Peter's Blog

Readers Conference

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Shuna Dicks and Peter Johnston

With Issue 11 of Spill the Beans hot off the press last night, finally, Shuna Dicks (minister at Aberlour Kirk) and I found ourselves this morning leading a workshop on Spill the Beans for a group of Readers from Buchan Presbytery. With the last issue so fresh in my mind, at least, I had no problems chatting about it!

If you are not familiar with the role of Reader within the Kirk, a Reader is a non-stipendiary ministry of church members who have trained to lead worship and do so frequently to cover for ministers who are away, or, increasingly, in more permanent roles such as locums for vacant congregations. Both Shuna and I were amazed at how many Readers there are in Buchan Presbytery, it is a tremendous resource for the presbytery. It was, therefore, no surprise to see that the Readership was well used and in statistics presented at the start of the morning we saw that around 40% of all services held in the presbytery had been led by a Reader.

They were an enthusiastic bunch of folks and it was a delight to be able to spend some time chatting with them.

After talking a bit about the genesis of Spill the Beans, its ethos, content and how we put it together, Shuna and I decided we would give a taster of what our planning video conferences are like. Shuna had picked two bible passages, both from John 6, to give us two very different challenges. The first is the very familiar story of the Feeding of the 5,000. The second was a later dialogue in the chapter in which Jesus declares himself to be the Bread of Life. Two different challenges. One because of its familiarity, though being a very vivid story to tell, the other with a lot more symbolism and nuance that makes it rather more challenging, particularly for younger folks to grasp the meaning and themes.

Having spent some time gathering initial thoughts and ideas about each passage, we split into two groups, one to focus on each passage and how you would engage the congregation in the story.

This produced some super ideas, from trying to retell the story of the feeding of the miultitide by means of creating a recipe, to a drama in which two brothers, one of whom had been present at the feeding on this hillside and returned home with one of those baskets full of leftovers much to the confusion of his Pharisee brother, try to find Jesus to see what special miracle he was to do next, and instead find him deep in discussion about matters of want and need.

It is perhaps easier to engage the young in a story like the feeding of the 5,000 than in a pure dialogue scene. Nonetheless, when one of the groups was challenged to think how they would engage young people with the themes of "I am the Bread of Life" the discussion turned to other things that are deemed essential to life today. Would Jesus today, in discussing with a younger audience talk about himself as "I am the WiFi of life"? Worth exploring as an idea. This led us into a discussion of the difference between what is physical, touchable, literal and the symbolic, spiritual, ethereal. In short step we wondered how imagery of cloud storage impacts our understanding, and could be used as a modern way of understanding the spiritual dimensions of life. We cannot see it, but whenever we send images or files or videos up to the web, whether to cloud storage or something like facebook or YouTube, we know it is there, it is just that it exists in a kind of ethereal plane far removed from the drawers of old Polaroids and VHS tapes of family get togethers.

The plethora of facebook films that spread over facebook in the past week or two are an example of this. Watching a short 1 minute video of "our lives on facebook" with pictures from across our time in facebook, is a reminder that everything we have done is stored away, the images are there, our e-lives exist, if in a different plane.

Related, but looking more at the negative side of this is the super tv series Black Mirror which explores some of these issues and the ethics of them, and makes for fascinating viewing.