God's Word for today

Monday, 28 September 2009

Taking a (small) stand

Read this article about Nestle Zimbabwe purchasing milk from a dairy farm "owned" by Robert Mugabe's wife, and then decide whether you want to continue to purchase Nestle products while this situation continues. I, for one, will not be buying any more Nestle products once I have consumed what is currently in my cupboards.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Reconnected (well, sort of...)

After reporting last week that I have been liberated of my new laptop, I've managed to clean the wicks and get some paraffin into the old Dell. Unfortunately I'm running with it sort of hooked up to an iron lung - the onboard display is completely croaked, but I've managed to borrow a spare external monitor from the office and hook that up, so I have what you would probably call a "desk-lap".

Thankfully I managed to get my cards stopped before the thief managed to withdraw my vast stipend (one ATM withdrawal would have sorted THAT out!), and my bank has promised to get a new card to me during the course of next week (would have been same day, except that Investec is in Joburg and I'm in Uitenhage). In the meantime, generous offers of invites for lunches and suppers from members of my congregation have been keeping the tummy full. (This is where ministry truly happens, thank you SO much, folks. Your love and support is overwhelming!)

The downside is of course the amount of information I've lost. Yes, I KNOW one is supposed to keep backups. And the irony (I swear this IS the the truth, God being my witness) is that I had recently acquired an external DVD writer, and was going to spend my day off this Monday with a fresh new sleeve of blank DVDs, doing what every good computer user should! (The other reason for replacing the Dell was that it was not only the screen that died, but the on-board DVD writer as well, hence no backups from that source...)

My biggest concern is that I have three TEEC assignments due on 4 October. One of them has already been posted off, but the other two were each about 50-70% complete, but now that the machine is gone, I need to start from scratch. Please pray that the "powers that be" would be willing to grant me an extension to get them in. They normally don't allow for this, but I'm hoping that they'll cut me a little slack here, seeing as I have a perfect academic record over the past three years.

It's no good crying or throwing my toys out the cot - these things happen, I guess. The laptop is insured. The cards have been stopped, and are in the process of being replaced. It's just the information loss that is proving to be a MAJOR disruption at the moment.

Friday, 25 September 2009

"Bother", said Pooh...

I was just thinking this morning that I've been a bit quiet on my blog this past week or so, and that it's time for me to emerge from my shell and share some thoughts on some of the recent happenings. However, when I got to the office, things started getting a bit chaotic, what with people dropping in, telephone calls to return, and the usual goings-on of a normal church office.

At 11 this morning Bill (my superintendent) and I took part in a funeral. I felt quite nervous, and I'm not quite sure why - after all, I have done numerous funerals in my two coloured congregations. Perhaps this was because it was only the second time that I've taken part in a funeral in a white context, and although the English order of service is virtually identical to the Afrikaans one, the cultural practices are different and I didn't want to make a hash of things.

Anyway, the funeral went reasonably well, and after a cuppa and a couple of sausage rolls, I was raring to go again - what with this Sunday's service still to finalise, as well as an HIV / AIDS workshop I am due to conduct tomorrow.

But when I walked into my office, I noticed that my desk was looking a bit emptier. While the funeral was on, and with the two secretaries working in the front offices, someone had slipped in the back and helped themselves to my laptop, wallet, and carry-bag which had the power cables for the laptop in it.

What's stressing me a little is not the physical items stolen. Sure, R250 is a fair bit of cash to lose when you earn a Phase One stipend. And I'm a bit sore about losing the bag, which was a gift from my wife. I'm even more hurt that I've lost the One Year Bible that my previous congregation gave me as a farewell gift. Granted, these items can be replaced, but it's the sentimental value that's irreplaceable.

There's also the pain of stopping all my cards, having to apply for a new driver's license (please have mercy in the interim, Mr Traffic Officer), and the usual bits 'n bobs that one carts around in one's wallet. But the biggest inconvenience is the loss of all the data that was on the laptop, including two partially-completed assignments, every sermon I've ever preached, and all the notes, slides, videos, etc. for the HIV / AIDS workshop. Not to mention all the other data of various types that I had on there, including a fairly sizeable electronic library.

And, of course, while some of the most critical older stuff has been backed up, most of the newer stuff has not been. I suppose I should know better, but these things happen.

So I join Pooh in expressing my annoyance - "Bother..."

(PS: I've hijacked my secretary's PC to type and upload this post. I may be "missing in action" until I manage to replace my machine.)

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Official decision on 2010

It's official. I'm going to the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermartizburg next year.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Needing renewal

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit." (Psalm 51: 10-12, KJV)

Events of the past couple of days have left me feeling cynical and negative - a feeling I'm experiencing far too much lately, making me into the kind of person I don't want to become.

Sometimes I really don't understand why certain decisions are made the way that they are - particularly when so many people have been praying for a different outcome. I'm not at liberty to elaborate too much at this stage, since the decision I'm referring to will only be finalised by the end of this week. But unless something drastic happens, the news I heard yesterday is likely to be the final outcome.

Rod Burton, who is leading our anti-bias sessions at Phase One college, struck a nerve when he asked us whether we are feeling "violated" at the moment. His question ias in the context of our theological development, where one often feels like we are being "taken apart so that we can be put back together again", but to be honest I am feeling violated, abused, robbed, and cheated in so many different ways.

I'm probably also being unfair, selfish, and an all-round pain in the arse. And this needs to change. And the feeling of deep hurt I'm feeling inside - that needs to change too. Time, much prayer and reflection, and (hopefully) a cool head will (Lord willing) bring about the healing I need.

Lord, please give me the grace to accept Your will, as well as the decisions made by the Church concerning my stationing in 2010. Help me to honour the promises I made at my candidature, and to be true to the calling You placed on my heart.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Feeling flat

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." - Galatians 6: 9, NIV

Last week I reported being "man down" with flu, but I thought that three days of enforced rest (thanks, Bill) would restore me back to health. And having missed the Local Preachers' Retreat this weekend (at which I was supposed to conduct two services), I was really looking forward to doing the evening service on Sunday.

As it turned out, the service ended up being a quest for survival, and by the time the service was over, I was finished in more ways than one! Last night's youth service (which launched Youth Week in the Northern Societies) went somewhat better, although I was still somewhat subdued by my normal standards. And it wasn't entirely due to my current state of health.

This week the Connexional Executive meets, followed by Conference which starts tomorrow. And at the risk of sounding selfish, these two events mean just one thing to me right now - an end to the limbo of not knowing whether I'll be in Uitenhage or Pietermaritzburg next year.

Right now there's just too much hingeing on this decision. My personal situation aside, the Circuit has many loose ends as well. Right now there is a blank preaching plan for the next quarter on my desk (covering November 2009 to January 2010), which cannot be drafted. We have a 2010 budget meeting next week, and my presence (or absence) will have an impact on the final numbers. Not to mention the fact that in three years the staffing will have gone from 2 ministers, 1 deacon, and a phase one, to 1 minister, 1 deacon, and 1 phase one, to 1 minister and 1 deacon.

But most of all, I'm not sure whether I should be preparing to say goodbye, or gearing up for next year.

In the meantime, life goes on. There is the daily work of ministry, which is what keeps me sane at the moment. In some small way I honestly believe that I'm having some impact on the communities I serve. Then there is the phase one college, of which we officially have only 9 weeks left. And on the 14th of October I have an exam (yuck - I don't do exams well. Give me a research project anyday!).

So right now my batteries are feeling rather flat as I wait for the "proper time" to "reap the harvest". I mustn't give up now - I just need to rely on God to give me strength and renewed energy.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

I'm a sick child!

I found out the hard way what happens when you try to boast!

I was mentioning to someone the other day that I have managed to get through my entire stay in Uitenhage without having anything happen to me health-wise. The words were hardly cold on the air when the first tickle started at the back of my throat.

Having survived a day at College, and then Barry's funeral (which just about knocked my emotions for six - especially when his wife picked up their little boy during the service), things went downhill fast by the time I got to home cell last night. When I woke up this morning, I still felt grotty, but because cowboys don't cry (especially in front of their congregations) and I had a service to conduct this afternoon, I got dressed and "Tupperwared" and dragged my sorry ass to the office.

My Superintendent took one look at me, and said, "Forget it - you aren't going ANYWHERE today other than the doctor's, and then bed. And that's an order!" He also agreed to take my service for me.

Having managed to get an appoimentment with the doctor at 12:00, I hung around the office for the rest of the morning, drinking tea, chatting, being fortified on chelsea buns, and listening to comments about my illness accompanied by porcine grunting sounds. Thankfully I don't have swine flu, but I've been booked off until Monday nevertheless. Now I'm sitting at home, having just taken my muti, and it's time for a good long sleeeeeeeeeeeep...

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Sometimes being a minister SUCKS!

Today we say goodbye to a colleague, Barry Marshall, who died tragically in a boating accident last week at the age of 37.

And the overwhelming question that I ask of God is ... why?

Why does a man who has dedicated his life to God's service have to be cut down in his prime? Why will two small children - ages 5 and 2 - have to grow up without their daddy? Why is a young wife now a widow? And why is a congregation now without their minister?

In this morning's daily readings, I read the following from Psalm 34:18 - "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit". And I know that God's Word is truth, and the promised healing will come to pass. But right now, the questions remain - and they hurt.

There is still SO much about God that I don't understand. And it's moments like these when I hate being a minister. Because at a time when I'm supposed to have answers, all I have is questions.

Oh, God - please be with Barry's family this morning. And please restore our faith in You.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Sexuality - where do heterosexuals fit in?

For many Christians, discussions around sexuality is one of those "untouchable" topics - race, money, politics, and how to raise your kids make up the rest of the "Famous Five" of "no-go areas". I do of course have my own views on matters sexual, and they tend to be rather conservative. I still believe strongly that the gift of sexual expression is something that God has created exclusively for the marriage bed.

However, it seems that the majority of people in society - including a fair number of ministers - disagree with this view.

Given that I am currently stationed in a context where pregnancies outside of wedlock is a major issue, not to mention the ever-present threat of HIV / AIDS, I raised a question on our ministers' closed group on Yahoo concerning the issue of sexuality, so that I could understand the various views from a reasoned theological perspective.

I had also specifically requested that the discussion be confined to sexuality among heterosexuals. While I'm by no means trying to sweep the issue of same-sex relationships under the rug, I don't want to go that broadly into the discussion in this particular case. One or two of my colleagues have however disagreed with me on this, insisting that I do not exclude same-sex relationships from the topic of discussion.

Here is my dilemma, and the best way I can explain it is in the form of an analogy. Suppose I wanted to research the causes of car accidents. My immediate area of focus would naturally be those who drive cars. I accept that bikes and trucks are also a legitimate part of road transportation, and there ARE accidents that involve both cars and these other forms of transport, but my immediate focus would be on cars (i.e one car crashing into another car). My wanting to talk about cars surely would not imply that I'm ignoring or discriminating against bikes and trucks?

I had a similar dilemma at Phase One college some months ago. The topic of discussion was meant to be on sexuality in general (or so I thought), but after four sessions dealing exclusively with homosexuality, I raised the question: "I hear what has been said, and I understand the need to engage in debate around the whole same-sex issue. But where do those of us who are heterosexual fit in?"

As a minister, I will probably have to deal with issues requiring pastoral care of those of same-sex orientation. But I will ALSO have to provide pastoral care when people in heterosexual relationships (the majority of us) have problems. When marriages are breaking up because of sexual infidelity, when unmarried couples are living together in a sexual relationship, and when people are having babies out of wedlock, these are issues that demand a Christian response. And right now, with just about all the focus being devoted to same-sex relationships (5-10% of the population, depending on which statistics one reads), I'm finding myself without access to the appropriate tools to handle problems that the 90-95% need to deal with.

Culture, language, and race

This will probably sound like quite a rant for first thing on a Monday morning, but this post on Jenny's blog made my blood boil!

Let me perhaps backtrack a bit so as to put things in context.

Part of the richness that is South Africa is the way in which so many different cultures can call this beautiful land home. The fact that we have 11 (yes, eleven!) official languages is a reflection of this diversity. However, the architects of apartheid did their level best to keep the various cultures apart, and we are still reaping this 15 years after democracy.

Sadly, the Church has similarly been split on racial and cultural lines. For this reason, when we are stationed as Phase One probationers, we are placed in cross-cultural settings so that we can gain exposure to other cultures, and (hopefully) an appreciation thereof.

Now I'm not sure if it's the legacy of apartheid, or the arrogance of being English, or both, but unfortunately while most black people are able to speak English, very few whiteys can speak Xhosa, Sesotho, or Zulu (the main indigenous languages, together with Afrikaans). And this can sometimes make communication difficult.

I have mentioned in previous posts how important it is for us to try and understand each other, and (if possible) learn another language. As it turned out, my own station is in a historically coloured area where the main language spoken is Afrikaans - a language that I understand and can speak as well although on a fairly rudimentary level. I struggle with the Afrikaans words for "sanctification", for instance. What am I talking about? I struggle with simpler concepts such as "steward" or "offering", so I usually announce that "die stewards gaan nou die offering opneem" :-).But others (such as Jenny) are placed in a Xhosa context, and although she tries valiantly to say a few sentences, her Xhosa education is very much a "work-in-progrress" and greeting someone in Xhosa is a far cry from being able to conduct a meeting and participate therein.

And herein lies the rub. That the minority of us are unable to communicate with the majority in their own language is a travesty. Having said that, we ARE trying - we really are! And yes - it IS arrogant to expect everyone to communicate with me in MY language if I am not prepared to attempt to communicate in theirs. I remember going to a Local Preachers' Convention about two years ago, and even though the proceedings were conducted largely in Xhosa, I was grateful to those sitting next to me for giving me a basic rundown of the proceedings in English.

I also firmly believe that one needs to respect another's language and culture, and make every effort to understand both. I have on many occasion said that, for the most part, the cultural practices of others are not wrong - they're just different. However, such respect needs to be mutual. It is therefore reasonable to expect others to try to understand my culture as well, and where I am coming from.

Sometimes I get the feeling that the whole thing of "respecting one another's culture" becomes a convenience thing. For instance, it's okay for me to get crapped out if I make a decision (in good faith) on behalf of others, because the predominant cultural norm is one of "consensus" decision-making. But if one of the others goes ahead and makes a similar decision without consulting the others, then it's okay. And if a group of white ministers want to form an exclusive grouping based on skin colour, that would be (quite correctly) be branded as racist, but for a group of black ministers to be part of such a grouping (i.e. the Black Methodist Consultation), that's okay. And if a minister is chairing a meeting in English, heaven help her if there is no-one on hand to interpret, but if she is excluded by the others, then that's okay.

Well, guess what - it's NOT okay! And I'm flipping annoyed that a dear friend and colleague of mine had to be embarrassed in the way that she was.

One of my Phase One colleagues is continually berating the rest of us for wanting to hide or "run away" from issues of race. And that may be true. But if we want to be honest and really tackle race in a sincere manner, then we need to tackle it in ALL directions. Because ALL groups - white, black, coloured, asian, you name it - are capable of being racist. And if racism is wrong, then it's WRONG - REGARDLESS of in which "direction" it's being perpetrated!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Some of the Phase Ones of 2009

See if you can spot the coloured minister!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Barry Marshall - turning the other cheek

Yesterday morning we had a staff meeting in which we discussed Jesus' instruction to His followers to "turn the other cheek". This instruction is hotly debated, as people often see this as a sign of submission - almost as though christians are expected to roll over and play dead in the face of adversity.

But Baden offered a different take on this concept, indicating that in Jewish custom, if a person struck you across the face with the back of the hand, this was a sign of contempt. Turning the other cheek therefore meant that the person being hit was actually standing up to their attacker, in effect saying that if the person is to strike them, then do so as an equal.

I was immediately taken back to a discussion that we had in one of our Phase One sessions earlier this year, when Barry Marshall (our District Supervisor of Studies) was taking us through an exegetical exercise using this very same subject of turning the other cheek. And I remember Barry's strong statement that turning the other cheek is not an act of weakness, but one of strength - where the person being struck is standing tall with dignity.

Having spoken about Barry in the morning, I felt as though I had been slapped across the face when I heard the sad news that Barry's life had been tragically cut short in a boating accident.

I didn't know Barry that well, and most of my contact with him was through his blog and posts on various discussion groups. He enjoyed a good argument. Brash and arrogant to some, he stood up strongly for what he believed, "turning the other cheek" to his detractors. And, like Jenny, I would have liked to have got to know Barry better as a person. Because if our exegesis classes proved anything about Barry's character, it's that he can have a good ol' ding-dong argument with you and still be friends afterwards. One can learn SO much from a person like that!

So take some time to read through some of the posts on Barry's blog. You may not necessary agree with everything he has written, but one thing's for sure - he makes you think! And that legacy will live on.

"b", you will be sorely missed!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

What Methodists believe

People sometimes ask me what the core beliefs of Methodists are. I found this on the World Methodist Council's website, which sums up our core beliefs quite nicely.

Wesleyan Essentials of Christian Faith

* The "people called Methodists" form a family of churches within the World Methodist Council.
* We claim and cherish our true place in the one holy, catholic and apostolic church.
* Our origins lie in the work of John and Charles Wesley in 18th century England which quickly spread to every comer of the world.
* The purpose of this work and ministry was, and is, to renew the Church and spread scriptural holiness whichincludes social righteousness throughout the whole earth, to the glory of the one God, Father, Son, and HolySpirit.
* We confess that often we have failed to live up to this high calling, and we repent of the times when our witness has distorted the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Trusting in the grace of God, we engage ourselves anew in God's service.

We affirm a vision of the Christian faith, truly evangelical, catholic and reformed, rooted in grace and active in the world.
* Methodists affirm the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the primary rule of faith and practice and the center of theological reflection.
* Methodists profess the ancient ecumenical creeds, the Apostles' and Nicene Creed.
* Methodists seek to confess, to interpret and to live the apostolic faith, the faith once delivered to the saints.
* Methodists acknowledge that scriptural reflection is influenced by the processes of reason, tradition and experience, while aware that Scripture is the primary source and criteria of Christian doctrine.
* Methodists rejoice in the loving purpose of God in creation, redemption and consummation offered through grace to the whole world.
* Methodists believe in the centrality of grace; prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying.
* Methodists believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the sufficiency of His atoning work for all humankind.
* Methodists believe that we "are the friends of all and the enemies of none."

We worship and give allegiance to the Triune God.
* In worship, we respond in gratitude and praise for God's mighty acts in creation, in history, in our communities, and in our personal lives.
* In worship, we confess our sin against God and one another and receive God's gracious forgiveness.
* In prayer, we wait in God's presence, offer the searchings and longings of our own hearts, for ourselves and in intercession for others, and open ourselves to God's Spirit to comfort, lead, and guide.
* In the celebration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, we participate in the mystery of God's presence, redemption and reconciliation.
* In reading, proclaiming and receiving the Gospel, we affirm God's creating and saving power.
* From worship we go into the world to love and serve others and to be instruments of justice and peace in the establishment of God's reign on earth.
* The language and form of worship emerge from the community through obedience to Jesus Christ and the creative power of the Holy Spirit.
* We inherit the treasury of the Wesley's hymns, with a hymnody now enriched from many other sources.

* We proclaim Jesus Christ to the world through word, deed and sign.
* We seek the realization of God's will for the salvation of humankind.
* We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be signs of Christ's presence in our communities and in the world through our preaching, teaching, and in deeds of justice, peace, mercy, and healing as the outworking of faith.
* We witness to God's reign among us now, as proclaimed by Jesus, and look forward to the full realization of the coming Kingdom when every form of evil will be destroyed.
* We seek to understand and respond to the contexts and situations in which we live, so that our witness will have integrity.

* We serve the world in the name of God, believing that our commitment comes to life in our actions, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
* As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who came to serve rather than be served, we go into the world as people of God in Christ Jesus, to serve people, regardless of their economic and social status, race, gender, age, physical and mental ability, sexuality, religion or cultural origin.
* Being "filled with the energy of love," we anchor our service and our life and work in love for our neighbors, including those we perceive as our enemies.
* Since all forms of Christian service are influenced by a given context of community and culture, we seek to express our love in appropriate ways.
* The life of holiness holds together conversion and justice, works of piety and works of mercy.
* Empowered by God, authentic Christian service is based on Scripture, tested in community, affirms life and seeks the shalom of God's reign.
* Recalling the story of the Samaritan (Luke 10:25), we express and claim compassion for all people and accept the call in Christ to "suffer with" the least of these in humility and love.

* We share a commitment to Jesus Christ that manifests itself in a common heart and life, binding believers together in a common fellowship and anticipating solidarity within the human family.
* Having experienced the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a liberating power from all oppression, we stand in solidarity with all people who seek freedom, peace and justice.
* Knowing that the love we share in Christ is stronger than our conflicts, broader than our opinions, and deeper than the wounds we inflict on one another, we commit ourselves to participation in our congregations, denominations and the whole Christian family for the purpose of nurture, outreach and witness.
* Remembering our Gospel commitment to "love our neighbors," we will, through dialogue and partnerships for service to the world, endeavor to establish relationships with believers of other religious traditions.

Adopted by the World Methodist Council
Rio de Janeiro, August 13, 1996.

Economics, maps, faith, and ecology

This is the title of a recent post over on Dion Forster's blog. Well, actually, it's main title is "Please Don't Click This Link", which (human nature being what it is), we all immediately click, don't we!

Since the economy, financial management, and stewardship is something I want to do a doctorate on some day, I found the maps representing physical land mass, distribution of wealth, presence of Christians, and HIV prevalence particulary interesting (and sobering).

This quote from Dion's post also provides food for thought: "[I]f we spent just 10% (190bn US$) of the annual world budget for military expenditure (1235bn US$) we could BOTH restore the earth's natural resources (cleaning up our water, replanting trees, creating environmentally friendly and more sustainable energy source), AND meet the basic water, sanitation, education and health care needs of the whole world! Just 10%..."

It's not about resources, but priorities - and we as Christians have much to answer for.


This evening I lost it a bit with my fellow Phase Ones, because they were being a bit noisy in their chatter. Curiously, though, I'm not quite sure why the raucousness is bothering me now, when it hasn't been an issue for the past eight months.

Maybe the fact that I'm feeling a little low right now is part of it (see previous post). The other problem is that while some of us are trying to get some work done, others who have different work habits are using the same time slot to blow off some steam.

On the other hand, the thought of being at College next year and having to deal with the noise of campus life - especially if it's after 8:30 on a school night - is bothering me, because I can't see my family and I putting up with two years of that.

I REALLY need to stop feeling so negative about College. If I'm sent, then I'll go, and there is an undoubted opportunity for academic and spiritual formation if I do go.

But then I look in the mirror and see the face of a 40-year-old man looking back at me, and I realise that I'm not a kid anymore. I'm a married man. I have a child of my own. I've also had my own house for 20 years, with nobody telling me what to do or who I can entertain or when I may or may not be away, and nobody yelling and getting raucous at all times of the day.

And that's what I'm going to have to put up with, for two years. All I want to do is to get on with the work of ministry. Campus life was cool 22 years ago - today, you can have it!

I'm getting too old for this!

Mood swings

It suddenly dawned on me that it's nearly two weeks since I posted anything on my blog, although I've been fairly active on the MCSA Yahoo group and Facebook. And one of the possible reasons is an attempt to focus on "issues", rather than what's actually going on with me at the moment.

Right now, I'm really getting a sense that "some days you're the bug, and other days you're the windscreen" - and my mood swings over the last two weeks are giving me cause for concern.

Certainly there's a great deal that I have cause to be thankful to God for:

- Firstly, I spent two amazing weeks with my wife and son. I know that I've missed them something terrible, but I didn't realise just how much. The downside, of course, is that today is (give or take a day or two) exactly three months before i see them again.

- Secondly, the last couple of days has seen a welcome turnaround in my financial situation as a result of my caravan finally being sold. This has resulted in me being able to pay off the final amount owing on my wife's car, which will ease the monthly cashflow a bit. While I've always managed to keep the wolf from the door, and my wife is not in any danger of having the toilet reposessed by the Johannesburg City Council just yet, it's been a tight eight months. Last month was particularly bad, with me having to ride my scooter for five days solid - even in the rain - because I couldn't afford to put petrol in my bakkie.

- Thirdly, even though the question of where I'm going to be stationed next year is still not settled, at least my son has confirmed places at schools in both Uitenhage and Pietermaritzburg.

So by all accounts, today should be a good day for me. Yet as I sat in the Communion service at North End this afternoon, I felt lower than the proverbial shark turd at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

The most disturbing thing is that I can't quite put a finger on any particular reason. Waiting for the Conference decision is certainly part of it, even though I've largely come to terms with the fact that "what will be, will be". And I guess that the thought of being at the Seminary next year, with all its rules and regulations, is somewhat unappealing to me as a married 40-year-old who is used to being able to make his own decisions. And the knowledge that, if I am stationed at the Seminary next year, my Superintendent will be under extreme pressure in the Circuit with one minister short (in the year in which he should be enjoying the "final approach" to retirement) also concerns me, not only for the Circuit, but for Bill personally as well.

But what broke me this afternoon in the service, as I closed my eyes in prayer, was the image of my 11-year-old son James on his knees next to his bed at night, saying, "Lord, please don't send Dad to college".

I know I need to wait for the final decision in three weeks' time. No doubt if Bill reads this post, he will sing another verse of "Abide With Me" when he sees me on Thursday. And if the Church chooses to send me to Seminary next year, God surely has a plan in that as well. But still - in my "balance sheet for 2010", the "Circuit" side is still outweighing the "College" side.