Tag Archives: community-facing ministry

When the Tui Calls – Reviewed in Tui Motu

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.”

Original review is online here:
https://hail.to/tui-motu-interislands-magazine/publication/KrJM98L/article/lOeKq7g

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Sermon: Good things come in threes. 11 June 2017 Trinity Sunday

The following sermon was given by lay preacher Philip Garside
at Wesley Methodist Church, 75 Taranaki Street, Wellington, NZ
on 11 June 2017 — Trinity Sunday

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You can download an audio re-recording of this sermon by the preacher here:
https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/worshipresourcessermons/Sermon_Wesley_11_June_2017_Trinity_Sunday_Philip_Garside.mp3

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Bible reading:

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…”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

Good things come in threes.

Amen.

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You can email Philip at books@pgpl.co.nz

 

“Church leaders and lay alike will find humble but passionate vision and wisdom here.” Review by Rosemary Dewerse of Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight.

‘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.”

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Free Study Guide to The John Wesley Code

Click here for a free PDF download of a 12 Session Study Guide to The John Wesley Code.

Introduction

In The John Wesley Code, James Stuart argues that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, can help Methodists find a new vision for today if they are prepared to listen and learn from him. He paints a challenging portrait of Wesley, profoundly transformed and driven by the love of God, who chose to stand alongside the poor and dislocated people of his day and offer a message of healing, hope and personal transformation.
Because Wesley was so in touch with the presence of God’s grace and love in his life, he can offer us fresh, new ways for ministry in a post-modern society. This Leader’s Guide helps readers of The John Wesley Code to learn not only about Wesley but to also imagine new ways of being church today. Participants in study groups will have the opportunity to explore first Wesley’s practice of ministry, second his theology of ministry and third consider the kind of people Methodists and others can become because of the love of God at work in their lives. There will be opportunities through the study group for members to share with one another their emerging new visions for the church and to develop deeper relationships with one another that will last far beyond their time together. That is why it is recommended that the final gathering include a shared meal and act of re-dedication to Christian ministry and service.

Starting a Study Group

Format

This study guide is designed for six or twelve weeks of study and exploration using the book The John Wesley Code. The guide recommends twelve weeks to cover the material, however, the guide can be adapted to the needs and time constraints of the group. It is recommended that the first eleven sessions last about one and a half hours. The guide can also be used as a foundation for a weekend retreat alternating the sessions with recreation, rest, other activities and concluding with a meal of celebration.

Helps for Leaders

  1. Be clear in announcing the time and place of the meetings. Try to meet in a pleasant, comfortable room where chairs can be set in a circle.
  2. Invite the group to choose their leadership style. One person directing the discussion through the twelve weeks, or two persons working together, or each member taking a session in turn.
  3. Each session contains several kinds of questions. Some focus on the contents of the book. Do not neglect these for it is important for group members to have some understanding of Wesley’s world. The second set of questions deal with the meaning and implications of Wesley’s ministry. And finally there are some questions which invite participants to share their own ideas and feelings.
  4. There are no right and wrong answers so participants should feel free to share their ideas without fear of being criticised. Most important is to encourage the expression and exchange of ideas and insights gained from the book.
  5. It is not imperative that the group address all the questions for each session. Try to focus on those which seem most important to the group.
  6. Encourage everyone to participate in the conversation and try to avoid having one or two people monopolise the discussion.
  7. The leader of the group for the session should keep the discussion focused on the questions for the session and if the group goes off on a tangent, gently move the discussion back to the question or move on to the next question.
  8. Each member of the group should take responsibility for what he/she says and encourage openness and trust by being willing to share. All contributions from group members should be treated with respect and seriousness.

Materials Needed

  1. The John Wesley Code: Finding a Faith that Matters, James Stuart 2008, Philip Garside Publishing Ltd.
    Every member of the group should have their own copy.Print and eBook (Kindle & ePub) copies can be ordered from:
    • Philip Garside Publishing Ltd: www.pgpl.co.nz and
    • Epworth Books Ltd: sales@epworthbooks.org.nz    www.epworthbooks.org.nz
    • Kindle eBooks can also be ordered from www.amazon.com

    Note that this Study Guide is also included as an appendix at the end of the eBook editions.

  2. Notebook, pen or pencil or other writing paper. Group members might find it helpful to keep a record of the ideas and insights they gain during the 11 (or 12) sessions. These could be shared later with the congregation.
  3. A light supper of coffee, tea and biscuits may be shared either during or after the session.
  4. A copy of the Study Guide notes for each session.

Weaving, Networking & Taking Flight – Book Launch – Avondale

A wide range of church and local community speakers spoke engagingly about Rev Vai Ngahe’s book and his ministry, at the Avondale launch of Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight. They shared thoughtful insights, fun and celebration.

The video is 26 minutes. The frame size is small to keep the file size down. Zoom out a little to get the best result when viewing.

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“…ministry is intrinsically linked to human need.” Review by Daniel Newman of Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight

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.”

Daniel Newman, June 2015

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Four Haiku from Mark Gibson’s The In-Between Land

The In-Between Land: Psalms, Poems and Haiku will be released in print and as an eBook on 15 June 2015.

The book will be launched at 2.30pm on Saturday, 13 June 2015 at Wainoni Methodist Church, Avonside Drive, (between Kerrs Road & Wainoni Road.)

Here are sample haiku that appear in the book.

autumn leaves party
loudly for days on the trees,
then loiter on streets

 

first snow of winter
white magic-dust turning hills
into polar bears

 

 the gardener plants
evenly spaced lettuces
self-sown spud subverts

 

light loiters around
long into the evening
taunting the darkness

 

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Another Poem from Mark Gibson’s The In-Between Land

The In-Between Land: Psalms, Poems and Haiku will be released in print and as an eBook on 15 June 2015.

The book will be launched at 2.30pm on Saturday, 13 June 2015 at Wainoni Methodist Church, Avonside Drive, (between Kerrs Road & Wainoni Road.)

Here is a sample of the poems that appear in the book.

Neighbourhood all-year BBQ

fire up the barbecue
gather up again
create a loving island
in this sea of suffering

it’s always simple fare
with sausages and bread
if you’re lucky there are onions
but everyone gets fed

come sun, or cloud or snow
we keep the circle warm
we started in the shingle
now we’re on the lawn

we’re never really sure
who will turn up on the day
the group that forms each Thursday
always seems to change

there’s always lots of talking
laced with a laugh or two
it colours up our week
when feeling grey or blue

sometimes a bellbird sings
from the bottle-brush tree
and dogs like to join the party
hoping for an extra feed

the chef once made a toast
to all our absent friends
Dave and Noel have passed away
but mem’ry never ends

for the Unseen Presence
we raised our glasses too
the Spirit at the heart
calling us on to the new

New Brighton, 2013

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Sample Psalm from Mark Gibson’s The In-Between Land

The In-Between Land: Psalms, Poems and Haiku will be released in print and as an eBook on 15 June 2015.

Here is a sample from the 15 Psalms that appear in the book.

Psalm 6

From the heart of this unfolding disaster I cry to you O God.
On the days that the earth shakes with great ferocity,
many people are terrified, and try to flee to a safer place.
Others stay and weep as they watch their homes bend and break.

Some have claimed that you are punishing us,
but this is such a cruel and untruthful thing to say.
It just adds to the fear.
I don’t believe you are that kind of God!

But it is not what the earth is doing that upsets me O God.
The earth is just doing what it has always done,
and we have just not been good at listening to it.

What disturbs and angers me is the way that the rich and powerful
are looking after their own interests first and adding to our misery.
Behind their carefully crafted media releases,
glossy brochures and feigned grief
they manipulate and exploit and act unjustly.

People live in cars and vans, or on the streets.
Three families crowd into a small house.
Landlords charge exorbitant rents because they can.
The market eclipses ethics and social justice.
Yet the political leaders deny there is a crisis.

O Compassionate One,
when the powerful say that they care,
but then abandon the people
to the jaws of greedy insurance companies,
it is easy to fall into despair.
It is easy to give up.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed.

The biggest disaster of all, the hardest to bear,
is the crumbling of truth,
the rise of deceit and the refusal to care.

O God of Truth, keep us strong in your ways.
In the midst of this catastrophic failing of human love
may your aroha forever hold and embolden us!

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“…rich with stories, metaphors and invitations for ministering across cultures…” Review of Weaving, Networking & Taking Flight by Jione Havea

The following review by Jione Havea — Senior lecturer in biblical studies at the United Theological College & School of Theology, Charles Sturt University — will appear in the August 2015 issue of the Uniting Church Studies journal.

 Rev Havea is a Tongan Methodist minister and is the Principal Researcher with the Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre.

 Weaving, Networking & Taking Flight
‘Alifeleti Vaitu’ulala Ngahe

(Wellington, Philip Garside Publishing Ltd., 2014),
pp. 68. ISBN 9781501004476 (pbk).

“This slim book is rich with stories, metaphors and invitations for ministering across cultures, generations and languages, written by a Methodist Minister in Aotearoa New Zealand. Ngahe reflects on his ministry over nine years at two parishes (Avondale and Manurewa) and identifies stepping stones for those who wish to be involved in what he calls “engaged ministry,” which simply means to be not just saying it, but doing it (p. 11).

Ngahe values the practice of reflecting on one’s experience and ministry, and then sharing the wisdom gained with other colleagues and other ministry agents. Those are the motivations for Ngahe’s work and I hope that this book will inspire other Pacific islanders to reflect and share, instead of hiding, their experiences, stories and wisdom. This hope echoes a biblical opinion: that the lamp which is not lit and placed on the table is of no use to anyone.

Ngahe developed his reflection according to three metaphors borrowed from the life practices of three different subjects: weaving of mats by Tongans, spinning of webs by spiders and the flight of birds. On first view, these metaphors could be unpacked toward defining forms of ecological ministry. Maybe that is a task for another series of reflections! At a deeper level, the metaphor from Tongan mat-weaving represents Ngahe himself, and his place in the two parishes, represented by the other two metaphors. Ngahe is a Tongan weaver who “net-works” with a spinning spider (hence the word “networking” on the title of the book) representing Avondale, and a bird in flight representing Manurewa (a name that consists of two Māori words: manu translates as bird, and rewa translates as kite).

The first metaphor is weaving. Weaving is a communal activity in Tonga, and the outcomes are various kinds of mats for different persons and for different purposes. Mats are made of the interweaving of strands and at the end, the edges are unfinished. “They remain open and ready for more strands to be woven in” (p. 14). This is how Ngahe saw his ministry at Avondale. A mat was already being woven, when he arrived. That mat was unfinished. He wove more strands into that mat; then it was time for him to move on, leaving the mat for the next minister and the community to add more strands. In this regard, ministry is never finished off. One comes to the mat (read: ministry), adds a few strands, then leaves the edges unfinished for others to join in the weaving.

The second metaphor comes from the Avondale Spider, which is an icon at the Avondale Town Centre. Ngahe reflects on the process and art of spinning a web. The hardest part is the first thread, and finding an anchoring point for the web. Once that’s in place, then the spider goes back and forth to weave its intricate web. For Ngahe, the spider is in a process of net-working. This is valuable insight for engaged ministry: get the first strand anchored then net-work with other churches, other organisations, and other social bodies, to cooperate in building the web (read: community).

The third metaphor, bird in flight, is inspired by the name of Ngahe’s second parish: Manurewa. Similar to the spider, the bird has to struggle to get off the ground as it starts its flight. But once it is in the air it floats, almost effortlessly, like a rewa (kite) that is being carried by the wind. Mission is like this also. It needs a lot of help to start its flight, but once it is in the air, it will glide almost effortlessly. This is how Ngahe experienced his ministry at Manurewa, where the support of the community made the mission of the church almost effortless. Almost!

One of the strengths of this book is the way Ngahe explains the three metaphors with stories of his ministry, which was always engaging the community in different mission projects, including working on a car park mural at Manurewa. For Ngahe, mission is about hospitality, compassion, empowerment and hope (pp. 42-43).

The chapter on theological themes is worth reading and reflecting upon (chp 5). Ngahe invites further reflection and engagement around the theologies of hospitality, which requires breaking down the barriers that come with social status, and transformation, which needs to be at the physical also and not just in a spiritual exercise. Ngahe closed the book with his ten personal (chp 6) and ministry (chp 7) learnings, which reads like a “top ten list” (à la David Letterman) instead of a list of “ten commandments.” Personal and the ministerial experiences are indeed interwoven, and reflection on one leads to reflection on the other.

I commend this book not just for Tongan Methodist Ministers but also for all ministry agents who are involved in intercultural and engaged ministries. Who isn’t? In other words, this book is for you as well!

I hope for two kinds of responses to Ngahe’s work: First, for readers to critically engage his proposals. Do the metaphors work? I’m conscious that some are scared of spiders, for instance, while others eat them as a snack. What other metaphors would you weave into Ngahe’s mat? Second, I hope that this work will inspire Pacific Islanders to reflect on your ministries, write your stories, and share your wisdom with the rest of us. If you don’t, then future generations of Pacific Island ministers will have to learn from non-Pacific Islanders. You may of course write in your Pacific languages. In other words, you don’t need to write in English. But writing in English is also an opportunity for non-islanders to learn from the rest of us.

Finally, I look forward to the outcome of the next nine years of Ngahe’s ministry and for his further sharing of his reflections and his gifts.”

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