I’m currently sitting upstairs in my house avoiding the ‘home group’ (aka. growth groupconnect groupcare group,life groupfellowship groupsmall group, cell group) that is currently meeting in our home.

Part of me wants to go down and sit in the living room because I like everyone but part of me still doesn’t know how to sort  boundaries and if my wife being called to work in a church means that I am also called to work in a church by default.
I feel called to being an artist and would love to work at that now up here in my room. I don’t feel like there is ever enough time to get things sorted and who knows what I could come up with in the next few hours? 
If someone was on the rota at a hospital to work now they couldn’t come to home group.
I have to put myself on a rota of sorts and I know that I work best at this time of the day. So it would naturally be a good time to work on stuff. But I can’t concentrate as the people downstairs know that I’m upstairs and I know that they’re downstairs.  There is a guilt that I’m being a poor witness and a terrible minister’s spouse. It’s the boundaries. 

There is also a feeling sometimes that H is bringing her work home with her. Maybe it’s a little like a doctor bringing home his patients  or school teacher her kids every few weeks for a cup of tea and bun? Again it is OK but I find the boundaries in my head hard to manage sometimes. I know  church is a place where we should love each other and be open, where I am called to be a member and to love people, to be a friend and to worship. But I’m also an introvert who likes his own space, who needs time to reflect on things rather than sitting in a room rushing through an ice-breaker and 5 questions before working out how this applies to us to today and then praying and having a cup of tea and a bun. Even the way my beloved asks the questions in home group confuses me. Most of the time questions in the living room are asked naturally and without a small booklet. They have  context about what to have for dinner or’ what are you doing this afternoon?’ There is a certain tone of husband and wife just doing the day to day business. Then when home group comes it’s not the same tone and questions aren’t asked ‘naturally’ and it doesn’t seem so much to being my beloved but a minister, which confuses me and adds to the general feeling confusion or chaos but this time its not in the church, but in our home. It’s the trying to work out the boundaries or if there should be the boundaries and that sort of thing.

not taking the kids out

This weekend I had the strange experience of pining for my old church as I remember it growing up, a place where people wore suits and remained deadly silent for the service. Sure it was dull but at least you knew exactly what to expect, you didn’t have mess or chaos.
I was thinking that while picking up bits of chicken bones that had been stood on or emptying Lucozade cans down sinks and running up to Dunnes Stores to buy tea towels and shouting at the teenagers who had just been ‘confirmed’ and who where running up and down the stairs in platform shoes. I think that when people always come late (an hour late) and pass up notes of paper before the sermon or don’t take the really noisy kid out to the smaller room.
This not taking the screaming, noisy child out to the smaller room thing seems to have really caught on. Dad says that it now regularly happens in my austere  home church. He doesn’t blame the kids, but the smiling parents who don’t seem to mind that nobody can concentrate on the minister. A local parish priest was saying that it is the same with them.I don’t get it. Why not take the kid out? I’m not a parent, is there something I don’t understand about this?

What I miss from my old churches is the efficiency of it all, the ability to swing in 5mins before the start and swing smoothly out an hour later without any stress being added to my life. I miss that sense of everything being under control, no alarms and no surprises. Perhaps I especially now miss that sense of efficiency because I’m married to the minister. If there is less messiness and chaos in the church it means that life might be easier for them which in turn means that  life might be easier for me.

On the other hand and despite my frustrations the mess and chaos seems to me to be more in keeping with the  Kingdom of God. For years I craved for more reality in church and the ability to come without dressing myself up (literally and metaphorically). So if single parents (of which there are many) are finding it hard to keep their kids quiet during church yet still make the effort to come each week I need to show more compassion.

flying snow

There is sleet sliding down the living room window, wind blowing down the chimney, silence in the house. My thoughts are grim.

There is so much broken around me,broken in me.

Someone called to the house last week, a single parent . Watching him drive off with the kids I thought how black and heart-breaking to loose someone you love but have to carry on, carry on, carry on picking up the pieces carrying on for the kids.

Thinking about it some more there are many single parents in ‘our place’. Then there are those who are currently separated from children not through choice, but because of having to flee persecution in their native land.
Imagine not seeing your children for many years ? Then imagine not being able to afford bring them over when free?
Then you keep picking up other bits of sadness  from an infinite sea and adding them together. Imagine that happening? What if that happened?
Spotting some report about the threat of bird flu on the corner of a website or wondering how we will cope whenever death comes makes me feel ill. Basically it’s scary out there. Basically I wonder how we’ll cope.

I appreciated reading this  Wendell Berry poem the other night in bed and for moment thought about the seeds I plan to plant in the garden come spring.
I’m not sure why the sight of garlic appearing through the water logged soil or imagining the smell of broad beans  calms me a little, but it does.

February 2, 1968

In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.

Wendell Berry


why bring an ad into this world?


There was an advertisement on before Christmas that you may or may not have seen.

It used to appear a lot on Youtube just before the video of a juggling cat on a unicycle or some trampoline going off shopping in Asda or the footage of a referee in Brazil getting tickled to death by angry footballers with a baguette after a contentious disallowed goal.

I think it was for Unilever but can’t say for sure as I never actually watched it the whole way through. I hated it.

It starts with some of that  tinkly-emotional-scene-in-a- movie-piano then the words appear ‘Why Bring a Child into this World?’

I hate/d this ad because it assumes that it is an option for the people watching, like deciding whether to buy a new lawnmower or some other consumer product.
It shows little tact for the viewer watching the video who would love nothing more than to ‘bring a child into this world’ but for whatever reason can’t.

Perhaps the single lady watching in the cinema would love nothing more than to bring a child into this world but has never met the right guy, or perhaps circumstances just didn’t work out for the couple watching in the cinema.

Life isn’t that simple for people, things don’t work out sometimes like we like. Have a look at your Facebook friend list and see how many people might struggle , will struggle, have struggled.

Thinking of a family I know I count the numbers. 11 brothers and sisters, 2 unmarried and no kids, 2 married and no kids, 7 with kids and those numbers  aren’t going to change now.

Most people would agree babies and children are wonderful, beautiful, we love to journey with them growing up. I love my nephews and nieces, the kids in the church. We celebrate the joy of families. We love friends and family. We love children.

Still, what is it like to sit through Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day in church when you’re not one? Or if you are single  and have always wanted a family and the church is having a Family Day? Baptisms? Singing lines in songs like –

‘How sweet to hold, a new born baby, and see the pride and joy he brings’

What if you can’t hold a new born baby? Shame and despair?

Or if you continually see pictures of happy mums, families with smiling babies on Facebook, scans? You want to journey with people and see kids growing up, new babies, etc but it might be sore for people, maybe for more people than we realise because it is hard to talk about, a taboo subject.

Part of the reason I left Facebook was that I didn’t feel particularly free to say something like this.  Despite Facebook saying that it has revolutionized our social interactions over the past 10yrs it is hard to say that you might be struggling with something whether it is depression or eating or gambling.

Again, this isn’t necessarily about me/us, more about ‘us’ in the larger sense – people for who to ‘bring a child into the world‘ is more than an advertising campaign but may be a struggle and hurt or complicated, an impossibility, or who knows?

Blogging with even a small degree of anonymity helps, even though most of you reading know who I am. If you are reading this and have kids, or are expecting a child I love you and your sprog or future sprogs. I hope you know that as well!

blurred lines


There was a point after church yesterday when I was talking to one man from South Korea, another one from Malaysia and yet another from India. This would not have been my experience of church growing up in rural Tyrone.

I know that there had also been a couple of men from Turkey who are learning English and had come along. Then there are all the Africans from different parts of that huge continent that make up the majority of the church.
I don’t know whether I am coming or going.
Galway seems to be that type of city. Always in flux with visitors, tourists and students.
It could be a bit overwhelming.  How do you put down roots in a city that seems to be so fluid?

Now that I think about it perhaps that explains the need to paint the repaint the house we’re living in and get things planted in the garden ASAP, to get the curtains down and new ones up. There is a need to somehow change it from a house to a home.  In a city with so much flux and movement it feels like having a place to call home is important, a place where things are familiar and comfortable.
Part of me feels guilty that I can’t just make do with the colour/patterns of the carpet in the hall and landing. There are refugees that have slept the night in tents across the world. There are people who would love to live in this area near the sea and in the west of Ireland. Be grateful for what you have and stop complaining about the look of a mahogany chest. Stop driving the wheels of consumerism! Stop wasting the churches money!
But living in our last house nearly drove me crazy. It had no natural light. We made do with paper thin short curtains that didn’t block out the street light depriving me off many hours sleep.  It was hard to heat so we froze.

There is also the weird dynamic at play that it is also a ‘manse‘.
So it is our house but it is also the churches house. They are your landlord. In another sense they are  your landlord who is also your spouses boss.  Blurred lines.

road trips and stuff

I’m disorientated, we’re just back from a road trip to ____ via_____ with a stop in ____ all through the traditional Irish weather of grey murk and mist with a spot of mizzle thrown in.

We’re thinking about the future and where we might be ‘called’ to so we went to check out a place or two. It has been a fairly unsettling process so far. Or that might be just my perspective. What are you supposed to do and how are you supposed to do it?

I was trying to think of an analogy but couldn’t come up with one. I was thinking along the lines of ‘It’s a bit like being a married to someone in the Army when you have been wondering about pacifism‘.
Perhaps you could add ‘It’s like being married to a woman officer in the army wondering about pacifism and knowing that you’re going to be posted somewhere else not being able to control where you might be posted next
So you not only have questions about the organization you have links with and how they do things sometimes but you’re doing things slightly differently to how they have been done by virtue of being married a woman. Also the woman might come from a different culture to the main centre of culture, if that makes sense.

In one respect our church allows more freedom in the process of finding a church when a minister has finished their training as you won’t be sent to a specific parish by a bishop or some high ranking committee. So if you have always loved the country and grew up in the farm you might be able to find a rural congregation that fits in with your natural gifts and outlook on life. You won’t have a bishop sending you to an inner city parish.

But on the other hand there is a weird zone in which you don’t know if it’s good to be pro-active and set your heart on a place/s as the congregation mightn’t want you. Do you wait for them to call or do you go knocking their door? There is also the fact that you will have less options if you are female as some congregations wouldn’t consider having a woman as their minister as they believe that Paul in the Bible doesn’t allow that. So if there are say 20 congregations that needed a minister,maybe 10 of those might see a female name and automatically rule them out or think them less than ideal or a second choice.  I would be reluctant to class that as sexism but I’m not sure how to term it. It is hard whenever you know our church officially ordains both women ministers and elders but doesn’t seem overly pushed about it. Even in a congregation that mightn’t be completely closed to the idea of having a woman minister you wonder if the preference would still be for a man. What if the woman decided to have a family for instance? That might disrupt things and the swing of church life might be broken up. It might just be easier with a man. I’ve a feeling the next while is going to be tough going.

CS…aye right.

I wasn’t expecting C.S. Lewis to have an opinion on woman priests when I randomly grabbed a book of the bookshelf for some bedtime reading but there you go, he did and old C.S Lewis. wasn’t in favour of them back in 1948.

This was an unexpected turn of events as I’ve always been used to  Lewis quotes being used on other people in sermons and talks, in blog posts and books. I’ve never really appreciated his writing that much but always appreciated a well placed quote or soundbyte used on someone else at a the right moment.
But now he has gone and made it all personal or something like that with me being married to ‘a priestess’

‘To us a priest is primarily a representative, a double representative, who represents us to God and God to us. Our very eyes teach us this in church. Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East – he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second.’

I’m not really going to loose sleep over this.
Well actually maybe I am, because here I am typing this at 2.26am loosing sleep over this. I’m not sure if it’s his saying that a woman can’t represent God or his idea of what a priest is or should be that has me loosing sleep.
Are priests, ministers and pastors special people who’s job it is to represent God?
That maybe unsettles me more that the women shouldn’t be priests line.Because it seems to play into the notion that ministers should be special people and all the pressure that brings as well.That whole congregation is watching you and looking to you for inspiration. It plays into the notion that the most important person in a church is the minister and that the priesthood of all believers is just a catchphrase. It also might play into the idea that the minister represents God more than other people represent God as he (or she these days) is the expert.

Right, got that out of my system. Time for sleep.

the church organization man

I am not doing a good job at finishing books at the moment. The problem maybe starts in picking books from the beginning that are just going to be hard going. So I’ve been wading through the first few chapters of a book called ‘The Organization Man‘ by William H. Whyte.

I am drawn to this book because I guess that I see something of ‘the organization’ in church and wonder if it says anything interesting. (I’m probably more drawn to it because it’s an old Penguin book that I bought in Galway last summer and I’m trying to read the books I’ve bought. I hate the thought that I spent 2 euro on nothing and that means that I’ll try reading books that are a bit boring.)

I struggle a lot to feel at home in the Presbyterian church (or maybe any church) as there is something that doesn’t seem to want to allow ‘me’ in. I don’t know how to describe things but I’ll try. It’s like you have to be homogenized to truly fit in or accept that you will have to suck it up to get along with things being the way they are or pretend that things are great even when they’re maybe not deep inside. This is something I wrestle with constantly as I can’t see how it will ever be resolved.
How do you remain yourself in an organization that you don’t feel particularly comfortable in?
Do you just have to accept it and keep trucking on?

To pick an example some people in church think you should get involved with worship because you play the guitar.
The minister might be completely determined that church worship will be more dynamic with two acoustic guitars compared to one because in his head two guitars equals more of a team, more fellowship in worship and better worship. The church is being a more dynamic organization.
This is the over riding principle in his head. More involvement and integration means better music.

He will not listen to the person who actually plays the acoustic guitar saying things like
‘I can’t hear my guitar’ or ‘You don’t need two acoustic guitars, it doesn’t actually help the sound of the music’ or even the plain ‘I don’t feel called to’ or any other legitimate reasons. It’s like all that hard earned knowledge about the guitar that you the individual has gained over the years become redundant in the church because bigger issues are at play. Taking part or being seen to be taking part is far more important than how things actually sound. You end up bringing your guitar along and playing even though you can’t hear your own guitar. You think it’s ridiculous that you can’t hear your own guitar but somewhere you are fighting that because somehow it will be for the good of church community by keeping the minister happy. If you can’t hear your guitar how is anyone else going to? It doesn’t seem to matter.

I’m sure I’ve blogged about that sort of thing many times before. But it’s a constant struggle. And it seems to be cranked up more at the moment as ministers seem to be going after people not being committed enough to church. It’s like someone has worked out that we have a very selfish culture and that the church should counter act that by not being selfish and doing things we don’t feel like doing.

Which of course we should and do have to do.
But I think the individual and his view of things falls through the cracks so often. The organization is constantly deemed more important than the individual. Elders are made to do things that they don’t want to do because the minister is convinced that it’s best for the church if they do the thing he wants done.

It’s also a struggle from a creative point of view.

Whyte talks about this in the book and how there is a struggle between coming up with ideas, thinking outside the box, going against the grain etc and administrators who want order, consensus and goals.

We’re famous in the Presbyterian church for having committees and sub committees, committees on committees. liking order and traditions.

On the other hand things like messy intuition, aimless thoughts or questions that wander of course aren’t appreciated or valued because committees focus on agreement and order. These things inhibit creativity and make it hard for people who have been made that way.

The way the PCI is set up it great in many ways but I don’t think it lends itself to being creative and that make it’s people like me wary of it. Will I have to strip away those bits of me to fit into this organization? But I don’t want to to that so what do we do?

I guess that I was thinking about this sort of stuff after seeing pictures of the Pope resigning this week.

Forgive me if this now swings into an ungraceful rant about the Vatican.

Something about the Pope and all the cardinals, bishops and the church governance makes me feel so uncomfortable and frustrated.
I don’t know why it freaks me out so much, or how to talk about it without sounding like a bigot. It makes me angry.

The problem I have with the position of Pope is that he is my brother yet he is a brother that I can’t challenge. He is a brother that has security guards and goes around in it strange clothes and robes that I am supposed to respect and show great reverence for as he is the head of the Roman Catholic church. I can’t say things about him as I might offend friends and their religion. Yet their religion is also my religion. So that is the tension. I can’t have communion in their church even though it’s not their church, I’m as important a member as anyone in the Vatican.

It makes me frustrated. I can’t relate to their way of church governance. Yet it’s also somehow related to me.

So I’m not sure what I’m talking about.
Don’t take this one as a reasoned and sensible post. It’s a rant about the Pope and I’m wrestling with stuff at the moment. But there is something about it all the pushes all my buttons.

cranky at the church

I know that I am often cranky at ‘the church’.

My local church wherever they have been or are, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the local church, the world wide church. I’m a very ecumenical man in my crankiness.

This crankiness seems to be in the family genes a bit from conversations I’ve had with family members, this frustration with the way things are and have been. Some of the crankiness is perhaps legitimate.

I know that holding on to anger is not a good place to be, that being cynical and frustrated with church is not a good place to be, but it’s hard to move on from it sometimes.
There are probably lots of different reasons for the crankiness levels and all those reasons are playing off each other at different times but I reckon the main problem is that I take out my frustrations, my disappointments and anger with God in my own personal life out on the church. When I say personal life I also mean things like ‘Why hasn’t this worked out, I’ve tried so hard?’ or ‘Why does this keep on happening to this person?’ or ‘How could you allow this genocide to happen?

I can’t see God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit but if the church is somehow ‘the body of Christ’ something which I can see that with my own two eyes, and hear with my ears and experience in my ordinary week then maybe its not surprising that my complaints and frustrations with God are projected on to the next best thing, the church.

Perhaps specifically this might lead to extreme grumpiness with a minister, a priest or pastor because we assume that they’re the professional God people and if anyone should know what God is up to it should be them.

Everybody who knows me knows that I’ve a bit of miserable sod the past few years.
I’ve wanted things to be a bit easier than they’ve been,
to not feel like I’ve been in exile or what have you,
but things have just clunked along with feet of lead, or feet of clay, perhaps one foot lead, the other clay.
God has seemed silent or a figment of my imagination, a fairy tale sometimes because where is he in the ordinary day. It is my own fault as well of course, I haven’t done things that would have helped.

Yet I have no shame in saying that I’m weak. I needed help to do things I that I don’t find easy to do and God seemed silent. H____ quoted C.S. Lewis in her sermon a few weeks.

“When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”

I’d feel embarrassed or ashamed to call my experience suffering compared to what I know others have had to go through and are going through. Yet it’s this feeling that God has somehow left the building that is wearing me down and making me cranky. Of course it’s not all about meeting Jesus in the rose garden but it all just seems to much weighted towards struggle and lacking in the miraculous.

I guess that I’ve been reflecting on this stuff a bit as we think about what is going to happen next. It worries me a bit having so much crankiness fuel stored up in the tank for the road ahead.

the 15th of January

So in a sense we made it, we got to a milestone in that from today , the 15th of January H__ could have her own church, a church in which she is the minister and I am officially the ministers wife.
This could happen soon or it could be in another year, it may not happen at all but it theoretically could happen, she is someone ready to be called. What does that mean? What lies ahead?
I don’t think it’s been an understatement to say that I’ve been completely dislocated by this whole experience of moving to somewhere that was in some sense chosen by people I don’t know, it was something that I was prepared to do but I never really settled and if truth be told I liked living in Dublin. Belfast has been a struggle,perhaps I resented different things too much.

I never really liked Belfast even when I was a student in Queens, I know lots of people love it but we just haven’t gelled at all. And I’ve been a nightmare to live with, I’ve withdrawn from people and being unemployed (or strictly speaking self employed) means that I’ve been hermit like.

So part of me wonders what the next move will be like? What will happen now that we’ve more of a say in our options? Yet also we’ve also less options because there are some churches that disagree with women ministers and won’t be interested. The major fear is that our next move will be as hard as this move was. That freaks me out. I’d like home of sorts, not just a house. So 15th January, you’ve been marked, a little stone alter of blog words has been left. Exile was tough, I want a home.