Monday, November 30, 2009

December 2009

Dear friends

 Time – African & Western

Arriving on time, or early, in our African context is difficult: to arrive early or on time for a meal is to imply that one has no food at home; to get immediately to the point is to imply that the person one is conversing with, along with their family and community, is of little value. From a more Western perspective to arrive late is a sign of disrespect both for the other people present and the event being celebrated, and is taken as a sign of personal lack of discipline.

My grandfather was a stickler for being on time, if not early. In my grandparents’ social circle was a couple notorious for being at least an hour late for social engagements. My grandmother, hosting a dinner, invited the notorious couple, and knowing they were always late, invited them to attend an hour early. The couple, aware that my grandfather was such a stickler for time, arrived on time – much to the consternation of all concerned!

What time should we arrive for worship? To arrive on time is to imply that there are problems at home; to arrive late is to miss the greeting and welcome. We need to develop a church culture that allows us to step away from our controlling cultural perspectives, and yet permits us to maintain the dignity that our different cultural perspectives provide.

My dream is to see us arrive a good half-an-hour before worship begins, and to gather in the gardens, using this time to greet each other, to ask the questions that give value to our existence, to recognise each other in good African Style. Then, when the first bell rings, to find our way into the church, to find a seat, to greet those sitting next to us, behind us, in front of us. When the second bell rings to fall silent and prayerfully prepare for our time with God together.

Perhaps this is a little over-ambitious, but I do ask for everyone’s cooperation in exploring this as a possible way forward.

Advent & Christmas

The call of Scripture during Advent is for us to move from darkness to light, to be transformed in preparation for the renewal of God’s call to for us in the New Year. It is a time – in the midst of the world’s busyness that we are all caught up in – to slow down, to stop, and to wait. We wait for God to speak, to act. And only then do we respond.

The Gospel calls us to a lifestyle of simplicity, and the recent economic recession has reminded us that it is possible to live more simply. The present tenuous economic recovery may tempt us to throw caution to the wind, but I do encourage us not to become victims of temptation in our Christmas spending. Let us explore other ways to be generous rather than recreating or increasing our levels of debt. Time together as families has far greater value than any material gift.

My young adult son, who has just left home for the third time – and returns weekends – has been questioning me on my goals for life and ministry. It has taken me some time to realise that he really wants to know where he fits into my life. While there is no doubt that he is not adverse to material gifts, it is my willingness to spend meaningful time in some joint activity with him that has the greater value.

What gifts will we choose to give this year that speak of the value to us of the people we give them to? How will our gifts enhance our core relationships with spouses and children, parents and siblings?

Christmas Blessing

Lots of love to you all for Christmas and the New Year from Dawn and myself. I came across this Irish blessing, which I pray will find place in all our hearts:

The light of the Christmas star to you
The warmth of home and hearth to you
The cheer and goodwill of friends to you
The hope of a childlike heart to you
The joy of a thousand angels to you
The love of the Son and God’s peace to you.



Tuesday, November 03, 2009

November 2009

Dear friends


I was challenged again, listening to the confessions of our young people preparing for their Confirmation. The challenge comes each time I take on this daunting task, and it comes in the form of the sincerity and depth of trust that our young people take in making themselves vulnerable before God. The challenge is two-fold: how do I nurture this sincerity in my own relationship with God; and how do we as community nurture our young people in this very adult decision of Confirmation that they undertake? The world will do its utmost to draw them away, and we as Church will possibly not offer support in ways that help.

Our young people are in process of growing up, seeking their independence, and yet still needing the support of family while often seemingly rejecting it. While peer-pressure is a driving force, there remains the need for mentorship unencumbered by the subjective nature of family relationship. Both our Confirmation process and Sunday morning Teen Church offer opportunity for mentorship as well as the opening to explore questions of faith and life that may be difficult in the family context.

We would like to offer more opportunity for our young people in this regard, and believe it is important, especially after Confirmation, that they have the opportunity to continue to be nurtured in a Faith-focused environment. We have attempted over the last few years to offer youth activity outside of Sunday mornings, and struggled. I’m never sure as to whether it is parent-busyness or youth-busyness that undermines the process. There is always a lot of energy expressed about possible activities, but attendance is virtually non-existent. When I look at Church communities where youth work is thriving it is generally because substantial resources are invested in a paid youth-person who then has the time to invest in relationship development with our young people, and I suspect that this is the logical route to go. Our financial resources do not yet allow us to take this route, but prayer for such a step is not limited.


The following quote from Henri Nouwen was printed on the front of the Confirmation Service leaflet at St Francis (Waterkloof) last Sunday:

When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,” we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organisation needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness. It is important to think about the Church not as “over there” but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are a part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.

Sometimes (perhaps often is a better word) we forget that the Church is made up of broken people like ourselves, and our expectations and dreams for faith and life can be severely dented. It is through living in, yet looking beyond, the institutions we build that Christ is to be found. The temptation is to reject God because humanity is not God; to reject God because we do not find the depth of care and love in each other that Jesus offers. Henri Nouwen offers sage advice, which can be applied beyond the Church, more specifically in our family lives and relationships. It is in accepting each other as we are – broken, angry, hurt; flawed by destructive attitudes and actions – that we find Christ and each other. This all goes to the image of God that we carry, both in terms of our mental picture, and the image of God projected by the way we live and the attitudes that drive us. Too often God is not the mental picture we carry, and when life-crisis situations occur we find ourselves doubting both God and our relationship with him. Doubt is good because it gives us space to question both God and ourselves, and in the journey to discover God anew and ourselves anew; and to discover ourselves and our expectations of God transformed.

Sacramental Confession is one place the Church offers us, sacred and secure, to be transformed; in our vulnerability to be reassured, healed, strengthened; our brokenness received without condemnation; to find a renewed centre in God, in Jesus; a fresh start in the journey called Life.

Pray for me, also a sinner.