Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Holiday reflections...

The staff at the Night Shelter gave us this wall hanging thanking us for our support in 2019. With a Maori theme (two of our staff are Maori) the fish hook represents strength, loyalty and consistency. 

Switching off.

My wife and I have been on holiday. Actually since leading a service on Christmas Eve I have only done fire service chaplaincy, with just one visit to the Brewery. We have not even attended the local Church and have not led any Church services. We are currently at a camp ground on the outskirts of the city of Christchurch enjoying a holiday, visiting a son and his kids here. We go back home later this week.
Shortly after New Year I had a phone call from the fire station and was told of a heap of duvets that I could offer to the Night Shelter. Fire fighters helped me to load them and I delivered them to the Shelter. The shelter has duvets for their beds, but hands out bedding to people setting up homes in boarding houses, houses or flats. The local firefighters' social club are running a raffle to raise money for Australian fire fighters who are impacted by the massive fires there. They were looking for donations of various prizes, and I re-posted a request on face book. One of the women at the brewery I visit, read my post and went around the various departments asking the leaders if they would donate. I visited the brewery and came up with probably more than a thousand dollars worth of prizes which I handed on to the social club at the fire station.  I love it that people see me as a conduit for their generosity and they want to support the causes I support.
Before we left for our holiday, I had a phone call from an officer at the fire station telling me that a couple of the firefighters had suffered the loss of a parent. One of them I knew was about to happen, but the other was a surprise to me. A woman firefighter's dad had died. I touched base with her, and pretty soon after she rang again, and asked if I would lead the funeral. I met with the family and loved the experience of suddenly meeting new people and the privilege of being let into their family history and their life. On the Saturday that we were to leave on our holiday, at midday, I led the funeral where there was a good turn out of off duty and on duty fire fighters who came to support their colleague. For a number of reasons it was not an easy funeral to lead but I managed to do it. There was a free flowing open time and a reflection time when people wrote on the casket. I was getting worried about the length of time it took but wanted a relaxed atmosphere. I ended up ad libbing the last part of the ceremony, to make it suit the atmosphere that had been created. We loaded the casket into the hearse and two Maori women, friends of the family, stepped forward and shared a Waiata.  (funeral song/addressing the deceased - involving expressive actions.) I didn't know it was going to happen and I don't think the family did, but it was a great way to conclude the ceremony.  I received very good feedback from people. I breathed a sigh of relief and wandered toward a group of fire fighters. "How do you do that?!" they asked. "It was so well done! How do you hold it together?" Handshakes and even hugs followed.  I left feeling I had ministered not just to the family, but everyone. "God" really didn't get much of a mention, but there was none the less a sacred presence, a sense of solidarity and depth to the event. I am often tempted to finish chaplaincy and truly retire, but then this deep sense of connection happens, and I say to myself, "While I can still make a difference for good, should I really stop?"
I have enjoyed taking a step back from taking Church services though. I consider myself a progressive Christian... hanging very loosely to Traditional Christian doctrine by a very thin thread, but still in love with Jesus. I find it hard leading in a traditional Church. There are keen evangelical and old traditional people there. I try to push the limits without causing harm, but I find the exercise very taxing when I take my two services a month. It has been good to switch off, and I must admit once again ask, "Maybe it is time to stop?"  I am reading a big book by author Karen Armstrong called "The lost art of Scripture." It really gives a run down on the history, experience and scriptures of various religions from India, China, Arabia, Jerusalem and Christianity. It is very detailed and one of the reasons I brought the book with me on holiday, is that I have found it hard to concentrate on it during normal life. It doesn't suit just short blocks of reading. It has raised for me the question of the whole place of religion in life. It seems to be the record of humankind's search for the sacred and important essence in life. There are similarities in the search and experiences of the religions. While it instructs me in detail about the various religions' development, it is prompting me to ask, "What form should the ongoing spiritual search and journey take in this the 21st century?"  The current Church life is no longer real in western society. What could improve it? It is prompting lots of thinking, even though I am finding it difficult to read. That thinking prompts the urge to continue to do something about it. 
I received an email asking if I would lead our local Church worship on February 2nd. I have agreed and I looked up the set scripture readings for the day. It is Micah 6. 
 "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God."          
A very powerful passage from the Old Testament.  The gospel reading is from Matthew 5 ... the beatitudes ... 
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. etc" 

Another very powerful, yet challenging passage. Already my mind is at work on how to structure the service....

So I guess for 2020 I'll still be leading worship services in Church... 

But just now I am enjoying a break from Church.
I enjoyed a mountain bike ride through the forrest near the camp site.

Lyttelton harbour near Christchurch. Damaged in the earthquakes but delightful to visit now.

This bus stop nearby the campground has significance. 52 years ago late at night my girlfriend and I sat in it around New Years day. We were attending a Church youth camp. She asked me, "Do you love me?" I asked her, "What is love?" and proceeded to rubbish any definition she came up with. She ended up nearly in tears, but we have survived and celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary in 2019. 

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