Friday, January 30, 2009

The Rollercoaster week ... that was

I foolishly at the start of this week changed my status on facebook to ...
"Who Knows what this week will bring ..." thinking that it was to focus on the curacy round ... how wrong I was to be!

Last weekend was spent up in Belfast with Ron and Janice at Stranmillis which was great

Sunday was the longest bus journey down to dublin it took me 4 and a half hours to get from Belfast to Dublin ... which involved a bus driver taking directions from a drunk passenger who was telling him to turn right on a motorway! ....mmmm....missed last tram and had to take a strange dublin bus... anyway ...

Monday was pretty straight forward I think.

Tues was great getting home and being able to walk down Banbridge street in the middle of a week day ... how amazing that was !!!

Wed was extremely busy ... interviewing people for my dissertation and having a reunion with the scott family over dinner and then back down to dublin in the train ... it was great to have a whole carriage to myself ... good thinking time.

Thurs was crazy ... class in the morning ... rectors appearing in college in the afternoon and then the white envelopes at 3 O Clock ... agggh ...*

Out for a meal in the evening with the class to a very expensive indian! but very nice food.

I write this blog also to highlight that probably most human emotions are caught up somewhere in this week

- Joy at being placed in the curacy round
- concious of much prayer needed those who havent yet been placed
- Grief and shock at the sudden death of Uncle Colin whose funeral I will be participating in tomorrow
- Praying for healing for a friend and fellow Christian who is undergoing major surgery next week
- Celebrating with Claire and Paul at their Engagement Party tonight
- Concentrating on 2 sermons for sunday for St. Barts as it is my last sunday.

So there we go ... a full run down on this and its not over yet!

Knock Knock ... who's there ...?? :-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Apostolic Spirituality – Spirituality of Mission

Below is an essay from last year which looks at what we mean by Spirituality and which I will be reflecting on tomorrow in Class "Spirituality for today".

Tomorrow I will be looking at Spirituality through the Lens


Ever since I was young child, the word mission kept popping up, mainly thanks to the work of Church Mission Society Ireland (CMSI) with their Lenten Sunday School projects and their “Mission Partners” who sent their prayer requests back from their foreign postings overseas. On my journey of faith I have managed to cross paths with many such people, people who have been called to “go” to leave their known and go to the unknown for the sake of the gospel. When I have met these individuals there has been something remarkably different about them. The difference hasn’t been them floating off on some “out there, spiritual high” but a remarkably grounded sensible reliance upon God and the shalom which could only come from a relationship with the God of mission who sent them there in the first place.

This essay will take the reader on a journey as we discover some of the principles which underlie such “Lives lived towards God[1]” and make the application for here and now. The book which will inform this piece of work is mission-shaped Spirituality by Susan Hope. It takes what I have witnessed in the mission partners lives overseas and applies the principles to Church Leadership in the Anglican Communion at home, which has an impact on the lives we as ordinands live now and as clergy in the future.

Mission has been defined by the Mission Shaped Church:

‘God’s missionary purposes are cosmic in scope, concerned with the restoration of all things, the establish of shalom, the renewal of creation and the coming of the kingdom as well as the redemption of fallen humanity and the building of the church.’[2]

As we take the enormity of this task on board, this mission is too great to even consider, however as believers this is the calling we have been invited and commissioned to participate in. The question we are considering within this essay is what do we need to put in place in our own lives in order that we can even consider living a life which is all about this mission?

When one looks around the church, which is called to share the message of God’s love, of his passion for humanity, it is common to see leaders who are caught up with the daily business of parish, diocesan committees, house call to house call and generally running around like a “headless chicken”.

For many, the fire is almost extinguished and we forget who we are and to what we are called. And through forgetting, we lose confidence, so that the task of mission, when we look at it seems over whelming, impossible, out of range. [3]

To tackle this inertia we need to remember that the apostolic call is practical – it is “to go”, to go to those on the outside and bring them in. This means putting into place structures within the parish situation where people including the leaders are allowed and equipped to go and “do mission”. This is what the church is designed for: to be a missionary community continually reaching beyond its walls.

For this to happen, people need to encounter the God of mission, these encounters are essential for the churches and the individuals who are participating in God’s mission in the world.

Returning to those whom I have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know on other continents, the sense of being “for the other” has been a massive part of their calling. The movement from self to the other is at the heart of mission. The perfect example of this movement was seen in the life of Jesus.

“The journey that Jesus made from the baptism to the cross, was marked by joy, energy, clarity of focus, friendship, conflict, struggle, the adulation of crowds, powerful preaching and encounters with evil, including structural evil, and the great battle of Gethsemane and Calvary.”[4]

The mission to which Jesus was called is the same to which we are and also same source of power he was given and was sustained by, is the same as we have access to. It is essential that we realise this when it comes to living our lives generally.

A crucial part of going, perhaps the essential part, is from a place of knowing from where we are starting (it is the well known saying – “if I was going there I wouldn’t start from here”). Jesus began his ministry from a particular place, a place of knowing who he was, a question of identity – for Jesus, this was at his baptism “This is my beloved son – with him I am well pleased”[5] . The same has to be true for the believer wishing to participate in the universal mission described above, we need to realise that the spirituality has to begin in a place where they know themselves to be loved by God, where their identity is found solely in Him.

It is from this place of belonging with God (abiding) which all mission proceeds … it is the key to joyful, effective and resilient mission.[6]

As Christians we are not called to simply abide with God, but are also called to be his disciples who learn from the place of abiding but also to go. We are relational beings, beings that were created for relationship with God and with each other. Our relationship with God has to be the foundation of our mission – within all relationships there has to be a degree of trust.

This trust can be a problem in our society – there is a considerable lack of trust in business life, of systems of government. However our mission, our spirituality has to come from a place of trust, a place of confidence, not in dogmatic certainties but daring to believe that in the face of many things that might suggest otherwise, God is good, faithful, just, true and knowable[7]. It is the responsibility of those involved in mission to begin the conversations about the God who is real and at work in his world. Of course, stepping out on this journey of joining with God is a very scary place to be – it is steeped with all the ‘what-if’ questions. These are natural, the feeling of inadequacy is there but it is to be continually remembered that this is where the reliance on the sufficiency of God comes into its own.

To quote Jullian of Norwich

He did not say, ‘You shall not be tempest tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted’. But he said, ‘You shall not be over come’.[8]

Within the gospels, we find the Apostles sent out with nothing, no bag, no extra tunic, dependant upon God for everything. Throughout my (however limited) experience of the world church, those who had the little also had the most. This paradoxical statement is in line with “Let the poor say I am rich, let the weak say I am strong”. Taking nothing can be a very difficult concept in our mindset, setting everything aside – physically this is material things, but it is also a call within the mission context to:

travel light in terms of preoccupations about what may be discovered ‘out there’…going in a spirit of listening – listening to those to who, the journey is made but also listening to the Holy Spirit’s answer as we ask ‘what is needed here? What am I being required to do here? Is it a word of encouragement, Is it an offer of a meal?, a cup of water?, or maybe they have something to give us?[9].

This spirituality of mission, this mutual dependence upon the other, this listening to the Holy Spirit has to be key to the partnership of mission.

The church is a community which acts as a (or even “the”) sign which points towards the Kingdom of God. This has the potential of being amazingly successful but also if it goes wrong the whole body suffers to the extent that the mission can be totally lost. The life truly lived towards God will always be lived within a community of believers. This is indeed true because of creation – God is not in his very being single but the Godhead is triune – God is in His very essence a relational being. It is this sharing in activity which earths the church. It comes from the body illustrations in the epistle- no man is meant to live alone but in partnership with others.

Certainly this is true in today’s world, people are crying out for authentic community. An example of this is the growth of on-line communities where people can communicate and become friends with people who have the similar hobbies etc. The church has come under criticism over past decades about being out of touch with the prevailing culture of society. However if we get this strand of our life towards God right, these relationships with real people in real community right then the mission will certainly move forward. It is the old adage – “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

This is where Susan Hope stresses the need for adequate structures in place at a leadership level:

A staff team that begins to try to live out the values of community (commitment, trust, reality) will discover that the power of that common life ripples out into the whole church. If there is confidentiality, respect and commitment at the centre, similar values and ways of relating are much more likely to grow in the community as a whole.

In today’s busy world, we need to realise the importance of rhythm within lifestyle. A possible structure of this is: Sowing and watching, reaping with energy, keeping – folding people in and building up the community.

Life in the Western world at the beginning of the 21st Century militates against the secret of a structure upon ourselves, but people of prayer have discovered that as they start living rhythmically they begin to be connected to something that can be life-renewing to them. This is one of great strengths of the liturgical calendar. [10]

It however, goes further than this – it means knowing when it is OK to say ‘no’, when to spend time with the priorities of the time – whether that be switching off our phones, discovering the things which make peace for us. Hope also comments that other rhythms need balancing. Mission may lead us into dark and painful places but we still must celebrate life: we need parties and picnics as well as prayer[11]. It comes down to a sensible balance in life.

As one realises the limitations of this particular piece of work, made by the necessary word limit we come to the final word.

The missionary task is one of proclamation – not conversion – that is where the responsibility ends, it is of course not about leaving, but it is being relaxed about outcomes

True Spirituality in mission depends on the maintenance of a proper balance between God’s sovereignty and all embracing redemptive purpose and our human responsibility. [12]

In conclusion, we have spoken about the practicalities of this mission shaped spirituality, we have visited the joys and acknowledged that there will be problems. I do believe that if we are to take this invitation to mission seriously we need to be in for the long haul and as such this spirituality has a two pronged approach linked with joy. We are to be both joyfully serious and seriously joyful. When I read the paragraph – which is contained in the foot note[13] it is extremely freeing to notice that it is all about God.

Let is conclude with a very freeing message – We may die for the mission, but we are not to live for it – we are to live only for God[14]. Amen


Hope, Sue. Mission-shaped Spirituality. London: Church House, 2006.

Mission-Shaped Church. Mission and public affairs. London: Church House, 2004.

[1] Definition of Spirituality By Susan Hope found in Hope, Mission-shaped spirituality, xii

[2] Mission-Shaped Church, 85

[3] Hope, Mission-shaped spirituality, 7

[4] Ibid., 15

[5] Luke 3: 22

[6] Ibid., 17

[7] Ibid., 18

[8] Members of the Jullian Shrine, Enfolded in Love: Daily readings with Juian of Norwich , 1980, quoted in Ibid., 20

[9] Ibid., 47

[10] Ibid., 99

[11] Ibid., 100

[12] Ibid., 101

[13] “There is a kind of relaxed maturity about the mission, a sense of well being, a lightheartedness about the whole enterprise. We are to be both joyfully serious and seriously joyful about the task. At the heart of this is surely a particular humility: a humility that recognizes that the outcome of the mission is God’s not ours, that there is always much to learn and that the relationship of trust and dependence must constantly be attended to.” Ibid. 107,

[14] Ibid., 107

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The beginning of the end in CITI

Well, we are standing on the brink of a new semester, our last one in CITI. This promises to be another busy time for one and all Our big thing this time is our project ... mine is on Mission: Home and away but we also have all the usual stuff 

Ethics, Anglicanism, OT, NT, Spirituality, Exegesis and Cosmology to contend with as well as all of the run of the mill stuff of college. 

We also, as the posts below suggest - have curacy round results to come ... who knows where we all will end up? - thank goodness God does! 

The new timetable kicks off tomorrow which sees us third years in class from Monday 10am - Friday 4pm (Trinity) not a popular decision with the students!!! 

Anyway enough of my rambling! 

Signing off now


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Well, that was the week that was ...

Awwwwh ... peace at last

This week was complete and utter mayhem!

Monday was a normal student day ... Ethics, 2 Hours of New Testament followed by 2 hours of Anglicanism and a relaxing evening and Evening Worship

Then came the mad, and I mean mad days of Tues and Wednesday ... Curacy Interviews ... 19 Rectors from all over Ireland descended into the college. How does one describe what happened

Well ... here goes ...

14 of us ordinands looking for the place to which God has called us. I had 13 interviews in 2 days each supposed to last 45 minutes. Apparently in total 104 interviews were carried out in the two days.

Running from room to room with a very short break between them. To say it was mad was a complete and utter understatement. I am sure it was the same for the rectors involved. We were all in our best behaviour. It is a strange process. It is not job interviews! We are not competing against each other as God has created us uniquely, however we could have easily slipped into that mode if we were not careful.

It is also strange as all of us lot who are looking for curacies care about each other, we have ate together, lived, prayed, worshipped together for the last 2 1/2 years and now find ourselves going through this process together.

So what is the next stage?

Well now that the interviews are over, we are putting down in order of preference our number 1,2 and 3 parishes. The rectors also in turn will put down their 1,2 and 3 candidates by next thurs

mmm ... please do continue to pray for us all as we discern our way forward.

But as I said at the start of this blog. Today, Thurs was just back to normal Old Testament and away from college.

So .... its back up to belfast on Saturday and back down to Dub on Sunday for the start of a new Semester!


Sunday, January 11, 2009

The week to come

It is quite funny how many weeks go by without thinking ... then you get one which is important and you think ... o crumbs how did we get to this week now ... I thought it was a long way off ... but its here.

OK, maybe I am just rambling now, but this week is an important week for all of us final years in college - it is the week of the interviews. On Tues and Wednesday this week a bus full of rectors from all over Ireland will descend on college and interview us lot.

What will they be asking? - You never know!

It is quite bizarre feeling really - I know that God has called me, that he will equip me with all I need, and am totally reliant on him. There will be big decisions to be made in the next week but at the moment I can honestly say I have a tremendous peace about it. God is in control and that is absolutely fantastic. There is no place I'd rather be.

Please do pray for all of us final years in college (or the Institute!) at the moment and the rectors from the curacies.

My major prayer points at the beginning of this week are:
  • That God would open doors wide and shut others tightly
  • That all of us would keep the bond of friendship and fellowship that we have had throughout the years in college
  • That rectors and students would have open and honest discussions during the interviews.
  • That all involved in the process would be guided by the Holy Spirit.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Romans 12:1-8

Sermon preached in St. Bartholomew’s Parish – Stranmillis
Sunday 4th January 2009 – Evening Prayer Service

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

On this, the first Sunday of 2009, I wonder have you made any new years resolutions? – Maybe giving up something or taking up something

One particular website I was reading this week gives a top 10 of new year Resolutions:

1. Spend More Time with Family & Friends
2. Fit in Fitness
3. Loose weight
4. Quit Smoking
5. Enjoy Life More
6. Quit Drinking
7. Get Out of Debt
8. Learn Something New
9. Help Others
10. Get Organized
All of these are of course great in themselves – getting more out of life. However statistics show
That 52% of were confident of success with their goals only 12% actually achieved their goals.

New Year is a great time to stop and look and listen, to reflect and to take stock of where we are.

As Christians it is important to do the same –we are called to bring our actions, our words, our thoughts into line with Jesus’ teaching, into line with what scripture tells us.

Let us then look into the text of tonight Epistle reading Romans Chapter 12 which can be found on page 1139

One of the drawbacks of the Lectionary which our church uses is the fact we dip in and out of books which is exactly what we are doing tonight.

The first word in our reading is “therefore”. In our studies when we see this word in a passage we simply have to ask “What is it there for?”.

Chapter 12 comes in after 11 chapters in Pauls letter to the Romans explaining the good news of Jesus systematically, answering many of the objections and questions which the Roman Christians had, he has if you like, tackled the major difficulties they had with believing that Jesus is the messiah and lots of the issues people have had with the Christian message.

Now he gets onto the practical outworking of this message – Therefore, he says to his readers, present your bodies as a living sacrifice

To offer their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.

Let us take a few moments to stop and think about this – what does it mean?

In our day, sacrifice seems such an alien concept when one is looking to get the most out of life and society tells us to get wealthy, look after number 1!

Let us remember the context which this was written, a time when there was many temples to many gods, and the idea of sacrifice was everywhere.
The reasons behind the sacrifices were also diverse – to placate the gods, sacrifice too was in the Jewish mindset – we know that throughout the Old Testament there was many rules around the sacrificial system. When it comes to Christian teaching – what do we mean by a living sacrifice?

We also understand that there are various types of sacrifice – Atoning sacrifice – That is – to remove sin. As Christians we know that Jesus was the all sufficient Sacrifice, however what we are talking about here is the thanksgiving sacrifice.

Well, when we think about sacrifice, it would be an animal who has no idea what they are doing, what is happening to them,

As rational human beings if we are to be a living sacrifice, the altar is not the best place to be, its not a natural place to find ourselves, it is not a comfortable place to be.

The problem with a living sacrifice is that it jumps off, again and again and again.

As Christians we are not tied down on the altar like animal sacrifices – the living sacrifice has the option not to be, we have to decide to be.

What does this look like in every day life. Quite simply it means us surrendering our will to God, it is asking “What would Jesus do” in this or that circumstance. This is not a natural thing to do.

Think for the moment of the offertory prayer which we pray

For thine O Lord is the Greatness, the power, the glory, the victory and the majesty
All things come from thee and of thine own have we given thee

When we look at sacrifice in these terms, if we think that God has given us life then our prayer becomes – we want to know you, we want to give it all back to you God as a thank offering.

It is then amazing what happens when we do – he uses us to be a blessing to others

Although we offer ourselves as sacrifice, we come to realise that it is the only way to live the only way to make sense of the world – things slot into place.

Jesus in John’s Gospel says – in 10:10 I have come that they may have life and have it to the full

In our world today it is not easy being a Christian – In Northern Ireland on the surface we are a peaceful country, no persecution of Christians however there is growing apathy towards the gospel, growing secularisation of society, consumerism replacing the gospel values. However, positively, we do have the opportunity to reach out to those who are seeking answers to the deepest questions.

We as Christians need to realise that we have a radical alternative way of life, answers to the fundalmental questions of existence and to eternal issues.

We can be an iguana – blending into whatever colour of background we find ourselves but surely we should me more like an elephant – standing tall ready against whatever we find.

It is a shame to think that there are so many Christians who are conforming to the worlds beliefs and prevailing cultures – and not standing up for what the Bible teaches.

We are challenged in this passage to be transformed so that we will be able to discern what God’s will is.

So far we have seen that Paul is urging his readers
- to think about their lives lived as sacrifices to God
- to look at the prevailing culture and to critique it and not to necessarily conform to it

Finally I believe that there is challenge to the church corporately in this passage – to realise that each person is unique, different people, different gifts, talents, skills and passions. Your gifting is not my gifting, the circle of your friends are not my circle of friends. Each of us has a different task to do, a different job to do.

Whatever you do – it can be done in a way which brings glory to God.

The word Christian literally means “Little Christ’s”. The church here - St. Bartholomew’s has lots of little Christ’s - people who are living out the gospel in the midst of the community, people who are using the gifts, their talents, their time – both in the church, its societies and through worship. If you are doing that, be encouraged, If you would like to become involved then have a chat with the rector, the wardens.

Paul is urging his readers to:
- Think about their lives lived as sacrifices to God
- To critique the prevailing culture
- To realise that each individual is unique in their gifting and needs the support of one another in the Christian community
Therefore, in light of all of this and to conclude I wonder what our Christian Resolutions could be this year?

How do we know how to live our lives as Christians?
Could we commit to reading the Bible Daily – if we find it difficult some good reading notes are available.

Could we maybe seek to do a bible study in the parish? – maybe speak to the rector or curate.

How do we critique the prevailing culture?
Do we know what is happening in our land? What the issues concerning our neighbours and friends are? What should the church be doing about them?

Could we pray for the church? Either at home or at the parish prayer meeting

If we believe that the church is the body – do we know where we fit in?
Do we know where our gifts are?, what do we enjoy doing? Could we make tea on a Sunday morning? Could we welcome people at the door? Could we do the occasional prayers? Do we know what needs done?

What could we do this year to build the church here in Stranmillis as well as our faith in Christ.

Let us pray

Heavenly Father

We pray that you would challenge us to change those things in our own lives which are conforming to the worlds standards and not to yours and at the start of this new year we pray that you would speak into our lives and help us to identify those areas in which we need to work on. In Jesus name we pray amen.

Friday, January 02, 2009

From the wee burrow that is CITI

Well folks, 2009 is here with avengence 

This year started with me in an african - irish service .... what a strange way to begin the year. I went to the dublin and Glendalough watchnight service in Tallaght. It was fantastic - the church was full, the worship was good, the prayers were ...well ... what can I say but "spirit filled". Plenty of Halleluia's and Amens at the top of the voices. A great way to bring in the new year. The bit that got me was that the whole service was focusing on one particular verse ... Jeremiah 29:11-12 which of course means an awful lot to me and it was great to be able to focus on that for this year in particular.

So a couple of thoughts as I go into this new year 

Hope - There is much talk around about despair and depression at the moment with the economic downturn. What should our response as Christians be? ... if people have had the carpet pulled from under them, jobs lost, incomes down ... or whatever else may be going on there is always hope, there is always a future. 

Future - this year, will see changes in all of us here in college, we are embarking on an amazing adventure and only God know at this point where it will end. Whatever happens over the next months, it will promises to be an exciting journey. Of course it will not be a simple straight course, it will undoubtably have its ups and downs, its unexpected corners. One thing that I do know and hold fast to is that he has the plans. 

Over the course of the last couple of weeks I have been doing a lot of thinking about one particular area of theology which popped its head up in the last of my sermons which I would like to do a wee bit more thinking on ... the area of the "eschatological tension" - between the coming of the kingdom and the fulfilment of the Kingdom at the eschaton. Might do a separate blog on that in the near future!