Thursday, December 5, 2013

An example from the Community

After all the discussions over recent years, all the detailed planning, and all the sheer hard toil by a small bunch of dedicated community volunteers through the spring, we now have this astonishing, beautiful park space on the Paihia waterfront: ”Horotutu—Our Place”.

The feature lighting at night changes colour every few seconds. There’s a psychedelic piano for anyone to play, an illuminated diorama of the Bay of Islands, a stunning water and light feature and a telephone box library of books for free exchange. Other “placemaking” projects will be incorporated into this outstanding new amenity.

All this happened because ordinary people had a dream. They didn’t wait for the Council to get round to it. They didn’t look for paid workers to do it all. They took the initiative to do all this planning, negotiating, fund-raising and working to bring this gift to the town themselves.

We who celebrate Christmas with some sense of what it is really about, might well reflect on what has been done in this great little park. If Christmas is about giving, this new “place” expresses the essence of our faith: dedicated, generous, even sacrificial sharing of time, talents and treasure. Those who created Horotutu are an example to us.

Maybe some of the members of our church didn’t help much for this park project. But there are plenty of opportunities for us to explore what we can do to make the world a better place. That’s the spirit of Christmas.

Thrush family survives the storm

We’ve been down at the big smoke signing papers and organising doctor and solicitor and getting to know all the people involved in our move to a Retirement Village next year.

And after the near-drought of recent months, there’s been a cyclonic system arrive from the northwest and our property has had five inches of rain in the three days we were away. We wondered how the thrush in the Totara tree managed? She had no cover at all and it must have been a cold, wet time.

Well, this morning we saw at least two fledglings staggering around the edge of the nest and creeping out on the branches. They’ve apparently survived the rain and the harriers. Now, about to flutter to the ground, they had better keep their little beaks quiet or they will fall victim to one of the local cats.

But their mother, who seemed to make a pretty stupid choice for a home, she’s done the best she could and soon it will be all up to them. They may or may not survive. But hopefully their cheerful song will soon charm our neighbourhood. Ain’t life marvellous?

The thrush is back!

There’s not been too much evidence of action around the thrush’s nest the last couple of weeks. It seems to be all “completed and ready for occupancy” as they say in the Retirement Village. I wondered if a pair of blackbirds in the next tree upset progress but tonight I see the thrush is back, sitting stolidly on the nest.
She’s no doubt hopeful the run of bright fine weather will carry on for some time. But I worry that her nest is very vulnerable to the next cyclonic front that swings down from the tropics.
Time will tell. And I should get back to sorting and reminiscing and throwing out. I’ve got to box No 41 but there’s some distance to go and some interesting stuff to review.
Meanwhile, we have sent in our formal application for a villa. It’s being refurbished and will become “completed and ready for occupancy” in late February. And we are “living tidily” for any possible buyer to come and take a look.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Writing for Trademe

I have spent an hour writing up a short piece to persuade someone to buy my beautiful Video Cassette Recorder and have at last got round to loading the information onto Trademe. They say it is 3090 characters too long! I can't let all that creative work go to waste, so here it is as a testament to an hour of wasted time:

Video Cassette Recorder SVHS
Professional Panasonic AG 7350

These days these machines are mostly used as boat anchors but here is one in excellent condition and low head hours all ready to transcribe your VHS and SVHS tapes to DVD or other more permanent archive.

It was given to me by my son who acquired it in Australia and used it lightly in his video production business in the early 1990s. I have run only a few dozen tapes through it during the last ten years. I have just recently cranked it up to play the last of my own conversions to DVD and after a quick cleanup of the heads it ran perfectly. However, as can be seen from my wiring connections, my use of it was fairly unsophisticated so I cannot guarantee that all its other complexities will work perfectly. Indeed, there are switches on this machine which mean nothing at all to me and when I flick the lid off (two screws – no domestic machine was ever so easy to open) I get indigestion just looking at the masses of ICBs. Really, it deserves someone who understands more about it than I do(but I hope you noticed I probably do know what ICBs are). I hope the photos will say everything that you need to know.

One day this will be a collector’s piece as there were not a lot of them. Most people working in SVHS bought a full edit pair with controller (I did and it cost $19000), and while the AG 7350 would have worked quite OK on either side of such a pair, it was usually operated “stand-alone”. The original cost was in the order of $7000, I think, and if I get a good proportion of that back I would feel obliged to offer some of it to my son, so don’t bid too high, please. But you could conceivably make a handsome profit on it as an antique if you buy it at my reserve and hold onto it for, say, about 158 years. That’s what I was going to do; but prostate cancer and downsizing our home have changed all that…

If you don’t want to wait that long, the AG 7350 would make an impressive conversation piece in your lounge. Or you could cut the front panel off and frame it as a picture. Either way; you could sound very knowledgeable about it if you bone up on some of the specifications below and get them into your small talk. It would also work well as a designer doorstop in your loo. Powered up, its lights make an impressive sight in the flowerbeds at night. The possibilities are endless. So, at my reserve this beautiful piece of kit is available for what any vasectomy surgeon would have called a real snip. You could also use it to copy your old VHS and SVHS cassettes onto DVD.

It’s a heavy machine but I can pack it adequately, but without responsibility, for transporting. I think that $25 will cover regular courier but if you want it sent some other way the extra cost might be on you. I can deliver between Paihia and Auckland if you’re not in a hurry – but you can give me $10 for petrol. Or you can, of course, come and collect it. Our Paihia church has a couple of hospitality homes where you can have two nights in Paradise for a very moderate rate (

Oh, yes, if, by any chance, you do want to use it as a boat anchor, you will have to fit your own ringbolt.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"What my Godly mother didn't tell me"

For some years, Margaret has played the organ for church once a month. She offered to do this, not out of passionate interest in the church but for her great love of music. She has obviously enjoyed the experience and gives great leadership to our congregational singing. Our reputation for singing arises partly out of the enthusiasm and competence of our three organists and she contributes much more than her share of both.

She comes from a very devout Christian family but half a century ago outgrew what she found to be a rather repressive understanding of the faith. So it was some diffidence that I asked if she would share something of her experience with us. We billed the service as “What my Godly mother didn’t tell me” and we had a dialogue around Faith, Scripture, Conversion and Future Life.

We sat in comfortable seats to one end of a large circle of chairs. Margaret spoke briefly about how her mother used to enthuse about the topics we had chosen. Faith was having Jesus in your heart; the Bible was absolutely to be believed, word for word, Conversion was signing a pledge card at Easter Camp (“I think I was converted 27 times”) and the Future Life was all about heaven and hell. After she introduced each topic, I offered another point of view and we then shared lively conversation.

For me, it was an opportunity to offer my views more firmly than is always appropriate in “the pulpit” and the pastoral setting. For Margaret, the whole experience was a kind of epiphany, she told me later. She says that when she retires and looks for some university study, the Bible is now at the top of her choice of topics.

Downsizing the paper war

Somebody once quipped: “Everything can be filed under Miscellaneous”…
I’m finding it’s true. There's a bigcleanup going on around here so we can move to a smaller home next year.
The cleanup at this stage includes sorting through dozens of files on different aspects of Local Shared Ministry, culling them vigorously and throwing the remainder into one file called “Local Shared Ministry”.
Why didn’t I think of that twenty-five years ago?

Another step...?

Interesting that a parliamentary committee has just recommended taking water services away from district councils. They prefer only five “arm’s length” companies to handle water issues for the whole of the country.
Another step in the right direction. But not quite far enough… Give responsibility for water to a government department, I say!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Unitary Council - a Step in the Right Direction?

So the Local Government Commission has decided that the whole of Northland should be one, vast, unitary Council, merging a City, a District and a Region.
I guess it is good to see that the new political leaders of these organisations have already met and say they are willing to work together for the best good of all — whatever that pious generalisation means. And I am pleased to see that the proposal goes some way towards what I consider to be the ideal two-step solution.
With a mixture of modesty and superiority, I suggest again -

1. Merge the sectional interests of all our little country’s Councils and Boards into a single organisation which could take over their roles. Actually, it’s already in place. It’s called the NZ Government. And it, for a country of our size, could do everything our complex system of Councils and Boards does.
2. Return local government to the locals. Reinvent elected voluntary community bodies that represent defined communities with common interests or common boundaries. The present system of wards can link up to seven or eight distinct communities, and consistently creates accusations of sectional interests. By definition, it is not “community”.

The Paihia Community Trust is a model for this view of local government. There may be as many as thirty defined communities under the new Unitary Council. I wonder if it will have thirty or more Community Boards?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Well done, Paihia!

Last night we joined several hundred locals for the twilight opening of the new park: Horotutu - “Our place”. There was free food, the shortest of annual meetings for the Community Trust and then there were thanks to all involved

As one who laboured for years on the Paihia Planning Committee to get the District Council to take our little community seriously, I found it absolutely stunning to see what has been achieved. The Council has obviously come to the party, instituting a special rates levy of $9 or so per household for local amenities and services. After several public consultations and submissions to many official bodies, the small maritime car park was cleared to be turned into a people space.

Then the voluntary work began. Commercial firms donated goods or gave big discounts for supplies. Contractors loaned machinery and allocated staff resources. Teams of volunteers worked separately to construct half a dozen separate features. Several individuals gave three months of full-time work every day, many of them discovering skills they did not know they had. One group provided meals for the workers every day for the whole three months.

The result is a beautiful green space incorporating the existing trees, augmented with special seating and the various features dreamed up by the “placemakers”. The cost has been in excess of $150,000 a large part of which was expended in feature lighting that changes colour every few seconds. A psychedelic piano, a huge illuminated model of the Bay of Islands, a stunning water and light feature and a telephone box library of books for free exchange. Other placemaking projects are invited and will be incorporated into this outstanding new amenity for the town.

Our Council representatives used to berate us because, they said, Paihia people could never agree about what they wanted. And it’s true that a few are still bemoaning the loss of 26 car spaces on the waterfront. But already small communities in this country and overseas are hearing what can be achieved when local people take some responsibility for their environment and try to do something about it. Well done, I say.

Isn’t this something like Local Shared Ministry? Small churches don’t have to wait for the national church to do it all for them. They have the resources, they have the people; all they need is the will and the commitment. And with some help from officialdom, great results can be achieved.

It was a good day at church.

Heather led us in a challenging service on the lectionary theme for the day - the Sadduccees’ question about the resurrection. Marie, soon to return to UK, helped us to reflect on Remembrance Sunday and we shared our convictions in well known and well-sung hymns. Then we adjourned to "an upper room" where the newly established Ocean Rock Café provided us with excellent facilities for our annual meeting.

Nineteen of us sat around the one table. Nine apologies accounted for our entire membership. We listened to very brief prepared reports from our Ministry Coordinators. We re-elected our representatives to the Parish Council Team. And, in the light of the news coming through from the Philippines, we decided to donate $800 for Typhoon relief.

And as noon came, so did lunch. We moved to small tables nearer the window and enjoyed excellent lunch meals or traditional Sunday roast. And at only $10 a person, with free tea and coffee, it was generous value - and the parish picked up the bill.

It was a thoroughly pleasant occasion. We were all amazed and grateful for the efficiency of our hosts, the great facilities and the quality and economy of the meal.

But we did well ourselves, too. We played to the strengths of the small church. We couldn’t have done it with 100 people. But a church of a couple of dozen is a family. And it was as a family that we worshipped, did our business and enjoyed our Sunday lunch together today. That’s what small churches are all about.

Monday, November 4, 2013

"We know what's best for you"

Our Government seems to be claiming that they don't have to listen to the electorate. On several major issues on which surveys show overwhelming public support they just refuse to act. The sale of national assets, and giving people some rights about their end of life are both matters on which the public is coming to quite strong views. On the former, a national and binding referendum has been forced. But the Prime Minister has already announced that, whatever the outcome, his government will not act on it. (I guess I do have to concede that, after strenuously opposing recommendations from bodies of all kinds, they have today announced stiffer blood-alcohol requirements for drivers...)

But on many issues, we have been told, “The government needs more evidence“. So they have kept calling for more and more research on issues which are less and less open to new insights. Meanwhile, the suffering, the high cost - and the anger - mount up.

I know a degree of conservatism is always necessary in those who carry responsibility for thepublic. I can understand that any government must move cautiously in areas of major change. But I have observed the same tendency in the western mainline church. The strategy of stipendiary ministry in small parishes has been clearly failing for decades. People want something else. But the official wheels are still turning only slowly.

Where, in government or the church, is a strong sense of vision of a better way? And where is the conviction to follow that vision and the commitment to bring it to life? Are not vision, conviction and commitment the heart of faith? If so, perhaps a strongly secular government may not be expected to exercise them.

But can we so easily excuse the church?

First-home builder?

When I worked in the deep NZ bush in the 1950s it was legendary that if you were looking for emergency shelter, you should head for a totara tree.

A thrush on our property must have heard about this. Perhaps she's a first-home builder. Maybe her mother told her “It’s often pretty wet in these parts, kid. So when you’re looking for a dry place to build a nest, choose a totara“. Anyway, here she is now, a few metres outside our bedroom window industriously working away at a new season’s nest - in the totara tree we planted about twenty years ago.

But her nest is high up in the top of the tree, in full view from our bedroom window. And no doubt soon to be spotted by some passing harrier or falcon. Worse, there hasn’t been any decent rain in weeks, so she hasn’t discovered how vulnerable she and her brood are going when we have a sub-tropical downpour.

You have to admire her diligence, her commitment, and the instinctive drive which propels her to build and round out her little home. But has she got one of the basics right? We’ll watch her with interest.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

What shall it profit a person...?

The new Quotable Values recently distributed should not have greatly surprised us. Bev and I had already set the asking price for our home well below the 2010 QV. But we still got a shock when the 2013 Valuation arrived.
Friends around town have experienced much greater “losses” than ours. For some like us, it means an immediate threat to a good and quick sale. For others, it is a bit of a technicality—they may even have some optimism that their rates will come down as a result. For others again, who have recently taken on mortgages based on 2010 prices, hard times may lie ahead, especially when interest rates rise.
I guess the QV is a metaphor for ourselves. We place a high value on our capacity to enjoy life to the full. But suddenly we may find a kind of “de-valuation” has been going on in our very being. An unanticipated failing in the physical or mental system, the advent of a serious disease, and we can realise that life is changed forever.
With the property QV, we can appeal, argue, plead, even pay for another professional valuation. But where our life is concerned, the Christian story reminds us of something a little different.
The Gospel story assures us that we have personal worth far above the things we own. This worth is not linked to personal convenience, comfort, success, happiness, enjoyment and certainly not material prosperity—not even the very home we live in.
Even in hard times, we need to try to live by that kind of conviction.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Go Opua School!

I hear that the Board of Trustees of one of our local schools last night voted to cease religious instruction as from the end of the year. Before a storm of protest breaks out among the local Christians, let me place on record that I am not greatly troubled. Indeed, as a conscientious objector to leading such classes myself for some 50 years, I am somewhat gratified.

I understand the Board voted primarily because they had a problem with the growing number of children whose parents asked them to be excused. It seems only one Trustee actually objected to the content and delivery though I understand the probability is that the local volunteer teachers were sitting very loosely to the official guidelines of the NZ Churches Christian Education Commission.

Nearly 60 schools in this country have relinquished religious instruction in the last couple of years. This is consistent with our 1877 Education Act which stated that education should be free, compulsory and secular. For one and a half centuries, enthusiasts have been finding ways around the secular clause and squeezing “Bible in Schools” and other such programmes into the school year.

Had this determined assault by well-meaning Christians produced a country of devout Christian citizens all this voluntary effort might have been justified. But the evidence is that NZ continues to lead the way in secularisation in the Western world. Attempting to “teach” the faith to children in the public school does not produce faith-full adults. Indeed, some suggest that it actually provides a barrier to serious reflection as an adult. Certainly my experience in dealing with people beyond the Church has been that I get a better hearing among those who don’t carry around a package of childhood knowledge of “Bible stories”, never mind threats of hellfire and damnation on sinners.

Monday, October 14, 2013

New Super-Highway or just a better road?

The proposed deviation of State Highway One from Puhoi north is a ticklish political and economic issue for our small country.

As a Northlander, I guess I respond to the official view that the development of our part of the country would be greatly enhanced by an easier road north. Some of us have experienced huge delays on vital trips through this congested area at certain times. Somewhat naively, we would like the choice of paying a toll for the sake of a smoother trip.

But an interesting new argument for the tollway was presented recently. We were told that the by-pass would speed the passage of vacationing Auckland to their beaches by a matter of some thirteen minutes.

I am among those who feel that the improvement of the existing highway at a few key points would bring a substantial benefit for a fraction of the cost of the super-highway. But then, as a proponent of Local Shared Ministry, it comes naturally to me to look for the simple, efficient, economic solutions, whether in national roading or small church strategy...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Heavy weather ahead!

We’ve had a clutch of rain and wind warnings lately as unseasonal cyclones have sneaked down from the tropics bringing threats of the worst weather we ever get up here. And that usually means power outages.

So Bev’s got out the candles and had them standing ready. Some of them look like they should be on the dining table with a fine meal. None of them looks like the utilitarian candle our great-grandparents used to take up the stairs to bed at night. If we’d been reaching for these in the dark we’d probably have tipped them over. And after a few minutes alight they’d have been dropping wax everywhere…

In the event, we didn’t have to use them. We had only about 40mm of rain and the wind was hardly noticeable. There was certainly no damage.

Local Shared Ministry often comes about in response to predictions of doom for the traditional strategy of paid ministry. But the response must be practical and realistic. It’s not a time for prettying up our church image. It's a time for getting on with the job. And it may be quite hard work...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Top of the Milk

Being unable to see it in the country of its production, and noticing that the New Zealand TV show Top of the Lake was being broadcast in England while we were there we mentioned to friends that we should see it while we were there.
They’d already seen an episode. Their response was, great scenery, but they really didn’t like all the foul language.
Our conversation took place about the time of Fonterra’s $15m botched milk powder recall. It seems a little ironic that the TV show and Tourism NZ’s “100% Pure” image both relied on our gorgeous lakes and mountains while we shot ourselves in the foot both times.
There was no malice in either event, of course, but the consequences continue…

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A secret chuckle in the numbers...

In our Russell Church we didn’t make much use of the board for the hymn numbers for the service, so each Sunday Ed set it up with the date for the day. It was interesting to note how long visitors took to catch on to it… In another church in the 1960s, my steward would always say to me as he put up my hymn numbers, “No, Dave, not today.” He was adding up the first numbers to see if the last one was the total. So, I guess I have a thing about hymn boards.

Thus it was that when we stayed in the lovely converted chapel in Beeley, UK, a few weeks ago I enquired if the numbers on the hymn board had any secret meaning. No, they were just random numbers.

So now I have taken a few moments to skim through the 1904 hymnbook that might have been used in the chapel decades ago and can suggest the following hymns for the hospitable chapel home of Janet and John and their venerable hymn board:
657 We love the place, O God
684 How happy are we!
853 Jerusalem, my happy home
854 Sweet place, sweet place!
899 O happy home
959 There's a glorious work before us
717 Abide among us
449 Come, o thou traveller unknown

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tweeting at the rock concert

“I hope my iPhone isn’t disturbing you,” she said, at the interval in the Concert Hall rock concert.
“Actually,” I replied, courteous but firm, “It is a bit distracting…“
But that didn’t make the slightest difference. She went right on, taking photographs and tweeting to the world at large. Every time she turned the phone on or a tweet came through, it lit up and I don’t think she even thought to turn down the screen brightness.
I guess I should be grateful that this discourteous practice hasn’t yet crept into church life. But, then, perhaps preachers would be delighted if people in their congregations were tweeting: “Hey, I’m in amzg chrch with fab prchr.Get down hre.”

PS I told her I'd put her picture online... She laughed, which I took for permission.

The Yotel and Local Shared Ministry

We tried out the Yotel at Heathrow. It’s not a room or a suite --- they call it a cabin. Usually, you don’t need to register at a desk, you just dial in your internet booking number at a docking station where you’re given your magnetic-striped key. Once there, if there is something you need, you can phone “Mission Control” and they’re most obliging with free hot drinks and other stuff.
I wouldn’t be promoting them especially - the smaller unit is definitely for very “good friends” and we’d recommend the premium unit for people of our age and build. But obviously I could hardly fail to draw a comparison with the small church.
Here was everything we needed for a short overnight: a complete bathroom in less than two square metres, table, case rack, hanger (just one…), and the cutest cubby hole with a very comfortable bed for two (very good!) friends. There was even a large TV at the end of the bed and wifi was available. Furthermore the whole thing was just across from the entrance where the bus dropped us and only one floor from our check-in desk. Only the Hilton could have been more convenient…
The parallels with the small church are inescapable. The Yotel provided everything we needed with the minimum of bells and whistles. It offered full facilities without charging an arm and a leg. The friendly young staff responded to requests with alacrity but probably didn’t have degrees in hotel management.
The Yotel and its friendly people epitomised the Local Shared Ministry team in the small church. Both groups are chosen for their specific skills. Both provide a service that relates to their situation. Both provide an unconventional approach that is relevant in a changing world. Both should have more use.

Back to church

I left my list of expectations behind this morning when I went to church. It was Saturday and I went with the family to their Adventist Church.

Not my scene, I guess. So much that was so different. Even the two hymns I recognised were sung to tunes completely unknown by me. And the theology was generally a long way from where I sit.

But what a great mixture of age groups; what obvious fellowship all the locals had with each other; and what warmth in the welcomes. There’s a sense of family that transcends suburbs and even cities and states; church seems to be the place where people know and are known by each other.

I have championed the small church because it makes this depth of relationships possible across the whole congregation. But here it seemed to be working among a group of 300...And that’s only their smaller morning congregation!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Another Museum experience...

Parable of the Museum

One of the many uncomfortable parables of Jesus is about the workers in the vineyard. All received a full day’s pay whether they worked a full day or just an hour at the end of the day. At first glance, it seems a bit unfair.

Bev and I have twice experienced the reverse situation recently. We entered a small museum with just time for a short visit. What was offered was a subscription with free entry for a year. No, we just wanted to have a quick peep at one or two things that had been recommended to us. Couldn’t we just pay for an hour? Sorry, you have to pay for a year’s subscription. Well, it wasn’t a huge amount but we declined.

In the next day or two the same kind of thing happened twice in car parks (probably managed by the same District Council). Four pounds for day, the notice said. How much for half an hour? Four pounds. We didn’t want security for a whole day, just a parking place for a few minutes. So for a 200 metre walk back we found an hour for 30p…

I understand there’s an economy of interest operating in this system. The provider has one kind of interest and we have another. And that’s just life. Both parties make their choice and live with it. Maybe the parable is about something like that. It has to do with some kind of need rather than some measure of entitlement.

So the small congregation doesn’t choose to have all the programmes and properties and paid personnel of a “normal” church. The small church lives by a different standard and contracts for what it needs and no more.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Small Museum and the Small Church

Yesterday we visited Shaftesbury, the little town made famous by a Hovis bread commercial in 1973 featuring its really steep street of old homes.
But what caught my imagination was something else nearby. Tucked into the 16th century priest’s house behind the parish church are half a dozen rooms dignified with the title of Museum.
Over the years I’ve had my fill of small-town “museums” which are often not much more than a personal collection of dusty or rusty bits and pieces. And I am not that impressed with vast professional edifices of significant collections which require most of a week to explore.
But this was really interesting. Admission was free. The staff were apparently voluntary as they couldn’t answer a question of some complexity.
But the work of a museum was of a very high standard. The exhibits were completely uncluttered, the presentations well lit, the labelling not over-detailed but clear and well placed, the atmosphere carefully managed, the use of the large number of separate small rooms cunningly arranged. There was imaginative use of participatory bits and pieces for younger visitors. Altogether, it came across as a very professional affair.
That’s what I expect of the small church. It doesn’t have to have professional leadership at every point. But it must be able to draw on the best scholarship and experience to produce the best results from lay people. Local Shared Ministry makes that possible.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Off to church

Before we left home a month ago I mused on my expectations about worship. Last Sunday, in a Methodist Church, I was not greatly rewarded:
We were invited to sing only one tune that was familiar to me. (And I was really uncomfortable with most of the theology in that!)
We were assailed with language that was grossly non-inclusive.
Everything seemed to assume that we accepted propositions that defied ordinary intelligence.
One “prayer” was a kind of lecture to the congregation about the worship leader’s views on God. (I didn’t agree with those, either).
The scripture for the day was briefly expounded in an astonishingly original way.
Beyond a brief list of prayer topics there was no mention of issues of social justice.

Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to be there. Had I known that this service was to be “Sunday Funday” I guess I might not have gone. But I had heard that this congregation made more than average use of lay leadership in worship so it seemed a good idea to visit it.
And, despite my miserly box-ticking above, something was going on. Here were two dozen people of all ages (but only one over 50), sharing in a participatory experience that was apparently fine by them. They engaged cheerfully with each other over banalities such as Do you prefer golf over tennis. They trooped out to the back room for a cup of tea and poster paints after only twenty minutes of “worship”. And then later they returned to the church and its immobile pews for the rest of the service.
After 90 minutes we were ready to move on. But this little congregation of presumably like-minded souls had done more than their duty. In their own way, they had cemented their joint life in Christ.
And they made us welcome. I guess that John Wesley might have wished to bring them under more discipline and scholarship but I think he would have respected their sincerity. So do I.

Friday, August 16, 2013

So we went to the show...

Last night "The Anastasia Files" was everything we expected, and more.

Royce Ryton's well-crafted play was given a stunning treatment by Poulner Players and we, along with the full house, were enthralled.

Alla Mills as Mrs Monahan captured our attention by her magnificent silences as much as by her passionate outbursts or desolate despair. We felt hers was an absolutely brilliant performance.

The huge range of characterisation and costuming required by the four actors who played varied and complex roles over a period of 60 years was also impressive. Dedication and competency shone throughout.

In our neck of the woods, we are very conscious that local drama can become a very amateur affair. Currently our little Paihia group is in recess. So it was really stimulating to be entertained so well by another group of Players.

This post started to be nothing to do with Local Shared Ministry. But since once seeing a West End Play we find ourselves tending to measure local drama up against that standard. Last night was right up there... You don't need size and budget and professionals to deliver the goods, either on stage on in the parish.


Now that’s not a word we’d use in NZ. But on the third Open-Top bus tour of the New Forest yesterday we were reminded how little of the countryside you can see when driving in England. Quite often, all you can see are the dense bushes that lines the roads and the meadows. Hedgerows.

Great stuff, of course, because, as we have been discovering in the last two or three decades in Australia and NZ, the paddocks are actually more productive if not cultivated right to the very edges. In all our countries these days there are dedicated efforts to restoring bush and forest margins to protect moisture and provide environments for insect, bird and animal life.

It’s all very praiseworthy, but outside our bungalow in Ringwood it has all gone mad. Here, carefully protected from gnawing animals, is a line of what were cute little saplings just a year or two ago. Planted less than a foot apart, they were presumably intended to build up a hedge. But besides hawthorns and holly which might grow only a few metres high there are big trees such as oaks, alders and willows.

I suppose 95% of them will never survive. At best, they will make not hedge but a fence of thin sticks. If any survive into maturity there will probably be a law forbidding their removal and they will completely shut the sun out of this pleasant little property. It seems as though a very good idea has been taken up with enthusiasm but has somehow lost some vital concepts along the way.

I wonder how often that happens with changes in church strategy. Could Local Shared Ministry become another really good idea that turns bad because of doctrinaire and mindless, application?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"The Beeley Consultation"

We joked that in about three decades people would be talking about the change in ministry strategy in the small churches of Britain and somebody would remember the Beeley Consultation.

Well, it wasn’t quite that earth-shaking. It was just five of us enjoying good fellowship and some stimulating conversation about Local Shared Ministry. We began in The Old Smithy and after an excellent lunch adjourned to the sumptuous armchairs in The Chapel where Bev and I have been staying a few days.

As I think about it some time later, I hope that we didn’t shy away from the challenging features of UK church life. We certainly didn’t regard a New Zealand experience as immediately transferable to the other side of the world. But we faced the big questions and explored opinions and made connections. Now and then there was what one called a “light bulb” moment. And throughout a growing awareness of each other’s particular circumstances.

And now my long-standing conviction that LSM can only work in a single congregational unit has been amended to allow that, in a complex collection of ten or fifteen churches, perhaps two or three might find common interest in LSM. But we agreed there must be a substantial community of interest.

It is also clear that any key to establishing LSM seems involves full support from the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Bev and I have continued on our vacation. We sense that our new friends that day will have driven back home with more to think about and to do. It was a pleasure to be a part of their thinking and planning.

It was particularly satisfying for me to engage at such depth for four or so hours without the frustration and embarrassment of two or three overwhelming hot flushes. The side effects of my cancer therapy were gentle on me on this most exciting and satisfying day.

"Let's go to a show"

The Poulner Players are advertising “Anastasia” all round town. Having seen a review back home in NZ we figured we should support the local group. So I showed up at the local Fabric Store who were advertised as the booking agents on all the posters and were open from 9am.
“Oh, sorry, the man hasn’t shown up with the bag”.
“Shall I phone up later, then?”
“Yes, the number is on the poster.”
“But is that your number or the number of the Man with the Bag?”
“Oh, that’s his number.”
“But can he take a booking after he’s brought the bag here?”
“No, he can‘t. I do the bookings here.”
“Well, then, shouldn’t you give me your phone number?“
“Yes, but you could just show up at the door and you’ll be sure to get a seat.”

So, after getting the number anyway, where would we find the Poulner Church Hall? He didn’t know that, not even when I prompted him with the name of the only Poulner church on Google Maps. Parking, the all-important question in this country? I didn’t dare raise the question.

As I went out the door with nothing much accomplished, I suggested to him that Poulner Players had all the elements of a good mystery drama themselves. Tantalising clues about the event itself, but total secrecy as to how to obtain a ticket or find the place. There must be some learning here for small churches…

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dream Machines

We’ve been in England over two weeks now and have yet to drive on a half-kilometre of road that didn’t seem to be occupied by at least one other vehicle. We’ve been hemmed in by heavy transports and cut off by motorcycles. I have always known the latter are infinitely more versatile than anything else on the road. Whether they’re on country lanes or six lane motorways I am always prompted to say to Bev “That’s the way to go”

So it was with some enthusiasm that I rolled up at Dream Machines at Poole last night. There were, we thought, perhaps 1000 motorcycles, out of the showroom and almost as old as us; as built, or heavily customised into all kinds of things.

The oldies were of great interest: here was the water-cooled Velocette that Evan rode in 1957. Next to it a beautifully restored “Beeser” Bantam that Basil had. Further along the line were some that I had short but non-eventful tries in 1951. One was a big Norton that my cousin later wrecked in a bad accident; another a Matchless that I swapped for my 48cc power cycle for a short but terrifying trip along Evans Bay in 1952. And there was a very smartly presented Honda that I borrowed from my son to go from Dunedin to Christchurch in 1977. But his one, against a gale, couldn’t do more than 80 kph up the Canterbury straits and I was late for the meeting.

But nowhere could I find that that Rolls Royce of scooters, the 250cc Triumph Tigress. In 1965 mine went up the new motorway extension in Auckland at 70mph with two of us aboard. It was with her that I learned the craft of being reasonably safe on two wheels. She was a beautiful bike and for four years she served me well. So it was for her that I yearned last night, more than for any of the V8 powered monsters that we saw. And I can tell you there was quite a lot of yearning…

I suppose if congregations are somewhat like motorcycles, I am on the side of the small ones. They may not always have the comfort of the big trikes with upholstered saddles, they may not be as fast as the supercharged Harley D‘s, they may not be as comfortable as the lowered Road Kings, they may not look as flashy as the custom machine that sported the rear end of a Porshe 911, they don’t usually have all the architectural qualities of the bike that was encrusted with industrial diamonds.

But small bikes, like small churches, can do their job, they can be simple to maintain and even when petrol is over $3 a litre, they’re needn’t cost much to run. We need more of them - perhaps like the Triumph Tigress.

Friday, August 2, 2013

"Early morning thoughts"

It’s 5am and Bev and I are staying in a Derbyshire chapel which was built just a few years after Wesley died. It’s been converted into three stunning apartments one of which we are enjoying as part of a short house swap with our Paihia home.

This morning we meet three denominational strategists to discuss Local Shared Ministry in the UK and that’s enough to wake me early. And having been through the trauma of the closing of our parish’s Russell Church three months ago I have been wondering about the story of this lovely chapel and its predecessor. What did it mean for those enthusiastic converts who could not endure the life of the thirteenth century parish church up the road in 1806? What did it mean for those who pulled down that first unadorned building and erected this fine structure in 1891? And what did it mean for those who made the decision to abandon it in 1996?

These questions are duplicated all across this country. The answers are not often obvious. But one simple fact is that things change. Sometimes for better; sometimes for worse. And these days things change faster than ever before.

That reality will haunt our minds as this morning we attempt to relate the insights of Local Shared Ministry to the vastly different setting of this country. It’s going to be stimulating and fun, I think, for we’re all friends or acquaintances who share a common passion for this strategy for ministry in small churches.

But it’s also likely to result in some oppressive demands on people’s commitments to ecclesiastical structures and the buildings in which they exist.

Sunset thoughts on ministry

While away from home I pride myself on knowing my orientation, well more or less. Sitting having an al fresco meal the other night, the setting sun was getting in my eyes. So I shifted my chair slightly so that a nearby hedge to the left would shield my eyes as the sun slide sideways down to the horizon.

But it didn’t work. The sun in the northern hemisphere goes down in the west all right, just like it does where we live. But it slants to the north instead of the south. Simple and obvious. I was not completely oriented and I suffered a bit more inconvenience with the sun in my eyes.

Local Shared Ministry is a distinctively different way of being church. It’s not just a matter of replacing one expert upfront with a few well-meaning enthusiasts. It’s to do with a whole re-orientation of thinking about what can bring light and life to the small church.

The Longest Death

We visited my late mother’s cousin in Vancouver last week. Once a sprightly and sharp-witted intellectual, she is now entering “the longest death” - by Alzhiemer’s. She had no idea who we were but tried valiantly to participate in the simple conversation over lunch.

Having visited her previously in her better days it was desperately sad to see her in such a state. Though she seemed neither unhappy nor very distressed. Just very confused. It was living and not living. She was there and yet not there. She was alive and yet dead.

The sad reality is that the significant achievements of her lifetime are tending to be diminished by her present situation. As we tried to relate to her empty shell it was hard to recall the vital, passionate, creative person that she once was.

There is little dignity or meaning in this kind of life. Society needs to do better.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Off to Church

In a few days we will be heading overseas for a final fling at the rest of the big wide world that is out there some place. As we come up to our last Sunday service in this very special little congregation I am asking myselfd what I will be looking for on the Sundays following.

I think I want to be invited to think. I won't be checking in my brains at the door and I don't want my intelligence to be insulted with the trivial, the unrealistic or the frankly pietistic.
I want to join in singing of three or four congregational hymns – this means that I have to know the tune or be given a copy of the music. That may be a tall order in other countries, and I'll make a little allowance for that. But corporate singing is very important to my understanding of worship.
I don’t want to hear, or be asked to use non-inclusive language. I don't care if people say "When I say man of course I mean everyone" - I appreciate language and want it and its meanings to be unambiguous..
I want to be reminded about some issue of social justice in the context of the environment in which I will be worshipping. I will try to view this in the light of what we have learned from those who have lived in the compassion of Jesus over the centuries.
I don’t want to hear the words “Jesus said” when it would be more accurate to say “Mark’s Jesus said” - I am getting a bit impatient of those who play fast and loose with the bible and this is a point of discernment where the speaker's orientation is revealed.
I hope to experience more acceptance than this list seems to indicate I deserve. God help me, I don't need to make a list of expectations; I just need to be there. Let it be so.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Moving on?

   We have been expecting this moment. Up until recently, nothing could have moved us from this community and this church congregation. But a few years ago, we recognised that we would have to move if one of us lost a driver’s licence, or if the health of either of us became critical, or if the progress of my prostate cancer became hastened.
   For a year now, we have watched my PSA readings go up by as much as 70% each three months. If that very high rate of increase continues, we could be looking at PSA 100 in a year and a half. Of course, the PSA is not necessarily a measure of the cancer’s growth, but it’s an indication that my body thinks there is something that needs dealing with.
   So, while I am fit and not in the least affected by the cancer—it’s the therapies that make life a bit unpleasant at this stage, not the disease!—we think that we have to prepare to move on. That means eventually finding a place where Bev will be comfortable to be on her own, probably a retirement village somewhere near family.
   And it also means tackling a lifetime’s collection of bits and pieces and tidying a sample of them into a simple record. Here’s a receipt for afternoon tea at Bridge Lodge in 1956 – but not all my receipts! And there are some photos, slides, videos and things that may be of interest to family at some time.
   In the process I found a couple of hundred 35mm slides of Dad’s. He gave them to me, all neatly wrapped in little marked bundles, when he was downsizing twenty years ago. Now I have the capability to scan them to a computer disk so descendents he never met will be able to see a little of his life. Not outstanding photography, but clear and bright images from another day. I am so glad to have these and hope that the little of my life that I am passing on will be of as much interest to those who may see it in years to come.
   Nothing is forever, not even memories shifted from fragile film and tape to disk. But, at the same time, the preservation of a little of any life is a worthwhile exercise. I am finding it creative and enjoyable, and every box of rubbish that goes for recycling leaves behind some small contribution to the life of our family.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gone - no address?

With my recent history of a rapidly rising PSA, it was hardly surprising that my namesake from Canada sent an email enquiring after my health.

Well, thanks, David, and others who wondered, I’m still in the land of the living. The fact is that a blog of this kind, commenced in times of relative leisure during a series of major surgeries, and no particular responsibilities in the local church, was easy to start. But in times of much better general fitness and huge challenges in the life of our little congregation, it has been much harder to maintain.

Our parish has had most of a year with the new combined Parish Council and Ministry Team. It is a huge improvement on two or even three separate little organisations. The six of us are working well and enjoying the experience, but finding our time pretty fully occupied.

And in the last three months we have been through the horrendous business of closing the Methodist church at Russell. Services ceased last year but we waited for the centenary in late April for the closing. It was a bittersweet occasion. We had a packed church with great singing and enthusiastic participation in a much appreciated special liturgy. The President of the Methodist Church of New Zealand, Rex Nathan offered a timely address that contributed to a memorable occasion. Upwards of 100 remained for an excellent fellowship lunch.

I was heavily involved in preparing for the event and then, immediately afterwards, in writing the property’s history, to be forwarded with our urgent application to sell. This “Land Story” is required by Methodism for all property transactions, to ensure that the land was not alienated from Maori ownership under oppressive circumstances.

Talented researchers in Auckland and Wellington found that the original sale took place as early as 1829, 11 years before the Treaty of Waitangi. And, in a period from which few written records have survived, they were able to find the names of the six original Maori who signed over the land. The price didn’t sound much by today’s standards, but Land Courts over the next thirty years confirmed that the deal was fair. I dressed up our report in 36 pages of what has turned out to be what I am told is a very useful publication.

So that’s my excuse for being off air for a few weeks. Having said that, my PSA is still going up like a rocket and the best that experts can now offer me is “Keep taking the medicine”… So my emotions are all to heck, my skin and clothes are wet from hot flushes and my brain seems to be quietly fraying at the edges.

But they tell me I’m looking terrific. I’m certainly feeling fine. And I still don’t have a single identifiable symptom of the cancer that is probably growing quite vigorously somewhere in my nether regions.

So, blog on, eh?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Error Messages in LSM - Voting

Parish Council membership must be respected carefully.

A proper election from among the parish membership should put a Council in place each year. If others wish to attend or are invited to be present—

** the seating arrangements should make it clear that they are not voting members

** the record of the meeting should identify them as “observers”

It is too easy for a small group of people who know each other well to become a little relaxed about exactly who has been elected or appointed to make the decisions and carry the responsibility.

This can be a serious problem if conflict arises. But it is easily avoided if there is clarity about exactly who are elected to exercise a vote.

Error Messages in LSM - Conviction

It goes without saying that not all Parish Members will give their fullest support to the LSM strategy. Those who are experiencing deep-seated objections need particular pastoral support—

** They may have formally objected to the decision
** Or you may notice they have just gone very quiet;
** They have not been open to reviewing their point of view as time has gone on.

Whatever their situation, they may require specialised pastoral care over a long period. People do not change their basic convictions easily and may need help to accept a situation which they may feel has been pushed on them by an insensitive majority of the membership.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

We pray for the world

We know Easter is upon us just from looking at the paper or watching TV or walking the shops. On all sides is a bold proclamation of what the community believes is important.

We who treasure some different understandings of Easter properly reject this “secular” celebration of the Season. But we need to remember that the Faith which returned to full life after the central figure in the Jesus Way was crucified is not just for us.

Recently, Ann reminded the Ministry Team of the many Christian communities who maintain regular regimes of prayer. They don’t just pray for the world to get what it wants or needs; they pray on behalf of the world which usually neglects to pray for itself.

Sometimes our insignificant efforts to stand up for meaning in a noisy, uncaring world seem pointless. It seems hopeless to try to persuade today’s secular society that Easter means more than bunnies and chocolate.

Perhaps that’s not what we are called to do. We’re called just to be Christ’s people on behalf of those who can’t be bothered. We’re just called to be faithful. Of course we will speak out about the injustices of a society that is led only by economics and Easter shopping glitz and political expendiency. But, at heart, that’s because we are people of faith.

Easter bunnies have nothing on that!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Do not write your password down


In respect of your requirement that passwords not be written down or stored in a computer, we need some guidance as to how you suggest we remember these. We have checked our memories carefully and find that, between us, we find we have about 130 passwords and other verification which are not to be written down nor stored as above.

If you check our application form for our birth dates you will appreciate that memorising four or six more items of information is now a rather difficult chore (we had to check our birth certificates to get our names right). So we have decided enough is enough and, despite our signatures on the application, we are not confident that our assurance on this issue can be quite absolute. So we are looking for ways of dealing with this situation.

One possibility is that instead of writing down the necessary information, specifically forbidden by you, we write it up, as is usually done of notes after a meeting. These are seldom written down but often written up. This seems to us to be the simplest solution to our dilemma.

However, given that we are quite tech-savvy for a couple of oldies, we have looked for more sophisticated ways of dealing with the problem. So, instead of storing the information in a computer, we presume it would be acceptable to store it in a camera, reel-to-reel tape recorder or audiocassette machine. We can also use a personal digital assistant, electronic address book or recording pen. Looking ahead a little, we might use a wristwatch with recording capability or videoglasses which could portray a visual list of up to 250 items page-turned at the flick of an eyebrow.

Just so that you know we are taking your conditions seriously, perhaps you would give us some guidance as to your realistic expectations.

Thank you for your assistance

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Today, with about a dozen other people, I watched a young mum with a babe in her arms, having a struggle with one of those “terrible twos”. The child was lying on the ground screaming her head off. People in most of the big shopping carpark and the adjacent café all turned to watch.

Her mother was very patient but helpless. An older woman stepped over and had a sympathetic chat but the child yelled on. With everyone watching but doing nothing, Mum eventually dragged the child off by one arm to even more determined shrieking and an embarrassing show of resistance and agonising pain.

After a few steps mum let the youngster down on the ground where a full-blown tantrum developed. I walked over and said to the now somewhat distressed mother, “Would you like me to pick her up?” and, without waiting for a reply, I did so. Of course, the noise subsided on the instant.

I carried her with her Mum and baby brother over to the supermarket. We fitted the two of them them into a two-seater shopping trolley. They disappeared inside and peace returned to the forecourt.

I left the scene quickly. The last time I kissed a child that wasn’t a close relation I was reported to the Methodist Harassment Police and I had to write an abject apology.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How many chiefs does it take?

Our small parish is now just one congregation with a membership of a couple of dozen. For twenty years we have been using Local Shared Ministry. There's no minister, indeed, no paid person at all. But our strategy seems to be a bit of a mystery to the powers that be. We don't fit the mould.

We have just been informed that we are now to have a "Parish Superintendent" Minister. He will visit us from three hours away, apparently a couple of times a year. Not such a big chore for him, and we know him and would love to have a visit. But we wonder who will pay for all that travelling.

And we want to protest that our little corner of the Vineyard is already supervised, in some degree or other, by the President and Council of Churches Together In Northland, which is our regional affiliation and is supposed to provide pastoral and administrative support. Through CTN, we are also responsible to the Uniting Churches of Aotearoa-New Zealand which draws together ecumenical parishes such as ours.

But, being under Methodist jurisdiction at the present, we are also responsible to the Methodist District Superintendent of Auckland, as well as a new Regional Superintendent for Northland (but who also lives outside Northland and will have to travel for a couple of hours to see us).

And most importantly in our view, we have a Ministry Enabler who meets with our Parish Council Team for training, supervision, support and, to provide the necessary links to the wider church. We think she is quite adequate to replace all these ecclesiastical dignitaries. 

Now I hear on the grapevine that we may shortly be moved to Presbyterian jurisdiction. Right now, that sounds like a good move.