Belinda Groves – 15 October 2017

I am not entirely sure where the idea for next Sunday’s Longest Morning Tea Table came from. Perhaps – like a good morning tea with plates of scones and biscuits and slices and savouries – it was a combination of various things.

It was many months ago that I was driving down Limestone Avenue past the Church of Christ and saw on their noticeboard (there’s always some gold on their noticeboard), “Rather than building higher fences, let’s build longer tables.” The phrase could refer to several areas of our lives: To our refugee policy where all our energy seems directed towards deterrents rather than compassion and creative – life giving – solutions. To the promises at the time of the incoming US president! And to our sometimes Pharisaical approach as Christians to sharing the gospel.

How could we move, I wondered, to a place of graceful presence; where we could show real hospitality to others, and where we could share confidently the treasures of our faith because our listeners would know that we would listen to them with equal respect? In other words, how could we continue building real and deep friendships with others?

Then sometime after that drive down Limestone someone told me about a stay they’d had in a small country town, and how the local church had been hosting a morning tea to which everyone and anyone was invited.

And so I started thinking about the possibilities for us and, in the process, looking online for mentions of long tables and morning teas, and I discovered that it is ‘a thing’!

In some parts of the world it is simply about breaking records, but in others – including South Australia – long table events raise money for medical research. In Devon, in the UK, they hold a longest table in memory of a local restaurateur who had an enduring belief that sharing food and wine with family and friends – and new friends – is what makes life worthwhile. In the US, many cities hold longest table dinners to raise funds for community organisations or to build community. As the coordinators of The Longest Table Dayton, Ohio, write, their table was “packed with strangers who wanted to break bread with their neighbours and meet someone new…to re-think their assumptions about others….”

As we prepare for our Longest Morning Tea Table, can I ask you to bring a plate to share, but far more importantly, can I ask you to come wanting to break bread, wanting to share yourself and in so doing, find new companions.

Belinda

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John Morrison – 8 October 2017

It’s good to be back with you after 7 weeks in the UK. Even though we attended many church services while we were away (3 each day during our week on Lindisfarne Island!), there was something very special about worshiping with you again at Canberra Baps last Sunday.

The very familiar words of one of the hymns resonated with new significance in view of the walks we did in Scotland, England and Wales.

We are pilgrims on a journey
    and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
    walk the mile and bear the load…
I will weep when you are weeping;
    when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
    till we’ve seen this journey through.

As I sang those words, they reminded me not just of our recent walks but also of our life-long commitments to each other. But the words were written, of course, with a much broader context in mind – our relationships with one another in the family of God. What a beautiful, and challenging, expression of those relationships.

Kristine and I witnessed an incident during our time in London which, it occurred to me, was an allegory of the opposite. On the day of the match, I managed to get two of the last of the 60,000 tickets to see Arsenal and West Bromich Albion play at Emirates Stadium. Towards the end of the game, which Arsenal won 2-0, a heated argument broke out right in front of us between two men who were both West Brom fans. It began when one man took exception to the other’s negative comments about a poor passage of play from their team. The best I could tell from their heavily-accented shouting over the top of each other, the first man went on to claim that the team would never get anywhere with their current coach and style of play while the other accused him of being a traitor (and other derogatory terms I won’t repeat here).

It seemed strange to me that they were both fanatical supporters of the same team and yet were so vehemently attacking one another. As an observer, I thought if they just listened to each other they would probably find there was much more on which they agreed than differed.

Allegorical? Unfortunately, it can be like that in churches sometimes. Equally devoted supporters with different views on some aspects can become bitter opponents if they fail to listen with grace. I hasten to add, and I’m glad to say, that it’s not an allegory of what I’ve witnessed at our church. In fact, quite the opposite.

I was disappointed to miss the Ears to Hear Reflection Weekend and Signpost Sunday due to our trip. I’ve been delighted, however, to hear very positive reports of those times of sharing and reflection. I’m impressed with the draft document that has resulted from the process so far and look forward to the refining and adoption of our goals towards the end of this year.

Remember: “Companions on the road”.

John

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Belinda Groves – 1 October 2017

Dear Friends

As I was reflecting on our reading from Matthew this week I was thinking about how sensitive and politically charged two simple words – ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ – have become. For instance, if I was to preach this morning about the son who says ‘No’, but then does the will of his father, or the son who says ‘Yes’, but doesn’t, would too much be read into it? Or if we were to read The Message version of the Lord’s Prayer which ends with “You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes” would people object? And then I started to think about Matthew 5:37, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one…” which seems to be saying that clear and reliable communication is the mark of a Christian (and that, irrespective of how we vote, marking both boxes on the postal survey is not!)

But today’s reading is less about what we say and more about the testimony of our lives. Are we just saying ‘Yes’ to God or are we living a ‘Yes’ (and all that that might entail)? And, the gospel dares to suggest, even some who say ‘No’ to God might end up living the truth of ‘Yes’.

So, in that spirit, in the spirit of living a ‘Yes’ to God’s kingdom and the way of righteousness, can I share with you this poem by Edwina Gateley.

Called to Say Yes

We are called to say yes.
That the kingdom might break through
To renew and to transform
Our dark and groping world.

We stutter and we stammer
To the lone God who calls
And pleads a New Jerusalem
In the bloodied Sinai Straights.

We are called to say yes
That honeysuckle may twine
And twist its smelling leaves
Over the graves of nuclear arms.

We are called to say yes
That children might play
On the soil of Vietnam where the tanks
Belched blood and death.

We are called to say yes
That black may sing with white
And pledge peace and healing
For the hatred of the past.

We are called to say yes
So that nations might gather
And dance one great movement
For the joy of humankind.

We are called to say yes
So that rich and poor embrace
And become equal in their poverty
Through the silent tears that fall.

We are called to say yes
That the whisper of our God
Might be heard through our sirens
And the screams of our bombs.

We are called to say yes
To a God who still holds fast
To the vision of the Kingdom
For a trembling world of pain.

We are called to say yes
To this God who reaches out
And asks us to share
His crazy dream of love.

 

   Belinda

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Belinda Groves – 24 September 2017

One of the places I turn to for insight and devotional reflection is the website of Suzanne Guthrie, an American Episcopal priest, and she had this to say about this story in Matthew 20:1-16.

I love this hopeful story, although I understand the complaint of the workers bearing the burden of the day in the scorching heat. On the one hand, I can feel resentful of God’s generosity from the point of view of my long and difficult service to the church (I am like the older brother of the prodigal son.) But because my love is always wanting, and because I feel like a perpetual beginner in faith, and because I’ve messed up so many times, the wages of grace collected by those hired at the setting of the sun is good news indeed.

And Suzanne goes on to describe a funeral she did for a man called Peter.

“Peter was a low-down, goddamn, selfish son-of-a-bitch,” I said from the pulpit. The congregation sucked all the air out the church. Then, slowly, a titter. Then an out-breath of relief. Then laughter. I was telling the truth.

“Peter had said, ‘You’ll get me into that church over my dead body!’ Well, [here we are.] Thus began the funeral homily for Peter.

 …When I first met Peter, he was smashing a low brick wall in front of the cottage he shared with his wife Sheila. “Oh, he knocks it down and then he builds it up. It’s how he deals with his anger,” said Sheila.

Peter and Sheila had AIDS.  One of the times we thought he was dying, Peter rallied enough to chase away the priest Sheila had summoned. But I often came to sit with him, although I knew enough not to pray with him… 

Peter and Sheila fought often. But Sheila counted out his pills, never-mind that Peter often stole and abused them behind her back. He was a drug addict, after-all. He was angry with the world. Angry that he was dying. Angry with everyone. He was a genius at anger. And swearing.

But Peter got to see heaven. One day, the space beyond the television, beyond the wall and ceiling, opened into a billowing heaven. He saw dead relatives. He saw angels. Peter described in detail to his family what he was seeing. In the next death crises, Peter allowed the priest he’d previously thrown out to hear his confession. And Peter died in peace, having seen heaven in the eleventh hour.

Some of us, who’ve worked in the vineyard of the Lord all our lives, have never seen heaven. Not once.

Sheila and I chose the parable of the workers in the vineyard for Peter’s funeral. And whenever I hear it I think of mean, goddamn, difficult, selfish, son-of-a-bitch Peter, seeing heaven at the eleventh hour.

‘Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last. – Matthew 20:16

Belinda

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Belinda Groves – 17 September 2017

Dear Friends

“Lord, teach us how to pray.”

This was the request, in Luke, that led to Jesus teaching his disciples ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and in our preaching series we have tried to reveal some of the riches of this prayer; that God has many children, that we together belong to a holy God, that our holy and wonderful God is re-creating our world, and that we are invited to share in this creative work by feeding the hungry, making forgiveness the mark of all our relationships and avoiding behaviour not directed or inspired by love.

We have learnt a lot about prayer, and yet there is always more to learn! Perhaps some of the most significant things I have been reminded of over the last few weeks are:

If prayer is dialogue between myself and God, then, like any relationship, I must spend time on this relationship and work out how to talk about things that matter. It is good to experiment with times and places that work best for you.

Mark Barrett writes, “A friend always prayers on the seashore…Another friend has a ‘safe’ place she goes to in the woods when times are difficult…A third person I know loves to walk the city streets, finding that the combination of company and aloneness that the street provides is perfect for prayer…”

But once you have found a place, commit yourself to meeting God there regularly.

Secondly prayer is less about reciting a list of needs (though God wants us to share our needs with him) and more about listening to God, spending time in God’s presence.

Kate Compston writes, “Increasingly, prayer seems to be a waiting – and often, a goal-less waiting; it is simply an end in itself. If some resolution, insight or peace comes, it comes as a gift, not as something I have angled for. I was at a loss to explain this to anyone until I remembered that the French for ‘to wait’ is ‘attendre’. Then it became clear that waiting is giving one’s complete and undivided attention…”

The most significant thing I have learnt, however, when I have struggled with prayer is that God only asks me to be myself! That the best prayers are the ones where I have been as honest as I can about who I am and what I really need. There is a wonderful story told about a tumbler who would come to a cathedral and did not know how to pray, all he could so was tumble; so he stood on his hands with his feet in the air before the altar. Each of us prays as best we can!

The Men’s Book group read an article on prayer this week and Aron and I were very struck by the C.S. Lewis quote that headed the article, “The prayer preceding all prayers is, ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou I speak to.’” Amen.

Grace and peace from one disciple among others, still learning to pray.

Belinda

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Belinda Groves – 10 September 2017

Dear Friends

Psalm 127:1-2 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.”

I have been reminded of that verse this week – when I’ve woken during the night – and thought, “Oh my goodness! Is this Sunday really ‘Signpost Sunday’ when we will be articulating who God is calling us to be as a church?” But I have also been reminded of the vital role of prayer – time spent intentionally in seeking God’s face and through that, God’s direction. Unless the Lord is part of the thinking and planning and discussions, those who think and plan and discuss do so in vain.

As we gather today there will be an opportunity – for those who would like to do so – to gather in the Fellowship Room and pray – from 10am to 12pm.

Then, at 12pm, we will enjoy a meal, beautifully coordinated by Kelli Hughes and prepared by many of you. And following that, Aron Downey will facilitate our discussion, as we seek to hear God in our thinking and the thinking of others, and as we articulate together who God is calling us to be as a church.

This review, as many of you know, started with the deacons who felt there was a need to increase ownership of the church’s strategy; to better know who we are and our purpose as a church; and to think in new ways to continue to make the church relevant.

The process began in earnest in June, when we began hearing stories in church from people about how this place had nurtured their faith and how it might continue to in the future. Next, Keith Blackburn and John Clark helped us understand our results in the National Church Life Survey. Following this, we invited Anne and Richard Mallaby to speak to us about deepening our spirituality as a church and we re-visited the ten signposts from Spirituality for the Rest of Us. The two most mentioned were hospitality (perhaps no surprise) and testimony (some surprise there!) as was our second emphasis; discernment/contemplation. Then Scott Higgins opened up the idea of being a graceful presence in a changing society. And last weekend Alan Marr invited us to consider mission as:

  1. The gifts of the people gathered here
  2. The picture of God/God’s love they have come to know together
  3. The context of this church.

Our Reflection Weekend, 12-13th August, was an opportunity gather together these threads of story and statistics, faith and challenge and discover where they connect in call and mission for us as a community.

And today we are seeking to put this into words! Can I urge you to come! I believe this will be a very significant moment for us as a church. But if you cannot be there, please continue to hold us up in prayer!

Grace and peace

Belinda

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Belinda Groves – 3 September 2017

Dear Friends      

From 12 September voting forms for the same sex marriage plebiscite will start arriving in our letterboxes, and we will have roughly two months before the poll closes on 7 November. This is not going to be an easy time, and I fear for how divisive and destructive it may be within Australian society and particularly within Australian churches.

How do we navigate our way when some in our churches sincerely believe that faithful and biblical living cannot include same sex marriage and others sincerely believe that it can? How are we to live and work and worship together when – as this sign from Scots College in Adelaide spells out – we hold different views?

I have been in Adelaide this week, at a retreat for the ‘city’ church pastors (e.g. Central Baptist in Sydney and Collins Street in Melbourne and Canberra Baptist!) and Simon Carey Holt, from Collins Street, and I were talking about the Scots Church sign “Not all Christians oppose marriage equality”. Many of you follow Simon and know he supports voting ‘yes’ (www.theage.com.au/comment/im-a-baptist-minister-and-ill-be-voting-yes-for-samesex-marriage-20170819-gxzzik.html) but, while we were discussing whether this sign was even-handed or not, he mentioned that although he was outspoken about his own views, he had resisted ‘badging’ the church in any way, putting up rainbow flags for example. The church, he said, must leave its doors open to anyone and everyone. Perhaps clinging to this idea of the open hospitality of God – that God welcomes all people – is the first step on the difficult path ahead of us.

The second step is to admit the sign is right. We do disagree, but we must not stop there, but have the courage to speak what is on our hearts and minds to each other, and the grace to listen. This is scary stuff! We are all afraid of rejection. All anxious not to disrupt the peace. But even if we ultimately cannot share the same view, I believe that courageous sharing and graceful listening will result in coming closer together – not being driven further apart.

What does such sharing and listening require of us, however? It requires us to recognise another truth in this sign’s message; that we are all – regardless of our different views – brothers and sisters in Christ. This is also a hard truth to embrace. It is much easier to retreat into separate camps, to deny the faith of others; but it was not said of the first Christians ‘see, how alike they are!’ but ‘see, how they love each other’!

We are called to walk the path of peace; welcoming all people, speaking our convictions with courage, and loving those who agree with us and those who don’t.

Belinda

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Belinda Groves – 27 August 2017

Dear Friends

This week our electric kettle stopped working. It is not a big drama. We will buy another one (although Aron wants to buy it together which makes finding a time more difficult) but it has given me an opportunity to reflect on our time here in Canberra.

We bought that kettle in our first week here, and I remember Jim Barr dropping in and being fascinated with the glass see-through panel on the side enabling you to watch the water boiling and the lights changing colour once the water had boiled. There was some suggestion at the time that having come from the bright lights of Sydney we would find Canberra quiet, and that turning off our lights and watching our kettle boil might be the most excitement we would get! That has not proved to be the case!

But it has also given me the opportunity to think back – and try to calculate – all the cups of tea and coffee and hot chocolate that we have made with that kettle, all the ordinary moments as a family, all the times Aron and I have sat down for a quiet chat, all the events that have taken place, all the people we have served, all the conversations that have flowed, all the grace of and hospitality of God that has been present.

It is just a kettle, but – reflecting on Anne Mallaby’s sermon on operational theology and the symbols that speak to us of spirituality – I have realised that it more than a kettle.

It is – for me – a symbol of hospitality, of my opportunities to be guest and host, of my need for others and their need for me. It is something simple and every day and yet so sacred.

There are a few Leunig prayers in this morning’s service – as we celebrate the sacred story in the lives of three of our congregation, but I wanted to include this one for you, too, as it speaks both of teapots and to rising up to new life.

Dear God,

We rejoice and give thanks for earthworms, bees, ladybirds and broody hens; for human tending their gardens, talking to animals, cleaning their homes and singing to themselves; for the rising of the sap, the fragrance of growth, the invention of the wheelbarrow and the existence of the teapot, we give thanks. We celebrate and give thanks. Amen.

Amen!

Belinda

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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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