Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Best Laid Plans....

It was the day before Dad’s Big 100. The Rest Home’s party was all organised, the Queen’s greeting was on the table alongside those of lesser mortals like the Prime Ministry and various parliamentarians and local politicians. The family were already gathering from various parts of NZ and Australia.
Dad got up out of his chair and his other femur broke at the neck and dumped him on the ground. So it was by ambulance to Taupo Hospital for X-rays and then up to Rotorua and he spent his birthday having a complete hip joint installed.
The Rest Home are saving their party for another day but the family are all here and this afternoon we will sing, to the tune of one of Dad’s much-loved family songs about Miss Brown who slipped on the soap:
We have an old grandad
Whose bones didn’t last;
He fell on the floor -
But they fixed him up fast.
We came to his party,
His “hundredth” to share;
We all had a ball -
Only he wasn’t there!
Tra la la; tra la lee
Oh how would you,
How would you like to be he?
We hear that he’s in great spirits and will be sitting up in a chair in less than 24 hours after the operation. Most of us will visit him as we head for home over the next couple of days. It's a shame he missed his party but he's a tough old bird and he's entertaining all and sundry with great wit and good humour. We're all proud of him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Twenty Years with Local Shared Ministry

Of course the Episcopalian Church in Alaska and Nevada takes credit for being first in the field but my own pilgrimage in Local Shared Ministry took a decisive turn two decades ago.
I’d been involved in preparing candidates for “local” ministry in their home settings since 1982. Unpaid volunteers, without the full range of theological and biblical studies available to full-time students in the College, they nevertheless were ordained and commissioned for specific part-time ministries usually in their own congregations.
But as the programme advanced through a decade, one thing became apparent: the ghost of stipendiary ministry remained hanging around. Most congregations projected onto our "home-setting" students all the expectations they had of a full-time stipendiary minister. They seemed delighted to have "a minister" but often also quite content to leave everything to that one person.

Gradually I came to see that the model of just one person in specially authorised ministry, whether academically trained or not, whether paid or not, whether full-time or part-time, was actually part of the problem. So I conceived the strategy of five or more volunteers sharing the work of modeling and supporting the ministry of the whole congregation. After writing my first paper on it I discovered that the model was already alive and well in Nevada.
Happily, when I left the College position, I was offered a part-time position in a small parish which could never afford paid ministry and might consider the LSM concept. In 1992 we commissioned the first Presbyterian or Methodist LSM team in the country, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, temporarily back in the saddle, I’m looking forward to “enabling” the monthly support team meeting. They’ll pray together, share their achievements, concerns and help each other find solutions. And we’ll talk about some mundane things like understanding the parish accounts and making claims for expenses.

And central in their pastoral concerns, they’ll remember Lesley, on the other side of the world, supporting her seriously ill mother.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Lenten Fast

We're not much on fasting in our Methodist-Presbyterian tradition but I have just seen a comprehensive leaflet of realistic and creative suggestions for a lenten fast from the Community of Saint Luke in Auckland.
David Clark has included this as one of the possibilities for his people I need to give this some thought before Wednesday.
Fast from criticism and feast on praise,
Fast from self-pity and feast on joy,
Fast from ill-temper and feast on peace,
Fast from resentment and feast on contentment,
Fast from jealousy and feast on humility,
Fast from pride and feast on love,
Fast from slefishness and feast on service,
Fast from fear and feast on faith.
The St Luke's leaflet is full of other suggestions, both traditional and sharply contemporary. I hope they will put it up on their website.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The rain it falleth....

We’re glad to see a bit of steady rain. The garden has been getting parched and when we’re away for a day or two our modest supply of garden veges miss our efforts at watering.
This week's trip was to collect my niece and partner from Auckland airport, over from Aussie for Dad’s 100th next week. Andy is having her first holiday for a couple of years and has been looking forward to the sunny beaches of Northland. Today they’re going off camping in what looks like being the worst day of the year.

Ain’t that life? There’s a cussedness about nature that should tell me something about my own soul. Generally I manage to live fairly respectably but every now and then a combination of circumstances and my own weaknesses lead me to do something thoughtless, stupid, unkind with unhappy results for all involved, including myself.

I suppose I can console myself a little with the old rhyme:
The rain it falleth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella;
But more upon the just, because
The unjust hath the just's umbrella.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Birthday Mr Darwin and the End of the Wasps

On the 200th anniversary of his birth, Darwin’s 150 year old thesis has been demonstrated in our backyard. The beautiful, silky-soft, fragile nest of common wasps has gone and the atoms of those who called it home are taking another form. Somewhere in the memory of waspness is a tiny learning that the comfortable box holding a water meter which has to be read every six months is not the place to set up home.
It gave me no pleasure to bring about the death of these beautiful creatures. Sure, they’re fairly recent invaders of NZ and might have diluted the local gene pool by hybridising with other wasps. But what’s done is done and I can now fix the leaky tap.
And thanks to the Council who last week made us a generous gift by declaring that, after some weeks of inter-departmental discussions, the nest - and the problem! - is actually on our property. I must remember to ask for a Deed of Conveyance as our present title deed, not to mention their own regulations both insist that it is on theirs.
And I will put out a Wasp Warning sign for the meter reader, just in case.
Curious NZ readers may be interested to know that the black bands around the chest of the common wasp are much thicker than those on the better-known German wasp. And the common wasps build a basketball-size nest in underground spaces - such as water meter boxes. See, we have all learned something from our environment on Darwin's 200th birthday.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Off the top"

I am trying to put together some evaluations of "milestone" services taken by two of our local worship leaders. Although Helen's was a first service and Beverley's was for examination for Accreditation, I noticed something interesting in each:
They both drew on careful and studied knowledge of the biblical text and what commentators have said about it. But they didn't give in to the temptation to give us every last bit of "stuff" they'd discovered: as they related their discoveries to today's situation they preached "off the top of their knowledge".
Both were clearly involved in passionate interaction with their material and their desire to share it with us. But they didn't descend into a style of presentation in which their emotion carried everything before it. We knew they cared but we didn't feel pressured to accept the message because of the emotional content with which it was delivered. They preached "off the top of their emotions".
Our little congregation is blessed to have such worship leaders in its midst.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mangrove Theology - I

A point of separation:
On one side of the mangroves below our home there is the sea. Even on the calmest days it is always moving, alive. At different times it is restless, threatening, challenging; but always beautiful, seemingly never-ending, infinite.
On the other side of the mangroves is the land. By comparison it seems thoroughly immovable, resilient and clearly finite. It seems as if it has been there for ever. Yet the land is very vulnerable to the effects of the sea. Erosion can change the land beyond recognition, damaging its contours, stealing its contents and converting earth and clay into the sand and mud of the beaches. In this process the sea can drag great trees to their death and can overwhelm the land in its powerful action.
But where there are mangroves there is a protective barrier that keeps land and sea apart. On one side the sea; on the other, the land. The mangroves, by their role of separation, help to define both land and sea.
In a sense, the mangrove community’s capacity to keep these two elements apart is what defines the mangroves themselves: they are, by their very nature, separators.

Mangrove communities remind us of the church which itself is a zone of separation. It is placed along a dividing line between the everyday and the eternal. One of its most essential purposes is to find and keep a place that enables it to separate — and thus define — the everyday and the eternal. It treads a tightrope from which it may easily fall off to one side or the other but when it does that it ceases to exercise its most central role.

I've got more to say on this and will put it onto by website some time. Mangroves are absolutely fascinating.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A bit of a bind...

Well, the beautiful book I ordered for the old Dad’s 100th birthday on 27th has fallen apart before he’s even seen it. Six pages have dropped out altogether and the back of the book is completely broken somewhere near the middle.
They are sending me a replacement which is very decent but it is a disappointment that such a classy and historically significant book should be at risk. The binding is a common machine type and works well enough with most paperbacks but hard glossy pages like the ones in this book do not accept a quick squish with hot latex glue very willingly.
They tell me no one else has complained about it but they weren’t to know I am an expert in hand-made “perfect” bindings. So when the first sheet came loose bells rang for me, and it was no surprise when it was followed by eight or ten others before I'd done more than browse the book.
Putting on my amateur bookbinder hat I have taken off the cover – easy, it wasn’t well glued either – and guillotined the entire binding off the sheets and am glueing it all up again. Just to see if my process will hold on this sort of paper.

My system is described in a little book I published a few years ago and while it was never properly marketed I have licensed about 260 people to use it for personal or business purposes. Some of them have sent me the books that they’ve done. It’s been one of the most satisfying aspects of my publishing hobby to get letters from people who have got their own books into print with their own resources.
See Bind Your Own Books here

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tennis, anyone?

While my second cousin Doug Stewart and I were sorting my grandparents’ prejudices out in the kitchen Bev and Ellen were having some girl-talk in the lounge. When we all got together afterwards we all had stories to tell each other. But Bev’s took the prize.
It was another of those coincidences that occur in a small country. When Bev and I were in Panmure, forty years earlier, she took up social tennis at Bishop Park, the local club. She graduated to competition work and played in one of the more modest grades.
On Saturday, she discovered that for all of our Panmure years, Ellen had been in the same club, played in some of the same “away” matches and attended the same social functions. They never knew they were both related by marriage.

Losing touch with family

As my Dad comes up to the "Big 100" at the end of the month, I have been researching his mother’s family for a possible book and I have just made contact with another family that has been lost to us for a couple of generations.
Andrew Stewart came to NZ and stayed briefly with Dad’s family in Lower Hutt in 1931. After that we know next to nothing of them except that he was supposed to have married Alice, a part-Indian woman. Although we kept in touch with Andrew's sister’s family for two more generations, Andrew and his family dropped beneath our radar. Until I called last Saturday there had been no contact for all that time.
That’s a pity because Andrew went into exactly the same trade as my Dad: they both made upholstery for the vehicle assembly business , Dad in Lower Hutt and Andrew in Auckland. I think they would have enjoyed each other’s company.
Why did we lose touch, I wonder? I suspect it may have been to do with Dad's parents' deep, if conservative commitment to the church, and I am saddened about the fact that they might have let the church come between them and their distant relatives.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A challenge at church

We went to St Matthews at Helensville this morning. This Anglican-Methodist parish is starting on the Local Shared Ministry journey and its first team is just about three months into the role. Like many congregations who start out on this unfamiliar route, they’re having one or two hiccoughs along the way.
Parish Enabler, Rev Judy Vause, celebrated the Holy Communion this morning but also put some very specific and yet manageable challenges before people. Can you join the team of greeters? Can you conduct part of the worship? Can you read the scripture with meaning? Can you lead the pastoral prayers? She drew attention to the excellent lead given by members of the congregation today: scriptures well read; prayers skillfully and sensitively assembled, complex liturgy managed smoothly and with dignity.
Of course there are many other aspects to mission and ministry and these will be addressed in their turn as today’s questions were aired.
All pretty ordinary stuff, you might think. But in everyone’s mind was the reality that there are still a couple of vacancies in the Ministry Support Team and there will need to be another Calling shortly. The unstated question that hung in the air was, if the call comes to you to join the team, how will you respond?
Conversation with some of the individuals over morning tea confirmed our impression of an ordinary congregation putting in an extraordinary effort to break from the past and even move beyond the rules and create new life.

Power of a Blog

We were delighted to meet many friends at the induction on Wednesday night but nobody quite so much as Helen G who buttonholed us at supper time. She works in the College library so the newly inducted Principal thanked her for coming to the service.
But I blew the gaff: Helen had been at home catching up on her Christmas correspondence at 8pm and happened to open my last post and found that Bev and I were intending to be at the induction so she rushed around to say Hi to us.