Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I am a pimple in the life of a century-old church

Over the weekend, the church, I used to pastor, Opawa Baptist, celebrated 100 years. It was a great thrill to be there and to hear the stories and look at the photos and to see the archival video footage. Which all served to reinforce how insignificant my 6 years of involvement was in the span of things.

I was merely a pimple in a church in which so many ministered and loved and prayed. Which feels good.

As part of the Sunday morning sermon I was invited (along with 3 other ministers in the life of church) to spend 5-8 minutes addressing the question – what was the Spirit up to? My period of ministry was from the beginning of 2004 to the start of 2010 and here’s what I said.

Greetings from Team taylor. Lynne and Shannon and Kayli would have loved to’ve been here. We’re doing OK in Australia, but still feel like we’re settling and still very much miss NZ.

As I was thinking about the 100th, I thought about how different people approach history

Some ignore it. Forget the past. We’re looking forward.

Some memorialise it. Remember that moment in your 20s when your were at their best. Forever compare yourselves to back in that moment.

Some look for what a friend calls “traces of grace”. Look for what God has done in the past, the ways God has worked, as a guide to how to live into the future

Which is why I love the question I’ve been asked to address – What was the Spirit up to in my time at Opawa? That’s a traces of grace question. Let’s look for what God has done in the past and be open for that to guide us into the future.

It’s impossible for me to condense six years into 5 minutes. So let me give you one moment.

It was December 2005. I was preaching at the 10:30 congregation on Luke 1:39-45. It’s the Bible story of when Mary rushes to visit Elizabeth. As Mary enters, Elizabeth feels her baby move in her womb. She recognise this as God’s Spirit and greets Mary with words of blessing. In the CEV “God has blessed you.” Speaks to her words of courage and hope and potential.

As I began preaching, I heard what was almost an audible voice. Which is really wierd when you’re the preacher and you’re talking and there’s the voice behind you’re hearing.

This voice said – “This is not just a Christmas story. This is an Opawa story.

What if we as a church placed ourselves in the shoes of Elizabeth.
Elizabeth had every reason to be judgmental and negative, to get all moral and ask Mary who the father was.

Instead she greets the unexpected with grace. Responds to what is new and different with words of blessing and hope.

And as part of the sermon I invited people to respond. Don’t often do that. But I invited people to stand if they were willing to be Elizabeth. All over the auditorium that morning, people stood.

No music, no Just as I am. Just silence, as people stood. A very public, brave response.

Opawa had had a history of negativity and criticism. And it felt like the Spirit was giving us another way to live, another way to approach change, another way to relate to each other.

Luke 1. God’s Spirit saying – this is not just an advent text. It’s as Opawa text. How we could live together. As Elizabeths.

Though as I look back, I realise now that Opawa was full not just of Elizabeth’s. But of Mary’s as well. That there were pregnant people at Opawa. Not physically, although we certainly had a lot of babies born in that period.

Mary’s. People who in the power of the Spirit were about to give birth to a different type of new life. Like espresso and Soak and Hymn service, and Grow; about to birth Koru and movie nights and Light Party, about to birth a building project, to 00’s of hay bales in Latimer Square, people whom God was calling to be Community Chaplains. In God’s grace, Opawa was becoming a far richer and more connected church in mission with the local community.

God’s Spirit saying – this is not just an advent text. It’s as Opawa text. Birthing new life.

I wonder if there was a 3rd thing the Spirit was doing. Again, this is looking back. Occurred to me when I was teaching a class on this passage earlier this year.

One question in Luke 1:39-45 is how does Elizabeth recognise the Spirit? How does she know God’s Spirit is at work?

Text tells us. “The baby leapt in my womb.” So Elizabeth has to trust the Spirit in her body. This Spirit not as a floaty thing out in space or even a voice she hears. But in her body, in her womb. Which takes discernment. What’s of God? What’s just a tummy rumble?

As I think about Opawa, 2004-start of 2010, God’s Spirit was inviting us to trust our bodies. Use our senses a lot more worship. With the Pentecost art installations.

I think of one new person. Unsure if Opawa was the place for them. Pete Majendie doing a service where he poured wine over freshly baked bread. The aroma just deeply, deeply connecting with this person. Trust the Spirit through our senses, in our bodies.

That’s what I think the Spirit was doing, the traces of God’s grace, at Opawa.

Be Elizabeth’s, respond to new things with words of courage and hope; to let God’s Spirit through us birth new communities and ministries; to discern God’s Spirit in our bodies.

“Blessed be our God.”

Posted by steve at 12:24 PM


  1. Hi again Steve. It was great to catch up on the weekend, albeit briefly. Thanks for your reflection. It makes me want to keep asking those traces of grace questions and those discerning the Spirit questions – like “What’s next Papa?” and wondering what flutters of the Kingdom of God we can sense in the everyday… to His good pleasure.
    Thanks from one pimple to another.

    Comment by Adrian — October 26, 2011 @ 5:07 pm

  2. Hi, so good to see you and your whanau. You seem to have settled so well – you’ll have to give us some lessons 🙂

    And disappointed to miss the beer tasting Friday night.


    Comment by steve — October 27, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

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