When I was back in Scotland, one of the most frequent questions I got asked was, ‘What’s a normal day like for you?’
I didn’t really know how to answer it because in ministry — as in other vocations, I suspect — one day blurs into another and I lose track of how I spend my time.
So to answer the question: maybe it wasn’t entirely typical, but my first full day back to work went a bit like this…
8am: Visa Renewal. Justin and I went to the office as soon as it opened to avoid the queues. After staring at the Hebrew on the machine where you get your numbered ticket for a couple of minutes, we gave up and asked for help. V100, our ticket said. A few minutes later C100 was called. No one went forward. I knew we were next so I went to the desk. ‘That’s V100, not C100,’ the woman said in Hebrew, checking her computer. I stayed seated, nodded, and just stared back at her. She typed something, and V100 appeared on the tv screen above her. In English: ‘You’re the right number now. What do you want?’ I tried not to roll my eyes. Probably failed. … Paperwork. Questions. Pictures. We’ll go back tomorrow to collect our visas after a police check has been run. Hopefully. I’ll breathe again when I have my passport back.
A morning of admin, catching up on emails after the holidays, looking at Sunday’s readings, starting to put together the service sheet.
10am: A phone call from a travel agent in Tel Aviv who has connections with the Scots Hotel. I wanted to pass her details along to a Scottish church group interested in visiting. We had a great chat about the history of the hotel, the worship services at the church, and the different ways the managers at the hotel and I can share with guests more about both the historical and present ministry of the Church of Scotland in Israel-Palestine. The Scots Hotel is well known and respected across the land, and while I certainly don’t want to be seen to be proselytising and trying to convert anyone here, I also don’t want to be apologetic about the fact that we are a Christian hotel trying to live out the gospel in the way the hotel operates and the ways it engages with the local community.
11.30am: A phone call from someone who was handed a Hebrew copy of the Gospel of Matthew and Psalms outside St Andrew’s, possibly by a visiting group of Americans, and wanted to know if there was a study class at the church. He asked intelligent questions, was genuinely interested in knowing more, and clearly has a good sense of humour, so we’re meeting for coffee tomorrow. ‘Do you look like a typical minister?’ he asked as we were giving brief descriptions of ourselves so we’d be able to recognise one another. ‘Probably not,’ I laughed. (After three years of wearing my clerical collar six days a week, I now barely clock six hours a week in it, especially in 40C heat.)
12 noon: Sifting through some of the letters and documents from the British Mandate period which I brought up from the church to the house, looking for letters from Dr David Watt Torrence who founded the hospital. Some of these will go in the hotel Visitors’ Centre. Most of it will go back to Scotland to be archived properly.
Late lunch with a friend. An afternoon in the shade by the Sea of Galilee, resting, dreaming, watching the sun play on water and thinking about my priorities for the next couple of months, trying to let some of the anxieties float off in the breeze. Now that it’s summer, I’m far more comfortable writing off the afternoons. It’s too hot to do serious work.
A late afternoon/evening of randomness: A pastoral phone call to someone connected with the church who is having a really hard time at the moment. Arranging a couple of meetings, some pastoral, some with partners, some with pilgrimage agents, trying to get the diary organised (HA!) for the next couple of weeks or so. Revising the St Andrew’s church brochure. Looking ahead to Christmas (yes, I know it’s only July, but this year, unlike last, I have PLANS). Catching up on emails and drawings for the church renovation project. Thinking about a visit from some MSPs next week and how I might share some of the work of the CoS with them. Laundry. Reading — news, Sunday’s texts again, a few interesting pieces online.
Monday is often my ‘home day’, the day when I introvert after Sunday, the day I pretend I have a plan for the days ahead. So maybe today was pretty typical … for a Monday. It kind of gives you a small sense of the variety of the work out here, and the reason why I love it so much.
The rest of this week? Well, I’ll spend part of it at the hotel trying to find out the gossip after three weeks’ absence, and the rest of it I’ll be driving around the north of Israel, watching today’s plan disintegrate as both the fluidity of ministry life and Middle Eastern timekeeping wreak havoc on my carefully crafted schedule.