Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in Gaza: the silence of the bells

It was very sad to read, in a BBC report, that the church bells in Gaza have fallen silent under Hamas rule. The BBC correspondent, Katya Adler, reported that instead of ringing the bells, a nun was quietly playing a cassette tape (see photo): "I thought how this reflected the situation in Gaza in Christmas 2007 - that while the muezzin were on loudspeaker, the church bells here are played from a cassette tape. A nervous young nun adjusted the volume - loud enough to peel through the church but not to penetrate its walls - it might risk offending Muslim Gazans passing by."

I was reminded by this story of the text of the 7th century "Pact of Umar", in which Chrisitans, when surrendering to Islam, agreed to silence their bells: "We shall use only [wooden] clappers in our churches very softly."

The prohibition on ringing bells was one of the universal restrictions imposed by Islamic law upon 'dhimmis' - non-Muslims living under Islam after conquest. The bells of Middle Eastern Christians fell silent for more than a thousand years, until the European Powers dismantled the dhimmi system during the 19th and 20th centuries. Now the age-old discriminatory laws are being enforced again, and Hamas is proving as good as its word, for when it took power in Gaza the local Christians were told that as they were now in a full Islamic system they 'must accept Islamic law'. The silence of the bells bears witness that Hamas has told the truth about its intentions.

The silence is bad enough, but what distressed me most about Adler's report was her claim - paradoxically in the very same article - that "There is no evidence to suggest the Hamas government here officially discriminates against Christians…"

This Christmas season Gazan Christians are being resubjected to the odious, humiliating discriminations of the dhimmi system. This makes Christmas a very good time for the rest of the world to wake up and pay attention to the stark historical reality of dhimmi Christians' lives under Islamic rule, and to the intolerable reimposition of these conditions in many Muslim societies in the present day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Tyranny of the Irrelevant

I have decided to coin a phrase, the 'tyranny of the irrelevant'. This refers to clutter, junk and tasks which fill our days but add nothing to them.
I remember my grandmother's laundry: there was a copper - nothing like today's hot tubs - under which you had to light a fire and in which clothes were stirred in the heated water to get them clean. I also remember the kitchen - a wood-burning stove! More hard work. The memories are symbolic of a tough life. No modern appliances for Grandma Durie. There was just such a LOT to be done around the place, to keep everything going. Cows to be milked, horses to be saddled, wood to be split, milk to be delivered to neighbours. Life was very, very busy. Yet although the days were full and tiring, they were never so cluttered as the lives we live today.
It seems that all around us there are marketers of distraction, standing ready to bombard us with choices, all the while telling us at the tops of their voices that choices are what WE want. It's got so that for me, shopping in Aldi's is pure relief, after enduring one too many choice marathons at the local shops. These days, the advertisers tell us, if you are not exercising choices every split second of every day, your life is not worth living.

Then there is all the physical clutter which a consumer society generates. It too is oppressive, as cupboards gradually accumulate diverse but useless contents, and our rubbish bins fill up daily with the most inventively diverse collection of junk.

So much of it is irrelevant. And this you may count on, that all this clutter has been sent to oppress us, to rob us of the gift of simplicity. This is the tyranny of the irrelevant. And as is the way of all tyrannies, it must be overthrown. Here's to a uncluttered life!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Transforming the Soul

One of the pinnacles of the Bible is the Sermon on the Mount. Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, was an Australian who became famous for his leadership of prisoners of war on the Thai-Burma railroad. Jesus' Sermon on the the Mount affected him profoundly. He read it in a most unorthodox fashion. There was a great shortage of cigarette papers in the camp, and Weary was smoking his way through a Bible. He would memorize significant verses as he incinerated the pages. The Sermon on the Mount he kept until the very last. Indeed its simple but powerful message convinced Weary that he had to love his neighbour more than himself.

Although Dunlop experienced and witnessed the most appalling cruelty and degradation at the hands of the Japanese overseers, his daily choice was to affirm the humanity of all people. As he said "in suffering we are all equal". Dunlop was called by one of his men "a lighthouse of sanity in a universe of madness and suffering".

Although Dunlop was not an orthodox Christian, the words of Christ impacted his whole outlook. He decided to embrace the values of the Sermon on the Mount and simply to live them. One of the fruits of this was his life-commitment to build relationships between Australia and Asia.

Our society has been deeply impacted by the person and message of Jesus Christ. Our lives are much the better for it. There is a little of Jesus in all of us, one could say. Even a non-believer like Dunlop was transformed by the message of Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount.

The world is changing. Today, one might wonder what would have been the outcome if Dunlop had been smoking his way through a Qur'an instead of a Bible. Would he have found in those pages the same message of reconciliation and love for one's enemies? Surely not, for the teachings of Christ are unique.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blog from the Beach - 14th of September

It is good to be taking some time out with Debby here in sometimes sunny Queensland. Everyone needs to draw apart from time to time, to find a quieter place to think, to recuperate, to let all the busy-ness of life settle down around you, and just to be.

Whilst relishing this time of rest and solitude, I am all the more conscious of the precious gift of relationships. One of the most amazing messages of the Bible is that we are made in the image of God. In the Christian understanding of God, that image is not just of a single entity, but of a dancing complexity: the Father, Son and Spirit in vibrant, loving relationship together for all eternity. We are made in this image, of God in relationship in eternity.

Human experience of the world is of damaged relationships. Yet in Christ, we are called to something better, to transforming, life-giving relationships. This is not always easy. It is costly and challenging. It requires vulnerability and strength. It demands hope. Yet as we seek for Christ to be formed in us, renewing us from within, we must seek to encounter Him in each other.

St Mary's is a rich tapestry of relationships: children making friends in Sunday Club, small groups meeting and sharing life's joys and sorrows during the week, fellowship together over a cuppa on Sunday mornings, hopes and prayers shared over the phone, a husband and wife catching up at end of a frantic day, people making new friends and honouring old ones: the body of Christ is held together and expresses itself through our connections with each other. How precious these are! Our relationships are the domain in which the inner life of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - manifests itself among us. Nurturing Christian friends is itself an act of worship of the living God.

As we say, week by week, 'We are the body of Christ'.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Alive and Kicking

Where is the most unsafe place for a human being to exist in the State of Victoria?
The correct answer is: In his or her mother's womb.

Each year, it is estimated that around twenty thousand abortions are performed in Victoria alone. An abortion can in principle take place up to 28 weeks gestation. (After 28 weeks, the 1958 Crimes Act deems the indictable offense of 'child destruction' to have taken place.) Past 20 weeks gestation, public hospitals will normally only do abortions if there are fetal abnormalities. However this could be something as minor as a cleft palate, which is easily corrected by surgery.
Private clinics are a different story.

I just can't comprehend how, in one delivery suite doctors could be delivering a baby which is to be killed during or after delivery, by lethal injection or dismemberment in utero, or simply by being left on a shelf to die, whilst in the delivery suite next door, a premature baby of the same gestation and health is delivered and kept alive to grow up to vital, healthy adulthood.

The Victorian Parliament is contemplating decriminalizing abortion, based on a bill introduced by Candy Broad. (However the ban on 'child destruction' after 28 weeks is not affected by the proposed changes.) To find out more, and consider whether you wish to take action, visit Alive and Kicking and follow instructions about how to contact your local politicians.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Shrek sells his soul for a buck

Everywhere you turn these days the face of Shrek appears: in the supermarkets the shelves are full of Shrek-branded merchandise.

It is a great irony that someone who began his film career just wanting to be left to himself in his own piece of swamp has ended up selling his image to endorse a thousand and one products.

A good example of how show business can undermine your character!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mission-minded? A message from Africa to the West

Oscar Muriu from Kenya spoke to an Intervarsity meeting in December 2007, in St Loius.
Some of his points:

• There were nine million Christians in Africa in 1900, over 360 million today.
• There are more Anglicans in Nigeria than in all of North America and Europe.
• Kenya has more people with a personal faith in Christ than the whole of Western Europe.
• The largest congregations in Kiev, London and Z├╝rich are led by African pastors.
• African has the fastest church growth in the world.
• For every North American or European Christian who drops out of church (6000 a day), 4 are added in Africa (23,000 a day).

The centre of gravity of Christianity has moved from the ‘north’ to the ‘south’, and it is the Christians of the non-Western world who will increasingly define what it means to be a Christian in the world today. Muriu asks: “If western models of church are not working in the west ... should he church of the two thirds world copy the models of the west or embrace western theologies?”

On the other hand, we still all need each other. Muriu spoke about the absolute importance of building genuine partnerships between Christians across the world. Although Africa is now sending missionaries to the rest of the world, missionaries are still needed in Africa. We all need each other. (1 Corinthians 12:14-27).

Muriu stated: “The mission industry of the last 200 years was hugely successful. ... We who come from Africa will always be eternally grateful to your forefathers who sent out their very best, their own sons and daughters, and resourced them to bring the gospel to us.”

Well - what do you think?

At the first church I served in as an ordained minister, the whole path of the congregation was turned around by a visit from an African, Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo. We had invited him to come and lead a mission, then we got cold feet, and disinvited him. He wrote to us and said that if we could not fund his visit, there were African Christians in Kigali who had a mind to support mission, who would send him. And so he came, and we all had a wonderful time enjoying God's grace through Bishop Alexis’ preaching.

I have two thoughts. One is that we in the West should always remember and give thanks for the many missionaries who have been sent out, and who sowed the seeds of faith in Christ into the 2/3rds world, often involving great personal sacrifice. These seeds are now bringing forth sweet and wondrous fruit all over the earth. The students have surpassed their teachers. This should never cease to give us joy.

The other is that we have great cause for confidence. The gospel is going out to the nations. It is being presented by the power of the Spirit of God, as He enables ordinary men and women, boys and girls all over the nations to confess Christ boldly. Let us do the same.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Help us to change

God help us to change.

It is good to be away on leave. Down by the sea, I arrived to find that a storm the night before I arrived had swept away most of the beach. It is a weird feeling to be walking along what is left of a beach, one you have walked hundreds of times before, and to be about 2 metres lower than you should be. Your head is where your feet ought to be. Two metres of sand got swept away in this storm.

So I've been walking on the beach, and going to church. Part of my holiday is to go to church.

Going to church is, in my experience, a risky business. You never quite know what agenda God has for that day, or for you personally. Do you know the feeling? Sunday morning, it’s out of bed and off to church. Normally it's not a big decision to go to church, because I’m the vicar, and things might become a bit grim if I didn’t turn up. In reality it is a delight to worship our great God. Nevertheless, one of the things about going to worship Him, is you never quite know what He'll be up to.

Two things hit me at church this week. One was the readings. There was Jesus’ deliverance of the demoniac who was infested with a legion (thousands) of demons, and another was from the books of Kings about the flight of the prophet Elijah after his show-down with the prophets of Baal.

What took me aback was, at the end of both readings, there is a command is ‘Go back’. I said to the preacher afterwards that it was a bit rough to come on holidays and have not one but two readings tell you to ‘Go back’. I’d only just arrived!?!

Anyway, I could relate to the Prophet Elijah. He flees, exhausted, and spends time eating, drinking and sleeping before God sorts him out on Mount Horeb. Yes, that is something I can relate to at the moment. Elijah didn’t have an eroded beach to walk on out there in the desert, or else I’m sure that would have been in the story too.

The other thing that struck me at church was that the congregation was growing, it was full of life, and it was happy. There was a prayer in the weekly bulletin, which they quaintly called the ‘pew sheet’. (Actually it should have been ‘pew sheets’, because I got three pieces of paper. But that was all. I did feel a bit naked coming in without getting a prayer book and hymn book. The welcomers saw my hand reaching out for a hymn book, and proudly assured me I wouldn’t need one: everything would be on the big screen. And so it was. And it was great.)

Anyway, the pew sheets’ prayer read: Parish Mission and Evangelism Prayer. “God help us to change. To change ourselves and to change our world. To know the need for it. To deal with the pain of it. To feel the joy of it. To undertake the journey without unerstanding the destination. The art of gentle revolution. Amen.”

What a great prayer. Yes, change does bring joy. It does bring pain. It does take courage. You can never anticipate completely in advance where it will take you. It begins with us, and reaches out to others. My only quibble came at the end. I thought: truly blessed are those who can keep on changing God-wards in ‘gentle revolutions.’ My own experience is that there can be so many of those storm-tossed God moments when the whole beach gets swept away.

It was very encouraging to see this small country church coming alive. May all our churches be able to pray such prayers, to the honour and glory of the Name of the Lord.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

What do we love the most?

A deep problem with the west today is that we appear to have lost our capacity to love others. We love things more than we love people. We love our own ideas more than we love people. We love our money, possessions and fame more than we love people.

We love the idea of freedom more than we love setting people free. We love gratifying our feelings of compassion more than actually doing something for those in need. We speak highly of the emancipation of women, but continue to imprison them in the distorted, contorted body images of the catwalk We love the idea of choice, but deny the unborn the right even to breathe. We love our freedom of speech, but are indifferent to the victims of pornography. We love our cherished, ever-so correct political stances, but are indifferent to the people whose lives are wrecked by them. We give to others as if we were scratching an itch, and not as if we are sharing of ourselves. We love to be thought well of. We love to be right. We love to know that others are wrong. We love to preserve our own world view, even at the cost of the freedom of others. We love our own comfort above all. Our happiness is our highest goal.

My thoughts today have been stirred by watching a preview of the film Amazing Grace, telling the life-long battle of William Wilberforce against slavery. He loved others enough to dedicate his life to countless millions of ones he would never see: human beings sold into slavery.

If you can get to see this film, do so. It is a story of one man's Christian convictions, and the cost and fruit of his decision to remain true to them. St Mary's indeed has a special interest in William Wilberforce, because it was William's nephew George who bought and donated the first piece of land to start St Mary's almost 150 years ago. St Mary's will be organizing a viewing at the end of July - if you are interesting, contact us via

Friday, May 18, 2007

"Turn the other cheek"

The other day, listening to the local radio station, I heard the two hosts chatting about religion: "Of course every religion teaches 'turn the other check.'"
What a complement to Jesus Christ, that his distinctive and famous instructions on how to respond to violence (see Matthew 5:39) would be assumed to apply for ALL religions. Could this be some kind of reverse religious imperialism: if you want to know what Buddha or Muhammad taught, just read the gospels? Has Jesus' influence been so profound upon our worldview that people can just quote his words and say: well of course Islam (or Hinduism, or paganism, or whatever) teaches that.

Of course what they were saying was nonsense. Not all faiths are the same, any more than all political ideologies are the same. They don't all offer the same response to violence. It would be incredible if they did.

Where does such woolly thinking come from? Does it come from the view that religion has become irrelevant? Is it based on the belief that faith is somehow a projection of a universal common moral consciousness of the human soul? Is this just plain old head-in-the-sand stubbornness, refusing to acknowledge that not all faiths are the same? Perhaps it just a matter of our comfort levels: if all religions are the same, then we don't need to bother about them anyway.

Is this a case of us having become so lazy that we can no longer understand the times in which we live?

Drought-Proofing the Soul

When I was a kid I lived for a time in Western Queensland. The country was then in teh grip of a terrible drought, when all the sheep had to eat was the leaves of the mulga trees. After a long period of dry, dry weather, a great downpour might come and 'break the drought', and long-empty river beds would swell into flood plains. But what puzzled me about all this was how one big rainfall could stops years of dry weather. Drought is by definition a long dry period. Why would 'drought-breaking rain' be anything more than just a tantalising momentary interlude in an every longer drought. This seemed to me like the gambling mentality of the 'lucky streak': just because you have one lucky win, it doesn't make you any more likely to win on the next toss of the dice.

When I was younger I didn't understand two things about rain and Australia. One is that our rainfall is determined by long-term variations in water temperatures in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. These oscillate in such a way that they can produce long periods of drought or plenty across our land. So 'drought-breaking rains' could indeed be just that: the herald of a whole new weather regime - for some years. The other thing about the land of Australia is that over millennia the environment has become used to this. Plants are accustomed to sudden temporary changes in climate. When rains come, within a short time seeds long dormant in the ground spring to life, the desert becomes a garden of flowers. Even the rivers are suddenly replenished with fish.

In Australia, having it too easy can be life-threatening. One of the trees in our garden was living for years off the soak of a broken sprinkler outlet. It was a deceptive season of plenty. When the sprinklers were finally fixed, it was when we were entering the height of a severe drought. That poor tree, which for years had exceeded all the ones around it in height and foliage, became very stressed. It was not drought proof. The fatness it had enjoyed for so long was a delusion.

The Bible speaks of seasons of God's grace for nations, communities and individuals. The prophets use the language of weather, speaking of early rains and latter rains, and times of God's spirit being poured out like rain upon the earth. There are references to famines and feasts of the soul, to droughts and floods.

How will we respond when our soul seems about to dry up? Is our soul drought-proof? Surely times of famine and plenty WILL come. The challenge is, in times of plenty, to be ready and prepared to put down deep roots, and not just be content with the abundance of surface water. Thsi requires determination and alertness. When things seem too easy, that is the time for the believer to dig deeper. We will need those roots when the hard, dry times come. And come they will.

Faith is a resource which is meant to be shaped to meet adversity. It is not merely an explanation for blessing, but a deep well to take us through times when so much around us seems to be cursed.

Jesus often spoke about such things: of building our spiritual house upon a rock, not upon sand, to prepare for the flood which destroys weak foundations; of getting ready for a day of testing, unseen, but looming ahead nonetheless; of being prepared for spiritual challenges even in the midst of material abundance.

God covenants to sustain his people through times of drought, but the flip-side of this is that during times of plenty, they need to be using all the resources God has provided to drought-proof their souls. How deep are your wells?

Friday, April 27, 2007

God's Smile

Written for the 100th Anniversay of St Mary's Ladies Guild.
St Mary’s has a significant, although as yet unwritten history of women’s ministry, which has impacted the world. It is fitting that today when we are marking one hundred productive years of the St Mary’s Ladies Guild, to acknowledge some of the women of St Mary’s from the past. Not least among these were the vicar’s wives, whose tireless activities are marked in the pages of St Mary’s chronicles. A window dedicated to one of them – Mrs Emily Macartney – provides the image for the front of our program. It is inscribed ‘This woman was full of good works’. Some of these ‘good works’ included being President of the YWCA for ten years, Secretary of the Mother’s Union at St Mary’s, President of the Boarding-Out Committee of Caulfield, Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, Member of the St Kilda and Caulfield Benevolent Society.
Notable women missionaries have gone out from St Mary’s, including the three China martyrs Nellie and Lizzie Saunders and Mary Gordon, who had been parishioners here and missionaries in training before leaving Australia. Years before, Sarah Davies had been sent out from St Mary’s as the first Australian missionary to India in 1875, and Anne Slaney followed her in 1876. Later missionaries linked with the parish were K. Nicholson who served for many years in China, and Miss E. Macfie in India. Two Furpheys, missionaries to India, were linked to St Mary’s: first Lottie Furphey and then after her Charlotte Furphey. Women have also served in ministry positions in the parish, such as the deaconess Alice Crabb and the organists F. Dixon and Helen Slaney.
The noted Victorian vicar of St Mary’s, HB Macartney, was undoubtedly a remarkable catalyst for the ministry of women. He was a vigorous and effective sponsor of women’s missionary agencies such as the Zenana missions. These had been formed and run by women because male-dominated agencies would not release single women to go as missionaries.
Macartney handed over his teaching slot at the first Australian non-denominational Christian conference, which he hosted here at St Mary’s in 1874, to read a sermon which he had commissioned from ‘a lady’ entitled “The Right of Holiness Purchased by the Cross, co-equally with the Right of Salvation.” Also included by Macartney in the conference proceedings, though not delivered, was another address by a woman entitled ‘Consecration’. As is often the case with women in ministry, the identities of the authors of these addresses remain unknown.
St Mary’s congregation had a passion for reaching women. A successful week-long Mission to Women was held in 1894 at the church. This featured Mrs Walker, who was the ‘Lady Missioner’ of the International Christian Police Association.
Among the very many women of note linked to the ministry of St Mary’s, the story of Emilia Baeyertz is perhaps the most fascinating. A convert to Christianity from orthodox Judaism, Emily was called into evangelistic work by the Revd HB Macartney in Caulfield.
At first Baeyertz tried reaching Melbourne’s Jewish community, but was regarded as an apostate by them and even received death threats, so she turned her attentions to gentiles. At one point, frustrated with her lack of effectiveness, she set aside a week to seek for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to empower her. During this time she became deeply convicted of the ugliness of sin, and soon after began immediately to see many conversions.
Ministers started to offer her invitations to speak, but she declined them all because she was not sure if it was right for her to address mixed meetings. As she reflected on this a great darkness came over her. However, a book by Elizabeth R. Cotton, the temperance preacher, convinced Emily to go ahead.
A key incident in the book occurs when Cotton, who had been preaching to young achoholic girls, and providing coffee houses as safe alternative places for them to gather in, was asked if the girls’ parents could attend too. Cotton refused. One of the fathers came to complain, and Elizabeth replied: “The reason is just this: people say it is not right for women to teach men.” The father responded: “I thought that was it, and I have been looking my Bible right through to see whether that be true; but it ain’t. There was the ’ooman of Samaria, she told the men; and Mary Magdalene, she ran to tell the men… And this is what I think, Miss, if a man don’t know, and a ’ooman do know, she ought to tell he, and it’s very wrong of you not to tell we.” Elizabeth Cotton came to regard this request as a “Macedonian call” to “come over here and help us.” So she relented. She told God that “she was willing to be misunderstood by all the world if only she had His smile, that she would go anywhere, and do anything for Him”.
After reading Cotton’s book, Emilia Baeyertz accepted her first invitation to preach to a mixed crowd, and was daunted to find the large church packed with hundreds of people, including three ministers. When she got up to speak the results were astounding as the church’s two vestries overflowed with new believers. Emilia went on to become a highly successful evangelist in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland, and Western Australia, as well as across the United States, Canada, Ireland, Scotland and England.
St Mary’s has a unique spiritual legacy. This church has blessed and enabled the ministry of remarkable women who have gone out and impacted the world. But in naming some of these women today, we also remember that through a century marked by many difficulties – including two world wars, a great depression, disasters such as the great influenza epidemic, and a period of the most far-reaching social changes imaginable – the ministry of women within our parish has continued uninterrupted. Steadily, fruitfully, the women of St Mary’s have built community, cared for each other and for their families, taught and nurtured each other in faith, and been a committed and faithful witness to their Christian faith. For this light shining we are proud and pleased to be giving thanks to God today. May the ministry of women in this place be sustained with joy and conviction until Christ returns!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sir George Stephen

It is 200 years since the British Parliament passed an Act in 1807 for the abolition of the slave trade throughout the British Empire. A key force in the campaign to end slavery was a group of families known as the Clapham Sect, comprising influential evangelical members of the Church of England. Among this group were William Wilberforce and his brother-in-law, James Stephen, the legal mastermind of the first phase of the abolitionist campaign.
The battle for the ending of slavery continued for many years after 1807. A new generation of leaders were required to abolish slavery itself, and two were sons of James Stephen: James Jr. and George. A policy of gradual change had been pursued by the Anti-slavery society. However, in 1831 George Stephen and Joseph Sturge formed the Agency Committee to stir up a public campaign for the full abolition of slavery. They hired agitators to tour the country demanding nothing less than immediate and unconditional emancipation.
“The early 1830s was a time of liberal fervour arising out
of the campaign for parliamentary reform. Exploiting the mood of the moment, the Agency Society used every means at its disposal to drum up popular support, putting up posters, organizing public meetings, demanding pledges from parliamentary candidates, and circulating petitions. When the reformed Parliament met in January 1833 it was plain from the temper of the Commons that these efforts had succeeded and that the government would have to give way.” (Encarta Encyclopedia: Abolition Movement).
Thus it was that the work begun in 1807 was completed in 1833 when slavery itself was declared illegal. George Stephen, knighted for his contribution to this campaign, published a history of the movement in 1854,on the personal request of Harriett Beecher Stowe, to assist in the American campaign for abolition: Anti-Slavery Recollections: In a Series of Letters Addressed to Mrs. Beecher Stowe.
Sir George then emigrated to Australia, with his son James Wilberforce Stephen (commemorated in one of St Mary's stained glass windows). They settled right here Caulfield. Sir George built Helenslea, (now part of the Shelford site) and gave the first parcel of land to St Mary’s, paying for the first church to be built on it (where our hall now stands). An active barrister in the colony, he was a committed Sunday school teacher at St Mary’s for many years.
The evangelicalism of Sir George was marked by a personal experience of God, a conviction that the world needs to be evangelised, submission to the Bible as God’s Word, and a deep commitment to public action to transform society. What shoulders we stand upon!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Melbourne's Water

For the first time this morning I had a good look at the past ten years of Melbourne's water supply here.
What I saw was disturbing. Over the past 10 years there have been two years where the water levels have dropped 20%, two years where they have dropped 10%, only a few years where the levels held steady, and just one year (2003) when they rose by more than a few percent. There has never been a year in the past ten when we have had a water level rise of 10%. On average we have been losing around 6% to 7% of our water every year for a decade. Another 2-3 years could see the end of Melbourne's usuable water, unless there is a long-term change to our rainfall trends.

I think I might go dig a well ...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Biggest Loser

As the contestants on the Australan 'Biggest Loser' TV show compete for the prize of being the last 'loser' (of weight) still standing, I've been watching. I found myself intrigued by the role of the coach. At first the participants have no idea what they are capable of. It is the coash who sees their potential from the start. The coach's job is to get more out of them than they ever dreamed they could have achieved.

Throughout the series, the transformation in the participants has been remarkable. From people with low self-esteem and a track record of failure, self-confident, 'can do' individuals are emerging boldly into the light of day. All of them are notching up landmark physical and psychological achievements along the way. Every contestant has done great things to be proud of.

In all this the contribution of the coach is crucial.

In the Christian life, the Holy Spirit, who is 'God alongside', is our coach. Seeing more potential in us than we can imagine, and knowing how to draw it out of us, the Holy Spirit challenges, chastizes, comforts, and consoles us to stretch out for our very best. This 'very best' is nothing other than Christ in us: the fulness of God's purposes being worked out in our lives.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Easter Buns?

Many Christians find the 'Easter Buns' in supermarkets an affront. They are traditionally known as Hot Cross Buns, to be baked and eaten on Good Friday as a breaking of the fast of Lent.

But these days they appear in local supermarkets by the first of January. And no more of this offensive 'Hot Cross' talk - these are 'Easter Buns', as in 'Easter Bun-ny'.

It was not so long ago that the Daily Telegraph reported that councils and schools throughout England were banning Hot Cross Buns, in an attempt not to offend Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, or whoever else's wrath was to be feared. The Muslim Council of Britain wisely remarked that the decision was 'very, very bizarre', but a spokesman for the London borough of Tower Hamlets said 'We are moving away from the religious theme for Easter... We will probably be serving naan breads instead.'

Other creative souls invented a pagan origin for Hot Cross Buns - no doubt because then they could be happily eaten by all and sundry, and not banned as embarassing Christian food.

It is not pedantry which motivates me to write on these "Easter Buns". My point is that our community has become disconnected with its spiritual heritage. Good Friday and the crucifixion it celebrates have disappeared from the consciousness of the marketeers and chocolate bunny sellers.

But as for me, I will wait until Good Friday, and on that day remember what the cross stands for, as I munch on a Hot Cross Bun after our morning service.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Isaac Ball's conversion

I thought I would begin my vicar's blog with a drawing of St Mary's. A member of the choir brought this to church last Sunday. This drawing was done in the early 1870's, within the first few years of the church being built. The artist, whose name was Ball, created this image as a memento of his son Isaac Ball's conversion through the ministry of the Revd HB Macartney, vicar of St Mary's. Isaac went on to become an ordained Anglican ministry, graduating from Moore College in Sydney in 1875.