Cowes, Phillip IslandThe Church of St John,
MINISTERS :- THE MEMBERS OF THE CONGREGATION
Last Christmas Day I discovered a four-hour window of time, after the rush of early morning Church services, where I was not required to be anywhere! A moment of stillness on a busy day: a moment of silence after the flurry of Christmas preparations.
As a minister, my calendar to Christmas is wonderfully full of social events, activities, pastoral visits and celebrations, in addition to the preparations for services of ‘carols and stories’ and worship. So, those four hours on Christmas Day were a deeply appreciated gift. I made a cup of tea, opened some homemade shortbread, sat in my arm chair and rested.
Once before I spent a Christmas in a similar way. On that day, I enjoyed a toasted sandwich and a peppermint tea, and did some afternoon gardening. Wonderful! It was a remarkable day. I had grown up with formal, pressured meals, where the tensions of the day far outweighed any enjoyment of the food or company. That toasty on Christmas Day was one of the best culinary experiences I have had!
I’m no Grinch! I enjoy the festivities. But it is also encouraging seeing people embrace a simple approach to the celebrations. Choosing a priority of planet and people over wastefulness in gifting or food is a very exciting direction for the season.
Some find Christmas Day the loneliest, especially when the year has been marked by the death of a family member or the breakdown in relationships. My past experiences of a simple day, well planned: or a simple day accidently encountered have nurtured my Spirit and enabled me to enjoy the day, whether alone or with others!
The Christmas story is hardly a story of feasting tables and abundance. Rather, it is a story of a young woman, a fragile couple and the gift of the birth of an infant in circumstances less than perfect. The creation of family. Every child is a gift. Every child changes everything in life. Most of all your heart. I wonder if we pondered this central story, and wondered why it has endured, if we’d discover a deeper meaning; an even more simple gift? If love is born like this, then perhaps our celebrations of it would reflect the complexity of what it is to be a gift for each other, rather than buying gifts for each other?
May your journey to Christmas Be a pathway of Peace, Hope and Joy, A journey of Love.
On Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a woman who kindly looked after me when I was a young lad about town. She is now a successful and notable lawyer in Melbourne, known for representing people who have been in institutional abuse. I have watched her career grow through the media as she has advocated on behalf of those who have been silenced. It was exciting for me to see her recently on the ABC television programme ‘Q & A’.
But if we were to turn back the clock, to when our lives first crossed, we were both in our ‘post-University’ days. We met through a church community event she had been dragged along to! Church is not her thing at all! Both of us were living in share houses that happened to be just around the corner from each other. We were trying to determine what our careers would be: I had just left a Chartered Accounting firm, and she was completing her Articles in a Law firm.
In this story, I had experienced the end of a budding relationship. One Sunday afternoon, feeling a little fragile, I walked down the street to my friend’s house. When she opened her door, her gentle and kind welcome reduced me to tears. I stood on her door step and wept before her. She brought me in, applied cups of tea and cookies, and sent me on my way comforted and restored. I have never forgotten that simple act of kindness.
When we met again this past weekend, 27 years later and she really didn’t know who I was! She was gracious, but also a bit concerned, “Who is this person who I cannot place?”
The gentle and acts of kindness we can offer each other make a profound difference in our world. We may often never realise the value of the simple acts of helping we offer to each other. It didn’t matter that my re-acquainted friend had no idea of who I was! It was a wonderful and rare opportunity to be able to offer my deep thanks to a person who so profoundly helped me! This is the kind of world I want to live in: this is the kind of person I’d like to be growing into; this is the kind of school we can practice being. The wonder of the gift we can be for each other. I think this is living the Grace we know in Jesus.
Picture Ian Roach: Gradian News Accessed 11/11/19 https://www.nambuccaguardian.com.au/story/6481391/pigeon-steals-poppies-to-make-its-home/
You may have seen this story in these days leading to Remembrance Day. A pigeon has made a nest, with poppies of remembrance, on the window ledge of the Hall of Remembrance at the War Memorial in Canberra.
For me, the image brings forward ideas of how memory can create a nest of safety, how a fragile animal can have the ingenuity to make a home, and how new life can emerge from remembrance.
Over these past few months the St John’s community has encountered the death of a number of dearly loved members. People whose lives lived the Gospel of Hope and Grace they had received. These are deeply sad times, both now and in the weeks to come.
A church community carries grief together. By living in community, we don’t have to continually explain what has happened to us: we can be held as we grieve.
In our contemporary culture the processes of grief and sadness are undervalued. We are encouraged to celebrate life, with little attention to the sadness we carry forward into our futures. It might be helpful to remember, that grief and celebration are not opposites: rather, they are friends in conversation with each other. And it’s that mutual conversation that helps us into our futures.
Let’s be thankful for this life we get the share together: mindful of our fragility and humanity, and confident in the community that surrounds us in times of stress, need and sadness. Let’s be open to how the Holy Spirit may be moving in our lives, bringing comfort, even in our sadness.
A Short walk into Christmas
I have been exploring some of Victoria’s State Parks with a thoughtful friend who is taking an interest in the Indigenous stories of place. Just near here is a seasonal waterfall and on the morning we visited there had been rain all night. The waterfall was in full flow: a cascade of water falling over the rocks. Truly beautiful. My friend had reminded me not to get distracted by this ‘main event’, and to attend to the less dramatic, but equally breathtaking aspects of the bush. After a long look and listen to the waterfall, I was able to see the complex beauty of nature.
Christmas is somehow like that walk; we can be distracted by the big event, but are also asked to pay just as much attention to the little things too: with as much care and attention.
We all need space for contemplation in our lives, like my bush walks. Contemplation has been defined as ‘a long loving look at reality’. Often the life questions we struggle with are matters that invite that ‘long loving look’. Contemplative practices facilitate sitting with the complexities and sometimes help us find resolutions that are life giving.
Jesus was known as one who would frequently depart to wilderness places for short moments in the every day of living and loving. Mary is also remembered as a woman who contemplated things deeply in her heart.
As you reflect upon the year, may you afford yourself that ‘loving look back’ at all you and your families have managed and achieved; and be gentle in looking forward into the New Year that lies before us all.
We are afraid of heat waves.
The thought of relentless heat and blinding bleaching sunlight; nights of radiant residual heat of ground, walls and not a breath of refreshing life giving coolness fills us with dread. Thankfully this summer, here at Phillip Island, we have been blessed with both heat and relief.
I've been wondering about this new year, and what is it I might want to explore, discover and learn, both formally and informally. This year I will take a unit or two of academic updating at the Uniting Church's Pilgrim Theological College. But what is it I want to learn?
My desk, bedside table, coffee table, lounge chair are all surrounded by books: each a window into somebody's thoughts and their world. What will I learn from them?
And, informally, what is it I'm learning? The Latin moto for Monash University, (if I'm remembering right), translates as, 'I am still learning'. What is it that I am being taught? What lesson? What understanding? Where do I need to grow? Where am I resisting learning? What is it I need to learn, it perhaps don't want to?
This is what often gets referred to as informal learning, but I think, actually, is that deeper, more profound awakening of understanding that is integrated into our lives.
Am I being asked to dwell more deeply in prayer?
Am I being guided to think more about compassion and how to live compassionately?
Am I feeling that I need to learn to practice living more generously, in love, and seek the healing of forgiveness, so that I can better live in love and offer that life giving forgiveness to those I share this life with?
And if I am, then how will I go about it? What will I do? What will I read? How can I get connected with the place to dare practice and live it?
Last year, at our Church Council's reflection and retreat day, Lyn Francis was flicking through a prayer book and found the following prayer. I've been near this prayer most of the latter half of 2018.
And it's here again at the start of this year.
A good reminder of what a church seeks to offer and be in our community.
It's just so often that we get caught up in the day to day of community life that even we forget, or simply ignore what the faithful life is about.
So, I'm sharing this prayer with you, with credit to the anonymous author. Thank you for writing the words I could not find: and may they inform the church we are in at this time and place, for all people.
If this is not a place
Where tears are understood,
Then where shall I go to cry?
And if this is not the place
Where my spirit can take wings,
Then where shall I go to fly?
If this is not a place
Where questions can be asked,
Then where shall I go to seek?
And if this is not a place
Where my heart cry can be heard
Where, tell me, shall I go to speak?
From Singing While it is Still Dark, (Friends of Unity, 2008), p. 72.
This book was prepared for the members of the Uniting Church South Australian Synod, 2003.
Advent is a season that I find emotionally amplified. For me, hearing the news touches me very deeply at this time of year. Last week our congregation was invited to participate in a national mailing effort to encourage our members of Federal Parliament to bring peace and hope to those people in detention centres, under the authority of the Government. How can we sing ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel’, while children and people remain in endless captivity?
The wilderness voice that calls to us all to “prepare ye” The Way, calls clearly to those listening. The preparation of the season goes way beyond the skirting boards, the pudding and the gifts: it calls us to wonder how can we bring the word of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love into our Advent practically and prayerfully?
We will sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel again in this Season: most likely at our service of Stories and Songs on Christmas Eve here at St John’s, Cowes at 7.30 pm. And I’m sure that I will still find it’s mournful lament and demand to rejoice will catch me! That’s the gift of good music, thoughtful lyrics and the Spirit of God in it all. And I know it will continue to shape my Christmas season.
For those few of you who read this little page on our website: a Merry Christmas to you: may the blessings of this season of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love be with you as we celebrate the Birth of Jesus again this year.
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!
“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.
“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)
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.