Good enough is just going to have to be good enough

14 10 2010

Today has been a bit of a reality check. But an intentional one. Not one of those unexpected occasions that brings you down to earth with a bump.

I spent a significant part of the day working on my project and diary planning for the next three weeks or so. It very quickly became apparent when I compared what I have to do with what time I have available, that I have taken too much on.

That hasn’t led to any desperate soul searching on my part. I am not about to offload any of it. There’s either no-one to give it to, or it’s too late to pull out or it’s an essential ongoing commitment. Or a combination of all of the above. Seriously, believe me. I’m not being a martyr.

No, reality was biting in a different way.

A week or two ago my colleague returned from a meeting with his work consultant. One of the things that had really stuck out for him from their conversation was the thought that one of the things that kills your effectiveness – in ministry, probably in any work – is perfectionism. Notice I said perfectionism – that’s the drive to make things perfect. That’s not the same thing at all as saying that what one does is perfect. In fact, perfectionism tends to leave one with the feeling that nothing one does is ever good enough.

But when I really worked out when I was going to do what I need to do; and tried to ensure that I was building in getting to bed before midnight on most nights instead of as a rare exception; and having a proper rest day at least once a week; and making sure that prayer is a priority, I realised that I was going to have to be strict with myself. The limited time I have allocated to the tasks I have, is all the time I have. I am just going to have to get better at working out how to do something in one hour that previously would have taken two or more.

Partly that is about just getting on with it and not faffing around the edges of a task. But also it’s going to mean it’s going to have to be the best it can be with an hour spent on it; not the best I can possibly make it, however long it takes. And do you know, I think faffing around has perversely to do with that same perfectionism. It’s because I’m labouring under a vision of whatever I’m working on that the actuality can never live up to. It’s fear of mediocrity that keeps me from actually just ploughing in and getting it done. Hence perhaps losing the way with Sunday mornings. Most likely because of being afraid of something being less than perfect. My near constant state of exhaustion from having to play catch up in the wrong sort of time (ie: when i should be playing/resting/sleeping) means mediocre is what I sometimes (often?) end up delivering – most of all in terms of the time and attention I give to those closest to me.

If I was a teacher, I’d probably want every lesson to be outstanding. But my suspicion is that any teacher who wants to actually have a life outside school will tell you that’s impossible. Good is good enough. It has to be. There’s a time and a place for excellence. But just like your battles, you have to pick your moments. Trying to make them all the very best will mean none of them can be.

Some of you out there are probably saying: ‘Well, duh!’ If so, well done for getting there before me. I’ve known this for… well probably forever. Will this be the time I finally nail it? It would be nice. But having failed to do so for the past 21 years of my working life, I am a little skeptical. But maybe this time…





Too much of a good thing

13 10 2010

Another thing called Sanctuary. A dodgy sci-fi show off the telly.

Rebranding has something of a bad press. The most notorious in this country is the renaming of the Royal Mail as Consignia. So furious was the reaction that it wasn’t long before it was changed right back again. It’s frequently mentioned by the tabloids whenever they’re having a good old laugh at the ‘millions’ that get paid to branding consultants to redraw a familiar logo or rename something that had a perfectly good name all along. It’s one of those things that is popularly regarded as an example of the emperor’s new clothes or the exchange of wedge for not new rope.

Back when I had a proper job, I got involved myself in branding and corporate identity work. It’s a bit of a soft target for that sort of scorn. A lot more thought goes into the process than it appears when you just set an old logo against a new one and write a headline saying how much this change cost. There is often a much more thoroughgoing root and branch reform of the organisation’s communications. But in the end, much as it pains me, I have to admit that branding and advertising is, essentially, cack wizardry. [<–for a fine example of having one’s cake and simultaneously eating it, see the preceding paragraph.]

You’d think, given my years of experience in the field of cacromancy, including the dark arts of nomenclature, that I’d be all right at coming up with names for stuff. And to be fair, it wasn’t a bad moniker for a chat about faith and stuff in the pub or for a bit of breakfast and some stories in a room in a tower block. But I probably should have done better than just calling them both pretty much the same thing. Thus, Sunday evening faith chat in the pub: Sanctuary; Sunday morning breakfast and Bible Stories: the Sunday Sanctuary.

It got interesting when some people started coming to both.
‘Will I see you at Sanctuary?’
‘Which one?’
‘The one on Sunday.’

But the straw that broke the camel’s back for my somewhat lazy nomenclative twinning was the establishment of our new evening service. For a dreadful moment I considered, and maybe even suggested, that we call it, you guessed it: Sanctuary. I thought about naming it Sanctuary 2, renaming my pub chat, Sanctuary 3, and Sunday mornings Sanctuary 1.

Sanctuary 1? Sounds very much like Sanctus 1! I think our friends in the North would justifiably have prosecuted us for ‘passing off’. We would have been the Fresh Expression equivalent of ‘Ken Lucky’s Fried Chicken’. Another possibility I explored was calling the evening service ‘Presence’ — a name I’d nicked off David Cundill, pioneer blokey in Leicester.

The business of naming fresh expressions is getting a bit like the business of securing a domain name. Names are getting more and more obscure and ridiculous in an attempt to be simultaneously unique and memorable. I mean: ‘moonpig’. What’s that got to do with customised greetings cards?

So in the end, we plumped for…

The colon is part of it. The colon is an important part of our gathering… its name; its name. It’s a fairly pretentious way of suggesting that whatever space we manage to create is both full of possibility and awaiting interpretation. More about that (the gathering, not the colon) in another post.

And at the same time, I decided it was time to perform separation surgery on the conjoined twins of Sunday mornings in the tower block and Sunday evenings in the pub so that they were free to live their own lives. And so, having secured the domain name ‘pubfaith.org.uk’ (still congratulating myself on that one) I decided to rename my Sunday night pub chat ‘PUB:FAITH’. There’s that colon again. I was obviously concerned that the backlash on changing such a well-loved and nationally renowned brand would be difficult, just as it was for the Royal Mail/Consignia, but I suspect it won’t quite have the power to force me into a reversal. I am braced though.





One step forward…

11 10 2010

I posted at the weekend about the hugely encouraging breakthrough that there had been in forging one community among those who gather Sunday by Sunday in Wilmcote House, despite some clear differences of approach to what that gathering should be about. I wanted to celebrate that, and I still do. I hope not to lose sight of that in what follows.

But it does often feel that renewed challenges follow hot on the heels of every ‘win’.

It was a relatively simple matter for the PCC in the end to complete the review of the Sunday Sanctuary and gather all the fragments of our discernment process together. Because there had emerged at the same time as that was all going on, between my colleague Alex and myself, a desire; an intention to create a new evening service, that would offer a different sort of space from both Sunday mornings in Wilmcote House and Sunday mornings in St Peter’s. More of that in another post.

The upshot, though, was that there would be an outlet for the more established members of the Sunday Sanctuary to express their spirituality through contemporary sung worship and quiet contemplation. Thus it no longer felt necessary, or appropriate (given the response to the suggestion from our newer friends) to try and shoehorn those things into Sunday mornings at Wilmcote House. So far, so positive.

It was clear from our wider discernment that we didn’t need to persist with keeping the Sunday Sanctuary open for two hours. Residents of Wilmcote House liked the idea of a slightly later start and others were finding the long morning hard going, especially those working to keep the kitchen open.

We had been moving towards closing the kitchen at about 11:00 and I had often notified people of that with ‘last orders’ announcement; which, unfortunately, frequently had the effect of creating a rush and making it more difficult to gather people for our all together time. (It made it virtually impossible for kitchen workers to join the all-together time as they had to clear up a new batch of dirty plates, cups and so on.)

So we decided that the Sunday Sanctuary would open at 10:30 instead of 10:00. The kitchen would close at 11:00 and be followed immediately by our all-together time. 11:45-12:00 would be tidy up time, which we would all share together, not simply as a clear up after the real activity but an important part of the expression of our life as a new community. (Kitchen clear-up was to wait until then too, so that kitchen helpers could join the all-together time.)

We also thought that the time between 11:30 and 11:45 might involve differentiated activities so each age group got the sort of stimulation that reflected its unique needs.

As I write this, I think this all sounds right and good. But we haven’t perhaps been as good as we might have been at sticking to that schedule and that may be at the root of some of our problems this half term.

Because it hasn’t felt to me as if we have really been hitting the mark since our restart. There have been lots of good things. The barbecue our first week back was a really good way to come back together. And of course it was encouraging after something of a break that we did all come back together. I think taking a break in future might seem a little odd. It felt odd, actually, during the summer. Projects take a break. Communities – churches? – do not.

Somehow, in between making a clear choice not to include sung worship and an ongoing effort to avoid cutting and sticking (for those who hated the ‘Sunday School’ feel that it had on occasion) we have ended up with a lot of up-front talking. Storytelling has been and remains an essential part of our shared identity. And I’m a firm believer in storytelling as an art form in its own right. There is a place for a variety of ways to share stories – story sacks, puppetry, pictures, film clips – but above all I think a really engaging storyteller simply speaking a tale can hold the attention of a group. But somehow our style (mostly delivered by me) has become flabby, unengaging and drawn out. Instead of being punchy and exciting, the stories and most especially the reflection following have become long-winded and talky.

In the past few weeks I have noticed that nobody has really been engaged. The youngest children are gravitating back to the Lego, which in a very echoey room is very distracting. The parents and older children are trying to draw their children/siblings’ attention back and the adults without children there are distracted by all of that going on. And on occasion when I’ve been speaking, I’ve been wondering who I’m actually speaking to!

It has brought me for the first time in ages to question my personal commitment to intergenerational community/church. Is it really possible to hold the attention of a middle-aged professional at the same time as you’re engaging a pre-schooler from a refugee family with next to no English? If your comparison is with school, then you’d say: ‘Of course not!’ Vertical teaching groups can work, but the age span is not normally more than two years. But if your comparison is not with education but with, say, a family meal, especially a special celebratory meal like Christmas dinner, then it’s not nearly so clear cut. But maybe I have confused the idea that ‘we only do apart what we cannot do together’ with some notion that we do nothing apart.

[Editor’s note – and I’m the editor! – this post has well and truly now broken the short post rule. Commitments are dropping like flies all around. 😉 ]

Of course, we are rather stuck in that we are in one room. There are not alternative spaces except for outside in the good weather (we have taken children outside for a game or activity). But when it’s getting colder, it becomes much more of a challenge to create discrete spaces – especially with the awful acoustics that this room has (very echoey).

The lesson I’ve learnt from being married to a teacher and being involved in a local primary school is that if we are not engaging people, children especially, it’s because we’re not engaging not because the people are not responding appropriately.

So what to do?

Funnily enough, the thought that has occurred to me is to go back to the liturgy. To look back into the shape of the Eucharist and see how the moments and movements of that might be reinterpreted in our setting. It may be that we need to make the occasional simple sharing of bread and wine into a more regular feature.

That might seem like quite a conceptual leap from talking too much not working to let’s have a simple sort-of-communion each week. But there’s something about the way we’re having to reinvent the wheel each week that I think is giving us a bit of a headache. And actually to start with sharing a meal: breakfast; and to conclude with sharing a simple commemorative meal: bread and wine (grape juice actually) gives the whole thing something of a shape that maybe it’s lacking. Within that, there are moments for gathering, self-examination and reflection, hearing and reflecting on one of our inherited stories, looking out to the wider world and giving thanks, that might just give us the structure that will keep things moving along in a much more dynamic way. It might also help us to express our newfound community-ness more wholeheartedly in the content and shape of our mornings together, not just in the sheer fact of our coming together. And I think the times that have worked best have been those occasions when we have shared food that has some symbolic, nay sacramental, significance – a high point for me, was the simple passover we shared when we were journeying through the stories of Moses.

I’ll let you know how things develop…

[If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I’d welcome your comments. 🙂 ]





We’re one, but we’re not the same

9 10 2010

So what do I need to tell you to bring you up to date with all that’s going on in the world of pioneering in Pompey? I suppose if I am going to stick to my new short post rule, it had better be one thing at a time. I think the last thing I reported (ignoring for a second my musings after a home communion) was that we, the Sunday Sanctuary, were about to embark on a process of discernment. We were going to try to work out the best way forward for us as a whole community — former members of St Luke’s and newer members from Wilmcote House. And by working out, I don’t mean just figuring it out for ourselves. I mean that through our reflection and sharing, we are intentionally looking to participate in the emergence of God’s future for our community. (I’ll unpack a bit more of what I mean by that in a future post.)

But just to explain how we actually went about it… On two consecutive Sundays, we gathered as usual and shared a welcome and breakfast together. Then, when it came to our circle/all-together time, we explained the three options that the PCC had come up with. These were meant to be a basis for conversation, not a straightjacket. We approached the process with an openness, an expectation, even, that something else could emerge that we hadn’t considered yet.

So after explaining the options, we encouraged people to spend some time in quiet, reflecting on each of the options. Adults and older children each had a sheet that invited them to write down one thing that excited them about each idea and one thing that concerned them. The younger children each had a sheet with smiley faces. They needed an adult to help them, reading the options to them and showing how to use the sheets. We then followed that with a time where everyone, of every age was encouraged to share in turn. We set some boundaries for this sharing. We went round the circle twice; first sharing our concern and then the second time around sharing what excited us about each idea. There was to be no comment from others as each person shared. Each person was to be listened to and their contribution allowed to stand. We followed that with a time of more freeflowing conversation.

I had intended to conclude this time by describing what I perceived to be the mind of the group and then inviting people to participate in a five-finger vote on what I would be suggesting. There was a little bit of disquiet from one or two of the church council members when we mentioned voting. I think I had not explained clearly enough what this meant. It wasn’t about taking a decision that properly belonged to the council, but simply a way for people to express their support or otherwise for what I would have been suggesting as a distillation of the conversation so far.

As it was, there wasn’t enough unanimity to formulate a single expression of the mind of the gathering. But that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t unity. I don’t think that unity is the same thing as unanimity (and this isn’t what you’re looking for in a discernment process anyway). But on what basis can I claim that there was unity? I can’t give you a concrete moment. It’s more a sense that I have, and others shared, that it mattered to everyone what happened; that our newer friends viewed themselves as belonging to the Sunday Sanctuary, not merely people who come to something.

I think I probably can identify a couple of explicit things that are signs of that. First, there was the fact that our newer members fully participated in the discernment process and were not embarrassed or reticent about sharing their responses. Second, those same newer members were concerned about making our time together more churchy and in expressing that, it became clear that they really value the way we do things together on a Sunday morning.

When you put that together with the desire from the more established members to share the discernment process with our newer members, I think it’s evident that we are well on the way to becoming one community. We’re not of one mind. But we are one body.

I’ll tell you more about how it has all worked out practically in another post, because this is already too long! But for now I think I’m happy to celebrate this moment. I am blown away that we have come together in this way so soon after we started.