Friday, 23 January 2009

An Obama free zone? Change is coming!

I did think about trying to make this an Obama-free zone; but I couldn't resist! I found the whole inauguration event on Tuesday quite magnetic, as did millions of other people across the world. The hope and expectation on his shoulders is quite astonishing, something that I have never come across before in any politician. One only hopes that there is no backlash of disappointment when he doesn't quite match up to these expectations and doesn't quite achieve all that he sets out to achieve.

Abraham Lincoln's name has cropped up a few times this week. Every leaders should remember one famous saying attributed to him, but often mis-quoted, even by me! He is quoted as saying: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." Most people quote that by replacing 'fool' with 'please'. Good leaders are not trying to fool anyone, but many leaders go about their business, especially those who are elected, knowing that they need to please the people who voted them into office.

Leaders need to go about their business, openly, honestly and humbly, trying to be themselves and to make decisions by the principles that had them elected in the first place; the people who are looking for leadership need to be willing to let their leaders be themselves and accept that they are making decisions and choices in the best way they see fit, as well as playing their part in making the changes work.

Change is inevitable. Already President Obama has made changes to the way in which the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are treated and to the way the government goes about its business in Washington. One thing is certain: more change is on the way.

I could say the same about the Church. Peter Macdonald is the minister of St George's West Church in Shandwick Place and is also the convener of Edinburgh Presbytery's Deployment of Resources Committee, the group tasked with planning for the Church of the future in the city. Peter spoke to Presbytery in November about the state of the Church in the city; you can find the whole text of his speech on the Edinburgh Presbytery Website, follow the link below:

The main implication of what Peter said that change is inevitable and that no congregation is immune for the wind of change. At present, the future of St John's Oxgangs, where I am Interim Moderator, is being debated and there is no guarantee that this congregation will be allowed to call a new minister of their own in the current climate.

We can have one of two attitudes to change: we can fear it and run from it as far and as fast as we can and for a long time that has been the church's first reaction; 'let's leave things the way they are and have always been'. Or we can embrace change positively, recognizing that it can be good when done properly, seeing change as an opportunity to plan for the future and to shape the future of the Church and the church of the future.

There will be some who will not like the changes President Obama makes, but I think he will only make changes when they are necessary and when they make life better. That has to be the way in which we look to the future.

Friday, 16 January 2009

What's in a name?

I spent most of Wednesday as part of a group called the Nomination Committee. This is a Church of Scotland Committee that recommends appointments to the other Councils and Committees of the Church. There are two good things about being part of the Nomination Committee: 1)it only meets once in the year, for one day; 2)if I am a member of this committee then I can't be a member of any other Church committee.

The preparation work for the committee is a list of names. Each year, a certain number of people retire from membership of the Church Councils and need to be replaced. It is our task to find these replacements and to do so in a way that is balanced and fair, so you can't just nominate all your friends (actually they wouldn't be your friends for very long if you kept adding their names to these lists!!)

I know some of the names; in fact some of the people whose names were on my lists I have known for a long time; that may or may not count in their favour. Many of the names, I had heard, but have never met the people, so couldn't tell you anything about them; that means I have to rely on other people's judgement as to their suitability for the jobs we were considering.

The great thing about names is that each one represents a story. I am constantly meeting people who introduce themselves to me on the phone or who come to something I'm arranging, to a church service or children's club and they tell me their name (then I have to work hard to remember the name) and then begin to tell me their story. It will be a unique story, full of joys and delights perhaps, and also full of pressures and difficulties; sometimes it is a story that leaves me humble as I begin to see some of the hardships people, even children, have to overcome in order to make their way in the world.

Colin Sinclair, the minister of Palmerston Place is the convener of the Nomination Committee and in beginning the meeting, Colin joked about reading all of the 9 chapters at the beginning of 1 Chronicles. For those of you who don't know, these chapters are a series of lists of names, family trees, generation after generation, with nothing to break the pattern. You won't have heard these chapters read very often in Church. Eric Alexander, sometime minister of St George's Tron Church in Glasgow, once said of these chapters that "every name is a footstep in God's plan" and, of course, he is absolutely right.

When you meet someone for the first time, and they introduce themselves to you, how well do you listen? Can you remember the name they tell you? Or does it just go in one ear and out the other? I have been in conversations lately where the person speaking to me has been looking through me and past me to see who else is in the room, who might be more worthy of his time, who might be more important for him to talk to. You can imagine how that made me feel, that although I was in conversation, I was clearly being ignored.

If every name in the people of God is a footstep in God's plan to bless the world, then we should make sure that we treat our fellow-Christians as if they are the most important person in the world while we converse. If every name in the people of God is a footstep in God's plan to bless the world, then we should make every effort to get to know these names. There are new people who have come to our Church in the last few weeks: have you noticed? Have you made the effort to speak to them? Have you asked them their names? Do it soon!