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.