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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gay Pride

Last night I picked up a lady in the taxi and we got talking about unsociable working hours which led her to tell me that she was a chef which is why she understood my situation. Upon inquiring she told me that she worked at "The Gateway" which is the pub where I am going to start church.

"You might have heard of me, then", I said. "I'm the Baptist minister who is starting church upstairs in November."

Once we got to her destination we had a wonderful conversation about God, faith, church and discrimination. She hadn't really given religion much thought but was interested in what I was doing. She made the point that the fact that I was just there in the pub was an important statement and that people there would support my efforts.

What moved me most was that, just before getting out of the taxi, she looked at me and said "I am very proud of you." Wow. This lady, a lesbian herself, who had no connection with the church gave me such affirmation and support and I was truly humbled and encouraged. I promised to say hello next time I am in the pub and she has said she wants to pop up when I am doing church.

God is doing some great work.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Evangelism

I have been trying very hard to find time to blog but life has a way of rolling you along and before you know it a week has gone by. While I haven't been actively blogging my thoughts I have been continuing my reflections on church planting and evangelism.

I have been reading voraciously and will put up thoughts in the next week or so on my recent reading.

As I was reflecting upon sharing faith with non-believing people I found this wonderful cartoon. Part of my musing has been around the fact that evangelicals seem, in some ways, to be committed to telling people that they are wrong.

As I have spoken to people in the taxi and in coffee shops I have come to realize that most people, to some degree, are very aware of the issues and problems in their lives. What they really need is a listening ear, compassion, grace and to be pointed towards Jesus. I think too many people are like the poor chap in the cartoon who have lots of good intentions but find judgmental attitudes creeping in to spoil the good news.

One thing I often say to young Christians who are interested in sharing the gospel is that Jesus gave two fundamental commands. He said "" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27). What I recommend is that instead of being overly concerned with who is "in" and who is "out" and who are the good guys and what the population of heaven looks like simply concentrate on these two basic commandments. When we've got these worked out then we might have chance to worry about other things.

My point is that to fully love God with all of our being and love our neighbors as ourselves will radically alter the way we see other people and will transform our love for those who haven't yet got to know the wonderful love of God in Jesus.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hospitality

As my imperfect journey of faith and ministry moves on I have been given to pondering the importance of hospitality and the rewards that come from giving our time and attention to our neighbor whoever that might be.

Last week we had some friends over for a bbq and I was sharing about the key element of risk in determining where our relationships go. I was talking about a person who I met in the taxi who had a very dysfunctional life but was also clearly looking for support. As he spoke I knew immediately that the "risk moment" had arrived very quickly. I could drop him off with a polite platitude or I could offer to meet him at another time for coffee and thus begin a relationship.

Thankfully for me I took that "risk" because the rewards he has shown towards me in friendship and support have been huge. This is a man who has been through a 2 week rehab program to overcome alcohol abuse, who has just avoided a jail term and is on a 12 month good behavior bond and who works long hours on the production line of a factory. His life is busy, tiring and stressful and yet he continues to support my ministry although he is still not sure of the Christian faith.

As I was mulling over this concept of the "risk moment" where we can choose to hear the prompting of the Holy Spirit or switch off and think of our own selfish diaries I read the following in Church Re-Imagined by Doug Pagitt:

"At its core, hospitality is an act of faith. It is faith in God and faith in people. It is an open posture that views others not as threats, but as participants in the process of one another's redemption" (p.149).

What a beautiful concept - "Participants in one another's redemption" - you wouldn't want to miss out on such a gift would you?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Off The Fence

Tonight I picked up a young lady in my taxi and we got into a conversation about the upcoming church plant. At this point she informed me that she was a lesbian and, although being raised as a Catholic, she felt that Church affiliation and Christian faith was incompatible with her sexual orientation.

We had a wonderful chat and I was able to wait for her to do what she had to do and then drive her back home so we got two trips in which to talk. Jess, her name, was a lovely person and told me about the homophobia that she had faced at times.

As I spoke to her I realized that, a long while ago now, I had moved off the fence and wanted to develop my homosexual agnostic stance. Here I will make clear that I believe a person can be gay and a Christian and they do not need to repent because I do not believe that Gay orientation is a sin. Promiscuity in any sexual orientation is a sin but Christians who are gay or in a gay relationship are still very much loved by God and a part of His Church.

Tonight I went to the gay bar to have dinner during my shift. I had a great chat with one of the bar staff who was openly gay. I shared honestly my aims in starting spiritual discussion at the pub and he suggested I attend the closing event of a week-long gay/lesbian festival in Newcastle which is a picnic and funday and he said I should take flyers because there would be people there who would want to connect with the type of discussion and community that I would like to foster.

In closing I want to share Jess' response to my story. She thanked me for caring about gay people and said that it made her feel good that a heterosexual Christian was prepared to become involved in the gay community in a loving, supportive, pastoral manner. It is these conversations that make the ministry worthwhile.

Blog Action Day

Today was Blog Action Day and I reflected considerably on what angle to take with this worthy endeavor. Last week I received an email update from More Praxis which alerted me to a campaign to alert parliamentary members and raise awareness of students who are living below the poverty line.

In a recent survey it was found that one in eight Australian students regularly go without food or other necessities because of lack of money. The maximum Youth Allowance benefit that a student under 25 and living in a share house can receive is $245 per fortnight, which is 38% below the poverty line ($645.15 per fortnight).

Just Act is an excellent social justice resource from the Uniting Church of Australia and has information on this and other campaigns. It is important to put time and money into overseas aid projects but we also need to be aware of those in poverty in our own countries. The levels of poverty may be relative but we are still called to act as the people of God.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Church Re-Imagined

I am currently reading "Church Reimagined" by Doug Pagitt and others. It is the story of how church works in the Solomon's Porch Community in Minneapolis.

Solomon's Porch (SP) is an attempt at doing church in different ways that are not reactive or anti-Institutional Church but are simply ideas to create a stronger sense of community.

They sit in a circle because it is difficult to build community by staring at the back of someone's head. no-one has a personal microphone because no one person's voice is more important than another. There is no stage and, because of the circular approach to seating there is no "front" to the church. All of the rooms are open for anyone to go into.

Just reading such a description can make it sound like some attempt at hippy-fied socialist experiment in cringeworthy church but, as you read the story, it is clear that this is a genuine effort to, as the title says, re-imagine Church.

I have been so inspired by this book. It is refreshing in its tone and exciting in the possibilities explored. Doug Pagitt makes it clear that this is not a blueprint for church nor is it the answer. It is a community on a journey to allow the life of Jesus to permeate all of their lives 24/7.

One of the joys of the book is that 6 members of the community wrote journals and excerpts are placed throughout the book. It is fascinating to see what this church looks like "on the ground" and "from the pews" as it were.

SP also write their own songs not as a reactionary measure but because they want to sing from their own experiences. Some of the lyrics are found at the end of each chapter. I have gone on to download songs from their website and will continue to share some more specific quotes and song lyrics in the next few posts.

If you want to dream about a church where we don't sit in rows and hear one person speak for 40 minutes and then have coffee and go home please read this book and let your horizons expand.

The Well...continued...

The following picture shows the woman at the well. This story is becoming the inspiration for the church project in Newcastle as I begin to see the potential for meeting people at the well in the heat of the noon-day sun.

In meeting this woman Jesus stepped through and over all of the social conventions and he listened to her and met her where she was.

If anyone wants to know about this ministry be sure to tell them that I am simple, flawed person seeking to follow God in His plans.

Today I was told the local Baptist Association are prepared to give me up to $AU3,000 as an evangelism grant to buy a data projector and set up a web-site amongst other things. I cannot tell you how humbled and blown away I am right now.

I also found out that there are young Christians in our city who want to be involved and I was given the phone details of a couple in Sydney who work with the gay community.

God is opening doors wide and I am stepping through and I continue to walk and live in the aftermath of grace.

FREE access to SAGE Journals

Until October 31st, 2008 you can get FREE access to Sage online journals dating back to 1999.

This a fantastic opportunity to search their database and get very high quality academic pdfs.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rain Dance



I have just been connected to a Christian friend here in Newcastle who has a thoughtful blog and this particular quote really encouraged me today:

'Life isn't about how to survive the storm,
but how to dance in the rain.'
AUTHOR UNKNOWN.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bloggers Unite

From a position of relative passivity regarding global affairs I now find myself involved in 2 initiatives. I recently posted about Blog Action Day and now I have come across Bloggers Unite who seem to take a key issue 2 or 3 times a year and encourage people to blog worldwide.

The issue of Refugees is huge and, again, impacts every nation. The photo that I selected for this blog shows Iraqi refugees and is heartbreaking.

Please consider supporting Bloggers Unite on November 10th.

Blog Action Day

I'm not an activist. I don't march and I don't write letters. Maybe I should; but I don't.

I was reading Brackish Faith and noticed a banner for Blog Action Day and I realized, after looking into in, that this was something I could do.

On October 15th they are asking people to blog about the issue of "Poverty".

Please consider supporting this worthwhile endeavor by blogging and mobilizing global action for an issue that is seeping through every nation.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Well

After much discussion, suggestions and encouragement we are going with "The Well" for the name of the church.

As one of my friends wrote - "'The Well' sums up the dryness people feel, a sign of life, a bottomless pit for relationships and conversations, the depth of the community that can be
drawn."

It is a place people go for refreshment. It is a sign of life in the wilderness and it is where Jesus had a fantastic conversation with a Samaritan woman and broke all of the social conventions in the name of love and grace.

Talk about Love

This cartoon is taken from the "Out of Ur" blog.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Prayer of Brokenness

At Brackish Faith I found this beautiful prayer in the archives.


My brokenness,
leads me back to you.
Renew my heart.
My esteem matters not.
Not my will but yours be done.
Into your hands I commit my spirit.

Brackish Faith

Tonight I had the great joy of finally meeting Benjamin Wheatley for coffee in Newcastle. Ben blogs at Brackish Faith.

I have had comments of appreciation about the choice of images for my blog posts but "Brackish Faith" stretched my creative resources and I hope the accompanying image does some justice to Ben's fine blog.

What was particularly encouraging for me tonight was finding some of like mind as far as creative expressions of church goes but, best of all, he filled me on the practices of praying the Daily Office.

I know for some of the readers of this blog I am going to set myself up as the naive young-ish thing that I am but I am really keen to know more about getting a disciplined liturgical prayer life in operation. I will keep you posted regarding my fumbling efforts to be a disciple of Jesus.

Critics


I stole the following from a friend's blog so please check out Observations from the Sidelines.

I had heaps of encouragement today which I really appreciated but this cartoon made me chuckle as I thought of the critics that are on the prowl for anything to snipe at.

Black and White

The longer I progress in my faith journey the more questions I have and less answers or less easy answers.

On November 11th I begin "church" upstairs in a gay bar. As part of the initial chat with the owner I told her that my name was on a statement called "100 Revs". If you look at the list you'll see me at no. 73

The basic details of the statement are:
"As ministers of various churches and denominations we recognize that the churches we belong to, and the church in general, have not been places of welcome for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people."

"We are deeply sorry and ask for the forgiveness of the GLBT community. We long that the church would be a place of welcome for all people and commit ourselves to pursuing this goal."

One of most important points in terms of communicating this statement to the wider Christian community is this - "We ARE NOT making a statement on the biblical position on gay and lesbian relationships."

The fact that I am starting church in a gay pub is a complete act of God's purposes. I prayed for a venue and happened to pick the owner of "The Gateway" up in my taxi. I honestly explained who I was and what I wanted to do and she responded very graciously and generously.

One of oldest friends (we have known each other for over 20 years) is in a long-term loving lesbian relationship and now my brother-in-law has recently come out as gay. In fact, last night I popped in for coffee with himself and his partner.

Yesterday at a family lunch the church plans came up in discussion and there were some statements to the effect that of course homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says so and what happens when this arises as part of the church conversation. I think it was a surprise to my in-laws and other relatives to hear that my position is not so clear cut.

I will blog more on this over the coming days and weeks as I continue this journey but the point I made was that, firstly, I am concerned about people and not ideas as such. I appreciate scripture and I honour the Bible as the word of God but I am concerned at how selectively Christians pick and choose which Scriptures to take seriously and which to contextualize and which to simply ignore.

My ministry was nearly destroyed by lies and gossip and yet neither the people who wrote letters spreading the lies nor the people who received those letters and cut my family off have ever been disciplined or spoken to in any way and yet the Church is content to stand on the sidelines and condemn gay people. Yes, this is an emotive issue and, no, I haven't got clear answers but I do know that God has called me to love my neighbor.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Lift Off

This morning at 10am I met the owner of "The Gateway" hotel in Islington, Newcastle and she showed me the mezzanine level with comfy lounges and a bistro down below.

On Tuesday November 11th church begins at 8pm. We will meet fortnightly and if I get hold of a projector screen I can show movies.

One of my friends, Alex, came along for support and encouragement. He has been to church twice in his life and is a great friend and advocate for the church concept.

I'll keep you posted on the blog but the idea is moving from concept to reality.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Holy Joes

I have received a great deal of encouragement over these past few days and weeks and have looked at a lot of examples of organic church, emergent church and alternative church.

One of the people who has been a great encourager has been Steve Foster and Holy Joes, the church which he leads, is one of key templates that I am looking at to guide my own endeavors.

They meet downstairs in a church in London and journeyed through pub venues in a church basement but still hold their ethos of being communal, loving, alternative and vulnerable.

Please feel free to check their website and offer them encouragement and if you are in London anytime maybe pay them a visit.

The Journey Continues...


Friday morning at 10am I meet with the owner of The Gateway Hotel in Islington which is one of the suburbs just outside the city centre of Newcastle in NSW. The photo is the actual pub in case you were wondering.

It is a renowned gay/lesbian bar and a short walk down the road is a popular place for roadside prostitutes. It is also the pub that has offered me a room for free, once a fortnight, to host spiritual discussion evenings and movie nights etc.

I am pretty excited because this will hopefully formalize the small community of people who are keen to explore spiritual questions in community and will help me to get the name out there. I can get cards done up with the basic info so people have somewhere to connect into or to invite their friends.

Please pray for wisdom as I keep seeking to follow Jesus.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Alternative Communities

I have found an alternative co-moo-nity to reach out to.

Isn't he adorable? I can just picture him with his ipod sobbing into his beer in the corner.