Musings from the Manse

Dear Friends,

Rev Helen Higgin-Botham

I am writing this after spending four days up at the URC’s ‘Home in the Lakes’, the Windermere Centre. Being June, it’s been Minister’s Summer School – which is not, as some have commented, a ‘jolly’, but rather an intensive time of discernment and learning for URC Ministers and CRCW’s (Church Related Community Workers) of the North Western Synod. This year we were also joined by colleagues from Northern Synod.

Whilst we also covered material on Synod Matters, relished some Bible Study from Lawrence Moore, looked at Resourcing Mission and the Theology and Resources for the ‘Radical Welcome’ Campaign – our main speaker was Andrew Graystone, who is the Director of The Church and Media Network. This is an organisation which ‘builds bridges of understanding between the media and the Christian community’, as well as running ‘theMediaNet’, which offers support and resources to Christians working in media. That was as much as I knew before going to Windermere – but I felt it would be an interesting few days.

After arriving on Monday, I made my way to Room 101 to settle in! (For the unaware, the TV show ‘Room 101’, was a programme in which celebrities pleaded a case to have their pet hates plunged into oblivion)

I did wonder if the Synod was trying to tell me something – still, unfazed and sated after a wonderful lunch, I made ready for the first session.

Though some free time is factored in, Summer School is not for the faint-hearted as sessions can continue almost back to back from 9 in the morning until 9 in the evening. However, it does give an opportunity to think and reflect on things we would not readily come across in daily pastorate life.

In this year’s context we began by looking at ‘Culture, Christianity and Creativity’ – i.e. How we as Christians understand our relationship with culture; How can we hear what the world is saying to the Church; Should we embrace the culture in which we minister or reject it; How can we develop a practical framework for reading and responding to cultural objects and trends?

Next it was ‘A beginner’s guide to digital culture’ – looking at how the ‘digital revolution’ is changing the way we work, shop, bank, communicate, play and even worship – and reflecting on how Christians can find their way through the digital jungle; What the challenges and opportunities for the church are; What it might mean to be a disciple in a digital future?

Then we looked at the key theological challenges of the digital age – possibly the scariest part of the whole thing! The digital culture may be passing some of us by, but for many in our society – especially the youth – it is a major factor to their whole being. Did you know that anyone who engages in the digital culture is likely to have a kind of ‘multiple personality disorder’? For instance, on Email you have the persona for your log-in; on ‘Twitter’, you have your ‘Tweet’ persona; your ‘Blog’ persona might blog away your spare time; you can have a digital ‘Avatar’ who we might embody in the many virtual world’s such as ‘Second Life’ or ‘My Farm’; a Facebook profile will allow a person to access friends and family in order to share in every aspect of life.

In many ways it is an amazing culture to be a part of – but like many other things it is open to abuse – as we often see and hear. The challenge, both as Christians and as Ministers, was crystal clear; yet it felt way out of my comfort zone!

One of the weirdest experiences we had was to be a part of ‘St. Pixel’s’ on-line worship, accessed through Facebook. This half-hour session, accessed at different times in different time zones, is open to anyone wanting to join it (providing you have a Facebook account!) and is a digital version of ‘church’ with a whole congregation joining in through the ether!! Weird, but strangely comforting!

Having been home now for 24hours, my head is still buzzing with information and reflection – but Sunday morning waits for no-one, and so I must get back to worship preparation!

Yours in Christ,

Helen   <><

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