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.