Sunday, September 05, 2010

being church in an earthquake zone

Given that only a few months ago, I was pastoring in Christchurch, my thoughts in the last 24 hours have revolved around wondered what I’d do if I was pastoring, being church in the midst of such destruction.

My current thoughts (and I’m at distance, so might be way of beam) revolve around creating some sort of communal drop-in point for at least the next 7 days. Open the foyer from 9 am-3 pm. Provide hot soup. Set up some breadmakers and get a lovely warm, home smell into the place. Since schools are being closed, set up an area for kids to play, with a range of games. My hunch is that people will want ways to be together, to share, laugh, cry. So tables with food allow that to happen naturally.

Some people might want a more focused listening ear, so I’d set up some “sharing couches” and have some designated “listeners” who would simply be there to listen. I’d tell them to keep an ear out for those who might need more focused help, 50+ after shocks and counting might led to trauma for some.

I’d set up a range of prayer stations, that would allow people to engage with God. Words are hard to find in the midst of shock, so I’d focus on simple, tactile ways to pray.

“Oh help” station – with candles and sand trays to lit in memory of things that are lost, broken, damaged, missing. Simply helping people name the grief and the shock.

“Whew, that was close” station – post-it notes or clothes line prayers (string and some pegs), in which people could give thanks for what they still have – life, food, neighbours, friends, a professional Civil Defence … and so on. Simply helping people pay attention to moments of grace.

“Seeking beauty” station – a sort of craft table, in which people could make something of beauty. For some this would be facile. For others, it’s a part of being human and it can be a way of helping people focus beyond themselves. I’d make it communal and expect that lots of healing chat would happen.

“Where is God” station – a thinking station. Often at times like this God’s name get’s used in some pretty naive ways. Quietly ignored for years while the good times roll, yet suddenly named in the midst of devastation. In all sorts of ways – judgement for sin or suddenly micro-manager of the world. At this station, I’d probably put up some prayers prayed by those who throughout history have experienced tragedy. Perhaps blow them up big ie A2 size, with pens, and expect people to engage in response. Some examples might be Psalms of lament of which there is a huge range. Without checking them all for suitability:

  • some Community Psalms of lament include 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 89, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129; while
  • some Individual Psalms of lament include 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52*, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, 142. Yes, heaps, because unexpected tragedy and pain is part of being human.
  • here is a sermon I preached, using one particular Psalm (69), after the Mangatepopo River tragedy plus some words and liturgical ideas we used at the time
  • a pile of other prayers in disaster are here (,

I’m not sure whether I’d have a station in relation to giving aid – whether practical or financial. My hunch is that at least for the first few days, the most important thing is simply space to pray and most of all, ways to naturally be together, eat together, laugh together.  But again, I’m miles away, so might be really out of touch.

Posted by steve at 02:46 PM

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

little boat blown across the mighty Tasman sea

College worship today was framed around Jeremiah 18 and God the potter. We were offered a piece of play dough and invited to play as the service progressed. What was formed was laid on the communion table as an act of response, and then could be taken with us post-Benediction.

Here is my ponderings (thanks Sarah) …

… my little boat, blown by the wind of God’s Spirit. Echoes of Brendan the navigator, green the colour of this season in the church year that of growth in ordinary time. The backdrop a gift I gave myself a few years ago, that I have with me whenever I speak, as an evocation of grace and possibilities and God’s future.

Posted by steve at 05:04 PM

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

creationary: Good samaritan prayer for those loving neighbour in a CNN world

I wrote this prayer out of a day spent sitting with the banquet parables in Luke 14, made tense by the call to love our neighbour in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, being woken by morning news updates of the flooding in Pakistan.

God who is closer than our neighbour
we thankyou for the places you plant us,
the comforts of home, the familiarities of place

God who call us to love our neighbour
we thankyou for variety,
our globality that gifts us spice and rice

God who points us to our neighbour in need
only till we turn on CNN,
to see,
the bigness of our world with 6 billion neighbours

And so we pray for aidworkers living love
Your hands, our feet amid flood and famine

God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills
we are grateful for the gifts of science
for researchers multiplying food to grow
We ask for honesty in the climate change industry
Our courage to make Your creation our moral issue

God who healed the ones among many
You gave every gift with it’s corresponding service

Grant us discerment,
the signs of our time – ourselves and your world
and so be your hands
of love of neighbour

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. (For more on what is a creationary go here; for other Creationary resources, go here).

Posted by steve at 09:08 AM

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

pass the peace in God’s world as acts of prodigal fathering

I fumbled the benediction in chapel today. Life’s a bit full at the moment, so I was bound to fumble something at some point and life’s like that.

The Biblical text was the prodigal son and around that Jonny Baker and I framed call to worship, an imaginative engagement with the text, some stations to allow reflection, confession, intercession and communion.

I was aware that there was no “passing of the peace” and aware that this has been a feature of various Uniting College chapel service’s I’ve been a part of. I’d been teaching just before chapel, looking at New Testament images of church. Which include the new creation and salt, as an image for a church deeply immersed in the world.

So it seemed to me in light of that impulse, that passing the peace could thus be an act of benediction, an invitation to mission as Christ’s reconciling people, offering the embrace of the father as an act of prodigal fathering.

So I decided in the midst of the service to conclude with a benediction, “Go, Pass the peace, in God’s world.”

So I invited people to face the door. But all that came out was the word “peace.” I waited for more. So did those gathered. I knew I had more to say, but my brain had simply stopped working. And so we all exited, knowing that something had not quite been completed.

Life’s like that sometimes.

So I simply note it here for completeness, for humour and as a theological and liturgical question:
What are the implications of making the passing of the peace the benediction, rather than an act in worship and after confession?

Posted by steve at 01:22 PM

Friday, March 05, 2010

praying the psalm? or the moment?

My Paraclete Psalter: A 4-Week Cycle for Daily Prayer arrived this week. It prays all the Psalms over a 4 week period. This is not a heavy book of Daily prayer, flipping from page to page. This is the Psalms arranged morning, lunch, tea and evening, as an invitation to use the Psalms, stones worth smooth by the centuries (to quote Rowan Williams). It’s gorgeous, just begging to be touched and opened. Leather cover, delicate pages, light and transportable.

The Psalms are arranged according to the time of day, which makes for a lovely resonance.

Until I went swimming.

And then my Psalter suddenly felt a bit sloshy – in a good, yet provoking, way.

The sun was setting into the sea and I just floated, watching this golden orb drop away. It all got pretty spiritual. It even got captured in a prayer: Swimming this evening; Sun dropping gold orbed into summer sea, God of full immersion, Swirl in, on, around me; Your resting child.

Which got me wondering about the place of spiritual disciplines in life. Was this not my “evening Psalm prayer”; the giving of my day, what was done and undone, to God? Wasn’t that Psalm, waiting in my Psalter, crafted out of a moment exactly like this? How do these natural and unexpected moments of our lives align themselves with the “stones worn smooth” of the church’s history? How often is our worship captured in a building and a book, strained through someone else’s words, in a way that alienates us from the moments of life?

Posted by steve at 08:27 AM

Friday, September 04, 2009

do you have a sinner’s table please?

Zaccheus was a sinner, well-known for his exploitation and participation in injustice.
Jesus asked to go to his house for dinner.
At Zaccheus’s house, Jesus saw redemption.

Who are our Zaccheus’s today, the people and places, we need to invite ourselves to eat among?

This week a newer Christian at Opawa read the book of Ruth to a local drug dealer, while another newcomer invited a practicing wiccan to an upcoming church service.

How much redemption do we miss because we fail to eat at the houses of an/other?

Posted by steve at 05:27 PM

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jesus as mother prayers

Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children
– Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:7

Truly Lord, you are a mother
for both they who are in labour
and they who are brought forth
are accepted by you.
– Anselm of Canterbury

Suck not so much the wounds as the breasts of the Crucified.
He will be your mother and you will be his son.
– Bernard of Clairvaux

But our true Mother Jesus, he alone bears us for joy and for endless life,
blessed may he be. So he carries us within him in love and travail
– Julian of Norwich

From Giving Birth: Reclaiming Biblical Metaphor for Pastoral Practice. Part of my research, for a workshop I’m leading on Friday in Auckland on “Emerging disciples”, with a sub-section addressing the theme of discipleship as midwiving.

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

old prayers, good prayer

Please give us, Father-God, a clean start for beginners, intelligence to the young, aid to those who are running hard, repentance to those who fall, a revived spirit to those who are lukewarm, and to those who have given their best a good ending. Amen.

Irenaeus of Lyon (died AD 202)

Posted by steve at 03:46 PM

Thursday, August 06, 2009

can the dry bones of this church in this city live?

I am speaking at a retreat centre called Nunyara. The food is fantastic, the accommodation hospitable and the Australians friendly. The retreat centre is based in the hills, and the chapel has a breathtaking view over the city. Yesterday it was clouded in fog, offering a mystical yet loving enclosure.

Today the sun was out, offering a breathtaking view of city skyscrapers and streets running into the sea.

Morning worship was expertly and creatively curated by Sandy Boyce. With the conference theme of Breathe – she offering a creative, tactile, spacious engagement with the Spirit as lifegiving breath to dry bones in Ezekiel 37. All participants were offered a stone, cold, hard, to consider as pray began.

Can these dry bones live? A provocative question to ask amidst a Uniting church conference, a denomination declining in number and growing in age. A poignant question to consider as I sat in chapel and gazed over the city of 1 million people. In the grace of God, can this church denomination, amid this city, live?

Posted by steve at 01:36 AM

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

mission here and there jigsaw prayers

This was the prayer from Sunday morning. At the door on the way into church, everyone was invited to choose a piece of jigsaw.

Introduction: As you came in you should have been offered a piece of jigsaw. I invite you to hold that now and to consider our theme of mission. Mission here. Mission there. The jigsaw invites us to consider what small part we have to play in God’s mission. As a jigsaw is 1 piece with 2 sides, so mission can be expressed here. And there.

Prayer: So I invite you to look at 1 side of the jigsaw and consider your part in God’s mission here. And now to turn the jigsaw and consider your part in mission there.

(And so the jigsaw was turned about 5 times, naming various involvements. For example, HERE included re-start of community kids programme, 85 people who attended the family film night, the flu packs, our mission collectives, while THERE included missionaries we know, seeds our missionaries in history have planted, the children many of us sponsor).

Ending: (excerpt from prayer by Nakatenus, 17th century priest, adapted).
God of Christ Jesus, the task of loving every neighbour as we love ourselves has become too big for us. The world is now too small, it’s population too large, the burden of its evil and misery too enormous. Therefore we pray to you for common sense. Let each of us be ready to do what can reasonably be done, play our piece in your puzzle, and leave you to put the jigsaw together. Amen.

Posted by steve at 06:14 PM

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

20 minutes encouraging “winter” sabbath

So you have been given 20 minutes in a standard morning service. The Bible text is about encouraging sabbath and the “worship” aim is to give people some time and space to “worship by sabbathing”, ie to provide a range of options/stations which a diverse, inter-generational group of people could enjoy. All ideas need to be easy, to ensure that those running the service are not stressed at the expense of those who are enjoying.

(For example, hot chocolates would be great, but a lot of work for 140 people when you don’t have a kitchen in the building).

What would you put into the time/space?

Posted by steve at 04:30 PM

Sunday, July 05, 2009

winter spirituality

It’s the middle of winter here. Short nights. Cold, cloudy, grey days. Buildings are cold. We’re trying to recognise this as a church, by building in a change of pace, encouraging our congregations to go slower for a two week period.

So tonight, our Soak service swapped individual stations and lectio divina for soup and community. Four large dinner tables were set up, adorned with candles, fragrant oils and winter sweet. One had a jigsaw, another had cushions.

Three different home soups were on offer, complete with sour cream, parsley, bacon bits (TVP). Discussion questions lay around:
– where was/is warmth in your house?
– what nourishes your soul?
– how do you (your family) unwind in the winter?

It provided a very different sort of spiritual nourishment, a pleasing change of pace, a relationally warm time, a uniquely winter spirituality.

Further posts:
Personal winter spirituality here.

Posted by steve at 11:02 PM

Sunday, May 03, 2009

the work and worth of prayer, thoughts from Dorothy McRae-McMahon

I snuck out of the office on Friday and sneaked into the back of a liturgy workshop by Australian, Dorothy McRae-McMahon. Most of my experience in writing prayers and creating worship has been intuitive. I simply started writing and creating and the more I have journeyed with people, the more I have seen the power of entwining symbol and tactile experience around creative words.

So it was very stimulating to be able to listen to someone else reflect on their experience. Lots of creative suggestions, lots of helpful framing and a great discussion with Dorothy in the break about words and how they work in community. Above all the encouragement for me to just keep writing words and keep creating spaces. Here are my notes. (more…)

Posted by steve at 11:18 PM

Sunday, April 26, 2009

urban Easter sunday prayer

One the ways we sought to express our missional life over Easter was with regard to our corporate prayer life. Over the week prior to Easter, we placed a large 2 metre high wooden cross at various points around our community – McDonalds, police station, urban developments, state housing village. Pictures were taken. These were then shown in both our Easter Friday and Easter Sunday services. (Friday was greyscale here (click to move through each slide), Sunday was colour – here – click to move through each slide). Some historical research was done and a prayer was composed, for 2 readers (A and B), weaving a conversation between the history of our community and what the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus might mean.

It was a fascinating exercise, a way of inviting us to take Easter outdoors (where it was orginally played out), and to consider the relevance of the cross for our local communities in 2009 – amid urban grime and fastfood outlets and urban development and social housing.

I posted the Friday prayer here, but for those interested, here is the Sunday prayer:

Posted by steve at 06:06 PM