How do we care?

This is the text of my ministry message for the newsheet at KSSM for February 2019.

That’s an interesting question I think, “How do we care?” because there are many answers.  I have been thinking about it in preparation for some appointments I have in February.

In my previous churches in Gippsland pastoral care was one of the things the people wanted me to teach them about.  I was in a supply role, preaching every Sunday and doing some visiting one day a week, and I was asked whether I could run a Q&A for the congregation on what I do and how I do it.  Sadly time never allowed for that even; my diary was too full with visits to the aged care facility and to people’s homes for me to set aside time to explain my work, but “how do we care” as a request for training in care is a great question to ask.

In my previous job in South Australia pastoral care was the key aspect of the work: I was a “Christian Pastoral Care Worker” in a school and on-the-spot care rather than evangelism was what I was supposed to do.  That occurred often in by sitting outside classrooms with a kid who needed to “take 5” because of something happening in his life right then, or “just being there” unobtrusively in the classroom for the same kid.  That role led me to work as a speaker with Beyond Blue, a job I still do and will be doing at Lameroo on 7th February.

How do you care?

Damien.

Relay

Recently I was reading an article about church leadership, the gist of which was that any pastor at any given time does not have the task to lead the local church from A to Z, rather from A to B.  The preferred outcome of that gist seems obvious; it is not the work of one man or woman to do the whole journey in the space of one pastoral placement, and this needs to be understood by the pastor and the people.  For me, where and when I am (here and now) I should be encouraged by the thought that I have at least three years in my current placement to get from A to B; there is nothing to panic about, and anyway the goal is only B and not Z.

But I don’t like that, not one bit, and here’s why.  The churches that I pastor each have a century or more of history behind them.  Kaniva and Serviceton are nineteenth century settlements, and the Methodists and the Churches of Christ were present as believers gathering in homes well before the church buildings we meet in today were erected.  So why am I getting the people to move from A to B?  Seriously, after 130 years of continuous presence and ministry I would hope that at the very least I’m responsible for moving the churches from J to K, or maybe even R to S, or even T.  A to B?  No, no, no, that should have been done a hundred years ago.

The point is more than semantics about the metaphor of alphabet, the point is that the church in this generation, (so all the Christians active today regardless of when they were born), is part way through a relay toward establishing the Reign of God in The Wimmera/Tatiara.  We are not called to reinvent the wheel but to change the tyres (or bearings) if they’re worn.  The race has already started and we gain nothing by going back to the start every time there’s a new minister arrived.  Let us continue the race with the baton handed to us by those who have died, and let us run forward until with our final breath we pass the baton to those not yet alive.  Let us today prepare to launch tomorrow the church of M and N, or U and V, or maybe even Z.  But not C, the church of C is surely in our past.

A New Year’s Day

This is the text of my ministry message for the January 2019 pewsheet at KSSM.

“All is quiet on New Year’s Day, a world in white gets underway…”  thus sings U2 on their 1983 album entitled “War”.  I assume that Bono is referencing the midwinter snow of his native Dublin rather than the liturgical colour for January in Christendom, but you never know.  Nonetheless it is a new year in the world, and I shall be wearing white on the first two Sundays as we celebrate the recognition of Jesus as a baby (6th January is Epiphany) and a man (13th January is Jesus’ Baptism).

I don’t know what 2019 will bring for Kaniva & Serviceton Shared Ministry, or the West Wimmera and Tatiara beyond ourselves.  I hope for better than more of the same: my prayer for us is that as a local church we will grow in discipleship and influence and in a year’s time will be bigger people living bigger lives of faith and confidence.  I shall preside at my first wedding as celebrant in March, and I am looking forward to leading my first service with you as worship leader this month, (until now I have only preached and prayed).  My greatest excitement is for what you will do as Christian disciples in your daily lives, and how you will engage with the ministries of all believers.  This year we will be running local seminars in preaching and worship leading, conflict resolution through Biblical means, and assisting those who want to learn more about God, the Bible, ministry and mission.

Twenty-nineteen is our new year of opportunity: make sure you don’t miss out.

Damien.

Borderlands

This is the text of my Minister’s Message for The Vision which is Kaniva & Serviceton Shared Ministry quarterly news letter, for December 2018-February 2019.

In my travels out to an evening Bible Study group a few weeks ago I suddenly discovered myself in South Australia.  I was not surprised to find myself in SA, that often happens when you live in Kaniva or Serviceton and you all know that better than me.  What surprised me was that there was no road sign to indicate the change of state.  No big red one facing a big blue one, no smaller blue and gold one facing an orange one, not even a matched pair of little white ones suggesting movement between districts.  My sat-nav lost half an hour, and the cement cylinders of Victoria turned into the steel and concrete “stobie” poles of SA, but otherwise there was nothing to say I had moved into an area of authority governed from Adelaide rather than from Melbourne.

The Kingdom of God is a bit like this.  Sometimes it is obvious where we are, whether we are in or out: Kaniva and Bordertown have different state flags flying, and you know the exact point that the Western Highway becomes the Dukes Highway, even if it’s always the A8.  At other times you just get a sense that something has shifted by observing the signs that are there, which are not the signs you were expecting to see, which you will see if you have wisdom behind your eyes.

My point is that The Church is not the capital city of the Kingdom of God; it is the service town and the border town.  We as the people of God actually live in the border lands, the frontier of the reign of God, knowing that at times we are in one realm (perhaps when we are in worship and fellowship) and at other times in another realm (perhaps when we are engaged in everyday events).  This is okay; this is actually what God intends for us as the ambassadors of the Kingdom: the Bible clearly reads that Heaven is the place of completion and fulfilment so it’s okay to be a Christian in the world and not be in blissful adoration of His Majesty 24/7.  What we must not forget is that, like Serviceton, (named after Mr Service rather than its function), we are to serve those who are coming into the Kingdom.  Church is the “welcome home” at the gate, the “have some water and a nice sit down” in the lounge, the “ladies this way, gents that” next to the rock next to the highway.  And because The Church lives at the edge of The Kingdom sometimes we find ourselves in another state.

Much has been said about Christianity, about Christians, and about our formal institutions in Australia in recent months.  The government launched an inquiry into our caring ministries and we were found wanting.  (The fact that non-Church organisations were seen to be just as guilty is not the point, although it is worth noting.)  Stories of hurting people inside and outside Christian communities where that community was the perpetrator of hurt are not uncommon.  Sometimes the Church has been seen to be of the world but not in it, squabbling in our ecclesiastical corners about things that are beside the point of the gospel.  These things are not okay, but they are not unexpected in a human system trying to engage with the world.

In 2019 let us all seek to live with Christ’s heart, even when we find ourselves suddenly across the border.

Between Times

This is the text of the message I wrote for the December 2018 pewsheet for KSSM.

Many of you heard me say that I spent a decade living in the UK, a decade ago, and that 2003 was a very difficult year.  One of the ways I dealt with the uncertainty of my life’s situation in the dark days was to journal.  Recently I have been thinking about that journal; I have not read for ages but I do remember writing in it.

I remember one day sitting in the public library at Luton reflecting in writing that I was very much in the midst of troubles.  I did not know what the future would hold or how my tumultuous adventures in poverty, isolation, and homelessness would end; but I was entirely confident that “one day” they would end and that I would be alright.  I don’t recall the wording, but I can see myself sitting at the table, I can see the journal in front of me, and I can hear myself thinking as I wrote (even if I can’t see what I wrote) that this was an odd story.  I am in trouble, I know I am in trouble, and I am in the middle of the trouble still, but “one day” the trouble will end.  I don’t know which day or how long until then, but there will be “one day” when God will come and it will be alright.

That day, that good day, was seven months in the future as I wrote.  This Advent season let’s remember that “one day” may not be as soon as we’d like, but the day is coming, and when it arrives it will have Jesus in all glory at its centre.

Damien.

God’s Family and Mine

This is the text of my Minister’s Message for the November 2018 pew-sheet at KSSM

Recently I have been thinking about families and particularly the families that I belong to.  In natural terms I am a brother with a brother and a sister and I am a brother-in-law to my siblings’ spouses.  I am a son to two parents, an uncle to two (almost three) nephews and a niece, and I am a nephew.  I am a cousin, a second-cousin, and first-cousin-once removed in that I know and relate to people who are attached to my family in those ways. In Christian terms I am a son of God (but not “The Son of God”) and a brother to each of you, whether you are a sister or a brother to me.

But I am also mindful of the wider Church and particularly of my sister-brothers in Christ who experience pain, loss, opposition, threats, and sadness from others because of their love for Christ.  Let this month of November, when we look toward December and Christmas, be a month of remembering all for whom Jesus came and especially for our own beloved family where it is hurting.

Damien.

Are you?

This is the text of my Minister’s Message for the August 2017 newsletter at Lakes Entrance Uniting Church.

As many of you are aware, I lived in the United Kingdom between 2001-2009, and for much of that time I was actively involved in Hillsong Church London.  One of the key motivating texts which appeared on our promotional material, and was cited in the messages from the platform, came from 2 Samuel 7:5.  In this verse God asks King David, “are you the one to build me a house?”

The intended response from our leaders was that we would say “yes!” and rally to the cause of building God’s kingdom in London by doing the work of Christians.  “Bring your tithes into the storehouse so that there might be food in my house” (Malachi 3:10) we were reminded, and “use what’s in your hand to fulfil what is in your heart” as Brian Houston said.  “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) we were reminded, something which could be done just by crossing the road in London’s many multi-ethnic suburbs.

The irony is that the answer God expected from David was “no”.  David was not the one to build the temple in Jerusalem – that responsibility was to be given to Solomon.  David had too much blood on his hands: God wanted a temple built from worship and love for God and all people, not from booty and slaves.  God wanted a temple at which all nations would gather in celebration of the God of all.  The worship life of Israel was to continue in David’s day, but the Tent of Meeting would be a sufficient site until the hearts of Israel were ready to build a proper home of stone, gold, cedar, and love.

What has this to do with us?  Well I believe that God is asking the question of us which God asked of the Londoners.  We have a “house” here on the Esplanade, so like David we are not called to construction work.  But if this house is to be a home, a home to which all peoples are welcomed, then we do have a church to build.  This is done through our discipleship, worship, employ of our gifts, and our speaking of the shy hope in our hearts with our friends and neighbours.  Maybe the next generation will replace our building: maybe there is a Solomon today, in nappies, (more likely in his mid-twenties), who will rebuild this house as a home for his peers.  Our task is therefore to nurture him (or her if a Solomena) in the faith of our ancestors and to teach him the promises of our God.  We are not required to build a house, but we are required to build a home and to make it welcoming for all who come.