Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Free Trade and the Small Church

I was astonished to hear last week that within a few years NZ could have a free trade relationship with half the world’s markets– in terms of Gross Domestic Product. We are already signed up to more than a quarter. No other nation enjoys such wide access to other countries’ markets.

The superficial reason wasn’t spelled out but it is pretty obvious: we are such a small part of the international market that free trade with us is unlikely to do great damage to any larger partner. When Australia entered into Closer Economic Relations with NZ 25 years ago they thought they had not much to lose. The same is no doubt the case with China, with whom we have signed, and India, with whom we seem to be about to do a deal. Trade with us will always be an unbalanced affair.

But hearing the complaints of the US beef barons and the Queensland apple growers reminds us that even our modest market carries some weight. Happily, the evident threat is matched by the skills of our negotiators and our economy will benefit greatly from increasing free trade around the world.

I think there’s some encouragement here for the small church. Again and again I find that the small church punches above its weight. I believe we should encourage more of them to develop structures that meet their unique situations instead of conforming to traditional expectations of church.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hullo to our Canterbury Friends

You may know that I am not a slave to the latest craze but "chipping in for Christchurch on 15th" seems a good idea, so here I am in red shirt and black trousers (No, Bev insists they are dark navy - I'm sorry if that means I've failed a basic criterion) saying hello to our friends in Christchurch.
Our Bay of Islands Parish membership of a couple of dozen has now contributed nearly $6000 to Earthquake Appeals - mainly to the church social service missions. We received two or three large gifts from individuals and a lot of smaller ones. Some of you know that last year we had a benefit show of Dave's murder mystery dinner DEATH IN THE BAY. This raised about $1500 with free dessert and coffee provided by Paihia Pacific Resort Hotel, our friendly church neighbours.

There is much ongoing concern in our little community. We think our people will have more to send yet. But we know that, although most of our personal friends have not been greatly affected themselves, the ongoing stress for the whole of Canterbury is huge. We don't have words that will make it easier for you who are closer to it and may have to carry some of the heat of others' discomfort. But we do think of you and your friends and neighbours and the enormous challenges ahead of you. And we send you all our very best love.

Bev and Dave

Heart of the small church

Bev and I attended an unaccustomed presentation from a chief economic advisor to a major bank yesterday.

As he listed the half dozen shocks that the NZ economy has taken in recent years he said that what was needed was not some tinkering with the bits and pieces of the economy. What was required, he said, was a completely new DNA.

The rest of his talk was full of statistics and details, some of them frightening, some encouraging, but the gist of it was that recovery for this country will be a long, slow haul and will need some serious commitment from people at every level.

Throughout his recounting of our wayward financial affairs the elephant in the room was the word greed. He didn't use it once, but it was there.

We are still thinking about the implications of his talk for our personal financial affairs. But those three insights come back to me when I think about our small congregation.

  • The small church needs a different kind of DNA from any other church; it has to be wired differently, to develop a distinctive character. It is not a small church pretending to be a big church. It is what it is, with the people is has.

  • The small church needs to be in it for the long haul; there is not quick fix that will change its situation or suddenly grow its membership.

  • The small church member needs to remember that the church is not there to fill one's own needs, but to serve the needs of others both inside and outside the membership.

Usually, we in the church like to tell society how it should be. Today, I learned something from the secular world of economics that told me something about how the small church might be.

Tobacco Advertising

Well, it’s great to see that we are now taking tobacco issues seriously. No visible retail displays is a good step. Increased taxes make sense. Encouraging people to quit is creative. Denying smoking in prison will be a challenge. But, with these steps, we will all be better off in the long run.

But when will Government take a similar stance on the most costly and damaging recreational drug of all? When will we raise the taxes on alcohol to begin to cover some of its unbelievable costs? When will we package alcohol to make people think before buying it? When will we limit the sales of alcohol to times and places and purchasers that are more appropriate than at present?

The time will come when the community will say “We’ve had enough”. Apparently, that time is not yet. But who knows when “the tipping point” will be reached?