Tag Archives: church: st johns

New things and old things

I can describe to you the images of every single stained glass window in St John’s Ashfield.

I can quote the bible verses painted around the pulpit, and I can tell you which colour linen is draped around the church at various points of the year. I can point out the four animals representing the evangelists in the big front window. I can show you the corresponding four frescoes painted along the wooden panels above the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed, and the Ten Commandments. And the words of Jesus: I am the bread of life. It is a beautiful and inspiring place to worship the Lord.

And I can tell you about the people who have come and gone – all the different catechists who have spent a year or two serving there, all those people who have turned up to study in Sydney, to work in the city, to move closer to their fiancee, to explore the city on their working holiday visa. People who have come to Christ, people who have fallen away from Christ, people who have stood firm in their faith, people who have proclaimed the Gospel powerfully to others, people who have served with every fibre of their being. The baptisms and the confirmations, the marriages and the babies, the new arrivals and the deportations, the graduations and the new beginnings, the prolonged seasons of unemployment. The tearful farewells when people leave (all the time!), the excitement and joy when God brings new people along to serve with the gifts they have. All the poetry and the music that people have created together!

Matt and I spent our last Sunday at St John’s last week; it was tragic to leave and it’s exciting to go somewhere new. I have started a new job at St Alban’s Five Dock, one of the other sites of the same parish. It’s not really that big a leap, it’s not really somewhere new. And yet it is, it’s new people and a new place.

And it’s a new thing to be working in parish ministry too. I’ve never done that before. I am so thankful that God goes before me in everything, that he is strengthening me for what is coming. I am so thankful for the training and care I received working as a Howie at Sydney Uni and I am so thankful for the support I am already receiving in the team I work with now. I hope that I grow to love St Alban’s as much as I have loved St John’s, and I hope I get to see God do amazing things in that community too!

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‘Live out your time as foreigners here’

A couple of weeks ago I was not particularly looking forward to going to church.

Why? (Alison! You love church!) Because our church was holding a special service to reflect on the international character of The Church, and also our own church.

Why is that a bad thing?! (Alison! You love the international character of the church!) Well, we do this every year, and every year I think why aren’t we doing this every week!? I mean, the global church exists every week, and there are multiple languages/birthplaces/passports in our church every week. Why just talk about it once a year?

I should have known that with an attitude like that I was in for a sharp rebuke from the Holy Spirit. The service was excellent, with a sharper focus than previous years. There was a moving testimony from a brother who became a Christian on his journey to Australia via Christmas Island and videos and messages of encouragement from old church members who have moved on to Singapore and South Korea and Colombia. The church was decorated with flags from all the countries our congregation members hold passports to. Special effort had gone into the music, the bible passage was dramatically story-told. And at the end of the service, was a sermon from one of our assistant ministers that I really, really enjoyed: an encouragement, from the book of Daniel, to be prepared to live as foreigners in the world. (You can listen to it here – look for the sermon by Leo Chen on the first Sunday in August).

The significance of the evening dawned on me as the week progressed and our church community prepared for a new teaching series on hospitality. We are spending the next month thinking through why and how we open our lives to others, so one week later I was back in church, being reminded from the gospel of Luke about how Jesus used hospitality to show the grace of his Gospel.

It’s a big challenge, and exactly what I need to be reminded about. As if complaining about having an international service merely once a year fixes anything. The way to really be a community that embraces across cultural divides is not to do international service every week, but to keep praying that we will grow in love that is genuinely Jesus-like, ready to bear the cost of crossing boundaries and genuinely care for brothers and sisters. I am so excited we are making this a priority right after that international church service. I really need to pray for some things to change in me.

2013 in review: the Bible version

You’d think that with a job in student ministry I should be disciplined enough to get my personal bible reading in order. Sadly, no, it’s still a struggle to spend time alone in God’s word every day. Thankfully, however, God has still been teaching me great things this year through the many other contexts where I’ve spent time considering scripture: at church, with friends, in bible studies, conferences and even (sometimes) in the quiet of my own home. There have been many recurring themes coming out in my learning throughout the year, especially as I read the same book in many contexts (at one point I was being taught from the book of James simultaneously by three different people!). I’d love to end 2013 by remembering the ways that the scriptures have challenged me during the year.

James copy
Read more…

Endings

In 2008, Matthew, myself and our friend Yi started a Sunday afternoon international bible study at our church. Yesterday our group met for the last time. We finished reading Acts, we celebrated Tao’s recent engagement, we prayed for each other and sent each other off to our new ministries.

After 5 years, almost 50 different people from at least 10 different countries and many, many books of the bible, our group finally reached the stage where it was time to shut down. There are now enough Mandarin speakers in the church to sustain two Chinese bible study groups (praise God!), and at present no-one else needing an ESL group (please, God, help us to welcome more people from other language communities!).

Finishing up was the right thing to do; it feels appropriate to free up our friends to lead others in their mother-tongue. But I also feel very sad. Sure, it was hard work. It was difficult to have people constantly coming and going, and the weeks that no-one turned up were the hardest of all. But even as people came and went I always enjoyed gathering around God’s word with people from around the world. I learned new and surprising things I had never considered before. I got to read the bible with people who had never opened it before. How devastating to think that it’s over now!

I praise God for all the people who helped us to get the group off the ground, supported us and helped us to lead it over the years: for Yi, Katrina, Toby, Brice, Jason, Dan, Leo, Ryan, Tao and Jan. And for all the others who came through and blessed us with their insights, company and friendship: for Juan, Sunny, Pablo, Jian, Michelle, Allen, Alice, Lulu, Lin, Forest, Irina, Jin, Emily, Andy, Deepak, Fifi, Adrian, Sashi, Benny, Cam, Jonathan, Julia, Ivy, Jennifer, Myung Sook, Vanessa, Oscar, Heyley, and many other friends of friends who dropped in for a week or two.

Nostalgia in picture form, under the cut

On congregational singing

I love singing, but I’m not particularly good at it. One of my favourite places to sing is in the car by myself. When it’s late at night or early in the morning, whether it’s been a long and horrible day or a day of celebration, regardless of my mood I will always be up for singing in the car.

However a few months ago, driving home late at night, I had an ephiphany about car singing. I was listening to The Cat Empire’s The Chariot, singing along boldly, when I noticed I wasn’t just following Harry’s melody and words. I was mimicking even the tone of his voice, broadening out my accent until I sounded more like an Aussie wog than ever before. The track finished and flicked over to something new – Josh Garrels – suddenly my voice was American, my tone and pronounciation changing to match up with the sounds coming out of the stereo.

It was a bizarre discovery that my own voice is discontent with itself! It’s like I am so subconsciously insecure about the sound of my own voice that I can’t reinterpret music to fit my own tone and accent.

Except, I realised later, at church, when we sing as a congregation. This insecurity doesn’t happen there! I’ve been paying more attention to what happens when I sing, and yes, church is one of the only places where it is easy to sing as me. There is a cacophony of mixed voices, joining together to praise God. There is no stand-out vocalist pushing me into insecurity, tempting me to trade my vocal identity to sound more like the talented performers I listen to. Up the front the people leading the singing are my sisters and brothers. Yes, they are very talented and their voices are louder than everyone else but they lead with love, humility and encouragement. They lead those of us in the congregation to open our hearts and sing with honesty and integrity. To sing and praise God with our own voices, whatever they sound like!

All the thanks goes to God for music, for such strong and faithful musicians at church, and for stirring up our hearts to praise him with joy!

Five great things about the weekend that was

One
Our friends Iain and Sylvia got married on Friday afternoon. It was a beautiful wedding and I got to see some very old familiar faces – Matt’s old EU cohort, some of my EU cohort, some of the PLC girls I used to go to church with (I forgot Sylvia went to school there!), and even one old Livejournal/CC.net friend looking very spiffy as a groomsman! It was a wonderful evening.

Two
The morning and afternoon of Saturday were blocked out for working on my essay. It was surprisingly productive and fun. I was able to actually make use of our extensive library (“Matt, where are our books on culture and mission?”), standing in front of our many book cases and browsing, just as though I was at Fisher. Except I didn’t need a library card!

Three
Catching the Sydney’s first football (soccer) home game with Matt’s Dad and littlest brother. It was a loss, but in the end we won because we somehow beat all the traffic home and also had late night pizza run. Family win!

Four
Headed off early on Sunday morning to pick up my fruit box and ended up having an impromptu breakfast with more lovely friends – Blake, Sarah and Herbie. A wonderful start to the day.

Five
A new bible study series at our fellowship group on the Sermon on the Mount began with some discussions about our own cultural values and attitudes. At the moment our group has people from four different countries (China, Colombia, Iran and Australia); often there were more than four different takes on the topics we covered – things like revenge, symbolism, criminal activity, promise-making and what it means to be fortunate. It’ll be really interesting to read this part of the bible together!

Five great pictures of the weekend that was