Sunday, June 28, 2015

Reflection on Towards Reconciliation

The last couple of years I have been studying a Post Graduate Certificate in Theology. I don't find joy from studying but I do it for personal development as well as requirements of my position as an ordained minister in the Uniting Church of South Australia. My family have been very supportive to me throughout my studies in encouraging me and knowing when to stay away from me.

My last subject I chose for my Post Grad Cert was a very different subject to others I had chosen which had been along the themes of leadership. I didn't know what to expect when I went on a weekend of "Walking on Country" and then began my topic "Towards reconciliation." It has been quite a journey for me and has touched me in very unexpected ways. I thought I would share my reflection of my experience here.

The last few months have been an interesting journey for me as I have tried to intentionally engage with indigenous culture and the issues First peoples are struggling with on a daily basis. I have listened to the stories of the Adnyamathanha people, I have read copious articles, I have visited with Anangu people in Yalata (a very different experience from listening to Adnyamathanha people) and I have engaged my congregation as well as people in my family and social networks in conversations around issues of reconciliation and generally how they understand the issues of First peoples.

I have realised from the perspective of a white, first born Australian generation, grand-daughter of English and Dutch migrants looking to make a better life for their families, I have the opportunity to choose whether or not to engage in conversations about land rights, justice, and reconciliation. I choose whether or not I want to notice and subsequently make a stand for the rights of First people’s in Australia. I get to choose whether to ignore what mistakes have been made and are continuing to be made or I have to make ways forward to helping the reconciliation process. While there is that desire to want to help others, to free the oppressed and show compassion for the down trodden, there is still a faint voice that says “It’s too hard, let someone else sort it out”. My faith reminds me that Jesus says in Matthew 25:40 “…‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” How can I not seek ways to stand with my indigenous brothers and sisters after what I’ve learned these last few months?

This journey has made me understand the importance of story. It’s important that stories are told and stories are heard and in some ways experienced by the hearer. For people in the Christian faith there is the need for faith stories to be heard and for the hearer to connect with one’s own in experience in some way. Hearing and reading the stories of the Adnyamathanha people has helped me understand their connection and belonging to the land which I now realise I’d never really understood. For me, that experience has impacted me far more and given me greater understanding than had I just read facts about indigenous people and the issues they face. To be included in the stories, trusted with the stories and to feel their emotions as they told the stories gave insights and experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

It is those experiences that I have taken back to my own community and the lens through which I now see and hear through when in discussions about reconciliation for indigenous people. The same lens through which helped me understand the struggles of the Anangu people in Yalata, a people displaced from their land near Maralinga when white people chose to do nuclear testing on the land. I find it interesting that just in the few months that I have been engaged in this course of study that I have had several opportunities to engage and hear stories of indigenous people when that hasn’t normally been my experience.

I will never claim to fully understand what indigenous people have experienced or to know how we can move forward to full reconciliation. However, I have come to realise that even in taking small steps towards reconciliation that is a much better approach than staying silent. As a leader in the church I have to lead in this area and not just hope that someone else will do it. I have a responsibility to stay engaged in conversations of reconciliation and justice for First peoples and help the church to stay informed and ready for action. Previously I would have thought staying quiet was better than saying the wrong thing. I realise now that staying quiet is saying the wrong thing.

As followers of Jesus we are all part of the body of Christ. As the body of Christ we have a responsibility to make sure that every part is cared for and represented. One part of the body can’t say to another part ‘I don’t need you’ and each part of the body needs the other part so that it functions the way it was designed. 1 Corinthians 12:26 says “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.” If the church is truly part of the body then when our indigenous brothers and sisters are suffering, then we are also suffering. It is no longer an issue about the ‘other’ but an issue that we all share and need to actively engage in.

This course has had a far bigger impact on me than I had anticipated it would and I will be forever changed because of the experience.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Risk Taking Mission and Service

May is Mission Month at our Church. During mission month we focus our fundraising efforts on our partners in Northern Thailand and the Upside Down Circus which is a big, 2 day family friendly event, supported by the different churches of various denominations in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. Mission month used to be an opportunity for the congregation to hear about different people's experiences of mission. When you hear people speak passionately about the way they are involved in mission, whether it's an overseas short term trip or whether it's something a person is involved in weekly or part of their daily life it is always inspiring. However, that is nothing compared to actually being involved in mission, having the courage to get out of your comfort zone and experiencing first hand what it means to come alongside someone, serving them and caring for them, sharing your experience of your relationship with God.

This is our second year where we have encouraged people in our small groups (we call them K3Y groups) to not just give money and not just listen to other people's experiences but to actually get active and find opportunities to serve and build relationships with people in our local community. We encourage our small groups to do this together because it's always easier to do something in groups rather than as individuals.

Image result for gold keyAs an FYI our K3Y groups (pronounced "key" groups) have three values:
- Intimacy with God
- Relationships with Christians
- Connecting with people who don't yet know God 

We have found the third value - connecting with people who don't yet know God the most challenging value for our groups

 Even as groups it can be scary to 'go out' and find ways to partner with people. Our groups are made up of teenagers through to people in their 80's but we think age shouldn't be an excuse for not caring for people in our community. It's been exciting to hear the stories that our groups have been sharing with the leadership team. One group of older women has been organising afternoon tea for the police chaplain to take to the police station when he visits. One of our teenage groups supported another local church by helping out at their Easter event. Another group organised a "Biggest Afternoon Tea" to raise money for the cancer council. These are just a few examples. Each group is encouraged to look at their own gifts, skills and interests to think how they could serve people in the community. This is only the second year we've done this but I can see how people are willing to take a risk and try something new. Sometimes the hardest decision in doing something new is just deciding you're going to actually do it.

To keep encouraging groups we had a K3Y event night where we continued to look at the "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations" by Robert Schnase, with a focus on Risk Taking Mission and Service. We began by acknowledging there are risks involved when we decide to get involved in mission and work alongside people. Usually we think of the risks to ourselves before thinking about the risks for others or even the positive risks involved. We all react to risk in different ways.

In mission there is a starting point and that starting point can be different for each person. This can include:
- Sensing an invitation or a call from God
- An awareness of human need
- Feeling unworthy or inadequate but wanting to do something
- Wanting to make a difference
- Finding purpose and meaning
- Seeing an opportunity to using Spiritual gifts or material resources

In mission we are aware that God invites us to participate in God's mission.
We join God in mission where we learn to love God and love others the way God loves us. (John 13:34) It is a risk to allow ourselves to love people who aren't like us, don't think like us, don't look like us. Loving others like God loves us pushes us to re-evaluate our friendship circles and moral circles as we build friendships with people with different life experiences to our own.

In mission we risk not being in control:
- We don't know the outcomes and whether our efforts will make a difference
- We don't have all the answers
- We don't have all the resources
- We risk relying on others generosity and receiving what they offer
- We need to be sensitive to any inequalities of power/influence/money

In mission we risk relationships:
- Relationships take time
- Relationships need commitment
- Relationships can't be planned
- We risk getting involved

As we practice risk taking mission and service, God's Spirit;
- Changes us
- Changes others
- Changes churches

In mission we risk failure:
Failure is different for each person
“Risk taking mission and service is one of the fundamental activities of church life that is so critical that failure to practice it in some form results in deterioration of the church’s vitality and ability to make disciples of Jesus Christ. When churches turn inward, using all resources for their own survival and caring only for their own people, then spirituality wanes.” Schnase pg 83

In mission we risk Spiritual growth:
We discussed how mission looked for a person on a discipleship pathway from new to connecting and growing through to leading.

We had some good, thought provoking table discussions and input throughout the night. It might help our groups to think of ways they can continue to be involved in risk taking mission and service.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Walking on Country

As a minister in the Uniting Church of South Australia I am required to be part of a continual learning process. Sometimes this can feel like an extra thing to do on top of an already busy schedule and other times it can be a pleasant break from the usual routine and demands that part of life.

Currently I'm completing a Post Graduate Certificate in Theology which is part of my love-hate relationship with study. As part of the course I recently participated in Walking on Country. A weekend where a group of us from the Uniting College of Leadership and Theology travelled to the Flinders Ranges, staying at Angapena station, to spend time learning about the Adnyamathanha people, who are the first peoples of the land in the Gammon Ranges.

I’m not a “country” girl and very rarely spend time in the country. I have never stayed in the Flinders Ranges or heard the stories of the Adnyamathanha people. The weekend was a huge learning curve for me.

One of the highlights for me on the weekend was to spend time with people from Iga Warta. There, we travelled to nearby landmarks to hear the stories of the  Adnyamathanha people. We stood in a creek bed to hear the story of a flood. We looked out on the ranges to hear the creation story. We sat near a tree to hear the story of family. We saw a rock that looked like damper that told the story of a mother looking for her children that had wondered off. So many integral stories which connected people and land that I had never heard before.

We visited an ochre pit. I remember Terry (in the photo) asking us if we were ok to put ochre on our faces and I thought it was a polite but funny question because a bit of ochre isn’t going to hurt anyone. Terry put the white ochre on each of our faces, explaining that white was representing the connection with mother earth. As he placed the ochre onto my forehead I felt I had received a blessing. I felt myself relaxing and being aware of my surroundings. For me it was a spiritual moment. However, I also thought that was it and was ready to move on. Terry explained that there were more colours of ochre that he would put on our faces. I wondered how all those colours were going to fit! And yet each time Terry put ochre onto my face it was like another sense came alive; another blessing. I became even more aware of the sounds, noises, and the earth around me. The orange ochre was particularly valuable to me as I thought about Mother Earth breathing, and for me, connecting to mother earth for new perspective and breathing in the fresh air. A blessing, a time of personal refreshing and reconnecting to God’s creation as we heard the stories and opened our eyes to seeing the land around us in new ways.

I think for myself, being first generation Australian in my family. I hadn’t really connected with the stories of the first people of Australia. They weren’t the stories of my heritage and no one in my family knew the stories to even tell them, let alone make personal connections.  So although I had heard stories being told it had never made a personal impact on me. Over the weekend I felt I began to connect with the stories, understand the important relationship to land and could see how this includes me in both a physical and spiritual way.

 (Rainbow over Nepabunna)

After our weekend I went home and preached on community. I told the story of the hill that represents the two different Moieties (family groups) and the significance of that to the Adnyamathanha. I talked about how important stories are to community, especially when told orally with significant landmarks close by. I made the connection to the oral tradition of Christian stories and how they help form us as Christian community. I encouraged the congregation to share together some of our faith stories. I reminded them that those stories are part of who we are as Christians and that we also have symbols in the Christian faith that help point us to those stories. I talked about how, because of the treatment by white invaders, the Adnyamathanha people had started to lose their language and their stories but they were trying to reclaim those things important to their community. I made the connection that as Christians we have no excuse to lose our stories.

 (Hill showing the two Moieties - North and South)

I finished by sharing that as we left the Flinders Ranges we drove past the hill where we’d heard Aunty Denise tell the story of the two Moieties. It was the first story we had heard as we travelled to Angapena station. On our way home the people in our car spotted the hill as we drove by and the people in the car began retelling the story and what we had learnt over the weekend. At Church in Pt Augusta Aunty Denise asked the whole group if we had noticed the hill and we all said we had. She asked us if we had known the story before we began the trip and we answered no. She then asked us to tell the story, and different people in the group gave input to the story. Aunty Denise then said, “Now, every time you see that rock you will know the story of the Adnyamathanha people.” As Christians we can learn about the importance of story and sharing the stories of our faith and connect people to a deeper understanding that these stories of our faith, just like the stories of the Adnyamathanha people, aren’t just read but they are lived and experienced and help us understand the relationship of creation, creator and spirit in our lives.

I am still working on what I will do now that I’m home. Just in sharing in my sermon it brought a range of emotions from my congregation. Some recalling their own time spent with first peoples and others working through what reconciliation means. Before my sermon I read to the congregation the Uniting Church pre-amble to the constitution. One person wrote me an email to say they felt they had wanted to stand up and clap when they heard it read in church.

 (how far we travelled)

We were welcomed on to country and experienced amazing hospitality over our weekend. It was a very humbling experience.I really hadn't been sure what to expect when I made the decision to go but the weekend was a rich learning time and an experience that has had an impact on me and my ministry.

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.