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The Uniting Church in Australia

Cowes, Phillip Island

The Church of St John,
- Fisherman and Apostle -


St John's UCA Cowes

September 2018 Minister’s Reflection


Reading this week’s newspaper I came across a report from the BBC radio team. It told of new 'slow radio' programming: a phenomenon of broadcasting the relaxing sounds of church bells or boiling kettles to help people “escape the frenzy of everyday life. ” The programmers suggested this was a way to encourage mindfulness amongst both existing and new audiences. Other sounds suggested include the noise of a clock ticking, a steam engine chugging through the country side, and even the counts of cows in a field being blessed by an Irish Priest.

As I sit here pondering this newspaper article, it reminded me just how easy it is to have a cluttered aural sound scape. The company of the radio, music in shops, people with headphones on constantly.

The quiet practice of bible reading, or contemplative prayer are spiritual disciplines that have been parti fo Christian Spirituality for centuries. Perhaps mindfulness is deeper than just the sound of a clock ticking. Perhaps mindfulness has been prayer all along!

Spring Cleaning: Spring Reading

It could be that the days are brighter now that we have moved into Spring, but I am certainly noticing the things that need a clean up around my house. Last weekend I was in the front garden cutting some trees away from the guttering. This weekend I found some places where I'd been missing with the vacuum cleaner!

Now that the cleaning is done, I thought I might share some of the things I reading with you. On-going learning is not only part of the academic life, it it's also part of the life in faith we share. Our lectionary readings take us through the Letter of James, so so I'm reading James: The Wisdom of the Brother of Jesus, by John Dickson and James, First, Second and Third John by Kelly Anderson and Daniel Keeting.

Because James is one of the earliest writings in the Christian Canon, I am also reading Unity & Diversity in the New Testament: an inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity, by James DG Dunn, and also,
The New Testament: a historical and theological introduction, by Donald A Hagner. Both if these are detailed overviews of early church, and I'm seeing more clearly the distinctions in our Bible, and the developments if theologies contained there in.

As a community we have just traveled through five funerals in six weeks. I've just started New Journeys Now Begin: Learning on the past of grief and loss, by Tom Gordon. This book is published by The Wild Goose Publishers, who are connected with the new monastic movement at Iona. Even the first chapter gave me some insights that were new to me.

At a devotional level, I have re-encountered Joan Chittister, the Benedictine Nun and writer famous for her works in faith and life, especially faith in ageing! Her devotional, The Radical Christian Life: A year with St Benedict, is a bite size thought for the day, leading me to contemplative moments in my working day.

My former Mentor, Ruth Hoadley has lent me Tim Winton's new book, ‘the shepherd’s hut’, and I'm halfway through. And I’m listening to a singer new to me, Zach Williams. One of the Carols by the Bay artists sang one of his songs last Christmas, and I've finally got a copy of his CD Chain Breaker.

I hope you're reading is taking you to a quiet place of contemplation and challenge this Spring! After all, it is a season of new beginnings!

Ministers Web Reflection

“After Pentecost nourishing the soul, mind and body”

The month of June heralds the start of winter. The days are noticeably shorter, the nights longer. Soon the winds from Bass Strait will sweep across the island. The rain will fly horizontally. There will be fog and cloud. And finally, the pastures of the island will turn green, the dams will fill, and the paddocks will be stocked with new animals. Winter brings with it time to rest.

Our church calendar leaves the period of festivals, and we travel together through what used to be called ‘ ‘Ordinary Time’’. Ordinary time has been renamed The Season of Pentecost. I guess the intention is to alert us to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives. What’s Ordinary about living The Spirit?

There are things that can only be done in winter. Slow cooked soups, spicy casseroles, afternoons reading on the couch, brisk walks in the garden. Phillip Island over winter provides for us an opportunity like no other to feed the soul of faith. So, what will you do with your winter? How will you use the Ordinary time of winter to be with God?

Our St John’s community begins a fresh approach to our monthly Study group. The knitting group is establishing new friendships and skills. In our Sunday service we will welcome A worship team of our Elders leading us (Sunday 10 June) and we look forward to hearing from Charles Popple, who is a lay preacher from Croydon Uniting Church. The Uniting Church Assembly also meets, and you can follow the discussions and read the papers the church will be discerning. I highly recommend reading the Theological paper on marriage. And at home you might take the opportunity to catch up on reading the books unread on your shelf. You might take some time to sort through a shoe box of photos or your recipes!

One thing that can happen over winter, is that we hide away. Rest and relaxation is important, but I encourage you to make the effort to keep connected. Winter is an opportunity to dwell with God. The quietness of the island lends itself to exploring places you haven’t visited for a while. And even on a patchy day, a glorious sunset is still possible to be glimpsed. So, take this opportunity before you for nourishing the soul, nourishing the mind and nourishing your body.

November 2017

“How are you growing?”

When we begin thinking about things that grow we think of things we perceive growing. Plants and trees show buds and shoots. Children grow in height and size. Collections of records and books grow. Cities grow with new buildings and roads.

We have an idea of what growth looks like.

However, when we apply the concept of growth to our faith, we might want to be a bit careful.

How does spiritual life grow? And what does growth look like? We might begin ‘the SHOULD’ sentences. I should do this, I should do that…and it doesn't take long before we start modifying those statements, so that soon we find ourselves saying “we should, but we don't”, and then we feel we have failed. Or that our faithful life is a bit crummy.

Where did those ideas about what a growing Christian life looks like come from??

Growth, especially in the Faithful life is subtle. It's certainly not like looking at a tree or building grow. Growth in the Faithful life is supported by our worship, bible study, fellowship, and all the service rosters we are on, but it's certainly not any one or all of those things. Growth perhaps is measured by other markers; less like a measuring device, or size chart.

It's a bit more like trusting God that every faithful thing we do: that every breath we take; where we go; who we meet; that who is we are, is enough.

And all those faithful people I call to mind, who I think were ‘Saints’ to me: those who I saw as people growing the Faithful life, were actually, just like me anyhow. So, the question “How are you growing” is really a question for us NOT to compare ourselves with others, or our “should lists”. Rather, it is a question that might bring us closer in our walk with Jesus. The writer to the infant church community in Thessaloniki wrote, “God's Word is at work in you!” Believe it! (1 ‘Thessalonians 2: 13)

Open Places: The Fields of Easter.

In the fields of Easter, here in Phillip Island, the land is becoming greener.   The lake at the cemetery is beginning to refill after the dry summer.   The shearwater birds are flying their epic journey to the Northern Hemisphere.   Our holiday neighbours have returned to the cities into their working weeks.   In fields of Easter, in the fifty days that church communities celebrate Easter, things here at Phillip Island are returning to usual.

How usual does your world feel?
Is anything ever really usual?

For the disciples, after the resurrection, there was a sense that ‘one returns to what one knows’. The post resurrection story of Jesus’ BBQ on the beach in the gospel according to John 21, sees the disciples back at work on the fishing boat.   After the trauma of the events in Jerusalem;   the betrayal;   their own shame at not being the faithful people they hoped to be:   even after the appearances behind locked doors;   the testimonies of the women:   even then, how to live life in the light of resurrection was an unknown quantity.   Things began to return to usual.   After years of living as disciples, they returned to their boats.

Known pathways and patterns can be helpful guides after such upheavals.

Psalm 66: 10-12 speaks of such a journey.   It speaks of being through what seems to be life's tests and trials.   Tested as silver is refined, caught up in nets, carrying heavy burdens, through fire and rain, and yet, “You have brought us out to a spacious place.”

Was the disciple's return to their nets a time to return to the known pathways?   And was it also a time to regain space, to regain a sense of self?

Had the disciples remained behind the locked doors, in fear and loss, then something would have gone terribly wrong.   Some people understand the church as a place where disciples huddle and hide, living small lives, blocking out the complexities of life in the world.   However, the Gospel message is one of coming into spaciousness.   The saved people are the ones who have come into a spacious place.

James Alison, historical Jesus and New Testament theologian, describes the calling as “the huge adventure of unimaginable horizons to which we are being summoned to participate.”   Returning to the boats was only the beginning of seeing the horizon differently.

As Phillip Island becomes greener in the Autumn rains, is anything really returning to usual?   Or, is it, that we are invited to see the horizon differently?   To become curious about this Easter season.   What is God showing to me now?   Where is it I feel God is drawing me?   And how can I live in the light of that gift of grace?   As Easter people, we are always being lead to new horizons, and invited to see differently our futures.   For the disciples, they found their new pathways by returning to what they knew and responding to the next call of Jesus.   For them, their horizons were about to expand.

We are invited to discover that spaciousness, of new horizons too in the fields of Easter.

In Christ,