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.

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