Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Oh, yes, another notice...

Returning the motorhome from Christchurch to Auckland a few days ago we planned to visit the seal colony near Westport. But when we got to the entrance we were confronted with this notice warning of all kinds of dangers ahead.
Now we had no children to keep with us. Did the notice mean we couldn’t enter? Well, we took our courage in both hands and went in without children and no disaster fell upon us at all.

Perhaps the notice didn’t quite say what it intended… I guess it’s another “We heard what they said but we know what they meant” things. How often do I communicate stuff that has to be filtered and processed before people catch my meaning?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy Holidays!

One of the members of our congregation at Russell put this notice on the church to try to spread good cheer a little more widely than usual.

Today I an told that a passer-by has added:

I can think of one or two categories of other friends, too. Perhaps they will make their own claim to a place in the sun. Meanwhile, it seems our small, small congregation of three to five at Russell has achieved a fully interactive churchfront!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Dear Family and Friends.."

Fifty years ago a dozen of us who had just entered the Methodist ministry agreed to write to each other, at least at Christmas.

Not all of us kept it up, but Bev and I soon developed a wider Christmas mailing list. We rejected the Christmas card option and put the money saved into the Christmas Appeal. We distributed brief duplicated accounts of our life during each year. We’ve kept them all and they were enormously useful when I commenced to write my life story.

Today this kind of exchange of news seems to have become an international custom. The technologies of Xerox, Fax and E-mail – not to mention other more complex internet mysteries – have made our circle of acquaintances larger and our world smaller.

In the coming years Bev and I may not have the opportunity of renewing many friendships face to face. Advancing age, declining health and environmental awareness will limit our ability and willingness to travel very far overseas. But once a year it’s a pleasure to share a little of our life with upwards of 300 households and to read of theirs.

Christmas blessings to all!
PS I wonder when this custom began...?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Flying High?

As we sat at coffee recently we spotted a Mynah flying to and fro inside the airconditioned building.

It flew a large figure-of-eight loop from one end of the entire mall to the other. Every 30 seconds or so it returned in the same circuit over our table and on again. There was no way out. Worse, there was nowhere it could land to catch its breath – the building was no doubt designed that way. All it could do was fly round and back, round and back.

I guess it probably came in at ground level, looking for crumbs under the tables. Maybe the pickings weren’t much good, or perhaps it got frightened. But once it took off, it could only fly upwards under the lofty ceiling.

I was struck at first by the bird’s determined persistence and its energy, but then by the pointlessness of its effort. For all the distance that it flew, it was not getting anywhere. So much effort, for so little.

There seemed to be a bit of a moral in there for me, someplace. About keeping my feet on the ground, I suppose. All the energy I can muster isn’t going to do me or anyone else much good unless it is expended in the right context. Of course I aspire to the heavens. But I need also to be firmly earthed.
I hope it hasn't been said of me that I am so heavenly minded I am no earthly use...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Carpe diem!

While seeing out a short couple of years with prostate cancer, Brian Malcouronne published a comprehensive book of funeral resources. Based on his own wide experience and his eclectic knowledge of others’ material, "Honouring our Loved Ones" was of great value to many people, especially the growing number of lay celebrants.
However, it went out of print a few years after he died. Bev and I visited Liz recently and found that the book was Brian’s own project and the family haven’t been able to put it back into print. So, after years of saying “No – just buy
my book on how to do it yourself” I have started on another book. The ISBN numbers suggest it will be about the 115th I have done in my publishing hobby.
There’s a coincidence, of course. I, too, have prostate cancer. And, like Brian as he was putting together this great little book in 1993, I’m conscious that some things I get to do these days will be for the last time. Currently, under the onslaught of both Zoladex and Casodex, my PSA has remained unmeasurable for another three months. But there’s a ticking timebomb somewhere inside me.
Meanwhile, I have another really worthwhile publishing challenge. And, on an impulse and cheap air fares, Bev and I are flying off to Christchurch to drive another rental camper up to Auckland. The relocation rates are terrific and we’ll get to make Christmas visits to family in Christchurch, Wellington, Taupo and Auckland and be home before Christmas.
Carpe diem!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Go to the end of the road...

When we borrowed Paul’s car to drive to Canberra and back, “Jane” came along. She is a GPS navigator and gave us a lot of good advice about which way to drive and when to turn. Especially in the cities when the navigation got a bit complex.

A few times we went the wrong way and after about five seconds she would speak up “Turn around and go back”. If we ignored her advice for two or three intersections she would watch what we were doing and then give us new directions: “In 200 metres, turn right” and would get us back onto a slightly different route to the same ultimate destination.

The one I liked best was when we turned onto a side street to grab a bite to eat. When we started again Jane spoke up immediately “Go to the end of the road and turn right.” Not “go back” this time, but “turn right”. She knew better than we did that we could get back to the main road by turning right instead of making a tricky U-turn.

There must be a moral in there someplace. It’s not a bad instruction for the whole of life. Especially for someone with terminal cancer. “Go to the end of the road and turn Right”

I like that.

The last post from the GW Tour

Today we collect the last “Golden Wedding” signatures on the Big Card. Sydney family and friends will bring the total to around 125. It’s a very special record of people who are important to us.

We’ve had a marvellous time of renewing friendships and experiencing the changes in the lives of those who have been a part of our adventures during the last half century. We’ve relaxed a lot, read quite a bit and I’ve straightened out some of the more tortuous prose in my life story.

Tomorrow we start the last trip. We should be back in our own bed by late on Friday. It will be good to be home. And, especially, it will be good to rejoin our small church for services over the weekend. That fellowship is what makes our distant life in Paihia so important to us.

The tour is over. Life goes on.

Our warmest love to all who have made this journey with us.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Authority…

On the NZ Methodist “Liberal Society” email net, Ken Russell says “there is a most urgent task waiting to be done for the integrity of Methodism, and it needs our best scholars to do it. It is to clearly teach the difference between biblical and gospel authority.”
Ken is right that the task needs to be done. I think, however, that it will not be done by the “best scholars” if we are thinking only in academic terms. The “scholars” who really shaped the church I grew up in were the lay leaders who grappled with the implications of biblical literalism and said No. They were the faithful who listened to their sometimes pretty boring clergy and distilled from them the essence of a faith that was complex to explain but made serious connections with real life.
They were no doubt encouraged by ministers who wrote and spoke with clarity in church magazine and pulpit from over 100 years ago. But it was largely untrained lay people hungering after truth in a challenging age who imbued mid-20th century NZ Methodism with a sense of “gospel” authority. And they understood that it did not depend on a literal interpretation of scripture.
Any renaissance of that spirit of Methodism will require a kind of revolution from those kinds of people. We need the flaxroots theologians as well as the ivory-tower variety. It’s time for ordinary church members who have been silent in the onslaught of biblical literalism to stand up and say No.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Great GW Tour Moves On

On Saturday we hoisted the big golden “50” decoration for another gathering, this time in the Auckland region.
In this group of thirty or so there were people who first met us in every place where we have lived except one. And we had Heather, the flower girl (“It was my day, really”) and Alan, the organist from the wedding day itself.
A dying laptop battery and a road accident (not any of us) held the proceedings up for a few minutes but we still took the time to flick through the 250 photos of our married life. We then shared a few laughs, more good refreshments and much, much conversation.
How rich we are to have good friendships that can be rekindled across the decades in a few words exchanged over a savoury and a cuppa. How blessed to live in an age in which, with a small amount of inconvenience and expense for travel, we can touch base with so many people over a few weeks.
But the golden balloons which I salvaged from Paihia last week all exploded one after the other as I tried to blow them up to re-use them. Perhaps there’s a moral here – maybe we can’t base today’s life just on last week’s successes.
Perhaps not even a golden wedding is a guarantee that all will be well in the future. Watch this space!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not much wrong with the prognosis, but…

In an interesting commentary on UM PORTAL Donald Haynes of Hood Theological Seminary has highlighted the rapidly approaching crisis for the small church in USA Methodism.He speaks of the rising cost of stipends, insurance and pensions and of the dwindling number of older, serious, givers among the membership. He recirculates a series of "creative proposals" that were considered in the 1950s and pleads for "a resurgence of innovative and creative commitment to the people who brought us to the dance."' Our heritage, he says,is in the smaller-membership church.
In my view his analysis fails to identify the central issue. It's not the rising cost of clergy nor the inability or unwillingness of people to pay for them. The problem is the clergy. We pastors have conspired with our people in what I call the heretical principle that trained, ordained experts must be personally engaged in frontline ministry in every small congregation. So the answers of the 1950s, as he presents them, were all to do with spreading ordained people more thinly to "cover" every situation. No denomination can do that indefinitely.
Local Shared Ministry starts from a totally different perspective. It is “innovative and creative” and it certainly represents total commitment of the judicatory to the people of the small church. But essentially it invites commitment from the people. It declares that the ministry of the local community belongs to the whole people of God in that setting. If they don't have a fat budget and can't afford to employ a minister - or even a portion of one – the denomination must offer a strategy that enables them to get on with their mission with the resources that they have among their own membership.
LSM tells us that trained clergy can best help these congregations best by withdrawing from personal engagement in that ministry and concentrating all their skills, education and energies on enabling the local leadership to do it well themselves. It’s not a matter of walking away and leaving them to it. Last Sunday (see my previous post) Bev and I saw the results of that. But when the denomination is able to free, challenge and enable the local people, everyone’s paradigm of ministry is changed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday morning we starved

Our whimsical Theological College Principal, EW Hames, in talking about Heaven and Hell used to say, “a saint would manage to find something good about being in hell, and the devil would absolutely hate being in heaven – he wouldn’t know the tunes or how to hold his harp.”

If the leaders of the rural community church Bev and I attended yesterday knew me, they’d probably have concluded – as others have done before them – that I had horns and a tail. But in their little bit of evangelical heaven I didn’t know the tunes, I frankly disbelieved that the pus which flowed from a man’s arm was liquified cancer and I didn’t care for taking communion with no confession/absolution, no Eucharistic prayer, no words of institution but a just a couple of prayers that were "given for" the bread and the cup.

No doubt the faithful were confirmed in their faith but – again in the words of EW Hames, I think it's likely that “an unbeliever would have been confirmed in unbelief.” Well, that’s OK - worship is for the faithful. And we all have different tastes.
I think I was prepared for something that wasn’t my style. I was not surprised to encounter a very conservative theology. I didn’t count on a personal welcome from a remote church which probably never sees a visitor. But if what we experienced yesterday were the only outcome of trusting lay people to minister to the worship needs of the community the Christian cause would be at some risk in today's world.

There is a better way: Local Shared Ministry takes up the challenge, but with a structure, a strategy and support that enables faith and competence in ministry to grow together.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sunday morning we had a feast...

Rosalie, the Methodist District Co-Superintendent presided at the commissioning of our four newly called team members on Sunday. With well-chosen words she saw to it that the Gospel for the Day stirred our consciences and prompted us to renew our commitment. The singing, even in a new and rather difficult hymn, was breathtakingly inspiring.
Hohaia Matthews, of Tai Tokerau and a Uniting Church in Australia minister, enthused us with his impassioned account of the work being done with the Aboriginal and Islander Congress in Port Augusta, SA.
We then had a cuppa and reconvened at 11am for another of our parish’s “
forty minute” Annual Meetings. Ann chaired with her usual style and good humour and we listened to crisp reports on every part of the parish’s life. Elections highlighted the willingness of two new associate members to step up as Secretary and Treasurer.
Bev and I then flicked through the slides of our fifty years together and contributed a light “celebration” lunch and cut up another section of the "incredible four-in-one travelling cake". Another couple of dozen people signed the big card.

Vanessa, our new Fellowship Coordinator on the Team, went to a lot of trouble to make this occasion very special for us and for the congregation.
As well as celebrating our Golden Wedding, the lunch was our Thank You to the congregation that has been the spiritual centre of our lives together for the last eighteen years. In blessing Bev and me with its willingess to experiment with Local Shared Ministry, this parish has blessed itself with leadership which has appeared from nowhere. It has called out gifts that - under a more traditional strategy of ministry - might never have been recognised.

Sunday morning we had a feast...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Degrees and Debt and Burning Couches

New Zealand’s first university was established in Dunedin because the founders of the region believed in the value of education for their children and their children’s children.
Their commitment, out of sometimes meagre resources in the growing province, was for an institution that would benefit future generations. They recognised a need to put something in place for the future. Otago University stands today as a symbol of that investment in the future.
However, these days there is a different attitude in the air. Two-thirds of today’s students have to burden their personal future with debt averaging $29,000 in order to gain an education.
Ironically, we ask students to undertake this commitment when, as we now know, the prefrontal parts of their brains that deal with outcomes and consequences and the future, are not yet fully developed. Even more ironically, lack of this specific development will also make it likely that they will sometimes be socially irresponsible about drinking and a spot of disruption in the streets.
At a recent meeting of Dunedin’s University Club the speaker pointed out that our attitude to student debt needs to change. However, he said, Jesus didn’t propose to change society – he invited people to change themselves.
In this age of greed and consumerism - even in education - perhaps we need to think about that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The flowers are fading but the memories live on!

We had a wonderful gathering at Bev’s sister Joyce’s new home the Sunday of Labour Weekend. Another section of Robyn's and Joan’s Four-in-One Cake was ceremonially cut and we shared tasty food and good conversation about our shared interests and convictions. A great time…
This group was probably the most disparate we will find on the Great Golden Wedding Tour. There were friends from Waiwhetu days of more than half a century ago and others from parishes and other appointments we held during our married life. It was fascinating to see the links that several were able to make with each other.
On the Tuesday we bought a 1998 Forester to replace the homely old Townace as our caravan-puller. It gave us a great – and economical - ride home over the next few days. Next weekend there will be another celebration with the congregation where we find ourselves so much “at home”. Then in a couple of weeks we will be having another event in Auckland and going on to Sydney and Canberra.
Along the way we have visited many individuals who, for one reason and another, were not able to come to any of our gatherings. In one place we were struck by a remark made by one of them, that we are "a minority". Well, if the rich and full life we cherish so much involves not going along with the majority in some things, that’s OK by us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Golden Wedding Tour turns comedic...

A few days after the Dunedin gathering for our GW there was a different kind of gathering as the three congregations of the Peninsula parish of the Anglican church met for our murder mystery dinner. Bev and I got another huge buzz out of leading this.

The local suspects played their roles beautifully and the 50 players had a ball. The after-church conversations next morning were, apparently, still buzzing with enthusiasm. And the ticket charge of $30 resulted in $1500 being raised for their chosen charities, a very satisfactory outcome, thanks to our friend Joan Carter’s generous catering for the magnificent meal.
An interesting sidelight is that two of the three Peninsula congregations have Local Shared Ministry teams and the third has a part-time stipendiary priest who is also enabler for the teams. Usually, an enabler would be engaged from outside the parish, but, as with our own parish at the moment, this is not the case. It’s the kind of flexible response that is possible with LSM as part of the ministry strategy mix.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Great Golden Wedding Tour

Sunday afternoon saw about 33 of us crowded into the living room of our friends Shirley and Joan in Dunedin. There was a brisk cool westerly but it was sunny and we couldn’t help noticing later that the day’s temperature was the same as at Paihia, far to the north!

There were friends from Theological College days and many who were part of our lives in Dunedin in the 1970s. Among them, representatives of the congregations we enjoyed, the Mission position that I held, District clergy we worked with, Family Budgeting and also the intimate neighbourhood of mid-Sunbury St where we lived.

So many friends, so many memories. Some now left us- and most of us showing our age. It could have been depressing. But we had a great time. And shared stories of the younger generations gave us new optimism for the future, reminding us of the continuity of the human story and the validity of the tradition of faith.

It was impossible to spend much time with everyone but we shared a little of our recent ups and downs, told a couple of jokes and enjoyed afternoon tea together. Bev and I cut the huge cake baked by Robyn and cunningly iced in four separate sections by Joan. The remaining three will now go with us on the rest of the Tour!

Next stop, Hutt Valley, where we were married… Watch this space!

Vote for Prohibition?

I’ve never thought much about why I continue to chose not to drink alcohol but I guess that disappointment with the outcomes of the 1989 liberalisation of the sale of liquor in this country is one reason.

The lawmakers of that time had hopes for the introduction of a more civilised pattern of using alcohol. They thought that making liquor more readily available would change the binge drinking culture of 6pm closing. They believed that ready availability of alcohol in eating places would eliminate some drunkenness. And they decided, for better or for worse, that young people should have access to alcohol earlier.

Alas, the hoped-for outcomes have not appeared. Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who was in the government when the law was liberalised now finds himself appalled at what he has seen in the small hours. The Law Commission he now heads intends to ask the government to completely re-write the entire Sale of Liquor Act, not just make a few more amendments. Their discussion document highlights a whole raft of important issues and invites submissions by the end of October.

Alcohol Healthwatch, a charitable trust, is taking an even stronger stance. Led by medical and scientific experts, this group of volunteers have taken their “Ten things the liquor industry won’t tell you about alcohol” all round the country. I was fortunate to attend this presentation at Waitangi a couple of weeks ago and was very impressed with their motivation and their research. They are urging us to find a middle way between the present over-consumption and the unrealistic and dated concept of prohibition.

This is a rare opportunity to have creative input into an issue that adversely affects 700,000 drinkers in this country. The Law Commission wants to hear from us. AHW says that if alcohol had just appeared on the scene, with its known capacity to kill a thousand people a year, the country would be in the grip of widespread panic and we would have declared a national emergency.

Study the websites http://www.talklaw.govt.nz/ and http://www.ahw.org.nz/ and send a submission to the Law Commission by 31st Oct 09.

Lies and Happy Endings

The other night we went to the opening of “Yeomen of the Guard”. A splendid performance by all concerned was warmly received by the packed house.

Dunedin’s Really Authentic Gilbert and Sullivan Performance Trust are working their way, year by year, through the entire G&S repertoire. “Yeoman” was the one that G&S themselves thought was their best. It certainly shone on Friday night.

In this plot there are no fairies and there are no babies swapped in infancy and there is no “magic lozenge” (Sullivan was particularly pleased about that!),. Nor is this a very comic show. But mixed in with the great music and beautifully choreographed action the large cast told a story that relies on cunning and deceit, disguise and false assumptions.

At the end of the show, of course, apart from poor Jack Point who collapses at the final curtain, everyone lives happily ever after. It’s as if an “orchestrated litany of lies” has brought about happiness for almost everyone.

Alas, it’s not so with real courtship, marriage and families. Being authentically present “warts and all” with those we love is our only hope for a Happy Ending.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Great Golden Wedding Road Trip

We’re at Christchurch, at the end of the first stage of celebrating our Golden Wedding with family and friends all over the place.
There were just a few callers here: Timothy Spencer – No 1 grandson, finishing up at Canterbury University School of Engineering; and Victor Paul, almost unknown to us except as a very distant cousin who is also interested in the Stewart family tree. We went to dinner with each of them.
Seton Horrill, our Best Man in 1959, went with us to lunch, and Harold Surtees, our Groomsman, and Barbara came over from Akaroa for a good part of the afternoon. We’ve lived in different parts of the country for fifty years and our lives have only come together when we went out of our way for brief visits. But today we shared a few photos of the big day, had a few laughs at the hairdos and hats and reflected on what the passage of time had done to us all.
Tomorrow we move on to Dunedin where we spent a wonderful decade in the 1970s. That’s going to be another very special time. But already we have been reminded of the abiding strength of family relationships and friendships across great distances of time and space. It’s been a great start.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Alcohol in our lives

Where is the church, I asked myself, as I sat among 70 people at a recent regional forum on proposed changes in the liquor laws.
There were representatives of all kinds of community agencies, liquor outlets and drinking establishments, but if the church was there it kept a low profile. There was a time when my church would have been there with bells on. But not, apparently, now.
Yet the upcoming revision of the law is a really significant opportunity for our country to attempt once more to create a more civilised climate around the sale, use and abuse of alcohol. The Law Commission has produced a wide-ranging and realistic discussion paper and invites submissions on issues that affect the lives of all of us in one way or another.
I sense that there is now wide dissatisfaction with the 1989 Act in communities in all parts of the country. There’s a great need for change and this is the chance to do something about. Let’s get in behind the Law Commission and help negotiate a better deal for everyone. Submissions are open until the end of October.
The Law Commission website has it all: www.talklaw.co.nz

This old dog learns a new trick

We had a “brainstorm” at the Calling for our church’s Ministry Team recently. Participants called out suggestions to make up a big list of tasks needed to do our mission and ministry.
A few years ago, I would have laboriously scrawled them on a big sheet of newsprint. This time I typed them up in Power Point on a laptop, each idea in big letters on a separate page. The video projector put these up on a large bright screen and people could see their ideas (almost) as soon as they called them out. After a few frightening moments when the laptop wouldn’t talk to the printer, I printed them “9 up” and we cut them into little sheets which people could shuffle around on the tables as they talked about who might do what.
After the event, we wanted a list of the whole lot. Would that mean opening each slide, copying the text and pasting it into an ordinary text document? Well, I poked around in the computer program and found I could “save as” the slides as a “rich text format” file. In a few moments all 75 suggestions were condensed into one document which I edited down to a single page. No wonder they call it POWER point.
Now, even if you don’t understand all those technicalities, you can see how even an old dog like me can still learn a new trick or two to use technology to make life easier. It’s the same with faith. Even at 74, I am always being invited to step outside my comfort zone into new and challenging experiences. I am invited to recycle the newsprint of old ways and to open myself up to the possibility of seeing life on a bigger, brighter screen.
In the 1950s we used to sing with great gusto “The Lord has yet more life and truth to break forth from his word.” It's still true. Something like that is happening with our people right now as the new team takes up the challenge of supporting and shaping the mission and ministry of our people.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Team Called

A lot of water has gone under the bridge in a week but suffice it to say that our parish Calling was a very good occasion. District Supt Peter was able to report back that all four calls were accepted within 24 hours.

That's not quite a record but the event can be said to be very successful and people seemed to enjoy the experience. We did a few things a little differently this time.

Besides Helen who continues with Pastoral Care, We now have Ann and Michael, both of whom have had previous experience on the team, and Vanessa and Judy, both first timers. It's a very encouraging outcome.

There will be more to tell when Bev and I get over over the week we took away in the caravan to get over the busy-ness of the previous weeks. We had a great time for four days with some good visits with my Dad. Then one after the other we have gone down with some gastro trouble. At least we're saving on a lot of work getting meals. Eating seems very low priority right now!

Thanks for the Memory

Remember the caravan coupling that was getting shonky? (See "Running True" in July)

I took it to the local Engineer's and when we'd decided he would do the job he asked for my name, address and phone number. I gave them and then suggested, tactfully, perhaps he might like to write them down. "Oh, no," he said "I've got them." And he parrotted them all back to me perfectly.

Some days later I drove in to see how the job was going and he recognised me and recited my full details from memory. Isn't that fantastic? Wouldn't your pastoral heart like you to remember details like that?

Actually, several weeks later, he's forgotten to send me the account for the job.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Living with Prostate Cancer

Those who have been following my journey with prostate cancer will be pleased to hear that, for the third time, my PSA scores have become "unmeasurable".
My PSA first disappeared for a year after removal of my prostate before returning. It disappeared again for nearly three years after I went onto Zoladex implants. Now, after a couple of months on a daily Bicalutamide tablet as well as Zoladex, my PSA score is right down again.
Next time it creeps up there won't be another medication to throw at it - unless medical science has something secreted up its sleeve. But this is a very welcome reprieve.
And there's lots of living to do as we celebrate our Golden Wedding in October and November. We're having "drop in" events in Paihia, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Sydney.
If you'd like to spend an hour or two with us and family and friends, ask us for details of the event that is "Coming to a Centre Near You"...

Making a Loss

Bev and I have been operating a business partnership ever since I stopped receiving a full stipend in 1990. We did book publishing, video production and consultancy work for a few years to help along with her full-time earnings until we qualified for NZ Superannuation.
The Partnership is still in place but in these retirement days it makes some losses as our actual costs for the bit of work we continue to do tend to exceed the income we receive for it.
So why keep the partnership going, I asked myself and the IRD recently. Well, the losses are a legitimate deduction from our superannuation income so there’s some tax compensation for some of the more worthwhile things we do in retirement.
That’s nice, but what has real value for us is the quality of what we do for people, not whether or not the partnership finances are in the black at the end of the year.
Our small church is moving into a deficit budget for the first time in a dozen years and we are having to ask ourselves questions about our day by day life as a parish. Where are the priorities? What will produce the best results from the most modest input? How do we match our resources to the needs? It’s a bit like the end of the year balance. And the full story will never be told in just the financial bottom line.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Worth a Thousand Words?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I am again finding that a picture is about a thousand times as much trouble to put into a book as the words.

The text of my”life story” is in its first complete draft and is being looked over by a good friend and editor. Meanwhile I am trying to make up some picture pages to support the rather large mass of words. Matching of words and images has been a large part of my life, so I really want to have pictures in there. But it’s a huge task to select them, clean up colour slides with half a century’s dust and fungus on them, and scan and process them to fit the page.

However, if the whole book project does nothing for anyone else, it has certainly done a lot for me. From the more dispassionate distance of decades, I have been able to see myself more as others would have seen me at various times. It has not always been a pretty picture. In a recent church service I was shown again how easy it is, in a moment of evangelical passion, to give the wrong emphasis in a sermon or conversation. I often failed there.

But I have also been reminded of quite a few good and worthwhile times and projects. I have continued to discover how much I have to be thankful for in family and friends and a calling that always went far beyond just an occupation.

In a week I have another blood test to see if the latest extra medication is slowing the growth of my prostate cancer. It might or it might not. But, either way, I have no sense of unfinished business in this life. I am looking forward to the future with anticipation especially as we celebrate our Golden Wedding in the next couple of months. And perhaps I will even have to write another chapter for the book and – oh, really? – struggle with some more photos.

And, yes, the title I hinted at in July will do: “In and Out of Sync”. What do you make of that, I wonder?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lilian has left us

Nearly 98, she would be called a pillar of her community and a woman of faith. She was the ultimate example of the regular church attender, always in her special chair on Sunday mornings.
But she didn’t believe in the “bodily resurrection”. An avid reader of Spong and Geering, in many stimulating conversations, she articulated a faith that was not dependent on believing certain “fundamentals”. “When I’m dead, I’m dead,” she told me more than once. But she lived as if all traditional Christian beliefs were true…

I think that’s what real faith is about – not “believing” a bunch of stuff, but living as if the Gospel story were fundamentally true.

GK Chesterton said: “Faith is believing three impossible things before breakfast”. Actually, Lilian was closer to the truth. Faith isn’t really about believing - it is acting as if the three impossible things were actually possible. That’s how Lillian lived. That’s what we will be celebrating at church in a couple of hours.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The hiding has had its day - To smack or not to smack

I found John Roughan’s article in the NZ Herald last weekend really helpful. He emphasised that parental “correction” is already legally acceptable in the context of an immediate response to a serious situation. It may involve a degree of apparent violence to restraint a child from being hurt or from hurting someone else or it may be a simple but firm physical re-direction of the individual.
But parental “correction” in the style of “You wait until your father gets home” and the violence that usually follows this threat is dissociated from the unacceptable action that provoked it. It has no corrective virtue at all. Indeed, it may teach entirely the wrong things.
The present law allows appropriate parental correction in the context of an immediate and relevant situation. A change in the law might result in a style of parental “correction” which would contribute to the cycle of meaningless violence which we must repudiate.
The law does not need to be changed. And it should certainly not be relaxed on the central issue of violence to children.
“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”
Vote YES - you won't criminalise careful parents and you will preserve the principle that violence against children is wrong.

Local Shared Ministry - the Vision and the Chores

I was putting up a row of slots for holding patch cords and was confident they were straight and level as I banged screws into the study walls.
When I stood back, I could see immediately that they were not quite straight at all. I’d been too close to the job to make a good judgment about them.
In a lot of life in the local church, we can’t always stand back and survey the whole scene in its context. And that means that sometimes the pressure of the little chores makes it impossible for us to see the wider vision. But just standing off and scrutinising the distant vision doesn’t change anything.
We’re coming to another Calling for our ministry team and there’s the usual anxiety:
“We’ve been doing this for nineteen years – isn’t it time to try something else?”
“Who will turn up for the Calling Workshop?”
“Where will we find someone to replace so-and-so?” And so on….
Of course we’ll take time to rekindle the vision for a lay led congregation. But we’ll also have to grapple with the specifics. In both, we have to remember that we are not alone; as we review the vision and take some tentative steps towards it, we put ourselves into the hands of God.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Right to Smack?

The upcoming referendum is a thoughtless waste of taxpayer resources. The question is worded in such a way that even if the referendum is carried, it won’t necessarily change anything.

The current Act certainly appears less precise than may be desirable but it says that any kind of violence against children is wrong. If everyone votes “YES, it should be a crime to smack my child in any circumstances” the law also does not need to be changed. It clearly rejects violence against children.

Even if the entire electorate votes “NO, it should not be a crime to smack my child in certain circumstances”, the law does not need to be changed or done away with. It provides specifically that the Police have discretion about bringing prosecutions. Only a handful have been brought. The law is working and it is not turning parents into criminals all over Aotearoa-NZ.

It may be an imperfectly drafted law, but it is better than what we had, and if the 30,000 who signed the referendum had asked a more explicit and direct question we could have voted more usefully next month.

I would rather vote on “Every parental act against relationships with children should be a crime”. As the referendum is I think it is clearly better to vote VES than to vote NO. To abstain or spoil the ballot paper (as some have suggested) is probably as good as voting NO. Whatever the imperfections of the present law and whatever I feel about the referendum question, I have to say that I have come to see that the present law is better than a change which might deliver parents the clear right to beat their children.

Vote YES!

Running true?

We were away in the caravan this last weekend and I noticed that the front tyre of our “thirdwheeler” was badly worn on one edge. When I stripped off the cover of the towing assembly there were pieces of flat greasy stuff sticking out of the rotating unit. A thing called a “damper” has been broken up and spat out. Worse, the central pin on which the assembly turns, has become slightly bent.

I guess that pin has been through over twenty years of taking the bumps on some fairly rough roads and I shouldn’t be surprised that it isn’t as straight and true as it once was. But even this very small lean away from “true” has virtually ruined a new tyre. There’s more noise than there should be when we’re towing and the van’s been hard to manoevre by hand.

So tomorrow a local engineer will pull the assembly apart again and straighten the pin. It will have to be heat-treated in a gas torch to enable it to be brutally forced back into square. While the unit is apart we’ll check out other components and make sure everything is working as it should. It’s just something that has to be done after a couple of decades of hard work, especially if some regular greasings have been overlooked.

I suppose churches are much the same. It doesn’t take many things “out of true” to upset the balance of things that should normally run smoothly. Ignoring problems can often make matters worse but dealing with them can occasionally involve some uncomfortable heat and pressure. At the end of the day, every member needs to be “straight and true” for the local congregation to be faithful to its calling.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Prostate Cancer and Lung Cancer

Medical science probably hasn't become aware of it, yet, but I have identified a connection between prostate cancer and lung cancer. At this stage my research is just being developed but personal observations about the causative link are very encouraging.

Being on hormone therapy I have a large number of hot flushes a day and have to be able to turn on a fan or take off a jacket or cardigan very quickly to cool down. In a stuffy room for a large meeting or a party the best thing to do at this time of the year is to slip outside into the cool, still night air for a few minutes.

And what do I find out there these days? I am exposed to a gaggle of smokers polluting the environment with their exhaled carcinogens. If I dare breathe in while cooling off from the side effects of the therapy for one kind of cancer I am exposing myself to the risk of contracting another.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On leaders...

Not long after we came to Paihia I planted a metre-high kauri tree in our bush below the house. It has grown quickly for a long-lived native and is now seven or eight metres high. But perhaps it has grown too vigorously. Some time ago, its central stem or "leader" got broken off in a storm. For a young conifer, that’s disastrous damage.
Will it now develop a new shoot from the centre or will one of the surrounding branchlets grow inwards and take its place? Or will the side stem and a revived central stem grow up side by side making our stately tree into a double-leadered freak, perpetually vulnerable to a complete split? Is it possible that the other outside branches will all compete to do the same so that the tree becomes a kind of multiple-header absolutely alien from its destiny?
I am watching it with much more than a little interest. And I’m reflecting on the possibility that, whatever happens this season or next, if our tree is recovered from some swamp 40,000 years after the Great Warming of the 26th Century the growth rings in its cross section will tell the story of what transpired in our front bush in 2008. The scar and the tree’s triumph or failure in dealing with the accident will be locked into its history.

I wonder what it tells us now about small churches which opt for a strategy of ministry based on just one leader?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Go Waiheke!

I have just heard on the news that the commission on Auckland "Super City" will be listening to the locals at Waiheke Island today.

The news item said that what Waiheke people want is their own local Board with its own Budget. I hope they make the case confidently and with a lot of persuasion. They are asking for the right thing.

Local communities, especially those as distinctive as Waiheke or Paihia, ought to have more say in their affairs. And the ultimate responsibility is money. Local Boards with local budgets.

Go for it, Waiheke!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rhodo time again!

It’s a bright and cheerful sunny morning here but of course it’s midwinter. And we have sure known that in the last few days.
Nevertheless, in the midst of the gales that have thrashed Northland and the month’s rainfall that we had in less than a day, one of our bush garden rhododendrons has burst its first buds. Right on time, second week in July, year after year.
But not both bushes. Another, apparently identical, will open its first flowers twelve days later.

How do they do that? What tells them that storm or sun, freezing or burning hot, today is the day to start opening up? And how is it that these two otherwise identical bushes are on different time schedules?
The natural world is full of such mysteries and we fail to see most of them. This tiny splash of colour outside our lounge window each winter reminds me of the mystery of my own living and dying. I am invited to open up my life and to celebrate my being and to invite others to do the same.
I’ll go out on the deck and see if I can get you a photo. Celebrate your life!

Friday, July 10, 2009

In and Out of Sync

Once when we were making a video of a important visiting lecturer at St Johns-Trinity in the 1980s we had a microphone failure and the entire tape had no sound on it. We did have an audiocassette of the same lecture so we put the sound from that onto the video. In the trade they say, “Oh, we’ll just fix it in post”, i.e. post-production in the studio after the shoot. Easy enough, you might think?
But in our case, everything except occasional shots of the audience required us to match the sound exactly to the lecturer’s image. It’s called “lip sync”. The problem was that even when we started off with picture and sound exactly “in sync”, the transport mechanism of the audio cassette was less precise than the video system. So, after a few seconds we would have to stop, back up and “get in sync” again. It took about ten hours of intensive work to “fix” this one lecture.
Life in the small church is a bit like that, only much more complex. Indeed the life of each individual is full of issues which have to be balanced and fitted together and made to run harmoniously. And when they get out of sync you sometimes have to start over.
But the great thing about the faith community and people of faith is that you can always stop, re-align everything and start again. That’s what saves the situation. Call it salvation if you like.
I think if my life story is ever published it’s going to be called “In and Out of Sync”.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

“So help me, God”

I have spent most of the last two days in Liquor Licensing Hearings and I think that of all the witnesses who were sworn in I was the only one who declined to swear on the Bible.
I take the Bible much more seriously than as a tool to ensure that people tell the truth. I think it is little short of ridiculous to ask people, for whom the Bible means nothing, to take it in their hands and swear that the God of the Bible will help them to tell the truth.
It is not just ridiculous. As a Christian, I feel that my faith is demeaned when the central story on which it is based is used in this way. It is offensive. I reject the idea that God can apparently be invoked by the State to persuade people to “swear” to be truthful.
I resent the monocultural implication of automatically offering the Bible in official Courts of this land in which all religions are supposed to have equal places in the sun.
So, on both occasions I testified, I declined to pick up the Bible. And the State has an answer: there was a simple and unambiguous statement asking me to “declare” that I would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
And that I cheerfully declared. And went on to introduce myself and my occupation as a retired minister.

Nobody seemed to notice any possible irony.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A DIY Murder Mystery

The Girls Brigade national conference had a great evening with our Murder Mystery Dinner on Saturday night. Bev and I had a ball, as did 112 others from around the country.
But the night before, at Mahurangi East Community Church they did the show by themselves. This wasthe first time in 14 events it was not managed by me personally but Ferelyth Roffey reports that it went very well. “We had no power cuts but we did set off the smoke detector which blared out before the main course and added to the enjoyment of the evening.”
She said that the diners listened to the personal statements in absolute silence, eyes riveted to the speaker so as not to miss a word. The script was excellent. As the suspects moved around the tables the volume of conversational/questioning rose exponentially. All reports indicate a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Ferelyth says they chose their suspects, “on the basis of who was keen and who was available” not on the basis of acting ability. “The script is robust. A little hesitation and the odd bumble in reading probably added authenticity to their statements.” She felt that any group could give it a go. Her full report from Snell's Beach is here.
Ask me for the CD and your group is in business.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Girls’ Brigade NZ at Conference

I haven’t had much to do with Girls’ Brigade for most of my ministry so it’s going to be really interesting to be at their national conference on Saturday -- not that I’ll be doing much to lift up the standard of study or work for the organisation. Nor will any contribution of mine elevate their moral or ethical standards which I am sure are at the heart of their great movement.

Bev and I are going down to Hamilton to stage our Murder Mystery at their big dinner. Most of the cast will be female, of course, though at least the “Bishop” – Methodist Minister Gloria Zanders – has agreed that she will cross-dress on this occasion. I’m told that the two of us will compete for star status with Father Christmas. Oh, what a night it’ll be!

Since their foundation in 1893, Girls Brigade has become well known as a fun, interesting, challenging and relevant provider of activities, skills, care and Christian love for hundreds of thousands of young people. I hope our brief contribution to their conference will be seen as a kind of Thank You from the rest of us in the community.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Focus on Paihia

On Wednesday evening the Paihia community gave enthusiastic support to a suggested programme to define a common vision for the town.
I can’t think of any time over the last couple of decades when more people met in one place to share their concerns and hopes for the town. There were 120 seats available but some people stood in both the plenary and group sessions during the two hours. It was very gratifying for the half dozen enthusiasts who called the meeting and suggested the programme.
Individuals listed their own ideas about what they liked, disliked or hated about Paihia and these were stuck up for everyone to read. They’ll also be transcribed and placed on the website in the next few days. Groups of about ten or so people then listed what they felt Paihia would look or feel like if they should arrive in the town in 2029.
It was hard for the groups to separate “look” and “feel” from concrete issues like “better street lights” but gradually the concept of a vision for the Paihia of the future came through. Groups reported very briefly but their full written reports are already on the website. Their comments reflect growing awareness of the link between tourists’ and residents’ needs, and a developing understanding that “business” and “residents” are not in competition with each other but can work together for a better Paihia.
In a brief final session there was no difficulty finding volunteers to attend a meeting to establish a working group to put the programme together. Another community consultation will be held July 14th.
The first meeting of half a dozen Focus Groups will be held that night and they will plan their work for the coming weeks. Each will work at its own theme and the working group will coordinate discussions and assist with the development of the Vision. It is expected that this will be complete by the end of November.
Those of us who took the initiative in calling this group are convinced the time is right, the economic climate demands some serious thinking and the political climate is more sympathetic than at many times in the past. The growing maturity of the community is becoming evident and there’s a will to work together to produce a significant result.
Great stuff!

Visit "Focus on Paihia" on http://www.paihianz.co.nz/ and add your comments

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rioteous humour

My birthday present for this year was two tickets to the play The Day they Kidnapped the Pope, staged at Theatre Pitt by Pilgrim Players.
It was an absolutely marvellous romp. The large and talented cast threw themselves into the story with enthusiasm and conviction and just the right blend of tongue-in-cheek slapstick and theological insight. The audience didn’t have to make any special effort to show their appreciation of religious jokes; they roared with laughter as the Jewish cab-driver held the Pope in his pantry for a ransom by which nobody in the world would be killed during a 24 hour period. Interfaith chess games and exploding bombs in the front yard added to the riotous spectacle.
The play ended with a successful 24 hours of total world peace; the Pope declared he’d just been taking a couple of day’s vacation with friends; the SWAT team was stood down. Our sides were aching from laughter. But, at the end, the world went back to killing people all over the place. Was nothing changed?
Well, personally, we could have been at a church meeting somewhere else. It wouldn’t have been as much fun and probably wouldn’t have considered world peace as even a remote possibility. For a couple of hours we were transported out of our everyday existence and into a madcap world of dedicated imagination and delicious humour. We were made to laugh; we were made to think.
Maybe church should be more like that.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lights killed at mystery dinner

Last night, eighty of us were packed around tables at St Chad’s Anglican-Methodist Church, Huapai, for our Murder Mystery Dinner “Death by Cooperation”. The Bishop opened the meeting, the sudden death was discovered and, as the Detective Chief Inspector, I was woken up and commissioned to lead the table groups in solving the mystery.
As the soup was about to be served the lights went out. Many people thought it was part of the show. But after a few minutes of local men stumbling around in the dark to see what fuses had blown, it became apparent we had a serious problem. The power had failed at the pole fuse in the street. Nothing could be done because nobody present knew who the power supplier was.
However, within minutes some people had popped home or to the supermarket around the block for candles. The show proceeded according to schedule: everyone threw themselves into it, the suspects made their statements and answered questions at the tables and, eventually, in spite of the difficulty of reading clue cards and other resources by candlelight, the denouement revealed that one table solved the murder and the guilty party was arrested.
It was another hilarious evening, made all the more exciting by the difficult conditions in which it was held. It’s been a privilege to be a part of bringing so much enjoyment to so many people through so improbable a scenario as the merging of three congregations in a mythical small town. Next Friday, we’ll be with Beckenham Methodists where, hopefully, the power will be on for the whole evening.

“Death by Cooperation” is available as a complete kitset on CD ROM. You can do it yourself, or negotiate with Bev and me to stage it for you.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Anglican-Methodist Partnership?

Lesley had to step in at short notice to take our services for Wesley Sunday. She used some of the liturgy prepared to celebrate the national Covenant between Anglicans and Methodists in Auckland later the same day.
But she didn’t use the scriptures as a sort of biblical coathook on which to hang a double-denominational event of the 21st century. She turned a critical focus onto the words “the scandal of separateness” in the liturgy, saying she didn't care for the expression and suggesting that the real scandal was the separation of each of us from God’s Holy Spirit. Later, in pairs we shared the personal temptations that we each identified as part of that separation. With her developing sense of the flow of the whole of the worship it was a moving and creative experience.
Ironically, as I was today reflecting on a Methodist-Anglican conversation that hadn’t even taken place locally, I received a link to Anglican Adele Jones’ Sun day morning reflection in Christ Church, Russell. They weren’t into Anglican-Methodist covenant either, it seems, but her contribution obviously prompted much thought.
Perhaps both congregations experienced what really matters for Wesley day: lay people, without much formal theological education, lifting up the central concepts of the life in Christ with insight and passion.
And, yes, a small group of us did watch the film John Wesley last night and the moment when Thomas Maxfield, who was not ordained, mounted the pulpit to preach, spoke volumes to us all.
So I thank God for Lesley and Adele and all those lay people who speak a word in season every week in our small churches around the North.

The Te of Local Government

At our garage sale, where I was supposed to be getting rid of my stuff I bought a copy of Hoff’s The Te of Piglet. For an hour or two I have revelled in his exposition of the Taoist principle of Te – the virtue of smallness, as exemplified in AA Milne’s immortal Piglet. It was a great little read, especially for someone committed to small churches and Local Shared Ministry.
But, hey, it also speaks to me about district government. I think our Mayor has got it right when he says there is too much overlapping of local authorities in the north. But, for my money, local government should come right down to every one of the local communities. Every discrete community should be able to elect its own element of local government.
For everything else, I would leave it to the state. Parliament already makes a lot of the laws that District Councils then, if they wish, add into their own regulations. The state already administers our education, police, courts, health and welfare and other functions on a reasonably consistent basis from one end of the country to the other. Let them add a little more administration to take in local roads, water, wastewater and put the Councils out to grass.
We have far too much government in this country but we need more of it in small lively, empowered organisations at the local level and none at all, thanks very much, at district and regional level.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Strangely Warmed?"

I suppose really devout Methodists will be getting ready to celebrate John Wesley’s "spiritual birthday" this weekend. It’s a little different for us who live in a uniting parish with people of many church traditions and none.

“At about a quarter before nine…” wrote Wesley of 24th May 1738,, “I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate St… and felt my heart strangely warmed..”

Principal EW Hames used to say that Methodists have been taking their spiritual temperature ever since – and he didn’t really approve. Somewhere I read that Wesley himself wouldn’t have slavishly observed the anniversary of that experience. His life was not so very different after it from before it. I certainly don’t think he would have called it his “conversion”.

But the sense of personal assurance was important to him on that night long ago and it’s important for us, now. In all the ups and downs of life in a very small congregation I’m glad to have a “feeling” of belongingness within the fellowship and the heart of the Creator. That's what Wesley called "assurance"... and it's OK.

I guess on Sunday night we may even dig out the old Arthur Rank movie and give ourselves a little thrill. After all, it’s the exact date.

Email me if you’d like to join us.    colcom.press@clear.net.nz

Monday, May 18, 2009

“Topsy Town?”

Paihia, like Topsy, just “growed”. With no proper town plan to guide its layout or infrastructure, the little town just kind of happened. When the place was a beach, a motel, two stores and a few dozen houses that didn’t matter much but by the booming mid-1980s, a coherent plan was really needed. Two decades later, we still don’t have one.
Now a major community workshop on 17th June is going to be invited to do some dreaming and put in place a planning process in which the community can develop its own considered vision for the future. Over the next three months there’ll be focus groups that will canvass opinion and shape up policy around major areas. Then there’ll be a couple more large community gatherings to review and finalise our vision for Paihia.
This considered statement of the community’s view will be presented to the Council in early 2010. We will have done by ourselves what successive Councils have so far failed to do for us. And it’s going to be fun.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Preaching for money?

Well, not exactly. But on the principle that the labourer is worth his or her hire, the national Presbyterian Parent of our Uniting Parish has updated its fees for ministers or students who help out by taking Sunday services.
Granted that the PCANZ does not authorise a fee for lay worship leaders, we can estimate that if our parish had invited ministers to take just our Sunday services over the seventeen years we have had
Local Shared Ministry, at those rates we would have spent some $250,000.
Of course that amount would have been better than a half-time minister for that period at about $550,000. But the figure gives us one measure of the dedicated contribution of people in our LSM parish. And that’s only leading worship, never mind the myriad of other roles in pastoral care, administration, communication and community service - all faithfully offered up on a voluntary basis.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Preaching and Living in the Moment

In a recent sermon, Lesley was sharing her exhilaration at the wide tangle of interesting scriptures open to her in the post-Easter lessons set down for her Sunday. She talked to Helen who enthused about “Doubting Thomas – I just love that bit”.
But, said, Lesley, there came a time in the week when she had to set aside all the bits that weren’t relevant to her chosen passages and really focus on the texts for the day – a significant insight for any new preacher, of course…
What she said next was not central to her theme, but this little aside really hit me: “And life, she said, “is like that. We can only live the one life. We can’t live for anybody else. We must live in the body we are given, choosing from the huge bag of possibilites, the kind of life we want to live.”
Her sermon resumed, and I see it was cheerful and optimistic in themes of resurrection and miracle. But the gem I have carried since was her precious reminder of the importance of my own life and how it is lived in the days and years that remain to me.
Preaching is often like that – the little asides can be as memorable as the well-developed major themes. But neither is of much use unless it speaks to our personal, intimate, individual needs.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Any Old Junk??

Our parish had a doozie of a garage sale at church last Saturday. The Country and Western Music Festival brought a lot of people into town and they saw our notices and a lot of our “stuff” went to new homes far away. We raised over $500 which will go to our emergency reserve for personal need in our communities.
Bev and I contributed quite a bit in a burst of tidying up. It’s amazing how much “stuff” that is kept for years because it may be valuable some time actually goes out the door for next to nothing when you cut the ties!
It’s a bit the same with writing my life story. All the gems of insights and experiences which offer some hints of my life, when they’re set out in 600 pages of text, look about as interesting as junk at a garage sale. All the issues that seemed important enough to record at the time seem to have very little relevance now.
But, as those who came to the sale found things that they had been looking for and talked us down to outrageously low prices to get them, perhaps in my tortuous prose there will be a few worthwhile bits and pieces. One I've just found is a magazine article called “A Team for Local Ministry’. There’s an interesting section on
functions in (LSM) ministry that I don’t think I would want to change much at all – it was published in May 1990.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Don't bet on it!

If I had a bucket list of things I had to do before prostate cancer carried me off, going to the races wouldn’t have been on it.
But today we joined Terry and Helen in a trip over to Dargaville for one of the local Racing Club’s twice-a-year fixtures. It was also a chance to see Shona and Colin, who moved from our church a few years ago.
The weather and the facilities were a bit rough but we had a great time. It was a completely new experience for me and I was fascinated with the characters all round the place. I admired, in a very amateur way, the spirit and energy of the horses and their riders and handlers.
But that’s not what most racegoers are there for. Bev, who couldn’t quit when she was ahead by 60c after investing a dime in a slot machine at Las Vegas in 1983, won each of her bets today and came home with $12 more than the $24 she “invested”. She has got some hot tips for the Spring meeting.
I had no idea there were so many ways of throwing your money away on the horses and guess that a lot changed hands there and off-course around the country today. Some of those activities would have had implications far beyond the pocket-money bets of Bev and our friends. Compulsive gambling can be a pernicious destroyer of homes and families and the social cost is probably beyond reckoning in our country where the gambling industry finds so much enthusiastic response.
So I had an interesting and enlightening day. And, no, it wouldn’t make much difference to anything, but I didn’t place a bet.

Trusted and trusty

A few days ago someone was moved to give me some pretty negative feedback on my behaviour. It was pretty painful and, while I felt some of the criticism was misplaced, I have been going over my attitudes and views with a fine-tooth comb ever since.

And I'm coming to see that not only was I indeed somewhat negative in some of the ways that were suggested to me, but I was also becoming resentful about getting feedback that fell short of the mark. All in all, I've become grumpy over just about everything - I feel I'm just the local sucker who can be blamed for everything. I think I'll go down the garden and eat worms.

Today I came across Steve Goodier's post on the people of Wetumka and why every year they celebrate "Sucker's Day". He says it'd be better to be a sucker for a day than unhappy for a lifetime. And contented people trust easily - even when they might be proved wrong - and are themselves trustworthy. It's a great story and it did a lot for my mood this morning.

You can read it here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

LSM in a really small church

I’m often asked, “What can we do when the properly called Local Shared Ministry team finds itself in some conflict with the elected congregational council?”

My answer has always been that they have different roles. The Council is the “mind” of the congregation and the team is its “hands and feet”. Council makes the policy and the team carry it out. The team does not make policy decisions, though they may bring recommendations. The Council does not initiate acts of ministry, though they may request the Team to take certain actions.

Reflecting on the undesirabiblity of small groups in the small church, I am now wondering if it is reasonable - or even wise – to require a very small membership congregation to have both a Team and a Council. Perhaps they should be encouraged to call a ministry team which will also be the council for that congregation. It would be answerable to an annual (or special) meeting of the whole membership but it would act constitutionally as the Council as well as the Team.

Some of the team members would be called to specific ministry functions in the usual way, but some would be called to be “representatives” with less specific duties related to the rest of the membership. All would meet together regularly and engage in the full routine of Team education and ministry formation with their Enabler. Ordinary team business and occasional Council agenda would simply flow together and be minuted as a single record.

Small Groups in the Small Church Posted Apr 28
Local Shared Ministry
Where are our Small Churches

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Workplace Stress and Mangroves

I hear of many people who are highly stressed in today's workplaces There's a lot of pain flowing among employees and managers. I am reminded of some work I did a few years ago on the mangroves that surround our Northland coasts.
The mangroves stand between the sea and the land, providing a zone of separation. They also accept all the debris and pollution that flows from the land and absorb some of it so that it doesn't reach the sea.
The thesis for the book I didn't write was that the church has those kinds of roles: separating two different ways of being, and cleansing and absorbing some of the pain and evil in society, without passing it on.
That's perhaps also the role of middle management. Someone has to take the pain and anger and stress and absorb it, so the poison isn't passed on through the organisation.

I am posting one or two excerpts of Mangrove Theology on my web pages.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Prayers on Parade

Watching the military parading with their medals and ribbons on Anzac Day reminded me again that my service as Territorial Force Chaplain was involuntarily stopped just a few months short of earning the Efficiency Decoration for seven years of meeting the requirements. I could have had a medal!
We had moved to Dunedin where a much larger workload suggested that I could not take out three or four weeks in at least the first year for chaplaincy work. So I applied to go onto the Reserve of Officers.
However, I found that my application duly appeared in the NZ Gazette as a resignation, thus closing the door to any opportunity of further chaplaincy service.

I didn't make an issue of the administrative bungle because I wasn't into medals and - more importantly - was always very uncomfortable taking prayers at formal parades. Indeed, over most of my chaplaincy career I sought opportunities to visit the smaller, remote units rather than ponce around with a clutch of other dressed-up clergy all vying for the opportunity to stand in front of the thousand-strong Battalion Parade for a few moments of fame.
Instead I had many a Padre’s Hour with small groups of people who often asked questions that got to the heart of what life is about. This was, for me, meaningful ministry at the flaxroots. Sometimes we got into quite “religious” issues but mostly I think my willingness to face up to any and all questions said more about me and the faith I stood for than any amount of formal prayers on parade.

Those experiences coloured my convictions about public prayer of all kinds – and even words used at weddings and funerals - and I have tried to ensure that people were invited to participate in public ceremonial with sincerity and integrity.