Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I am not good at winter! I get depressed and lethargic and then feel desperately guilty for not doing all the stuff I want to do!
Fortunately, South African winters are short. Unfortunately, deadlines don't go away.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Family Time Again

Today my husband and kids leave Joburg to make the two day trip down to Grahamstown. Well, three of the kids - the fourth is with me already. It has only been four or five weeks since I saw them for a weekend, but it feels like forever.
And it is like an addiction. It is getting to be that the time is never enough. They will be with me for two weeks, but my dominant feeling is that I want it to be always. These visits are not enough.
I have wished away a few years in my life. I hope that this will be the last one. But I have learnt how much I need to be with my family and I think that we all have a new appreciation for each other - not that I think anyone ever felt unappreciated!
They go back in the middle of July. I'll fly up for weekends in August and October and then at the end of November . . . phase 1 is finished!

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I've generally believed that regular attendance at funerals was an expression of black African culture that was just different to my culture. I have been starting to wonder if this is 'harmless'. Partly I'm beginning to wonder whether the culture of funerals has hi-jacked the Christian faith, rather than being simply an inclusive thing.
Now I am wondering about the effect of the content of funerals on people. I would guess that many people do funerals at least two Saturdays out of four. At most of these funerals they will hear Psalm 90 read. (Whereas western people like Psalm 23). How does it affect people to hear 'You turn men back to dust, saying "Return to dust, O sons of men." (vs 3) and "We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation." (vs 7) and "All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan." (vs 9) nearly every week? This is by no means a balanced picture of God, life or death.
I am starting to believe that black African people oppress themselves by their funeral customs.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Next Year

Am I going to Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary next year or not? That has now become the big question that occupies my mind. On the very day that I blogged that I was reconciled to the idea of seminary, the future became uncertain as our bishop suggested that we may not all go to seminary after all! The seminary web page refers to difficulties that they are having working with students at multiple levels - academic progress, experience, probably age too. And I am glad that they are dealing with these issues, rather than pretending that they don't exist.
I need to write a motivation for me to go to circuit rather than seminary. I believe that it is right for me to do this on the grounds of my age - the church does not get a high return on its investment in training me, and also because of the academic qualifications that I already have. The church needs to decide whether it considers my four year BTh through the Baptist Theological College as adequate.
I don't want to use my family as a motivation.
Part of me wants to go to seminary because it will be easier for me. Much less risk than going to circuit, where I could be placed anywhere. Seminary is in Pietermaritzburg which has good schools and so on.
But I didn't make this choice (to go into church ministry) to do what seems safe - either for me or my family. I could have just stayed where I was. Somewhere in there is the essence of calling. I NEED to be in a church, even though I am afraid. I hope that the church system will put me somewhere next year where I can make a real contribution to building the kingdom of Jesus.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

IE 8

I installed Internet Explorer 8 yesterday - because Windows Update was bugging me to. The first web page I went to after that didn't open correctly. I used the 'compatability mode'. It still didn't load correctly. I didn't want to waste my time messing around, so I ran system restore. No good! After that I didn't have any functioning Internet Explorer. So I'm working with Firefox now.


It is cold and rainy and unpleasant in Grahamstown today! I am supposed to be doing home communions for the elderly this morning. I wonder how well it will work out in this weather. And I have a Wesley Guild meeting tonight. I wonder if they will brave this weather - given that most of them walk or take taxis!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Phase 1 College and Rugby

Last week Tuesday was a public holiday, but we still have college on these days. On the one hand, it was nice and quiet with so little traffic. But - the college is across the road from the new Nelson Mandela Bay Soccer Stadium which has been built for the Soccer World Cup. And last Tuesday the Lions were playing there. There was very little traffic, because cars were not allowed into quite a large area around the stadium. This meant that we as students from out of town had to beg and plead and persuade policemen to let us in.
We didn't really have any trouble and it was cool to get a hint of the excitement from the rugby!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Facebook and Gmail

Sometimes the internet is a bit creepy. I've had a recommendation of someone come up as a friend of Facebook occasionally. It's struck me as odd, because although I know him, I didn't think that any of my Facebook friends knew him. So yesterday I paged through his friends to see who it could be. People I know, but none of my 'friends' are his 'friends'.
Then it struck me that he and I both have gmail accounts and because I have emailed him from the web interface gmail has set him up as some sort of contact of mine on the gmail page.
Is Facebook picking this up from gmail? I know that Facebook is wide open and nothing is safe. I know that gmail saves all by emails - but I thought there was some basic privacy! It could be that there is another connection.
One of the Methodist ministers on Facebook had his account hacked and pornographic emails were sent in his name.
I guess it's just a reminder to be very careful what you put on the web!

Monday, June 22, 2009


Today we will take Darien to the beach to fly the kite that he made last Monday! Last Monday that was cold and spent with the heater on. Today the front door is wide open and we will probably take swimming costumes with us. I LIKE Grahamstown.
I am also supposed to rework 36 pages of my Masters thesis. After that I should be able to submit a full first draft to my supervisor for comment. He should be back from leave by then, so the timing is good.
I don't feel like working. Here I go screaming and kicking . . .

Sunday, June 21, 2009


One of the things that I suffer from in Grahamstown is not knowing enough people with whom I can relax and laugh. Maybe that sounds odd, but I think it means something if you can laugh with a person.
But it's been a good weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday I had to travel 50km to preach and took people in the car with me. I'm starting to know the people and we can talk and even laugh.
And there are others.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I woke up feeling grumpy this morning. Partly lack of sleep, mostly lack of motivation for the next few days. But it was good to find an encouraging email in my inbox this morning. So I feel better.
Yesterday I was alone in the office for most of the morning and the phone didn't stop ringing. One guy, who didn't identify himself, said to me "Thetha isiXhosa" (speak Xhosa). I tried to explain I couldn't (in English). Eventually I said to him "Andithethi isiXhosa" (which futilely means I am not speaking Xhosa - what I was trying to say was that I can't speak Xhosa). He then said something that I couldn't follow. So I said "Ufuna ntoni?" (which means what do you want?, but I don't know if it is a polite way of putting it or not) and then he said "Wena ufuna ntoni?" (what do you want?). By my culture that is now offensive or threatening so I gave up on a conversation that was really stressing me and just put the phone down. Maybe he was teasing. Maybe he was psycho. That sort of thing is bad enough, but when you don't understand the culture!!
I was so unsettled that I locked the office door - which I never usually do! But I got over it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I read a book a couple of years ago which offered advice to ministers and counsellors on detecting depression in women. It suggested that they should ask how the woman was doing with the ironing. If she was neglecting the ironing, that was a sure sign that she was depressed.
And all 21st century women go 'yeah right'.
However, I must admit, that if I am managing to get my ironing done at the beginning of the week (for me Thursday!), it generally means that I'm in a good space and am likely to get other stuff done. If I do the ironing cheerfully, even better.
So, heigh-ho heigh ho, it's off to iron I go!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thoughts on Seminary

As word comes out of the new Methodist Seminary that shows that issues are being tackled practically and realistically, I start feeling more positive about going there next year. As new student ministers in the Methodist Church who are part of a system that is undergoing major change, we have had very little knowledge of what our path to ordination was going to look like. Some of the plans seemed over-idealisistic - including the seminary.
There is also, for some reason, a general distrust of church structures.
Now I am starting be more comfortable with how the structures work. And I do believe that there will be benefits to the Methodist Church with new training system.
Part of the difficulty I have is that I spent a long time getting to grips with the idea of being a minister. It is not something that I particularly wanted to do - although aspects of the job definitely appeal to me. Having decided that this is what God wants from me, I had to persuade myself that I would be capable of running a church or working in a church as a minister. Now I want to see that happen - but I know I need to put it aside for another period of waiting. It is almost like putting the call aside, although I know there are many things that can be said about that!
But if God wrote me a letter asking me to do it, I would. I think I am starting to accept the idea of seminary. Maybe not the whole three years? I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Moving Forward

Eventually I am making forward progress on my Masters' dissertation again. Yesterday was my day off and I managed to write some words. It is only by prayer - mine and others - that I get through this stuff. I shouldn't get any credit - it is God who 'powers' me!
I am working on the concluding chapter, which is quite motivating. But I don't think the dissertation is going to be good enough. I must just accept that it will probably take another year. But I'm not in a rush. I shouldn't be in a rush. Ok, I do want to get it done, now!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Half Way!

Today marks, as far as I know, the halfway mark on my Shaw journey. It could change. The church could decide to leave me here for another year, but I think that is unlikely.
I am slowly starting to find a sense of purpose and a sense that maybe I will have made some small positive impact here. This is a relief! I was worried that if I couldn't make the adjustment to a new situation that I wouldn't make it in the itinerant Methodist set up. But it has been very hard - because of the cross-cultural side and also because of the lack of time spent in circuit. But it must be acknowledged that I am finding meaning in the relatively very small amount of preaching that I do in the English-speaking church and not in my core work. Still, I am pleased that God will use me and I trust that I am also adding some value in the township. I am sure that this will become clearer in time.
And if it doesn't, I trust that God will nonetheless use my attempt to be faithful. I can't do any more!

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Good Day

I did some solid admin in the office, played with the sound system at Commemoration Methodist until Midget (my netbook) connected beautifully, went to the beach at Port Alfred with my son and then saw the Wesley Guild off on their weekend away.
Could be worse.

Pledging versus Tithing

What should I do with my tithe while I am stationed cross-culturally here at Shaw in Grahamstown? I've been asking this question for the last five months as I have tried to truly understand the spirit of giving in the black African Methodist Church.
I spent an hour or so yesterday signing 'pledge cards'. These cards are held by each 'full member' of the church and are filled in by the class leader whenever a pledge donation is made to the church. Most people seem to give R30 a month. A very few give R50 a month. Many give R10 or R20 a month. There are other opportunities to give to the church - in Sunday collections and also to the organisations.
I thought that I would try to do the same. But at the end of five months, I doubt if I have given even R100 to the church. I don't have a class or a pledge card - I don't actually know how the minister fits in to this system!
So yesterday, I gave up and returned to my culture and did an internet transfer into the church's bank account for five month's tithe. Culture or otherwise, I feel so much better for doing this. The only thing that bothers me is that I prefer my giving to be anonymous, but I have to acknowledge what I have done to the church treasurer or the transfer will keep bothering them.
I wonder how they will view my desire to tithe? They might quite possibly think that if I can give so much to the church they are paying me too much!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

They need to be converted!

There has been some discussion on my Incurably Religious post. It happened that after the first comment or so I was driving to take a funeral 50km away and I had in the car with me a Local Preacher and a Circuit Steward from my congregations in the Grahamstown township (black South Africans). I thought I would test the water a little and see what they thought about what we had been posting. I explained to them that Rev Kumalo had expressed wonder at the fact that the Rwandan genocide had occurred at a time when Rwanda was supposedly 90% Christian. I told them that South Africa was supposedly 79% Christian and yet we and such a crime problem. I think the local preacher raised the issue of crime, which is what made me think of the discussion.
The LP came back very promptly with the answer : People need to be converted. They just say that they are Christians but each one of them needs to come to repentance and commit themselves to Jesus.
I remembered then that the Circuit Steward had also been at synod, and she said that Rev Kumalo had said very good things and that we need to see change in the church. I can see that her mind is waking up to these issues and that she is starting to take her faith journey very much more seriously.
I can understand these responses. I preach a personal commitment to Jesus. Am I doing wrong from an African perspective? I believe that I am being faithful to what I perceive to be my call. Is there another way?

Working Rhythms

Part of my struggle to settle in fully here at Grahamstown is due to the rhythm of the working day. I am supposed to be in the office from 9am to 1pm - for quite a while this was the only requirement that my superintendent had of me. These hours just don't work for me! 9am is too late to get going. For the first few months I took the two hours before 9am to work on my Masters and otherwise do my own stuff. This was great, but meant that by 1pm I was more than ready for a break. Finishing at 1 makes the afternoon a bit shorter and evening meetings tend to start at 5.30 or 6pm. Now that the days are getting shorter (winter!), the afternoon seems to vanish into nothing. Now I am getting frustrated because I seem to have no time!
It is an ongoing thing to try to fit my life into this other routine. Of course, I have spent the last 17 years or so doing things in my own time and way. There is a sense in which I have to learn to just fit in!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Things That Drive

I have been learning more about what really motivates me during this phase 1 journey - mostly I admit, by noticing what I miss, when I don't have it anymore! Yesterday was my day off. However, I am the preacher for phase 1 college this week. This means that I had to prepare a sermon dayoff or otherwise.
Also I have been waiting for the opportunity to try out John van der Laar's 'liturgy experiment' - I don't have much opportunity to do that sort of thing normally, so I thought I would use it at college this week. (John has video's, images, ideas and other resources available that use the set lectionary for each Sunday). I did a lot of this stuff two or three years ago, but the options have been a bit lean this year and the last.
I managed to spend hours yesterday putting this thing together - and I know that this is something I enjoy. I love to see a service as an entity, where each part works together to bring the congregation into an awareness of God and of his message. One day, I hope I won't have to preach as well - and that I can slot in an appropriate preacher into the preaching slot.
I think the service will work well. But I have struggled with the sermon. I would have found a different focus from the readings or would have preferred different readings for the message. But it has been a very good challenge to prepare a service around a theme that I would not normally have chosen (God is green, is John's theme, more or less).

Monday, June 08, 2009

Kid 4

In response to Steve H, this is Darien. He is my fourth child, turning 11 in July and spending several weeks with me in Grahamstown. He has settled in well. He is homeschooled, which allows us the flexibility to move him around. He went to pre-school, but has never been to 'real' school. My other kids were also homeschooled for most of their primary school years and none of us regret it.
My eldest daughter has been helping with the homeschooling since I have been separated from my family - and she seems to have done a good job. But the reason that homeschooling really works for us is that it encourages a genuine love of learning in the kids and they become self-motivated. Especially in primary school, as long as they are learning maths and languages the child is free to read about whatever interests them and do and make and experiment to their hearts' content!
Because of my somewhat unpredictable circumstances Darien has been doing a more formal system which includes exams. This takes away some of the flexibility - but we have to face the fact that he will probably have to go to 'real' school next year.
He comes across as shy and quiet, but once you get to know him he is as necessarily monstrous as any ten year old!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Incurably Religious

Dr Simangaliso Kumalo who did our 'Bible Study' time at synod, made the statement that 'Africans are incurably religious'. I was talking to my supervising minister and we agreed that the size of the Methodist Church amongst black Africans wasn't necessarily an indication of and state of the peoples' hearts. Church is a cultural thing. John Mbiti is the one who has pointed out most strongly that for Africans there is no separation between the religious and the secular. In many ways this seems to be a good thing. Christianity has in most places in black South Africa replaced or mixed with traditional religion. But it seems to be a sad fact that this is a form of religion, not a change of heart. Of course, this is not true for every church attender - there are many genuinely committed people in the black Methodist Church. But the conception of most people within the church is that church has come to be about power and status instead of about love and co operation. It is a difficult mindset to change and a difficult climate to work in.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Wild Cat

Driving back from Port Elizabeth to Grahamstown at dusk, Darien (my son) and I saw a caracal lynx crossing the road. I have never seen one of those in the wild before and I don't think Darien has ever seen one at all. That was so awesome. It made the long day worthwhile!

Spiritual Style

Steve Hayes found a site that is doing a survey for the Natural Church Development people that is aimed at a new book helping people determine their 'spiritual style'. If you'd like to help them create a statistically valid survey please go and fill in the questionnaire. Steve's write up is here. To go directly to the site go here.
You can see some of my results on the comments at Steve's blog!


I am finding it difficult to blog because so many of my thoughts are around 'unbloggables'. Things that revolve around personalities that I don't think it right to share on the net. Or I have thoughts about the complications of Methodist practice that I am not enjoying at college - again, not things that I want to put on the net. And then my perpetual struggles with insecurities and perfectionism - again, I'm not really looking for cyberspace to feel sorry for me.
But a thought that comes out of the last - I sometimes despair of my Masters dissertation, that it will not be good enough. I don't actually know if I am right to worry or not, but I do know that the Baptist Theological College sets very high standards and that my perfectionism is probably appropriate. The struggle is that those training me seem to view the Baptist College as an ickle denominational college with little to recommend it, while BTC is setting high standards, for its own good reasons. These thoughts lead in a number of directions . . .

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Trial Services

To be a preacher of any sort you need to go through trial services. In some places these are taken very seriously. In others those assessing says things like, 'ag, he really wants to be a preacher, we'd better pass him' and give an arbitrary pass mark. I thought about this very hard last year when I had to do a trial service to be accepted as a Methodist student minister. I got 60%. Others got 80%. Somehow I didn't think I was worth 80% and wondered what those others had! But I devised this scale, and it works for me. It doesn't really work for ministers who preach every Sunday and people have no choice but to listen to them!

90% - people will travel from far to come and hear - eg Angus Buchan?
80% - people will make an effort to hear you regularly
70% - people (who know you) do not stay away when you are preaching
60% - there's nothing really wrong with your preaching, but there's something missing
50% - there is a spark of potential or this is a dying gasp.

I reckon that I am a 70% preacher. If I lose energy I sink to 60%. I would love to become a 80% preacher!

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Good Thing

Something that is going to change the character of my stay in Grahamstown over the next few weeks is the companionship of my son. I brought my youngest child (turning 11 in July) back with me when I returned from Johannesburg. Most of the time since then has been spent at synod, but it has been going well. There was not the slightest complaint (that I heard) of his being on the premises for synod and he was generally warmly welcomed. God is good and people are kind!
He is homeschooled, so schooling is not a problem. But he will be something that forces my mind away from church and theology on a daily basis. I have very much enjoyed having him with me so far! The plan is that he will go back to Johannesburg with the rest of the family when they come to see me in the July holidays.