Friday, May 31, 2013

What I learnt from synod

I got an answer to something that I have been wrestling with for a while at synod. This was an answer to the question what do we do about the abuse of women?

I find so many of our Christian responses well-meaning, but I'm not sure that they achieve anything. Does making God out to be female really help? Our synod supported the Thursdays in Black campaign which encourages people to  . . . wear black on Thursdays! with the intention of promoting awareness of woman abuse. I have always felt that this gave one the feeling that one was doing something whereas actually little was being achieved.

At synod a lady stood up and spoke, perceptively I think. We had all laughed during a Bible Study as the leader explained that the description in the Bible of an elder having only one wife stemmed from the belief that several wives were legal, but they were disruptive and a nuisance and so it was better for a man to have only one. This lady stood up and challenged us that we were willing to wear black which may or may not mean anything, but when it came to laughing at a hurtful stereotype of women we all gave in and legitimised it. (These are my words, I can't remember exactly how she put it!)

I felt that she had put her finger on the issue. If we truly are opposed to the abuse of women we need to vehemently reject these sorts of incidents. We know that they are intended as light-hearted and teasing, but they ingrain the idea that women are a nuisance and are appropriate subjects for jokes.
I just saw a facebook comment of someone wondering how a group of women is going to manage to keep quiet for the duration of a silent retreat - because we all know women can't keep quiet! I'd love one of our men in black to take that comment on.

Getting Out of the Boat

I have been rereading John Ortberg's "If You Want to Walk On Water You've Got to Get Out of the Boat". I was reminded of this book at my pre-ordinands screening where one of the committee members asked me in which areas of ministry I found myself out of the boat - or, am I getting out of my comfort zone? [To which I replied that it is a while since I've seen a comfort zone!]

It amazes me how differently I read books now. I devoured this book this week because I needed the message so much whereas when I first read it I was a little disappointed. I think it all has to do with the level of risk and uncertainty in which I am living now compared to then.
By risk - I don't mean personal danger!

But John Ortberg's challenge to see Jesus 'passing by', to listen to his call and then to take the risk of failure was encouraging this time. And if there wasn't so much else that I want to do with my congregations I would love to do a preaching series on this book - it is very practical and helpful as regards finding one's purpose and meaning in life.

Talking about books, I am enjoying buying my son books for homeschool which I also read. I have recently read Good to Great by Jim Collins, Sometimes There is a Void by Zakes Mda and am nearly finished Quiet by Susan Cain. And the next order to Loot went in yesterday, so more coming!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Financing a Poor Church

I sat with the Executive Meeting of one of my churches last night and said that we had to do something about finances. (Again - this isn't new, but the problem isn't going away.) I proposed a fund-raising scheme and they were keen and I put pressure on them to set the example in giving to this.

But some of them really, really don't have the money. The census data for 2011 shows that this part of Mitchell's Plain has a monthly average income per household of R5000. That should mean that we receive an average tithe of R500 per member (or member-household). I just don't see that happening! Partly because we don't have every member of the household coming to church and partly because I think we have the lower part of the income structure in our congregation.


But I can't tighten the screws on them like this.

And they will insist on making a donation to the church district mission fund because the circuit tightens the screws on them.

So we are falling behind every month. Plus extra requirements.

But I feel like the Pharisees demanding the widow's mite - even if she gave it freely. The worst is, we are not the poorest circuit or society. How is the church ever going to make an impact in South Africa like this? We need a new model.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pentecost and Beyond

We are now through Easter and through Pentecost Sunday. It has been an awesome ride! I think the two churches have been faithful to God's call and mission over this period and I hope and believe that it has been a time of building and strengthening and equipping.

The next step is synod which is held this week in all the districts of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. They are held simultaneously because of the presiding bishop elections. My moment of trauma is the synod exegesis oral which is held this afternoon. Fortunately it is only with a committee, but having had a not-so-good experience last year I am not looking forward to this one.

I have been too overloaded to give any attention to my PhD and I am now mentally exhausted when actual time seems to be opening up. The question of whether or not I take leave in June/July has been answered. By then all my MCSA study work will be completed and I should have the rest of the year to throw at the PhD, God willing!

So, we are busy, but God is good!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I came across this demographic survey of Mitchell's Plain here which is based on hte 2001 census data. This is just one of the slides (you can click on it to enlarge). The survey has a number of similar pictures showing distribution of housing, education, access to water and so on. This picture is a combination of various socio-economic indicators. The key here is a bit confusing, but the bottom line is that red and pink are bad and green is relatively good, the cream is intermediate.

Having worked in Mitchell's Plain for a year and a bit, this picture is very meaningful. The line running down the centre of the map is the railway line. My two churches are to the right of the line (ok, east!). Beacon Ridge, which is the church that is struggling bitterly with finances covers the lower quadrant (Beacon Valley, Eastridge and Tafelsig).

The question, 'why are we struggling?' becomes a no-brainer when we look at this map. Even if people tithe, ten percent of R1000 is only R100. We need to raise R16 000 each month to get by.

Of course, this only means that we need 160 people with the commitment to tithe, or maybe a few higher income people. It doesn't seem fair though, that tithing becomes a life or death thing in a poor area and simply a 'spiritual discipline' in a wealthy area. The Methodist Church has been very strong on 'parity of stipends' as an effort to correct past practices where white ministers tended to get higher stipends. What it also means, though, is that poor churches get no discounts. The cost of a minister is the same across the board.

This really needs creative thinking - and there is more to it than 'the spiritual state of a church is reflected in its finances'.

Just for interest here are slides showing subsistence levels and education levels.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

More pictures

Last week's photos were of Wesley Mission Methodist Church in Lentegeur. These are from my other church known as Beacon Ridge Methodist Church. This Sunday my husband and sons who usually attend Wesley came to Beacon Ridge to help lead worship. I hope that they will do that once a month in future. (One son is behind the singers at the drums!)

Here the congregation is 'passing the peace'. I find that the healthier the congregation the longer and noisier this part is!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Picture of the congregation

These are just two pictures of the congregation at Wesley Mission taken from the back during praise and worship time. If, if, if they were my only congregation I would probably start another morning service and I think we could increase church attendance by fifty percent. At the moment the Sunday School meets before the church service, so we would need other facilities for the Sunday School too!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Good to Great

I am reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. I know that I am years behind everyone else, but that's just how it is!
I can see why church leaders recommend these ideas, they are awesome. I have also bought his 'caveat book' which is called Good to Great for the Social Sectors and I am interested to see what it says.

So far I've read the chapters dealing with Level 5 leadership - I'm ok with that. Who and then what (seats on the bus) - I've heard that before and in different guises, I suppose as people have internalised it. Confronting the brutal facts. yes makes sense - although sometimes the brutal facts about the finances in my one church seem overwhelming (they aren't, they aren't!).

The hedgehog principle has me slowed down. I understand it - I think Jim Collins (no, it was someone else) also mentioned it during his talk at the Global Leadership Summit last year. It means finding that one idea that you are going to pursue and pursuing it relentlessly. But I will have to think hard how to apply that to 'my' churches - particularly the one that I joined only this year.

The three questions that one must ask to find your hedgehog principle are What can you do best, How is your economy driven and What are you passionate about?

Churches aren't in competition with each other like businesses are. So maybe we should ask what can we do better than the enemy? I'm not sure if that will help.

The economy of a church is important - and I like that it is drawn into the main working principle like this. Partly because if everything is healthy the finances will be healthy and to some extent vice versa. So I guess we want to maximise giving per family. Or should we say giving per church service? I struggle to see the options. Must think.

And the difficulty with the passion question, in this church, is that it is not very united. There is lots of passion, but all going off at different angles with very little intersection.
How long have I got left in this church? Maybe six months? Maybe eighteen months? I guess in that time I am going to be playing Find the Hedgehog!

Good times, if challenging.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

News vs Propaganda

My eye was caught by these two contrasting headlines. You wouldn't have thought that they were covering the same story.

From Independent Newspapers: Zille’s Gupta complaint dismissed

From Daily Maverick: The New Age vs. Helen Zille – TNA eats humble pie 

I guess we are a long way from The Star's slogan of 'telling it like it is'. Even if one argues that technically the IOL headline is correct, both the headline and the article read like propaganda. I might be about to hit the unsubscribe button!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Catch-up Time

I knew that the last few weeks were going to be absolutely crazy, but now there is just a moment to breathe and catch up. Today I have a small church service where I have been asked to speak and then two meetings that flow into each other tonight. After that I have no external commitments until Saturday. A chance to figure out where I am with my studies and EMMU requirements and if I am lucky a chance to look at my PhD (which is suffering from neglect).
Saturday is screening to enter the ordination phase of my training. I don't really know what to expect, so I must just try to be as well-prepared as I can.
Next week is the week leading up to Pentecost and we have a very focused outreach and healing time planned in the churches. We are praying hard and expecting to see God work with us and our community. At this point, all the planning and stress of the last few weeks hopefully becomes worthwhile!
The week after is synod, including the oral exegesis exam. This didn't go too well for me last year so I am not looking forward to it, but again there is not much I can do except to be as well-prepared as possible.
After synod I hope I will have another chance to breathe!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Remembering Ross

It is a year since Ross Olivier passed away. His friend Pete Grassow wrote this. Yes.

On IST with fellow past seminarians this week I noticed how much Ross is remembered. His legacy will endure.