Belinda Groves – 13 August 2017

Dear Friends      

During this year we are undertaking a review of our church. Not because we are unhappy with our current ministries or ethos, but because, from time to time, it is important to think – and invite the Spirit of God to illuminate our thinking -about the kind of community that God calls us to be. The deacons have also recommended this review to increase ownership of the church’s strategy and to tackle questions of what it means to be the church in a changing and challenging society.

The first stage of the review has been ‘input’ from a variety of sources:

Firstly, Keith Blackburn and John Clark led several workshops, here at church and in small groups, helping people to understand the profile of our church provided by the National Church Life Survey.

Secondly, we have heard ‘stories’ from people who are part of our church, specifically stories about what it was that drew them to this community, has enriched their faith during their time here and what they hope to see happen in our future.

And there have been the workshops. Unfortunately, one of these has had to be delayed for early in September, but the two that we have had have been very stimulating. Anne and Richard Mallaby took us back to the 10 signposts from Diana Butler Bass’s book, Christianity for the Rest of Us that we explored in our sermons at the beginning of year, and encouraged us to ask the question: which of these ‘signposts’ or spiritual disciplines will best guide us, best match our identity and best meet our needs? And, last Sunday, Scott Higgins came and talked about three models for being faithful Christians in a changing and a challenging society, how we affirm diversity in our community, while freeing our members to speak and act for justice, and how we might preserve authentic faith in the future.

And all of us bring our own life experiences and reflections and reading and thinking. These, too, are part of our gathered reflections.

This weekend ‘Ears to Hear’ marks the end of the input phase and the beginning of the ‘reflection’ phase; where we consider our identity as a community of faith and how that shapes our mission, and we have been delighted to have the skills of Ann Lock helping us bring our reflections together this weekend.

The reflection phase is not over! During the next week, I will be preparing a summary of thinking and reflections to date, and on Sunday, 10th September (‘Signpost Sunday’ I’m calling it!) you are all invited to help ‘draft’ – from our reflections this weekend and our ongoing prayers – a set of goals that affirms who we are as a church and where God is calling us to go in the future.

Guide us, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrims through this barren and blessed land.

Belinda

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John Morrison – 6 August 2017

Last Sunday afternoon we had the first workshop of the input phase of our Church Review. Richard & Anne Mallaby led us in a creative exploration of the theme Deepening our Spirituality as a Church. The session included input from them, personal reflection on various items of art and symbolism, and group work. The 10 signposts of renewal in Christianity for the Rest of Us, which we recently studied, provided a useful framework.

During the report-back from groups, there was an emphasis on the significance for our church of hospitality, justice and discernment. Copies of the comments are available from Belinda.

The artwork that grabbed my attention and on which I mainly reflected was this one. My first thought was that it looked like a church, but one raised on a pedestal. It symbolised for me a church that had got it wrong by not being grounded in the way a Christian community ought to be.

However, someone else in my group thought that the pillars were actually like legs and that there were feet at the base. As such, the much more positive symbolism is of a going church, one on the move.

The item also reminded me of structures I had seen in rural parts of Galicia, Spain. When I first saw them, I thought they were some sort of religious buildings. Though usually adorned with Christian symbols, they are actually granaries, called horreos, mainly for storing corn. The sculpture prompted reflection for me about the church as a storehouse of blessings to be shared with others in times of need.

After our session, Anne told me about the artist’s concept. It represents a reliquary, which is a container for some venerated relic such as a bone or some other item supposedly connected with a particular saint. We saw many of these as well in churches and museums in Spain and other parts of Europe, some of which were quite gruesome and bizarre.

Whereas such reliquaries often have a small window through which to view the relic, the work Anne displayed had a mirror instead. Looking into the mirror, one doesn’t see a relic of a dead saint but is prompted to reflect on the living person outside the structure. Am I a saint? Scripture applies the term to all Christians, who are holy ones in the sense of being set apart for God and God’s service.

That sculpture certainly made me think, and it provides a metaphor of the church for me in a number of ways. How about you? Is there some photograph, poem, painting or sculpture which symbolises for you where our church is at or where it ought to be going? If so, please pass it onto Belinda for possible inclusion in our “Ears to Hear” reflection weekend on 11-13th August.

John

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Belinda Groves – 30 July 2017

Dear Friends

A few Wednesdays ago, I had another invitation to be ‘Belinda the Baptist bishop’ and join the heads of churches in Canberra for lunch at the Catholic Archbishop’s residence at Regatta Point. As we sat down to eat, the Archbishop handed out sheets detailing the declining numbers of people affiliated with each denomination. “I hope this doesn’t put you off your lunch,” he said!

It is sobering to look at the decline in church affiliation in Australia. Over the last fortnight several of our small groups have looked at an article by next week’s preacher, Rev Scott Higgins, in which he says, “It is impossible to speak of the ‘average Australian’ when it comes to religion. We live in an Australia in which there seem to be at least three distinct groups: those for whom religion is an important part of their daily living; those who have a sense of connection to religion and are open to religious/spiritual experience, but for whom it remains somewhat removed from daily living; and those for whom religion has no part at all in their lives.”

For those for whom religion is an important part of daily living it is disorienting to think that we are no longer at the centre of Australian life. For some this has led to heightened anxiety over being criticised in the media. (I am thinking of the recent responses from some Christian commentators that Julia Baird’s report on how intimate partner violence can be concealed and enabled by Christian communities unfairly targeted the church (mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-18/domestic-violence-church-submit-to-husbands/8652028).  It has also focused the concerns of other Christian on opposing the growing acceptance of other forms of sexuality in our society.

And yet – going back to lunch with the Archbishop – what is it that actually feeds and sustains us as a Christian community? Is it that we hold the dominant cultural and political position within our society? Or is it that we want to take living as Christians seriously? That we find life and meaning in the spiritual disciplines that we explored at the beginning of the year and that Anne and Richard will touch on again today; discernment, hospitality, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, theological reflection and beauty?

I think it’s the latter, and I share Scott’s view that we might see the decline of religion as an opportunity – not as a threat. That, to paraphrase Scott, in leaving behind Christendom we might live more faithfully the reality that God reigns in our lives; loving our enemies, laying down our lives for each other, divesting ourselves of wealth, valuing inclusive community over the exclusivity of family boundaries, making peace with those who have offended or wronged us, abandoning revenge, value the interests of others before our own, seeking justice for the exploited and the op-pressed and sharing the good news of the reign of God.

Belinda

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John Morrison – 23 July 2017

Dear Friends

In his book “Better Together”, Rick Warren says: “God intended our prayer to be a priority, not a postscript. In many churches and small groups, prayer is like the singing of the national anthem at a sporting event: we wouldn’t dream of starting without it, but it has little relevance to the main event.” As he points out, this contrasts sharply with the practice of the early Christians, who “all met together continually for prayer” (Acts 1:14). And Paul instructed Christians at Colossae to “devote themselves to prayer” (Col. 4:2).

However, Warren admits, and our own experience confirms, that being devoted to prayer and learning to pray is not easy. Even Jesus’ first disciples sensed their own inadequacy in this area and went to Jesus with the request “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Lk. 11:1) In response, Jesus gave them the words of the prayer we usually call the Lord’s Prayer.

I don’t believe Jesus’ intention was to simply give them a set of words to be used as a fixed liturgy. Jesus even warned them about “vain repetition” (Mt. 6:7). While it is certainly beneficial to thoughtfully pray the prayer together during our gatherings, using it as a model prayer is even more so. Jesus gave the prayer to his disciples as a model for their prayers and to help them with their desire to learn how to pray.

Martin Luther used and advocated the use of the Lord’s Prayer in this way. We know this from an illuminating letter he wrote to Peter Beskendorf, his barber, after he asked Luther for a simple way to pray. Peter was a devout though flawed man. While intoxicated at a family meal, he stabbed his son-in-law to death. Partly through Luther’s intervention Peter was exiled rather than executed, but endured difficult final years. However, he took with him into exile Luther’s letter with its rich and practical guidelines for prayer.

As a part of twice-daily prayer, Luther advised praying each petition of the Lord’s Prayer, paraphrasing and personalising each with one’s own needs and concerns. Luther gave examples but emphasised that his actual words shouldn’t be recited, because that would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Luther says that he himself would not paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer the same way on each occasion. “I do not bind myself to such words or syllables, but say my prayers in one fashion today, in another tomorrow, depending on my mood and feeling.”

Belinda and I are currently preaching a series on the Lord’s Prayer in the hope that together we may all learn more about prayer and its practice. The series, commenced last week, will straddle the special services and workshops where guest speakers will be contributing to our Church Review. The timing is quite intentional. We are convinced of the need for the Review to be surrounded and accompanied by prayer.

J.I Packer and Carolyn Nystrom have written a book on prayer entitled “Finding Our Way through Duty to Delight”. That expresses my desire for myself, and for you, in relation to prayer. Lord, teach us how to pray.

John

 

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Belinda Groves – 16 July 2017

Dear Friends

This week I’ve been reading a little book called Following Jesus: Finding and Fostering Hope on a Cosmic Scale. The back jacket promises that this is a book you could place in the hands of a friend with no previous knowledge of Jesus – that it uses fresh, clarifying images to talk about God – and so far it has been pretty good. I’d recommend it, too.

As I am preaching on prayer today (and planning to carry the themes of the Lord’s Prayer through the next few weeks, interspersing them with the speakers that are part of the church review) I wanted to invite any of you who wished to come – regularly or just occasionally – to the Wednesday group meeting 8:30-9:30am in the church. (Yes, I know it looks cold, but the prayer does fire us up!)

And I appreciated the very practical, down-to-earth advice that Allan Demond gives in the book about praying with others.

Learn to pray aloud with others. This is challenging for some because it feels like public speaking, but if you persevere you will soon find it easier. You can start by simply praying a short sentence or just a few words. Remember that Jesus did not appreciate longwinded show-off prayers. Talk to God, not to the people in the room, and take all the time you need to get your thoughts out…
If you need inspiration and a prompt, use your Bible. Chose a passage that speaks to you, keep it open in front of you and pray those ideas. You might simply pray, ‘Lord help me to do what this verse says’ and read the verse. It is important to learn to pray with other because… listening to the prayers of faith-filled people will embolden you….[and] your faith will be a gift to them.

A lot of what he says I’ve found to be true in the practice of our group.

Now it would be wonderful to have more people come on Wednesday mornings, but Allan Demond makes another practical; suggestion that some of you in this church might like to take up.

Invite the prayers of other people even when you cannot assemble to pray. When distance and diaries make face-to-face meetings impossible, we can still be with each other in spirit.

Please feel welcome to come on a Wednesday, but if you would like to covenant to pray that morning, from 8:30-9:30am, it would also be wonderful to have you join us in this way.

Teach us to pray, the disciples, asked and that is our request, too.

Belinda

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9 July 2017 – John Morrison

Today is the culmination of NAIDOC Week (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee), held in July each year to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Last Sunday night at Prayers for Peace at Irene’s Place, Jeanette Mathews facilitated prayer for our indigenous people. So I thought today I’d share some of the information and prayer points from that night and invite your prayers and prayerful action too.

Here are 4 things we can learn (and pray about) from indigenous cultures1.

  1. The importance of care for the environment.

By incorporating indigenous views of the land into the way we care for the environment, we can be better stewards of the land.

  1. Preservation of language and history.

The NAIDOC theme this year is “Our Languages Matter”. It seeks to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land, water, history and spirituality through story and song.

Some 250 distinct indigenous language groups covered the continent in the late 18th C and many of these had several dialects. Today only about 120 of these languages are still spoken and much work is being done to preserve them and recover others.

  1. The value of community.

Indigenous cultures teach us the importance of remembering where we have come from and being connected to our local communities.

  1. Knowledge of traditional medicine and agricultural practices.

This traditional knowledge is an invaluable resource.

The Federal Government’s “Close the Gap” Report released each February highlights the following gaps.  A Just Cause (an arm of Australian Baptist Ministries) provides the following information. Its website has related prayers2.

  • Indigenous child mortality rates are double those of non-indigenous Australians.
  • Indigenous life-expectancy is 10 years lower than non-indigenous Australians.
  • Only 60% of indigenous students stay to Year 12, compared to 85% of non-indigenous Australians.
  • Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised for family-related assault than non-indigenous women.
  • Only 48% of indigenous people of workforce age are employed. compared to 72% of non-indigenous people.

These gaps can be seen as the legacies of dispossession and marginalisation.

John

  1. Ashleigh Green, 18 Dec. 2012,australiancatholics.com.au
  2. ajustcause.com.au

 

 

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Belinda Groves – 2 July 2017

I am torn this morning between continuing my travelogue (I think we were up to Paris) or continuing the conversation – from last Sunday – about whether Canberra Baptist Church is an evangelical faith community.

It is an interesting question!

I think it is safe to assume most us would not identify as Evangelical Christians in the political arena – particularly as the term is defined in America.

Many of us have, however, grown up in churches that belonged squarely to the new Evangelical consensus of the latter twentieth century, conservative Evangelicalism.

This movement traced its origins to the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries and maintained conservative Protestant teaching, but sought to be more culturally attuned than fundamentalism. Its defining characteristics were an emphasis on conversion, biblical authority, substitutionary atonement (that Christ died as a substitute for sinful human beings by taking on himself the punishment for sin) and activism.

Over the years, however, many less conservative Evangelicals – and this is where I trace my own faith journey – have moved away from this mainstream consensus to varying degrees.

I understand conversion as the ongoing work of God within our lives, as unique to each person as each person is unique. I hold firmly to a high regard for Scripture; to the authority of this enduring testimony of God’s love for our world. I continue to wrestle with the meaning of the cross – discovering in Jesus’s death and resurrection a promise that nothing can defeat God’s love, and a path for disciples of that love. Finally, I continue to embrace activism – the understanding that I am part of the work, the mission of God.

On Easter Sunday morning, we visited Notre-Dame Cathedral. (So I also get to continue the travelogue!) We joined thousands of tourists and worshippers and were welcomed by the priest, “Today we have come, people from many different places, to celebrate together the resurrection of our Lord!” It was a powerful moment, and we stopped – as a family – and prayed; thanking God for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, for the ongoing transforming power of that euangelion, that good news, in our lives and in our world.

When I look at our National Church Life Survey results, I see a group of people committed to action, to living their lives according to that euangelion – to loving neighbours and to caring about the world that God loves. I believe we are evangelical community.

And I think that that speaks louder than words – but, as 1 Peter 3 says, we should “be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you.”

So, a challenge for all of us: are we ready, do we have the words, to explain the hope we are living.

Belinda

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John Morrison – 25 June 2017

Back in November, we participated in the 2016 National Church Life Survey. 122 youth/adult surveys and 17 child surveys (8-14yrs old) were submitted. Results are now out and they provide data and feedback that will be very useful as we evaluate and strategise. Here is just a sample of interesting information from the youth/adult surveys.

58% female and 42% male.

The average age of people is 60 years.

It was 56 in 2006, 57 in 2009, 61 in 2011.

78% were born in Aust. & 23% overseas. 10% speak a language other than English at home. By comparison, 15% of our local neighbourhood (2km radius) were born in non-English speaking countries according to the 2011 National Census.

Here’s what respondents value about our church. (They could tick 3 of 13.)
61% our wider community care/justice.
45% sermons, preaching or teaching.
37% practical care in times of need.
32% openness to social/cultural diversity.

Over 25 years of research, NCLS has identified 9 core qualities of church vitality. Here is our “Circle of Strengths”. Each quality has a score from 1 to 10, 5 being the average of all participating Australian churches.

Service – 8.1
Vision – 6.6
Leadershsip culture – 4.8
Innovation – 4.8
Worship – 4.4
Belonging – 3.3
Faith sharing – 2.8
Inclusion – 2.5
Faith – 2.4 

Here are preferred priorities (could tick 3 of 14) for this year.
43% worship services that are nurturing.
40% supporting social action and aid.
37% sense of community.
30% ministry to children and youth.
29% clear vision of the future.

% who started attending in the previous 5 years has been dropping – 35 (2006), 25 (2009), 17 (2000) 12 (2016).

% who always/usually experience inspiration during services has jumped to 62% from a plateau of 52%.

88% agree leaders take into account the ideas of people to a great or some extent.

Care needs to be exercised in interpreting these summary figures as there is a lot else to unpack. That’s why we have 2 workshops today at 10.30am and 12.00. These are also an important part of the input phase of our current review and planning process. We encourage your participation today and in the other special events planned as part of the review.

John Morrison

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Belinda Groves – 18 June 2017

Our church review is underway and as we begin by evaluating what we are doing in ministry or could be doing, the deacons have asked some people to share a story – either about what they appreciate about CBC or something they have seen elsewhere which could work here. Janelle Lamont was the first to share last weekend – but as some of us missed it – here is her story!

Belinda

When someone asks me where I go to church, I start by describing its location. Then I describe it like this…. “When you walk into the church building it is like stepping back in time… but then you are brought right back to the present with the message.”

Richard and I started coming to worship here in late 2004, but I had had several earlier contacts with people from Canberra Baptist Church at Ladies Meetings, Baptists Today and Sunday@Seven. To have a place to discuss and to hear others who have spent time and energy wrestling with how our Christian faith could apply and be relevant to our world was very significant to me.

So here are the things that I value about this church:

FREEDOM: freedom to think, to discuss, to not have answers, to have doubts, to ask questions, to wrestle together with issues that could divide. To live with grey issues – I don’t mean hair colour- although that mostly brings wisdom, in my experience! I mean those issues that haven’t got a neat and tidy traditional “Christian” answer. To look afresh and unpack what I was taught as a child. To have the Bible opened up in new ways.

PREACHING and WORSHIP: Worship here is thoughtful, ordered, meaningful, contemplative and relevant. Music enhances the worship with well-chosen hymns and contemporary songs. My brother described it as “No wasted words”. I agree.

 THE WELCOME: Both Linley and Merilyn were very significant in helping us feel welcome here and I am grateful to them for their consistency in this area. I am sure we aren’t the only ones who have experienced their genuine and caring welcome. I encourage all of us to be welcomers – not just to join the roster – but for all of us to look out for newcomers and people on their own. It makes such a difference to newcomers to feel like they matter.

AND THE WELCOME CONTINUES: Thirteen years on, we can say we feel part of this church. We are grateful for this fellowship, for this church community, for people who inspire us to live a life that Jesus would want us to live.

To feel welcome; to worship in a thoughtful, ordered and meaningful way; and to join others in the faith journey who are willing to question, think through issues, see social justice as important and encourage a faith that holds freedom and love as essential. I am proud and grateful to be part of this church!

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John Morrison – 11 June 2017

“Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the Lord is one.” (Deut. 6:4) Thus begins the Jewish “Shema”, so-called because the first word is “sh’ma” in Hebrew.

This ancient statement was foundational for the Israelites as they coalesced into a nation following the Exodus from Egypt, and it remains the core belief of Judaism. Belief in one God is also at the heart of the world’s two other major monotheistic religions, Islam and Christianity.

For Christians, who affirm the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, this raises many issues. For example, how can God send Jesus to Earth and in what sense is Jesus Emmanuel (God with us)? If God is one, how can the Father speak from Heaven at Jesus’ baptism and how can the Spirit alight on him like a dove? What does it mean for Jesus to pray to his Father? In what sense did God forsake Jesus at his crucifixion? Was Jesus’ ascension in order to reunite with the Father?

In grappling with such questions, the early Church developed the doctrine of the Trinity – that God is 3 in 1. While the word Trinity is not used in the Bible, the concept encapsulates the teaching of Jesus and Scripture in relation to the Godhead. The precise formulation of the doctrine was hotly debated for centuries. The Athanasian Creed is one of the statements that arose from that process.

It stated: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son; and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. Although you might think that pretty well sums it up, the Creed continues with some 20 or more sentences on the Trinity.

Many analogies have been used in efforts to explain the Trinity, such as a 3-leaf clover; the 3 parts of a finger or an egg; earth, sea and sky; 3 primary colours; 3 forms of water; child, adult, elder; seed, plant, fruit. Ultimately, however, such analogies break down and we are left with the profound mystery of a God who is beyond our finite fathoming.

While also having their limitations, I find it helpful to reflect on other ways of describing God apart from Father, Son and Holy Spirit, such as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; God who Creates, God who Saves, God who Guides; God beyond us, God with us, God within us; Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver; Source of Being, Incarnate Word, Holy Wisdom.

Today is Trinity Sunday when we are reminded of the immensity, majesty and mystery of God. Today’s services are not the time to exhaustively catalogue the historical disputes or to pedantically attempt to define the indefinable. They are a time to experience something of the fullness of God’s reality and to come before God in amazed worship.

Welcome to worship on this Trinity Sunday.

John

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