Advent Sunday Prayer

So here is a prayer I have prepared for Advent Sunday tomorrow…

It is Advent Sunday – we start the Christian year again
With Advent is the invitation to deeper engagement
What has been said before will be said again,
but with two significant differences:
firstly, the world is not as it was before
– it is better and it is worse, that is the nature of the world
and secondly, we haven’t been who we are before
– we are always at the edge of growing, and deepening our engagement with the dynamics of God’s grace at work in us…

so we pray

As the late spring winds blow
and test the hold that the new leaves have on the branches,
so God we invite your spirit-presence into our lives
and the lives of those about us.

God we do not seek you as a comfort-blanket under which we can hide,
no, we invite your turbulent love to sweep over us
and this land, and this world in need.

Stir us, enliven us, engage us,
that in this season of Advent
we will hear again, as if for the first time,
of your invitation to live the transformed life.

You come in Jesus Christ.
We come in response.

You call us to life in all its fullness.
But we confess that we almost always respond in our own way,
from our places of comfort and resistance, and consequently,
with lowered expectations of what your fullness can be.

Forgive us, we pray,
forgive us for the way that we so often hear your call
and so often have our hearts stirred,
but before too long we have resorted to our old habits
and given into our divided loyalties.

We invite your turbulent love to sweep over us.
We invite your Living Word to stop us in our tracks.
We invite your Spirit-presence into the corridors of our resistance
to blow away the dust and cobwebs of our fear-filled patterns of life,
that we might hear the call from the deep
and respond anew with vigour and passion,
to the story of you, O God, living among us full of grace and truth.

And this is God’s word to us… from 2 Corinthians 5:17
“… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

This is what God pronounces for us.
This is the life that God creates in us.
This is the promise that comes to us today in Jesus Christ.
And God’s Spirit enables us to live into this new creation.

God, hear us as we hear your call
and respond in love as a forgiven and renewed people,
in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Advent & Christmas Prayers

I wonder if you have some prayers that you have written or found that went well that we could share over the next few weeks as the Christmas season draws near?

Why not pop them in or send them to me martin(at) and I can load them.

I do know that there are some wonderful wordsmiths among you – how about flicking through some of your resources and sharing some of them – it might help us all as we work things up and look for something fresh!

I found this prayer that I had used in 2005:

A Franciscan Christmas Blessing for Justice and Peace
December 20, 2005

May God bless you with discomfort…
at easy answers, hard hearts,
half-truths ,and superficial relationships.
May God bless you so that you may live
from deep within your heart
where God’s Spirit dwells.

May God bless you with anger…
at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people.
May God bless you so that you may
work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears…
to shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation and war.
May God bless you so that you
may reach out your hand
to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with
enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference
in this world, in your neighborhood,
so that you will courageously try
what you don’t think you can do, but,
in Jesus Christ you’ll have all the strength necessary.

May God bless you to fearlessly
speak out about injustice,
unjust laws, corrupt politicians,
unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners,
and senseless wars,
genocides, starvations, and poverty that is so pervasive.

May God bless you that you remember
we are all called
to continue God’s redemptive work
of love and healing
in God’s place, in and through God’s name,
in God’s Spirit, continually creating
and breathing new life and grace
into everything and everyone we touch.

Source: “Troubadour: A Missionary Magazine”
published by the Franciscan Missionary Society, Liverpool, UK: Spring 2005.

Generally Assembling #6

This is it.  Back home.  Last posting.  A parable.

The All Blacks were playing Ireland.
New rules had been developed by the Rugby Union some months earlier and not everyone was happy about the rules, or the changes, but they needed to be taken on board.  There was no choice.
When it came to game day the All Blacks tried as hard as they could, but they found that the rules had been adapted to better by Ireland than by them.  They were outplayed.  They found rule changes were an affront to their style of playing because, in their opinion, the changes challenged their idea of the essence of the game.
Also, to top it off, the ref made a couple of key mistakes with the whistle.
They had rallied in the dying stages of the game and were hot on attack, but a controversial late penalty against them sealed their fate – the ball was kicked out, it was full-time, and they lost the game.
Fronting up at the press conference after the game, the captain and coach were deeply disappointed. And it showed.  The coach and captain explained that the ref was at fault for making bad calls at critical points in the game.  They also complained about the rule changes, and, even though someone in the media told them that the changes were clear to both teams many months before the game, the captain and coach kept on insisting that the game was rigged against them.
The next morning the comments in the media picked up on the deep feeling after the game.
Some media commentators were supportive of the complaints the All Blacks had made, citing other instances of shocking decision making.  One commentator even suggested that the rule changes and how they were being implemented by the referees had never been made clear to the various rugby unions.  He demanded that the referee be sacked and the decisions about the rule changes be discarded.  He even demanded that the game be played again.
But other commentators pointed out that the complaints were groundless.  They said that the players had participated in the game on an equal footing, knowing the rules and expectations of the referee, and that it was simply poor sportsmanship on the part of the losing team making the complaints.  And further more, this expression of poor sportsmanship was bringing the game of rugby into disrepute.

The church voted to call Andrew Norton back as Moderator.  No one knows why, but it is what the church has done.  Andrew provokes, pushes and punches – like a prophet.  He is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the church has called him back.  I appreciate that in all that we attended to we finally agreed to support him.  Well done!

Generally Assembling #5

Late again.  Too much talking.  Too much plotting.  Too much absolutely no idea.

In summary:
A sunny day in Dunedin is as sunny a day as it gets.
The walk down from Knox College to the Uni this morning was a visual feast…and the buildings on Castle Street that once hosted playful students in dirty flats have been university-fied and a splendid precinct has been created.  Back in the day, a dive.  But now a thing of beauty that cannot be ignored.
What do you do on the penultimate day of the GA?  You try to rush stuff through.
What happens on the penultimate day?  Close votes, points of order, secret ballots, counts, calculators, losses and few gains.
Andrew Norton has been resurrected to be the Mod-elect.  (Mod, ex-Mod, now Mod-elect…what a week he has had!)  In his chat he wondered out loud about what many of us think – how much of any of this is going to really change anything that matters?  Of course some of it changes many things – that’s why we do meet and have to meet.  But as for the rest – the passion and the persuading over soon to be forgotten things- in my opinion it is just a whole lot of tinkering with an old engine that soaks up far too much of our time and has no fuel economy ratings.  Some people tinker with old machines as a hobby – they all seem to wear similar clothing and have facial hair like leather-clad bikers on Highway 61.  I wonder if we Presbyterians can also be spotted a mile off?
To confirm the point I am making include an image of myself…
[Mart the Rev ever so slightly chubbier than in his student days but better dressed!]

Once again Rod Wilson stole the show with the third installment in his hope series.  Two great quotes: “How did so many disembodied concepts emerge from a tradition whose central tenant is the word became flesh?”  (Parker Palmer), and, “There is no 5-step program to make the church great again.”  (or America, Donald!)

I am curious about why this Assembly has been one of the most rewarding for me.  I attended for the first time in 1982 (I was young!), and this one is on a par.  I think it comes down to discovery – you know, that wide-eyed stuff: daily wonder, provocation, stimulation, and surprise.  I have had a week of significant conversations and digging up treasure.  I will not remember much of what we decided here, just as I recall very little of what absorbed the seven much more intense days of ‘business’ in 1982.  But the people…that time and this time… yes I say – some of the best of specimens around!

Oh and yeah, this week marks the 30th anniversary of the first Assembly that attended to a recommendation on homosexuality – 1986, also in Dunedin. The 30 years of my career.  How little we have said about the things that really matter in life over those 30 years because of this hurdle we could only approach bluntly.  What an unimaginative lot we have been.  How much anguish have we caused.  How little we have gained.
But despite the wastage we have still attracted and held some startling characters in our church life.  I found these two gnomes in the gardens…Carlton Johnstone and Jordan Redding, two from what I now see as a sizeable group of very promising younger ministers.

In anticipation:
Sleep.  Fuzziness.  Finishing hurriedly.  The drive home.  She who is at home.  The soft bed.  Yes!

Generally Assembling #4

Well you know this old church can be beautiful but she can also be a prickly bag of horseshit.
Let me not be the purveyor of the Assembly’s decisions, other media will attend to that.
But I will say this, hitting each other with sharp or blunt instruments diminishes us, divides us, and distracts us, and it is the 30th anniversary of our wielding the weaponry and I’m hearing the Prince of Peace saying ‘Put away your swords!’

In summary:
I refuse to be distracted from the beauty.
I’ve continued talking to people.  I’m meeting all kinds of people, some as if for the first time, and it is a feast!  A feast of listening, enjoying, discovering, communing…
I’m having a ball.

Added to that, the beautifully crafted opening worship curated by Malcolm Gordon.

Added to that, over the last two days I think I have witnessed the most ably led presentation and discussion by the leaders presenting the Beneficiary Fund changes, and the overwhelming yes to the proposals today is because of their fine work in many ways and over many months.  A work of art around potentially tricky potholes!

Added to that, the second installment by Dr Rod Wilson was rich and confronting, and the power of lament with its call to embrace darkness as a friend (Psalm 88) was very well articulated.  It was helpful to hear Rod identify that it is often difficult to see hope at a first glance when looking at the church of today, and our anguish at how hard it is to do and be church these days can blind us to hope.

Added to that, I had a lovely evening hanging out with some of our younger ministers, and getting to know some of the ones who I had only seen from a distance, was an added bonus.  I count it a privilege to work to make room for these gifted people to be given the reigns of our church as soon as is possible.  My generation and those older are clinging too tightly to the machine and its controls, and it is harming our life.  Brendan McRae has become a good friend this year, he hosted us in the basement of his home with its 70’s vibe and the host was dressed appropriately…take a look at this crazy man!

In anticipation:
It feels like the Assembly is almost done.  The Business Workgroup might disagree but the agenda was always light and now it is almost see-through.  Do the right thing team, get all the business done on Friday so that we can sleep in on Saturday!  As Dolly would sing if she could see what I see, “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, please don’t stretch it out, just because you can!”

But give me more of these people, I’m loving it!

Generally Assembling #3

Shhh, it’s late.
A few gathered for drinks after the evening’s events and I should be in bed.

In Summary:
Well, you know, I had the idea before I came here that I am over Assemblies and that we aren’t what we once were nor what we could be, but I’m quite enjoying myself.
I’m having rich conversations left, right, and centre.
I’m enjoying the phenomenological experience of the people who wind me up – maybe I have got older, but I find myself looking at them and wondering who they are, and why they are, and what it is about me that reacts…and there is only one person I can change!
I got grumpy about the Council of Assembly Report and what I see as a lack of direction and I put my little oar in and had a poke and achieved a good outcome (for my viewpoint), and that was fun, but enough.  I am not a fan of what I can get like in this environment.
We listened to Dr Rod Wilson from Vancouver and he provoked a reflection about where people bathe around any one issue, ranging from triumphal over-confidence to disinterested boredom, and I liked the way he gently wondered about where we put our hope.  I think he named some of our stuff and I was quite inspired.  He left us from this quote from Walter Brueggemann: “Hope reminds us that the way things are (and all the extrapolations from that), is precarious and in jeopardy.  Hope reminds us not to absolutize the present, not to take it too seriously, not to treat it too honorably, because it will not last.” [from Hope Within History. p80]
So good to hold this thought as we get sucked into the Assembly machinery that elevates business as if it is urgent and as if it really matters, when in truth, most of it will be forgotten in a week, or less.
Very Rev Andrew Norton gave a fine hopeful reflection on what has become important in his term as Moderator.
RRR (Richard the Mod) seems to be handling us well, but he looks like he needs a good night’s sleep!  The obligatory treat one another with respect was explained rather well by him this time.  We can so easily diminish one another without realising what we are doing.
The highlight was the if-you-want-to-go evening graduation service and ceremony for the six Knox Centre for Ministry & Leadership Interns of 2016 and the four Presbyterian Youth Ministry Interns.  The music, again, was stunning, the vibe was celebratory, and some moments brought tears, and others brought laughter.
We do some things so very very well.
So a great day.

In anticipation:
Sooner or later we are going to get into a difficult space.  Some of the issues we face divide us and there are some anxious people.  I am unconvinced we have cultivated anything like sufficient trust and faith in one another to handle these issues well, and I want it all to go away.  We have become known for our differences more than our commonality or our good works and it distresses me.
I suspect that people on all sides of these issues would say that this is not what they signed up for in the church.  But here we go again – tomorrow or the day after – here we go again.
People who live by the sword die by the sword, says Jesus, and I see a band of fighters riding into town.  I’m making a point of chatting to anyone I don’t recognise.  It’s a discipline I am cultivating.  It is becoming a highlight in my day.  Maybe it will be a sufficient practice in order not to absolutize the present.

We haven’t yet laughed at ourselves as much as we could.
I read what is above and laughter is the main absentee.
There is a holiness in playfulness.


Generally Assembling #2

Well hello again.
I should be a prophet, it has rained and is raining and I got wet in dear old Dunners.  But a day has passed and I was in it and it was more than ok.

In summary:
The Ministers’ Resourcing Day was ok.
The gaggle of ministers turned out to contain not much gaggling and quite a pile of friends.  I reacquainted myself with more than a few of them and had several deeper conversations with delightful colleagues who I have never really had a yarn with before.  What we have in common of course outweighs our points of difference, but so often we don’t get to listen to each other, so we judge and misjudge.
Then I find that there are a quarter of them who I don’t know at all.
Then I find a relic or two from my years of training and we look at one another with amused looks on our faces.
Then the content of most of the parts of the day is really interesting.
So, I find myself in a warm haze of gratitude and I admonish myself for my cynicism and promise to turn over a new leaf, but the Assembly hasn’t really started yet, and I am still young and foolish.
The evening was ok as well.  I entered Knox Church in my new-found confidence because of Knox’s healthy seismic rating and had to sit at the back because it was full.  Up the back is raised a bit and thus it was easier to count the number of balding heads.
The powhiri was somewhat make-shift (the rain), and the service was long – two and a half hours my friends, and that after the half-hour powhiri!  At one point anyone who wished was invited to greet the newly installed Moderator and I immediately banned anyone from our back-row seating to even contemplate it as there were some 300 people sitting in front of us, and if they went, and we went as well, we would be there until Christmas!  As it happened no one greeted the Moderator because firstly, he got stuck behind the Columba College Choir and secondly, everyone got to listening to the choir and, as they followed the words that were being sung on their service sheets it was at the end of the song that the invitation to greet the Moderator during the song was printed.  Thus alone and awkwardly the Moderator stood throughout it all, stoically pretending that he was comfortable with the lack of engagement with him.  And my heart went out to him and I begged a chap from our row to go down and do the decent thing but he chickened out and the Moderator sighed and sat down.
The Moderator, of course, is Richard Dawson – Right Reverend Richard as we now call him.  He has become alliterated!   Richard was in my year group during our training as ministers – we have now sacrificed two of our year group to the Moderatorial Fires, but it shows our age – we began getting ‘done’ 30 years ago and now we are facing old age!  The RRR offered some thoughtful words in his sermon on Hope, including this wee gem: “As we’ve failed to listen to one another we’ve been unable to hear God.”  Yes!  I say.  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!
And the music was very good – very very good!
So, a good day, but one main thing to work on: decent coffee!  I say that every GA and still it is rubbish!

In anticipation:
We start at 8.30am tomorrow – and go at it until 9.30pm.  Um… are you kidding me?
We sorted two Council of Assembly notices of motion in an apologetic whirl at the opening service, so that leaves next to nothing left from its report… so… see you next time.
Maybe I am being mean, but this has got to be the most challenging of seasons of being the church and the group charged with discerning the future direction of the church doesn’t have much to say…so it must be ‘no worries mate, she’ll be right!’  I wish I was as confident about the state of things!
But you see, the agenda looks very light anyway.  I am not against light agendas, indeed I want them lighter and the Presbyteries being empowered to handle more of the stuff.  The problem is that we still mix the little business we have to do with inspirational stuff, and I usually end up going away from these events thinking that the business has systematically dismantled us and the inspirational stuff.
I think that we sometimes behave in ways that we wouldn’t countenance in our church communities where we care for each other.  So… why not talk this out and think a bit about how we want to be together more care-fully in Assembly?  But we don’t talk about it, and we carry on doing divisive stuff at each other as if it doesn’t matter, and as if God approves, and I question that… I really do!
So…tomorrow is coming to suck me into the 13 hour Presbyerianathon!  Yay!


Generally Assembling#1 – Mart the Rev

Well Hi there, I am safely in Dunedin ahead of General Assembly 2016.
Safely, as in I survived the North Canterbury earthquake of the day.  I must say it seems kind of wrong to leave after an event like that.
Dunedin, as in the city of my birth and the place of abode for an initial stint of 1 year, a further stint of 5 years, and another stint of 5 years.
Ahead, as in it doesn’t actually begin until tomorrow (Tuesday) evening.  But there is a minister resourcing day tomorrow to take up the slack.  I am not sure which part of me needs resourcing so it could be interesting.

The intention with this week’s blog is to offer an anticipatory entry and a summary entry each day.

So to anticipation… Tuesday…
It is raining.
It looks like it will continue raining.
I think I am going to get wet.
I think the idea of resourcing ministers is a good one, but I wonder what a gaggle of them will be like.  They can be prickly things, these ministers, they are used to getting an uninterrupted word in week by week and (unhealthily) being set slightly above the contradiction line.  Put over 150 of them in a room together and it might be like a shed of snorting pigs, and equally smelly.
Then again, everyone there will find a few someones they have a crossed paths with, mostly joyfully, so hugs and handshakes and nods and smiles will set the day up nicely, until the dreaded theological difference monster will rear its head and we will be Presbyterians ‘together’ again.
Then again, maybe I haven’t had the required sleep (earthquake stuff) and I am still feeling slightly nauseous after hours of rocking aftershocks and I can’t think straight.
So wait and see…

In the evening we have the powhiri and opening of the General Assembly at Knox Church.
But I am not sure if I am attending.
I want to attend very much, but I am from earthquake country, I have experience, and some very recent experience, and in Canterbury buildings like Knox Church got munted – all of them!.  I cannot imagine that Knox Church is up to the kind of NBS rating that we would demand in Canterbury.  In Canterbury any church building with a soaring tower like Knox Church’s tower no longer has a tower.  Just saying!
So tomorrow I will investigate.  The Highgate church community, where I have served, has bravely closed their church building because of it not meeting the kind of compliance standards our Church recommends.  So, what about Knox?  Will anyone know, or care?  I think they should know and care, but I am a northerner these days.
I might end up designating myself as the person who officially stays away just in case a calamity happens and wipes out all the rest of the church leaders.

That’s it for tonight!
As they say down here in the south, it’s time for a wee sleep.

Note: This is the first of several posts from Martin sharing his thoughts about General Assembly. Read other posts in the series by going to the Candour Blog home page and selecting “Assembly Blog” from the topic cloud at the right-hand side of the page. – Jose Reader