The Rhythm of Light’s Disappearance – Martin Stewart

The Rhythm of Light’s Disappearance

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Realise:
each month for three nights the moon disappears
a darkness comes over to envelope us

Trust:
this interval of no light has a rhythm
this time is not one to fear

Venture:
touch what comes to greet you
grasp what has dared to appear
embrace what has once been avoided

For a faith that endures is a faith that engages

Observe:
even on those nights of no moon
the moon is still there
it is only we who behave
as if the lack of reflection means an absence

A less regulatory church – Martin Stewart

I wonder a lot about how we are going to get through this season of decline in the church.
We’ve been told for long enough that emerging generations of Christians do not relate to or own denominational distinctiveness – they relate to a community of living, kind and faithful people.  In light of this, I think we have to loosen up and be more enabling of what these people are saying to us!  I figure that a continuation of our regulatory approach to things will not help here.  The Book of Order will not save us!  Continue reading

Vaughan Park Retreats

2017 Retreat Programme

Vaughan Park Anglican Retreat Centre in Long Bay, Auckland has recently launched its Retreat Programme for 2017. Vaughan Park is a special place to go on retreat – a place of hospitality, conversation, healing and spiritual encounter. We would love to welcome people to this sacred space.

Over the years, we have enjoyed the company of many people from the PCANZ who have come to stay or held meetings at Vaughan Park. Might it be possible for Vaughan Park and the Retreat Programme to be mentioned in the next Candour blog with a link to the Programme? We think that there may be some Retreats that would be of interest to your readers.

If there is any further information we can help you with, please let us know.

Thank you for your help and support.

Blessings on your day,

February and March:

For full details and to register please click on the linked retreat heading that you are interested in.

email@vaughanpark.org.nz

Christmas Candour

A few final thoughts for the year…

  1. 25th. This year is so good – a Sunday Christmas… almost a whole week between last Sunday and Christmas Eve. And, no meetings! Glory to God in the Highest!  Could we look to Sunday-ising Christmas?
  2. Summer heat. Some emperor decreed that we should celebrate the birth of Jesus on 25 December but he failed to take into account the implications for people from the other hemisphere. Silly man!  Actually, I don’t even think he knew there was another hemisphere!
    I quite like the lights and the wrapped up warm idea of a winter Christmas but can’t be bothered going to the other hemisphere to experience it and missing out on summer here!  I also think that some separation of Christmas from summer holidays and school starting would be more helpful for families struggling to pay all the bills. If it wasn’t for strawberries and raspberries I would advocate for a June Christmas celebration in NZ.
    Lynne Barb has offered some thoughtful things about a southern hemisphere Christmas here: http://www.lynnebaab.com/blog/some-christmas-thoughts-from-the-souther
  3. Timing. I feel like I have had the best year of my life – truly, I have had a lot of fun and inspiration – new friendships, writing, poems, tramping, an Australian adventure, my band getting together after 34 years, big exciting developments in our church life, and my daughter Hana getting engaged to our dear friend Will. But I got the timing wrong. I conked out two weeks ago and now I am limping to Christmas.  I have no complaints though – being in a team ministry has made it possible to get through a lot of things, but I’m done.  I hope the stuff for Christmas passes muster for I am drawing very deeply from the well!
    4.  Rest.  Anne and I have holidays starting mid-January, so we are holding the fort until then.  Fortunately, it is usually a slow patch, and there are no meetings scheduled (I wonder what it will be like to have a whole string of evenings off!).  We need the rest, and it looks like it will come to us.  May it also come to you and your loved ones.  Maybe that is the best thing about a summer Christmas, we work it hard until Christmas Day and then the NZ world stops, takes a breath and kicks off its shoes.  So…

    May the barbeque not run out of gas.
    May the car not break down or the tent rip.
    May the phone not ring with sad tidings.
    May you find beautiful spaces to re-create and re-imagine in.
    May the company you keep be light and friendly.
    May the earth not shake, the seas not roar, nor your skin burn.
    May your jandaled feet not blister or crack.
    May the cool air in the evenings refresh you.
    May the challenges of next year come slowly.
    And may the God who graces us in Jesus Christ,
    so grace you that your cup regularly overflows!

 

Advent Sunday Prayer

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

Introduction:
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)villagechurch.nz 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.
castle-street
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…
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[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.
20161118_182844
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!
brendan-mcrae

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.

Footnote:
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.