Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Two Sides to a Story

I spent a long weekend in Joburg with my family. We drove to Grahamstown yesterday and they will be with me for nine days (except that today and tomorrow I'm in Port Elizabeth!) It has been very good to see them all.
But - what I realised was this. I don't have to run a household, being away from them. I get a chance to read my Bible without interruption. I can plan my life with the only vagueries coming from the church. I have plenty of time to study. I must admit I don't miss reminding the kids to feed the dogs or the state of their bedrooms. There are advantages to doing this year away from home.
My husband is a star for the way that he is playing single parent. My kids are stars for the strength that they have shown.
God is good.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Family, rest and perspective

I must admit that by the time my weekend off came, I was looking forward to the time off as much as I was to seeing my family. Ministry in my setting is pretty unrelenting and it is hard to get enough time to be refreshed. Especially being away from home. Now, after two nights at home, I am still tired, but feeling stronger.
It is cool to be with my husband and kids - although I sort of miss having time when I can work uninterrupted. I knew that was a trade-off. I would choose my family though.
Oddly enough, my perspective on life hasn't changed much for being at home. I think that is good, because it means that I was settled enough in Grahamstown to start seeing things clearly. In other words, I can trust the decisions I make - I'm not under pressure from the unfamiliar or difficult circumstances. There were times in the early days when I was changing my mind about things by the hour. I knew that I could not trust myself! Not that this makes the decisions I need to make any easier!
I am so glad that we are all going down to Grahamstown together on Monday. I'm not sure if I could leave them so soon! The family will return to Jhb just before Easter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


It is so good to be back with my family! My boys have grown tall. They all seem very well, but no one likes this idea of us being separated. We had planned to do it next year as well, but I don't see that happening. But this weekend I am living for now and trying not to worry about the future.

College and Call

We got the results of our sacraments exam and I passed. Only four out of eleven passed. I don't know what comment to make about that.
One of the phase 1's tripped in the shower this morning and may have broken her leg. So that has been this morning's excitement.
I am struggling with my sense of 'call' at the moment. I am struggling with my reasons for doing things. You know, they say that sticking out phase 1 is a test of one's call. It could also be a test of one's pride and stubbornness. I am finding that I am not motivated by call, but by other things that I subconsciously put in place to just get through. And so I need to ask myself intentionally about call. Because I will get through on plain stubbornness, which doesn't prove much. And encouraging stubbornness in me is probably not a good thing. Right now, I might be on the road to fulfilling my call, but I don't see it in this moment. I have to believe it will be there in the future.
So, I am asking questions about motives.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Inane Conundrum

I was going, not to St Ives, but to Port Elizabeth (from Grahamstown) this morning. I saw a road sign that said it was 100km to PE. For some reason I caught sight of my speedometer and saw I was doing 120km. No hang on, that's the distance to PE, not the speed limit. Imagine if when we travelled and the distance was 100km we had to travel at 100km/h - and always do the same speed as the distance. So that by the time we were 5km from PE we would have to do 5km/h. Would I ever get to PE?
And for an extra point, express the problem mathematically.

Monday, March 23, 2009

John and Postcolonialism

That's a book that I have out of the library at the moment for my Master's dissertation. I have two exegeses from the gospel of John in the dissertation. This book is one of those that grabs hold of something in me. In many ways it is critical of Christianity. In some ways it might be seen as 'a big moan'. It is a collection of writings by and about people who seem to have experienced marginilisation in one way or another. I haven't had time to read much at all - just the chapters that are relevant to the exegeses.
The one, by Zipporah Glass, takes a negative view of the John 15 metaphor of the vine, saying that although it seems to promote an option of inclusivity for all, it actually just develops new categories of who is 'in' and who is 'out'. What she doesn't seem to understand is the position developed by Tat-siong Benny Liew, that this community of Jesus is a community of 'consent' not of 'descent'. In other words every person is free to choose to belong to Jesus' community - you are not forced in or out of it by inherited factors such as the colour of your skin or your cultural background.
I wish I had the sort of brain that can take in all of this stuff and save it later for processing! Although I'd love to take the time to read and absorb and process this book - even if I disagree with much of it, but because it speaks of a certain cry of a certain type of heart - I just don't have the time or mental capacity to deal with this, phase 1 studies, a whole new context in which to work and dealing with absence of my family. Also I am plain lazy.
The book is edited by Musa W Dube and Jeffrey L Staley.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I quite enjoy problem-solving. But here in Grahamstown I am finding it quite a challenge. First problem: Find myself in the new situation. Which way is up? Where is the solid ground? I'm ok with that one. It took a while, but I'm ok. Grounded on, like Paul, being determined to preach Christ and him crucified.
Now the Wesley Guild. Study the situation. Look at what is happening. What is relevant? What can we ignore for now? Can we dig deep enough to find solid ground? Can we find that which is good and true and valuable and build from there? Or is the whole organisation, here in Grahamstown, floating with no sense of purpose whatsoever? Is its existence simply in order to sustain itself (like the organisation I knew that raised money to print a brochure to show that the money raised had been used to print the brochure). I think it does, only just, exist to sustain itself - with ever complicating convolutions of dependence. Talk about 'systems theory'. It's like trying to apply it to a Mobius strip.
Trying to sort out our churches within civic society. Pay our water accounts. Find out which land we own. The church has no records. The accounts aren't paid. Dig deeper. Visit municipality. Meters are not being read. They just charge an 'average' based on who knows what. We have six churches in the township. They are all charged different amounts for refuse removal and sewer connection. Two are not charged at all, but one of these is charged for 'average' water usage. I managed to read one meter. At another church there is no meter to be found. Do we actually own this land? Go to the deeds office. Can't find anything for the Grahamstown township. Not based on the erf numbers on the water accounts. Not based on ownership by the Methodist Church. I can't dig any deeper. I can't solve the municipal problems or that of title deeds. All swamp. No solid ground.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kids Stuff

I'm training caregivers working for an AIDS organisation on how to teach children from the Bible today. It's part of a project that I need to do for my phase 1 studies. There is a group of caregivers who run support groups for orphans and vulnerable children in the schools in the Grahamstown township. These caregivers are virtually volunteers, they are paid so little. They have very little education themselves. But rather than sit at home and do nothing, they work for this organisation. I hope by giving them some skills they can function more efficiently in the work that they do. And give them the confidence to actually do it!
I'm a bit nervous actually. Although I've met with the people at the AIDS organisation four times, I have had a different impression of what they do every time. I hope that what I offer them will be useful. I'm planning to meet with them eight times for training. They also want me to come with them to the support groups, but that will depend on how much time I have available!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Surfing Two

On Monday I had my second attempt at taking to the waves. Lessons learnt:
1. The surf is easier at low tide, but also more boring.
2. Somehow after the second attempt the bruises hurt more. (Either because at low tide you hit the sand earlier, or because you try more things!)
3. Surfing in loose seaweed is horrible! At one stage I felt like I had my feet caught in a net and I started to have fears that I would be entangled and swept out to sea. Apart from worrying about what poisonous or prickly things might also be caught in the seaweed.
4. Surfing is still fun!
All of a sudden winter seems to be suggesting itself in the Eastern Cape. This will have an effect on my surfing progress!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Some people need rules to live by. That is an observable fact. Isn't it? I periodically go through times of wrestling with the concept of leadership. I read something just now that said 'don't complicate life'. Ja well, if life won't complicate itself I'll promise not to complicate it.
The trouble is, leaders and academics tend to be the sort of people that don't like rules. They see them as constraints that interfere with progress. And that is not a bad way to see rules. The problem comes when these people say that everyone must live without rules. Because most people need rules. Some of us get a kick out of thinking 'outside of the box', creatively, laterally, whatever. But some people need the boxes and the boundaries. Most people?
Really, leadership is about bringing together creative thinking and the need for rules. It is not about insisting that the 'masses' learn to think like a creative leader. And this does not mean denigrating the 'masses'. It is process that requires respect and the acknowledgement that those who prefer to be inside the box also have a part to play in progress.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Retreating Today

Today I am attending my first ministers' retreat. I always used to wonder that ministers spent so much time on retreat and I thought they were quite lucky. Until I realised that retreat doesn't mean time with God and space for prayer. And ministers quite often hate them. They can be times when chosen individuals simply push their agendas. They can be a waste of time. And ministers aren't necessarily best friends with other ministers.
But, today is my first. In a different district to where I have always lived. With a bishop that is new to bishopping (a bishop chairs a district). So, I will go without too many preconceived ideas. Fortunately all the other phase 1's will be there and the ministers from my circuit. And some ministers whom I haven't met, but would like to and others that I haven't seen for a while.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Feeling Anarchical

I think I've got this kind of min dae, holidays coming up syndrome. I don't want to focus and I just want the next ten days to disappear. I certainly don't feel like thinking of politically correct things to put on my blog!
I am looking forward to going up to Jhb. But I am also afraid of the changes that the last two months will have made to all of us. How will I relate to people? And I am afraid of what it is going to be like having to let go again.
I went to the Anglican cathedral last night. The Methodist Church, in its wisdom, feels that I need to do a basic preaching course and part of that is attending worship in two churches outside of your own denomination. I enjoyed the slightly different service - but it really could have been a Methodist church. And being back in a vaguely contemporary context was really nice. Unfortunately, it also reminded me of how much I am missing that context!
Where is God calling me? Do I have the courage to go?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Two type of old

I did two things quite different from each other yesterday (amongst other things!). The first was my first session of 'communion for the elderly'. That is going from house to house taking communion to the housebound. I had been warned that this is arduous. And by some people that it is unsatisfying because of the in and out nature of the visit. I did find it long - I guess we were at it for just over three hours. But I also found it meaningful - more so than a lot of what I do. Being a Christian is about showing Jesus' love and I felt I could do that. The people really appreciated the visits and I believe were touched by Jesus himself in that time. I couldn't do it all day every day. It is not my strength. But I do not resent doing it at all.
The other thing I did was to search the deeds registry and surveyor general information to try to track down title deeds for our properties in Grahamstown. That was quite interesting - although unhelpful to my specific task. There are three properties listed to the MCSA in Grahamstown - I'm not sure which they are. But the survey diagrams date back to the 1850's. Some of the land was originally granted to a Lt Armstrong in 1821. He obviously then decided to split it up and start selling it off. It belonged to the Methodist Church by 1901 when it was entered in the Deeds Registry. To position the erfs in Grahamstown, one has to work by such unhelpful descriptions as 'there is a street here' and 'there is a small stream at the bottom'.
Anyway, a day of two sorts of olds, which was interesting. (And this is my 201st post!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hitting the nail

What is the difference between the English-speaking Methodist Church and the African-language-speaking Methodist Church? I believe that there are very, very few people who have even the beginning of a grasp on the answer to that question. And this comes out in our Phase 1 college programme - in the content of our discussions and also in the material that we study from TEE College. The powers that be recognise that there is a difference. The difference concerns them. But for whatever reason, they don't seem to be hitting the nail on the head in attempting to address this difference in the training of ministers.
It would take an enormous amount of time, energy and above all courage to meaningfully overcome this problem.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Group Dynamics

One of the things that made me feel ok about doing undergrad stuff at Phase 1 college was the thought of the group interaction. All of my theological studies have been done by correspondence. After the first year of my degree the college phoned me and asked me if I wouldn't consider coming to the college full time (rather than correspondence). I couldn't, because my kids were small, but I asked why. So that I could get the benefit of the group dynamic and discussion. I was such a loner then, that I had to really get my mind around the thought of the benefit of that process. Since then I have kind of missed it. Bible Studies and that are fine, but there is something cool about theology discussions with a peer group.
And I am enjoying it. Every now and again something really hits me from what someone says and it is cool. Unfortunately, there is a lot that passes between insights and I would not like to make it an ongoing part of my life. But those occasional moments of growth, confirmation or insight are very valuable.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Surfing Crazy

Ok, I did it. I bought a surfboard and even took it into the sea. Very cool indeed. This is what I learnt.
1. The starting point of surfing is to get balanced laterally on the board. So don't do it when there are big cross currents. (But it wasn't going to stop me today!)
2. You can go really fast on even small waves.
3. It's addictive - just one more ride in, no just one more . . .
No I didn't get to stand on the board - the surf was way too unstable and I've never done this before.
The weather was absolutely beautiful - and to think that I nearly stayed in cold Grahamstown and worked on my computer! I ended up preparing most of a sermon in the car overlooking the beach.
Can't wait for next Monday!

Sleeping Beauty Sleeps Again

My blog stats go crazy every now and again when for some reason the search engines pick up my blog archive that has a picture of Sleeping Beauty. And then all of a sudden it stops again. I've had quite a few months of high activity, but now it has stopped - so watch my blog ratings go d..o..w..n! But it's nice to check my sitemeter and see real visitors, not just that I was picked up in an image search!
Thanks everyone who stops by here and reads and maybe even comments!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Scattered thoughts

Buried an old lady of 104 yesterday. The front pew was filled with her 80 year old children. Sometimes life and death are awesome.
African people like Psalm 90 at funerals 'you sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning'.
Western/ English like Psalm 23 'The Lord is my shepherd'.
I spoke about the heavenly Jerusalem using Hebrews 12 which compares Moses and Sinai to the new Jerusalem. The people identified far more with the scary God of Exodus than the God of love that I wanted to talk about.
I preached at Commem this morning. No jacket required. Nice to drop some of the formality I'm used to in the African traditional churches.
Then I did Communion for Methsoc at Rhodes. About 80 or more Xhosa speaking young people. Wonderful. Forgot to put my jacket on - guess what? No one cared.
I've enjoyed the freedom of this weekend - no circuit stewards were available. I appreciate their help - big time! But they are also VERY cautious and I feel very constrained.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Things are looking good

I had a good meeting with my superintendent yesterday morning. I was able to speak to him about specific issues and struggles that I am having - which I see as a product of the cross-cultural context. I was amazed at how well he understood - far better than I expected - and that helped so much.
On the other hand, he wants me to continue as I am going (which is affirming, I'm doing the right thing), but I am afraid that I will continue to experience stress from the situation. But I think that the knowledge that he is supporting me will help with the stress. And as I become more familiar with the culture and the people it helps. I also have to unlearn some of the stuff I learned to cope with my situation last year!
At the end of the day - this is something that a minister has to deal with every time he or she goes to a new station. So I'd better learn to do it!
I feel very much more positive and somewhat more in control of my own life.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


We've had a lot of rain over the last couple of weeks. Driving back from Port Elizabeth yesterday I was struck by how green the countryside has gone. Black and white cows seem to have sprouted up all over (I'm sure they used to be brown) and generally it looks like Welsh countryside.
At home, the cows need to visit our pavement area and do some mowing.
I'm the 'preacher' for college on Tuesday. That means I get to plan the worship part of the service as well. Hooray. Goodbye hymns, hello contemporary multi-cultural. We're gonna rock! Our worship team is sorted. Now - I just mustn't be too stressed about having to preach, and we must all have passed our Sacraments exam, otherwise no one is going to want to rock!!
Lord, bless the poor man who must mark those papers.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sacraments Exam

The first dreaded phase 1 exam has been written by the PE centre - the Sacraments exam. It was worthy of being dreaded, I think. We have been promised that the papers will be marked by next Tuesday, so we will know the worst then. I think that I struggled less than some of the others - and probably more than some - but that is really all that I can say. I prefer exams that have right and wrong answers (like maths). I'm not very good at getting the same 15 thoughts down that the marker wanted in theology-type exams. But that part is up to God!
What this exam means is that we are now licensed to administer Communion and Baptism even though we are not ordained ministers. Given that I have had to explain to my minister and circuit stewards many times that I was not allowed to do the sacraments and couldn't help with this or that, this a big relief. I can be a little more useful in my circuit! Actually, the reality of 19 preaching places is that every service I take will involve both communion and baptism and possibly confirmation.
I am looking forward to the challenge and the 'new thing'.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


I love big words! Although I don't know how to pronounce this one. As far as I understand the Laws and Disciplines of the Methodist Church, Methodists are not sacerdotalists, which is good news for me as I am not one either! Sacerdotalism is the belief that the minister when praying over the elements for holy communion effects some sort of actual change in the elements (bread and wine) which enables them to cause some sort of actual change in those who eat them (like making salvation happen) which puts a minister a bit too close to God for my liking. (Roman Catholics are sacerdotalists - not too sure about Lutherans or Eastern Orthodox). The Methodist stand is that the minister is ordained to an office for the sake of Church order, not due to any virtue that he or she thereby obtains.
I know that I am just like other people. If there is some sort of holiness requirement for Methodist ministry, you'd better leave me out!!

Monday, March 02, 2009


This is the other side of yesterday's rather negative post!
1. I know that most of my hassles will be resolved with time.
2. I have not yet reached the point - and I doubt if I will - that I wish I was back in 'last year's world'. I needed to move on in one direction or another!
3. I see my family again in just over three weeks.
4. So far, I don't have a meeting on Saturday so I can play tennis.
5. Today is my day off and I don't have to worry about anything!!
6. I could actually just keep on going with this list . . .

Sunday, March 01, 2009


I am finding, in my away-from-home cross-cultural posting that I am getting very much more stressed than I realise. On Friday I was keeping a very tight hold on myself because I was so afraid that I was going to say or do something I would regret. Part of the problem is that the more stressed I am, the less well I sleep and then I get more stressed and so on . . .
I do occasionally take sleeping pills and they help. But I really don't like doing it. And even so, having drugged myself Friday night, I was on edge again today (Sunday).
So, what causes it?

Firstly, I never relax completely. That is something you do in familiar surroundings with familiar people. I don't have either! And the more stressed I get, the less I can let go.
Secondly. I have my life categorised into college, church work and time for myself. I have about enough time for all of them, but I am struggling to switch. Even when I am productively engaged (which is most of the time) I feel guilty because I am not doing other things that need doing. This is not logical, because I can only do one thing at a time, but nonetheless.
Thirdly. In church work I do not feel confident in what I am doing. I rely on people to interpret the language and the culture for me. My close working relationships are based on a culture I don't understand. I am afraid to step out for offending. Yet I feel that there are people who think that I am not doing enough. The latter is pretty standard for a minister, but on top of it all, it becomes a bit heavy. I wish that I could be given a specific role to play or area to manage or problem to solve, or anything as long as it is defined. I feel like I'm sweeping the sand on the beach!

Patience is not my strong point. I have learnt to slow down and take it easy and give other people a chance to catch up with me - back in Joburg. Here everything is half Joburg speed and I really wonder if I will be able to keep up at least a show of patience. I have to. It's pretty foundational to doing ministry here. But this morning I wasn't too sure if I could do it.

What saves me so far is my Monday day off and then two days of college. At college I quite simply focus on college stuff. The cultural hassles are less. And my bed is more comfortable!
But I also feel that if I was in circuit all week, I wouldn't be so frustrated at missing key meetings and I would have time to engage with the community and leaders more.

So, I am frustrated and quite on edge.
But I am writing this to mark a point on my journey, not to complain. God knows when I need him and he is there - no more than that, he's always there. He is letting me feel him and know him.
9 more months. Lord, please make this station meaningful and let the next use my areas of strength. College? Trust. Hope!