Sunday, October 02, 2016

Hospitality as mission: Why does the church see itself as host not guest?

579b32ed09f103cbc96337321156219c I was asked to speak at a local Presbyterian church, to finish a month long series on hospitality. Being the last in the series, I offered to speak on hospitality as eschatology – looking at the book of Revelation, in particular Revelation 19:6-9. I also drew on Rublevs icon in what became an exploration of hospitality as mission.

I runga i te ingoa, O te Matua, O te Tama, Me te Wairua Tapu, Amine. May I speak in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, the Maker of all things new.

A story to start. St Paul’s Chapel is the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan, New York. Built in 1766, it’s also the closest church to World Trade Centre twin towers. In the days following the destruction of 9/11, the church leaders met in emergency session. In the midst of such tragedy, they turned to Scripture.

Where would you turn? Ask the person beside you. If you were the church next door to 9/11, where in the Bible would you turn in the days following?

The church leaders turned to the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

Stories like Levis banquet in Luke 5
the disciples eating corn in Luke 6
the son of man eating and drinking like a glutton in Luke 7
the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 9
the Parable of the Rich fool in Luke 12
the parable of the Great banquet in Luke 14
the feasting when the lost son returns in Luke 15
Jesus eating at Zaccheus house in Luke 19
the Last Supper in Luke 22
the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 (developed from The Out of Bounds Church?)

In light of these stories – of Jesus around food – the church decided the best thing they could offer, as a church, post 9/11, was a gospel of hospitality. They resolved to be God’s presence by providing food for firefighters, for Police and rescue workers. Their 1766 church building had still not been checked for structural safety, so they set up bbq’s outside, serving burgers and offering lemonade.

Once the church building was deemed safe, they opened up their sanctuary. “There were rescue workers sleeping and eating … there were chiropractors and massage therapists working on aching muscles in the side aisles .. there were people sitting on the floor and on the steps leading up to the choir loft .. (Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation, 3) The church leaders continued to meet and pray. They turned again to the stories of Jesus around food and they made a second decision. That the food and drink, their gospel of hospitality, needed to be of the highest possible quality. To quote the minister “We wanted people to see and savour the extravagance of Christ’s love.” (Soul Banquets, 2)

They appointed a Food captain. The Food captain, himself a local restaurant owner, sourced food from restuarants including the Waldorf Astoria, who arrived with a large delivery of chicken dinners. The church leaders continued to meet and pray. Ten days after 9/11, they made a third decision. To begin serving Eucharist, every day, at noon. Amid the food stations, the chicken from the Waldorf Astoria and the bbqs cooking burgers, an invitation was made to any present, not compulsory, to share around the table of Christ.

A visitor wrote

“It was the most incredible hodgepodge of humanity I’ve ever seen gathered in a church … some of the rescue workers who’d not shown much interest in the eucharist when it began found themselves drawn into the ancient prayers that promise life forever with God and ended up taking communion with tears in their eyes. This was Christ’s church in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness, and holiness. And it was truly beautiful.” (Soul Banquets, 3)

The story is from Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation. It’s written by a lecturer in New Testament, who suddenly began to wonder if all the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food might actually be saying something not just about then, but about now, not just about gospel then, but about church life today. The book did research on how churches are using food and the argument is made: that the church has underestimated the power of our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission.

I like to place what happened at St Pauls Chapel – “rescue workers .. drawn into the ancient prayers .. with tears in their eyes. Christ’s church – beautiful – in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness .. .” alongside the Bible reading:

“Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:9.

Revelation is often the domain of crazies and cults. That’s not the intention of the original writer John. Writing, in exile in Patmos, as it says in Revelation 1:4. He’s not writing endtime prophecy for those obsessed with the Middle East. He’s writing to seven churches in Asia, to people living in mess, ambiguity and brokenness; to people persecuted by an Emperor, to a church under extreme stress.

He responds by blessing these people; blessing them as invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. It’s quite an unusual image for heaven. Quite different from streets paved with gold and fluffly clouds. “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! These are the true words of God.” Endtime prophecy? Domain of crazies and cults? Or an insight into how to live in times of mess, ambiguity and brokenness.

Eugene Peterson in his commentary on Revelation argues that when John uses the wedding feast, “he is maintaining the social shape of salvation.” (Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, 158)

That eating, what you do at a wedding, is social activity. It’s what we do with friends and family.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is a relational activity. It’s where we share stories, remember our past, trace our whakapapa, and share our joy, name our sorrow.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is a messy activity. It has food scraps for the compost and red wine spilt on table clothes and dishes to wash.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is an invitational activity. It’s the place where we build relationships. On the marae, the powhiri moves to the cupatea and the final meal moves into the poroporoaki.

The writer of John, in using the wedding feast, is inviting those who live in mess, ambiguity and brokenness, to maintain the social shape of salvation. Interestingly, for all those who consider Revelation is about endtimes, is how much the writer, John, is looking back not forward.

He’s looking back to the Bible’s first mention, ever, of eating, in Genesis 3; and offering new story, not to broken relationships in the Garden of Eden, but of relationships celebrated in wedding feast.

He’s looking back to Abraham offering hospitality, killing a calf for three strangers.

He’s looking back to the Mosaic Law in Leviticus. Where the mark of being the OT people of God was feasting. Five feasts – Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Trumpets, Tabernacles. And after the book of Esther, a sixth feast – Purim. Six cycles of celebration in which the alien and migrant is welcome.

He’s looking back to the vision of Isaiah 25: A feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine, the best of meats, the finest of wines .. The Lord will wipe away the tears, He will remove the disgrace (6-8)

He’s looking back to the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food – the Last Supper in Luke 22.
In which Jesus said remember me. Remember what? Remember me with you at Levis banquet, remember me eating and drinking like a glutton, remember me feeding the 5,000; remember me telling you the Parable of the Rich fool and the Great banquet.

And so “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb,” is not an endtimes prophecy. It’s a looking back, a looking back which gives a social shape to those who live in mess, ambiguity and brokenness.

However, the church often makes a tragic mistake when it things about hospitality and mission. As I posted on social media yesterday: Why so often does the church see itself as host rather than guest, as inviting rather than invited? Some 25 comments later, my friends and followers are still thinking:

  • Is it human nature, it’s easier to give than receive?
  • Is it that dominant cultures are used to be at the centre, not the edge?
  • Is it that we own buildings and somehow that turn us into hosts not guests?

Why so often does the church see itself as host rather than guest, as inviting rather than invited? I’m intrigued by what happens in one interpretation of looking back, in Rublevs Icon, the story of Abraham and the oaks of Mamre.

icon-e2 Painted in the 15th century by Russian monk called Andrei Rublev. Written to a people, living in mess, ambiguity and brokenness. In the background is the trees of Mamre, linking with Genesis 18:1. Three persons: linking to the three strangers in Genesis 18:2. Three persons – similarities – same halo, same blue colour, the colour for divinity; same holding a staff in the same right hand; same head slightly bowed looking at the person beside them.

Three persons – different.

One is green is the colour of spring, the colour of things that grow.
One person has brown, the colour of dirt.
One person is gold, the beauty of God who created a beautiful earth.

So in Rublevs icon, the host is not Abraham. The host is God, three persons of the Trinity – te Matua, te Tama, te Wairua Tapu; The Father in gold who created this beautiful earth; Jesus in brown walked in dirt; Spirit in green to help us grow.

In the middle is the table. All tables have 4 sides. So there is plenty of room for the guest. So anyone can sit. Anyone who wants a relationship – conversation, participate in love, share in table fellowship with Jesus.

So this is hospitality as mission. It’s when God, not church, is the host at the wedding banquet of the lamb. It’s when the Gospel has a social shape – participating in relationship with God. It’s when meals are at the centre; the cup, remember me – looking back – the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

I began with a story – St Paul’s Chapel in New York, in the 10 days after 9/11 – rescue workers .. drawn into the ancient prayers .. Christ’s church – beautiful – in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness .. .” I’ve placed that alongside the Bible reading: “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” I’ve suggested that this is not endtimes prophecy, but a looking back – to Genesis and relationships broken and the hopes of the Old Testament that find their culmination in Jesus. And the challenge for us to see ourselves not as hosts, but as guests, in the God’s hospitality.

So a story to end. It comes from Rebecca Huntley, who in her book, Eating between the lines, did research on the eating habits of contemporary Australians. She visits food courts and supermarkets and family dinner tables. She also visits the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre in Melbourne, to attnd a lunch for migrant women.

The aim was to link recent migrants with historic migrants. Each meal features food from the country of origin of one of the migrants. So you turn up to eat the food of another culture. The aim is a social salvation. On each table is a set of questions (Why did you come to this country? Did you have a choice? What was the journey like? What is it like to raise children in a new country?) Rebecca writes:

“the lunch I attended was messy, complicated, disjointed and at times frustrating. It was hard work, much harder than ordering Vietnamese take-away … It was a tiring experience, but much more satisfying .. Food was a conduit, a means of establishing real and potentially transformative relationships.” (Eating between the lines, 132).

Hospitality as mission. The power of finding ourselves as guests at the table of another. Five practical suggestions:

  • Appoint a food captain
  • Set every church table in ways that reflect God’s abundance and creativity.
  • When eating, find ways to encourage genuine conversation – questions on tables to encourage the sharing of lives.
  • Work always to make guests hosts and hosts guests
  • Never forget the church’s special meal – the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

Because: “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

Posted by steve at 05:52 PM

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Urban farming

In this small thing is all of creation! God made it, God cares for it, God loves it. (A Paraphrase of Julian of Norwich)

-1

Plant this movie: the International Urban Farming Documentary was on at the Rialto this Sunday morning. It was an inspirational watch. A few scenes moved me to tears, in particular the vision for culture change possible in decaying urban environments.

Movies like this make sense of my first degree, Bachelor of Horticulture, my love for gardens and some of my research and writing into community gardens – like Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant

(Abstract):

Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhood. This paper considers gardens in Scripture, start, middle and end. It researches the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens. The story of each is brought into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1–12 and 1 Cor 3:6–9. The insights from this dialogue between Scripture and two urban garden case studies is then enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is a documentary about an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden. Both point to the power and potential of a seasonal spirituality. Throughout this paper, beginning and end, is also woven experience—mine—into the place and potential of gardens in mission and ministry. The argument from Scripture, case study, film and experience is that gardens invite us and our neighbours to become good, plot by plot and plant by plant.

Posted by steve at 06:42 PM

Monday, April 27, 2015

Accepted – “Inhabiting our neighbourhoods: Plot by plot, plant by plant”

News today that my chapter on community gardens in urban spaces has been accepted for publication. It was written for the launch of “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods”: a flagship publication of Urban Seed’s new Urban Studies Centre and was a proposal for a contemporary urban missiology for community mission.

The editors commented: “We really enjoyed this piece. One of us said, “The more I read the more fascinated I became, and I’m not into gardening!””

Here’s the abstract for the chapter, which I’ve provisionally titled Inhabiting our neighbourhoods: Plot by plot, plant by plant

Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we inhabit our neighbourhood. These include opening ourselves to the stranger’s gift, the slow, seasonal work of prayer-as-composting and celebrating life together.

This chapter begins by bringing the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 3:6-9. Stranger’s gifts emerge when we act in ways that enable our community to be neighbours, both good and diverse.

These insights are enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is the story of an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden.

The argument, from case study, Scripture and film, is that gardens provide rich insight, in practices, processes, patterns and postures, regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhoods.

It should be out in the middle of the year.

The only major suggestion for change is to make the structure a little more like a garden. This involves making a little more room for wildness, less linear logic and more ripe vegetables and fistfuls of herbs! Which was how I presented the spoken paper, but in writing, sought to conform to a more academic style, so I will gladly conform!

I was one of very few academics present and I’m delighted to be able to add some missiology reflection into what was a gritty, community-engaged conference. It’s also the first time some of my monthly published film reviews (which now number nearly 100) have been woven into a publication, along with what is a personal hobby. So it all feels nicely integrated. It also brings to six the number of pieces of work written in 2014 that will now be published. A good year indeed!

Posted by steve at 01:06 PM

Saturday, August 02, 2014

community building through community gardens

A few Sunday’s ago I raced into a cafe, seeking a takeaway coffee. It was packed, heaving with people, buzzing with conversation. I felt enfolded by the possibility of human relationships.

Being Sunday morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on how warm, human, relational and busy this place was, compared to many churches around Australia gathering at exactly the same time.

But as I left I reflected on how narrow was this expression of community. It was a community of like minds. I was a stranger visiting this city. If I’d wanted relationship, I could never have found it by pulling up a chair at any of these tables. This was invite only, a chance to catchup with existing relationships, with already established relationships. It was building community, but only with the known and liked.

In contrast, here is a comment on the community building that can occur in community gardens.

“Coffee shops are touted as our cultural commons, but very few people in coffee shops actually interact with strangers … A communal food garden is really one of the few places in our society where you can go and meet someone outside your ethnic or class boundary.” (Fred Bahnson, Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, 247).

Bahnson goes on to describe how you build such a community. It includes having no fence. “If someone takes your broccoli or watermelons, let them … Leave the work of growing food to those who maintain a porous sense of edges and ownership.” (Soil and Sacrament, 252). He also suggests that when it comes to choosing people to invite to your community garden, the garden you are creating “is first of all for the widow who comes to the door in her negligee, the migrant worker who works three jobs and comes to the garden to unwind.” (Soil and Sacrament, 253)

This is all helpful food for thought in terms of my paper for the Urban Life Together conference in Melbourne (which BTW, Tallskinnykiwi AKA Andrew Jones) considers “fantastic.”)

Presentation two – Gardening with Soul

This presentation will explore two movies to suggest insights for urban mission. Gardening with Soul (2013) tells the story of New Zealander Gardener of the Year, Loyola Galvin, honoured for her work in turning the lawn of Our Ladies of Compassion, Wellington, into Common Ground, a community garden for local apartment dwellers. Grow your Own (2007) explores the impact of Asian migrants on a well-established British allotment.

Together, these movies offer insights into urban mission, including the priority of place, soil as sacrament and the stranger’s gift. These insights will be tested against the reality of inner-city Australian community gardens in central Adelaide and Kings Cross, Sydney.

Posted by steve at 01:50 PM

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Guerilla grafting as sign of new heaven, new earth?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2

So is this – guerilla grafting- a sign? Or simply acts of vandalism by a romantic few?

For the full story, go here

Posted by steve at 10:42 PM

Friday, July 29, 2011

This is my body: what elements are essential in indigenous aboriginal communion?

I am on a research quest:

What are the elements used in indigenous aboriginal (Australian) communion? Is it bread made from wheat based flour? Or does it involve any indigenous food products? And what was the theology – specifically the initial theology – that shapes the elements?

When I asked the ACD librarian, she looked suitably intrigued and impressed. And then said she needed some time to think, and suggested I come back on Tuesday.

Why my question? Well, I am working on a paper for a conference in early 2012, “Story Weaving: Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theology

A number of thinkers have suggested that the eucharist is a key resource for living both Christianly and humanly in a post-colonial world. These include William Cavanaugh in Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire and Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Challenges in Contemporary Theology). The argument is that the colonial notions of global and local, universal and particular, are fundamentally disrupted in the eucharist. A similar, but even more tightly focused argument has been offered by John McDowell, in his exploration of the Narrative of Institution in 1 Corinthians 11 (“Feastings in God at Midnight: Theology and the Globalised Present,” Pacifica 23 (October 1010)).

This argument, that the eucharist is a key resource for a post-colonial world, stands in striking contrast to an example by Susan Dworkin in The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist’s Struggle to Preserve the World’s Harvest. She notes that when the Catholic church arrived (colonised) South America, they brought the belief that in Christianity, wheat flour rather than the (indigenous) corn flour could be used to bake communion wafers. In other words, in practice, the eucharist becomes complicit in processes of colonisation, rather than a key resource in resisting globalisation.

What is intriguing is that Dworkin’s next paragraph, however, provide an example of a way in which colonisation can be deconstructed. She describes how in order to provide such colonial bread, wheat needed to be imported. It was grown around local churches. It self-seeded. Through natural processes of selection, the wheat that survived developed genes more uniquely adapted to local environments.

In the late 20th century, scientists realised that such wheat might have enormous potential in safe guarding food production. They began to search through isolated churches in Mexico, seeking genetic material, plants that had adapted and evolved. In other words, what was originally imported wheat was now highly prized indigenous wheat.

This raises a fascinating set of questions, not only around ecclesiology, eucharist and the Narrative of Institution, but around the very elements. What should constitute the very body of Christ? How is it’s composition, complicit in, or resistant to, processes of colonisation?

Hence my research question in the library this morning. Here in Australia, what communion elements did indigenous Aboriginal cultures employ? And was the underlying theology a colonial imposition? And how does this disrupt, or endorse, the work of Cavanaugh and McDowell? And how might the resultant practices, even if unintentional, contribute toward something that might in fact be a unique emerging indigenous gift for a hungry world?

So, I’d be grateful if any readers, especially Australian readers, might suggest any research leads. Because indigenous Aboriginal culture is wide and varied. And because both I and my librarian suspect that the search will be less that straightforward, but mighty, mighty interesting.

Posted by steve at 01:06 PM

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

when meals become mission: learning from 9/11

A recent post at prodigal Kiwi is asking for resources to help churches think through their response to the February 22 Christchurch earthquake.

It caused me to recall the research done by John Koenig on how the church in New York responded after 9/11, which is written up in Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation. The book begins by interviewing Lyndon Harris, the priest at St Paul’s chapel. Manhattan’s oldest public building, the church closest to twin towers. Lyndon recalls how in the chaos after 9/11, the “many New Testament stories of Jesus’ words and actions at table came quickly to mind.”

So the church simply began serving food. First with volunteers running a street barbeque to feed the clean up crews. Once the church was deemed safe, they turned to serving meals in the shelter of the church.

They made a conscious decision to be a generous host. For them, this involved forming a partnership with a local restaurant to serve food and drink of the highest possible quality.

Some ten days after 9/11, they served communion. They offered this as an option, the liturgy up at the altar table but in a church filled with tables, heaped with food, around which everyday conversation continued. This moment, of food mixed with faith, proved an important and transformative moment of healing for numbers present that day.

Koenig concluded that one of the most healing thing done by churches through out New York in response to 9/11 was the decision to simply eat together. He wrote

“we have seriously undervalued our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission … to realize this potential, we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, must have our eyes opened by the transforming presence of Christ at our tables.”

Another chapter in the book offers an interesting checklist on what it might means for meals to become mission. It suggests a new set of habits will be required. Mission meals is no slapping of food on a cold tin plate in a chilly church hall.

Instead

  • This is serving graciously with human contact. Koenig cites the example of one the busiest church food kitchen in New York, in which each volunteer is expected to find ways to encourage eye contact and genuine conversation.
  • This is setting tables, serving food, eating in patterns and places that speak of God’s abundance and creativity.
  • This is encouraging role reversals by finding ways for all, helper and hungry, to contribute through a diversity of gifts.
  • This is committing to a long-term, intentional project, a willingness to eat together a lot, because in that eating good things will happen.

So, for those wandering about how to be church in Christchurch, how to deal with so much physical loss, so much psychological trauma, so much grief and fear – start by simply eating together.

Posted by steve at 09:56 PM

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bono on justice, mercy, faith and narcissism

U2 are currently touring South Africa. It brings their work on behalf of Africa into particular focus, especially when they face the media in Africa. A few days ago, Bono was interviewed by Redi Tlabi on Talk Radio 702 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The interview ran for about 35 mins. It is a wide-ranging interview that covers music, marriage, justice, mercy, faith and narcissism.

There are some great quotes (transcribed by me, but I’d suggest if you want to use the quotes, then do check the sound recording for yourself):

On justice vs charity:

When it comes to One and Data, people see us as bleeding hearts. We do have hearts, but we’re very tough minded people. Justice matters, not charity. These are monies owed by the poorest to the richest. The grand children are held to ransom.

On the fight for justice:

The World Bank just put out figures that African leaders who qualified for debt cancellation. Between 2005 and 2011, there are an extra 44 million children going to school as a result of debt cancellation. These are World Bank figures.

On his relationship with Africa:

Africa seemed a long way away for a boy growing up in Dublin. Our music has always been influenced by social justice. It was while working in Africa that you start to think about the structural issues of poverty. We raised 200 million (in Bandaid) and then we realised Africa spends that much on debt repayment a month.

On himself:

I am definitely capable of narcissism. I’m a rock star.

On whether aid to Africa positions them as victims:

We all needed aid. Ireland did. Germany did. Get over it. We are thinking what are the obstacles in the way of justice, equality and freedom.

On whether Bono is religious:

I’m a believer. I have a deep faith but I am deeply suspicious of people who talk about their faith all the time. It is utterly a part of my life. I try to read the Scriptures.

On his upbringing:

My upbringing made me suspicious. Faith is a very beautiful thing but religion can be a very ugly thing. My faith has helped me in that struggle.

For the full interview as a sound file, go here.

Posted by steve at 06:00 PM

Sunday, November 21, 2010

film review: eat, pray, love

Battling away today on a “theological” film review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, reminded me that I have failed to post my November film review, of the movie Eat, Pray, Love, (for Touchstone New Zealand Methodist magazine.) It has probably my most provocative opening sentence in a while.

“Indulgent, wealthy, tourism porn” would be a more accurate title for this movie. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:20 PM

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

spirituality of gardening

Saw this over the weekend, in a shopfront, yep – INSIDE a shop window, pavement on left, pram handle on rigth, corn and tomatoes in the middle looking grand.  Got me thinking about how easy it is to play with space, about what it would mean to grow a garden indoors and then to actually celebrate communion, the life of God given for the world, in the middle of that garden.

indoor life

indoor life

Posted by steve at 12:47 PM

Sunday, January 27, 2008

coffee is for community

Fascinating article in the Otago Daily Times about Kiwi cafe owners brewing up a storm in London. Features cafes like Flat White and Sacred Cafe. And I think the concluding remarks have something to say to emerging church.

cafe.jpg “It’s also the character and intimacy the typical New Zealand cafe offers its customers … large coffee chains have been kept at bay in New Zealand by the raft of smaller, independent cafes. And this approach to business is also evident in (the Kiwi run cafes in) London: all the cafes are small, charismatic, intimate, slightly quirky, and comfortable …. Independence is compromised by trying to be too big …. One of the key points … is the sense of community. It’s really the heart and the soul.” (Saturday 26 January 2008, page 51)

Community. Community. Community.

Posted by steve at 09:27 PM

Thursday, September 20, 2007

tasting the Kingdom again

Here is another taste of the Kingdom. Last year, we spent a church meeting gathering around Scripture. Instead of me as pastor coming up with vision, I read a Scripture, offered some exegetical background, and invited each person to consider how Opawa could practise this Scripture in 2007. We then entered into community discernment and 7 ideas were generated. (For more detail, go here.)

One was that of workplace blessings from Opawa to people who work locally as a “thanks” for the work they do. Over 2007, this has slowly gained legs. A month ago books were given to a local kindergarten. (In return, they made us a card and then a group of them rolled up and joined us for our monthly family night. Quite cool really). This month, a cake baked for our local school, with a card from us, the church, to them. They have just been through a Department of Education review, so the cake was perfect timing.

In Luke 10, the disciples of Jesus are sent to speak peace among the towns and villages. I wonder if giving books and making cakes is a 21st century way of speaking peace into the communities around our church.

workplaceblessings.jpg

Photo from (here, as part of the picturing of 30 days in September series).

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

tasting the Kingdom

Church on Sunday, (that is Digestion, our evening church service) happened around a meal. People bring food and we sat at one long table, complete with tablecloth and candles and sparking grapejuice. We do this about once every 3 months.

Just as we started, there was a furtive movement in the foyer. I went out, and a man was huddled in a corner, and wanting a food parcel. “Sure”, I said, “at the end of the service. But why not wash your hands and come and join us. We’re eating here tonight and there’s even roast chicken.”

He sat among us, enjoying his share of first, seconds and thirds. He laughed with us, and listened as we broke bread and shared. He left with a full belly and a food parcel.

The regulars were curious. I told them he might just be an angel. I think we were more blessed than he. He got to eat food in human company. We got to taste the reality of the radical hospitality offered at the wedding banquet of the Kingdom.

Go here for another example of tasting the Kingdom.

Posted by steve at 10:39 AM

Saturday, April 21, 2007

earth day: where are the christians?

A reporter from Challenge Weekly rang yesterday. He wanted to do a story on us at Opawa Baptist, because he had noted that Opawa Baptist was the only church in New Zealand he had come across doing anything for Earth Day.

Since Earth Day, April 22, falls on a Sunday this year, all of our church newsletter’s will include a Sustainability insert. I am preaching on “what does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with the environment” at the 10:30 am service, part 3 of a 4 part series on “Yeah? Jesus alive. Right!” that explores what the resurrection means for our everyday lives. From 3 pm we are showing the Inconvenient Truth, and a scientist and Christian film reviewer will respond. I am then preaching on “On earth as in heaven: is the Kingdom of God good news for our environment?” on Sunday at 7pm, starting with this great video clip from the Simpson.

After the phone call, I was not sure whether to feel a lone leader, or a lone fruit loop. I had thought that people who worship God the Creator, and who meet on Sunday when it is Earth Day, would have quite a bit to say about the environment, particularly given all the current societal concern around global warming. Yet it seems that I think alone. Am I missing something?

Posted by steve at 01:01 PM