God's Word for today

Friday, 21 August 2009

Lunchtime - Day 3

Yesterday morning was quite enlightening as we continued our visits in the North End area. Our first visit was to the Magistrates’ Court, which we discovered covers the whole of the greater Port Elizabeth area. Having never been in a courtroom in my life before, I was astonished to see what an incredibly busy place it is. As a result, we found it difficult to speak to people, and established that access to people would be easier if one made an appointment. We did however manage to speak to someone in the domestic violence and maintenance sections, where we established a dire need for counselling.

Then it was on to Home Affairs, which was not actually an office as we would understand it, but in fact a designated refugee processing centre. Once again we were quite amazed to see the number of different nationalities of the people present – Zimbabweans, Kenyans, Pakistanis, and even Chinese. Since the centre only processes 50 applications per day, those who are no’s 51 onwards must come back the next day. Many people (both men and women) therefore end up sleeping in the street, so as to make the queue the next day. One man we spoke to from Zimbabwe is a Methodist from Bulawayo, who indicated that he had been waiting for a week to be able to get into the "top 50" for a particular day.

Corruption and exploitation appears to be rife – we saw a move by a security guard that appeared to be the soliciting of a bribe, possibly for asylum papers / a place in the queue. There was another interesting incident that I didn't notice at first - a white man in a bakkie slowed down, and was immediately surrounded by a number of the refugees. It appeared that he was looking for temporary workers (illegally), and according to my colleagues, he appeared shocked to see me (the only white face in the crowd) as he then drove off in quite a hurry.

There is also a pre-school in the area. However, the majority of children are not from the North End area itself, but from surrounding townships.

Some of the group visit a clinic, where they encountered a high incidence of HIV+ people. There was no support system (counselling), and the staff was not aware that there is a Methodist Church in North End. They indicted that the Church could help immensely by establishing VCT (voluntary HIV testing and counselling) support centres.

Needless to say, a VERY tired group of Phase Ones arrived back at North End just before lunch - and we still had evening services to prepare for...

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Lunch on Day Two, and the score is...

We've just returned from Mothwa Haven, an old-age home in North End, and (to be quite honest) I could have spent the entire afternoon there. I don't know what it is - I never thought of myself as having a particular ministry to older folks, but somehow there is great pleasure in just sitting and chatting to people. And as I shared some tea with the folks, and listened to some of their memories, I really felt ... well, loved, actually.

There were a couple of sad moments, however.

Firstly, there was a realisation that although the residents have each other's company, and the surroundings are pleasant enough (I, for one, wouldn't feel too hard done by living there, except that my surround-sound hifi system might create a few enemies), many of the people receive few (if any) visitors from outside. I'm beginning to think that having a group of people to visit such homes on a regular basis, taking along a tray of biccies and having a chat, playing cards, or simply reading to the folks (especially those with failing eyesight) could be a ministry in itself.

Secondly, some of the particularly frail people are no longer to take care of even the basic necessities, such as feeding themselves or performing ablutions. I nearly cried when we were serving communion, as for some of the folks we literally needed to place the bread in their mouths, and hold the cup for them - just as one would do with a baby.

The sobering thought is that all of us will one day grow old. I once heard a saying that the level to which a nation can be considered "civilised" is evidenced by how they treat their aged. I just have such a deep sense whenever I visit these homes, both on this plunge and back in my home Circuit, that many of these folks were there for the Church their whole lives - now the Church needs to be there for them. My prayer is that Luke 6: 38 will hold true in this instance, and that as I "give" by visiting institutions such as this, it will be "given back to me" in the form of someone visiting me when I get to the age where I can no longer get out and about.

Plunging into Day Two

Well, Day One of the plunge came and went, and none of us were abducted (or worse). Still, street ministry is quite scary - perhaps that's why so few people actually do it.

Having said that, it was quite enlightening in a sobering kind of way, since it highlighted just how out of touch we as a Church are with our surrounding communities. Unfortunately, given the transient nature of the Phase One programme, we would not be able to embark on a structured, regular visitation programme, but this is definitely something on my list for when I am placed in a church for 3 or more years.

Sadly, the "R" word reared its ugly head - some of my black colleagues experienced some difficulty when attempting to speak to white people. I don't know if it is deep-seated racism, or the perception that someone coming to the door is perceived by many white folk to be a beggar or criminal. I guess it may be more of the latter, because the resident minister had no problems of this nature, despite being black. Perhaps having his clerical collar on is what made the difference. Certainly, I felt that there was one home that I would probably not have gained access to if it were not for me wearing clericals. I also suspect that my more "with-it" colleagues will be dusting off their Tupperware this morning!

So on to Day 2. I'm going to enjoy today, because we will be spending most of the day conducting services at old-age homes. I don't know if I've just become aware of this since turning 40, but for some time now I've shown a marked preference for ministering to the "oldies" than to teenyboppers. Already at this early stage of my ministry, I'm beginning to develop a bit of a reputation with my "harem of octogenarians", with my Superintendent (aged 68) only too happy to have turned this side of the ministry over to me. There are two magical words guaranteed to spark off an hour-long conversation - "Springbok Radio" - which (sadly) went off the air 10 years before any of the current teens were even born.

Tomorrow night we'll be ministering to youth - that's when Jenny, Gift, and others come to the fore, and I'll hide behind the sound system and keep my gob shut.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Things starting to fall into place

In a previous post I reported that I needed to find a place in a school for my son for 2010. This process has been made a bit awkward by the uncertainty surrounding where I am going next year, and as a result I've had to obtain provisional places for him in both Pietermaritzburg and in Uitenhage.

Late last week Pelham Senior Primary School in Pietermaritzburg contacted me to inform me that they are reserving a place for James in 2010. Today it was the turn of Muir College in Uitenhage - while his place in the school for next year has not been confirmed, he had his interview with the Head of Department: Primary Phase today, and it's looking good that they'll have a spot for James as well.

A further letter concerning options for stationing in 2010, as requested by EMMU, was also sent through by my Bishop today, so now it's down to the decision of the EMMU Working Committee, their recommendation to the Connexional Executive, and then the final decision by Conference towards the end of September.

With places in schools confirmed for both Pietermaritzburg (where the Seminary is located) and Uitenhage (where I am currently stationed, and amd hoping - for a variety of reasons - to remain next year), watch the Church throw me a curve-ball and send me to Cape Town next year! (hee hee :-)

And so the journey (and the waiting) continues...

Plunging right in

Well, the "Plunge" has started, and our group of Phase One probationers has plunged right in! For immediately upon our arrival at the College at North End Methodist Church in Port Elizabeth, we had a quick bite to eat and then it was down to the business of finalising the overall plan for the week.

At this early stage some of us are already getting a bit "wired" - the control freaks among us naturally want everything to go without a hitch. Countering this is the inherent fear that we actually don't really know what we are doing. As a result, our first meeting was a bit chaotic, and in the Bishop's presence as well - but somehow, amid all the noise and bluster, we managed to come up with a (more or less) coherent plan.

The aim of the plunge is to bring a renewal to the North End area. If ever we needed God's guidance, it's now...

Friday, 14 August 2009

Call me juvenile, but...

I'm really blessed to have a wonderful secretary who plies me with cups of tea throughout the day. However, what goes in must also come out!

But today, when nature called, I really wish I had a stopwatch going. My son and I are locked in a long-standing, bitter battle for the title "World's Longest Pee", and I'm convinced I wrested the title from his grasp today - except I don't have an official time to verify it.

Next time, James ... next time ...

Our God Is SO Big!

This is the theme of the Phase One "Plunge" that takes place next week (17-21 August 2009), and we've been given the "small" task of bringing revival to the North End area of Port Elizabeth. Thankfully, although our ablities are very small, we serve a God Who is so BIG!

Please pray for 11 scared but excited Phase One probationers, as well as for all the people who will be touched by this great big wonderful God Whose love knows no bounds.

As an aside, it seems that lately God is speaking to me through songs, and right now I'm meditating on a song that I last sung back in 1978 when I was in Standard Two!

We've got a Great BIG Wonderful God!
We've got a Great BIG Wonderful God!
A God Who loves every one of us
Always taking care of us
Great BIG Wonderful God!

We've got a Great BIG Wonderful God!
We've got a Great BIG Wonderful God!
A God Who's always victorious
Always watching over us
Great BIG Wonderful God!

I can't remember the rest, but I'm sure the message is pretty clear!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Reaffirming a sister's calling

Yes, I KNOW that this is aimed at women in ministry, and I KNOW that I'm a guy, but this story written by Rev Dr Jeanette Krige really inspired me...

I wrote this some years ago, but share it with you in connection with women finding their gifts.

"I lie asleep on the hard ground with my head on a thin pillow. I feel comfortable most of the time, until I move my head, as I must do from time to time. That is when I feel it. I tried to ignore it, to hope it goes away, but it is there. It has been there for a long time. It seems to grow bigger and more uncomfortable and I wonder how much longer I can bear it. It is hard. I think it is a stone, but how can that be? I have never known any women with these stones.

I lie awake and think about it. Then I turn and fall asleep. I forget for a while, but whenever I stir, the discomfort returns. It grows. There seems to be no return to comfort, but I still drift off into a troubled sleep.

Of course the hard lump wakes me up again. Of course I have to face up to it. It just won't go away. I am confused. Some people tell me I am mistaken. "These are not for women." Others just laugh. "Are you trying to be a man?" Some try to encourage me to reach out and take hold of the stone and bring it out into the light, but I am afraid. I am deeply influenced by the ones who tell me I am wrong. Am I making this up? Maybe it is not a stone at all, but something else? I start trying to find all kinds of other things under my pillow, hoping they will satisfy me and leave me in comfort again, but the stone is still there.

I start to wake up. I am finally going to deal with this. While my hand moves under the pillow, I still have fear and questions. What if this is wrong? What if this is really not meant for me, a woman? What if this is something that will harm me and my family? Am I strong enough to face this?

I don't fully understand. There is something deeply mysterious about this stone.

I start talking to the great Stone Mason more and more. The Stone Mason talks to me through a book, but those who say I should not have the stone at all, use the same book. This troubles me. I study this book more and more. One day the Stone Mason sends a messenger, a woman. She tells me about stones, beautiful stones other women have found. With fear and trembling, I confess that I too think I have a stone. She tells me she will talk to the Stone Mason about this. She is gone for a long time. She seems to be such an important person that I really don't expect her to even remember me when I see her again, but she does. She flings her arms around me and asks, "What have you done about your stone?"

At that moment I hear the great Stone Mason speaking. I must act immediately.

Of course it isn't easy. Dealing with stones never is. Some started jeering when I announced my intention to take the stone out. Some friends left. "That is no job for a woman. Go and cook and pour tea. Leave that to the men. Who do you think you are?"

I can tell them, I know who I am, a woman, a person made to serve the One who gave the stone in the first place. It is painful to deal with this stone. I notice other women have been hurt and bruised. I must risk it. I can do no other. I have hidden this stone too long. The Stone Crafter offers to help me. Together we can do it. I must simply reach for the stone, allow it to be washed and allow the light to shine through it.

At first it is dirty and doesn't look like much. Gradually the washing and chipping away reveals that this stone is a beautiful diamond. It is starting to shine brilliantly and reflect the light. Each cut is painful but necessary in the overall pattern. It isn't finished yet, but what a beautiful gift!"

Blessings to you and all colleagues. Let us celebrate our unique gifts and realise again that it is by God's mercy that we have this ministry and let us focus on some of the positive wonders of being able to minister. It is all too easy to just see the negatives.

God always knows where we're at - if only we will listen...

At our "Journeying with God" session this past Sunday, Bill was talking about the many different ways that God can speak to us - if only we will take the time out to listen. Too often we want the booming voice from heaven, while God often chooses to use ordinary, everyday things.

This morning in my quiet time, I was really blessed to have brought to my remembrance the words of a Steve Camp song that I haven't listened to for some time. Yet somehow, right now, I needed to hear them again. A voice from God, perhaps? Read the lyrics, and decide for yourself...

He is all you need
Steve Camp

When you're alone, your heart is torn, He is all you need
When you're confused, your soul is bruised, He is all you need
He's the rock of your soul, He's the anchor that holds
Through your desperate time

When your way is unsure His love will endure, a peace you will find
Through all your years, the joy, the tears, He is all you need

When you give in to that familiar sin, He is all you need
Guilt as you're paralyzed, it slowly it eats you alive, He is all you need
He'll be faithful to you though your heart is untrue
And your love's grown cold

His forgiveness is real, it'll comfort and heal your sin-weary soul
Well, God loves you so, He'll never let you go
He is all you need

He'll be faithful to you though your heart is untrue
And your love's grown cold
His forgiveness is real, to comfort and heal your sin-weary soul

Through all your years, the joy, the tears, He is all you need

Camp, Frazier
© 1984 Birdwing Music / Cherry Lane Music Publishing Co., Inc. (ASCAP) / High Pinnacle Music (BMI) (Admin. by CMI)

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Prayer for a Phase One still coming to terms with God's call

I found this STUNNING prayer over on Angus Kelly's blog. Gus, I know I should probably be more original in my posts (and in my prayers, for that matter), but given where I am at the moment, this one is particularly meaningful for me right now.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude", Abbey of Gethsemani

Some good news

There's a little bit of light on the horizon for next year - Pelham Senior Primary School in Pietermaritzburg has confirmed that they have reserved a Grade 6 place for James next year.

This is, of course, assuming that I am in fact going to the Seminary next year. At the moment I'm still waiting for some firm answers in this regard. It seems that while everyone is talking AROUND us, no-one is actually talking TO us.

I'm at the point now with this whole thing where I'm beginning to subscribe to the Doris Day Doctrine - que sera sera, whatever will be, will be...

Using the "R" word

"[If] you polish a turd, it's still a turd" - Peanut (Jeff Dunham, "Arguing With Myself")

I had an interesting discussion with one of my fellow Phase ones last night concerning the various organisations within the MCSA. We were discussing aspects such as uniform, and commented on the fact that some people want to join a particular organisation, but are anti wearing the uniform.

From my point of view, I have no strong feelings wither way concerning uniforms. I am hhowever aware that us whiteys aren't too crazy about uniforms - the Women's Auxiliary, for instance, don't wear them - but as we spoke, I came to realise that uniform is not the real issue.

I can say this because as a former member of the Welsh Male Voice Choir of South Africa, I've had experience of the whole uniform "thing". And let's be honest - if you aren't wild about wearing black shoes, grey trousers, a white long-sleeved shirt, and a green blazer with the Welsh dragon on the breast pocket, then tough - you simply won't be allowed on stage. And likewise, if you want to join a Methodist organisation whose Constitution prescribes a particular uniform, then unless the organisation as a whole decides to do away with uniforms, you have no option but to suit up.

And that's not really a problem. While I cannot in a million years claim to have really been active in the struggle against apartheid, much to my regret, I am reasonably proud that I've managed to build bridges in some small way by joining the Local Preachers' Association in 2007. Granted, I was the only whitey to wear a black suit, and I was not too hard to find at the Central District LPA Convention that year (hee hee), but when it comes down to brass tacks, most Local Preachers wouldn't dream of going into the pulpit wearing anything other than jacket and tie.

So if the issue is not the uniform, then is it language? Once again, I go back to the 2007 LPA Convention (I missed 2008 due to assignment pressures, and I'll say more about 2009 shortly) - now to be fair, if you are the only one among 300 delegates who doesn't speak Xhosa, you can't reasoably expect the entire convention to be conducted in English. But a couple of my fellow preacers gathered around me and gave me a running commentary, in English, of what was happening. When I felt the need to address the convention, someone gladly translated into Xhosa for me. In fact, I can think of very few occasions where I was made to feel more welcome!

So what, then, IS the real issue? It's race! This came home to me quite forcibly when I was invited to give the opening address at the Grahamstown District LPA Convention earlier this year. Being quite honoured to receive such an invitation, especially since I am new to the District and a Phase One to boot, I looked at the dates, and to my great surprise, I noticed that the dates had changed from those published in the District diary. When I queried this, was told that there are actually two LPA Conventions - one for coloured preachers, and one for blacks.

I was aghast! What happened to our commitment, made 50 years ago, to be a "one and undivided Church"? And how is it that the "powers that be" permit such a situation to continue?

Similar thoughts came to mind when I had a meeting with the Young Men's Guild (YMG) of my congregation earlier this year. They indicated an unwillingness to attend the YMG Convention on the grounds that they, being a coloured community, speak Afrikaans, while the majority of YMG members speak Xhosa, the language in which proceedings are usually conducted. Their complaint was that they felt excluded on grounds of language.

My response to them was that they should attend the convention, but request that since there is a reasonably large group of coloured YMG members, the language differences should be accommodated. If the convention organisers refused to do so, I was prepared to create a big stink about this at Synod.

The problem is - they didn't go. They lost a great opportunity to create some unity within the YMG. In fact, deep down I believe that the language issue was a red herring - they weren't able to have their own convention (for coloureds) - although this possibility was suggested, which I dismissed out of hand - but they weren't prepared to join in with the blacks.

So why my quotation at the beginning of this post? Because you can dress up racism as nicely as you want - the apartheid enginees tried this with "separate development", "own affairs", and "plural affairs" (what on earth is a "plural"?) - but racism remains racism.

Which brings me to another thorn in my side - the Black Methodist Consultation (BMC). Being white, I of course was not invited to join. Never mind that I may possibly be in support of some of the aims that the BMC is trying to achieve, I am excluded purely because of the colour of my skin. Yet if I were to suggest the formation of a "WMC", I would be branded as an out-and-out racist, a relic of the apartheid era. And rightfully so!

So my question is this: At the risk of being lambasted in the blogosphere, how is it that racism is only racist when perpetrated by white folks? Surely a turd, no matter how brightly it is polished, whatever name it is given, and whoever does the polishing, remains a turd?

Hey there, good looking!

I was recently invited to join the Facebook group "Group for Ridiculously Good Looking Methodist Ministers", and was flattered to think that I qualified. Then I saw this picture of Angus Kelly, the founder member of this group...

The morning after...

It's nearly 7:30, and there's very little sign of life. The Phase Ones are suffering the after-effects of the Polity exam.

One of my colleagues is looking particularly worse for wear, having worked virtually through the night with only a two-hour break for some sleep. At least he's on Question 7, so he'll make the 09h00 deadline.

I suppose this is another way the Church tries to "build character" in its future ministers.

Hark ... is that the tinkle of a teaspoon in a coffee cup I hear?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Polity Exam - three points, right through the uprights...

Well, that's it - it's done, written, PDF'd, and sent through to the District Office for onward transmission to EMMU.

If you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking out, it's the Polity examination that we wrote at College today. For those of you who don't speak MCSA, its an examination that attempts to test our knowledge of that horrid little red and white book, the Laws and Disciplines of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. I say "horrid", because while it's intended to be a benchmark for good governance within the Church, we unfortunately have some modern-day Pharisees who seek to apply it as a new Torah, and that's when things can get a little ugly.

Anyway, the exam is over, after a 10-hour battle of attrition between me and the question paper. Now I understand why they give us 24 hours to complete what appears to be an innocuous one-page question paper containing a mere seven questions! At least my agony is over - some poor soul at EMMU has to mark the 18-page "thud test" script that I've submitted as my answer...

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Being challenged not to think so much

Belinda and I have just returned home from Week 2 of the "Journeying with God" course that is currently running at John Street, and are feeling quite challenged at the moment. (For those of you who are confused as to which "home" I'm referring to, my wife and son are spending about 2 1/2 weeks with me in Uitenhage - yay!).

I'm being challenged, in particular, to place less reliance on my logical mind, and greater reliance on the move of God's Spirit. For someone who, although I love Jesus very much, has tended to be overly focused on the accountant's mindset of "for every debit, there MUST be a credit", this is proving to be quite a journey!

God is about to take me to a new place in my life. I feel it. I sense it. Now I just need to trust Him and allow it to happen...

(And yes - things ARE slowly getting better concerning how I am beginning to deal with the uncertainty around next year. Call it release, call it peace, call it having my wife and son with me, or call it being able to get a couple of nights of really GOOD sleep - or a combination thereof. Oh, there I go again - trying to be logical...)

Friday, 7 August 2009

Coming to terms with uncertainty

I think I'm getting to a point where I can rant and rave, cry and howl, make 'phone calls and send e-mails, but none of this is going to hasten the decision by the church as to whether or not they will be sending me to seminary next year.

And as Bill Thompson (my Superintendent) said to me yeaterday, I need to come to a "place of rest" concerning this issue. And he's right. I keep talking about trusting in God, and now it's time for me to put my moey where my mouth is. I need to trust God that whatever happens next year, my family will be with me, my son will have a place in a good school, my learnings in ministry will grow, and the Winterhoek Circuit will cope with the work of ministry whether I am there or not.

That the stationing process needs to be examined, and changes made, is beyond doubt - but perhaps that's something I need to tackle at a later stage, with a cooler head. In the meantime, the process needs to take its course - which means that a decision will be made, one way or the other, when Conference meets at the end of next month.

In the meantime, Bill has given me this passage of Scripture to meditate on:

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23: 8-12, KJV).

Time for me to take note...

(As an aside, this is my 250th post since starting this blog.)

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Let's get upset!

"Judgement begins with the house of God" (1 Peter 4: 17)

Something I've been trying to deal with over the past few weeks is this feeling of anger that has been welling up in me from time to time.

I've been particularly angry about the whole "waiting game" that we are having to play concerning our stations for 2010 - it seems that whoever one speaks to is absolutely certain that we are going to SMMS (the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg) next year, but when one presses them on whether their "certainty" means one can put their house on the market, enrol children in school, source alternative employment for one's spouse, etc., there tends to be a great deal of back-pedalling.

"Wait for Conference", we keep getting told. And the more we keep saying that two months is not enough time to put one's affairs in order, the more "the rules" are thrown back in our face.

And so my anger bubbled over the other morning to the point where I needed someone to simply have a good rant at - to clear the air, vent my spleen, so to speak. But the immediate (and very common) reaction was that a Christian shouldn't get angry - that anger is seen as something sinful.

Now granted, anger that drives someone to go and punch their wife can never be seen as righteous. In fact, anyone who told me that they had beaten on their wife out of anger is likely to experience some anger from me in a rather physical and painful way ("five-fold ministry", "laying on of hands" ... you get the idea!). But surely there is a place for righteous anger?

What is "righteous anger"? I'm sure that it can be explained in more flowery theological language than this, but my understanding is that righteous anger is the kind of anger that responds to injustice, which God allows to well up - drives through our spirit, in fact - so that we can get sufficiently riled up to want to bring about change for good.

It would have been righteous anger that caused Jesus to turn over the tables of the moneychangers when He entered the Temple. It would have been a similar type of anger that pitted both Jesus and John the Baptist against the Pharisees - "You brood of vipers" sounds like fighting talk to me". And I have no doubt that the many men and women who have fought against injustices over the centuries, both inside and outside the Church, have been driven by a controlled, Godly, yet searing anger to want to bring about change.

At the moment I am experiencing this type of anger concerning the stationing process within the MCSA. For far too long, too many ministers have been placed in stations that have caused untold hardship to their families. It seems that little consideration has been given to family circumstances. When it comes to things like employment for spouses, schools for children, etc. you are on your own. Even our Laws and Discipline seems to read like a competition entry form, where the adjudicator's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Contrast this with the position in the British Methodist Church, where the process starts with each minister completing a two-page profile form covering aspects such as spiritual gifts, past experience (both in ministry and in secular employment), and family needs (schools, medical facilities, spouse's employment, etc.). One is even asked of one's willingness to be stationed as a Circuit Superintendent if the need should arise.

No doubt the British system has its flaws as well - many blog posts that I have read of British bloggers, both lay and clergy, indicate that the system is by no means perfect. But at least on paper there seems to be some sort of commitment to look out for the minister's own welfare.

It occurred to me this morning that I (and a number of my colleagues that I have spoken to) would be far more effective in ministry, able to devote ourselves fully to our calling and the task at hand, if there wasn't this constant anxiety caused not only by our family situations but the apparent stone wall of silence that we are getting from the "powers that be".

So why the title of this post? It is the title of a song by 80s Christian rock duo, DeGarmo & Key. The song deals with deteriorating conditions in American society, and is a clarion call to Christians to "get upset" enough to rise up and turn things around.

Here are the lyrics to this song:

I was raised in America when streets were safe
And children learned to pray, learned to pray
Things have changed, and it's not the same
The hand of God that we felt has gone away, gone away

Let's get upset and turn this country upside down
Let's get upset. With Jesus' help we'll turn this land around

We used to blush at vulgarity
Now we watch while the TV plays all night, plays all night
Used to stand with our backbones strong
Now the drugs turn our courage into fright. It's not right

Let's get upset and turn this country upside down
Let's get upset. With Jesus' help we'll turn this land around

If we as Christians pray, the Lord will clear the way
We are examples to the rest
And if we place God first
He will heal all our hurts
And we will see our country blessed, blessed

Let's get upset and turn this country upside down
Let's get upset. With Jesus' help we'll turn this land around

Let's get upset. Let's get upset.
With Jesus' help we'll turn this land around
Let's get upset. Let's get upset.

As a Church we got upset enough about apartheid to do everything within our power - both physical and spiritual - to work towards change. But change cannot only be external - it needs to start within. In many ways the current stationing process is more than just a mnor inconvenience - it goes to the core of family life amongst clergy. And we need to start getting upset about it!

Watch this space...

Monday, 3 August 2009

Continuing to play the waiting game...

I've been a bit quiet the last week, not because I've had nothing to say, but because we hit our monthly cap on the ADSL line, rendering us "internet-less" for about four days.

In the meantime, plenty has been happening. The Bishops of the Connexion met about 10 days ago in East London to discuss stationing for 2010, but to my extreme dismay nothing has been decided concerning the Phase Ones - in particular those of us who are trying to make a case for remaining in Circuit next year.

At this stage there are "whisperings" that I may end up going to SMMS (the Methodist seminary in Pietermaritzburg) next year after all, but once again no-one is prepared to commit to a final decision until Conference meets in September.

While I need to respect the processes and procedures of our church, once again it seems that bureaucracy takes precedence over people. To those who do not have children of school-going age, finding a school may seem to be a trivial matter, but to those of us with kids - especially since many (if not most) of the schools have already closed their applications for 2010 - it is a major concern indeed.

Spare too a thought for a fellow Phase One whose husband and children are currently in Johannesburg, having to make a decision to relocate. How is he supposed to even START looking for employment when he doesn't even know which city or town his wife is going to be posted to next year?

As I have stated to various people (including the "powers that be") on numerous occasions, the issue is not about where the Church plans to send us, personal preferences notwithstanding. We did, after all, promise before Synod that we will go to whichever Circuit we are sent. The issue is rather to do with the process, the lack of consultation (at least with us), and the seemingly dogged determination on the part of the Church to follow "the process" with little apparent regard for the people involved.

The fact that large numbers of ministers - including those who are ordained - continue to be stationed in situations where it is difficult for their families to join them, must surely also be of concern. I'm aware that this issue was raised at Conference last year, but it doesn't seem to have translated into any tangible action on the ground.

So what keeps us going under such circumstances? A good friend told me that to go into full-time ministry, one must either be insane, or called by God. Since I don't believe that I've gone insane yet - although I've come close at times - I have to believe that God has indeed called me to serve Him in a full-time ministry capacity.

I also still believe that the rightful place for me to serve God is within the MCSA, and I would never do anything to purposefully hurt or malign the institution. Indeed, at local church level I have received nothing but support and encouragement for my fledgeling ministry, for which I am extremely appreciative and grateful. The local Circuit in fact shares my frustration at the fact that decisions appear not to be forthcoming from the higher echelons, since give that the Phase One programme comes to an end at the end of 2009, they too need to make some decisions concerning the work of ministry next year.

On a personal level, I'm still mulling over how to take this matter further, since it is an issue that is for bigger than me (or even my home Circuit, for that matter) - it is an issue that has had a major impact on the family life of too many ministers, and one that has gone on for way too long.

In the meantime I need to continue to trust that God will make the best of whatever the final outcome may be.

"Though darkness deepens, Lord with me abide..." (from "Abide with Me" - see previous posts)