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Editorial – March 2014

A matter of faith

Those of you who have known me for some time are aware that I am rather partial to things Scottish.  The country, its beauty and inventive people were illustrated in a recent series of television programmes that screened on the Choice channel.  In the course of the presenter’s journey of discovery he visited the Hebridean Islands, which included one particular town, where our denomination enjoys a monopoly.  It being Sunday he found the place completely devoid of any commercial activity.  Young Presbyterian worshippers returning from church were steadfast in their faith when questioned on their Christian devotion.  This brought back fond memories of my own early experiences under similar circumstances and the consequences of not adhering to the rules.  The custom in rural Afrikaner society made no provision for recreation and light entertainment on the Lord’s Day, apart from church attendance, a hearty midday meal followed by a rest period for adults and quiet contemplation, which could include listening to serious music.  On one particular occasion the temptation for us young ones in not observing this prescription in the construction of a bridge over a shallow pool resulted in my unplanned encounter with the water surface.  This resulted in the ruination of my best outfit and a sore bottom to remind me of the importance of Sunday observance.  I am inclined to favour a total rest day and question the demands many people make on themselves to exhaustion in activities, which while not in the manner of gainful pursuit, often lead to over indulgence and excessive physical activity that far exceed normal rest and recreation.

Another matter that caught my attention was the financial success of one particular new age Christian movement that accounted for a total annual income of $9.16m of which $5.35 consisted of donations spread over two congregations.  It reported salaries and wages to 62 full-time and 43 part-time staff totalling $3.94m which by my conservative reckoning averages $46,470 per employee.  What prompted the publicity was the sale of the pastors’ house to the value of $1,88m in an upmarket location.  Rather than feeling envious I regard this as a commercial success story that can serve as an example to many corporate executives.  In this case the assumed self-appointed pastors take advantage of their previous business experience, which they have transferred successfully into a faith based community of adherents.  Their highly entertaining form of engaging with their congregations are far removed from traditional models that fail to attract and inspire younger prospects in search of spiritual experiences.  I discussed the phenomenon of faith based commercialism with an elder in a prominent Pacific Island Church, which is experiencing the effects of the charismatic movement with a loss of parishioners and decline in income.  While I do not deny the value of any form of religious inspiration, I regard any radical departure from the teachings and example of Christ as not becoming latter day ministry and worship.

Questions have recently been raised about New Zealand’s claim to be called a Christian country.  This was in some part caused by the unfortunate resistance by a small minority of parents of children attending a suburban school, who complained to the Human Rights Commission on the grounds of discrimination.  It was a pity that the Board of Trustees caved in to these demands and as a consequence deprived the majority of pupils of voluntary attendance of extra-curricular religious education.  In our eagerness to embrace multi-culturism, in spite of the bicultural specification in the Treaty of Waitangi, it is easy to lose sight of the founding principles of our country.  Both the Anglican and Presbyterian churches played a meaningful role in the settlement and conversion of the indigenous tangata whenua.  The Christian faith found expression in many of our institutions and continues to provide the foundation for our constitutional and judicial systems.  The challenge in all this lies in educating newcomers to Aotearoa New Zealand with the intention to make it their permanent home that this aspect of their citizenship is not negotiable.

Ralph

March 7, 2014 in Newsletter by

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From my heart to yours – March 2014

This week in my reading I came across a wonderful quote from James Joyce:         ‘Mistakes are the portals of discovery.’

I want to use this quote as the focus of my contribution to this month’s Informer.

The word Portal(s) is a word I have not used or seen for a while. It sounds like a word that is more at home within the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit books, rather than everyday life.  A quick glance at the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary revealed that portal can be used to describe an imposing doorway or gateway. It is also used in the language of computer technology to describe an Internet site that is an entry point to other web sites.  I also discovered that portal refers to a point of entrance to an organ of the human body, especially the transverse fissure of the liver, through which the blood vessels enter; along with a local library being: a portal of knowledge.

My imagination was really fired with the idea of a portal in computer technology and a library being a portal of knowledge imagination. How about the Church being a portal? This then raises a further question, what will people find when they enter the portal of the Church? Perhaps I am ahead of myself, for the question needs to be asked; what kind of portal are we presenting to those that arrive at our place, seeking to explore or reflect upon their spirituality?

Believe it or not it takes great courage to arrive at a church, when you have not been attending for many years, for often one remembers church as it was not how it is now. It is important that we constantly reflect on the portal into our community.

This week I received a copy of a report from the Anglican Church in the UK (From Anecdote to Evidence: Findings from the Church Growth Research project 2011-2013), on Churches that have bucked the decline trend and experienced new vitality and numerical growth.  A quote at the beginning of this report says:

“There is no single recipe for growth; there are no simple solutions to decline. The road to growth depends on the context, and what works in one place may not work in another. What seems crucial is that congregations are constantly engaged in reflection; churches cannot soar on autopilot. Growth is a product of good leadership (lay and ordained) working with a willing set of churchgoers in a favourable environment.”  Professor David Voas. (Italics added)

Becoming a welcoming portal community requires we constantly reflect on what we do, for there will be times we get things wrong, we will make mistakes, but, through them will be the portals of discoveries, of a whole new way of being church.

Because of space I want to mention these four discoveries that came out of apparent mistakes, but actually the mistake was the portal for discovery:

Cornflakes

Inventor: The Kellogg brothers, John and Will

What they were trying to make: A pot of boiled grain

How it was created: The brothers accidently left a pot of boiled grain on the stove for several days. The mixture turned mouldy but the product that emerged was dry and thick. Through experimentation they eliminated the mould part and created corn flakes.

Post – it – notes

Inventor: Spenser Silver, a researcher in 3M Laboratories

What he was trying to make: A strong adhesive.

How it was created: While working away in his laboratory Silver created an adhesive that was actually weaker than what already existed. It stuck to objects but could be pulled off easily without leaving a mark.  Years later a colleague spread the substance on little pieces of paper to mark his place in his choir hymn book, and the idea was born.

 

Microwave Ovens

Inventor: Percy Spencer, an engineer with the Raytheon Corporation

What he was trying to make: Spenser was conducting a radar related research project with a new vacuum tube.

How it was created: Spenser realised that the candy bar in his pocket began to melt during his experiments. He then put popcorn into the machine, and when it started to pop, he knew he had a revolutionary device on his hands.

Penicillin

Inventor: Sir Alexander Fleming

What he was trying to make: Ironically Fleming was searching a wonder drug that could cure diseases. However, while he was throwing away his experiments in the rubbish thinking they had not worked, that he found something very different.

How it was created:  Fleming noticed that a contaminated Petri dish (a shallow, circular glass or plastic dish with a loose fitting cover over the top and sides, used for culturing bacteria and other micro-organisms.) he was discarding in the rubbish contained a mould by itself, he learned that it contained a powerful antibiotic, penicillin.

These wonder – filled stories, demonstrate how apparent failure and mistakes are the portals to the discovery of something new and life giving. The key is the constant reflective awareness on the extra – ordinary of the unexpected in the ordinary.

We can learn so much from our mistakes along with constantly reflecting on what we are doing as a community of faith, and / or the portal into a community of spiritualties. This means we don’t have to be afraid of change or, of attempting new ways of being church. This will of course lead us into further discoveries of what it means for our shared humanity on our communal journey of becoming a community.

I conclude with a poem prayer from Hildegard of Bingen (12th C German Mystic):

Giving life to all life,

Holy Spirit,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
Washing them clean,
Wiping out their mistakes,
Healing their wounds,
You are our true life,
Luminous, wonderful,
Awakening the heart from its ancient sleep.

Meanwhile Peace reflecting on the portals of our community

Alf

March 7, 2014 in From the Minister, Newsletter by

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