Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Radical Hospitality

At a recent 3Dnet gathering I attended we heard about a book by Robert Schnase called 'Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations'. In his book Schnase talks about the Five Fruitful Practices of Congregations as being, radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk taking mission and service and extravagant generosity.

At a recent leaders night at church I spoke on radical hospitality using Schnase's book as the base for our discussions.

During our opening time of worship we were reminded that hospitality is inviting people into a relationship with God. "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Romans 15:7 ESV)

Hospitality is more than a handshake at the door and a coffee handed to you after the service.

Schnase says Fruitful Congregations
- Naturally turn outward
- Know that their work focuses on those not yet here
- Are missional, open and inviting
- Know it's not about them but about the strangers yet to be invited and welcomed

In churches that practice radical hospitality there is a desire to invite, welcome, receive and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ.

Jesus said "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matthew 25:35 ESV)

 We watched a clip about a church faced with closing it's door but exploring what hospitality means to the church.

We were reminded that hospitality isn't the work of one person or a committee but a lifestyle. As the body of Christ, God calls us to welcome everyone, seven days a week, wherever we are.

In table groups we recalled our own experiences of walking into a church for the first time. We thought about what made us feel welcomed, where we found it easy or hard to connect. We also discussed the role of hospitality in our experience of church.

(At this point we decided to have a quick break and try out the supper hospitality)

Schnase says, in churches practicing radical hospitality, newcomers intuitively sense that:
- These people really care about me here
- They really want the best for me
- I'm not just a number, a customer, or an outsider here
- I'm being invited with them into the body

"To become a vibrant, fruitful, growing congregation requires a change of attitudes, practices, and values. Good intentions aren't good enough. Too many churches want young people as long as they act like old people, more newcomers as long as they act like old timers, more children as long as they are quiet as adults, more ethnic families as long as they act like the majority of the congregation" (pg27)

More questions we looked at in table groups were
- Why do people need Christ
- Why do they need the church (although there's another question there if you take the 'why' out of the question)
- What does your church provide for people seeking a relationship with Jesus?
- When can welcoming become a manipulation of a church guest?

We also looked at hospitality as part of a discipleship process, as we each grow in our relationship with Christ.

Questions on this were
- What are the greatest gifts you've received through the church from your relationship with God?
- What do you feel has been your greatest contribution to building the body of Christ?
- What contribution to the body do you want to seek/make
- What contribution have you made in inviting/welcoming someone to the body?

In each of the table discussions group members were encouraged to only answer those questions they felt comfortable in sharing with the group. We also had opportunity for the table groups to share what they were comfortable with in the larger group.

We then looked at the ways someone new to the church can connect with the church. We talked about the pathways and ministries the church has in place to help people grow as disciples and opportunities for the church to show hospitality in those different areas.

 Everyone is responsible to pray, plan and give their best in ministry to help people feel invited and welcomed.

We finished with one last table discussion, asking two questions.
- If you are part of a ministry team, how do you see your team enhancing radical hospitality
- What's your next step? How are you growing in discipleship and showing hospitality to someone in your congregation?

We had some really good discussions around hospitality. There was good reflection on how our church sees hospitality and some exploring of what hospitality could look like in the future.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Palm Sunday 2013

When I was at college we were encouraged to be creative in our devotions and worship space. It's not always easy to find the time to be creative when you are in full time ministry so it's been a while since we've done anything a bit 'different' in worship. Palm Sunday seemed an ideal time to be reflective and carve out space for busy people to sit with a familiar story and listen to what God was saying.

As people walked in, they were handed a paper bag. In the bag was a picture of a donkey, paper framed with palm leaves, a picture of a coat and a small stone. We began the service by looking at Zechariah 9:9 We took out the picture of the donkey and thought about the image of Jesus riding a donkey and what image we would have today of someone important coming to our city. We then looked at the symbolism of peace associated with a donkey and what it meant for Jesus to be riding a symbol of peace, when people were looking for a strong leader to rescue them from the oppressive Roman government. We spent time thinking about Jesus bringing peace into places and situations where we hadn't seen an opportunity for peace to exist. We thought about our own lives, where we were worrying, where we felt troubled, where we didn't feel peace and we spent time praying for those things and asking Jesus to bring us peace.

We read Luke 19:28-40. We thought about the people joyfully praising God in the street. We remembered Moses and Miriam leading worship to God after the Israelites fled Israel. God had saved his people before and God could save his people again. We spent time reflecting how we praise God for the things he has done for us. We pondered questions: "How comfortable are you to praise God in public", "When was the last time you spent time with God giving him praise for what he has done", "When was the last time you shared with a friend what God has done for you". We then took our paper that was framed in palm leaves out of our bags and wrote our praises on them and stuck them on the doors. The next thing we did was to take out the picture of the coat. I took some artistic license here and encouraged people to think about why people in the crowd would lay their coats on the ground for a donkey to trample over them. What would the path of coats look like when Jesus had moved on and the crowd had gone? We thought about the expectations of the crowd, maybe someone was hoping for healing, maybe someone else was hoping to stop paying taxes to Caesar, maybe someone was hoping to be able to do what Jesus could do? We thought about our own expectations of Jesus when we bring our prayer requests to him. We wrote a prayer request on our coats and put them back in the bag and brought them to God in silent prayer knowing that God answers prayer but maybe not in the way we expect.

We then brought out our stones. Jesus had told the Pharisees that if the disciples kept quiet, then the stones would cry out. (Luke 19:40) We noticed the Pharisees weren't crying out and wondered whether the Pharisees hearts were harder than stone. We felt hope that creation will always praise its creator. We acknowledge the sadness that will come later this week as we journey with Jesus to the cross but we remembered the hope that we have in Jesus, the risen Christ. We held our stones as we sang our final song and examined our own hearts for any hardness toward God. Afterwards it was good to hear people continue the reflectiveness and have conversations about the service and imagery. One group of people saw a lot of imagery in their stones which had cracks and dents. They felt these symbolically represented some of the things their hearts had been through over the years which they gave over to God. The stones were taken home which I hope will keep people reflecting through the week.

The praises we stuck to the doors were seen by our playgroup families during the week. A great way to share our faith with people in our community.

A way to take our Sunday service and look Beyond Sunday :-)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ministry Musing

I haven't blogged for awhile but it's a new year so you never know what might happen! This year will mark the beginning of my 3rd year as Senior Pastor. I can't believe the time has gone so fast. It hasn't been easy, there have been lots of little changes and some significant changes both in ministry and in my own life. However there have also been some great things happen as a result of change and there have been some belly laughs along the way. One of the things I've realised is the importance of remembering who God made me to be and why I was called to ministry. As you go through the day to day happenings of ministry and life in general it can be easy to lose focus on why you are doing what you're doing. Lots of people have expectations of you and opinions on how things should be. You can't let those voices be louder than God's voice. Of course, that's not just for people called to ministry,it's something to remember wherever God calls you. God has put you there for a reason and you need to be able to remember that reason. So I have nothing mind blowing to share but I prepare to begin my 3rd year happy knowing who God created me to be and reminded of the calling he has for me.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Fear Not

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV) "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." This verse became the theme for the team of people from our church who went into a psychic fair for the very first time. Yes, you read correctly, we went into a psychic fair. We were taking Isaiah 41:10 to the people we met but it turned out the verse was as much for us as it was for the people we met at the fair. We went, not knowing what to expect but with the belief that it was what God wanted us to do. Our goal at the fair was simple, we were to share God's love and encourage people to let go of the worries and stress in their lives. For over a year our church has been praying and planning for the fair. People in our church donated money so we could book the stalls, people gave their time to make knotted bracelets, (which had the Isaiah verse on them) another person made a mountain of cross-stitch crosses. A person in our church is a reflexologist, (This person had the original vision) and was able to teach team members how to massage. Many people prayed. It was a church effort! For us, as a church, it was a new and unknown step. We didn't know what to expect or what the outcomes would be. There were uncertainties and doubts and even fear at times. We didn't know if people would come to our stall or not. We didn't know if people would want to talk to Christians. We didn't know if we would say the right things. We had to trust God. We were amazed at the response. People came for massage, for healing, for prayer, for answers and for a listening ear. They wondered why we would want to be there and not make money - everything we offered was free. They were surprised that the church had a spiritual element and wasn't just a charity. They were confused that a church would give massages. They were open to love of God. We trusted God. It seems that whenever we try to bless others God blesses us as well and if the blessing we feel as a church is any indicator of how blessed people felt after visiting our stall then I think we were able to achieve our goal.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ordination in the Uniting Church of South Australia

Last week the Uniting Church in SA celebrated the ordination of 7 people who had been candidates for Minister of the word. This ordination was particularly special because we celebrated the ordination of the first person from South Sudan to be ordained in the Uniting Church of Australia.

Each ordination has it's own feel because the ordinands involved give input to the service. They spend time with the moderator in the weeks leading up to the ordination and discuss the way the service will be shaped. For example, when I was ordained there were a few of us with young children so we wanted children to feel involved in the service. We had bags for the children with card, glue, stickers, textas and envelopes so the children could write notes of encouragement to the ordinands during the service.

This ordination service started with song and dance by the Sundanese Youth Choir in SA. Definitely a great way to start a celebration service.

Our moderator Rev Rob Williams then acknowledged the first people of Australia and welcomed us to the ordination service.

Rev Dr Ian Price preached the word and led us in wondering "What is in your hand?" with the help of some improv actors from the gathered people :-) You might recognise the part of Moses.

The ordination service was very meaningful and it's always a special time to see the people praying over the newly ordained people.

We then shared Holy Communion together. I have no idea how many people were there but you can imagine with 7 ordinands there were 100's of people there. However, time was given so that everyone was able to share in the meal.

Everyone who was ordained on the day already had a placement but this day signified the beginning of their ordained ministry.

For me it was a celebration but also a moment in my day for reflection.I was celebrating one year in my current placement and just over a year since my own ordination.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

God With Us

Today just didn't seem to be my day. My Key didn't want to work in the door, I got the kids to school late, plans I had for the day were thrown aside and I was just feeling out of sorts. I had a Doctors appointment before heading to my lecture at College and the Doctor was 45 minutes late! I had watched someone else cancel their appointment after waiting 'too long.' I was so tempted to do the same. I wanted to tell the receptionist how I was wasting time sitting in the waiting room when I could have stayed at the office another 30 minutes! I didn't, instead I read my emails on my phone.

Coming out of the Doctors office I had to wait while the receptionists talked to each other about 'matters of importance' and all the time I kept thinking about the time I was wasting. Finally I walked out the door, ready to head to the college, calculating in my head whether I would have time to get petrol, eat my lunch, grab a coffee and meet with a lecturer before my class started.

It was then that I saw a woman sitting in the carpark crying....

I walked over to her and asked if she was ok; she said no. Her Doctor had given her some awful news and now she was waiting for someone to pick her up. She told me how alone she felt.

We sat....we talked....we cried.....we hugged....I was aware that God was with us.

I drove away, still with tears on my face and thanked God that my Doctor was running late today.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thanksgiving Tree

At the beginning of February we started our stewardship series. It was a good time to remember, as a congregation, to give thanks to God for all that he has done in the past year. We had a bare tree at the front of the church and during the service and put a flower shaped card on all the chairs. I hadn't told people what the bare tree was doing at the front of the church until I invited people to write prayers and words of thanksgiving on the cards and to place them on the tree. It was amazing how the cards transformed the tree! There was much to give God thanks for. At the end of the service the children brought their cards in that they had made in Sunday school and also placed them on the tree.

After the night service we put the tree in the foyer and now everytime I pass it through my week I see how pretty it is and am reminded to give thanks. It literally brings a smile to my face.