Last night's Alive@5 was on the theme of "Welcome!". We have been working through a series on Parables of Jesus, and took a slight detour due to recent events in the news. The promotional image was meant to be somewhat ambiguous in terms of who is being welcomed and who is needing welcome.
We had several newcomers so it was good express welcome!
The program was as follows:
1. Arrival Activity We played the episode "Cats and Dogs" from the Aardman series "Creature Comforts" - the video is about dogs and cats being critical of each other.
Brad: Well, I was thinking about becoming a member.
Brian: A member? A member of what?
Brad: A member of the church.
Brian: (puzzled, like putting 2 + 2 together) A “member” of the “church”. (suddenly excited) Wait a minute. You want to JOIN the church?
Brad: That’s right.
Brian: Aren’t you already a member?
Brad: Well I’m not sure. But I don’t think so.
Brian: Not sure. How peculiar? (starting to get official) Ok, let’s start at the very beginning. Have you been confirmed?
Brad: I’m not sure.
Brian: Alright. Take a deep breath. Listen carefully. I’m going to give you another chance. Think again very carefully before you answer, because this is the critical question here. Tell me if you need to phone a friend. “Have you been confirmed?”
Here's a drama that I wrote as part of the presentation about church membership at our UCA national assembly. Thanks to Lindsay Cullen for presenting it with me. We had fun.
This week I'm in Perth at the triennial national assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia. About 300 people from across Australia, along with overseas guests, visitors, and assorted staff and volunteers, are gathered at the University of Western Australia to build community, worship, pray, discern, dialogue and decide about what God is calling us and others to be and to do.
Yesterday we opened the Assembly with by hearing a "welcome to country" by Rev Sealin Garlett, prayer by President Andrew Dutney, and an indigenous smoking ceremony.
In the evening we joined in a worship celebration as Stuart McMillan was installed as the new Uniting Church President for a three-year term. Here are some excerpts from the service.
"Diamond Rugs" by Diamond Rugs - Members of Deer Tick, Los Lobos and others. What do you get? Garagey rock with a country edge. Brash. Fun.
"Everybody Knows It" by Terns - "Terns hold to no real genre markings, blending jazz, jam and rock inspired grooves with fuzzed out guitar lines, ukulele, banjo and basically anything else that happens to be lying around during the recording process.' Free on Noisetrade.
"All I Do Is Lie" by Sean Watkins - Punch Brothers singer-guitarist give us some introspective acoustic folky stuff. Nice guitar.
1. Starry Christmas The activity involved decorating a Christmas star. We had little Christmassy peg gift tags with stars on them. The pegs were glued to a wooden chopstick with some ribbon trailing and then decorated with glitter and stuff. I don't have a photo.
2. Bright Christmas Our plenary session involved a drama with three not-very-wise people and live music with Kylie Brice.
For about 17 years, we have been going away most Easter weekends with friend from our old church in Melbourne, North Ringwood Uniting. It started when we were worshipping there, then continued when we moved to Horsham, and has continued in Adelaide. The participants have varied over the years, but the constant (apart from one year) has been the Mitchells and the Smiths - Murray and Jenny and until recently, Hayley and Brenton. In a life of intolerant ministry, changing churches and communities, this ritual and these friendships sustain us. They're a rock at Easter for us.
This Easter we went to Robe, on the SA coast in the Coorong, a quite remarkable part of Australia. The Coorong itself is an inlet the size of an inland sea that stretches over 100km, the river Murray meeting the ocean. Our weekend away has moved from camping to indoors. I have to admit that wherever we meet between Melbourne and Adelaide, visiting local wineries, cooking, local walks, craft shops and board games are part of the weekend. Our Easter reflections vary - local worship services, readings, space and symbol.
On Sunday morning we went to the local Uniting Church which is also the Uniting Church campsite, Tarooki. For years there was a Coorong Presbytery Easter Camp, now run by Scripture Union with strong UCA support. The minister from nearby Naracoorte was the speaker and their youth & children's worker, a student at Uniting College, one of the key leaders. We've had some dreadful Easter Sunday visits to churches on our weekends away, so it was a sheer delight to be with a community of mainly young people to celebrate Easter Sunday.
Great energy and passion in the worship. My "God-moment" for the weekend came in the Bible reading of the resurrection. I don't remember which Gospel it was. What I heard was "Why are you looking among the dead? He not here. He is risen." WHAM. BAM. I have been looking among the dead for our Dad and our brother Paul for these past several years. I have been and certainly do remain in grief. But I will stop look among the dead for them and start to know that they are free from pain and that God knows and holds them dear. I don't know what this means but it was a moment of clarity for me about 'moving on' from a bunch of things, picking over stuff in the past, not letting it be dead. That's the main thing for me and it's pretty huge. I'm not sure why, although I'm sure that experiencing such deep grief and loss is a large part of it. I realise that few people have any idea how difficult this journey has been for me.
Easter Sunday worship caused immediate discussion among our family about sin, blood, death, atonement, perfection, etc, etc. We sang a lot about Jesus' death (but not about his rising). We watched a long, forceful, loud video about the meaning of the Cross. The video felt like a battering ram.The positive was that we had rigorous conversation afterwards.
I understand this worship and theology well from my own experience, and it is clear that our girls don't buy it and look to me respectfully for a different account of Christian faith that makes sense of Jesus and the Cross. And they're looking for more than a cause. They get that part more than the church does. They are already on board with many causes in quite committed ways. They're not interested in a Christianity that just makes everything a bit better (do your own Niebuhrian analysis here). They know what a UCA congregation is but it bears little resemblance to their lives at this time.
So I came away with lots to think about. Where do young adults get to have rigorous conversation about faith with Christians outside a church building? I'm grateful for the ministry of friends who host gatherings and spaces where young adults can question, doubt and explore.
I took my brother and nephew to see my great-grandparents' grave recently. Since my brother and my nephew's mum (my sister) were both adopted, this was mainly about them seeing where my dad's grandparents (whom he never met) were buried. So it was more about saying "Here are Pop's grandparents" than "here are my great-grandparents."
My nephew is working with a company which does stonework and other things on grave sites, so he was particularly excited about that whole aspect, and showed us nearby gravestones that he had recently repainted white.
My great-grandparents who came from Scotland died in Brisbane in 1898 and 1908. The grave is right at the bottom of Dutton Park cemetery next to the Brisbane river. For 3 years I caught the ferry there to uni (we call the Ferry "Bryan") and had no idea that my great-grandparents were buried nearby! Clearly my dad didn't know either or he would have told us.
I've visited the town where my great-grandparents lived in Scotland, and it's somewhat surreal to be showing my family where they are buried here in Brisbane. Later we gathered just down the road for my sister's birthday with her family, my brother and nephew. I'm grateful to have the chance to discover this history and sense of 'place' in my home town.