Easter celebrations for 2011 have come and gone leaving behind a deep sense of gratitude for grace and hope for the coming of the kingdom of God. And I can’t help but be conscious that this was the 12th and final Easter I’ll be sharing with my friends at Castle Hill Community Church as their pastor. Over the years several Easter traditions have been fashioned: the Thursday night Celtic Communion Service, the Big Cross, the red drape for Friday and purple drape for Sunday, praying for friends who have yet to know Jesus on Friday and wearing bright clothes on Sunday. Each year since 2000 there have been little tweaks and innovations. I wonder how those traditions will be reshaped in the years ahead – and they most certainly should be reshaped. When traditions are kept fluid and alive they can give creative expression to vibrant faith. When they get stuck, things descend into dead religion.
The fact of my assignment at Castle Hill coming to a close is a frame of reference for so many things at the moment. It’s inevitable I suppose, but I’d rather not be thinking, “Ah, this is the last time I’ll do this”, or “Hmm, I need to set up a way for this to function when I’m not here.” Not everything is like that of course. Some things I’ve been doing will cease to operate once I’m gone, or they will change significantly and in some cases that is perfectly right. Yet I’m trying to keep my eye on the ball and give my best to this ministry while I’m in it, and ensure to the best of my ability that I don’t leave behind a mess or a gaping hole. It’s a strange time which I don’t expect others to fully understand.
One of the things that are helping me get my bearings and chart a good course is the interim ministry training I’m doing. It’s been a very happy thing to have Lionel Berthelsen as my trainer. I did two days back in March and I have another five days coming up next week. The material relates specifically to the best ways to handle the ministry situation between settled pastorates. However, by implication I am learning about how to bring my ministry to a close in such a way that it provides a good preparation for my successors. This training is done in association with the Baptist Union and also includes ministers from Uniting, Anglican and other denominations. It’s striking how similar the issues are across denominational lines. The Baptists and Churches of Christ in particular are very closely aligned. It has been said that in order to amalgamate all that is needed is for the Baptist to celebrate communion every Sunday and for the Churches of Christ to call themselves Baptists! If that says something about how fiercely the Baptists believe in their name, does it also say something about how fiercely the Churches of Christ believe in the atonement?
These days the argy-bargy between different denominations is more good-natured than it used to be, and it’s easier to cooperate together on projects because of our mutual respect for each other in the gospel. Three weeks ago several churches in the Northwest region of Sydney, including CHCC, got together to pray under the banner, ‘Your Kingdom Come’. This might not seem unusual, but nothing like this had happened around our area for ten years. The last time was for the Centenary of Federation in 2001 when we held a series of prayer meetings between Easter and Pentecost called ‘Redigging the Wells’. That prayer campaign culminated in a combined churches prayer meeting at the Hills Centre with about 200 people present (half of them from Redeemer Baptist as I recall). This time there is a clear determination not to let it all fall away but to keep praying together at least twice a year and to involve more and more churches in the region. The next prayer gathering will be 9 September at Cherrybrook High School and dates for 2012 are already planned as well. Yeah! Come on!
Do you ever read books out of a sense of obligation? You know, you start it thinking, ‘this will be a good read’, and it’s just hard going. But you stick at it because surely it must get better. I’ve been slugging my way through Stephen Donaldson’s Against All Things Ending in the past week or so. I’m not sure it is getting better. Back in 1979 I read Donaldson’s first trilogy centred on the character of Thomas Covenant and absolutely loved it. Wow, what a great experience those books were. Then he published a second trilogy in the same series. They were good too, but maybe not quite as fresh as the first set. Over 20 years went by with Donaldson writing other things that didn’t sell quite so well as those first six books. Then in 2004, the inevitable happened. He started on a third series of Thomas Covenant novels. So perhaps you can understand I have this sense of expectation/obligation to read them. After this there is just one more Thomas Covenant novel, due out in 2013. We are assured that that will be the end of it. So, should I keep going, or bail? What would you do?
Music has been a passion of mine for a long time. I express that through playing guitar and writing songs (although I haven’t had time to do much of that in the last few years) but mostly through collecting and listening to CDs. Let me take you through a random selection of some of the CDs I enjoy. Love to get some recommendations back from you too.
Just lately I’ve been getting a strong yearning to get back to songwriting, performing and recording. My sons would make pretty good session musicians, I reckon.
How’s your devotional life? If you’re in a good pattern of connecting with God then I would not want to do anything to disturb that. But if you’re looking for something to refresh your times of prayer and Bible reading, then I’d like to recommend to you a book from last year called “Common Prayer”. It’s a confusing name, unfortunately. This is not the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer” from 1662 although, like that book, it is liturgical in its approach. It was put together by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro, who have subtitled their work, “a liturgy for ordinary radicals.” I’ve been using it for a couple of months now and love the rhythm of it. If you liked the Celtic Communion Service just prior to Easter you’ll love this, as they draw heavily on Celtic sources which are so down to earth.
Funny how things go in bursts. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a wedding. Then, all of a sudden, I have four weddings lined up between now and January. I know what you’re thinking: four weddings, when’s the funeral? No, no funeral, and Hugh Grant is nowhere to be seen. As I write it’s only minutes until Will and Kate’s royal wedding. I wasn’t going to watch. (Really not that interested.) But maybe I should to see if I can pick up some tips on how to do a ceremony with a bit of style. I know – I’ll get my book that I’m struggling with and settle down in front of the telly. If the wedding gets truly tedious, then I’ll have something to fall back on and maybe the book won’t seem so bad after all. It’s a plan.