Review by John Thornley for Tui Motu Magazine. Issue 219 September 2017 of
When the Tui Calls:
Rural Ministry — Origins and Futures
By Bill Bennett. Published by Philip Garside Publishing Ltd, 2017.
“Described as an “essay”, this 65-page book provides an informal and readable introduction to rural ministry. Parts one and two cover the historical origins in Roman and Celtic religion, embedded within parish and monastic structures, moving through the Reformation and Evangelical revivals, from a post-medieval to the 18th-century industrial, to the urban world.
The story comes to New Zealand in the third part, “Clash of Cultures”, which covers the missionary and settler activities of Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic developments. This section concludes with the treatment of Māori Missions and Pastorates and with the independent Māori ministries in partnership models which emerged later in the 20th-century.
In Part Four, “Changing Patterns of Rural Ministry in the 20th- and 21st-Centuries”, the subheadings highlight the interplay of religious and secular conflicts and compromises that have been central to the story of rural ministry from the beginning. They include, “Rural Prosperity and Adversity”, “Affirming the distinctiveness of a rural ministry theology”, “Minita-a-iwi”, “The Impact of Political and Economic Changes”, “Rural Religion and Politics”, “Local Shared Ministry” and “The Near Landscape and Beyond”.
Bill Bennett is the ideal writer of this book. As an Anglican Pākehā minister he has been a major mover and shaker in the development of a rural ministry theology and praxis in Aotearoa New Zealand. Much of his ministry has been in rural parishes in the Diocese of Waiapu as well as in Norwich and Lichfield Dioceses in England. His publications of prayers and hymns (both lyrics and music) are a taonga for ecumenical and bicultural worship services.
I strongly recommend this book for ministry formation, seminary and pastoral theology libraries and as a resource for lay and ordained ministers throughout New Zealand.”
Matthew 28:16-20 — The Commissioning of the Disciples
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Sermon: Good things come in threes…
Let’s pray; May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our creator, redeemer and enabler. Amen.
Today is Trinity Sunday. It is an opportunity to focus on our understandings of God as being one and yet also being three.
They say that bad luck come in threes… But good things can come in threes too. And that is what I have titled this sermon, “Good things come in Threes…”
Our gospel reading this morning comes right at the end of the book of Matthew. Jesus is crucified, and rises after three days. He appears to the women and tells the women to instruct the men, to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus again. The eleven remaining disciples go north to Galilee, climb a hill and Jesus appears to them as promised.
Note that Jesus reappears to the women – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary – first. They are the first people to visit the tomb when the Sabbath is over. It is the women who tell the men to go back to Galilee. The women are the messengers. The writer of Matthew’s gospel also gives women prominence in the genealogy at the start of the gospel, that traces the line from Jesus back to David and then back to Abraham. Both women and men have a full part in these stories and in spreading the Good News of God’s love for us.
There are eleven male disciples remaining after Judas has left. For Matthew it isn’t important to make the number back up to twelve, so his gospel has no story about appointing another disciple to take the place of Judas Iscariot. Eleven men, a small group, are enough to set the vision of the kingdom in motion.
Did you note in the reading that the disciples worshipped Jesus when he re-appeared to them, but some doubted. Not just doubting Thomas who we hear about in John’s gospel, but maybe 3 or 4 others too! Don’t be too quick to judge the disciples who weren’t sure that they were seeing Jesus and whether or not they could do the things that he was asking of them. If we were there, that might have been our reaction too. And anyway, I think it is better, healthier, wiser even, to ask questions and be sure in your own mind that you are doing the right thing, before setting out on a new mission.
These men had left their businesses, work, maybe wives and families, and land, to follow Jesus up to now. And that hadn’t worked out very well for them. Jesus hadn’t defeated the Romans, hadn’t overturned the Jewish political and economic authorities and powers that be, and hadn’t made their lives any easier. The disciples and the rest of the un-named people in the group that had followed Jesus, were now at a turning point. They had to make a decision: go back and pick up their old lives as best they could, or persist in working towards Jesus’ vision of a better world for all.
Go back or take a step forward in faith, to a hopeful, but uncertain future.
The Jewish community in Jesus’ time had many laws and rules and regulations written down in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Also known as the law of Moses. These laws are summarised in the Ten Commandments, which still provide us with useful guidelines for living today. But for every rule there is always someone who wants to find a loophole, and so the regulators, mainly the priests, had to keep refining and clarifying the laws, down to the last detail. They ended up with many different rules about what sacrifices were required at the Temple and about what activities did and didn’t constitute work on the Sabbath, and so on. I’m not entirely sure whether all Jewish people actually bothered to try to follow all these rules in their day-to-day lives. We know that the Sadducees and Pharisees groups did try to live by the rules. Probably the rest of the Jewish community would follow them as best they could.
But the trouble with such detailed and nit-picking laws is that they become a burden and people lose sight of the intent of the original rules — how to live well, alongside others, in peaceful communities. Jesus was a back to basics sort of guy. He put people before rules. If someone is hungry on the Sabbath, then pluck that corn and feed them now. If he can heal someone with a withered arm now, even though it is the Sabbath, then how dare you make that person wait another day to be healed. How obscene to let his suffering continue another minute, just for the sake of a precious rule.
What do we think about the Bible now? What is our attitude to it?
Some Christians believe that every word in the Bible is literally true, factual and historically accurate. And furthermore, that if any part of the Bible is not true, then the whole foundation of their faith will be shaken. The Bible then becomes a rigid text, that can be interpreted in only one way. It becomes a weapon to beat those with different ideas into submission.
It will not surprise you to learn that is not my attitude to the Bible, and I don’t recommend that you treat the Bible that way either.
The Bible is full of foundational stories and wisdom, about people relating to God and to each other. We can reach into the depths of this book and pull out treasure for our lives today. The issue is not whether a particular story in the Bible really happened the way it is written down, whether it is true in any absolute sense, but rather what value and encouragement can we take from it today? The Bible is a beautiful and powerful thing, which needs to be treated with respect.
Let’s get back to those disciples on the mountain in Galilee. What does Jesus say to encourage and persuade them, to help them move through and beyond their doubts?
First: I make the rules now and I give you permission to act. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Don’t look to your law books and scriptures, don’t look to your Kings and priests, ignore the Romans – I, Jesus, have all the power you need. And I’m offering it to you. All you have to do is say, “Yes.”
Second: What do I want you to do? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
Let’s break that down. “Go.” Don’t stay here in a pious huddle, take that first step, start your journey.
“Make disciples of all nations.” That means tell everyone you meet on your travels about the good news that God loves us and that there is a better way to live. But what if they already have a good, nurturing religion of their own? (I’ll come back to that!)
“…baptizing them” Baptism was a serious and often dangerous commitment for a follower of Jesus to undertake in the first century. It required training over several months and was often performed at Easter. The Romans persecuted and attacked Christians, so worship was often held in secret, in private houses.
“in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew’s gospel was probably written down in the 80s of the first century – about 50 years after Jesus died. My theological reading suggests that the concept of the Trinity – Father, Son & Holy Spirit – probably wasn’t known to Jesus, but was developed later by the early church. Jesus came to be known as Jesus the Messiah, or Jesus the Christ, but I think these are terms that were applied to him by his followers long after his death, as they struggled to come to terms with his crucifixion and started to build a new theology that would serve the developing Christian church. The Council of Nicea in the year 325 was still arguing over the fine points of how Jesus could be both human and also divine. Jesus key vision was always of a just society, where everyone had enough – of the kingdom of heaven, here on earth.
“and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” What did Jesus command his disciples to do? Actually, his instructions were quite simple: Love God, Love your neighbour, Love yourself. That is the sum total of Jesus’ law. There are no loopholes to sneak out through. Either our lives meet these simple standards or they don’t.
Third: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is harder to interpret. In what way was Jesus with the disciples after he died and rose? How is Jesus with us here today, how do we know? When does the age finish? Does it ever finish?
I find the usual descriptions of the Trinity, of God being Three in One, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a bit distant. The modern usage of Creator, Redeemer and Enabler is more appealing, but I have come up with my own description.
Worship God, Follow Jesus, Spirit Filled.
Worship God, Follow Jesus, Spirit Filled.
To me this has an implied movement, freedom of action and purpose. It is not a static theory.
We here this morning are worshipping God. (Remember, I’m just up here leading and guiding you, I am not the focus.) If we worship God, we are saved from worshipping possessions or worldly power. And God is found through the week in our everyday lives, in beautiful unexpected sights or interactions with other people. When we keep still and listen, God is with us.
I find it helpful to make a distinction between Jesus the man who was born and lived on this earth and died just like us, and Jesus the Messiah or Christ of faith. We can then focus on what the Bible tells us Jesus the man said and did, and try to do the same. We will fail as often as we succeed, but we need to keep doing and saying the things that Jesus’ example showed us.
I see Spirit as Energy. The Spirit is that flash of inspiration and second wind that we get when we have run dry. Spirit is freedom. Spirit is power. Spirit is light and music. Spirit is the good in you and the good in me.
If we are filled with the Spirit, we also recognise the Spirit at work in other people. Pala explained to me recently that the greeting and action of Namaste [demonstrate] is more than just a polite greeting. It has a deeper spiritual significance and conveys the meaning: The Divine in me bows to the Divine in you. Isn’t that beautiful! Namaste.
Some closing thoughts:
Step out in faith, encouraged by Jesus’ message and example, and recognise the good in others.
Live well, alongside others, in peaceful communities
“In this book’s opening pages the author states clearly her intent in writing this resource, which is nothing less than naming what she calls the elephant in the room no one wants to name, and especially no one within religious institutions.
The naming of this ongoing reality is exactly what this author does. She claims quite rightly that no religious institution is devoid of the need to deal justly and compassionately with both ‘victim’ and ‘abuser’ when incidences of adult sexual abuse are brought to light and faced up to.
I deliberately choose to juxtapose these two words – ‘justly’ and ‘compassionately’ – as this is the approach the author takes in this valuable resource written out of personal experience.
The subtitle of the book – Faith Seeks Understanding – captures accurately what this book sets out to accomplish and I believe achieves in a most succinct, readable, and informative manner. As such, this book will be a valuable resource for all manner of people both inside and outside of religious institutions.
The author conveys well the complex issues that frame instances of sexual abuse. She helpfully identifies some of the key warning indicators along with some of the key psychological frames of reference that we need to understand to grasp the full extent of adult sexual abuse and particularly how and why it occurs within the context of religious institutions.
It is fair to say that all religious institutions have needed an urgent wake-up call to become aware of the realities of adult sexual abuse by its spiritual leaders. This crisis and the way it has been addressed have proven to be very impetuous.
In many cases there is a need to both address and establish far more robust procedures that work towards ensuring the pastoral and ethical accountability of those in key positions of trust and influence.
The language used by the author of ‘offender’ and ‘victim’ are rightfully used throughout the book to clearly identify and then address what is at heart an abuse of power which breaches the all-important ethical principle of ‘fiduciary duty’.
As the author establishes, within religious institutions this amounts to breaking the sacred trust between the leader (the one with power) and the congregant who has deemed the leader to be trustworthy.
Because of this sacred trust the consequences are life- changing and the healing required is immense and of a specialised nature both for the victim and offender. The author conveys well the full extent of both the abuse and the healing journey required.
I commend this book as a valuable pastoral resource. It is vital for all involved in any pastoral ministry.”
The full text of the reflection is shown below after the video.
Reflection: Who is my enemy?
Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable to you, O God, Amen.
Jesus parables were always challenging and in that style I have titled this reflection: “Who is my Enemy?”
The ideal of loving God and loving your neighbour was not new in Jesus’ time. In Leviticus 19:18 we are told “Don’t seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people. Love your neighbour as yourself.” The ten commandments given to Moses are rules about living harmoniously in community with our neighbours. So these ideas had been part of the Jewish tradition for many centuries before Jesus.
In Matthew chapter 5 we find Jesus sharpening, making more provocative and demanding, the commandments in the Old Testament. There are a series of teachings in the pattern: “You have heard that it was said…But I say…” For instance:
You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement;”
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
Jesus adds to the commandments to love God and neighbour, the challenge to also love your enemies.
Here is a paradox: If you can learn to love your enemy, can they still be your enemy?
Two things have brought this question into focus for me.
I have been reading Jewish academic Amy-Jill Levine’s book “Short Stories by Jesus: The enigmatic Parables of a controversial Rabbi.” She has lots of stimulating ideas about how to interpret Jesus’ parables, as they have come down to us in the Gospels, in modern translations of the Bible. In her comments on the Good Samaritan story, in which the lawyer asks, Who is my neighbour, Levine says something remarkable.
It relates to how Hebrew is written down. In the formal written Hebrew used in handwritten scrolls of scripture, only the consonants are printed. The person reading the text has to mentally add in the appropriate vowels, based on the context of the rest of the sentence.
Let me demonstrate in English with the consonants T L L.
We can form many words by adding vowels to these letters. The context will help us, for example:
“A child is short, but an adult is…. TALL.”
“Ask me no questions, TELL me no lies”
“The shopkeeper put the money in the TILL”
“She paid a TOLL to cross the bridge.”
“And for fans of early 1970s folk rock, we have the band Jethro TULL.”
You get the idea.
Back to Amy-Jill Levine.
In Hebrew, the words “neighbour” and “evil” share the same consonants (Resh ר Ayinע); they differ only in the vowels. Both words are written identically. ע ר
So on the page these two consonants can stand for two opposite ideas.
Combined with Hebrew vowels this way, the resulting word means
friend, comrade, buddy, colleague ; neighbour, another
Or combined with vowels this way, the resulting word means
רַע שֵם ז’
bad, evil ; villain ; trouble, ill
(Sorry I can’t pronounce the Hebrew words.) But can you see the challenge here?
You or I reading the text have to decide whether it means enemy or neighbour based on the context. The meaning is not fixed, but flexible.
Taking this idea one step further, if we can choose to interpret the same text two different ways, can we also choose whether to consider another person as a neighbour or an enemy? I think we can.
Today is the 15th anniversary of the event that Americans call 9/11. After the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York were destroyed, people in the United States flew flags from their houses and many started going back to church again. In the face of an identifiable enemy and threat, they united behind traditional symbols of meaning and togetherness.
The government response was to seek revenge by going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Horrifying wars, which have led directly to many of the conflicts we see today in the Middle East. The prophesy from Jeremiah we heard this morning brings to mind the devastation to people, and to the land itself, that war causes. It is a warning to follow the ideals of loving God and neighbour, or face catastrophe.
Many odd things happened on 9/11. There is a lot of speculation about what really happened and why?
What is clear is that people in the United States identified themselves as us the good guys under attack from them, the enemy.
That’s where the trouble starts, by identifying and naming someone else as different, as other, rather than looking for the things we have in common.
How can we discover what we have in common with another person?
I find social occasions with lots of people making small talk very difficult. What works for me is to find one person to talk to and by listening carefully to what they are saying, find a topic that is important to them to talk about. Then I can contribute my ideas and experiences and we get to know each other a little.
The second thing I want to share with you is a visual idea I have been mulling over since February.
Religious beliefs can divide or unite people.
Imagine for a moment that this segment represents Methodists. The darker shades at the top of the segment are where we find the sacred texts, rituals and traditions that we hold onto most firmly. John Wesley’s sermons, Charles Wesley’s hymns, an open communion table and a concern for social justice. These are things which Methodists identify with.
Lets say that the next segment represents Catholics. The darker shades at the top of the segment represent devotion to the Pope, rosary beads, regular confession – the things that Catholics hold dear.
Lets say the next segment represents Islamic faith. The darker shades towards the outside of the segment represent a belief in the prophet Mohammed, the Koran, pilgrimage to Mecca and the other things that Moslems hold dear.
Now lets complete the circle with other faiths.
Note the black lines separating the segments. They symbolise the divisions between people of faith. These divisions can lead to intolerance and conflict. Taken to extremes they can lead to violence and war. I imagine this as a journey into the darkness, which swallows up all the good things about faith and leads to oblivion.
[Show slides of circle receding into blackness]
What if instead we look inwards to the centre of the wheel, towards those things which we have in common with other people and other faiths. And let’s remove the borders between us. Now as we journey towards the light at the centre, we are free to sample the ideas and ideals of other faiths and discover the things we have in common.
Loving God (or Gods) and loving neighbour are universal ideas, shared by people of faith.
[Show video of turning circle]
And what if the Holy Spirit blows and the circle rotates, pivoting around the light in the centre and blurring the distinctions between us?
Is world peace really that easy? No, but Jesus pointed us in the right direction.
In the Good Samaritan story the lawyer wants an easy, tick the box answer to eternal life. Instead Jesus tells him to love his neighbour, a lifelong commitment. So the lawyer asks, OK who is my neighbour? and gets an unpalatable answer. Your enemy, the Samaritan, is your neighbour too.
Jesus’ wisdom that we should love our enemy still challenges us profoundly today.
If you can learn to love your enemy, can they still be your enemy?
No, because of your change of heart, they are now your neighbour.
Earthed in Hope: Dying, Death and Funerals – A Pakeha Anglican Perspective
By Alister G. Hendery Published by Philip Garside Publishing Ltd
Review by Anne Priestley, published inTui Motu InterIslands Oct 2015
“A quick scan of death notices in a newspaper reveals the fading influence of Christian faith in this country. Many funerals now are held at a crematorium or a funeral director’s chapel. Some of these funerals will be taken by a minister of religion; but increasingly funeral directors and celebrants have taken over the traditional roles of a minister of the church. We live in a world where there are multiple views on “what comes next” after death, mostly at variance with the theological witness of scripture. Even church funerals often celebrate the life which has ended, rather than proclaiming Christian hope in the midst of grief and death.
This is the terrain surveyed by Hendery, a Pakeha Anglican priest. His writing is marked deeply by his trust and hope in God’s grace and equally by his long pastoral experience.
He begins with sociology and theology, chapters which are most lively when earthed in contemporary New Zealand practice. The second half of this book has a strong practical bent, as Hendery discusses pastoral and liturgical issues in journeying with the dying person and in the stages before, during and after the funeral service. He includes thoughtful commentary on the rich resources of A New Zealand Prayer Book /He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, the Anglican prayer book (this material, valuable for Anglican ministers, will be less useful to others). Here, as elsewhere, he provides ideas from a wide range of religious and cultural sources.
Hendery pays attention to the complexities arising from a death by suicide and to special questions concerning children and death. He is not afraid to criticise the Church for less than helpful theology and practice, both past and present.
Hendery’s theological commitments and generous pastoral instincts stand in unresolved tension — the tension of God beyond and God within. For me, this reflects a great challenge of funeral ministry: how to speak the language of the bereaved, in our changed and changing world, and also to proclaim faithfully the good news of God.
I also appreciated Hendery’s determination to be blunt. To say the words “die”, “death”, “coffin”. To face the fact of one’s own death. To accept that, facing death, we do not know everything.
This wise and wonderfully comprehensive book about funeral ministry in Aotearoa is not a quick read, but will benefit many who carry pastoral responsibilities.”
‘Alifeleti Vaitu’ulala Ngahe Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight: Engaged Ministry in Avondale Union and Manurewa Methodist Parishes 2006-2014
(Wellington: Philip Garside, 2014), 68pp.
Review by: Rosemary Dewerse,Mission Educator, College of St John the Evangelist, Auckland.
(This review will be published in the December 2015 issue of the
Australian Journal of Mission Studies.)
“In our part of the world where practitioners significantly outnumber academics in the field of missiology, we often do not benefit from their wisdom because they are too busy “doing.” This is especially the case with Pacifica leaders. In this remarkable little book Rev Ngahe, a Tongan Methodist minister working in Auckland, New Zealand, does, however, take the time to pause and record his ministry strategy across 2006-2014, a strategy that because of its deeply contextual and outward-facing commitment exemplifies missional church leadership.
Ngahe’s strategy is straightforward. He seeks out visual images that can capture his own but also his people’s imagination and then explores their riches as he leads his community in building connections within and beyond their own boundaries in service of Christ and the people.
For himself as a Tongan the image of a Fala (a mat woven by one’s family) keeps him humble in reminding him that when he joins a community he joins a history and comes to contribute to that. It keeps him open as a Fala’s purpose is to invite family and others into talanoa (conversation seeking agreed solutions). It also keeps him mindful that when he moves on it is good for the people to be continuing to weave a closely interlaced Fala.
When Ngahe arrived in Avondale, Auckland, in 2006 he found the local icon of the Avondale spider. This got him thinking about the care with which a spider (in his imagination, God) weaves a web that despite the weather holds fast. The legs of the spider he saw as us all doing God’s work in reaching out across the community web through good and difficult times. Such thinking saw him lead the renewal of a rundown church building by seeking and welcoming help offered by likely as well as unlikely groups (eg the NZ Methodist Church, local businesses, the Mormons, the Department of Corrections). The congregation had a vision of being ‘Christ’s light to the community’ by running a homework club as a way to begin reversing endemic unemployment in the area; it was a vision others wanted to support, though there was some discomfort at first amongst parishioners with some of their partners. Though Ngahe left in 2010, the club, and other community activities, continue to this day in the refurbished church.
In Manurewa the image drawn upon was the name of the suburb: in Maori it means “soaring bird.” There, as Ngahe notes, “the listening and storytelling took pictorial shape” (p26). A mural on this corner church was painted with the help of local businesses, community police, local graffiti taggers, and MPs, as well as church members. They and nearly 40 other community groups now see “The Corner of Hope” (the name of the Church) as a place of welcome and belonging for all people. Hospitality and transformation are the two key theological themes underpinning all that happens there.
For Ngahe it is clear that finding a language that embeds God’s mission in the local context and in words and deeds that all people can understand and feel embraced by is crucial. It is exemplified not only in his approach to his ministry but also in the way in which he has written this most accessible book. Church leaders and lay alike will find humble but passionate vision and wisdom here.”
Weaving, Networking, and Taking Flight:
Engaged Ministry in Avondale Union and Manurewa Methodist Parishes 2006 -2014
by ‘Alifeleti Vaitu’ulala Ngahe
Published by Philip Garside Publishing Ltd, Wellington, 2014.
Reviewed by Johanna Warren
“The book is the study-leave report of a Tongan Methodist Pastor. He reflects on nine years of ministry in two parishes in the Auckland area. It is extremely well written, thoughtful and engaging. I found Vaitu’ulala Ngahe’s writing style fresh and alive. Sometimes a sentence would leap off the page with vigour and impact. Vaitu’ulala’s metaphors are lively and his descriptions and thinking are clear.
Vaitu’ulala began his reflections with three symbols or icons. He builds his theological reflection and his narrative around the mat or Tongan fala, the spider and the bird, which all opened up metaphors for exploring his ministry. The mat, crafted by the family and spread out for family discussions, with its unfinished edges always open to new weaving was a great metaphor for Vaitu’ulala’s ministry practice.
Vaitu’ulala found his other symbols in the places of his two ministries, Avondale and Manurewa. Avondale Town Centre hosts an icon of the Avondale Spider and Manurewa means “soaring birds”. Vaitu’ulala’s ministry and reflections are deeply grounded among the people of these places.
Vaitu’ulala reflects on the processes undertaken in Avondale and Manurewa to revitalise community relationships and begin new outreach programmes. His writing would spark reflection for parish leadership and offers examples of how to undertake such reflection and how valuable it can be. Vaitu’ulala also includes practical insights into practices for leading transformation in parish ministry and community outreach.
I would recommend this book to any pastor considering study-leave or planning a period of reflection before transition in ministry. I would also strongly recommend it as good reading for the leaders of parishes who are considering changing how they relate with their local communities. It would also be helpful to those feeling stuck or complacent in their parish life.
It was pleasure to read this book and it is one I can see myself re-reading as I reflect on my own ministry.”
Review by Daniel Newman – former chairman, Manurewa Local Board
Weaving Networking and Taking Flight
“When Rev Vaitu’ulala Ngahe’s hands come together in prayer, I imagine big strong hands that comfort the lonely and the sick. I imagine hands that direct public service and selfless giving to others. I imagine hands that build furniture, till soil to build gardens and wield paint brushes to beautify public places.
The central theme of Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight is a contemporary perspective of Godly public service, the principle of applying a theological perspective to communities within Aotearoa New Zealand. It is an inspiring narrative of service that provides an insight into the progressive perspective of the Methodist Church of New Zealand.
Rev Vai puts at the heart of his journey an understanding that ministry is intrinsically linked to human need. The narrative of the book communicates his concern for social justice and human happiness, which goes hand and hand with ministry teachings and spiritual nourishment.
The book is a story of collective advocacy. Rev Vai is a sophisticated thinker. His days in Avondale and more recently in Manurewa reveal his appreciation of networking, building relationships, forming alliances, working collaboratively and communicating his message of service to others through multiple mediums.
The narrative is reflective. Rev Vai offers an insight into nine years of ministry and the importance of building healthy and hopeful communities. He reflects upon a holistic notion of health and hope, which requires an equal attention to the spiritual, physical, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community. He ties this reflection back to Christ’s transformative work among the people and communities of his day.
The connection between the selfless giving of Christ and the transformative work of contemporary Christians has not changed through the generations. To this end Rev Vai provides an insight into how service can and should be offered to those around us. It is a lesson for all of us, not just those who minister and tend to our spiritual needs.
The book tells the story of three people who tagged buildings. Those people asked Rev Vai if they could join the church community, to which he replied that they were more than welcome to come. It is through this process of reconciliation that Rev Vai led a renaissance within the hearts of those people, as well as some initially ambivalent members of the wider church community.
Rev Vai asks the church to live out its theology of hospitality, a challenge that demands a leap of faith. He invites people with complex lives and challenging histories to become equal partners in the house of the Lord. The Manurewa Methodist Church is located on ‘the corner of hope.’ Through his work Rev Vai encourages people to throw open its doors to all; no one is declined the opportunity to enter under its roof.
Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight is a story of one man’s journey. It is a blueprint for service that provides an insight into ecumenical leadership in the context of communities in south and west Auckland.
From the days of the early missions to this land, from the early Wesleyan missionaries at Mangungu, at Kawhia, Manukau, Kaipara and Raglan, the Methodist Church of New Zealand has always placed great currency on the bi-cultural foundation of Aotearoa New Zealand. Methodist teachings acknowledge the foundational role of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the importance of personal virtue, the value of sobriety, equality, and peace.
Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight contextualises these principles in the modern world. It is a story of inspired service.
People should read Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight. This book is a blueprint for those people who want to help build a stronger community, but who do not know where to start. The way to serve is outlined within its pages.”
Lloyd Ashton asked Alister Hendery what should we be offering to Kiwis dealing with death.
Alister Hendery’s new book Earthed in Hope – Dying, Death and Funerals, a Pakeha Anglican Perspective was launched in Wellington last November. It is the fruit of a life that has specialised in death.
Over the course of 35 years in ministry, Alister has taken more than 1500 funerals – both as a priest and celebrant. He has also worked as a counsellor specialising in grief and loss.
Death is even a feature of Alister’s chosen sport.
A few years ago he took up powerlifting.
The demands of wrestling with a loaded Olympic bar saw him through the more intense periods of writing his book, he says.
He found too, that one of the sport’s three lifts became his favourite:
“I’m often asked,” he says, “whether I find such a concentration on death depressing.
“On the contrary. It’s life-giving, it adds a sense of immediacy to life, teaching me to measure the present moment and to rely on the grace of God – believing, as I do, that the life I have and the life I will know after death is a gift from the One who created me and loves me.”
If appearances are anything to go by, that’s not mere talk, either.
Because Alister Hendery has an impish grin, a twinkle in his eye, and a ready wit.
Alister decided to write his book because he was appalled by the “acute lack of any serious writing about funeral ministry” in New Zealand.
He wanted to do something about that, to offer resources for funeral ministry – but also to kick-start conversations about death and bereavement.
Because death, he says is a subject we don’t talk about nearly enough.
It has been marginalised, even in the church.
“I go to Anglican funerals,” he says, “where the word ‘death’ is not used.
“The church has been seduced by a societal obsession with the beauty of youth.
“Of course youth matters. But not at the price of ignoring the elderly, and putting things like ministry to the dying and dead into a second tier.”
That lack of deliberate reflection about death and dying is all the more serious, he says, because the Kiwi Zeitgeist has changed.
“How we approach death, how we mark it, what we believe about it, what we do with our dead, has changed radically over the past four decades – and funeral ministry is caught up in this windstorm of cultural change.”
While the church has moved inexorably from the centre to the periphery of our culture, he says we haven’t seen the opportunity that lies at our feet.
“2016 marks the beginning of the demise of the baby boomer generation.
“The funeral industry is positioning itself for this development, but is the church readying itself with as much energy and commitment?”
We haven’t grasped, says Alister, that funeral ministry is “at the edge of our connection with society.
“It’s the place where the gospel and contemporary culture most keenly interact.
“Because it’s the area, as the Prayer Book says, that touches us most deeply.”
Alister began research for his book in 2010.
Within a year, Pike River and the first of the Christchurch quakes had happened.
“Suddenly, with Pike River, you had what one commentator described as the first expression of public grieving on the social networks.
“I was able to download literally thousands of postings, and a picture very quickly emerged.
“And I can tell you that neo-Platonism, the belief in an immortal soul, is alive and well. People are reverting to ancient images of the ferryman crossing the Styx.
“There is no concept of the Judaic-Christian belief in the resurrection of the body. It simply is not out there.”
‘You never find closure’
In the wake of Pike River, Alister got tired of hearing the word closure being bandied around.
It comes, he says, from a 1970s model of grief. “The idea that if you achieve certain goals, people will be able to move on.”
“But human being just don’t work like that. Grief is a time of utter chaos. And we each grieve uniquely. It can’t be stylised in the form that the media present it.
“You never find closure to grief.
“It is always a part of you.
“We look for change. Radical change.
“But that’s not closure. I would go so far as to say that the whole psychological linear model is feeding people a lie.”
“I was watching a movie on day, and suddenly my eyes filled with tears. And it was a grief 30 years old.
“It was almost as though it had tapped me on the shoulder and said: ‘Just pay attention’.
“I didn’t need to go to a therapist. It said: ‘Just notice me. I’m still here in your life.’
Alister is not picking a fight with celebrants. After all, he’s been one himself.
“The church could learn from good celebrants,” he says, “about personalising and expressing the uniqueness of this death.
“What celebrants can’t do, is draw on the richness of the church’s tradition. And the strength of hope that we have, as we look beyond this death.
The celebrant funeral, he says “is often almost entirely retrospective.
“It’s for the living. But the church says” ‘No. It’s not just for the living. It’s for the dead, too.’
We acknowledge the retrospective – but we say there is a prospective dimension. There is a hope.
“That is still the gift the church has. But what the church needs to do, is to learn to speak the language of the people around it.”
Alister Hendery was ordained in 1980.
He’s now 61.
“Because my life on earth is now more memory than future,” he writes, “I am increasingly mindful of my own mortality.”
Having officiated a hundreds of funerals, he now practises a discipline:
“As I leave a funeral, I take a moment to be still, and in that stillness I say to myself:
“One day this will be me.
“One day, I shall not walk away from this place.
“Should I forget this, the liturgies of the church remind me of my mortality and the need to prepare for death – my death.”
And the last words of his book are a quote form what he considers to be an “utterly brilliant resource” – the New Zealand Prayer Book:
There is nothing in death or life,
in the world as it is,
or the world as it shall be,
nothing in all creation,
that can separate us from the love of God
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
“Alister G. Hendery, Earthed in Hope.
Dying, Death and Funerals. A Pakeha Anglican Perspective.
Wellington: Philip Garside, 2014, 300 pages.
Hendery remarks that over the past four decades funeral practices in New Zealand have undergone sweeping changes. Celebrants who are not clergy conduct well over half Pakeha funerals and offer a highly personalised, life-centred alternative to churches. Although the church is no longer the chief provider of funeral ceremonies, Christian faith has a realistic approach to death and grief that is grounded in undying hope in God. Writing from an Pakeha Anglican perspective, Hendery addresses significant issues of Christian faith and practice and touches on matters relevant to all who exercise funeral ministry.
A funeral marks the ending of a human life and, as Hendery points out, people today have a wide choice in style and content of a funeral service. When a minister of the church is requested to officiate it cannot be taken for granted that the community for this funeral either understands or accepts the Christian story. Listening is a key part of the minister’s preparation. It is also important for a minister to accept that profound feelings of the loss of a physical presence cannot be assuaged by religious formulae.
At several places in the book the author stresses that whatever form the funeral takes, the most effective feature will be the embodiment of compassion by the minister. While those attending the funeral may forget what was said they will probably remember the attitude of the minister.
While a minister of the church is a spokesperson for the gospel, Hendery stresses this does not mean imposing on people. Ministers must be flexible and willing to offer guidance rather than ruling on matters such as choice of music and form of tribute.
Hendery expresses concern about the way euphemistic language may diminish the reality of someone’s death. Too often a person passes away to become the deceased. Instead, the author prefers unambiguous language. His practice of referring to someone who has died as “the dead person” indicates both respect for the person and an acceptance of reality.
The idea of closure, as it is popularly termed, is addressed thoughtfully. Writing of the pastoral care of people who are grieving, Hendery suggests that while, over time, those who have been bereaved may become reconciled to their loss, this does not mean that closure, is an appropriate end to the experience of grief. Those who are left continue to relate to those who have died through memory and abiding influence.
For those concerned with funeral ministry there is much in this book that will repay careful reflection: how God and Christian hope are presented, the avoidance of euphemisms and idealistic eulogies, ritual at and after the funeral, funerals following suicide, funerals of children and children at funerals. Hendery states: We need to be able to look death in the face and be willing to wrestle with the theological, spiritual and emotional demands that this takes.Earthed in Hope offers significant help for those who are serious about doing this.”