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.