God's Word for today

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Just when I thought I'd seen everything...

One thing I'm fast finding out is that people here in the Rosedale area are a lot tougher than most folks, and the result is that one gets to witness some strange and interesting things!

Two Fridays ago my family and I were doing the "Sacramental Safari", which involves taking Communion to the elderly folks in our congregation who are no longer able to attend services. Because the majority of them are infirm, and also poor, one cannot expect the normal "niceties" of home visits, such as a cup of tea, and it becomes thirsty work doing what amounts to 10 Communion services in one day! I'm thankful to the Phase One college for providing me with a two-page order of service, because in a "normal" service the Communion part alone takes about an hour. Even so, one normally spends about 40 minutes at each home.

So while I was thinking about how one needs to be tough to be a minister, and admittedly feeling a little bit sorry for myself as I left the last home (due to the fact that by this time I had far less energy than the 99 year-old lady whose house we had just left, who - unlike me - had more energy than the Duracell bunny), I came across this rather large bull standing in the middle of the road. As I came gingerly to a halt, wondering how I was going to maneuvre my nearly two ton double-cab bakkie around this beast, a little boy (who couldn't have been more than about 10 years old) skipped up to the bull and gave it a resounding slap on its rump! Even more astounding - the bull took off like a rocket, scampering off into the bushes in abject terror!

Today's funeral was another eye-opener for me. Technically this is supposed to be my weekend off (we get one per quarter), but since the family concerned had tragically lost their eight-year-old son to meningitis, I felt that the least I could do to comfort them was to conduct the service. Now for those readers who are not familiar with the customs in a coloured community, most funerals start on the Monday, with house services every night until Thursday. The family is given a break on Friday, and then Saturday starts with a service in the house, the procession to the church, the funeral service itself, off to the graveside, the burial, then back to the house for final prayers and a meal. I've often wondered about the burden that this places on families, and have also felt uneasy that the mourners sit outside while "the Reverend" is given the prime seat in the house (at the family's insistence). Then this gargantuan plate of food is put in front of me, and once again I feel that while I have probably committed a grave insult by not clearing my plate, there is just no way that I'll get through that quantity of food! I haven't yet come up with a method to (delicately and graciously) either turn down such offers, or request a smaller portion, so I guess I'll just need to keep at it on my bicycle.

But the eye-opening part came just as I was leaving. In this particular area, there is a bend on a section of dirt road that is notorious for accidents - especially when the car in question has no brakes! So when I was informed that a BMW had left the road, gone down the embankment, and overturned, I feared the worst. However, while I was trying to get hold of the emergency services on my cellphone, the occupants of the vehicle - who were all totally unharmed - had climbed out of the windows, and together with half of the community (who had come out for the "show"), managed to get the car back on its wheels.

I can only but imagine the expression on my face when, as I was hearing "Welcome to Vodacom's Emergency Service" in the one ear, one of my Local Preachers was yelling, "Don't worry, Rev, your prayers have been answered" in the other ear, the BMW (now with a somewhat more "streamlined" appearance due to the roll), was being driven away under its own power (the car had, apparently, started first time). Maybe there's some merit in that laid-back, 45-degree-tilt, head-behind-the-B-pillar stance that many young drivers of E30 and E36 BMWs (and Citi Golfs) adopt as their standard driving position...

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Dear Mr Youth Pastor, please may I strangle one of your leaders?

After the morning service at John Street this past Sunday, Annie, one of the Sunday School teachers, came up to me with great enthusiasm, wanting to discuss the possibility of having an all-age worship. Given that I was in the throes of greeting the departing congregants at the door, I asked her to make an appointment with me to discuss it in more detail.

An appointment was duly set for 10:00 this morning.

However, something obviously must have come up, for she sent me an SMS on my 'phone, indicating that she would not be able to make it. No problem with that - in fact, that is good stewardship. But at 04:12 this morning? Annie, Annie, Annie - I commend you greatly if you were up praying at that unearthly hour, but some of us believe, as the Apostle Paul said, that we must "put the flesh under" - in this case under the duvet!

I thought of responding to you there and then, but any response that I would have tried to SMS at 04:15 with only one eye partly open would have stood a good chance of being an inappropriate one. So I'll look at rescheduling our appointment later on today, when (hopefully) I've dislodged the woolly, fuzzy sensation from my brain.

Trial service

This past Sunday I did my trial service in kwaNobuhle, a township just outside Uitenhage. Each probationer minister is required to do one such service as part of the academic requirements to be submitted to Synod.

My message was based on Psalm 133: 1, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity", which was quite apt coming, as it did, three days before South Africa's fourth democratic general election.

I reflected on some of the acts of unity that we as a Methodist Church have demonstrated over the years. For instance, it was as far back as 1958 that the Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa took a landmark decision, in the face of draconian pressure from the apartheid government to segregate its structures, that “… it is the will of God that the Methodist Church remain one and undivided”.

This pledge of unity was reaffirmed at a gathering of Methodists in 1981. In what became known as the Message of Obedience ’81, the delegates stated that “… every Methodist must witness against this disease [referring to apartheid] which infects our people, our church and our country. We have experienced how hard it is to abandon long-held prejudice and long-felt bitterness, but we have seen God work this miracle. It happened because we continued to search for each other even at our times of deepest division. We now declare to all South Africans that there is a third way, where people, who have discovered their love for each other, translate it into justice for all.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming elections, I also reflected on that historic first election just 15 years ago, when the world witnessed the birth of the miracle that is the New South Africa, as for the first time ever in this country’s history, black, white, and every colour in between stood together in line on an equal basis to elect their leaders. I’ll never forget the unbelievable goodwill that was shown, as we stood patiently in line to cast our vote. On that particular day there were no domestic servants or doctors. No women or men. We were not European or African, Xhosa or Afrikaans, ANC or NP. Young or old, it didn’t matter. On that day, the 27th of April 1994, we were all, simply, South Africans.

There were other examples of unity demonstrated over the years - in particular, the outpouring of generosity in response to the brutal attacks on foreigners last year. When Bishop Paul Verryn put out the call to Methodist Churches to provide assistance, little did we realise that we would be working with organisations as diverse as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Frontiers, and the Human Rights Commission, not to mention Christians from every church imaginable from Anglican to Zionist. At one stage I even received a call from the Johannesburg Muslim Charitable Association. Don’t ask me how they got my number, but someone told them that there’s “a guy from the Methodist Church with a bakkie”, and they contacted me to let me know that they could give me as much tinned food as I could carry. A Hindu family filled me up with baby food, disposable nappies, and toilet rolls. Bedfordview Methodist Church had their entire hall piled from floor to ceiling with donated items – clothes, food, you name it – for three weeks solid. Just as fast as we were distributing items to those in need, so more kept coming in.

Sadly, there are just as many instances where we display our complete lack of unity - even today. Some of my fellow Phase Ones have experienced the most humiating experiences, perpetrated within our very own church! One colleague is stationed in a very remote area - the Superintendent of his Circuit is based about 100km away. The church at which he is stationed is attended by farm workers, the majority of whom happen to be black. Four hundred metres away is another church, attended by the farm owners, all of whom are white. This church does not have a minister, only a lay pastoral assistant. However, my colleague cannot serve the Lord’s Supper in the “white” church, because the congregants refuse to receive Communion from a black minister.

Another colleague - a lady minister - also has a problem when it comes to serving communion. As probationers we are taught the words of institution, where the apostle Paul says that “for I have received from the Lord that which I have given to you”, and it is therefore normal for us to serve by taking the bread or the wafer from the plate and placing it in your outstretched hands. In this poor lady’s case, it’s considered “improper” for a man to receive Communion from a woman, so she is subjected to the humiliation of having to hold out the plate so that Mr. Macho Man can take his own Communion! I wonder to what extent he examined himself, as directed by the Apostle Paul, before presenting himself at the Lord's Table?

Isn't it funny how we can read the passage in Luke 10: 25-27, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’.”, yet ignore the true meaning thereof? We don’t have a problem with loving the Lord our God – or at least, we don’t think that we have a problem loving God. But we expose our lack of love for God by the way in which we show a lack of love for one another.

We say the words of the Lord’s Prayer – “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Yet we don’t forgive. We hold grudges against each other for years – decades, even. And then we have the audacity to expect God’s forgiveness. But we’ve just asked God to forgive us with the same measure that we are prepared to forgive others. Our lack of fellowship with one another is cutting us off from fellowship with God – ironically, exactly in line with what we have prayed! Perhaps we will think a little bit more about what we are saying, next time we pray the Lord’s Prayer?

We need to realise that there’s a hurting world out there that is crying out for love. People need a place where they can belong, and feel loved and accepted. Where they won’t be discriminated against or looked down upon because they are poor, or a different colour, or old, or young, or speak a different language, or are gay, or divorced, or are HIV-positive. Where whatever need they have can never surpass the love of Christ, as shown through His people. Where they can feel “how good, and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity”.

The question is, is that place in our churches?

Presenting Jesus in a different way

On Easter Sunday we had a sunrise service in Uitenhage, held at the Cannon Hill Memorial. It was a wonderful, if somewhat sparsely attended service - funny how the duvet seems to cling to most people a bit harder than for some!

It was a service that no-one could really ignore, what with the Salvation Army worship team leading. The "wakey-wakey" fanfare blasted out on the trumpet as the sun was rising was a reminder to the world that we need to be awakened to the fact that Jesus has risen - He is risen indeed!

A sad part for me was the condition of the memorial itself. Like many such structures nowadays, it has been vandalised somewhat, with a few columns missing from the balustrade surrounding the observation deck. Still, it provided a wonderful view of Uitenhage at dawn.

It also provided another interesting view, as pictured above. It seems that the observation deck is also a place where some of the locals go for a drink or two (three, six?). This is probably quite hazardous, but then again, the stairs are fairly narrow so I suppose that a drunk person would fall down the stairs in a reasonably "controlled" manner. And with this in mind, some intrepid evangelist placed this picture of Jesus strategically under the empty beer cans.

Given that many of the most spectacular conversions to Jesus that I have seen have been among drunk people - most of whom have never touched booze again once they've been filled with a different kind of Spirit - this is probably a most effective way to spread the Gospel. Please pray that those who venture up to the observation deck will see this picture, and be touched by the love of Christ.

My family is here!

It's been some time since I've been able to sit down at the old PC and tap away some of my random thoughts, because the "two sleeps" became zero as my family arrived from Johannesburg last Wednesday.

The Phase One college routine dictated that I had to collect them from the station in the morning as the train arrived, and dump them at a mall in PE for the day while I attended classes. Then after a brief hour together, I was off to a Learning Partnership meeting. Time stands still for nobody...

Still, it's great to have them here - I've missed them SO much!

(The picture above is one of my son James, who somehow managed to shoehorn himself into a shopping trolley. The scary part of this is that he turns 11 in a few days, so when he is uncurled, he's a lot bigger than he looks!)

Monday, 13 April 2009

Only 2 sleeps left!

I've been a bit slow on the blogging front these past few days - Holy Week has been a blessed time, but also rather hectic! I'm hoping to catch up this week.

In the meantime, the really GREAT news is that I only have 2 "sleeps" left until I see my family again for about 2 1/2 weeks. I've missed them SO much! No. 1 on my prayer list right now is that wherever the Church decides to send me next year, we will be reunited as a family - I'm not sure I'll be able to handle a second year of separation.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Grrr! Thieves!

Please spare a thought and a prayer for my Phase One colleague Jenny, who has just reported on her blog that her laptop and cellphone have both just been stolen. Pray particularly that she had backups, because all her TEEC assignments, as well as her entire Masters thesis would have been on there.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Roommate!

This is a picture of my current roommate. Her svelte body is approximately the size of a one rand coin, and proportionately to her body she has the longest legs I have ever seen on any girl!

(I REALLY need to get out more...)

We have come to quite a good understanding regarding our domestic relationship - she parks on the wall and minds her own business, and I leave her alone.

She has however promised that she will find alternate accommodation before my wife arrives in town next week - she's a bit funny when it comes to other women who compete for my affections...

Also washing feet ...

The title of this post is in response to a post over on Jenny's blog, in which she deals with her current context's version of the traditional Tenebrae, or foot-washing, service.

Last night at Emmanuel I had a brief chat with the Society Stewards concerning the order of proceedings this evening. Because (much to my discomfort) there is a bit of a "hierarchy" within the local Church, I felt that in order to emphasise the illustration of servanthood given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, I would wash the feet of the stewards first, then together we would wash the feet of the congregation.

My message will be on the two things that Jesus instituted around the time of the Last Supper - the act and example of servanthood in washing the feet of the disciples, and the ultimate act of servanthood and sacrifice as the first Communion was held - a precursor to the broken body and shed blood that Jesus would suffer, which we need to remember not only when we come to the Lord's Table but at all times in our Christian walk.

I really honestly believe that if we are willing to submit to God and to one another with a servant heart, God will use us mightily for the sake of the Kingdom. Please pray for this service.

Obituary - Jesus Christ

Monday, 6 April 2009

Why do I want to become a Methodist minister?

Sometimes it is so difficult to put into words just what it means to be called to the ministry - especially when one tries to narrow it down to why I believe I'm called to be a minister in this particular church, at this time, in this way.

So this testimony of Rev Dr Knut Heim, a Methodist minister in the UK, which was delivered shortly before his own ordination as a minister back in 2001, really hit the spot for me. If only we could all be true to this call, as expressed in these wonderful words...

What’s it all about? – It’s all about Jesus. Why do I want to become a minister, and one of the Methodist variety at that? Called to be a fisher of men and women, boys and girls. A royal priest, a saint, a holy man, God’s own, a servant, yes, a slave of God; a bishop, a shepherd, a leader, an overseer, a steward, a servant, a father, a mother, a presbyter, an elder, a vicar, a vicarius Dei, a representative of God, a messenger, an ambassador, a divine postman, a builder in the house of God, a living sacrifice. Why? What’s it all about? – It’s all about Jesus.

When the glory and the honour, the clerical shirt and the collar, the cassock and the alb, the stole and the hood, the power and the prestige are stripped away, and it’s simply me ... it’s all about Jesus. I want to bring something that’s of worth, something that’ll last, something that’ll bring joy to Jesus' heart — a treasure in heaven.

I want to bring more than a sermon, more than a prayer, more than a saved soul, more than a sacrament, more than a house or hospital visit, more than a wedding, more than a funeral, more than an offering, more than a committee meeting, more than a service to the community, for all that in itself is not what he’s required. Don’t get me wrong, I want to bring all that; but I want to bring more than that.

I am rich with many treasures, spiritual and otherwise. We are all rich in so many ways. Yet we have these treasures in jars of clay – yes, we have all, not only feet of clay, but hearts of clay, ambitions of clay, jobs of clay, cars of clay, houses of clay, relationships of clay – all that’s best, we have life’s treasures in clay. How quickly does it fade away ... how quickly do our dreams evaporate in the stark light of reality, how quickly does that job for life drop into the deep abyss of broken promises, how quickly do our cars rust and rot away under the gnawing teeth of time, how quickly does the mortar crumble from the wall, the paint of our facades become faint and shabby. How precariously perched are our closest relationships on the ragged edge of estrangement, the cliff of indifference, the dagger of divorce, knocked about by outside pressures and undermined by the teeth of temptation.

What’s it all about? It’s all about Jesus. I’m coming back to the heart of my calling, and it’s all about him, Jesus. I’m coming back to the heart of our ministry, and I’m sorry for the thing we’ve made it, when it’s all about him, Jesus. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in my ear: it soothes my sorrows, heals my wounds and drives away my fear. Jesus: he makes my wounded spirit whole, he calms my troubled breast, he feeds my famined soul, gives me, when weary, rest. Jesus! My Shepherd, Brother, Friend, my Prophet, Priest, and King, My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End. Or let me say it with the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux: "The name of Jesus is both light and nourishment ... As honey to the taste, as melody in the ear, as songs of gladness in the heart, so is the name of Jesus. And medicine it is as well ... Nothing but the name of Jesus can restrain the impulse of anger, repress the swelling of pride, cure the wound of envy, bridle the onslaught of luxury, extinguish the flame of lust – can temper avarice, and put to flight impure thoughts. For when I name the name of Jesus, I call to mind at once a Man meek and lowly of heart, benign, pure, temperate, merciful; a Man conspicuous for every honourable and saintly quality; and also in the same Person the Almighty God – so that He both restores me to health by His example and renders me strong by His assistance."

When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of Glory died, See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown? Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

The church believes that "the chief responsibility of the ordained ministry is to assemble and build up the body of Christ by proclaiming and teaching the Word of God, by celebrating the sacraments, and by guiding the life of the community in its worship, its mission and its caring ministry". Yet, we must see the ordained ministry from the perspective of the calling of the whole people of God. We are all called to worship, learning and teaching, service and evangelism.

What Jesus has done for us, what he has given to us and what he has become for us is beyond comparison. It’s all about him, Jesus. Jesus is the light that illumines our dark world, this vale of tears. He is the one who has given us the Holy Spirit, the triune God’s powerful presence within us and among us, enabling us to live life to the full ... if and when we live for him. Jesus has given us freedom to live life the right way round, with a goal and a purpose. We are rich in him. He has given us life’s treasures in abundance.

God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ — it’s all about Jesus. And when we have Jesus, when we live in the light, then God’s supreme power is at work in us: Even when troubled, we are not crushed; in doubt? Yes, but never in despair; surrounded by enemies, yes: but never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. Jesus has given us a life worth living and dying for. What’s it all about? - It’s all about Jesus. Love so amazing, so divine, demands our soul, our life, our all. And so I want this testimony to be an invitation to you, to give your life to Jesus anew, to join me in the words of Charles Wesley’s great hymn:

"I would the precious time redeem, And longer live for this alone:
To spend, and to be spent, for them who have not yet my Saviour known;
Fully on these my mission prove, and only breathe, to breathe thy love.
My talents, gifts and graces, Lord, into thy bless├Ęd hands receive;
And let me live to preach thy word, And let me to thy glory live;
My every sacred moment spend, In publishing the sinner’s friend."

Amen.


Amen, indeed!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

New minister's orientation booklet

It occurred to me recently that 95% of what I know about the workings of “employment” as a minister comes from having been a Circuit Treasurer, not because I was actually told these things when entering the ministry! I have put “employment” in inverted commas, because ministers are not in an employment relationship with the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in the conventional sense, but rather in a covenantal relationship, but we receive certain benefits (e.g. pension, medical aid), and similar “rules” (tax, etc.) apply equally to us as ministers as to those in secular employment.

Whenever I have started employment in the corporate world, the first thing that happens is that we are given a booklet, which outlines all the various “need to know” stuff one needs when becoming part of that organisation. I’m talking about real nuts-and-bolts stuff – how the medical aid works, where to submit claims to, how the process works (for instance, on our scheme we are required to pay up front and then claim – something I’ve never had to do in over 20 years on a medical aid scheme), who pays for removals from one Circuit to another, what the practical implications are of being in a “covenantal” relationship rather than an “employment” relationship are, how the whole tax setup works (particularly when one receives travel allowances, are in a Church-owned manse, etc.), and what sort of benefits are available from the pension fund such as funeral cover, group life, pension benefit, etc.

Yes, I KNOW that all this information is available from various sources (EMMU, the Yearbook, MCO, Conference minutes, etc.). However, firstly you need to know where to find what, and secondly, you don’t necessarily know what you need to know! If all of this information was in a single booklet, it would make entry into the ministry that much easier. Perhaps such a booklet could even be handed to you once you make it through the screening process, so that you know what you’re in for before a truck pitches up to take your furniture off to Timbuktu!

I’m interested in compiling a draft of such a booklet, to be submitted to the Methodist Connexional Office for consideration. Therefore, if you are a Methodist minister, please drop me a comment indicating what sort of things you would like to have seen in such a booklet, had one been available when you candidated for the ministry. Stuff you’d even like to know now!

First "solo flight" - with a congregation!

This past Sunday was my first “solo flight” in terms of celebrating Communion with a congregation as a minister, and let me tell you, it’s a LOT more daunting than doing it in Phase One college! And in Afrikaans, to boot! Thankfully my Coloured congregations follow a fairly liturgical form of service, as I find Afrikaans a lot easier to read than to speak! In Standard Three (now Grade Five), we had a textbook entitled “Vlot Afrikaans” (direct translation: “Fluent Afrikaans”). In my case, it’s more like “Vrot Afrikaans” (direct translation: “Rotten Afrikaans”).

Strangely enough, I had a very weird feeling when consecrating the elements. In line with the Apostle Paul’s words, “…for I have received from the Lord that which I give to you”, we are taught that as minister we are to receive the elements ourselves first, and then serve them to the congregation. But at college, there were always two of us leading the service, so one would serve the other, then we’d swop around, and then together we would serve the congregation. This time, I was giving Communion to myself – the first time I have ever done so! As a result, I reflected on what the “sacrament” part of being called to the ministry of Word and Sacraments means, and for the first time this became a reality to me.

This particular congregation was also somewhat hesitant in allowing the children to come forward, which presented me with an opportunity for teaching. After all, the Lord’s Table does not belong to the Methodist Church, or to confirmed members only – it belongs to all who love Jesus as Lord and wish to remember His sacrifice for us. Children may not understand all the theological “ins and outs” about the Eucharist, but they sure can understand what it means to love Jesus! And what they don’t understand, it’s our responsibility as parents and as the Church to teach them.

Jesus died for children also, and Scripture teaches us that our Lord had a particularly special place in His heart for children. In fact, Jesus tells us to “allow the children to come to Me, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”, and also reminds us that we need to have faith like a child in order to please God. Why, then, should we withhold access to the Lord’s Table from children? Surely we WANT them to come into a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Saviour? How will this happen if we keep pushing them away?

Reflections on relationships

One of the hardships that I have to come to terms with as a Phase One probationer is the fact that I am in Uitenhage, and my family has had to remain in Johannesburg. I have to confess that being on my own was great for the first couple of weeks, as it gave me time to adjust to the new routine of ministry, Phase One college, etc. After that, it became just plain miserable!

So it was with a degree of anticipation that I flew up to Johannesburg last week. Granted, it wasn’t under the best of circumstances, being as it was to attend my late father-in-law’s funeral, but the thought of being able to spend even 24 hours with my wife was one that lifted the spirits somewhat.

Having now returned to Uitenhage, it struck me yesterday that a marriage relationship is like building a sandcastle. If you don’t keep working at it, shaping it, adding more sand, and protecting it from the ocean, it will be eroded and eventually disappear altogether.

One of the things that I realised is that, having been married for just over 17 years, one goes through various stages in a marriage. There’s the foundation stage, where you get used to living under the same roof, and this is usually when one has the “Mother of All Wars” over something trivial like whether the toilet seat should be left up or down. (I found this out the hard way when my new bride got up at 4 am to go to the loo, and plonked her derriere down on the cold porcelain, because some thoughtless, selfish so-and-so left the seat up…)

But gradually a couple grows together, to the point where Belinda and I now finish each other’s sentences – correctly! I remember the one time the two of us had arrived at a home cell meeting, and as we were walking in, Belinda was busting my chops by saying, “You’ve left the goodie in the whatzername again”, to which I replied, “No, I did not leave my Bible in the car – here it is!” Our fellow cell members thought that she had received the gift of tongues, and me the gift of interpretation!

On this particular visit back to Johannesburg, however, I got a sense that there was a bit of “rebuilding” to do. Something from our relationship sandcastle had been eroded by the ocean of time. Now don’t read too much into this statement – we aren’t heading for the divorce courts! In fact, it wasn’t even something that would give rise to a disagreement. However, there was a feeling that, somehow, we needed to get back to where we were in our relationship – it’s as though we had slipped back from Year 17 to about Year 15.

In two weeks’ time my family will be joining me in Uitenhage for a while (just 15 more sleeps – yay!), and the rebuilding process will be able to take place. But spare a thought for those ministers – even those who are ordained – who, through circumstances, are apart from their spouses, sometimes for years at a stretch. What happens to those relationships? We wail and gnash our teeth when we hear of a minister getting divorced, but could this be a contributing factor?

I’m thankful that God has helped me recognise so early in my ministry that time apart DOES have an eroding effect on one’s relationship. This revelation has helped me to realise that I need to work even harder at my marriage, especially during the short times that we are together. But this is yet another thing that one doesn’t learn in textbooks. No-one tells you about these things. And if the Church DOES provide support for ministers in this situation, we are not told where to find such support.

What has been the experience of other ministers who have been stationed in places where their families could not join them? How did they cope? Did they have similar experiences to those that I have described here? And did the church provide any support? If so, where does one go, or who does one speak to? Comments – please!