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  • My Portrait!

    medium_littlemissbossy.pngThis is me.  It must be true, I have a statuette of her on my desk given to me as parting gift by one of colleagues back in 1999 (though that was in part an 'in' joke becuase he and I had assigned Mr Men to everybody in our office).

    Today I had an email correctly addressed!

    One of these people was called John, the other was a Celtic equivalent.  Their portrait follows....



  • On Church Buildings

    Just had an alert for the Journal of Religious History March 2007 edition.  This article sounds interesting...


    “This Special Shell”: The Church Building and the Embodiment of Memory

    Religious, congregational, individual, and community memories are embodied in church buildings. Under normal circumstances these memories sit harmoniously together. Once the church building is destined for closure, however, the equilibrium of the memory platforms is disrupted, often causing conflict. The value of associating memory with a building is questioned, especially when such attachments are seen to impede the rationalisation of church assets. Through the process of closure and afterwards, the memory patterns and associations are reorganised, redrawn, and reprioritised. This article examines these memory shifts in the context of Australian religious history from the 1970s to the present day. Special attention is given to the Uniting Church in Australia.

     Will have a read and see what I should have done differently when we closed our building!

  • Would Tigger Eat Rudolph?

    Last night the Girls' Brigade were doing some work for their project on endangered species.  The youngest girls (Explorers, 5-8 years old) were looking at tigers.  As they talked about habitat and diet they were told that tigers eat deer.  One little five year old was horrified - how will Father Christmas get around if the tigers eat his reindeer.  We did explain the reindeer don't live in Asia - and to suppress our laughter.  At least she was listening.

    Still it made we wonder, if he had the opportuity, would Tigger eat Rudolph?  Or is the land of make believe one where already the lion and the lamb lie side by side and a little child shall lead them?

  • Parish Story - It's a Mythtery

    I have just finished reading James Hopewell's book Congregation: Stories and Structures and it has been an interesting read.  Not entirely convincing, but interesting nonetheless.

    The idea of a lot of what he says is, in a crude summary, that every church has a story with characters and a plot and that a parallel can be drawn with a myth (notably but not exlcusively classical Greek myths) which will then help the congregation to understand itself better and then twist the plot so that it is not bound by the inevitability of that story.  I guess my ignorance of Greek mythology did not help me much, though he did use one German fairy tale (Briar Rose) to describe one congregation.

    Part of my disquiet, beyond my ignorance of myths (I'm better at European fairy stories!), lies in the quest for a suitable myth, and the risk of adjusting evidence to fit with a chosen story.  Who decides which is the 'right' myth and on what basis?  The stories people tell - and they are not it seems the whole congregation in any of the cases used - are inevitably biased, not out of malice but because we all remember different things and for different reasons.  I am happy enough to call the place where I work 'Dibley' because it masks its identity from those who read my stuff and, for me, it is a helpful image of, well loveable nannas, I guess.  But I don't imagine for an instant that my people would choose that story for themselves - who after all would want to be known for 'no, no, no, no, no, yes'?  Further, our story is not the story of Dibley - there is no Alice and there are no batchelor accountants looming in the wings!  The 'is and is not' of metaphor is an important corrective, I think, to the risk of trying to find too close a correlation.

    I suspect if I asked my people which fairy tale described our life, they'd be on the phone to either the local mental health unit or the good people at BUGB to get me seen to.  Jesting aside, it is, as Hopewell acknowledges, an approach that needs a congregation who can grasp what is trying to be achieved by this process.

    One of the themes he identifies early on, but doesn't really seem to develop because of his adventure into the realm of myth (though maybe it is implied and I missed it) is the fairly classical categories of stories - romance, comedy, irony and tragedy - and some associated worldviews.  This I found more helpful as a way of trying to unpack something of how a congregation might see itself, or how it might tell its story.  My experience to date suggests that lots of congregations live with repeating cycles of broadly the same story - whether that is 'rise and fall,' 'us against the world' or whatever (which is where Hopewell finds parallels to myths) and maybe taking time to recall and explore our stories would help us 'twist' the plot to a more hopeful future?

    In the end he relates everything back to mission, so at least that made me happy!

    I am still more than a little puzzled how I connect reading this book with my desire to look at how historical resources can be employed in the task of theological reflection - I can, in odd moments, almost make the connection, but not quite.

    Ah well, another day, another book to start - which fits quite well as my other strand of reading has just begun reading A Generous Orthodoxy the author of which asserts the importance of church history.  Hurrah!

  • Spider web lace and disconnected thinking


    I am due to speak at a Women's World Day of Prayer service on Friday.  I am struggling with the 'notes for speakers' which have manged to elevate the temperature of my blood more than somewhat - dangerous, as any good scientist will tell you blood does not boil, it coagulates and you die.

    Why so cross?  Because there is a horrendous discontinuity between the theme and the notes!

    As ever, there are sories of women in the host nation - this year Paraguay. 

    The first reading is Genesis 18: 1 - 15, Abraham and Sarah and the three mysterious visitors who foretell the birth of a son.

    The leader then says 'God was aware of Sarah's thoughts and ideas.  In the same way God understands and listens to the longings and petitions of the women of Paraguay'

    The service proceeds with some 'real life stories'  Here is most of the story of a rural woman...

    ... As a little girl I was taught to be obedient, and grew up believing I must serve the men - first my father and brothers, then my husand and sons... I live each day silently putting up with everything.  My husband is the one who earns the money, so he is convinced that he is the one who can decide everything in our family.  My experience is common to many country homes where the woman's value is not recognized.


    Then, after a leap of direction to Ephesians 4: 1 - 16 - about unity in diversity, we come to the address.

    The speaker's notes for the Genesis passage run thus... 

    • Abraham's response was the offer of hospitality
    • God renewed the promise made in Genesis 17:16
    • Sarah's response was disbelief and mistrust
    • God's rebuke was a rhetorical question
    • Sarah's fear led her to lie

    So here is my problem - we have already identified the Paraguayan women with Sarah and now we are told Sarah is faithless and dishonest.  In simple terms, Abraham good, Sarah bad; Male faithful, female doubting.  Patriarchy good, equality bad.

    Let's just bypass what Abraham did in Egypt, let's just forget that Isaac means 'he laughs.'  Let's just affirm the society that keeps the rural woman silent and pray that our interconnectedness (the Ephesians bit) will enable us to mature in faith.

    You will have guessed that I will not be following the script!  Instead I will be allowing Sarah to speak to our hearts as we acknowledge with her the struggles, questions and doubts that accompany our own faith and life.  Sarah laughed - don't we all, at times, male or female, because the alternative would be to weep?  Sarah lied - isn't the Bible full of stories of deception and denial, and don't we all lie sometimes?

    If we want to work with the spider-web lace image the WWDP people offer us, then surely it is our identification with both Sarah and the Paraguayan women that leads us to the Christ in whom all are valued as of equal worth?

    OK, I'll go and calm down now!