Saturday, December 8, 2012

DIY on the Geraldine River Walk

A few days ago I took the “river garden walk” at Geraldine.
A narrow strip of rough woodland runs between the buildings and the river at the back of the main street is. Locals have been cleaning up the scrub and carving a one kilometre path along the riverbank. Everywhere they are planting new shrubs on the tidied up grounds. It's looking stunning.
This achivement, apparently, is not the work of the District Council and certainly not the Government. It’s being done by local volunteers who are taking a little pride in their community.

Another example of that DIY spirit by which people pitch in and get something done for their own place, their own environment.
Rather like Local Shared Ministry, in a way...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


 Last night we visited the memorial to Richard Pearse, New Zealand’s pioneer aviator. It’s a simple replica of the machine in which he made the first powered flight of the British Empire, if not the world. It’s sited almost exactly where that first flight ended in a hedge,

Only his own modesty and conflicting eyewitnesses accounts about the actual year denies him the certainty of beating the Wright Brothers into controlled flight by several months.

Considering that Pearse had no training or qualifications of any kind, his flight was an absolutely extraordinary achievement. He solved problems without the benefit of knowledge already available in other parts of the world. He wrestled with the equipment and supplies he had and improvised to create his own solutions produced an amazing result. And at the end of the day he put his own body on the line and flew the thing.

It’s that kind of spirit that impels people in some small congregations to tackle Local Shared Ministry. They choose to realise on their own assets in ministry instead of waiting for someone else in some other setting to provide ministry for them.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Will you take...?

   Our month in the South Island was planned around the wedding of Grandson Tim and Casey at her parents’ high country homestead.
   It was a great occasion for around 100 family and friends. The weather forecast hadn’t looked too good but it turned out fine. All the complex and little details put into this imaginative event went smoothly. And everyone pitched in and enjoyed themselves. For my part, it was a pleasure to have no responsibility for any part of it!
   So another couple was launched on their joint life’s path. Another set of families is linked together “by marriage”. And all of us had the opportunity of thinking again about our own relationships and expectations.
   Some say, Why bother with a wedding? Well, I’m glad these two have. Just the event itself was a positive experience for dozens of us. I wish them well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So what happened?

       Yeah, well, that last post wasn’t a very good one to shut down on was it? Thank you to those who took the trouble to be in touch.... A most know, the Ca Pros is a long way from slowing me down – it’s only the side effects of the drugs that are the problem! And some travelling and quite a lot of new work...
       In the last few weeks the parish has been putting a new Team in place. It’s been a complex process, and there were a lot of learnings but at last we are under way. There are six of us, about half “called” and the rest formally elected by the Annual parish meeting. It’s an interesting mix of new and experienced people and we are already catching up on long-term matters that haven’t had top priority in recent years. The Paihia congregation is continuing in great heart and good numbers and there is much to be thankful for.
       It’s a different story at Russell, where the parish has at last had to recognise that the days of a viable congregation has come to an end. There are now no services, not even over summer, when there are usually some visitors. But we will celebrate the building’s centenary in April with a significant closing event.
       So that’s the life of the parish: ongoing life in one congregation and closure of another. And I suppose that’s a little like my own life in recent weeks. A couple of extended trips away with the caravan, interspersed with some frenetically busy weeks back home. And a rising PSA that resolutely marks out the days and months and years. Sitting in the sun in Timaru right now, I am making the most of them, one day at a time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

End of Life Choice

   My PSA has begun to creep up for the third time since prostate cancer was diagnosed over a decade ago. The medications are becoming less effective and I have been “doing the math”…So, though I can hope for some time yet, I have thinking again about the ultimate outcome.

   In pastoral ministry I saw many people and their loved ones going through terrible “end of life” experiences. These days there are really helpful opportunities to prepare for a “good end” (e.g. "Thinking Ahead") and more medical techniques in palliative care and sedation. I am conscientiously doing some of the former and when my time comes I hope to receive the best of the latter.
   Last week, for the first time in this country, someone who pleaded “Guilty” to assisting another to die, was actually discharged without conviction. In the context of Maryan Street’s “End of Life Choice” bill recently submitted for the Parliamentary ballot, this judgment has raised the stakes on the issue.
   Some of my Christian friends who would retain the “sanctity of life” doctrine at all costs presumably also subscribe to St Paul’s “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”. The inconsistency puzzles me; how can you be so committed to life that you aren't in a hurry to pick up the bonus points?
   I don’t share their theology, nor their rejection of the possibility of choosing a dignified end. I’d like to think I’ll be ready when the grim reaper rolls up. But I hope also, that by then, our country will be a little more relaxed in permitting me and others around me to have some part in the timing and nature of that sacred moment.
   I'm not into gambling, but I will watch the Parliamentary ballot with interest!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Parish Council Team takes off in LSM

     Some time ago, I noted that when the local church membership is very small, it is simply not practicable to have two or three separate bodies making decisions around the same mission and ministry. In June, I reported that we combined Team and Council.
    It’s taken some time to get all our ducks in a row. But this week we have the first reasonably complete meeting of the new joint Team and Council.
     We have called five people into particular roles in ministry and have coopted the Treasurer so we have a solid team of six who will be known as the Parish Council Team. They have all the powers of a Parish Council but function as an LSM team with the usual education and support from Ministry Enabler Rosalie who happens to be also our District Superintendent.
     It will save some duplication of thinking, planning and reporting. It will reduce demands on our membership for routine business. And it will eliminate the “them and us” sense that sometimes develops between two bodies.
     We’re still finding our way but we’re on the way…

Thanks to Tim Norwood for the logo suggesting an LSM model of Team and Teams in Mission.

Not so happy with politicians these days…

     Sure, the recent debate on same-sex marriage was conducted with dignity and produced some excellent speeches on both sides. And the result was beyond expectation with 2/3 of the house voting in favour of considering a change.
     But the reluctance to lower the alcohol purchase age in the face of the strong case made by the Law Commission is still something of a surprise. Advocates for change have put a brave face on their loss and will promote other ways to try to reduce our serious problems of binge drinking. But the government is still obviously reluctant to tackle the issues of pricing, advertising and packaging, some of which have proven benefits.
    The legislation is a long way from being finished, but the outlook suggests that a rare opportunity to make a difference is slipping away.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Winter Holiday

Top of Mt St John, Tekapo
     We enjoyed a wonderful road trip last month, covering quite a lot of the country.
     We discovered many things we hadn’t seen before, enjoyed hospitality in several homes, manoevred our cosy caravan onto a many an unfamiliar patch of grass and generally enjoyed ourselves with more sleep than usual. And, yes, a little more food, too… A relaxing, refreshing time as the day to day stuff gradually disappeared out of our consciousness. Even my blog!
     Back in Paihia, it was my turn to lead the rather special service with a visiting choir, who’d come to say Thank you for using the church as their practice venue. A couple of minutes before the appointed time, I distinguished myself by tripping on the church step and starting the service with a couple of plasters ineffectually preventing my Cartia-thinned blood from running down my face. But we had a stimulating time as I made links between their three popular songs and our Christian heritage.
     A day or so later I was at the doctor’s with a badly bruised left hand on which the little finger still insists on finding the cAPS LOCK instead of “a” most of the time. Touch typing has been a rough ride ever since so, like other things in life, I am having to pause and think every time I come to an “a”.
     The vacation pace is doing me good!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

South Island Trip

Bev and I have been on the road for a couple of weeks and the sunniest two days of the whole period were spent indoors!

We attended a workshop for people interested in Local Shared Ministry in the Methodist Church. It was fascinating to meet others at various stages in the LSM journey, and to see what contribution it has made to their congregations.

As the first LSM in the Methodist Church in this country, our congregation might have been thought to have seen it all. But there were many learnings for us as we shared our knowedge and experience with others,

Of special importance was the opportunity to renew acquaintance with peope from three other places where we visited years ago to commend the strategy.

We've moved on in subsequent days to visit family in Upper Hutt and Christchurch. In the latter we are again appalled by the scale of the damage and its implications for the whole country for years to come. So much to do... But every now and then there's a bright cheerful note of optimism. Call it faith, I guess....

Friday, August 3, 2012

Error Messages in LSM #6

#6 Confidentiality

Confidentiality is all-important in the Local Shared Ministry Support Team. Serious breaches that are not dealt with can tear a team apart in a very short time.

If an individual is grappling with a personal problem relating to the team or another member, this must first be dealt with within the team, not by following other procedures which may be open to parish members or the general public.

The Enabler must be proactive in ensuring that issues are dealt with before major conflict develops. Of course, the Enabler will be under supervision and may, under that seal of that process, feel obliged to share some details around the issues.

But general discussion around the congregation about issues among members of the Team must not take place. Such gossip can inflame other differences of opinion that are not even relevant to the issue.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Chain of Love?

I have received an email asking me to forward a well-meaning statement about God's love and prayer to twelve friends. This was my answer:

Hi there

     Thank you for your invitation. I am sorry to let you down but I generally try hard not to get involved in "chain" emails, no matter how worthy the cause. Apart from the chore of deciding which ones are serious and which not so serious and which are worthy and which are downright spam, I often handle 30 or more emails a day. Many of them I try to reply to promptly and carefully. I am not always successful in the latter. But I just feel that life isn't meant to be spent just in front of a screen. So some emails get the "SHIFT/DEL" treatment and their senders disappear into the Junk Senders list.
     I won't do that with you! But I have now spent more time on this than if I had just flicked it on to twelve friends, and it's 5.30am on Sunday and I should be doing something else. I certainly don't have time to think through the internet congestion implications of extrapolating an email by a multiplying factor of 12, no matter how biblical or well intentioned it may seem to be.
     But Bev and I do send you our best love. We talk of you and your country often and wish that so many of our distant friends were just that little bit less distant. However, although we don't do anything so well these days we keep having some hopes of being able to travel again, some time, so who knows, we may meet again... That would be great...


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Want to bet on it?

     It was great to see Sir Bob Jones’ forthright condemnation of the government’s shabby deal with Sky City in yesterday’s Herald. And his opinion was based so much more on facts and figures than any comment I could make.
     I have previously identified Sir Bob as kind of prophet in some areas of human life. But in this article, he couldn’t have come closer.
     And like other prophets, he will probably find that his views won’t change the minds of a stubborn and weak-minded government. But all praise to him for having a go at this nasty feature of our society and its creation of a growing under-class in the name of "charity".

New Step in Local Shared Ministry

     Last Saturday's decision to merge our Parish Council and the Ministry Support Team is a new step in our journey of Local Shared Ministry.

     As most people know, I was involved in introducing the model to New Zealand in 1990, and our parish was the first Presbyterian or Methodist congregation to adopt it. Others have followed as Bev and I promoted the concept here and overseas.
     We always encouraged congregations to separate the body that “governs” the congregation from the Team who “coordinate” the work. Our Parish’s recent decision to put these two functions into just one group is a novel approach.
     It will be a little strange at first. Our Enabler will be seen among more of us on a regular basis. Different things will happen as the seven come together each month. And future Parish Annual Meetings won’t need to appoint a Parish Council or elect officers.
     After 20 years we are ready to break some new ground. For some time Parish Council has been trying to “think itself into a new way of acting”. But now we are going to “act ourselves into a new way of thinking”. We are in for some interesting times...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Policy and Acting in the LSM congregation

     As a general rule there should be separation between the Parish Council that determines policy and the LSM team which carries it out. Normally, Council members are elected by the parish membership but the Team is put in place by the wider church.
     But it’s a fine line and in the smallest congregations it may prove impossible to set up two different groups to live out these two roles.
+ Some very small LSM Teams are called to be the Council as well.
+ In some others the two groups of people usually meet together.
+ In any Council there should normally be some representation from the Team but not so many members that the Councillors are outnumbered or outvoted.
+ Some churches safeguard voting by not permitting Team Members to cast a vote.

Decision-making in the small church

     We have another Calling coming up for our lay ministry team and the first thing we will do is re-consider the strategy. As always, we will pause to consider if there is any alternative way of providing ministry for our small fellowship.
     This year is our nineteenth in Local Shared Ministry so perhaps there will be more discussion than usual. Maybe we will even need a formal vote about the principle before we can go on to implement it.
     I recall a maxim we trotted out when we were considering new ventures in the feisty 1960s: “Ten percent in favour is a mandate for action”… It was never quite true of a Parish Council. But it is true that many significant policies have been initiated because a small minority became enthusiastic and vigorous. And many a programme has died because a small minority vigorously opposed it openly.
     In decision-making in the small congregation, I think I take off my hat to those who sit near the middle of these kinds of debates. Sometimes they struggle to understand the issues and to cast a wise vote. Afterwards, they will probably not be the leaders of the action (or inaction) that will follow.
     But they are loyal to the congregation. They will give their support where they can. And even if they are not actively involved, they do not bad-mouth the policy or those who implement it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Drive Carefully!

It’s disappointing that our Easter zero road toll is not going to be repeated this holiday weekend. 
But it was simplistic of the Police to claim that the Easter success was because of their strict monitoring of motorists’ speeds. Sadly, the last 24 hours have made it very clear that the issues are much more complex than that.
We need to keep working on this, all of us who drive.  Bev and I, who have been on the road quite a bit the last couple of weeks, are always grateful to get back to Te Haumi without incident.

Error Messages in LSM #5

     Any difficulties that develop between the members of a Local Shared Ministry unit, or conflicts between the parish council and the Ministry Support Team, must be addressed with urgency.\
     The nature of ministry through a team of individuals is that there is not usually a clearly defined “leader” in the local setting. When differences develop and the Enabler and the normal routines of personal supervision and team-building are not able to deal with them it is time to seek outside assistance.
     In a regular parish the ordained minister would recognise a pastoral responsibility to deal with this kind of situation. If the minister is not able to engage effectively in handling any conflict, it is normal to seek some assistance from beyond the immediate pastoral setting.
     Exactly the same situation applies in the LSM situation. The Enabler should seek advice and assistance from beyond the local setting and these should be readily forthcoming.
     The very worst thing that can happen to developing conflict is nothing. Too often that is what seems to happen. Team members, parish Councillors, and Enablers all need to take great care. And when their concerted efforts are not enough for the task and they call on outside assistance, that must be offered quickly, compassionately but decisively.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

And we thought we had troubles...

The short TV segment (Close Up - Mon 28 May) on late-night behaviour in Auckland CBD was totally depressing viewing as we watched Police dealing with the vast amount of alcohol that was out on the streets.

We should be grateful that at least we do now have Liquor Bans, and some people are learning to live with them.

I have a lot of sympathy for the Police who are supposed to enforce the bans. In remote centres like ours, on solo duty, they are not always able to be as firm as the law and the public might expect. And, as last night's reporter wryly observed, it would take an hour's work to process each offence. No wonder the Police, in a recent year, drove 22,000 offenders to their homes rather than take them into custody.

Without doubt, instant fines for breaches of a Liquor Ban will help. And, as the Lower Hutt physician said, increasing the tax on alcohol and other pricing adjustments have been shown to reduce levels of consumption. Let's do it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Our Country Rock Hour

     What a great morning our congregation had with Ricky Waters during the Bay of Islands Country Rock Festival! Daphne and Herb put together an order of service with everything that was needed for worship.
      And we had a feast of Gospel and Country music from Ricky and his songwriter/singer wife Maureen. The latter’s line “Is there Mothers’ Day in Heaven?” tugged more than a few heartstrings. Their sympathetic selection of solo items for worship was devotional and impessive.
     Ricky left his trademarket Stetson off in respect for the worship setting but Daphne sent him out to get it and the rest of the hour went even better! We didn’t turn our Father’s House into a den of thieves but we bought every CD they had with them.
Actually, Daphne and I had a discussion about whether it would OK to mention them, especially since was foregoing his hour on the street to be with us. I suggested that if a bearded, wild-eyed stranger came in with a whip came in we should take no notice and just go on enjoying the music.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Correction

     Recently - on the doomed TV7, mark you! - I watched Roger Brooking and Simon Cunliffe discussing the appalling results of our country's "correctional" policies. I became deeply concerned.
     In the first place, we had better give up the title Department of Corrections; it seems that nothing much is being “corrected”. We’re just locking offenders up with others who are likely to have the worst possible effects on them.
     But the figures that really drew my attention were the observations that about 80% of crime that results in imprisonment is related to alcohol and other drugs; and less than 5% of convicted criminals are required to enter drug rehabilitation programmes as part of their sentence.
     Seems to me we haven't got a problem with prisons.
     We have got a problem with alcohol and other drugs.


     TV7 is the last vestige of serious public televsion in this country. And it is to be taken off the air in a couple of months. We are told that the country can’t afford it. That’s nonsense. 
     With TV7 will die a number of outstanding local programmes. There were always more than we had time to watch but there was always something worthwhile when we wanted it.
     Of course, there are limits to the public purse and I understand there are many other deserving causes for our tax dollar. But the loss of freedom of speech that is inherent in the canning of this excellent public service is a sad indictment of our sense of priorities.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Another family book

     This week, “The Kiwi Stewarts” is being posted out to family and friends.

     For the last decade or so I have been collecting stories from family members of three generations who originated in the modest Stewart farm on the Landahussy road in Northern Ireland.
     It’s been a fascinating journey with the few dozen or so whose short life stories are now put into permanent form. I have met several relatives I didn’t even know existed and have been invited to share a little of the joys and excitements of people of all ages. I have also been ushered into some dark places where there are hints of tragedy and human failings.
     As well as interviewing the living, I’ve pulled together some threads – mostly provided by others – of the stories of some of those who have gone before. From a charming minister of the gospel (not me, let it be said), to one who died while tied to a chair in his own home; from the very plain and devout Matilda to her strikingly gorgeous but apparently irreligious younger sister Elizabeth; from Northern Ireland to New Zealand by way of England, United States, Canada and Africa, they are nothing special. They’re just a simple sample of ordinary humanity.
     But they’re my humanity, and I am something more than I was for entering into their lives just a little. I hope that sharing this publication will help others to gain that kind of new understanding of themselves. Like small churches, families don't have to be huge and famous. Both have some special qualities.

Friday, April 27, 2012

LSM Error Message #4

    Employment of any salaried staff in small congregations tends to militate against effective work by volunteers.
    If the paid person has demonstrable professional qualifications for ministry there is usually no problem. It is normal for a skilled and sensitive stipendiary minister to be able to recruit an enthusiastic team of volunteers in a regular parish.
    Mostly, this working relationship can be effective in the small church where the paid person is not full-time but clearly has other responsibilities which will compete for energy and hours. Volunteers can see their contribution is meaningful and valued.
    But in the church of twenty or thirty families where there is no customary minister at all, a group of relatively unqualified people coming into ministry should not have to cope with issues of status. If a decision is made that one or other of them should be paid the others are likely to feel that their contribution is not valued to the same extent.
    It becomes easier for the paid person to be allocated the chores that others don’t want to do. And it becomes harder to recruit new volunteers to replenish the working team. There can develop a trend to pay more people to provide longer hours instead of widening the voluntary team to include more people offering shorter hours.
    Expenses should always be paid to volunteers in Local Shared Ministry, but not wages.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Anzac Service in Church

    Ann drew the short straw for Anzac Sunday. When she found out about it she quite vigorously refused, but later, being Ann, she said she would do it.
    She led us through her Canadian background of Remembrance Day and spoke feelingly of her parents’ antipathy to war, her mother’s Mennonite background, and her own protest about the Vietnam war.
    Then, using three well-known poems often quoted at this kind of time, she brought us, through her own research on Anzac Day and Ephesians 6 (the armour of God) to realities of our time and situation.
    We had a great sing and there was time for sharing personal reflections and memories afterwards. The prize went to Margaret Lange who said that the bugler was unable to play the Last Post properly because he noticed that one of the veterans on parade had slipped a half-smoked cigarette into his pocket without properly extinguishing it and smoke was coming out of his trousers.
    Ann had given me her notes in advance and I was able to illustrate her points with some visuals that (some said later) added greatly to the impact of her words. It was a memorable service and greatly appreciated by the congregation. We are fortunate to have lay worship leaders of this level of ability and her depth of passion. Thank you, Ann, for a worthy remembrance and stimulating worship.

Don't bet on it, Prime Minister

    Having connived in Bev’s betting spree at the Dargaville Races last Friday I guess I am not the person to make a comment on the shabby deal cooked up by our Prime Minister with Sky City Casinos.
    But, given the demonstrable social cost of gambling, I hope that the growing dissatisfaction with this deal continues and that the PM will take some notice of it. Swapping the development of a free Convention Centre in exchange for a law change to grossly extend gambling facilities is an inept way to promote development.
    We had a great day at the races. It’s a really informal event and on all sides people were enjoying themselves with picnics in the sun. It was school holidays and there were lots of children. Bev took $25 (“to play with” she said) and laid out $1 bets in all directions on every race. She came home with $25.80 so she had a great day.
    But, given the operating costs and the tax take, some other punters obviously contributed to her profit and, that’s what I find morally unsatisfactory about it. At the end of the day, somebody has to pay the price.
    The price for a flash new Convention Centre may be more than the people of our small country can afford. The PM should think again about how to pay for it.
    I’ll ask Bev to contribute her profit on her day’s outing.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"... And throw away the key?"

Watching Roger Brooking and Simon Cunliffe discussing the appalling results of our country's "correctional" policies left me deeply concerned.
In the first place, we had better give up the title Department of Corrections; nothing much is being corrected.
But the figures that drew my attention were the claims that about 80% of crime that results in imprisonment is related to alcohol and other drugs. And less than 5% of convicted criminals are required to enter drug rehabilitation programmes as part of their sentence.
Seems to me we haven't got a problem with prisons. We have got a problem with alcohol and other drugs.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Error Messages in LSM #3 Battery Flat!

· A common criticism of Local Shared Ministry is that it is difficult for members of the congregation to identify the focus of leadership that is normal in a paid minister.

· It’s a valid concern. If there is no “minister” in the situation, who models the ministry for everyone? Who sets the positive example and inspires action? Who brings the authoritative voice to discussion? And, if conflict develops, who referees the occasional fight?
· Obviously, the team members in themselves are individually the focus for each particular aspect of mission and ministry. They provide this role for their own teams of people in ministry.
· But when the team is functioning jointly, and when wider parish concerns are in the air there are invariably times when people look to an individual for “leadership”. I don’t think this is unreasonable. My kauri’s restoration of its lost “leader” suggests to me that there is a kind of naturalness about the concept of leadership residing in just one person.
· We used to joke about the team being a “multi-headed minister”. But that’s not how the above kind of leadership works: when overall leadership is required from one person, it's the task of the Enabler, working with the Team.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Follical challenge in the small church

      Last night, still in summer shorts, I was lying back in my reclining chair and casually inspecting my knee surgery scars when I noticed that there’s not a decent hair on my legs.
      Now, I was never one of your hairy monsters but I had a serious crop of hair that came and went with the seasons, depending on whether I was wearing shorts or long trousers. The latter ground a lot of hairs off some areas over six months or so. But this is the end of the shorts season and right now my legs would serve as an advertisement for Veet.
    Yep, it’s the cancer medications. The same drugs that are making me weep copiously at the slightest sadness or even a moving passage in the Bible are stealing a very male characteristic from my legs — and other places. I am surprised at how this hair loss has shaken me.
     We think we have coped pretty well with an extra few kgs of weight, my budding breasts, the loss of my sex drive (and we are working on that), a generally teary existence and other anticipated side effects. But suddenly finding my legs were as smooth as a baby’s bottom has unnerved me. It’s a dramatic reminder of the serious things that are going on in my system—especially since a rising PSA suggests that the medications are beginning to lose their battle anyway.

I guess relationships in the small congregation are sometimes disrupted by the smallest and most minor matters. Sometimes we manage the big stuff OK and then let ourselves down on the little things.

Friday, March 23, 2012

LSM Error Messages # 2 WRONG PASSWORD

      Congregations with relatively few business skills can often manage OK when there are no big challenges. Routine matters of organising volunteer rosters, working bees and mowing lawns and so on are no trouble.
     But when there’s a major matter of maintenance and only limited funding available, or a commercial contract to be let for specialist work, or a purchase of a complex item of equipment, it’s important to have competent people on business committees and to see that good business principles are followed in the decision-making and execution. The right people are the password to success.
     Finding them can be a challenge.
· Not all small congregations have people with competence to seek and compare quotations – indeed, some church committees don’t even bother with them for quite large purchases or contracts.
· Many committees don’t have the ability to prioritise different kinds of spending from a modest, fixed budget.
· Some even cannot even understand a simple statement of accounts.
     It’s very important that people with the right skills and knowledge and a sense of Christian stewardship are drawn onto Councils and committees which carry substantial responsibilities. Usually, but not always, the same people will also have vital skills in meeting procedures and rules of debate.
     The point is that a place on the council of a small church is not just a reward to be handed out to faithful members. Nor is it an open forum for everyone to come along and have their two cents’ worth. Sheer goodwill and confidence is not enough. We need to get the right people for the job.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Our Kauri Leader

      Our little kauri tree has definitely repaired itself!
......It lost its central "leader" two years ago. Ever since, it has looked like the five branch stems around it were likely to take over and make a deformed cluster of trunks. It struck me at the time they were rather like a small church opting for Local Shared Ministry instead of a paid minister. Now that was not a metaphor I wanted to emphasise. Nor is it a suitable metaphor for LSM that the central leader has now recovered.
......But it is a fundamental principle of most congregations that they look to one person to be a focus for the essentials. It is normal for just one person to be the final arbiter in times of differences, to offer direction when we are astray, and to be the centre around which most things turn. Every congregation, at heart, wants one person to look to.
......So, how does a small church using LSM manage without the authority figure that is the paid minister? First, there is a shared authority in the fact that every member of the team is called by the parent church. There is a confidential prayer ballot among the members, but the results do not necessarily determine who is called. That step is taken outside the local church membership.
......Second, it is possible that the congregation may call one person to be the Team Leader, to convene meetings and to exercise on occasion the kind of coordinating role that might be provided by a paid minister.
......Third, every LSM unit has a Ministry Enabler appointed by the parent denomination. This person carries the authority of the denomination and provides a focus for the whole of the ministry of the LSM support team and the congregation. This role may not play a major part in day to day life but when it is needed, it must there.
......The tiny, fragile shoot at the top of our wee kauri isn’t a very large part of the tree. It points the way to the skies that the tree will one day pierce. But it is the whole tree that does the growing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

LSM Error Message #1

A Local Shared Ministry Team does not meet without its Enabler being present. This is especially important when a new team is getting established or when there may be disagreements as to how to engage in the work of the team it facilitates the parish’s mission.

     The Enabler is not merely the facilitator of the Team, s/he is also the ministerial appointment to the Parish, responsible for the parish’s relationship to the parent body. The Enabler also carries a special understanding of the congregation’s place in the ecclesiastical scheme of things and is the bearer of the tradition and guardian of the heritage.
     Part of the gift of LSM is the obligation to work with an Enabler from the wider church. Both local congregation and national ecclesiastical authority need to remember that this is not negotiable.

Monday, March 5, 2012

District WHAT?

     The possible demise of Regional Councils is OK by me. I’m sure we can find other ways of managing the best aspects of their work and we can do without some of the worst.

     But I think a lot of the arguments used for eliminating them (Listener 25 Feb 2012) should also be directed at the huge District Councils that are to stay in place or even, God forbid, be amalgamated to make bigger ones.
     Paihia’s needs for water, footpaths, libraries and play areas are not essentially different from those of Harihari or Maketu. We don’t need District Councils for needs which are held in common around the country.
     What we do need is a completely new kind of local decision-making body that can relate to the Paihia situation, not 42 disparate communities. This kind of body will not have large infrastructure and a host of salaried officers. It will consist of local people in their local communities operating a mechanism by which they can give advice about what is needed and also develop some special things themselves.
     Some of these groups will be elected formally, some will be kind of ad hoc. All will have a passion to get the best they can out of available national resources, as well as the commonsense to realise that their needs will have to relate to the needs of others. Each will be directly related to just “our community”.
     The Paihia Community Trust is a move in the right direction. Let’s have that instead of the FNDC.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What God is that?

     Recently I was in a congregation where we were invited to sing a traditional hymn that I knew well. But I immediately realised that I have not used it in nearly forty years.
     There were just four verses of four lines each.  But in those sixteen lines there were no less than thirteen references to God in the male gender and four references to Christ as King.
      That's why I haven't used that hymn in the last thirty years.

76 not out

     We’ve made up some small colour portraits of our members for Terry and Helen to take back to England with them. We’ve kept a set to put on the church wall so visitors will get to know us a little more easily. But someone said, “People will think we’re just a bunch of oldies.”
     Well, yes, we are. That’s our character. That’s our style. That’s what might encourage people like us to become involved. They may recognise something of themselves in us.
     Small congregations like ours don’t have the luxury of being all things to all people. We have steadily maintained our congregation over a couple of decades by providing something that some people have been looking for. It's not a coincidence that most of the "joiners" have been pretty much like ourselves.

     Perhaps we need some little posters made from these cheerful portraits with wording like, “"I'm Bev. I'm fun. I like people. Meet me at 35 Kings Rd 915am any Sunday”.
    Hey, now there’s a recruitment idea.

Too old?

     Some time ago, when we were discussing the problems of covering all the duties in the local church, someone said “There were a lot more of us twenty years ago. And we’re all twenty years older now…” She was alluding to the Good Old Days when there seemed to be plenty of people to do what needed to be done.

     Actually, we did a lot less in those days. Our little congregation now punches well above its weight in what it tackles and achieves beyond its own needs, compared with a couple of decades ago.  
     And we weren’t twenty years younger. In the archives I found an attendance record that someone had kept for pastoral purposes in 1991. It showed that the average age then was only about twelve years younger than the average today.
     It also revealed that about half of the attendees made no other contribution to the formal mission of the church. These days every attending member in the congregation has a definable role or responsibility.
    That's how it is in the small church with Local Shared Ministry.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Giving way to change

     I hate the coming Give Way rule. I don’t care if every other country in the world does it this way, I liked it the way it was. You just had to watch out for everything on your right.
     If the law had to be changed, perhaps we could have done it the way the Irish are suppopsed to have made the change from driving on the right side of the road to driving on the left. They couldn’t agree so they decided on a trial first. At midnight, they said, all cars would change to the left side of the road. If the new rule was working OK after six months, trucks and buses would change over, too.
     Changes in the small church sometimes have that kind of rationale about them. Circumstances change, needs alter, key people move away, and events dictate new strategies to cope. Sometimes it seems too complicated, too much altogether. But that’s life. One day I’m feeling so well that, as former parish member George Barke used to say, “If I was any fitter, I’d be dangerous”. The next day I get the report on my latest blood test and am reminded of my fragile mortality.
     As Parish Council has been considering changes in the administrative life of the Parish, they are reminding themselves that what often seems like a threat is sometimes merely a challenge to move on.
     I guess I will cope with the Give Way rule. I will cope with my declining health. And we will cope with changes in the Parish. For that is the way of faith. Editor

Monday, February 13, 2012

Half a century on...

      I’ve been to a few Golden Wedding events, including my own, but last weekend’s dinner was a bit special. Heather and Bill Barnett and their family and friends were celebrating the wedding that I conducted for them fifty years ago. We’ve met them only two or three times in the five decades since, but it was a great occasion as we renewed acquaintance with family members we’d known in our first parish.
      It was particularly satisfying to me that the function was held in the local church where the Barnetts have been valued and active members for most of their married life. I didn’t ever demand that couples I was marrying should join the church or make commitments that they didn’t really mean to keep. And working in very small and ageing congregations did not bring a lot of encouraging rewards to this minister.
      But every now and then there are little bonus experiences. Last Saturday night was one of them.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How will we manage without them?

     At the end of this month Helen and Terry Brew have to return to England. They will not be returning for their usual six months in our parish later in the year.
     They do a tremendous amount in our little parish so their moving caused a mild panic for a while. But also it’s created a serendipitous moment for us to return to an earlier proposal to review our parish structure.
     So last week there was an informal meeting of parish council and other interested members. It was held in a home instead of the church, and with the aid of fabulous desserts and coffee and some fun community-building around our understanding of small churches, we achieved a strong consensus to re-start the review process.
     We also brainstormed the various chores that will have to be done after the Brews leave. As we later went around the group of sixteen, volunteers came forward to cover all the vital chores while the review is taking place.
     Church housekeeping thus attended to, Vanessa told us of the family that was burned out of a house just over the road from the church. Immediately, members voted $200 and suggested a quick appeal in Church. Gifts started coming in yesterday, and these will probably be subsidised $1 for $1 from Parish Council’s emergency outreach reserves.
     It was a great couple of hours as some mild panic about how we would manage without these two wonderful people gradually turned into purposeful planning and generous service. That’s the small church in action.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

On Income Inequality

   I was really encouraged to see Brian Gaynor's Herald piece on the doubling of income inequality in New Zealand in the last twenty or so years. I was fascinated to see his lucid explanation of how rocketing salaries and bonuses for the top people have insidiously spread themselves around the global community.
   But, like a lot of sermons in which we clergy have castigated the congregation for some failing or other, I suppose, this interpretation left me wondering what I can do about it. I just am left with a feeling of helplessness.
   Having lived through a lot of tax changes over half a century, I recall the days when even clergy paid 48c on the top dollars of the stipend. So what about returning to a more progressive tax regime, so that the rich make a greater contribution to the public good?
   Brian’s answer is that shareholder vigilance will work better.  The problem is, as I see it, those who are the worst victims of income inequality have no voice for change. 
   They don’t vote at shareholders’ meetings.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fishers of all ...

      We snuck off for a couple of nights at Hihi Beach on Sunday afternoon. Our mini satellite dish couldn't pick up any TV for the trees so there was quite a lot of reading and walking.
     We watched our camp neighbours pull in a flapping stingray and get it safely back into the water - no skate steaks for them. I wasn't much interested in fishing; but at one point I did become aware that there was a tumult of seabirds over the beach.
     I stepped out from behind the hedge and saw the biggest and noisiest flock of white-fronted terns I'd ever observed. The water was steaming white with spray as the birds dived and splashed to the surface with sprats. But big fish were also throwing themselves all over the place competing for the same prey. Yellow-eyed mullet were the targets of both groups and they were so close inshore that the big kahawai were running aground and stirring the water into a muddy cloudy mess.
      At times the whole eruption was only two or three metres from the shore, totally undisturbed by our wonder and curiosity. A couple of much more experienced fishers than I said they had never seen anything like it so close to the beach. 
      From the shore, a young lad cast a lure through all this turmoil of feathers and scales and splashes and pulled in two or three very nice fish. By the time three or four boats were hastily launched and a few more surfcasters set up around the beach the big camp smoker would be filled to capacity.
      Home tonight, we dined on an excellent smoked kahawai and potato pie. The experience seemed a serenditpitous follow-up to Sunday's account of the calling of the fisher-disciples.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A snail for Christmas

Special friends Shirley and Joan sent me a very small book at Christmas: “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating”.
It’s Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s reflections on a snail that came to share a year of her life as she lay completely bed-ridden.
Poetic insights into the meaning of life for this tiny creature beside her bed, and voluminous scientific and literary research on the family of gastropods have been distilled into a tiny book with a huge heart.
I read it slowly and pondered my own life. I marvelled at the incredible life of the common woodland snail. I absorbed something of the author's passion for the incidental, the almost invisible.
As I came to understand that if humans totally annihilate their species on this planet, snails may well outlive them, I felt my self-importance diminishing and shrinking.
Better reviewers than I have written about this wonderful little book.  Suffice it to say that I—increasingly discovering the limitations of ageing and medication—found it totally uplifting and inspiring. It’s given me a new perspective on my own existence.

What more could a Christmas gift bring?

Give a Goat?

It was Fran’s idea. She pointed out that there are gift cards for all kinds of overseas aid; you give your friends a gift card instead of a present and the money goes to buy a goat or feed a child or share in digging a well.
But, said Fran, “My family don’t need Christmas presents—I want to do something for our own country’s people who won’t get a decent Christmas.”
So we printed some special cards and mentioned them to the congregation one Sunday just before Christmas.
It wasn’t a project authorised by the Parish Council, just a low-key, informal suggestion. But others asked for cards and we eventually sent off around $600 to provide Christmas cheer for some needy Kiwis.
At Christmas, a dozen family and friends got our little red and green printed cards instead of the presents they hardly needed anyway.
And we were all reminded of a central reality of Christmas.

Windows 7?

I’ve joined the ranks of those who are struggling to convert their minds from to Windows 7 from XP. With the latter being about to lose the Maternalistic Microsoft’s support, and a dying computer, I've had the change forced on me. And, like many, I am having a lot of trouble with it.
I see one W-7 complainant was admonished to remember that a Model T did a great job for its day but we all have to move on. He was told to consider the advantages of, say, a Prius.
Well, I’m not impressed with that argument. My Model T will still do about a dozen different things that I need now and then. But after three weeks the Prius can still do only three of them.
I don’t need this new Prius; I just need a Model T—or perhaps, I concede, a Falcon—that works

There must be a moral for small churches in there some place…