Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Four Ways

Alison Morgan, in her chapter in “Mission-shaped Questions” (Church House Publishing, 2008), entitled “What does the gift of the Spirit mean for the shape of the Church”, suggests “four ways in which we might think about the gift of the Spirit and the shape of the Church.” The first thing is that we need to focus on Jesus. The Church is about following Jesus, or it should be. The story that we have to tell is the Jesus story. Jesus calls us to an alternative way, and that is what we should be focussing on. Secondly, we need to stress unity. What Christians share is far more important than the things that divide us. We need to be open to the contribution of other Christians. “It means sharing ideas, exchanging stories. It means being willing to take risks, to trust one another, to be humble.” Third, we need also to emphasise diversity which is not the opposite of unity, but part of it. We might define diversity as “letting a thousand flowers bloom”. “We live in a pick ‘n’ mix age, and we have an astonishingly diverse spiritual heritage to draw on. Let’s borrow from one another and borrow from the past. We have much to learn and much to share.” And, fourthly, we need to depend on the Holy Spirit. Too often we are concerned about what we can do, instead of relying on the God-given resources that are available to us.

Monday, 28 June 2010


I have been reading Gordon Brown’s book “Courage” (Bloomsbury, 2007). In the introduction he comments: “Stories of people who took brave decisions in the service of great causes entralled me, especially when more comfortable and far less dangerous alternatives were open to them.” He goes on to explain the inportance and role of courage as he re-tells eight remarkable stories. His chosen eight are Edith Cavell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Raoul Wallenberg, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Ciceley Saunders and Aung San Suu Kyi. Courage is not about the absence of fear, but about coping with it and overcoming it. These stories certainly demonstrate that and each one offers a great deal of inspiration. It set me wondering whose eight stories would I tell if I set myself a similar project. Inevitably, there are many possibilities and I guess I would choose some of the same people as those chosen by Gordon Brown. I guess I might choose three of the same, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. But who else would I choose? Possibly Therese of Lisieux who gave herself to a ministry of prayer and devotion despite incredibly poor health. Possibly Dr. Kao, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan at a time when human rights were at a low ebb in that country and who was arrested and jailed for over four years for speaking out as to what was right. Possibly Ephraim Alphonse who gave years to work with the Guyami indigeneous people in Panama and who was the first to write down their language as part of offering God’s love to that people. Possibly Laszlo Tokes who as a minister of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Timisoara in Romania was a big part of the resistance that sparked the Romanian revolution. And who would get the last place? Mother Teresa? Oscar Romero? Desmond Tutu? Eric Liddell? Or someone else? Or, to take another line, what about eight people from the Bible, who offer stories of courage? That might be Abraham, Ruth, Esther, Jeremiah, Daniel, Mary, Peter and Paul. Who would you choose – and how do they inspire you?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

It's About God!

This morning I was at a consultation day for Churches Together Groups in Essex where our keynote speaker was the Revd. Dr. David Cornick, General Secretary of Churches Together in England. David was reminding us that it is God who takes the initiative in mission, but that God is a sending God - and God sends us to do mission. We may find ourselves engaging in all sorts of good things, and that is fine so far as it goes, but mission needs the God bit. Mission connects us with the Kingdom of God. Jesus proclaimed God's alternative way. This is what we need to engage with. Being engaged in mission is being under the rule of God. It is about being part of God's alternative way of life. David suggested three Biblical passages from Luke-Acts that offer pointers for mission. First, the Annunciation. Mary could have said 'no', but she didn't. Eastern tradition has given her the title 'God-bearer'. What might happen if we all had the courage to be God-bearers? Second, the mission of the 70 (or 72) in Luke 10. They are sent out with no visible means of support. Their task is to encounter people. Mission is about encounter. Every encounter has missionary potential. The problem is that we like to be in control - but mission only happens when you are not in control. Third, the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. God is for all - and God is already in every culture. Mission should not be saying 'come and be like us.' Rather, the call is 'come and follow Jesus in ways that are appropriate to your culture'.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Visiting Taiwan

In May I was fortunate to go on a United Reformed Church ‘Belonging to the World Church’ programme trip to Taiwan. We received a superb welcome and had a fascinating time which offered us a wide range of experiences of life in Taiwan and especially of church life in Taiwan. What an amazing experience – and such a reminder of the wonder of being part of the world church. The hospitality we received was incredibly generous and we were fortunate to do a good bit of travelling and see different aspects of church life. In particular we visited three of the indigenous groups within Taiwan and saw something of the churches where they worshipped and the mission in which they are engaged. In one place we were able to have a conversation with the pastor about the challenge of working with particular groups and how we identify with a group to which we do not belong. We visited a church-run farming project. Elsewhere we talked with the pastor in the midst of the amazing cultural project that has been developed under his influence – and then went to enjoy a cultural programme of music and dance.
It was particularly interesting for me to visit Taiwan because it so happens that I was ordained in 1979 and that was the year in which the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan came very much in to the news and offered us all much cause for concern and prayer. It was a time when human rights in Taiwan were at a low ebb. There was a great deal of persecution and oppression. The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan has always been active in issues of justice and, at that time, paid the price for speaking up. The General Secretary then was Dr. Kao, a name that I remember being much mentioned and prayed for in those days of 1979 and beyond. Dr. Kao was imprisoned in 1979 – and we were reminded during the visit that it is easy to remember how long he was in prison. Just think of 4, 3, 2, 1 – it was four years, three months and twenty one days. One of the places we visited was the Chi-Lin Foundation in Ilan County which offers a fascinating insight into the history of Taiwan’s Democratic Movement. It has become a repository for all sorts of interesting and relevant material. It was founded by Lawyer Lin and his wife in an attempt to bring something positive out of the murder of his mother and their twin daughters, then aged 7, on 28th February 1980.
The foundation was established in 1991 and at the ceremony to mark its opening Mr. Lin told a story that bears repeating. At the base of the Himalayas there is a bamboo forest in which many birds and animals live. One day, a strong wind made the bamboos scrape against each other, resulting in a fire. The fire grew larger and some of the animals started to run away. A parrot flew into the sky and could have escaped the forest fire. However, he loved the bamboo forest where he grew up and appreciated the forest for offering him shelter. In addition, he could not bear seeing his companions suffer. Thus, he soaked his wings in a nearby pond and then flew into the sky to spread water on to the fire. He continuously repeated this seemingly ineffective action.
The compassion of the parrot and his sacrificial spirit moved God. God descended from heaven and said to the parrot, ‘Your actions are praiseworthy. But how will you extinguish the fire with the drops of water collected from your wings?’ The parrot answered, ‘appreciation and compassion guarantees success,’ In the end, God was moved and helped put out the fire. However, if there were 100,000 or a million parrots that simultaneously performed the same act, perhaps God’s help would not have been necessary to extinguish the fire.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Glimpses of Zimbabwe

LOVEMORE HOME Lovemore Home is a good place to be – especially as the alternative is to be on the streets of Harare. The home accommodates twelve orphan boys of primary school age, supporting them in every way. Unlike most projects within the Presbytery of Zimbabwe, which are run by individual congregations, Lovemore Home is run directly by the Presbytery. It was one of many projects we visited during a nine day visit to Zimbabwe in March 2010. The boys proudly showed us round. Their rooms, with two, four and six respectively sharing, were in good order, part of the garden is given over to growing their own food and television and football are amongst the activities most enjoyed. The boys attend a local school and will normally move on to the presbytery’s boarding school when they reach secondary age. BACKGROUND The visit, undertaken by Revd. John Marsh (Moderator of General Assembly 2008-10), Mrs. Linda Mead (Commitment for Life Programme Co-ordinator), Revd. Jane Rowell (Secretary for World Church Relations), Mrs. Mary Jeremiah (Commitment for Life Advocate for the Synod of Wales) and Revd. Paul Whittle (Moderator of Eastern Synod), was designed to strengthen links between the United Reformed Church and the Presbytery of Zimbabwe within the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa. It focussed on three aspects of that relationship – a desire by the General Assembly Moderator to focus on Zimbabwe, a strengthening of the links with Christian Aid-supported projects especially through the Commitment for Life programme, and exploring how best to develop the specific link between the Presbytery and Eastern Synod. We were given an extremely warm welcome by the Revd. Jonah Masaka (Acting Moderator of Presbytery), the Revd. Tinashe Chemvumi (Acting Clerk of Presbytery), Mrs. Norah Zidyana (Presbytery Administrator) and others – and left with just one regret, that the visit wasn’t longer. LOMAGUNDI Another visit was to Lomagundi Uniting Presbyterian Church in Chinhoyi – and what a breath-taking example of a church engaged in wide-reaching mission. The church’s last minister left over eighteen months ago, but that clearly – and rightly – has not impacted their mission. They run a school with the different forms meeting around tables in a large hall. Conditions are less than ideal, but far better than the ‘no school’ alternative. Allied to this, though reaching a broader group of young people, they run a sports ministry which aims to bring young people together through sport. The premises also house a clinic with staff being funded by the Presbytery of Denver (USA). A big focus at the clinic, as in other clinics we visited in Zimbabwe, is the care of patients who are HIV positive. The church has a vision to turn the manse into a cottage hospital – and purchase a new manse for a new minister in a new location. The manse garage is currently being used to keep chickens! And all this goes alongside a growing congregation.