Friday, November 28, 2014

What, no Conference Video?

The NZ Methodist Conference apparently entered a new age this month with the use of large screen images of the ordination service so that everyone could see what was going on in the very large venue.  It obviously made a good impression. But, we have been told today, nobody ran the final program mix into any kind of video recorder, so there is no archive copy of the event.

Back in 1986, when "prosumer video" was an unknown term, the Video Connexion Volunteers produced a three-camera, field-produced record of all the major events of the Conference. Not only that, but they handed out ten-minute professionally-edited videos for members to buy as they left the venue.  Many people used these for their "back-home" reports in church the following Sunday. In 1990, this report video was recognised as an international first for religious communication.

The Administration Division contributed the cost of transporting the equipment for a few Conferences. It amounted to a generous subsidy for each video purchased at $15. But when that assistance was no longer forthcoming the volunteers were not able to meet that cost as well as provide their time and skills. So the Conference video programme died.

The Church has a Communications Endowment, conceived by the outgoing Prince Albert College Trustees to develop a national strategy for Connexional communications. An indirect product of three major Commissions on Communication in earlier decades - most of which foundered on the the question of where the money would come from! - the advent of this endowment has failed us in the area of audiovisuals and has not been over-generous in support of the church's newspaper. What was to be a Connexional resource continues to be frittered away on parish projects like hymnbooks, computers and projectors.

And in the technology-rich environment of Conference a few days ago, we apparently had no strategy for how to get the best out of it. How could that have happened?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Methodist Conference in Changing Times

The NZ Methodist Liberal Society is thinking through what its members saw of the 2014 national Conference just concluded. Some are uncomfortable with the ebullient presence of Pasifika members whose passion and commitment is so evident in the on-line photos. This, together with the failing mission and increasing age of the dwindling Papalagi congregations is radically changing the theological and ethnic balance of the Church’s makeup. 

This change is particularly reflected in the Conference, but it has not been so noticeable everywhere, of course. In the Far North where I have been for 23 years there are relatively few Pasifika people. The Methodist Church’s impact after 40 years of ecumenical administration has been only by way of over-bearing, insensitive and ill-considered decision-making. 

Naturally, the denomination is not what it was when some of us became involved. It is OK for us to feel a little nostalgic about that. But we should be grateful that we don’t have the endless debates where only a handful of persuasive speakers dominated the rostrum, that Maori have been given long-overdue recognition, that other ethnic groups and their vigorous church life are much better served, that social issues have resulted in practical outcomes over a sustained period, that sometimes business doesn’t totally dominate our national get-together.

We who feel the impact of a denomination with which we are no longer familiar might also be grateful that the old-timers who were scared stiff about what some of us young up-starts were doing with “their” church in the 1970s did not drag us all back into a past that they were more comfortable with.

However, at the end of the day, Conference is not really what the Church is about. A little note that used to be above my desk when I was Fieldworker in Ministry for the denomination in the 1980s, said: If the Church isn’t local, it isn’t real

I think that’s still the challenge to any Conference.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Two Bits' Worth

Somewhere in my distant past life with Family Budgeting and general social services I entertained the concept of delivery of supplementary financial support via something like a present-day debit card. 

Anyone could apply for such a card and it would have the capacity to divert the cost of a specific percentage of any sale of certain items to the public purse. Each individual’s percentages would be related to their normal income and their tax rate as recorded by the IRD.

It could apply equally well to everyone from low-wage earners to full-time beneficiaries. The retailer would receive the full amount of payment and would not know how much of any sale was met by the state.  

A system of this kind could be much more flexible around the edges of bands of entitlement than supplementary assistance. It could also smooth the very difficult transition from benefit dependence into work. Indeed, if a political choice were made, it could easily limit the large amount of financial support given to some of us who do not have so great a need of it in our older age.

In the 1970s it was a pretty impossible strategy. The country couldn’t agree to personalised cards at all, even just for personal identification, and certainly not for delivering credit rather than cash. But the concept is not so unrealistic in these high-tech days.  The Community Services Card could probably provide a vehicle for the distribution of realistic financial assistance via credit rather than cash. 

I'll send that to the dreamers in Treasury ...

How to better fund our poor

It's interesting to note that Treasury is doing some "crowd sourcing"  for proposals to improve outcomes for those in need - as well as for taxpayers... An interesting idea, even if the time frame is pathetically short.

Did they get a nudge from minister Paula Bennett before he news release a few days ago? Or did she pick up a bit of political capital from being aware that they were exploring the issues?

At least the Treasury invitation seems to leave fewer questions answered before they are actually asked. And it is clear that interested people and groups may make submissions.  I hope that there will be a flood of creative and compassionate suggestions.

I guess a bottom line for me is that the basic level of benefits, reduced so dramatically over twenty years ago, is simply not adequate for the huge majority of those who depend on them these days.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Well done Mr Qain!

Store owner Kanmin Qain sought a relocation of a liquor licence for his Vege Oasis shop. Neither local officials nor the Police were inclined to object. 
But in the context of the large number of licences already active in South Auckland community members made strong submissions. Mr Qain listened to their stories of alcohol abuse and withdrew his application. He says the welfare of the community is more important than money in his pocket.

"As a businessman you have to make a contribution as well. It's not just about the money." He invites other businesses to follow suit.

The recent empowering of Community Boards to make representation on behalf of their communities could have worked better in this instance. But it is heartening that the applicant himself became more aware of the issues and took a bold and costly step on his own initiative. 

Well done...

Monday, November 10, 2014

Methodists "Face to Face"

When I was stepping out of a nine year term on the staff of the Theological College I declined to be available for a regular parish appointment. One reason was that having spent fifteen years working in alternative congregational life and ministry I was not willing to participate in what I called the conspiracy between congregations and their clergy to maintain the status quo. At its most crude, I considered this was that the “members would raise the funds and the presbyter would deliver ministry”…
My other hesitation was because of conviction that the “face to face” gathering recently brought into the Methodists stationing procedure was un-Methodist, un-discerning, unnecessarily stressful and generally not in the least helpful. I believed I should put myself in the hands of Conference and trust it to make a good match. The face to face procedure cut across what it meant for me to be in “Full Connexion” with the Conference.

The irony was that when I offered to pick up a part-time “supply” position I was put through the face to face process anyway. And it was pretty much what I expected and brought out only the huge difference in expectations between myself and many of the members. It set some of us up for differences that endured for the next two decades.

Yesterday we attended another face to face gathering - this time as members of the congregation. There was plenty of affirmation. But the most discerning questions could not be answered at this stage of negotiations. And the absence of any negative comments led the Chairperson to declare a consensus in favour. In this case, that was probably right. Though perhaps a lot of us were just ready to go home after a long morning in church.

A consensus that is achieved when the uncertain and the objectors remain silent is hardly a consensus. Even worse is a recent Presbyterian Assembly decision where, apparently,  the objectors left the chamber in protest and vote was taken without them.  

An unhappy hymn experience

I had a pretty uncomfortable experience with one hymn in church yesterday. In only four verses -
·       We affirmed God (or possibly Jesus) as “King” and “Captain”
·       We invited each other to “face the foe”
·       We discovered ourselves bought with the “lifeblood” of Jesus for his “diadem”
·       We acknowledged the “conflict” would be “fierce”
·       And the “foe” would be “strong”
·       (But, being  in “the King’s army”, we would win
·       Because “unchanging truth” would make sure of that)
·       We were “chosen to be soldiers” for “our Captain’s band”
·       But “grace divine” would keep us on the right side

And, to wrap it all up, an Amen was offered at the end of it

Between the words that are  meaningless to many people, the non-inclusive language, the theological concepts that spring out of an alien age and the triumphalist implications that Christians will always win out in the end, not to mention the pervasive militaristic theme that is offensive to the honour of those Christians who, at great cost, stood out against war, the entire hymn left little that I could sing with an easy conscience

Monday, November 3, 2014

Thirty Years On - St John's College Reunion

An all-day event was not high on my priorities after five days of targeted radiation. However, having made preparations for a"nana-nap" if necessary, we rolled up at St John’s College “Thirty Years On” student reunion.  They had left the college not long after we had arrived there as a separate denominational appointment with no formal role in the College.

The turn-out of about sixteen was not large and only three of us were Methodists. But Bev and I were warmly drawn into the group, many of whom had similarly befriended us in 1982 when we were grappling with a very unfamiliar situation. All kinds of links were brought to mind in sharing conversations. It was interesting to discover that Bev and I, just by being on site three decades ago, seemed to have made more of a contribution than we would have thought.

From a ministry formation point of view, it was illuminating that hardly a person in the reunion group was in a traditional parish ministry role. This was not a requirement for Anglican students at the time, of course. But it may have been because those who did have Sunday responsibilities last weekend were not able to take time off for a Saturday event.

However, it may also say something about the variety of vocations that has opened up to those who have ministry qualifications by education, formation or ordination. And it certainly continues to press the question I first researched for an MA Thesis fifty years ago: what is the "calling" of “the minister”? How do we define it? How do we select and prepare people to do it?