Sunday, July 24, 2016

Zambia META - how do we begin to tell our our stories?

9 hours since the bus pulled in to Patrick's Quay in Cork - and we disembarked to hugs & how was it?

How do we/I begin to even explain what the last couple of weeks meant to us, how do we process what we have witnessed over the course of the team's life together.

We have laughed together, cried together, eaten together, walked together - got to know new friends, saw the height of God's creation and also the exploitation of that creation. We've discussed the importance of community development and self-sustainability. We've met with amazing Brothers and Sisters in Christ and we've also learnt stuff about ourselves and what is possible.

Once again I've come back from Zambia - my fourth time to the same city with a renewed heart of the church there, for the people and the projects we've encountered. I've loads to tell, lots of photos but a heart thats burning for the links between Northern Diocese and Ireland to be strengthened and encouraged.

But until then for any of my team - Take time to relax, talk about your stories, but also give people who are listening grace - they havent encountered everything that we have! Nor might they have the time to fully understand it all - but do talk :-)

And for anyone listening to us - it will take us time to process what we have seen - there are loads of things to tell - it wont all come out on the first telling! - and be warned you may be there for a while but what each member of the team needs now are people who are prepared to listen actively and help us process the intensity of the past few weeks - who knows you might even hear something from God for you as we chat together.

Photos are a great way to talk about what we have seen and done for me I'll be posting photos to my facebook profile ...

Some helpful hints here 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Official Blog 1 from Zambia.

Muli Shani! After 42 hours of travel we have arrived at Kitwe. It only took 2 planes, 4 airports, 5 buses and a night with cockroaches in Ethiopia, but we got here in one piece!

There are still a few things that will take a bit of getting used to, such as water rationing and “Dooming the Room” (spraying the room with “Doom” insecticide to kill any midnight friends).
Saturday 9th
After an abrupt wake up call by the neighbour’s cockerel at 6am, we were brought to the Cathedral of Kitwe by our driver, Jonas.  We were met by the local youth group, who showed us around the Kitwe markets. There we experienced a constant bombardment of the senses. As merchants tried to call our attention with their appealing vegetables and aromatic perfumes, our guides kept us close.
We finished off the day with the Jonas Bus Tour of Kitwe and the local mines. It soon became clear that there was a huge contrast in housing; stone walls and huge fences next to wooden shacks with no protection. There were people on the street selling raw meat and vegetables, surrounded by large amounts of refuse. Jonas said it was because the mining company no longer provides a collection service since they became privatised.  This led to the miners being evicted from homes that were state owned. The houses were then put on sale, leaving many of the poorer workers on the streets and rubbish to accumulate. As the tour drew to an end, we noticed a contrast between the stereotypical African Savannah sunset and the industrialised reality.
Sunday 10th
You know the way in Ireland how we are always complaining about how long winded Robert can be or having to stand for more than two songs? Well, try having to put up with that for 5 hours in one day and the priest apologising to the congregation for shortening the service because we were there! Although it was almost never ending, it was the best service we have ever been to! The room was full of energy as we sung and danced together. The congregation were very friendly. As a traditional welcome they rubbed their hands together before clapping 3 times. Then, as we were leaving we shook everyone’s hands. Jonas our driver then brought us to the church treasurer’s house, where we had lunch with the vicar general and enjoyed getting to know the people and the Zambian culture a bit more.
Monday 11th
Today we went to Chambishi, where we visited the parish priest at the local preschool before driving to Chambishi Secondary School. There we met the Deputy Head of the school, who showed us around the school and led us to the classes. We amused the students by speaking (or attempting to speak) Bemba. Some of the classes had up to 90 students. She talked to us about the fact that many of the students came from vulnerable families, financially. Thankfully, the school was happy to let the parents pay the school fees in small amounts. We were really impressed by the variety of subjects and the dedication of both teachers and students.

Tuesday 12th

Today we went to the Kitwe primary and secondary school building site. This project was started up by the diocese in 2012 and the community was excited about the project. Unfortunately it has not been completed due to lack of funding. However, the workers estimate that the primary school section should be ready for the children in 2017.  Afterwards, we moved on to another building site where they are constructing a conference centre. It will be rented out to businesses and the income from the conference centre will pay for the completion of the school. We quickly got to work and helped make bricks. The workers enjoyed the extra help and it provided an opportunity to get to know them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Unofficial Zambia Team Blog! - a quick wee blog from us

We've had all sorts of difficulties trying to get a blog written, from locked rooms, to busy schedules, finding passwords and then no internet. So I've managed to find 5 minutes of internet time.

The Zambia META Team are very well - since setting foot on Zambian soil we've been welcomed and blessed with tremendous hospitality, stupendous greetings and deep thinking about the culture we find ourselves in.

We've been laughing together, crying together, eating and singing, praying and reading scripture together. In the programme we've been to the markets, touring the city of Kitwe, Seminary visiting, Mothers' Union, Pre-school ministry, Church visiting ... and so much more

The team are all very well.

We're really looking forward to the next few days in Kitwe

Before leaving next tuesday morning on our trip south.

An official blog from our bloggers will appear on CMSI shortly with all the details & photos :-)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Questions 'r' us - how about some answers ???

On Saturday a large number of people gathered in the Rochestown Park Hotel to discuss the affairs of the Diocese - as the annual synod was brought together - with Bishop Paul Colton as the chair.

Each year as Bishop of the diocese he challenges us, encourages and provokes discussion.

His full address can be found here ... Full text

He posed 5 challenges

  1. Rural decline in Ireland.
  2. Responding to the needs of a developing Cork Metropolitan Area.
  3. Churches with a small ‘c’ – diversifying the use of our church buildings.
  4. Exploring and responding to the needs of the age group known as ‘millennials’.
  5. The new Cork, Cloyne and Ross project in partnership with Bishop’s Appeal and Christian Aid to improve maize production in Burundi.
So we have lots of questions based upon these 5 areas

1. What are the needs of rural Ireland and how can we be a part of meeting those needs?  

And, in particular, how can we utilise, diversify the use and expand the use of church buildings to be a part of the meeting of those needs?

2. What part can we play in the Cork of today as it develops and how can we respond in diverse, or extra-territorial forms of parish and ministry?

3. Do our churches look closed or do they look open for business?
  • What use is a church that is only open for one hour a week, and for occasional special events?
  • Can we find additional and alternative uses for some of our churches?
  • Are churches open, and what are they open for?
  • Working in partnership with local communities could our parishes and our church buildings serve areas in some way?
  • As part of our being and looking open are our churches easy to find and well sign-posted?
  • Is it obvious what times Services are at?
4. are we up for engagement with the millennial age group?

The questions linked to the 5th area I'll leave for another day ... as I'm currently caught up in all things Zambia at the moment!

Robert's Simple Reflections 

Its all very well asking lots of questions ... I suppose we need to ask -  how can we find answers? - this is crucial that we do find answers to these questions - Its in these questions and many like them that leadership happens, where creative solutions can be found. 

I wonder what you think of in these questions? 

In Blarney, in Inniscarra, in St. Peters - what other uses can our building be used for ... how can we be of service to the community? 

The Millennial Age group - what needs done ? 

We have asked so many questions I do think we now need to consentrate on the answers to these and various other questions. 

Lets together find the answers so that those with questions can find the answers with us! 


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Words ... and their power

A Sermon preached on Sunday 12th June - Blarney Church - 2 days after Judith Monks Funeral

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.

Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son

11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

If I was to pick a reading NOT to read today - for me it would be this reading - but such is our Lectionary at the minute it always poses challenges - It means that we preachers cannot choose their pet reading - and we’ve got be let the text challenge us and boy does this reading challenge us today - when we’ve had a raw week - a week which has seen us weeping, when we’ve been asking why, when we’ve been mourning the loss of Judith.

But I want to ask a question and speak a little bit about words - Some may have read my initial thoughts on my Blog over the past 48 hours

The question - How do we use our words?

I was reflecting upon many, many peoples conversations with me on the walk both up and down the hill here in the church yard as well as in the parish centre following Judith’s funeral - The conversations went something like this - “ O I wish I had said such and such to Judith about how much she had meant to me - and I never got the chance to”

Its been a similar thing which is said at lots of funerals - and here is the link with the reading I am very sure the same conversations were happening back in 1st Century Nain - We see Jesus in this reading giving the Widow a second chance - to have the conversations she wished she could have.

Jesus’ words of life provided a 2nd Chance “get up”- for those conversations to happen - Words provided the opportunity of life.

So if Jesus’ words then were words of life - I wonder what words might Jesus be speaking to us now- today - clearly they are not the same words -  as we grieve as a community - I hope you’ll let me ponder for a few moments

I have been struck about Judith’s life and ministry amongst us has been about words - words of jesus - many many words of encouragement, many words of teaching, many words of hope in the midst of despair, word of peace in the midst of the storms of our lives and words of care when we needed to be comforted.

Looking around the church on Friday I was struck by the number of people who were touched by Judith’s words and her actions. Yes she’s not around any more and we’re going to have to adjust to that new reality as difficult as that maybe for us but we have a choice going forward - and its a stark choice - we can blame God - And I must admit that over the course of the week -theres been times I’ve been angry with him - why now?, whats it all about?, what are you doing? all that potential!

But I’ve also been challenged by - “the time” passage in Ecclesiastes- “A time for everything”

“A time to be born and a time to die” - “A time to laugh and a time cry” - “A time to mourn and a time to dance”

At this season I wonder as we allow ourselves time to mourn and cry … can we can take the seeds  from God which Judith planted in our lives (as gifts) and nourish them, those healing words she spoke into our lives and discover what potential they have to bloom.

A confession - I don’t know how to do this but I want to do a lot of listening over the next weeks and months  - but I want this to be the foundation of our Missional Community - where genuine love for one another is spoken of.  Let us look forward, let us be there one for another, let us do whatever we can do deepen the links that already do exist. And let it begin here and now. And let us accept the honour which others do and say thank you … as difficult as it may be for us to hear it. 

What we do have in this community is all the necessary elements which when put together have the potential to to reach out and build up - Its difficult to hear encouragement but actually its very necessary. I wonder what encouragement you need to give to those sitting here this morning. Or if you’re not from this church - your community - your work places - word which might just bring life and healing to that place.

<<< personal encouragements for everyone in the congregation >>>

I do believe God is moulding us into what he would have us become. As I have reflected on my blog … time is short - lets support and help one another as we go about our mission to share God’s love with one another in the community around about us.

All of us need to chat more - we have a great community but I wonder could be get to know those we don't know better - are there other things we could do? - I’m open for suggestions :-)

Somehow we need to speak words of life to each other - encourage one another to play their part in the life and witness of this community.

If you look at this passage the scene was turned around both by Jesus’ Words  and his action

are we prepared to listen to his words and be impacted by his action today.

as a church we are here for each other - we need each other and we will be here for each other.

My prayer for us all is that we may know that peace which passes all understanding

And may the links between us grow and be strengthened as well as us looking outward to the village more and more to see how the light may shine and more words of life may be spoken to those who mourn


postscript ... to top of a crazy morning - when there was no wine, no bread (but we got them in time :-) ) and a fire alarm set off by birthday candles during the final song! - I've just found out that I had put the wrong reading onto the sheets & therefore preached on last weeks reading :-) - but thankfully God is a forgiving God and he knows what he's doing  and he is on his throne! :-)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Living honour out everyday - A challenge!

This blog comes from a place of loss ... a place of tears ... a place of the un-said things ... it comes at the end of a week of shock, mourning and grief within our little community.

Lots today could be said about Judith Monk ... and maybe a blog will be written later to honour her as a friend, confidant and leader.

But there's something more ... something I've had many conversations right across the board about today and something which I do think we need to deal with.

This thing is honouring one another, speaking well of one another, saying thank you to one another, calling out the good things we've seen, encouraging one another and having the deep conversations one with another.

If these last 6 weeks has taught us anything - one thing surely is life is short! all too short and we do need to let people know how much they mean to us - before its too late - how much a difference they mean to us in our every day lives. Surely we've got to build one another up.

But there's another part to this - is that we've got to take the encouragement from others as well! We Irish don't really like doing that. and I'm one of those who finds this difficult - We don't like to take being honoured - "oh it wasn't anything", "others are much better", "sure it was nothing", "somebody else would have done the same thing", "it was only a wee thing" we might say.

Actually - why not try and say a simple - thank you!

I'd love to create in church, in the village, in the wider community an environment where we honour one another, speak well of one another and where we encourage one another. Its really not that difficult - and who knows what might spring from it.

So often we see the opposite where people are either taken for granted, where things are left unsaid or people don't know how much they are appreciated. Let's encourage one another and accept the encouagement from each other.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Pondering - Millennials and the church

Ok, this blog follows hot on the heels of a clergy day, and also a young adults evening looking at what does church look like for young adults held in the diocese.

What follows wasn't what was discussed  but what  has  been sparked in my own thoughts following the event. It's on my blog simply to hopefully provoke some more discussion and what could and should be within the church.

So, what's with the title?

I dislike labels immensely - I really, really do as it put things into boxes and I don't like boxes, life doesn't fit into boxes - but I'm going to run with the the label anyway - because it's handy to do so According to people :

The term Millennials generally refers to the generation of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Perhaps the most commonly used birth range for this group is 1982-2000. The Millennial Generation is also known as Generation Y, because it comes after Generation X — those people between the early 1960s and the 1980s. 

So, Let's suppose we can label a generation - what 5 features define a generation, or let me be personal - what 5 features define MY generation

According to Forbes (

1. Millennials expect technology to simply work–so you’d better make sure that it does.

2. Millennials are a social generation—and they socialize while consuming (and deciding to consume) your products and services.

3. They collaborate and cooperate–with each other and, when possible, with brands

4. They’re looking for adventure (and whatever comes their way).

5. They’re passionate about values–including the values of companies they do business with

Do these ring true as I sit here on a Monday morning - yeah they do - but what of church ?

At our clergy day we were presented with some startling findings from Barna research in the States

Taylor Snodgrass of Church of the 20somethings offers some firsthand insights: “Our generation has been advertised at our whole life, and even now on social media,” he says. “Consequently, when a company isn’t being authentic with their story we can easily see through this. If the church isn’t giving you the whole story, if it’s sugarcoated and they’re trying to put on an act on stage, people in their 20s will see through this. This causes us to leave. We’re good at seeing when people are lying to us.”

Having been pointed to as a place of research I discovered an interesting piece 

Why Millennials stay connected to the church 


Millennials are craving depth—a need the Church is uniquely poised to meet.

1.    Make room for meaningful relationships.
2.    Teach cultural discernment.
3.    Make reverse mentoring a priority.
4.    Embrace the potency of vocational discipleship.
5.    Facilitate connection with Jesus.

This again is true ... 

Isn't it?

So ... what can be done?

Within the church, Ok Church is as big a term as Millennials ... so let me be personal ... within The Church of Ireland, again a big term but it'll do for now!

We have the opportunity to begin to re-think what church is for, and begin to ask the questions of what needs to be done as the way its being done in many places ain't working - or at the very least is not working the best it could be.

Do I have the answers? nope! do I have lots of questions? - you bet I do! So let's start with those and see where this journey goes to!

1. Where is the church interacting well with the Millennial Generation? 

We as church leaders need to get past labels ... we're very good at labels - we like them immensely - Evangelical, conservative, liberal, inclusive, Charismatic - labels are useful for identification but actually we're called to be Body together. Can we find ways to share what's working well together? without the non-sense of thinking 
a. "I don't want to stick my head above the parapet" 
b. "who do they think they are"  
 c. its only a really small thing I'm doing in Ballycorner parish - it really doesn't matter. 

I really do believe that there are some great examples of simple things happening - we need to find ways of sharing best practice between parishes and churches - not as a way of copying each other but sparking creative ideas and showing that this stuff is not rocket science!

2. Please ... don't set up another committee/department/council to look at this problem! - so how?

We in the church like our committees and our departments.  There is a problem - the figures show that there are only 6-7% of our  20-30's in church on a Sunday. Could this be the impetus we need to make changes that are long overdue - because if we get this right for this generation then possibly, just possibly the church might turn a corner and grow? 

What this isn't is a call to contemporary music, throw out the pews, and ditch the robes call. NO!, NO!  NO!

This cuts across all of our styles, preferences, urban - rural, churchmanship, theological and whatever divides we can name.

For me, its a fundamental shift in our thinking at local church level that's needed - The local church ... not at diocesan, or central church but at LOCAL CHURCH - Where members of this generation turn up to on a sunday morning - our front doors!

The Millenials are seeking authenticity and as I talk to those older than me  - so are they! . Paradigm shifts have occurred in our society over the past 20 years and we as the church need to figuring out what those shifts mean and how do we speak gospel into our market places, into our places of influence. 

A good place to start this conversation I believe is to look Look at the 5 things listed above (and now here) at what research has shown this Millennial generation who have stuck with church sees as reasons why they have done so. The great thing is that these 5 surely aren't so far removed from what any generation of the church has been longing for - are they? but perhaps other generations need to be challenged? 

1.    Make room for meaningful relationships.
2.    Teach cultural discernment.
3.    Make reverse mentoring a priority.
4.    Embrace the potency of vocational discipleship.
5.    Facilitate connection with Jesus.

Meaningful relationship - In our Un-scientific, round the table discussions on Saturday evening this was spoken about time after time - and this blogger wouldn't be where he is now if it weren't for the relationships of mature Christians at home and away from home. 

Church at its very best is where relationships are worked on, that go beyond the trivial and where deep things of God, life in all its mess are discussed and where you know you belong.  I have lots of questions around this ... including 

  • where do we cultivate relationships? do our relationships go beyond hello? relationship building takes time, where do we have the time? how do we foster in our congregations meaningful relationships? 
Teaching Cultural Discernment - 

For a generation that already laments the complexity of modern life, the Church can offer valuable clarity. Millennials need help learning how to apply their hearts and minds to today’s cultural realities. In many ways, pop culture has become the driver of religion for Millennials, so helping them think and respond rightly to culture should be a priority. 
Although, such development must also take care to avoid the overprotective impulses that are driven by fear of culture. Rather, Millennials need guidance on engaging culture meaningfully, and from a distinctly Christian perspective. This idea of finding a way to bring their faith in Jesus to the problems they encounter in the world seems to be one of the most powerful motivations of today’s practicing Christian Millennials. They don’t want their faith to be relegated to Sunday worship, and this desire for holistic faith is something the Church can speak to in a meaningful way

This is huge ... in terms of the world around about us today - the time spent unpacking some of the big themes of our culture needs to happen. Also giving us the tools to link faith and life together. 

So questions I have in this area include - how does the 10-15minute  sermon on a sunday do this? ... where can questions be asked? are we as preachers listening to culture as we apply scripture? where else does teaching happen? how can we be more culturally aware of those we have responsibility for? is the church at large discerning the big questions of our culture? 

Reverse Mentoring 
This one I say AMEN, AMEN and AMEN to ... 

is that young people want to be taken seriously today—not for some distant future leadership position. In their eyes, institutional church life is too hierarchical. And they’re not interested in earning their way to the top so much as they’re want to put their gifts and skills to work for the local church in the present—not future—tense.
The term “reverse mentoring” has come to describe this kind of give and take between young and established leaders.
We as the church need to take this one very seriously - we need to empower our young adults and dare I say my generation - Not simply so that we get new titles nor are on the right committees - but that we engage gifts and skills in the local church

Where does change need to happen?, where are our under 35's on vestries, synods, wardens. So many of our 18-30's are leaders in their work places, in schools and when they come to church are we telling them they have to wait? how do we as leaders empower our young adults ... not only in leadership - as if leadership is the only thing that is to be desired but in using their gifts, skills and abilities for the building up of God's Kingdom and the church? do we spend time learning from them and inviting them to teach us as leaders, mentoring us in new ways to lead and new insights into the culture around about us?

Vocational Discipleship - At the minute around the church Discipleship seems to be the buzz word - intentional, missional, vocational discipleship. Great but what does it mean? for me its quite simple - It means having our 'L' plates firmly up - I've talked about this many times and have preached many sermons on the topic.

The question is am I, are we doing it?, are we living out what we're preaching?, are we modelling discipleship and good discipleship? I'm not convinced - "speak for yourself" you might say and I say - I do - very much so!

To me life as a disciple is a call to learning, its a call to reaching out with the gospel, its a call to journey with God. It's not a call to build an institution (although institutions are important), Its a call to live lightly, to be on the move.

“vocational discipleship - a way to help Millennials connect to the rich history of Christianity with their own unique work God has called them to."
How do we help this, my, generation connect the treasures of the gospels / The whole of scripture with their unique work where God has them today?  In the parish we're calling this "This Time Tomorrow" - based upon work which the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity has been thinking about.
What good practices are there in helping our young adults connect with God, Scripture and discipleship? what help do they/we need to do this more effective?

   Facilitate connection with Jesus - ultimately this is what the church is trying to do ...
Of course, many church leaders are already trying to connect biblical authority to a personal relationship with Jesus for their young people. So what is happening to thwart these efforts?
Kinnaman explains, “In part, it is a failure of not connecting Jesus and the Bible to the other outcomes identified in this research—relational, missional, vocational and cultural discernment. In other words, the version of ‘Jesus in a vacuum’ that is often packaged for young people doesn’t last long compared to faith in Christ that is not compartmentalized but wholly integrated into all areas of life.”

This is possibly where the failure occurs - where does this happen? - the integration into the whole of life. Everything points either to Jesus or away from him. Thankfully God is a forgiving God and he knows that we are human, he knows our failures, our faults, our limitations BUT and its a big BUT, he also calls us to repentance, turning and moving on. If connection with Jesus is not happening, if fruit is not being produced we might need to look at the processes that we're using and see if there are certain variables we need to change.

When we look at the culture in Ireland today - it is changed hugely from what it was 10, 15, 20, 50 years ago. As has been pointed out we're living in a network society where we might not know our neighbours but we do know what our school friend who now lives on the other side of the world had for breakfast and where they went for a run this morning. In this rapidly changing world the church needs to do things differently. What those things are - I don't know - I don't have an agenda about this but my heart is that people would have a connection with Jesus - It's the only thing that will last!

The church has this ultimate riches that is Christ Jesus ... how do we share this with the generations that are alive today that we have responsibility for? Its a conversation we need to have ... and quickly!

On the other hand ...

Do we need to have this conversation at all? are we OK? will it just work itself out and they/we'll all comeback to church if we keep going the way we've always done things?

Very Happy for comments and dialogue on this - either on comments via Facebook or on Blog ... or even better over a cuppa somewhere, sometime :-)

Lord of the church, we pray for our renewing:
 Christ over all, our undivided aim.
Fire of the Spirit, burn for our enduing,
 wind of the Spirit, fan the living flame!
We turn to Christ amid our fear and failing,
 the will that lacks the courage to be free,
the weary labours, all but unavailing,
 to bring us nearer what a church should be.