Sunday, September 09, 2012

Refresh-ing in the mid-North

It’s been a fabulously refreshing weekend in the mid-North of rural South Australia. We drove up on the Friday night and stayed in a cabin at the Laura Camping Ground.

There were around 45 folk from all over the mid-North, from Hawker to Kadina, that gathered at Jamestown on the Saturday. The theme was “Getting on with mission” and I did about 3 hours input in the morning. We explored

  • Biblical images of mission
  • what is church?
  • engaging our communities

This is some of our work from Saturday. Folk had been invited to use a pipe cleaner to make a symbol of their community. This moved into a time of intercession and then were laid on the communion table, as part of a response. (I shared my dog scoffed the communion story and then mission implications, which went down a treat!)

Today we wandered back slowly. A visit to the Stone Hut – a bakery in the middle of nowhere (an image of mission if I ever saw one), then a walk through one of nature’s cathedral’s – Bunderleer Forest.

It was just gorgeous with the sun on our backs and birdsong tweeting their praise to the Creator.

This was followed by a visit to another spiritual place, Annies Lane in Watervale, before arriving home in time to try and do some of the gardening left undone what with having been away for the last 2 weekends.

This weekend ends my commitment to Refresh. As Principal I’ve met a whole range of rural folk, spread over a vast range of South Australia, from Robe, to Eyre Peninsula to Jamestown. It’s been great to be presenting in relation to College’s passion and concern for mission. It’s been a very, very helpful orientation to some of the training needs and complexities of the Synod.

Posted by steve at 10:07 PM

Friday, September 07, 2012

third time rural

This weekend I’m heading rural once again. It’s the 3rd Refresh. There’s been one in Robe for the churches in the south west, there’s been one in Eyre Peninsula. Now Laura, in the mid-North, about 3 hours drive away.

Once again, I’ll be using mission postcards to invite a conversation between Bible, art and us about the breadth of mission today.

Somewhere in that conversation will emerge what we really need to talk about and I’ll go from there.

Once again I’ll also lead worship and preside at communion. What a privilege to press bread and wine into the hands of God’s people spread around South Australia.

The events are called Refresh and they’ve certainly been that for me, I’ve found it so lifegiving to be among folk wrestling with mission.

One church is bringing 12 people. It might not seem much until you realise their are only about 24 in the church. And that they’ve planted a fresh expression in the form of a coffee shop in their town.

How refreshing is that – 50% of a church turning up to explore next steps in their fresh expression journey of mission!?

Posted by steve at 05:21 PM

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

creationary Mark 7:24-30: the dog just scoffed the communion bread

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

With the Lectionary reading for Sunday including Mark 7:24-30, it brought to mind a memorable moment in my pastoral ministry –

It’s Sunday night and the people of God are gathered around the communion table. The youngest is Sam, all of 10 months. The oldest is Gavin, all of 60. A visitor wanders in late and takes a seat on a empty couch. Complete with dog on a leash. Rotwieler cross pup.

The people of God stir. Two teenagers quiz the minister. “What’s he doing here?”

“Same as you,” replies the minister, “Being part of church.”

“Why a dog in church?” the 6 year old quizzes her mother.

Delicately the mother picks her way toward an answer. All strangers are welcome. Yes. But are all animals? You see, the 6 year old is a bright one. The 6 year old has a rabbit! If the dog is welcome, then is this a precedent. Mother pictures rabbits lopping up aisle and fish bowls balanced delicately on child laps.

Back at the communion table, religion continues. The words of invitation are offered. This is the table of God. All are invited.

The loaf of bread is broken. Gifts of God. And the broken body of Jesus is passed down the table. For the people of God. People tear a hunk of God’s body. Crumbs shower on carpet.

Out of the corner of the eye, a blurr of movement. In a flash, the body of Christ is gone, woofed down by hungry jaws. Teenagers stare. The 6 year old is agog. Eagerly the dog looks up, licking the crumbs of Christ off salivating jaws.

Mark 7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Posted by steve at 11:27 PM

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

rich, full but stuffed: the Melbourne Manningham mission

The weekend in Melbourne with Manningham Uniting was a great experience – rich and full. I travelled with Team Taylor and it was great to be able to sneak some rest and relaxation in Melbourne with them. Thursday night included discovering a fabulous book shop in Lygon St. Like a moth to the flame!! Since I was speaking all day Saturday, we took time on Friday to go shopping. Each of us drew the name of another member of Team Taylor out of the hat and away we went. Fun!

Then a relaxed Father’s Day breakfast in the Melbourne sun on Sunday morning was just lovely.

At Manningham, I did about 7.5 hours of input, spread over 4 sessions

  • structures and leadership for mission
  • defining mission today
  • the local church in mission
  • engaging the community

There was excellent interaction at all of the sessions, some quality pushback and some very perceptive questions.  Their work on the Biblical texts around mission was some of the best I’ve experienced, as the Bible subverted agendas of colonisation and imperialism. Very rich.

I also preached Sunday afternoon. The story of Manningham Uniting is worth watching closely. It is 4 churches combining. Not because of decline, which is a common reason for merger. But rather because they sensed that together their mission might be enhanced. The shared resources are impressive, although to date the process has required a huge amount of internal listening and syncing. But the hope, the promise, the possibility, was expressed so eloquently to me on Sunday, by a recent retiree.

Being in mission is no longer sending money overseas. I’ve realised that being in local mission means being in relationships. It’s so exciting because it’s changed me.

That’s a gold quote, a reminder that in mission we as the church become more fully human. I flew back Sunday evening, feeling rich and full. But stuffed.

Posted by steve at 11:13 AM

Monday, September 03, 2012

a faith shaped by art not words

What is the place of art in the church? Here’s a fascinating take by Peter Steele, Professor Emeritus at the University of Melbourne.

“there is no particular reason to suppose that the reading-off of God’s word to humanity had to take the form which, in the western world, it largely did – namely, via philosophically-based theology. The whole affair might have gone differently, so that, for instance, the figures in highest institutional esteem in the Christian community would be artists.” (Peter Steele, in Braiding the Rivers. Essays in Poetry (John Leonard Press, 2012), 33)

(We walked past his abode, Newman Hall, in Melbourne over the weekend). It is a fascinating suggestion – what would have happened to Christianity, if the Christian tradition had been given to artists, not word-smiths?

I think the same thing is being said in the following visual image, this stunning icon that Gary Rutter posted on twitter recently -

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Mission, the end and indigenous dreamtime

I’m working my way through 2 Corinthians at the moment, reading it slowly, day by day, phrase by phrase, reflecting on the spirituality of missional leadership so evident in the words. As he struggles to plant communities of faith, be Christ-like in conflict, seek the inter-conciliar unity of the church. There are some gorgeous soundbites.

“Father of compassion” (1:3)

“we have conducted ourselves … in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity” (1:12)

On Saturday while speaking, I was asked about the relationship between mission and the end. If all things are to be reconciled in Christ, why bother now?

Another soundbite, which I’d read in 2 Corinthians that morning, sprung to mind.

“God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Christ the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 1:20

God has promised a future which has an end in Christ. The church participates in that mission as an “Amen.” Our participation can be a fitting “Amen,” an expression of the self-giving, trusting, vulnerable, humble life that is Christ. Equally, it can be a poor “Amen”, a hubris that is simultaneously petulant, conflicted and shallow.

Mission is our Amen to God’s promised Yes.

At this point we are messing with time, and with our participation in time.

Which perhaps links with a perspective offered by an indigenous colleague a few weeks ago. Talking about the Spirit in global cultures, he noted that the Aboriginal dreamtime stories all share a similarity. They lack an end. They create a continuous now, which provides for him a wonderful beginning, but no promise of resolution. This has caused him to find comfort in the Christian story.

Their is an assurance that God is the beginning, the dreamtime. And that God is in the end, in the compassion of Christ, who is the promise that is the final “Yes.”

Posted by steve at 09:29 PM