happily say.
I particularly responded to the gender stereotype reversal in the line:
'with a father's tenderness and a mother's strength'

What do others think?


We believe in one God:
the creator of all things,
who loves the whole creation
with a father's tenderness and a mother's strength.

We believe in one God:
our Liberator Jesus Christ,
the Word of God made flesh,
true God and truly human;
born among the poor he lived as bringer of God's kingdom;
a teacher and a healer,
a lover of life and a prophet of justice,
forgiver of sins and a friend of sinners,
who welcomed the outcasts and challenged the powerful,
whose death on the cross defeated sin and death,
who rose from the dead
and is alive forever in power and glory.

We believe in one God:
the Holy Spirit, the giver of life,
the Breath of life in all life,
the gift of God to the people of God,
Disturber and Comforter,
the fire and the dove,
who makes us one community in peace and love.

We believe in one God,
a community of love,
a trinity of holiness,
the beginning and end of all life.

cross-posted at

Monday, 27 September 2010

of plate-spinning, beaches and reflective practice

I've always loved an open horizon - even more when it is the sea, a river, or lake.  There's something about swathes of water that soothes my soul, helps me relax, gives me a better perspective on life, the universe and everything.  This pic. is what lies at the end of my street - maybe 50metres away.  Every morning when I leave for university I shut my front door and look at this, before readjusting my rucksack and turning the other way to walk to the bus stop.  Every evening, after leaving the bus and the noise of the main street, I follow the salt tang in the air and head back in the direction of the sea and to my home. On still nights, when the tide is high and the evening is warm enough that I can leave my windows open, I hear the sound of the waves rippling to the shore.

You'd think, given where I live, that I'd spend a lot of time down on the beach... but this last year I have become progressively worse at taking time out to 'be'; so many demands crowding in and taking up so many pieces of me.  Juggling.  Lots of it.  Sometimes not quite knowing which spinning plate to catch and put back on the shelf to rest.

Some have said 'Ha! Get used to it if you're going to be a minister!'  But I think that this is a false analogy.  I know - or understand - that while there's a rhythm of days in ministry, that also one should constantly expect the unexpected; life is crazy-busy.  Yup.  And I will be happy enough for that.  Where I think the analogy comes unstuck is more in light of focus: the fact that as a minister I will not also be doing a full-time degree, nor doing the other requisite bits and pieces that 121 requires of its trainee ministers.  As a minister [should I get through the process and a congregation call me] my focus will be on the rhythm and irrhythm of ministry - that is, in the midst of it all, while gazillions of things will crop up, it will at least be contained within the context of being a minister.  Not sure if I'm articulating this well at all.  Never mind!  And here I put in the caveat that for the most part, I do enjoy the process, although sometimes it feels like being pushed and pulled and squished in a frenzy of activity whilst simultaneously being expected to be a reflective practitioner.  A paradox, a paradox... yet life is about paradox and, often times because of that, more challenging but also more enjoyable.  Nevertheless, how do I build in patterns now that will stand me in good stead later on?  Those practices that will help stave off burn out and drop out?

In an attempt to become a little more accountable to myself about those demands that take pieces of me, and the subsequent lack of peace, and in hope of getting my life and balance back, I'm going to spend this semester not doing pulpit supply, get better at saying the word 'no', and go and spend time sitting on 'my' beach.... Time to think, while I can, and perhaps time to build in some way of remembering to take the time to feel the sand between the toes, listen to the waves, watch the sunsets, and formulate a strategy for doing this when demands come crowding in again.  It's odd: I used to be so good at this - training for ministry has seen some unwelcome 'rat-race rot' creep back in.
Let's see how this mini-sabbatical from churchly duties goes this semester...!

Sunday, 19 September 2010


Today be
International Talk Like a Pirate Day mateys.
So sit ye doon and lookie: here be pirate joke treasurrrre...
oh, and quite a cheery wee cupcake to celebrate with as well ... *ahem*... arrrrrr!!!

What is a pirate's favorite prayer?
The ARRRRrrr Father!! 
Where does a pirate go to sign up for his college courses in scallywaggery?
The registraRRRRRRRRGH!
How do pirates solve their differences?
How do pirates communicate with dogs?
Pirate: AARRRrrrr!!!!
Dog: AAARRRRrrrff, AAAAARRRRrffff!! 
What do Jamaican pirates listen to?
Bob MaRRRRRley!! 
What do pirates put on toast?
What do you get when you mix a pirate with a vampire?
and to finish with an historical nod:
What did the pirate captain call his collection of ship's logs from plundered vessels?
Do carry on...

Saturday, 18 September 2010

and now, on with the thesis... :)

Having submitted my 'stuff' for the Board last week, I set to the task of quizzing myself, memorising footnotes, cosying up to Mr Knox to ask his advice... all the while coming down with what has been the filthiest, nastiest cold I've had the misfortune of experiencing.  Ack.
And so Friday loomed and I arrived at New College.
Free buffet lunch, as a 'welcome' to the start of play of the academic year, saw me juggling a couple of sarnies, a coffee, danish and a plum.  Sat to the side of the room quietly dying.  And watched as illustrious supervisor wandered in also looking like death.  Brief chat ensued, with me wondering aloud about communicating via the medium of interpretive dance should my voice fail.
Wandered back up to the office - the wonderfully shiny newly refurbished gorgeous office of joyfulness with my fabulously fabby gorgeouso workspace - and continued memorising footnotes.
3pm was approaching.
Armed with my sample chapter, extended proposal, and thesis timetable - possibly one of the best pieces of creative writing I've done in a long while! - off I went.
My brain was utter mush.
Thankfully, the chair of the meeting seemed to talk at length about a particular book I might want to read.  Then a couple of fairly light questions.
The fog in my brain began to roll down in earnest, just as the next person on the panel starting asking questions.
Gasping for breath at one point and apologising, amidst the voice beginning to go, supervisor slid throat lozenges across the table silently.
Some minor relief re. voice, but brain was still fogged.
I suspect the examiner could have suggested I include a chapter on Godzilla battling zombie seamonsters and I'd have nodded in agreement. 
I burbled incoherently.
Next examiner made a few points but no questions, really.
And that was it.
Out of the room I stepped.
In the midst of the fog, I mused on the less than ideal conditions for this type of thing.
Invited back into room
Smiles all around.
A couple of suggestions.
They seemed to like it.
I passed.
I think I smiled pathetically, thanked them for their time and asked them if it was okay to go home and die.
Was told to finish writing the thesis first.
So, I will.
But not this weekend. I am going to watch back to back episodes of the classic BBC edition of Pride and Prejudice
Sorry Mr Knox, it's Mr Darcy time.

Monday, 13 September 2010

and now onwards to the Board...

Yes, it's been a little bit quiet here in pilgrim-whirled... have been editing like mad in a race to a Monday 9am deadline.  Finished chapter and proposal tidying last night at 11pm and submitted them.  And now, best read and reflect on what I've written so I can sound vaguely coherent for the Board on Friday.  So, what is my thesis about??? Answers on a postcard please.  In the meantime..., thinking time.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

an alphabet of gratitude: loose ends

Way back at the end of August last year, I had decided I'd try to be a little more intentional about practising gratitude and I was doing relatively well until life quietly did its thing and took over.  Which isn't to say I have not been living in a state of ingratitude since Jan. 2010, when the 'alphabet of gratitude' stopped at the letter 'S' and sort of sat in a layby until now [she said, defensively].  But I do like to tie up loose ends, to see thing come to some kind of conclusion wherever possible - although getting better at learning some things can't and won't get 'sorted' this side of heaven.  Anyhoo this one's kinda easy to sort out in a one-er!

'T' is for ...

T-Rex: the scariest dinosaur of 'em all and let's be blunt, dinosaurs are cool, right? This goes in for a small friend whose name also begins with 'T', and who can tell you everything you need to know on the subject of dinosaurs.  Not to be confused with the pop band led by Marc Bolan, but who also get an honourable mention for making music fun.

Theology: to quote Karl Barth 'in the Church of Jesus Christ there can and should be no non-theologians.'

Tigger: "Bouncy trouncy flouncy pouncy fun fun fun fun fun. The most wonderful thing about tiggers is I'm the only one!"
Tintern Abbey: chiefly for the grin it causes as I run an old Woganesque conversation in my head 'Tintern Abbey'/ 'tis an abbey'/ 'aye, Tintern Abbey...' etc. :)

'U' is for...

Umbrella: and thinking of that great quote which runs along the lines: 'the rain falls upon the just and also on the unjust fellas, but mostly it falls upon the just 'cause the unjust have the just's umbrellas'

Umbrella tree: lovely memories from childhood of these - especially watching the water dripping from them after tropical rainstorms.

Unconventionality: because normal is sooo over-rated; and because I believe in a God who is utterly unconventional and in his son, who defied convention.  I love what Frederick Buechner says on this: 'If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully — the life you save may be your own — and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.'
[From: Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner]

Upbeat: well, joy is the simplest form of gratitude [Barth again!]

'V' is for ...

Voyages: of discovery, both inner and outer

Voice: for chatting, singing, for preaching and prayer

Violin: especially when playing Vivaldi!!

'W' is for...

Wilderness: and wildness and living, breathing, growing woods for wandering and wondering.

Worship: and those moments looked-for and unlooked-for when God comes close and takes your breath away

Wonder: and awe and surprise.

'X' is for...
xtraspecially interesting letter - without which other words could not be, but by itself struggles a little  [yes, well, c'mon, it's a bit of a tricky one!]

'Y' is for...

Yachts and yachting, the salt tang in the air, the fresh breeze, the slap of water hitting your face occasionally, the flap of the unfurled sails

Yaks: just because they are cool 

Yellow: sunshine colour that cheers the soul - from daffodils to my happy yellow flat

'Z' is for...

Zebras: predestined to ever follow the fortunes of Newcastle United

Zest: for life and zest that enlivens cooking - both tangy and making life that little bit tastier.

Zinnias: gorgeous, glorious riotous colour.

And that about wraps up the alphabet of gratitude this time around... hurrah.  Task complete :)
Off to muse on farms and fishing for a couple of days....

Friday, 3 September 2010

a robe by any other name...

is still a robe.  
The subject of clerical 'fashion' was one of the many tailends of conversations I wandered into over the course of the recent candidates' conference in St Andrews [apparently, according to Dad, you can play golf there, too, although not necessarily in clerical garb].  As it has cropped up occasionally in my thoughts as well as in other conversations, I thought it was time to have a stab at ... oh dearie me, no: poor phrasing with connotations of 'who will rid me of this troublesome priest?!' ...
[starts again on the 'once more with feeling' principle]
Er, so, thought I'd do that which is required of student ministers these days and 'reflect' on the apparently thorny question of 'to robe, or not to robe?'  
Plus, it gives me an opportunity to highlight a most fabby blog featuring a wondrous collection of pretty piccies which illustrate just how weird, wild and downright wacky some robes can be when good intentions or ample egos make the business of conducting worship decently and in good order that much harder...

'go-faster stripes'?

'fresh expressions' of church took on a whole new meaning, as Rev Lil Surfergirl suddenly emerged through the improvised communion table, dramatically clutching the body of Christ
So, some thoughts -
Context. is. important.  

Robing and worship:
No point when on placement being all robed up when your supervisor is not.  And when doing pulpit supply, as a visitor, aim to fit in as much as possible with the practice of the minister there - a combination of continuity of practice but also courtesy.
On having become a parish minister... over a period of time, you can quietly change the practice if you have a particular theological veiwpoint re. the robes in/ not in worship debate but sensitivity towards the congregation is probably a helpful and kind thing too.  But also, church architecture can play a part in what you might or might not wear.  What is right or appropriate?
Given that there are times when we conduct worship within the civic context, such as Remembrance Sunday, out of sensitivity to those folk who expect you to look like a minister at such an event... yup, bite yer tongue and just do it, I think.

Robes for sacraments - communion and baptisms - well, I would, but that's just me.  There's an aspect of the robing debate that sometimes gets overlooked: putting on 'the uniform' is, I think, a very visual way of noting sacred time and space.  So pre-service wandering about chatting to folks in 'civvies'... and then going off and robing and coming back to conduct worship - useful visual clues/ symbolism that say more than words 'come, now is the time to worship'.
And a reminder to me, at least, that when I put on the 'uniform' this is not about me, it's about 'us':  
1/ God at the relational centre and the reason why 'we' are all here
2/ministry as a relational part of that: as a partnership and whatever is done is done [hopefully] in His name, through the power of His Spirit
3/ relational as a way of going this is indeed the body of Christ here represented in this neck of the as the community of God's people.

Robes on 'ordinary' Sundays - well, again, my own thought is at least clericals/collar - visitors at church can work out who the minister is more quickly!!!! ;)

Outwith worship contexts - sometimes it's useful to have a uniform:
because there are times when, again, it's just sheer respect/ courtesy to wear it.
I think funerals, especially parish ones in which any link with church may be rather tenuous, is where it helps to put on the 'uniform' -
a/ because folk expect you to 'look like a minister' and for easy identification... as in 'who is this stranger chapping on the door, ahh, the minister'. 
b/ I wonder if by dint of wearing the uniform, there is something about conveying of authority [yes, of course, it is God who has the authority] that gives permission to say the tough things, or even gives people a reassurance that you know what you're doing and Great Aunty Ermintrude is in safe hands, as are they?
c/ You are representing the Church as well, I think, as the great communion of saints [and granted, this might not quite be the language folks you're visiting might use] and it is just respectful to oblige when people are in grief contexts
And then there are hospital visits - if needing to be done outside of visiting hours, then it's like a badge that allows access... [just don't go too early - during rounds, during meals - when you'll just get in the way of hospital staff.]
Visiting - being mindful of who we are visiting: for those who are in various stages of dementia, a collar at least will serve to show what you are/ who you represent, and maybe remind some folks of who you are as well.  They may not get your name, but they might at least be provided with a clue by what you're wearing.  It also helps to make folks a little less anxious - so pastorally perhaps reassuring?

Some non-phrases re. non- robing:
'but I don't feel comfortable'
or 'I don't feel like it'
or 'it's not me' ... 
nope, not good enough.  It's a little too 'all about me', I'm afraid.  Find some theological arguments.  There are good ones either side of the discussion; think about why you're going to use/ not use robes and how this might express your particular theology of ministry - not whether it just feels icky.  Hmmm, that sounded a wee bit stern, but it's less about us and more about the folks we're called to serve, innit?  And that certainly crosses both sides of the debate.   

That priestly role 'thang': 
robes can serve to be a reminder of being set apart as well as being a part, perhaps... we have been called as a part of the body of Christ, to be set apart to minister to that body...?
There is the issue of pride - but that argument cuts both ways I think:
it can help stop the pride thang - you cover yourself/ are trying to be less a distraction with those marvellous 'funny ties' or lovely blouses - and are hopefully more a pointer to God.  Yeah, conversely I'm sure some folk love wearing their stuff - robes or ties to say 'look at me'!!!

But I do wonder about the 'reluctance' I sometimes see with regard to wearing the uniform: it makes me wonder if this may occasionally portray an inner wrestling about what it is to take up the call and be a minister and thus,the physical wearing of the uniform is, in that manner, uncomfortable? Not always, but that, too, makes me curious - I just like the way we all tick, really!!

In the end, whichever side of the discussion you are on a couple of useful rules of thumb:
i/It ain't a doctrinal issue - I suspect getting to heaven is not dependant upon the wearing or non-wearing of clerical outfits.

ii/If your clergy get-up gets in the way of ministry, ditch it.  If your non-clergy get-up impedes... get on those clericals. 

And just as a post-script, if you haven't checked her out, go see the wonderful Peacebang's blog over at Beauty tips for Ministers - she is the epitome of style and taste :D
 Okay, maybe just a little too 'tacky'?