Dion's random ramblings

Saturday, September 29, 2007

From the sublime to the ridiculous!

So, what do you get when you put Chairman Mao, Steve Jobs from Apple, Paris Hilton, and Dion Forster in the same room!? A square dance of course! Yeehhaaa!

A bit of fun! I got the idea from Emily's blog (http://christchurch.typepad.com/). Thanks Emily!

PS. there is another video floating round the web starring me and... well, say no more... just ignore that one. It never happened! ;-)

Have a blessed weekend!

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Stand in solidarity with Burmese monks

Today brought more news of brutal abuses perpetrated against Burmese Monks who are opposing the military regime in Burma. Please consider signing up to stand in solidarity with the monks (see the link below). Here's the information from the website:

Burma is ruled by one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world. For decades the Burmese regime has fought off pressure--imprisoning elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy activists, wiping out thousands of villages, imposing forced labour, creating refugees-

But last Tuesday Buddhist monks and nuns, revered in Burma, began marching and chanting prayers. The protests spread as hundreds of thousands of ordinary people and public figures joined in, finding the hope they?d lost. Now they?re facing crackdown ? so please, show your solidarity to this movement towards reconciliation and democracy and sign the emergency petition supporting the Burmese people -- it'll be delivered to United Nations Security Council members and international media all week:

Click here.

In the past, Burma's military rulers have massacred the demonstrators and crushed democracy. The world must stand with the Burmese people at this time, to show the military rulers that the world will not tolerate repression and violence.

Right now, global leaders are gathering in New York for the annual United Nations summit. In speeches, press interviews but also in real actions, we need them to show Burma's military junta that the global community is willing to act in solidarity with the protesters.

Show your solidarity to this movement for peace and democracy and sign the emergency petition supporting the Burmese people. It'll be delivered to UN Security Council members and the UN press corps all week:

Click here to sign up

Thank you for your help!
I remember those who were willing to engage in small acts of protest that eventually brought down the South African Apartheid regime. If you can do it, please sign up.

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They are worthy! The 2007 Ordination service of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa

Forgive me for not posting this sooner [Link to photos below]. I have had a few days of re-creation, Megan, Courtney, Liam and I took 4 days of rest and relaxation with her parents in Waterfall just outside Durban in South Africa. It was wonderful! However, it is about time I posted a few thoughts and some photographs from the Ordination service in Stellenbosch last week Sunday.

Within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa the annual Ordination service has become the crowning celebration of the Connexional executive meetings (in the period of the triennial conference), or Conference. This service celebrates that women and men still choose to respond to God's call to ministry - even when they are gifted, capable, and able to do many other things. The service took place in the picturesque town of Stellenbosch, just outside of Cape Town, this year. Our Presiding Bishop, the Rev Ivan Abrahams, presided over the service (shared with the Presiding Bishop of Ghana). In total 29 persons were ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament (called Presbyters in South Africa, Elders elsewhere in the world), and a 4 persons to the ministry of word and service (Deacons, from the Greek word diakonos which means to serve).

The liturgy for the Ordination service contains all of the necessary elements of Christian worship, praise and adoration of God, thanksgiving for God's good gifts, confession of our sin, and a charge to serve God more faithfully and obediently. Apart from the Ordination and communion there are also very pointed reminders that ministry is not reserved for those who are Ordained. In fact it is the 'Lay President' of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa who asks some of most pertinent questions of those to be Ordained, and the Presiding Bishop who charges the congregation of laity and clergy to respond obediently in discipleship to our Lord - all participating together in realizing God's mission in the world.

I have been to more than 10 Ordination services since my own - I have had the privilege of serving as a Presbyter at most of these (a Presbyter is an Ordained minister nominated by an Ordinand to lay hands on his or her head, together with the other Ordained ministers and Bishops when the Ordination prayer is said. Theologically it symbolizes the apostolic succession from one generation of ministers to the next). A special moment in the Ordination service is when all of the Ordained persons who are present (from all Churches and orders of ministry) are asked to stand and renew their promise to faithful service.

I had the incredible joy of serving as a Presbyter for two of my past students, both good friends, at this Ordination service - the Rev Juan Smith (with whom I am pictured above) and the Rev Dorah Ngcakani. Juan and I are good friends. We go a long way back - he was a Phase 1 minister in Cape Town when I was a young minister there. He and I are very alike (just take a look at our hairstyles!) in personality, passion, and love for Christ. This young man is a great gift to Christ's Church! I am thankful that a person who is a graduate, bright, committed, energetic, and capable, has chosen to give his life in service of Christ. It is what the Lord deserves, and it will bring great blessing and fulfillment in his life. Dorah, is a mother to me. She is an extremely accomplished woman. She holds a string of degrees and qualifications, having served as a school principal, Educational inspector, and senior member of the South Africa department of Education. She helped me with advice, guidance, and a patient ear when I was a very 'green' Dean at the Seminary. She is far more capable to do my work than I am, yet she was humble, restrained, wise and gracious as I tried to find my feet. Thank you Juan and Dorah for the blessing of sharing in this incredible day with you!

I do want to encourage others who are hearing God whisper the call to the Ordained ministry (either as a Presbyter, or Deacon) to test that call! There can be no greater way to spend your life than doing the thing that God wants you to do! If you are the best, you're the person that God wants! I am currently working on a little book, that I hope to publish in the next few months. It is intended to help persons discern their call to ministry (whether it be ministry in the pulpit, home, and Church, or ministry in the marketplace, workplace, or wider world). In the meantime however, please read this document if you want to know what steps to take to test your call.

Lastly, I have compiled a little page with photographs of the Ordination (taken with my snap and shoot camera). Please follow the link for photographs of the MCSA Ordination service in 2007.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An evening prayer (from Durban).

Megie, Courtney, Liam and I have taken three days together in Durban. After almost 6 weeks apart we cherish times such as these! I wish I could take more time to be with them.

Many who know me, know that I never travel without my copy of "A guide to prayer for all God's people". For anyone who is looking for a truly superb guide for their personal devotions, this is one of the very best resources out there! It follows the common lectionary, has daily scripture readings from the Old and New Testaments, well written prayers, and superb reflections by well respected scholars, authors, and spiritual parents.

Since the 17th of September I have had the prayer below on my lips - it carried me through the Conference deliberations, and now replenishes my spirit, and my love for my family and my vocation. This little prayer reminds me that I must not fear too much work, nor having to take on tasks that are far greater than my limited abilities, it reminds me that I must not recoil from conflict, or be too concerned about how God will care for me and others - it reminds me that I must simply and courageously seek to ask the question "How will I faithfully follow Christ in this situation?" Whether it is engaging in mission outside of the Church, or mission within it, what Christ requires is faithfulness. Perhaps the prayer may be of some use to you?

If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,
If I have walked in my own willful way -
Good Lord, forgive!

If I have uttered idle words or vain,
If I have turned aside from want or pain,
Lest I myself should suffer through the strain -
Good Lord, forgive!

If I have craved for joys that are not mine,
If i have let my wayward heart repine,
Dwelling on things of earth, not things divine -
Good Lord, forgive!

If I have been perverse, or hard, or cold,
If I have longed for shelter in Thy fold
When Thou hast given me some part to hold -
Good Lord, forgive!

Forgive the sins I have confessed to Thee,
Forgive the secret sins I do not see,
That which I know not, Father, teach thou me -
Help me to live.

C. Maud Battersby

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

When I am not.... Who am I?

This morning my friend Alan Storey and I drove to the Ordination service in Stellenbosch. As we drove we did what friends do, we talked. Alan challenged me with something he said about himself...

Alan will be leaving the Church he planted and built in Midrand at the end of next year. He is so passionate about his ministry and the people there. So I asked him how he felt about placing those people, that ministry, and that place, into the hands of another person. He responded by saying that he has been on a journey to find who 'Alan' truly is, particularly who he is when he is not a minister of the MCSA, when he is not the pastor at Calvary Methodist Church, when he is not a Storey.

He challenged me to ask "Who am I, when I am not..." Who am I when I am not the Dean, when I am not a Doctor? Who am I when no one knows what I do, what my name, or nationality are? Who am I when I am just a face in the crowd? Who am I then?

I would hope that when no one but God knows me, I am only what God wants me to be!

I need to work harder on that... Blessings to all my colleagues who were affirmed in their Ordination today. Blessings particularly to Juan and Dorah!

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

The MCSA's resolution on same sex unions.

It was a tough and taxing day at Conference today. I don't have a great deal of energy to offer critique on the adopted resolution. So, here's the resolution - I'll post more later.

--- The Resolution (excluding the text in bold):

This Conference of 2007, in considering the ongoing same-sex discussion, declares its determination not to permit different viewpoints among us to further divide our church. In the face of our differences we recall and reaffirm the 1958 Conference resolution declaring that "it is the will of God for the Methodist Church that it should be one and undivided."

In the light of that declaration, and informed by the 2001 Conference commitment to being "a community of love rather than rejection," and the 2005 Conference resolution inviting Methodists embracing "many different and even opposing views on the issue? to ?journey together," this Conference seeks a way forward that both respects and holds in tension differing views among our ministers and people.
Conference therefore resolves:
i) That the grace, affirmation of diversity, and commitment to the unity of the church central to the same-sex resolutions of the 2001 and 2005 Conferences be re-affirmed;
ii) That our ministers and people continue to engage this issue in Christian conversation and respectful listening, so that all of us may more fully understand and articulate the variety of viewpoints held within our church;
iii) That we will seek to be a Christ-honouring community:
Celebrating the rich diversity of those called to follow Jesus, honouring the sacred worth of all people and practicing our Wesleyan heritage of warmth, welcome and hospitality;
Recognising the authority of Scripture, and noting that in our quest for understanding, there is no one, monolithic and incontrovertible interpretation of it;
Acknowledging that there are therefore some issues upon which there may never be total unanimity within the church and upon which we must "agree to differ" without reducing our respect for, and trust of, one another;
The following piece was removed from the original resolution we sent through (you can see the original word document in an earlier post on this blog). Here's what was removed:

Affirming Methodism's long-held practice of trusting our ministers to decide who they will or will not marry, and trusting them to exercise their pastoral judgment with integrity in deciding which relationships they will bless, governed by their understanding of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience;
Covenanting to gracefully and equally protect the consciences and actions of those ministers who do not wish to conduct same-sex unions as well as those who wish to do so.
iv) That, in consequence of all the above, the Presiding Bishop and Secretariat of our church be requested to take whatever appropriate legal or other measures necessary to fully implement this resolution.
The removed section above was replaced with the following text (below):

Conference approves the publication of Bible Study material which will assist members of the Church to reflect on the issue of Christians and homosexuality and same-sex relationships;

Conference directs that a meeting be convened to consider the wide spectrum of viewpoints on the civil unions of same-sec souples in order to listen to each other, identify points of agreement and differences and seek a way forward that will enhance the unity of the church. DEWCOM is mandated to convene this engagement;

Conference recognizes that any decision and subsequent action on the issue of civil unions between same-sex partners must await the outcome of the ongoing process of engagement as specified by Conference 2005 (Yearbook 2006, 8.3, p.75) and, in the interim, expects Methodist ministers to continue to offer pastoral care to homosexual individuals as to all others.

What was of great interest to me is that the original resolution that our commission sent forward to the main group ended with the words "to offer pastoral care to homosexual couples as to all others." However, the Conference changed it to "homosexual individuals" since there was a feeling that the use of the word 'couples' would send a message that the Church accepted and affirmed gay persons.

There are both things to celebrate, and things to mourn, in the final resolution.

Firstly, I mourn the fact that even though the first part of this resolution, that I worked very hard to word with care and respect, that was tempered by the wisdom of Prof Peter Storey, and that made great concessions to those who hold a different view from me, was accepted - the spirit of it was negated by making the radical distinction between 'the right to think differently', yet denying many of us 'the right to act differently'. So, it would seem that the fraility of the Church ensured that once again we were willing to SAY what we should be, did not have the courage to DO what it would take to become what we should be... Secondly, the exclusion of the word 'couples' is simply a ' head in the sand' decision... It shows that our Church does not yet accept that there ALREADY are gay and lesbian members and clergy! While one is dealing with the concept of homosexual Christians you can objectify them as individuals. However, I don't know very many gay and lesbian Christians who are not in some relationship, and so are seen as more than just individuals. Here in Africa the denial of community is a denial of belonging and of course a denial of true identity. Sadly we were party to that today.

However, it is not all bad news! The great news is that we ensured that the Church remained united! Secondly, we also reaffirmed that at least our desire is to be a Church of affirmation and acceptance, and not a Church of rejection. Thirdly, when we voted on this resolution I noted the hands of a few Bishops, some ministers, and some laity - persons of different genders, races, and ages, voting in favour of the acceptance and blessing of same sex couples. That is a significant stride! Lastly, the right to offer 'pastoral care' to homosexual persons is now enshrined in our Church's policy. I cannot think of anything more pastoral than seeking God's gracious acceptance and blessing of persons of any gender or sexual orientation who lovingly commit themselves, and all that they are and do (including their relationships) to live under God's blessing. So, I shall continue to offer Pastoral prayers of blessing for gay individuals, and if they should happen to be together, it will be the individuals that make up the couple that will be engaged and cared for.

As a final thought - have any of my colleagues ever thought how ludicrous it is to think that we can exclude our gay and lesbian Christian members from being blessed in our services? Every time that I conclude a service with the Benediction I am asking for God's blessing on the whole of the congregation before me - I know for a fact that in my congregation at Bryanston there are a number of gay persons. If I were to apply the letter of the resolution above without interpretation I would have to ask all gay persons either to leave the Church before I pronounced the blessing, or ask them to sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary, so that it is clear that I am asking for God's blessing on the individuals, and not the couples.... Not very likely.

Well, this is the news today. We have won a small space that we can inhabit in humble love. We have chosen to live in the small space where people who are rejected by society can find at least some blessing, love, and pastoral care - that is significant. There is much work ahead before SYNOD next year.

Please could you take a look at my good friend Dr Wessel Bentley's blog? His reflection is better than mine, AND he has pictures!!! You can read his blog here http://www.wesselsplace.blogspot.com. In the picture on the right (thanks Wes), you'll see (from Right to Left) Dianne Moodie (Edenvale), Ken Carr (East London), Barry Marshall (Port Elizabeth), me (from wherever I happen to be), Wessel Bentley (Pretoria), Alan Storey (Midrand, Johannesburg), and my good friend Kevin Needham (Cape Town)! What a great evening!

Tomorrow we celebrate the future of our Church as we ordain 29 Presbyters and 4 Deacons - a third of them are women. We celebrate with joy that God still calls persons to the ministry, we give thanks that these people are gifted, that they could have chosen to do, and be, many other things, but that they have chosen to respond faithfully to God's call to give their best, and be their best, for God. We will pray that God's Holy Spirit will fill them with power and the conviction to live out the Gospel values of Jesus Christ, and that through their faithful and loving ministry the world will be changed and recreated to God's glory.

Then, I fly home! I can't wait!!!

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Human sin, and humble love... The latter must always win over the former.

This is the end of the second day of the 118th Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Today most of our time was spent working in the 5 commissions to which the resolutions and debates were forwarded for discussion, amendment, and for recommendations to be returned to the main gathering in tomorrow's meeting.

I spent my time between two groups - I was allocated to the 'Ministry and Mission' group (I believe that was because there were some resolutions related to Theological Education and Candidates for the Ordained ministry in that group), however, most of my time ended up being spent in the 'Policy and Doctrine' group since I was the proposer of a resolution on the same sex issue, but also acted as an advocate on behalf of the Order of Deacons in relation to special dispensation to administer the sacraments.

I, like others, have felt some personal uneasiness about the new process that this Conference has taken in dealing with resolutions and discussions. Basically, the valid intention of the General Secretary (Rev Vido Nyobole) and the Presiding Bishop (Rev Ivan Abrahams) was to create a more equitable place of discussion and access to decision making for the Church. The previous system of open debate and voting, called the Westminster System, meant that the more vocal, articulate, and brave, persons were heard - whereas those who are less articulate in English, perhaps not quite so vocal or brave, would often be left silent. Moreover, votes can easily adopt policy into the life of the Church by a mere 1 person majority (leaving stark division, hurt, and a lack of ownership of important policies for the mission and ministry of the Church). So I have come to value the system of greater access, and the notion of decision making by reaching consensus, that was adopted.

Of course, it does mean that not every person gets to debate every issue (thank God!) However, I have worried that important contributors have not been heard yet - perhaps tomorrow will allow some space for other voices, and ideas, to find a place within the debates? There were certainly some matters into which I would have loved to have had some input but was not able to do so because I was allocated to different groups. However, there is also a valuable sense of having to trust my sisters and brothers to deal with matters responsibly and prayerfully! That value of trust is of course a cornerstone to the Christian faith, and to the operation of the Church.

One other great value of this decentralized, but uncomfortable, system, is that it not only allowed quieter persons to be heard, it also allowed some of the less 'glamorous issues' in the Church to find a loud and clear expression. So, today HIV / AIDS, poverty, Zimbabwe, economic issues, the use of scripture, the training of ministers, the role of women, youth, and the elderly, and many other worthy (but often neglected) ministries and issues got an equal exposure and consideration from Conference. This bodes well for our Church, and is worth remembering in the light of the warning that Dr Robert gave us on Wednesday night, that we must not allow the peripheral, but glamorous, issues to take the centre stage from the difficult, yet less glamorous, issues that demand ourÊenergy and attention.

Within the discussions that I was party to, though, there was the usual strong emotion (from varying perspectives), and at times even conflict. Here I was reminded that the Church is called to be different! And, those who are in the Church are called to live by Kingdom values, the kind of values that Christ himself would hold. The following quote has lived within me today:

"At some thoughts [one] stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and... wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide: "I will combat it by humble love." If you resolve on that once for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.' - From 'The Orthodox Way' by Kallistos Ware.

Well midnight has passed once again, and I need to be up at 6, so I'm off to bed. please continue to keep us in your prayers!

Dion, Cape Town

Friday, September 21, 2007

One more step towards a more just and Christian church.

A quick, and cryptic, bit of feedback on the matter of offering pastoral care and Christ's welcome, acceptance, and grace to persons who have a same sex orientation in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa...

I cannot give any specifics since the final debate and discussion is still to take place in the open session of Conferenmce. However, I can say that the policy and doctrine commission dealt with the matter sensitively and with courage. There was concensus on the fact that the Church has a position on the matter (i.e., our stance is the Unity of the Church and respect for diversity of Christian opinion), that there is need for further discovery of one another's positions, graceful encounter with each other, and that legislating in favour of civil unions, or against them, would split the Church.

Please pray that sensitivity and courage remain as values in the open debate, and that we ressist the temptation to take the 'easy route' of choosing for one position at the exclusion of others, and so split the Church.

What we desire is a Christ honouring church that has enough space to love all the persons that Jesus loves.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Privilege, responsibility.... and good friends.

This post comes at the end of the first 'proper' day of the 118th Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. For those who are not Methodist (or not particularly Christian), the Conference is the place where the Church sends representative persons to debate, strategise, and work out, how best we can serve the world and honour God. Well, in theory that's what should happen! In reality it is often much less saintly than that! Often there are conflicting and difficult issues over which tough and challenging decisions need to be taken... Naturally, this leads to some rather spirited debate, and significant engagement with people who hold different, and often opposing, points of view. You see, the problem with us religious people is that we ALL think we occupy the centre of God's will (i.e., I am right because God told me so, and let me find a way to show you how wrong you are).

Wessel blogged the most memorable quote of the day, given by our Lay President, "Minds are like parachutes - they only work when they are opened".

Today we heard the reports and addresses from a number of important Church leaders and commissions that have been doing significant work. Among them were the reports by the Presiding Bishop, the Lay President, the Connexional secretary (which was very humorous and well researched), and reports by the John Wesley College relocation Committee (a very important committee in my life, since I am both a member of this task team, but of course also the Dean of the seminary that is touted to move to Pietermartizburg in KwaZulu Natal - a very significant piece of news is that the NEW seminary is to be called Seth Mokitini College (named after the very first Black President (Presiding Bishop) the Methodist Church of Southern Africa elected in 1963. A father in the faith who helped to change Southern African society, and the Church, significantly). However, there were also other important reports such as the report on the Methodist Jubilee economic recapitalisation campaign, and the equalisation of stipends.

Tomorrow we will break into smaller groups to consider resolutions related to our ministry and mission - among these will be the resolution on the same-sex matter that I proposed and Rev Mvuyiselo Stimela seconded.

Here's a copy of our resolution to the Church (Same sex resolution for Conference 2007.doc) - what we seek is hospitality, warmth, and the openness of Jesus Christ for ALL Methodists. It is a misnomer to think that there are no gay Methodists! In fact I know quite a few in our denomination, and even a few in my local Church. The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we would minister love and grace to all persons. Moreover, I have come to discover that if we are to be a Church that would seek God's justice and mercy for all in society (for the poor, and the rich, the empowered, and the powerless, the loved and the unloved, the accepted, and the rejected...) then we need to first find justice within the Church! After all the scriptures do ask "how can the world believe that we love God, whom we have not seen, if we hate our brothers and sisters, that we have seen"?

Ascent to a particular second order element of doctrine has never been a condition for acceptance in Christ's Kingdom - no, rather what Christ asks is whether we love and accept him (which also means loving and accepting those whom he loves - very challenging for someone who is as sinful as I am!)

OK, enough of the sermon. Another wonderful reason for coming to Conference is that it is always a great time to catch up with friends! Of course I see the friends here that I often see in the regular course of my work, people like Paul Verryn, Neville Richardson, Madika Sibeko, and my good friend Wessel Bentley. But, I also get opportunities to spend some time catching up with friends that I don't often get to see. This even Wessel, myself, Barry Marshal, Kevin Needham, and Ken Carr went for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant in Cape Town. It was great! We laughed until our sides hurt, we ate with our hands, and we felt something of what the Kingdom of God feels like - a place of love and acceptance.

I miss all of you back home! Thanks to those of you who are checking in from time to time! Megie, Courts and Liam I can't wait to get to the coast when I get back!! To my students, I still can't tell you anything about your stations for next year. As soon as there is news we will let you know.

Midnight, 20 September 2007, Cape Town.

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Problem SOLVED - uploading Presiding Bishop's address

Here's the message I posted earlier this morning:

I've been experiencing problems uploading the MP3 file of the Presiding Bishop's address to Conference - I'll upload it this evening, so please be patient! Can you believe that there is neither wifi, nor 3G, here at the Conference centre in Belville, Cape Town.

Sorry! Dion

Thankfully I have now posted the Presiding Bishop's podcast. You can download it here:

Presiding Bishops address to MCSA conference.MP3

Thanks for the patience!

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Just 31 years old... Keeping what truly matters at the center of our ministry.

Today we were reminded that in Swaziland, one of the 6 nations that
are part of the Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern
Africa, the average life expectancy of a person living in that
Kingdom is just 31 years of age...

Can you imagine? If you live to be over 31 years of age you are
regarded as exceptional.

The Church has a great deal of work to do.

Sadly, I am afraid that we will be sidetracked into issues that are
not as important as HIV AIDS... It is likely that we will spend a
lot more energy, insight, creativity, and time, debating the same-sex
matter (of which I have become an unmerited champion), rather than
focussing on those who are dying around us. Dr Robert, our visiting
speaker from Ghana, reminded us that we need to take care that we do
not miss where God wants us to be, by being sidelined into the
'glamarous' and 'demanding' voices of popular culture that seem to
easily set our Church agenda.

Our Presiding Bishop has asked us to keep the following matters as
highlights in our deliberations at Conference - these are the issues
in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ most needs to come to bear.
Christ, is after all, the Lord of true life. The three issues we
have been challenged to keep in the centre are:

2. Poverty
3. The witness of the Gospel in the public arena.

The Presiding Bishop's address to the 118th Conference of the Methodist church of Southern Africa

I have recorded, and will post, an MP3 copy of Bishop Ivan Abrahams' address to the 118th Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. The theme of this year's Conference theme is 'Come Holy Spirit heal and transform your Church'.

I will also post copies of the Bible studies, which have been lead by the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Ghana, the Rev Dr Robert Aboagye-Mensah. I just need a little time to edit them.

Here is the MP3 of Bishop Ivan's address to the Southern African Methodist Conference. It is a file of about 8.5MB. I'm afraid that I have not had much time to edit it yet.

Presiding Bishop's Address to MCSA Conference 2007.mp3

Rich blessing from the 'mother city'!

Dion (Cape Town, 20 September 2007)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Living with the enemy

"But what if I should discover that the very enemy himself is within me, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved - what then?" C.J. Jung

Ordinands retreat, Volmoed, Hermanus. 18 August 2007.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Unemployed in Cape Town - preparation for the General Annual Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa

This post comes from the promised land - Cape Town! I am very fortunate to fly into this place of blessing and grace every few weeks. It is one of the great blessings of my vocation. If you are short of time could I ask you simply to skip the next few paragraphs and read the quote below? It is moving, wortwhile, and a poignant reminder of the task that lies before us as a Church that seeks to match our personal piety with acts of Kingdom Building social holiness? Of course if you have more time you are welcome to read my other personal reflections below!

As many would know I spent 6 very happy years as a circuit minister in Somerset West, and in fact our first child, Courtney, was born there. Sadly, she is the only one in the family who has defected and become a 'Bluebull' supporter since our move to Pretoria 4 years ago - there you go Joch Seeliger!

Each time that I return to Cape Town I feel a ache deep down in my heart. My time here truly was one of the most blessed and wonderful times in my life! The Church we served was vibrant, growing, and alive with possibility. I had a wonderful colleagueship and ministry with my good friend Philip Buckland, our lay leaders were a 'dream team' - I remember many blessed days with Richard Steele, Beulah Durheim, Nicolene van Vuuren, Hester Pike, Wendy Coles, and Debbie Lown! We are very fortunate still to own a little piece of heaven - a two bedroom apartment on the side of the Helderberg Mountain. The ache that I feel is a result of my longing for the friends, fellowship, and great blessing that we experienced during those happy years.

However, as I returned to the Cape last night I felt an ache of a very different kind. The occasion was a joyous one - we had gathered in Somerset West with the student ministers who are about to be Ordained this coming Sunday. From our meeting we made our way to the Elgin Country club for dinner with the Ordinands and the Bishops - a start to the Ordinands retreat. The dinner itself was wonderful! I sat at the table with my friends Juan Smith and Bonginkosi Mathenjwa (both of whom were students at John Wesley College in my first year there in 2004), as well as Bishops Paul Verryn, Brian Jennings, Andrew Hefkie, and Professor Richardson. As part of the dinner our Presiding Bishop reminded us all that we have a great responsibility before us in the week that lies ahead. Many of us (the EMMU staff and Bishops) are permanent members of the General Conference that meets annually. It is our task to direct and guide the Church in its policy, mission and decision making.

Among the items on the Agenda are the all important resolutions on the same-sex matter. However, Bishop Ivan Abrahams reminded us that there are many other very important issues, that often seem to get silenced by the more glamorous issues. Bishop Ivan read a real life account of a woman who is a Methodist, in fact a member of the Church in which he had served as a younger pastor. The story served to remind us of our responsibility and the importance of the work that lies before us.

As he read the story my longing turned to sorrow - my only prayer is that the energy of this emotion would be transferred into action, loving action that would in some way change the plight of so many in our poverty ravaged land. This story is called "Unemployed in Cape Town" and comes from the book "Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge. Report for the second Carnegie inquiry into poverty and development in Southern Africa" by Wilson, F and Mamphela, R (Cape Town: David Philip Publishers).

My husband lost his job about give months ago. It was big shock but we though we could cope. I was earning a reasonably good wage. We had to cut a few corners thought. We had to eat less meat. We had to save on all kinds of things. I had to now catch the train to work, 'cause it was cheaper than the bus even though it took a lot longer even though it took longer. I also took in other people's washing. There are a few people here who pay you a little bit to wash their clothes. I used to wash clothes every Sunday.

Then two months ago I lost my job. We were desperate. There was no money coming in now.

We had to spend everything we had in the time my husband was without a job. Now they've cut off the electricity and we're two months in arrears with rent. They're going to evict us I'm sure, we just can't pay though. My husband decided to go to Jo'burg. he went a month ago. He said he would get a job there. He sent some money the first week. But I haven't had any more money since. I don't know where he is. I haven't been able to get hold of him. I would like to go to Jo'burg to look for him but what can I do with the children?

Before he left we used to take turns to look for work because the children can't go to creche because there's no money.

Sometimes they lie awake at night crying. I know they are crying because they are hungry. I feel like feedin them Rattex [a rat poison]. When your children cry hunger-crying, your heart wants to break. It will be better if they were dead. When I think things like that I feel worse. It's terrible when a mother wants to kill her own children. But what can I do, I'm not a mother worth having.

I worry about my husband. I think he might have run away with someone else. Maybe he's got a job and just doesn't want to come home. But why isn't he sending any money? I'm sick I'm sick because of the cold. I can't take my children to the doctor when they're sick because there's no money. My mother and father said they would try to help. But they've got very little money and my brother and sister to support. It's a hard time for all of us. We're just not cared to find jobs. What can one do? You must start looking.

You can also pray to God that he will keep you from killing your children.

Last night I lay awake and I prayed. I prayed that God would make me courageous enough to make a difference. Perhaps we can do something to help people like this. I know that's what Jesus would do. I thank God for reminding me why we are meeting this week - not to make new policy and amend unnecessary laws, but to find ways to feed the hungry and bring hope to the hopeless. To find a way of helping a desperate mother so that she doesn't have to kill her children.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A favourite photo, of a favourite passtime, in a favourite place.

Isn't this just a great photo of my old Vespa? I have been ridding here for the past few days - the weather here has been awesome (33 degrees C today!) When I arrived home from Malaysia I took this old girl out of the garage, took out my soft cloth and wiped off all the dust, pulled out the choke and she started first time! She is a wonderful machine! And I get such joy from riding her.

This photo was taken back on the 3rd of July on the UNISA university campus - I was dropping off some marked assignments. That day it was FREEZING! Today, however, I had a meeting at UNISA for a book I am writting with Professor Kretzschmar. I rode there in a short sleeve shirt!

In this light she looks like a saint - saint Vespa! The joy's and blessings of life!

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Bantu Steve Biko - African Martyr, let us never forget those who paid for our freedom with their lives!

Today commemorates the 30th Anniversary of the death of Steve Biko (18 December 1946 - 12 September 1977) an African martyr (in the true sense of the word!) He witnessed, with his very life, to the kind of freedom that could be possible in South Africa. It is a costly freedom.

For those from America, the UK, and Asia who have not heard of Steve Biko, please read the wiki here. Moreover, if you buy just one book this month, please buy his book "I write what I like". It is wild, and courageous, it is inspiring, and challenging. It is still one of the favourite books on my shelf!

Here is one of my favourite quotes from that book, he wrote these words before his untimely death:

... [Western society] seems to be very concerned with perfecting their technological know-how while losing out on their spiritual dimension. We believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in this field of human relationship. The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa - giving the world a more human face (Biko 1978:46).

Steve Biko is credited with being the 'parent' of Black Consciousness in Southern Africa. Many regard him as the first person to articulately, and accurately, laud the value of blackness, not the kind of blackness that strives to be 'white', but the kind of blackness that celebrates being black, and is proud of it. He was a courageous pioneer.

Today I thank God for the brave prophets who had enough courage to say what needed to be said, and could match their words with their very lives. I am not sure that I have enough courage to do that! When it was not popular, or even encouraged among black South Africans, Steve Biko took a stand, a stand for dignity, for humanity for ubuntu. His struggle was for 'humaneness'.

I have recently begun to feel, in a minuscule, incomparable way, the cost of speaking for justice. As people write, and say, unfounded and cruel things about me because of what I say and stand for. But I say these things because I believe they represent the true humaneness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What am I talking about? Well, there are those in our society who are still discriminated against because of something they did not choose. That is, there are those who where born with a sexual orientation that is not under their control, yet they are oppressed, abused, and some are even murdered. How they are was not their choice. How we respond to them says something about our humaneness.

So, 30 years on, and the struggle still continues. But thank God, that we are so much further ahead! Lord, thank you for martyrs like Steve Biko, they are a witness. I am encouraged by their sacrifice. Today, I remember and give thanks.

Thank you Lord for my colleagues, who remind me of the importance of keeping a balance between the genders, and races, within our Church and society. I also thank God for God's great gift to me, the John Wesley College students. I learn so much more from them about community, humaneness, courage and grace, than I could ever teach! Thank you for all you teach me!

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Monday, September 10, 2007

The cost of discipleship... Church growth or martyrdom (Gr. Witness)

This morning one of our students, Siyakudumisa Mbuyazwe preached a powerful and challenging sermon on the cost of discipleship. He used Luke 24v25-33 as his text.

Here are few thoughts that struck me again. In our 'church growth' and 'seeker sensitive' church culture we often forget to count the cost of being a disciple of Jesus.

He mentioned that is important to count the cost of discleship - this is not a winning formula for Church growth! It is a call to follow Christ, but first to count the cost of doing so. Belief is easy, but discipleship is costly. It is not for a day, a week, or a year, it is for the rest of our lives.

Following Jesus does not have the ease and comfort of a 'mass movement'! It takes a personal choice, and then many costly personal choices to remain a disciple. This is not 'seeker sensitivity', it makes for poor Church growth, but great 'disciple development'.

Thanks for reminding me of this Siya. I've been getting a little too comfortable of late.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A challenge from Ray Chung's blog - high idealism, low follow through.

This evening Ray commented on the previous thread in this blog. Thanks Ray! He also sent me a link to his blog. I went and took a look and found this incredible quote from Glenn Packiam - it challenged me!

"We're obsessed with beginnings - the start of a new project, a new relationship, a new book. Everybody wants to start a revolution; but nobody wants to fight to the last man standing. We long to be extraordinary, to be remembered long after we're gone, to be part of something greater than ourselves, to leave a legacy; yet we don't want to go to work on Monday morning."

What do you think? I tend to agree. Idealism in the contemporary Church is high, but follow through and the commitment to make the ideal (i.e., God's Kingdom of grace, justice, mercy and equity) a reality, is not quite so high.

Thanks Ray!

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Seminari Theoloji Malaysia - new friends, learning, and teaching

Yesterday I made a new friend, Rev. Sivin Kit, he is a theologian, and pastor, and to our amazement we found that we have so many things in common! Rev. Kit kindly collected me from Kuala Lumpur at the end of the MPC to bring me to the 'Seminari theoloji Malaysia'. He is a past graduate of the seminary, and now serves as a Lutheran pastor in KL.

As Sivin and I talked I was amazed to discover just how many things we have in common as persons (for one thing we're the same age, but for another we are both avid bloggers! Please take a look at Sivin's blog here: Sivin Kit's Garden. Sivin is also the co-ordinator for 'emergent Malaysia', a network of pastors and laity that are engaged in the conversations of the emergent Church movement. He knows so much more about both the theology, and the ideals, of this movement than I do! What is more, Sivin hosted Brian Mclaren on his visit to Malaysia (I even got to eat in the same restaurant as they ate!) Thanks Sivin for your hospitality, friendship, and patient engagement with me!

The Methodist Prayer Convention ended on a spectacular note on Sunday with a mass worship service of 13 000 Methodists in one of the local stadiums in Kuala Lumpur. This is the first time in the history of Malaysia (a Muslim country) that such a large gathering of Christians has met. The service was wonderful with a diversity of cultures (Malay, Chinese, Tamil, English, and many others) represented both in cultural items and in the liturgy and worship. Bishop Hwa Yung, whom I have come to regard very highly, preached a very challenging charge to us on how we can be faithful to live by faith in challenging circumstances, just as Abraham did. I am greatly encouraged by the conviction, spirituality, and social concern of the Malaysian Methodist Church. It is a very exciting place to be, and of course there are so many wonderful people! I look forward to spending an eternity with these wonderful sisters and brothers in Christ's presence.

Yesterday Sivin collected me to come and do some teaching at STM. A group of 20 or so faculty (for our South African readers, that means lecturers / Professors), alumni, and Masters / Doctoral students, gathered for the day's workshop. I lead two sessions:

  • Social holiness as Christian perfection - the Methodist Church of Southern Africa?s (MCSA?s) response to oppression and violence in Southern Africa. This presentation concentrated more on the contextual history of Southern Africa, and traced both the effects of colonialism and apartheid on society, and charted the MCSA's response to these social phenomena.
  • An Outcomes Based Education (OBE) approach to equipping clergy and laity for ministries of social holiness (?A Christ healed Africa for the healing of the nations?). This second session was more practical, examining how the MCSA's training processes have sought to equip clergy and laity for the ministry of 'social holiness'.
If you're interested you can download the Powerpoint slides for the two presentations here:
STM Powerpoint.ppt (6MB).

I was so pleased at the incredible discussion and interaction that resulted from the presentations - it would seem that we share many commonalities between South Africa and Malaysia. Issues of race, discrimination, and of course also the issues of poverty, corruption, systemic and social struggles, and a host of other similarities were discussed.

I have included one or two photographs taken by Sivin. Those of you from South Africa will recognise the photo of me doing the 'buffalo hour' posture - afternoon sessions are pretty much the same the world over! A nice lunch, a warm afternoon, and a droning spearker's voice (that's me) set most people's heads nodding! Ha ha! Thanks Sivin for these great reminders of the time with the group.

I have made some wonderful friends here, Dr Ezra Kok (the principal of STM, who studied New Testament under J Dunn at Durham, pictured on the left of the photo below), Mr Cheeseng Yip (a theologian and business man who is the general manager of the seminary, and my gracious host), and Rev Dr Albert Walters (a past faculty member of the seminary, and now an Anglican Parish priest in KL).

Today I will be taking a trip out to the historic city of Malacca. The grave of St Francis Xavier is still in that city, and it has Dutch, Portuguese, and of course many local historical connections.

Well, it is almost time to come home. I have so missed Megie, Courts, and Liam!!!!

I lave Malaysia on Wednesday evening and fly to Singapore, from there I fly to Johannesburg. Upon arrival I head straight for a meeting with Dean Greg Jones (the Dean of the Duke Divinity school) at our Presiding Bishop's office, and then on to a wedding rehearsal out at Muldersdrift for my friends Doctors Andrew and Susan!

My health is good, my spirits are up, and I am looking forward to being home!

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

'Merdeka' and miracles in Malaysia

Please forgive me for not posting any updates on my Malaysia visit sooner. Whilst my time in Oxford was busy (starting with the first session at 7am and ending with the last session after 10pm), my Malaysian trip has been even busier! Not only do we start early and finish late, but there is also a 6 hour time difference between here and South Africa. So, I stay up until after midnight to phone Megie, Courts and Liam (when it is midnight here it is 6pm there). The long and the short of it is that I have been capitalizing on my ability to get by on about 4 hours of sleep a night. Those who know me know that 4 hours is just about as much as my A.D.D. body cope with... Anything more than that and I start to feel sluggish.

Well, my time in Malaysia has been remarkable. I flew in via Singapore (which is the same route as I took to South Korea last year). However, the Malaysian Church is so different from the Church in South Korea! I have felt very much at home here. This is not only because of the magnificent hospitality of Bishop Hwa Yung and his team (not to mention that I am staying in an incredible hotel in Kuala Lumpur - the photo above is taken from my balcony and shows the inland wave pool of the Sunway Spa and resort), but also because the Malaysian Methodist Church has such a similar history to that of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Both our Churches come from Methodism in Britain. Both our contexts have a rich and varied racial spread, and both contexts have significant contextual challenges.

Whilst the Church in South Africa struggles with issues relating to poverty and HIV / AIDS, the Church in Malaysia faces the challenge of being Christian in a Muslim nation. Less that 8% of the 26 Million people in Malaysia are Christian. The Methodist conference at which I am speaking has about 4000 Methodists from the 6 annual conferences, and one mission conference, of Malaysia. Here's a photo of the main hall in which we're meeting for our plenary sessions.

Last night I did my first session in the plenary. It was extremely well received. There is such an openness to the gospel of Christ, and such a longing to see society transformed and renewed to reflect the values of justice, mercy, equity, wholeness and grace, which are central to the Kingdom of God. I had a 30 minute slot (translated from English into Chinese and Tamil) in which I spoke about the Transformation / Global day of prayer movement that combines:

  • 10 days of ecumenical fasting and praying for change, renewal, and God's blessing in society.
  • a one day gathering (often in large stadiums or churches) where persons gather to pray, repent, and witness to the unity of the Christian faith (there is an eschatological dimension to this of course - having to pray together for 10 days, and having to organise an event at which there may be 30 000 or 40 000 people soon teaches us that we have more in common with each other than what we have a distinctive difference). This event takes place on Pentecost Sunday each year.
  • 90 days of blessing, ministry, and service that follow the prayer event. Here the Church has an opportunity to be an answer to its prayers. The emphasis is on using the 90 days after Pentecost to try and address some of the practical issues that the community is struggling with (e.g., feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, rebuilding schools, blessing the elderly, building homes for the homeless etc.)
I have found a great deal of resonance with the balance between prayer (showing that true life, and new beginnings are ultimately reliant on the God who makes all things new), and Christian social action (showing that as Christians we have the incredible responsibility, and privilege, or matching our personal piety with social holiness - i.e., we need to become the instruments that God uses to bring about change and transformation in society). For me, this is the way in which the Gospel is made real, it relies upon God, yet it expects active human participation in God's mission in the world. Today I will be doing a two hour workshop with 1000 people. I hope that it will convince many of the the balance that is needed between personal piety and social holiness. God is glorified by our devotion to God, and our devotion to God's will for the world.

Yesterday was a national public holiday here in Malaysia - it is called Merdeka day. Merdeka means liberation, freedom, and independence. The Malaysian nation celebrated 50 years of independence from Britain on the 31st of August. The Celebrations outside our hotel where magnificent!! Here's a picture of the fire works that went off at midnight on the 30th. It was loud and spectacular!

I have experienced God's Merdeka among these wonderful Christian people. We can learn a great deal about racial diversity and religious tolerance from our Malaysian sisters and brothers. Of course there are some things that they can learn from us as well.

I always enjoy new contexts, and particularly meeting new people! Here's a photo that was taken yesterday. In it you can see Bishop Hwa Yung (I am seated to his right). Tomorrow the Bishop will lead a service in a local stadium for about 13 000 Methodists. It will be largest Christian gathering of its kind in the history of Malaysia. This is significant in a Muslim country!

On Monday I will travel to STM to spend some time with the academic faculty and students of the Methodist Seminary - I will be speaking on the role of the Methodist Church in South Africa in working against Apartheid, and dealing with violence and oppression in society. I hope to be able to blog some more in the next few days.

Please keep Megie, Courts, Liam and I in your prayers. All four of us have been sick with flu in the last two weeks.

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