Friday, February 27, 2015

Garden Grove Community Church

On a business trip to the US in 1977 I had a couple of meetings in Los Angeles, and timed them to spend a Sunday in the city. I tripped out to Orange County, where I had a Sunday morning 'drop-in' meeting with some colleagues, then went to the church pastored by Robert Schuller.

This was just before the Crystal Cathedral was built, and was a great barn of a building, true to the style of the 1960s. It was astonishingly large and I found completely impersonal.
The only part of the sermon that sticks in my mind was the bizarrely self-promoting dwelling by Schuller on a meeting he had with Jimmy Carter, the then president of the United States. It was completely out of place, unhelpful and irrelevant.

I understand that the premises has been since purchased by the RC diocese of that place.

If I go back there (which I doubt) I'd love to see the administration building, designed by one of my architect-heroes, Richard Meier. He's one of the few architects whose buildings have impressed my young children!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Band camp

As one of the parent-helpers for the band at my children's school, I volunteered to drive a rented truck from the school to the Uniting Church conference centre, Naamaroo in Lane Cove River Park for the annual band camp. My HR license comes in handy sometimes (I'd like an HC license, but we don't have enough instruments to require a B-double) and I find driving trucks pleasant, particularly manuals. Actually, I prefer 'crash' gear boxes, as I'd acquired on an old truck the knack of gear change without using the clutch at all. Modern trucks with semi-automatic gearboxes and compression brakes are just too easy!

In my single days I attended a couple of events at Naamaroo; one '20-plus' house party organised by the Churches of Christ Department of Church Development and Education (I'd served as a committee member for a few years on this in the early 80s, but don't know if I was much use!), and a conference of some sort so long ago I can't remember the topic.

It was good to wander around recalling those days and the people I'd met, including one Romeo (sorry, a woman: I'm using the 'phonetic' alphabet abbreviation for added mystery). I'd known Romeo for some time, and was surprised to find that a previous boss of mine had taught in her kindergarten class a few years prior: he was not a teacher, but wanted to have the 'teacher experience' as part of his own professional practice; she gave him a group of the most difficult boys, just for fun (hers, not his).

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lords and Shepherds

I had a couple of work appointments in Wollongong today, and drove down under grey skies. There's nothing better than a road trip on fast roads under grey skies in my book. I love grey weather because it is enclosing, comforting, and never desponds me. Relentless sunny days despond me...people expect me to go outside and 'enjoy myself'. I do not, of course.

The other ingredent is loud music. The more seriously classical the better, but sometimes old fashioned rock does it. Pity that the work car didn't have the benefit of a Naim audio system!

The weather was really bad on the way down Ousley pass, in fact visibilty contracted to mere metres and a few cars had a pile up: we all tried to pull off the road to let the police and fire truck pass at the very slow pace they were doing, also due to heavy mist. I listened to Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic. Not normally a show I like, although I also caught an interview once with Graham Long, pastor at the Wayside Chapel. I often saw him at Epping Church of Christ many decades ago...when I contacted him he remembered my mother, which was nice.

Back to Throsby. Her interviewee today was John Darnielle, of The Mountain Goats. A nice guy; interivewed because he's sort of famous now as a novelist and invitee to a few writing get togethers in Australia.

In the interview he contested the view held by some that reading novels in translation is not OK; even Throsby was taken aback by this...I instantly liked Darnielle. And I was really taken by his illustration. He said "take 'The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want'...I think Throsby was surprised as was I...goosebumps. He spoke highly of the interpretive work that the translators had done and the magnificence of its results. Compare for instance, Young's literal rendering of the same phrase: "Jehovah [is] my shepherd, I do not lack". Not quite the same.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The art of the small group

Small groups in modern Christianity had their origin in Wesley's ministry efforts, since then they have probably drifted in and out of popularity and use. We are currently in a popular period for them.

At almost all churches that I've been part of I've also been involved in a small group (including in Eden Baptist Church whose then minister left his wife to take off with his 'boyfriend'!). I think they are an important part of church life, even more so, in some respects, than the formal 'service' (meeting in NT terms) that we enjoy.

Groups have ranged from the dictatorial and almost cultish, to the near laissez faire, and all shades between.

At Christ Church St Lawrence I was invited by one of the younger men, RH, whose circle I'd come into to join the small group hosted by the curate in his flat adjoining the church building. RH and his wife M hosted an open lunch each Sunday which was attended by about 20 to 30 people. It was a simple meal: something like lasagna, bread, salad and a glass or two of wine. People drifted home after an hour or so, with the long stayers hanging on until mid afternoon. All very pleasant with the opportunity to talk to people one might not otherwise meet.

When this lunch was not on, we drifted along to the Graphic Arts Club (where my father had been a member, I recalled with some pleasure) for our lunch.

I felt honoured to be invited to the Bible Study, given by Fr Reg and impressed that R stressed that we met for evening Holy Communion at 6, followed by a cheap meal locally, then the study. It was a whole package, and not just a chat session.

The study was very different from my evangelical experience, but a very good 'different', given the different view of the church had there and the air given by the preceding service. There was also something I couldn't put my finger on, but there was a certain specialness in having a 'priest' involved. In Reg, a very engaging priest at that.

Monday, February 23, 2015

So, a Christian organisation?

At the school attended by the children of a friend chaplaincy is provided by a ‘Christian’ organisation. They hold a free breakfast for children from time to time.

But, what a breakfast! At the most recent one there were children who would not participate because of the unpleasantness of the woman worker to them; and worse, my friend’s child found the manner of the chaplaincy worker at the breakfast so intimidating that she was in tears! The child was berated for wanting butter as well as honey on the bread that she was handed!

The principal received a complaint regarding this conduct, of course, and, pulling no punches, the organisation is "Reach", an organisation with unknown connections, but held out as 'Christian'.

The principal is not a Christian, and has perhaps less insight into the varieties of organisations that would use the label ‘Christian’. So here are some tips for any non-Christians who are approached by a ‘Christian’ or church related organisation to offer services to children.


1. Anyone can call themselves ‘Christian’ and mean almost anything by it.

2. If an organisation tells you that it is Christian here are a few questions to ask them:
  1. Which church or denomination are you affiliated with? If they say they are independent, then apply the question to the board of directors, the CEO and the senior executives. Accept no evasion. Note that some organisations call themselves a church, when they are a controlling cult: in my view this would include Scientology, the Hare Krishna movement, the Exclusive Brethren, some Yoga groups, The School of Philosophy. Then, check out the organisation.
  2. Has your organisation or related organisation been before the Royal Commission related to abuse of children, and if so what is it now doing about it?
  3. What is your organisation’s mission and how would this service you seek to provide achieve the mission? [Ask to see a published mission statement, and don’t accept a brief piece of unqualified pop-business rhetoric.]
  4. How do you recruit front line workers? [open recruitment/within denomination/within church/just people we know, agency—which one?]
  5. What training do they have to have? [If they mention a training organisation that you are not familiar with ask if it is an RTO: registered training organisation. If it is only theological type training, be suspicious and note, anyone can cook up a fancy name.]
  6. Do all staff in contact with children have a working with children check? [If not, no go; if so, ask to see evidence.]
  7. Have all staff completed a ‘safe ministry’ course (at least that’s what its called in some denominations)? [Ask to see evidence.]
  8. Have they received training in providing services to children [My soccer club provides such courses for soccer coaches…so churches should do at least.]
  9. Ask to see their complaints policy and complaint management plan. What happens if a complaint is unresolved? Get the contact details of a senior exec. responsible for the service you are receiving.
  10. How do they discharge their WHS obligations when their front line staff are working remotely, such as in a school?
  11. What is their induction process for staff to a school or site?
  12. How do they ensure the needs of individual children are met?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lunch times

When I started work in the city there was a plethora of lunch time meetings sponsored by the Anglican Dept. of Evangelism, I think it was. Don Howard was involved, and I enjoyed talks by John Chapman, Bps. Don Cameron and John Reid as well as others.

There were three venues on different days: St James hall in Philip St, St Andrew's House in Bathurst Street, and in the basement 'hall' at Scots Church in Margaret St. The latter was close to my work. I must admit, I tended to follow Howard and Cameron around. Cameron gave a memorable talk at St James on the life to come...he spoke of a young married couple who by family wealth had life handed to them on a plate. The Bp proposed that that sounded just perfect. Then he said 'but its peanuts' and went on to discuss Paul's disdain for the privations and benefits of this life given the hope we have.

As Christians, we seek to see suffering in this context: Paul does. But it applies to wealth too: in eternal perspective wealth is insignificant. I'm happy to say I've met a number of Christians who've shown how to live mindfully of this.

Also close to my office was the RC church of St Patrick's, in Grosvenor Street. I went there once with a friend to a lunch time mass. Not for me.

This habit dropped off when I worked for firms in North Sydney and St. Leonards. St Thomas' at North Sydney had some lunch time meetings, but they failed to live up to what I was used to.

Slipping abroad, I attended a couple of lunch time meetings at St Helen's Bishopsgate in London: just like home!

After some changes in my faith, and when I was part of St James King Street, I attended a mid-week communion from time to time with a friend from uni. He also of an evangelical background, but like me found the service peaceful and spiritually encouraging.

Time went on again, and I and my office moved to Railway Square. I considered attending lunch time eucharist at CCSL, but didn't get around to it: my priorities and interests were changing, I suppose.

More recently I've been working near Wynyard and attended both lunch time talks and a Friday communion at St Philips, Church Hill. The group at communion was very small, but I quite enjoyed the use of BCP. The pace and old language took me to a different place mentally; that gave a welcome contrast to the pressures of work.

At most there were probably half a dozen of us attending, most older than me, some retired. It seems that at whatever age, I am so often in the 'youth group'! Less so now that I'm approaching 60, I must say.

The Rector, Justin Moffatt, decided that weekly communion was too much, so it became monthly. I couldn't see what the problem was: ministry is ministry and numbers should not be that important and Ray Smith's ministry at it was well received. It was a great 'stake in the city' for the worship of God that we met weekly, I thought.

Justin's lunch time talks were a lot of fun. He is an engaging and lively speaker, but I've not been for some time, as my spiritual preoccupations have shifted, and some evangelical talk seems just to go round in circles.

I was quite shocked at one talk where we had a well known lecturer from Moore College to speak. He was standing by himself, unoccupied as I entered the room. I noticed an elderly man, one of our regulars who quietly attended each week, sitting by himself. Jeff, I think his name was, and he must have been near 80. I sometimes exchanged greetings with Jeff, and was upset to see our diocesan worthy not talking to this old saint. I pointedly avoided bolstering the worthy's ego and sat with Jeff to chat instead.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Chicago University

I had a meeting in Blue Island (a suburb of Chicago) on a Friday, arrived the day before and chose to stay at a hotel near the Loop (the 'down town' of Chicago). The company I was meeting with had booked a room for me at the Holiday Inn in Blue Island, but that location did not appeal, even though their paying for my hotel did.

Frank Lloyd Wright's homes in the Chicago area interested me and I took a few trips to visit them. On the Sunday I visited the Robie House near Chicago University. Walking to another location I passed a church at the right time and joined the service. It was a long time ago now, but my recollection is that the church called itself University Presbyterian Church. The minister was about 50, casually dressed and wore his hair in a pony tail. Cool guy.

At that church I had my first encounter with 'liturgical dance'. Happily so far it has been my only encounter.

I think this map shows the church, as it is the only one I can find that is close enough to the Robie house, but I could be mistaken.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Going deeper

Delivering on my promise in my post The big picture, here is my suggested approach to reading the Bible for a new-comer to faith.

As before, it doesn't follow the conventional nostrum of starting with the Gospel of Mark.

1. Genesis (at least the first 11 chapters, but all is best)
2. Exodus 1-12; to extend, as before, Deuteronomy (mainly because of 14:26 ;-) ) and Joshua.
3. Ideally Isaiah, but most new Christians would want, I think, to come to know their Lord's time incarnate. I'd suggest a gospel: John, but that just suits me. Others like Mark. Although Mark is simply written, it contains much to ponder on, but John has a better scope, in my view.
4. One of Paul's shorter letters: I'd suggest Colossians.
5. Psalms. Not necessarily entirely, but start. I heard of one person with no particular religious affiliation reading a psalm a day, just because of the great qualities of the psalms.
6. Isaiah: a great 'major' (means 'long') prophet.
7. A 'minor' (means short) prophet. Amos or Joel.
8. Ephesians
9. James
10 Revelation.

After this lot: and this might be a good program for a new Christian's novitiate.

The next year, the new Christian's 'secundus' (second year -- just because I think the Latin is classy) I would suggest reading through the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation with a more experienced Christian. It's a simple objective, only about 4 chapters a day, and many of the shorter books can be read easily in a sitting.

I'll write about the third year later...three years is about enough for a good grounding in the faith. I wish I'd had that, instead of the hit and miss of church. But one has to be very careful to not bind the novice to any particular church, we're not running a cult here...the idea is servant, not leader for the mentor.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

All Souls

When I was in London many moons ago I used to mainly attend All Souls in Langham Place. Given the reserve of the English, I was pleased to find it to be quite welcoming and I seemed to easily make acquaintances there. I got the impression, however, that English reserve operated at full force in small group. I was the loquacious Australian happy to offer a view on anything being discussed! The English just sat there!

On a couple of occasions I visited St Helens too. I had heard Dick Lucas, the then rector, speak a few times in Australia, and was keen to see him on his home turf. [The Gherkin in the background of the photo was not built at the time I write of].

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Last night our small group had its first dinner of the year. It was our second meeting, and the first was a getting to know you (through conversation, not juvenile indulgences like the silly 'spotlight' game; I'll write about that some other time).

There were about 12 of us, including a couple of guests, some brought their children and the hostesses' husband, not a Christian, was there. Lovely bloke, and we chatted about lots of mutual interests: foreign exchange, contraction of manufacturing, demand for commodities, the software business (which he was in)...nice to relax; and that's part of home group.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The shift in church architecture

Our church has applied for permission to extend our premises. If it goes ahead (at much cost, I must add), it will provide a worthwhile facility for our congregation/s for many years to come, God willing.

I'm not averse to investing in good and useful facilities for churches, after having spent many years in makeshift rented accommodation in a couple of churches, the benefit of owning the right buildings is immense.

Our current plans are represented in the aerial sketch (done in Sketchup for those interested). It looks smart enough, but I wonder about the architectural language: its modern and 'sharp' in its imagery, but is more redolent of a rural council chambers than an ecclesiastical building. Lately it seems to me that architectural language for all types of buildings is converging on a uniform commercial idiom. I compare that to the work of, say Alvar Aalto, whose forms and spaces in my experience are of transcendent peace and beauty.

I wonder if we are today leaving markers of our joy in Christian life, and desire to do our best that will go the distance of some of the great works of medieval Christendom. I also wonder if the fabric of the quasi commercial language we are looking at will be durable over more than a century, as has been the old building on the right of the image.

I'm not in any way opposed to our plans, but am simply reflecting on the state of play in church building architecture.

Just ponder this as you look at the images of King's College Chapel.


In Scientology there's a book called Factors, by their misleader-in-chief, L Ron Hubbard. It evidently purported to give some sort of view of human origins. In her book Beyond Belief, Jenna Miscavige Hill says this:
As cryptic and mysterious as the book was, if felt anticlimactic. I had been hoping for a blow-by-blow of how we had come to be, but instead it said things like. "Before the beginning was a Cause and the entire purpose of the Cause was the creation of effect." It was the kind of winding language with which I was all too familiar.
As Christians we talk too little about the very opening of the Bible, which does set out a 'blow-by-blow' account of our origins, and shows in very concrete terms our relation to our Creator. Unlike Hubbard's bluster, which gropes for an entirely impersonal 'creation', the Bible's information (revelation) is rich with relationship, love and the personal as being basic to all that is. We need to tell people this is how it is; anything else...everything else is second best.

36: 3

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

No, but I prepare the theme, and I identify the information I want (in business). When I ring friends, its for a reason: I'm organising something, discussing a topic, or following up on something they are involved in. So, that's the plan. If one doesn't have a plan for a phone call, one doesn't make it.

But, this is not rehearsal, is it?

Practicing the words before hand? I've done it from time to time, usually just to get the opening right. Particularly for difficult conversations in my work, where I want to achieve the outcome I seek, but not bruise the other person.

When younger, I remember writing out a list of topics to talk to a young woman I was keen on...that was proof in retrospect that it was going nowhere...I was too inexperienced to detect that then. If only I'd had a Fonz to talk to in my mid 20s.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Have you ever been told that 'we have to be accountable' to each other, or asked about 'who you are accountable to'?

It seems to be a big deal in some evangelical circles. No one mentioned it when I was in the Catholic Graduates group at UNSW (for only a few months, but it was a warm and wonderful group that completely changed my view of our friends in the Church of Rome).

This morning we have a meeting of the small group ministry team and last meeting we were reminded that we had to 'be accountable' to turning up to the meetings. Well, there's a strand of anarchist (I think of Murray Bookchin when I think of anarchist) in me and an instruction like this is tantamount to bullying in my book. A mature committed person doesn't need to be 'held accountable' for what they say they will do. If they can't do it, there will be good reason: we do extend the benefit of the doubt to our brethren, do we not?

I don't go to church to have another command-and-control 'boss'. Not on. I go to be part of the kingdom of God which is denominated in love, and worship of our L&S (lord and saviour).

Next time someone talks 'accountability', I think I will talk 'trust', 'love' and 'support'. I much prefer a Christian approach to relationships than an authoritarian, cultish, business approach.

Oh, just for a comparison, here's how the Scientologists operationalise 'accountability' in a quote from Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill:
Self-policing inside the group made it difficult for anyone to trust anyone else. LRH [L Ron Hubbard] believed that a group's success depended on all its members enforcing a code of mores, and making each other accountable.

Friday, February 13, 2015

St James King Street

Christ Church St Lawrence was a church from another, better planet, I thought. Its 'sister' up the hill at Queen's Square, St James, was ambiguously on both CCSL's planet and on earth! What I mean is, it had some of the glorious connections with deep tradition that CCSL did, but seemed more comfortable with the contemporary practice of Christianity. I loved them both and formed good friendships at both.
One highlight of my time at these two parishes was a 'pilgrimage' that was organised to Bathurst cathedral. We hired a steam train to take us there, which was a bit of a novelty. Peter Hughes was rector, and I was blessed by the counsel of one of the curates, name escapes me.

The building was usually more populated than the  picture. And overflowing at Easter and Christmas. I still go sometimes to the midnight eucharist on Christmas Eve for its great joy.

More frequently I attend lunch time concerts through the week; particularly if the organ is being played. Not only do I love the music and its associations with my time there, but I like reflecting on the Christian lives represented in the various plaques and monuments on its walls. Some quite sad.

For a feel for the music that we were blessed with from time to time, here's a rehearsal.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


I went to a local pub after work with some colleagues today: one of my team's number who had been 'headhunted' by one of our partner firms had dropped by to say hello.

A sign behind the bar read "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." A bit of good humoured cheek...but Deuteronomy 14:26 suggests that it's not far from the truth. So, out wowsers!

And, what did I have? Now that you ask, a couple of glasses of White Rabbit dark ale over some very friendly conversation. Yum for both.  And remember, the Bible urges us to avoid drunkeness, not alcohol.


As a significant wedding anniversary approaches, some early experiences came to mind:

The best piece of advice my wife's minister gave to us was this: don't 'take turns' with housekeeping jobs. If you see a job, do it. Volunteer rather than be asked.

Our wedding was in a lower north shore church, which will remain nameless, but it was the church that my wife's family had used for 'hatch, match and dispatch' jobs for some generations.

We got on well with the rector, so started attending once married, as we lived nearby.

Our experience was not good. After our first evening service we were swamped! It's important to be welcomed, but this was overwhelming. It was as though we were the first newcomers of a generation!

Worse was to come: the reaction to my occupation was horrible. That I was asked so early in our acquaintance was bad enough, but when I said I was a barista, it was evidently misunderstood, and people started talking about legal practice, and quite fawning over me. Both of us were disgusted that a group of Christians would behave this way.

Needless to say, we did not return, but returned instead to my wife's 'home' church Holy Trinity Mowbray,  now part of LCM churches. A delightful small church with warm friends and very including community. More churches should learn from it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Land

Our sermon on Sunday on Deuteronomy touched on issues of land and displacement, with Israel's approach to its promise.

John went on to draw a parallel with Australian aborigines and their 'land rights', mentioning the anachronistic term terra nullius.

Israel and the land is not aboriginal Australians and the land, as we are one nation and occupy, according to our law, one land in an orderly and equitable manner. There is no demarcation beyond this, and to think that there is or maybe, or needs to be is to misconstrue both history and the unity of Australia, and to give the past what it doesn't have: the present.

It risks introducing an apartheid: two communities in the one country with different laws, rights and benefits. That's the start of tribalism, which under previous governments has greased the slope of disadvantage, instead of flattening it.

The problems of aboriginal Australians need to be addressed, and one step in that direction is a frank confrontation with the fruits of the ancient pagan culture of bloodshed and exploitation of women and children that was noted by the first Europeans who came here (I avoid the other anachronism 'invaded', as well).

Dragged back to the past

I was recently in Ashfield, NSW on business: there are a few government departments with offices there where I had meeetings.

Ashfield has many faded memories for me. I attended Ashfield Presbyterian Church while Peter Hastie was its minister (I'd visited both the local Anglican and Baptist churches, but passed them by).

Peter was a little too Presbyterian for me, but I found him sharply stimulating, godly and supportive in every way. He encouraged me to convene a prayer meeting that we held before our main Sunday service. It was attended by a few regulars, including Peter himself from time to time; but I knew he would be flat out most mornings getting the service organised.

I used to wonder, from the ignorance of singleness, why few of the elders or others holding office attended the prayer meeting. Of course, now that I too have a family, I realise just how busy Sunday mornings are before church. No leisurely rise, listen to ABC FM or a CD, have a quiet breakfast, then walk to church now!

Over the few years I was part of that church I was involved in some very congenial home groups. One was hosted by a pair of elderly sisters (if you frequented the church in decades past you'd probably know them), who were generous of spirit and warm company for our small study group. I used to routinely give a lift to a friend from when we were both at Randwick Presbyterian church; she was living locally while doing a BA at Sydney University.

During my time there we undertook some exciting property work to improve our buildings. I think we used the architects Noel Bell and Ridley Smith. I had a role on the Committee of Management during this period that I found both worthwhile and demanding: but more my style than the heights of eldership!

The big picture

This is the title of a chapter in a small book I wrote to provide new Christians with a map to reading the Bible.

It sets out the basic flow of God's unfolding relationship with his creation that the Bible traverses.

I foreshadowed this in a previous post.

The very abbreviated form is below, in 7 themes:

1. Creation: Genesis 1
2. Corruption: Genesis 3
3. Catastrophe: Genesis 7
4. Confusion: Genesis 11
5. Covenant: Genesis 17 and this can extend to Deuteronomy-Joshua
6. Crucifixion: Luke 23...John 20
7. Culmination: Revelation 21.

Mostly in Genesis, but this frames the entire congress between God and people.

Later I'll post on my suggested introduction to reading the Bible: which books in which order.

Despite most contemporary opinion I'd always advise starting with Genesis. Not only does it set the scene and define the concerns of the Bible, but its simply a fabulous read. One of the great 'sagas' of world literature.

One just has to get past the pagan preoccupations of our culture (and its influence on modern theology) and appreciate that it is written in concrete terms, not mythic ones. It really happened, it is therefore, really important.

[BTW my seven Cs is based on the framework presented at First Baptist Church in Weymouth Mass. in the USA...I don't necessarily endorse all or any of that church's views.]

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Music and church

To some extent its a question of talent, but most music produced by Christians is so derivative. When I was younger (and maybe its the same today for those who are younger), I was enthused by bands that either used the idioms of the day, or, as Christians, sought a general audience. A uni friend of mine (he was my best man at my wedding too) was in a band called After Forever: they liked Deep Purple; a few years on there was a band from Bankstown (south-west Sydney as we say these days), Surprise Surprise, who were great exponents of the former; a 'Christian ska' band. I heard them at Thornleigh Church of Christ before it went off the rails. The only representative of the latter I am aware of is Avion, which was one-hit wonder; but I did like that song (I've heard rumours that Midnight Oil members had some Christian influences too).

What's happening these days? Don't know. I am more interested in Arvo Part's music than the diversions of pop, although some of it is catchy; but that's all. But where are our Bach's, who are redefining music? Do we aspire to excellence in church music, or is near enough good enough?

In my church we are concerned to develop people into ministry; usually this is the ministry of the Word, but there's a bigger range than that, and music is part of it and an important part, both to treasure our heritage and to serve our and future generations. At St James, King Street, which I attended for a few years, there was an organ scholar position, maybe there still is, and a choir that did fabulous work (until the Rector had a tiff with them and it all got upset); but I don't think that this is a priority in most churches, sadly. Luther would have been appalled.

Friday, February 6, 2015

House parties

I think I'm past house parties, unless they have the character of a conference, with decent accommodation, food and program that steers away from evangelical commonplaces.

It amazes me that Christians will happily spend the right $ to go to a work-related conference, to trip overseas on research (for their business or profession), and to holiday in pleasant surroundings, but seem to be reluctant to pay for a church sponsored weekend away in decent accommodation.

The church my family attended about 5 years ago went against the grain. For a men's retreat we booked accommodation and conference facilities at a modest hotel: the Carrington in Katoomba. One could have a single room with en suite (this one did), there was room service, good dining and interesting surroundings. Relaxed conversation in the bar of an evening was a plus.

As I recall, I'd under clothed for a cold snap and had to buy a sleeveless jacket at Mountain Designs, on sale, I'm happy to say; returning to the hotel, I happened by a second hand book shop where I bought copies of the New English Bible, Conzelmann's outline of NT theology, and, just to keep my hand in, Herbert Simon's Administrative Behaviour, a classic of organisation studies.

In earlier years I went to the conference centre at Stanwell Tops which had a quite good 'motel' style facility. This was a house party for young adults. In fact, I met my first 'proper' girl friend there (which was both good and bad...probably as it is for many).

That house party was fairly low key, absent the hype and excitement (over-excitement) of 'camps' I'd been on in younger years, and gave the opportunity for engagement of ideas. When one is younger, one is too tabula rasa for that. I blame skinny Sunday School teaching!

As I look back, the one thing that irked me about 'camps' was that the dining was almost exactly like that I experienced in an Army training camp (quality, distribution method, noise), but no pimply Second Lieutenants strutting around like over-cooked parking police. I much prefer waiters to bring me my food. I must say, it was much nicer at Victoria Barracks in the officers' mess.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Read fast, read normally.

We've started a sermon series on Deuteronomy and I thought it useful to read along. But, rather than reading the section of the week's topic, I read fast. I read as much as I can in a sitting, to get the whole book done quickly; but not sloppily!

For most of my Christian life, the general encouragement to read the Bible was about reading it in small bits: devotionally, or sometimes as a study for small groups. But what else does one read this way? A letter from a friend a paragraph a day? No.

So, I read fast: for small books, the whole book at a sitting. One sees the shape of the text, its themes and argument much better this way; and one also gets closer, I think, to the author as a person.

It is good to read in small slices; but also good to read 'normally' in big chunks and quick tempo.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Christ Church St Lawrence

I thought I might show images of churches that I'd attended, with some comments on my experience there. Then, I thought...this is a big project, and I've no photos of any of them; but hold on. Google does! So here goes.

I joined this congregation when living briefly in Surry Hills in Sydney. My then recently ex and then soon to be current girl friend was concerned that I was not part of a Christian community. This was near by, so I headed along one cold winter's afternoon for evensong.
I was hooked.
I loved the liturgy and the community, and made some treasured friends.
I also loved being in a building that had been the place of Christians from the early days of Sydney, and as a bonus, one that had been designed by Blackett.

I checked UTube, and found some CCSL contributions: Easter and Sunday. Both quite moving for me in a very good way.


One of the topics at the small group ministry meeting was 'worship' in small groups. As if meeting in Christ's name, praying together, reading and discussing and being affected by his word is not worship!

When we meet together, we do so as Paul sets out in 1 Corinthians 14:26, to 'edify' each other; and not 'worship' as a separate emotionalised experience transmuted into Hollywood's shallow language: that's what the Hillsong use seems to be. Worship is different, and far deeper; Paul again: Romans 12:1; it is the presentation of our bodies (our selves?) as a living sacrifice. That's worship!

Nevertheless, we were given a list of links for 'worship' resources. Maybe they mean praise, teaching or devotional resources?

Monday, February 2, 2015

It is well with my soul

On Sunday in our small group ministry coordination meeting (the convener calls it 'leaders' meeting, but I loathe that term in a church setting) the pastor serving gave us a 'guided meditation'. It was based on Hillsong's Oceans (Where Feet May Fail).

I'm not often lost for words, but I was gobsmacked into silence by the song's trite manufactured sentiment against the elevated task it was put to.

Just consider these lines:
My soul will rest in your embrace
For I am yours and you are mine
My soul will rest in your embrace
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide.
Compare them to these:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,a
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Get past the differences in language, to ponder distance they are apart ("I am yours and you are mine" what is that...Taylor Swift?). Admittedly, to the extent that its a matter of taste, you might prefer the former passage, but that in itself would be a worry. It reads like a song cranked out in the Brill Building just after a big lunch; not one sweated out in life, which the latter is, penned by Horatio Spafford after huge personal loss. They are from the hymn It is Well with My Soul. A hymn that has brought be to tears.

But that wasn't the half of it!

We were invited, as we were listening to the song (pointlessly manipulative in the trivial artless repetition that padded it out in true Hillsong style) to consider "what borders do we put on our trust in God?"

A fair question in a way, but, in my view, in a kiddie way. Christianity has an immense heritage of spirituality which this song, and the 'reflective' question are far from.

It's like walking past Mark Zeltser to hear a tin ear merchant play Chopsticks!

But, is it a matter of personal aesthetic here? Maybe, but guard against your personal aesthetic cutting you off from the great traditions of Christians over centuries. You are not better than them.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Lead me?

I was going to do some posts on this blog on 'leadership' in the church, but as I scrolled down, I came to the only comment, and instead re-present it:

Interesting that just before this passage, Paul writes "So then let no one boast in men".
I don't see the concept of 'leadership' as used these days in Paul's passage. 'Leadership' is very much not of the church of God. Sure there are teachers, pastors, elders, servants, administrators, ministers...all are ministers in some way. But none would be characterised as 'leaders'. Archons in that day.
It is concerning that the language of the 1980s in evangelical churches, which emphasised ministry: very inclusive, accessible, and directly connected to Christ's mission, has morphed into a worldly concept of 'leadership' that implies, if not promotes, separation, division, and worldly prestige. It also leads to people being passivated and not participating in church life. After all, they have a 'leader' (a 'leader' other than Christ...who calls himself a servant).
Indeed, even in business, where 'leaders' are created by a set of contractual relationships, scholars such as Henry Minzberg say there is too much leadership, and not enough "communityship" (Google it). In the church above all we are about 'communityship' and participation through mutual ministry. Let's reflect that in our language and eschew the puffed up distortion that the world's thinking encourages "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God".
This lines up nicely with a rebuke for those who want to mimic an American 'leadership' style in the HBR article "The Authenticity Paradox" (I'm not sure if the link is permanent). I'm glad none of the ministers at my church fall into this trap: all are authentic in a very Australian way...mimicking no one.