Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Great Escape

It is the 75th anniversary of the Great Escape today -- see The Great Escape Remembered on the BBC. One of those involved (but he did not escape) was connected with my city Church. I asked him about his experience one day, on visitation. He said it was nothing, and he didn't want to talk about it. Perhaps because it ended in tragedy -- 50 escapees were executed. OBSERVATION: It was a massive effort. The Germans found afterwards that 4 000 bed boards had gone missing, 90 double bunk beds, 635 mattresses, 52 twenty-man tables, 3 424 towels, and so on.

‘He Is Weak Enough’

In a few sermons, I have quoted Hudson Taylor the famous missionary -- a moving quote. A friend said to him: "Hudson, it must give you deep satisfaction to be chosen by God to start this vast enterprise." Hudson Taylor replied: "It seemed to me that God looked over the whole world to find a man who was weak enough to do His work, and when at last He found me, He said: 'He is weak enough -- he'll do.' All God's giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them." OBSERVATION: This is a key truth that Churches tend to overlook -- and is of major consequence to Churches.

John Williams VII

It's a photo of the mission ship the John Williams VII, anchored off Ocean Island or Banaba in the Pacific, I think in 1965. I spent months on this ship as a youth. The ship was built in 1962, and named after a famous missionary of the London Missionary Society, who was (alas) eaten in 1839. OBSERVATION: The ship rolled notoriously, because its keel had been shortened. Some say to negotiate treacherous waters, some say to avoid taxes. Maybe it was both. In 2009, decendents of those who ate John Williams apologised in a ceremony of reconciliation.

Saturday, March 23, 2019


Some of my better photos, I have made available on the Internet, for optional payment. Unlike many photos which are free or optionally free, all went through a "rigorous vetting process". On average, my photos have been downloaded well over a thousand times each -- and the most popular has been downloaded 5 381 times. This is a photo I took of "Deforestation", near Bot River, east of Cape Town. It has been downloaded 1 376 times.

Adult Tasks For Children

In every service I conduct, I make an effort to include original spiritual input of some sort from the congregation. Sometimes this includes children -- and sometimes it means asking children to do typically adult tasks. As one example, I have asked children to lead our Sunday prayers. That does not merely mean reading prayers, but composing prayers. OBSERVATION: The results have been surprising. I do not remember having been disappointed by a child -- rather, impressed. They do receive guidelines, though not always coaching. Occasionally parents have told me that they didn't want coaching even from their parents -- they wanted this to be their prayers.

In Time Of Crisis

The New Zealand prime minister has been much in the news over the last week. She is experiencing an extraordinary crisis, and in an important sense, not a crisis within. The same may happen in ministry. Here is my own example. It was the first xenophobic agitation in South Africa, and I was in extraordinary demand for counselling and crisis intervention as pressures mounted in the lives of foreigners -- many of whom were members. Again, in an important sense, it was not a crisis within. Notice the date on a doctor's note, which proclaims BURNOUT. A week later, riots broke out across the city. OBSERVATION: I bounced back quickly, and our Church diaconate joked that I should pin the note to the vestry wall, as a warning to counselees. The moral is: if there is such crisis, be aware of what you are experiencing yourself.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Very Valuable Critique

A local printer printed out my newly edited metaphysic recently (pictured). First I gained some impression of the whole of it. Now I am studying the critique with care, noting first thoughts. Next I shall map out what needs to be done, with monumental changes first in line, then the detail. OBSERVATION: Being one-fifth through a serious reading of the critique, it is clear that my editor is an intellect to be reckoned with. A very clever man. It is a very valuable critique -- just what I wanted.

Distinctions Vanish

People assume sometimes that corruption belongs to a particular race, creed, or colour. My personal experience in ministry is that it transcends race, creed, and colour. This would seem to be borne out by commissions of inquiry in South Africa. In important ways, there is no majority group involved. OBSERVATION: Also, race, creed, and colour unite -- distinctions vanish -- where people are united in corruption. This means, too, that corruption may be the driving force, even where people present themselves as something else. One might be a democratic leader, a Church elder, a community representative, a law enforcement officer, and so on -- where these things are "not the plot" in one's life. It is not new. Under apartheid, it was a standing joke that the greatest rogues were the most presentable citizens.

Walking Around

I took this photo about ten minutes before a service on 5 April 2009. The Church filled up substantially after this. I had just walked up the aisle to greet people, and now greeted people as they entered the Church at the door. OBSERVATION: This has been my routine throughout ministry -- and to greet people again as they leave. I usually have everything in place an hour before a service, so that I can do this. Although it's just a thumbnail photo, notice the worship team spread out across the (so to speak) altar.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Helping Hand

I am helping someone tonight with an academic assignment. I have helped many students, and I learn some interesting things. This one is about the effects of a European order being introduced to an undeveloped South Africa. The assignment needed rearrangement. It was like red pebbles and blue pebbles all mixed up in a bucket. I said to the student to sort out the pebbles, as it were, and to put them in separate piles, then we could look again. OBSERVATION: I tell students what I think they should be doing, but I don't do it for them.

Archive Discovery

Earlier this month, I discovered this old USB flash drive -- and this week discovered two more books on it, which I wrote in the 1990s. Not as big as the Christian Jokes book I already found (300+ pages), there is a spin-off of that book, which is jokes gleaned from the darker side of ministry (100+ pages). I also discovered a unified Church calendar on it (Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant) which gunmen took from me last year. There are 80 years of calendar there, from 2019 till 2099, and each year fills many pages. Sometimes it is specialised information like this that is sought after. I wrote a program to churn out all that information automatically.

Easier Pastoral Appointments

I used to set up all my pastoral appointments personally -- because they are, after all, pastoral and personal. Yet no small amount of energy went into this. It involved a lot of “bargaining” on the phone. The purpose of the visit? Home or vestry? You're inviting me to your yacht? I need a police escort? This week or next? It depends? I should call back in half an hour? You need to change it? And so on. Ultimately I handed it over to our secretary. She knew my preferred times, she tracked people down, and did all the bargaining -- and said she quite enjoyed doing it. OBSERVATION: It actually made life a lot easier for me. All I had to do was turn up.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Planning A Church's Crunch Point

More than ten years ago, I reported on this blog that "our Church's finances are working". What, then, if a Church's finances are not? Working finances, I wrote, depend on six factors:
• solid spiritual foundations
• constitutional proces
• well ordered finances
• transparency and accountability
• a Planned Giving Scheme, and
• congregational control. 
In order to undo working finances, one needs then to undo this list. Once accomplished, what then? There are three possibilities: restore the finances, close the Church, or seek a sustainable solution. It is crunch point. OBSERVATION: Now consider this. Was this crunch point planned? In some cases, yes. Someone with influence then stands up and says: "We are unsustainable now -- but wait! we have the solution! This is what we now do with our assets ..."

Food For The Hungry

I took the photo this morning of the succulent "Pig's Ears" or Cotyledon orbiculata. It is known to many in South Africa as food. However, note that there are (apparently) relatives of this plant which are a little poisonous. My wife, as a child, ate this plant when she was hungry. It is also called Plakkie in Afrikaans. One may click on the photo to enlarge.


Under all of my ministries, we have had the rule that, if one does something “on behalf of the Church” that isn’t authorised, then it isn't on behalf of the Church, and one pays for it oneself. It is surprising how often this happens -- say once or twice a year -- although many cases are minor -- for example: "I ordered her a taxi. Can the Church reimburse me?" A few cases have been major. Early on in one of my ministries, an ordinary member ordered major work on the buildings, so that the Church would look good for its 100th anniversary. I walked into the Church garden one morning to discover a huge scaffold erected, and labourers beginning their work. In this case, the work was shut down, and the member concerned got off with a warning. OBSERVATION: I myself once bought a telephone answering machine, and realised that it wasn't authorised. I paid for it myself.