Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sunday Sermon

Of course, having made reference to my Sunday Sermon in the previous blog post, I really should post that too...

God is nowhere?

Good song to go with this morning's sermon, and indeed last Sunday's sermon

Am going through a rediscovery of various things - including some of the music I haven't listened to for a while, and a reconnection with the heartfelt part of faith.  It's easy to get lost in the practicalities of Church, or the intellectual aspects of talking of faith.  This last year has been a journey into a deeper emotional engagement with my own faith and a desire to share and foster that in the community I am privileged to be leading, St John The Divine, Victoria.

Anyway, this song works well as part of a theme. Jars of Clay, Silence.  The video is fan made...

The illustrious history of weepy women

I wondered about putting this on New Kid Deep Stuff, but decided that things have been too quiet here lately - so here's my thoughts for the commemoration of St Monnica, mother of St Augustine, which is marked tomorrow (August 27th) in the Anglican Calendar.

First of all I need to share what the Anglican Church of Canada writes in the way of biographical information for this day:

Today we remember Monnica, a woman of fourth-century North Africa and the mother of Augustine of Hippo. She was a devout Christian, regular in her prayers and careful in raising her children to be Christians as well. However, her eldest son Augustine wandered away from the Church in his youth and came under the spell of an outlaw sect  known as the Manichees. Monnica refused to give up on her son and tried to get others to argue him out of his infatuation with Manichean teachings. She once approached a bishop who told her that, given time, her son would certainly outgrow his false opinions. But Monnica would not be soothed and continued her entreaties.  The bishop finally groaned: “Woman, go away from me now ! As sure as you live, it is impossible that a son of such tears should perish!”

Augustine was embarrassed by his mother, and when he decided to leave North Africa and seek his fortune in Italy, he tricked her so that she would not come with him. He ought to have known her better, for she eventually showed up on his doorstep. By that time Augustine had at last renounced the Manichees and was slowly moving back towards the Church. Monnica had the supreme joy of beholding the fulfillment of her prayers at the Easter Vigil of the year 387, when Augustine was baptized at the basilica of Milan.

Shortly afterwards he decided to return to North Africa with his mother, but while they were waiting for a ship to take them across the Mediterranean Monnica fell ill. It was soon clear that she was dying, and Augustine became anxious, knowing she had always wanted to be buried in North Africa. She told him not to worry, saying: “Nothing is far from God; I need not fear that he will know where to raise me up at the end of the world.”

 A few days later she died, at peace with God, the Church, and her son.

And the Bible Readings set for this day give some background... Click on the references to go to links at The Oremus Bible Browser.... 

And here's what I think....

The illustrious history of teary women

At first sight it looks as though today`s Bible readings are about weepy women – along with Monnica being described as a mother who weeps for her son when he joins the Manichees and longs for his return to Christian faith.  We celebrate Augustine tomorrow, so we know the end of the story…

So often, tears are seen as signs of weakness – and when we see someone weeping we are conditioned to think that this person can`t cope.  We read of Hannah in today`s lesson from 1 Samuel and see her disappointment and distress at not being able to conceive.  We hear Jesus talk of women in labour struggling and tearful.  If we go elsewhere we see the women who go to the garden after Jesus` death weeping, and Mary Magdelene weeping in front of who she thought was the gardener.  Alongside the story of the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.

But these tears aren`t tears of weakness.  And weeping isn`t a sign of not being able to cope.  Nor is it just the province of women – the writers of the psalms talk of weeping by the rivers of Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah cries out “Oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes fountains of tears”, King David wept over the loss of his Son, Absalom, and in the shortest verse in the Bible (at least in the King James translation) we read ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11.35).

Weeping becomes something that has multiple layers – from bereavement, to loss of nation, longing for forgiveness, compassion and hope.  It’s not that a person isn’t strong, but that only tears can express the depth of their feeling.

For Monnica, mother of St Augustine, whose commemoration is part of today’s Eucharist, her tears were for her son’s spiritual life.  She, faithful in following Christ, struggled with Augustine’s drifting to a sect which she saw as so far from the truth.  She wanted her son to know the fullness of the faith she had found in Christ, and the knowledge of God’s love in Christ.  For those of you who like to know these things, Manichaeism was a Gnostic sect that believed that matter was evil and spirit was good – the material world was dark and the spiritual world was light.  It was a dualistic religion of asceticism and self-denial.

She saw her son drifting from the fullness of life offered in Christ, and wept with compassion, loss, and even hope.  In dismissing her, perhaps in a short tempered moment, the nameless Bishop actually seemed to speak some truth – it is impossible that a son of such tears should perish.  When such love and compassion is shown, change, transformation, hope is present. 

I suffer from two great afflictions –  certainly when it comes to expressing emotion – that I am English, and that I am a man.  From a country that still believes in the ‘stiff upper lip’ and a western society that somehow continues to buy into the myth that ‘big boys don’t cry’.  I am learning again to recognise that God doesn’t live solely in places of reason, order, clear thinking, argument and structure.  God is in our hearts, our emotions, our messy lives, our love, our compassion, our frustration, our despair and our tears.

So if you encounter any wailing people in our scripture or any of our Christian story – be aware that such tears are blessed, and God hears the cry of our hearts when the words fail.  I thank God for the illustrious history of weepy women, and men, and pray that I may too be able to follow their example. 

Thanks be to God.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Today at Church

Not done this for a while, but today's Pentecost Celebration at St John the Divine was so enjoyable that I think I want to post a sermon which shares a bit of the holy chaos and the feeling of welcome and inclusion which is (for me) one of the strengths of St John's.  So here is my thought for today!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Collecting it all together

If you do want to read the entirety of my dissertation on "power and pastoral ministry' (and who wouldn't ? (joke) ) then it might be easier if I just give all the links in one post....  So here goes - click on a title to be taken to the full chapter

Chapter 1 - The roots of power in pastoral relationships
Chapter 2 - A New Testament understanding
Chapter 3 - Power structures within the Church
Chapter 4 - The use of power and its abuses
Chapter 5 - Observations and Conclusions

And there we go...

Friday, June 06, 2014

Last but not least - Bibliography

I should really let everyone know my sources, so here's a link. 


That's all folks.  I have a couple of essays which might bear re-reading and sharing, I will get back to you on that.  In the meanwhile, enjoy some Anathema

Concluding Chapter

Here it is - some threads drawn together in my deliberations from 18 years hence.  I am, as previously said, amazed by how much of what I wrote back then is embedded deep within my style and convictions as I proceed in this wonderful, weird and wacky world of  Ministry.  As the years go by I realise more and more the privilege and responsibility of this calling - and how much fun it can be, as well as the deeply moving experiences of being alongside people in all aspects of life and death.  I could say more, and will do.  But here's the last chapter... and for those of you who like such things there will be a Bibliography added soon...

The nature of power in Pastoral Ministry

Chapter 5
Observations and Conclusions

The purpose of this study has been to make it clear that to attempt to deny or ignore the power inherent in Pastoral encounters is deluded and opens the way to serious, though often unconscious, abuses of the power that exists whether it is acknowledged or not.  This acknowledgement of power and the acceptance of the authority conveyed upon those engaged in pastoral ministry is the beginning of any attempt to move on and tackle the related issues that arise in pastoral work.  The presence of power will, whether known or not, influence any pastoral encounter for ill or for better.[more]

Thursday, June 05, 2014

And on we go... Power (and it's abuses) in Pastoral Mnistry

This next chapter is a telling one, within it is a short reflection on when the wielding of power in Pastoral ministry goes wrong, using in part the experience of the Nine O'Clock Service in the UK which having begun as a seemingly positive and life-affirming attempt to meet people 'where they were' turning into a community of manipulation and abusive behaviour. 

The nature of power in Pastoral Ministry
Chapter 4
The use of power, and its abuses
In the previous chapter we saw how power has been an integral part of the ministry of the Church since it’s inception, by the example of the power and authority within the ministry of Jesus and by the authority conferred onto the Apostles and subsequent leaders of the Church.
Power, and the authority which often makes that power possible, undergirds the relationship between client and minister in any pastoral encounter. [more]

Power in Pastoral Ministry - Another Chapter

This Chapter of my MA dissertation is probably the one which has had most influence on my thinking as a Pastor and leader/servant within the Church.  If I can live out some of the values of acknowledging and sharing power as a Minister/Priest then I feel I have actually succeeded in holding to the principles which I espouse.

The nature of power in Pastoral Ministry
Chapter 3
Power structures within the Church

As the church of the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic eras had to come to terms with a need to change the structures by which they operated, so also there is the need for the pastoral ministers of today to consider the power structures within which they work and the authority which gives them freedom so to do.  The balance between charismatic and institutional power will always be a difficulty, but one which the church has the responsibility to take seriously.  In order to maintain any form of accountability the church needs structures which bind the power a pastor has with the responsibility of representing a larger organisation, and with the ethos of empowerment that Jesus exhibited in his own ministry. [more]

Continuing on a theme

Still getting through putting this MA Thesis online - did I say before it was submitted in the late 1990s? It passed, though not with flying colours, and I am the happy recipient of a MA in Pastoral Theology...

Disappointed by the inability of blogger to cope with Greek lettering which I was very proud of in the original!  Again, taster below, link to New Kid Deep Stuff Blog where the longer stuff I want to post lives...

The nature of power in Pastoral Ministry

Chapter 2
A New Testament Understanding

As the New Testament forms the basis of the understanding and beliefs from which today’s church operates, or at least claims to operate,  it provides us with a basis for examining the structures of power and of authority within which the present day Christian community works. [more]