The post-pandemic parish puzzle
There’s no doubt that surveying our congregations about ministry, church life and personal faith in the middle of a pandemic is a tricky proposition. Should big changes be no real cause for concern, or do they tell us things we need to hear – and ignore at our peril?
One thing is certain: our churches look different and our people feel different after a crisis-filled few years, so any information that helps us consider the reasons why is a welcome tool as we put the puzzle pieces together to create an updated picture of diocesan life.
Statistics are starting to flow from the 2021 National Church Life Survey, which was conducted across more than 20 denominations between November 2021 and June 2022, and there’s no doubt that COVID made its presence felt.
“We heard that COVID had disrupted the ‘rusted on’ attenders, particularly in states impacted by long lockdowns [where] long-term habits were tested,” says the director of NCLS Research, Dr Ruth Powell.
“People spoke of having a break from church life. Others
spoke of visiting other churches online, from cathedrals to megachurches overseas to small gatherings in paddocks in rural Australia. So, we tested these ideas of disruption.”
The 2021 National Church Life Survey asked people about their level of church involvement compared to 2019, before the pandemic. In the Sydney Diocese, 56 per cent of respondents said their involvement was about the same, while 25 per cent said it was greater. This compares to the national figures of 60 and 20 per cent, respectively.
Reports to the NCLS were also stating that, by November 2021, people were attending church as often as they had done before the pandemic. That may be true but things aren’t quite the same, says the Bishop of the South Western Region, Peter Lin.
“Many people are saying that their numbers [at church] now are similar to before the pandemic, but the people who make up those numbers are different... as in, some people who were at the church beforehand are there no longer, while others have come since,” he says.
As for the figures that lean
towards more involvement at church, “I know two rectors and one assistant minister in my region who’ve recently said the opposite – that they’ve found it hard to get people back to prepandemic levels of serving.”
Emma Collett, executive minister at the city parish of Church Hill, says its data shows levels of involvement were quite different at its two churches – St Philip’s and the Garrison Church. And the continuation of COVID didn’t help.
“Compared to 2016 there’s a downward trend in some areas,” she says. “A lot of our numbers in 2021 also went down compared to the previous year [when Church Hill commissioned its own survey by the NCLS]. People still had a strong sense of belonging and they knew what the vision was, but at the time it just felt as though momentum was low.
“Thankfully, we’ve seen that change in the past six months.”
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people to do the survey, it was possible to do it online at home and 27.7 per cent fewer surveys were completed across the Diocese, is that our results might show more about those already engaged at church than they do about our people as a whole.
This is the option favoured by the rector of Carlingford and North Rocks, the Rev Dr Raj Gupta, who says, “I feel this is going to be a fraught area. I’d urge people to be cautious about the way they interpret it [this year’s survey]. Maybe the most useful thing to do is to compare your particular parish to the diocesan 2021 benchmarks [rather than] comparing 2021 to 2016.
“So, it’s not straightforward and, on the whole, the results don’t give an indication of where the church is at.”
One result that doesn’t surprise him, however, is church involvement. It shows a much higher proportion of his people – 36 per cent – say they are more involved post-COVID than the diocesan average of 25 per cent. In addition, as there is no equipment for livestreaming at Mt Druitt, when lockdowns lifted almost everyone came back to church straight away.
“People love the in-person community,” Hooper says. “And the Lord’s been bringing new people along – there have been a lot of newcomers this year.”
PRIORITIES FOR CHURCHGOERS
That being the case, it’s hardly surprising that markers showing what church members value has seen a jump in ministries providing regular support. People also want their parish to grow its feeling of community.
While many options were static or dropped in importance, the value placed on preaching and teaching in the Diocese grew from 59 per cent to 64 per cent, while the importance of Bible studies and small groups jumped from 39 per cent to 48 per cent.
In addition, people’s desire to build a sense of community at their church rose from 32 per cent in 2016 to 38 per cent in 2021 – placing it only 2 per cent behind the top result, spiritual growth and direction of the church, which remained steady at 40 per cent.
Says Lin: “You can imagine some of that had to do with the pandemic, people being isolated for so long and not loving Zoom, so you want to build community and have that sense of togetherness again. “The preaching is an interesting
one. I’m only guessing, but with a screen you’ve already got one degree of separation. A preacher can be as passionate as they like onscreen and it will never have that same impact as when you’re seeing them face to face.
“The other thing about Zoom, for a lot of people, is you’re trying to listen to the word of God being preached but you’ve got kids tearing around and you’re trying to get your kids through church activities, possibly at the same time as listening to the sermon.
“There’s also something about listening together that we miss out on with Zoom... I don’t know all the psychology behind it, but I don’t think it’s dissimilar to singing. I can tell you the singing at my house on Zoom was far less enthusiastic than it is when we’re at church and you’ve got the band going!
“So, there’s some kind of dynamic that happens under God when his people are gathered shoulder to shoulder in church listening to the pastor opening up the Bible to them.”
Another possibility, given that more time was allowed for
“You would imagine that those who haven’t filled it in are those who are less engaged. So, more people value the preaching and teaching and are more involved [at church] simply because the ones who have responded to the survey are more engaged.”
DIFFERENT SKILLS, DIFFERENT RESULTS
At Mt Druitt, rector the Rev Craig Hooper has a different issue. He notes that, on any given Sunday, there would be up to 80 adults at his church but only 35 filled out the survey. One look at the data from his parish tells him it doesn’t match well with his people.
“It says 32 per cent have a university degree and that’s just not reality,” he says. “I think the NCLS is skewed towards the demographic of people who have reading as a strength and that’s not our demographic! They have strengths in other areas.
“Only about half the folk in church have access to the internet – so those that have it, have done the survey, and those who can read have done it, which automatically skews the results to those people. Also, even for some that have done it, we gave them the option to sit with others to help work through the survey.
That’s good news because, whichever way you look at it, the general newcomer results across the Diocese are not encouraging. The NCLS regards newcomers as those without a church background, and the numbers have been reducing over at least the past 15 years (see graph, above right).
In addition, while 32 per cent of people had invited someone to church in the previous 12 months, that’s another figure that’s continuing to drop. It was 39 per cent in 2016, and previous results were in the 40s.
One can argue that there were fewer newcomers because of the pandemic, and Peter Lin agrees there is bound to have been “some kind of COVID impact”. However, he adds, “my gut feeling is that the number would be lower anyway, even without COVID. I’d need a good reason to think it was starting to trend upwards again.
“I think that’s our biggest worry. It’s an indication – not the whole story but at least an indicator – of how our evangelism is going. The [survey] question ‘Have you invited anyone to church?’, well, that’s been difficult because of lockdown and so on... But how
People new to any church over a five-year period
Spiritual growth (e.g. direction)
Sense of community Worship services that are nurturing Ensuring new people are included Encouraging people’s gifts Encouragement to share faith and invite Ministry to children and youth Clear vision for the church Supporting social action and aid Encouraging new approaches Growing into a larger local church Don’t know Starting a new church or mission venture Other area
Source: 2021 & 2016 National Church Life Survey
many people haven’t shared the gospel with anyone? How is our personal evangelism going?
“It’s probably a complex thing like most of these stats are. I talk to churches all the time and they’re working hard on evangelism. But if there aren’t newcomers coming in and the kingdom of God growing, then, as the saying goes, we are just ‘circulating the saints’... We need to see more people coming under the sound of the gospel and turning to Jesus in repentance and faith.”
Looking at Church Hill’s data, Collett has also noticed a dip in people involved with evangelism and outreach activities – a disappointing result when the parish has held regular evangelism training with John Dickson as well as a number of linked outreach events.
“It feels like there’s been a concerted effort to make evangelistic opportunities accessible, although some of these were online because of COVID,” she says. “Newcomers have got to be the number one priority for us – to welcome the lost.”
SO, WHAT NOW?
We love our Lord and we love our church families, so we want others to experience the joy and certainty we have. But it’s not always easy to get the message across.
The latest McCrindle report, The changing faith landscape of Australia, surveyed people of all faiths and none, and some of the results are very illuminating.
One question asked what attracted (or repelled) people with regard to faith and religion, and two-thirds of respondents said a personal trauma or life change would prompt them to investigate further. For 64 per cent, it was a first-hand experience of people who lived out a genuine faith.
Next on the list, surprisingly, was philosophical discussion and the debating of ideas.
Says Raj Gupta: “In so many ways that’s what’s there in the Bible – that it’s when people go through trauma and difficulty that they’re particularly open to spirituality or the gospel. That’s just all through – particularly the Old Testament”.
He was pleasantly surprised by the data about discussion and debate, noting that “we tend to say less and not want to offend... [but] this is a great encouragement for Christians to just get out there, as there are a lot of people who do want to engage, particularly through conversation”.
As to where we engage with people if we aren’t doing it in person, the report suggests social media is key. It might seem an unlikely place for people to seek help in the growth
of their spiritual life, but on a weekly basis 28 per cent of Australians turn to Facebook, and 27 per cent to YouTube, to do just that – and for Gen Z and Gen Y the proportions are significantly higher.
Interestingly, our online natives are even more keen to seek spiritual growth on Instagram (44 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively), and for Gen Z the most favoured
platform of all to help their spiritual lives is TikTok (46 per cent).
“I was really interested in these results,” Gupta says. “Social media has a very negative rap but there are opportunities to engage on social media to help point people to Christ, particularly for younger generations. This could be controversial for some but, I think, in a good way.” SC
Mission to Menai continues
“Boy, it was good to be here!”:
Forty years ago last month, 43 adults and 25 children established Menai Anglican Church in the rumpus room of a house in Illawong, putting a sign up outside to let people know the home was also a church. Here they met, grew in faith and
encouraged each other and the community as the population around them grew.
It might seem that 40 years is an unusual anniversary to highlight, but the parish’s church building, which opened four years later, was also the
first to be completed under the 1980s Vision for Growth program (see box, next page).
The Rev Rob Barrie, who steered the Menai church through its first 28 years of life, recalled at a celebration event last month that “We had
four different locations in four years”, adding that when the congregation “finally” moved into its own church, “boy, it was good to be here!”
To much laughter, Mr Barrie told the many hundreds squeezed into the church and
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(from Kindergarten)In 1986, the congregation at Menai couldn’t wait for the landscaping to be finished to start using their new church. Judy Adamson
hall for the celebration that, in 1984, the original 5.3-acre parcel of land in Barden Ridge cost only $330,000 – a tiny amount in today’s market.
The parish’s current rector, the Rev Andrew Barry, told Southern Cross that “in those days, the only things [anywhere near the church land] were a tip, a nuclear facility, a Christian school and a bunch of paddocks – and it’s completely surrounded by buildings now.
“The council wanted the church to buy land in the heart of Menai but it would have been a very small piece of land. Here, they were able to buy five acres and then subdivide it to sell a couple of houses off to help fund the church building.”
The money for the house in which the congregation initially met was provided by a member of Sutherland parish, Daisy Hill, and church members also gave sacrificially to fund the new building. In addition, Vision For Growth provided an interestfree loan, which helped to buy
the land and build St Paul’s, Menai on the site.
Denise Gellett has been a member since day one and recalled how, in 1982, local parishes encouraged any members living in Menai or Bangor to consider becoming a part of the new venture.
She and her husband Jim moved from St John’s, Sutherland with their three boys – and because Mrs Gellett wanted to ensure her children and others would be well taken care of from the outset, she offered to run Sunday school in the house church.
“I taught primary children in the study downstairs, we had kindergarten and infants in the garage, and preschool upstairs in the loungeroom,” she said. “It kept growing week to week... [and] by the time our first anniversary came around, we had 75 adults and 63 kids!”
Mrs Gellett also did the church’s administration work in a voluntary capacity for the first year, then was employed half a
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day a week. She still works four half days each week in the office and only hung up her Sunday school teacher’s hat in 2012.
“We feel blessed,” she said simply, after the celebration service. “We feel like God has given us so much.”
He certainly has. Menai Anglican now has a regular weekly attendance of 550-600 people, and has always been a church that looks outwards to its community and the world. Rob Barrie noted that, in the
manner of Ephesians 4:16, every church member at the beginning of Menai’s ministry “was gifted in some way and had a role to play in helping us grow and build ourselves up in Christ”.
The church’s motto, “Menai for Christ”, has worked out in practice with people of all ages, and its focus on mission has both encouraged missionaries and sent them out.
Said Mr Barrie: “May God be praised and keep on blessing you in the years ahead”. SC
WHAT WAS VISION FOR GROWTH?
The Vision for Growth initiative began in October 1984, under Archbishop Donald Robinson, to raise funds for land and churches in areas of the Diocese earmarked for rapid population growth.
What might also sound familiar are the 19 “strategic areas” the Diocese targeted. Among those on the list were Minchinbury, Quakers Hill, Cranebrook, Doonside, Bossley Park, Hoxton Park, St Clair, Eagle Vale, Appin – and, of course, Menai.
Over the life of Vision For Growth at least $7 million was raised for land and churches that now minister to wellestablished suburbs and towns across the Diocese.
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Curb pokies, say city pastors
NSW has about double (or worse) the rate of poker machine losses when compared to every other Australian state and territory, and about 40 per cent of all pokies losses come from problem gamblers. Worse still, the highest losses are concentrated in Sydney’s poorest local government areas.
This is the stark reality that has led the Dean of Sydney, Canon Sandy Grant, to team up with the Superintendent of Wesley Mission, the Rev Stu Cameron, to press for action by politicians in NSW. They want the Premier and Opposition Leader to form a “unity ticket” for poker machine reform.
The push began with an
impassioned plea from Dean Grant at the Anglican Synod in September. In moving a motion for a bipartisan approach to harm minimisation from poker machines, the Cathedral minister said he had been calling for this for “a dozen years”.
“I do this for the awardwinning apprentice carpenter I knew,” the Dean told Synod. “[This man] always had work and we could never figure out why he couldn’t save any money, but it poured through the pokies at the pubs. I do this for the teacher with four kids at home who had bailiffs at the door repossessing their furniture due to the problematic gambling habits of that teacher’s spouse.
“I do this for the lady I know whose former husband, an economics professor who should have well understood the odds, trashed their marriage with his addiction.
“I do it for the pastors who tell me of people who come to them so deeply ashamed of the money they’ve wasted and the pain, the debt, the dislocation they’ve caused their family that they are suicidal.”
The Synod motion, carried with acclamation, lamented the enormous losses caused by poker machines and called on the NSW Parliament to impose a $1 bet limit on all machines, create a cashless gaming smart card system and place a limit on
the number of machines in clubs.
The Synod resolution has been given to the Government, along with an open letter from Canon Grant and Mr Cameron.
In the letter, the ministers say: “As pastors, we can’t remain silent as we hear from people experiencing gambling addiction, who are at risk of physical self-harm, family members impacted by gambling harm facing repossession of a car or furniture, or even children going hungry”.
They are pressing the Premier and Opposition Leader for action on harm minimisation before the next election, and ask Christians to lobby local MPs to support the suggested measures. SC“We can’t remain silent”: The Dean of Sydney, Sandy Grant (right), and the Superintendant of Wesley Mission, the Rev Stu Cameron, press for Government action. Russell Powell
Synod marks the ministry of womenRussell Powell
said Archdeacon Kara Hartley (right) about Synod’s recent passing of her motion on women’s ministry in Sydney.
The motion noted it was 100 years since the creation of a significant piece of legislation known as the “Women’s Work in the Church Ordinance 1922”.
The measure passed by that Synod formally gave permission for women to participate in some form of “up-front ministry”, at a time when the only people allowed to lead services, preach or do anything else in front of a congregation were the rector or other men approved by the Archbishop.
Although the phrasing used in the ordinance was that deaconesses and lay women approved by the Archbishop could “address the congregation”, Archdeacon Hartley said: “I presume it meant some form of proclamation or exhortation of
the Bible, the occasional sermon or perhaps an update from a female missionary”.
The 2022 Synod motion gave thanks “for the hundreds of women, both ordained and lay, who have served and do serve in gospel ministry across
the Diocese and rejoices in the variety of ministries in which women participate, including parish ministries, chaplaincy in schools and with Anglicare in hospitals, prisons and aged care”.
As Archdeacon of Women’s Ministry in the Diocese, it was Archdeacon Hartley who put the motion forward at Synod. After it passed she said, “We continue as we began. Women and the contribution they bring to gospel work continues to have value in our Diocese”.
She noted the final section of her motion, which “encourages the parishes and organisations of the Diocese to ‘continue to promote the ministry of women, and to foster collaborative ministry relationships between women and men, for the glory of Christ’”. SC
“We thank God for all those women who have gone before us and continue to give thanks to God for the variety of ministries where women currently serve,”
Reconciliation and the Rugged CrossRussell Powell
The Sydney leg of a whistlestop tour of Australia by the Archbishop of Canterbury began with a meeting with Indigenous leaders around a campfire in the centre of Glebe.
Pastor Ray Minniecon and the staff of Scarred Tree Indigenous Ministries gathered around the scarred tree in the grounds of St John’s, Glebe and soon had Archbishop Justin Welby and his wife Caroline singing along with Indigenous hymns, as well as gospel favourite “The Old Rugged Cross”.
Reconciliation was a big theme of the Archbishop’s visit, as he has just released a book on the subject.
Acknowledging the Stolen Generations, he compared the situation to Canada’s First Nations people, who he visited earlier in the year.
“Reconciliation starts with Jesus – and when we are reconciled to God by Jesus on
the Cross and he offers us life,” the Archbishop told the crowd. “God does not give us just enough reconciliation, he gives us oceans of reconciliation and he says, ‘Let that overflow’.”
He stressed that actions, not just words, were needed to heal. “We can’t change history – terrible things were done, we must acknowledge it [and] say it is reality, but we can change the future. When we repent as a people and turn, that’s when reconciliation becomes possible.”
The Archbishop presented a special reconciliation award to Pastor Minniecon and accepted the gift of a boomerangshaped cross from the Rev Michael Duckett, pastor of Macarthur Indigenous Church and chairman of the Sydney Anglican Indigenous People’s Ministry Committee.
After a private welcome dinner with Sydney’s Archbishop and Mrs Cailey Raffel, Archbishop Welby toured the Gawura Indigenous Campus at St
Andrew’s Cathedral School the next day as well as Moore College.
The Archbishop and Mrs Welby had a brief tour of the college, were greeted by the student body and had lunch with a smaller group of students as well as faculty, members of the governing board and the bishops of the Diocese of Sydney.
This was the first visit of an Archbishop of Canterbury to Moore College since George Carey visited in 1997. SC“Reconciliation starts with Jesus”: The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, with Larissa Minniecon and Pastor Ray Minniecon in Glebe.
Smokin’ for JesusJudy Adamson
Anyone who’s ever organised a men’s event will tell you that they have a distinctly different flavour to women’s events or those for a mixed group, but last month Earlwood Anglican went all out on the taste profile with a smoked meat cooking class and evangelism night.
The parish puts an extra focus on evangelism every October, explains rector the Rev Brendan McLaughlin.
“We do it to keep evangelism on the radar,” he says. “A couple of years ago we came up with the outreach system ‘As easy as PIE’ – P is for pray, I is for invitation and E stands for engaged. So, each year when we roll out October Outreach, we remind people of what our evangelistic strategy is.
“We encourage people to pray, we encourage people to invite friends and family along, and to tailor their conversations around that so they can engage them with the gospel. We’ve done various evangelistic training in the past and, in the lead-up to October Outreach, we always have one or two evangelistic sermons to get people excited about outreach again.”
This year Mr McLaughlin preached through John 1:1-18 over four Sundays in October –looking at Jesus as eternal, as the bringer of life, as the meaning of life and as God in the flesh to help highlight who our Lord is, why he came and how people can draw near to him.
As in past years, parishioners were encouraged to be in prayer for three non-Christian people and invite them to one of the Sunday outreach services or events.
The women’s gingerbread house event is yet to occur but,
says Mr McLaughlin, the men’s smoked meat cooking class was a great success.
“It’s one of the best church events I’ve ever had the privilege of attending,” he says. “The food was amazing – all the guys couldn’t stop raving about it –and about 40 men attended, with 10-15 of those being guests.
“The church stepped up and invited non-Christians along [and] those guys got to learn something about smoked meat and take all the recipes home. They got to hang out with a church crowd, enjoying good food, good drinks and good conversation, and they also got to hear the gospel preached.”
So far, so good. But if you’re doing a talk on a night like that, how on earth do you segue from smoked meat to Jesus? No problem, apparently.
Mr McLaughlin’s talk considered three surprising things that the Bible tells us about meat. First, when the ancient people of God went to the temple “it smelt like a barbecue” because animals had been sacrificed and cooked.
Second was why this needed to be done, including the fact that the worshipper was the one required to cut the throat of the sacrificial animal: “It confronts you with the seriousness of your sin – that you need to kill a living being to come near to God”.
And third – why church no longer smells this way –“because Jesus is our atoning sacrifice”.
He adds: “I had one visitor tell me on the night that he enjoyed the talk, while another visitor rang me a week later to say ‘Thank you’ and tell me how much he enjoyed the evening.
“Several people turned down
invitations, but the response is in God’s hands. All we can do is invite people along to an event they would most likely enjoy and ask God to do the rest.
“Overall, we were able to glorify God with our ministry, our outreach... and preaching
the gospel. We cannot tell what will work in terms of evangelism yet that shouldn’t stop us from working hard as a church, as well as trying new things.
“Our prayer is that God will use our feeble efforts to bring about great things for his kingdom.”SC
Mark Drama breaks through in Mandarin
The Mark Drama has notched up a first in Australia, presenting a Mandarin-language version to international students in Sydney.
The ministry presents a 90-minute, fast-paced, theatrein-the-round re-enactment of Mark’s Gospel. Originally performed in Europe, the idea has caught on in Australia and is now performed around the country, most recently in Darwin.
The Mandarin version premiered before international students at the University of NSW in September. The immersive theatre experience features almost all the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Mark.
According to Sam Mills, the
“The visual element really helps cut through to what the Gospel is teaching us,” he says. “The idea to put on a Chineselanguage production has been in the pipeline for a while, so it’s been so great to have a small team translate the drama and [to have] a director who can speak Mandarin.”
Lucy Cheng, who has also directed the drama in English, said it was exciting to direct it in Mandarin and see Chinese students respond to the gospel presented in their own language.
“In God’s kindness, 170 people came along, including many new international students who had just arrived in the country,” she says.
“Many of the cast also had non-Christian family members they invited along, who did not understand English. They were super-thankful that they were able to hear the gospel for the first time in their heart language!”
Although some of the cast members from the FOCUS student ministry are native Mandarin speakers, some local
“It was a lot more work directing in another language, especially when it is not my heart language,” Ms Cheng says. “I was super-thankful for the cast, their support and God’s sustaining grace!”
The new version also heralded the return of the drama from a COVID-induced hiatus. “It’s been wonderful to see productions restarting,” Sam Mills says.
“We now have a team of almost 50 directors who volunteer their time to put on productions across the country, and we’re looking forward to all meeting together in person for our training conference in January.
“It’s such a good opportunity for evangelism – it’s an easy event to invite someone to, and they come and just hear God’s word faithfully proclaimed and acted out. The power comes from the fact that it’s God’s word, doing its work.” SC For more information about the drama or to host a production, visit https://markdramaaustralia.com/Premiere: Mandarin-speaking students watch the Mark Drama in their own language at the University of NSW.
“Theywere able to hear the gospel for the first time in their heart language!” Russell Powell chairman of Mark Drama Australia, the Chinese version is particularly useful in international student ministry. Campus Bible Study students had worked hard to learn the language for the drama.
Food and fellowship on the northern beaches
The idea of a parish on the northern beaches hosting a weekly dinner for the needy might seem unnecessary to some. It’s an affluent area, after all, so would locals even have a use for this kind of outreach?
Absolutely, says the membership pastor at St Faith’s, Narrabeen, the Rev Neil Souter. “You don’t have to look far to see that there are people in need – whether they’re struggling to pay off the mortgage, living alone and lonely, or sleeping in car parks, sand dunes or vans around the lake,” he says. “So, we thought we’d start up something where we put on a meal every Wednesday night at 5 and it’s just grown since then.”
Christened The Community Pantry, the Narrabeen parish’s grassroots ministry hasn’t missed a week since it began seven years ago, even though COVID lockdowns and social distancing requirements closed their usual venue, the Narrabeen Sharks clubhouse, for months at a time.
One of the original organisers, Kathy Neilson, still co-ordinates the food needed for the six teams involved and says that during the height of COVID they borrowed another church’s food van to give out dinner in takeaway containers, then were offered a room in a council building until their usual location was available again.
“We literally didn’t miss a week,” she says. “It was really cool. God just provided everything.”
Each team has a co-ordinator, who decides what their group will cook that week. The 30-40 people who come for dinner are always given two main meals to choose from – including
casseroles, curries, pastas and a barbecue – plus roast vegetables and/or salad and dessert. Each person is also given a fruit pack to take with them when they go.
“We have some people who have been coming [since we started], so it’s become like a family,” Mrs Neilson says. “We set it up with tables: six to eight people to a table, with tablecloths and crockery.
“We were given a grant by the State Government before COVID to put in a commercial kitchen... We had been washing up in a little sink with no hot water! This provided stainless steel benches, a commercial dishwasher and a new oven, so that was a real blessing – and the clubhouse benefits from it too, which is so good.”
Deep relationships have formed between everyone involved – both guests and cooks, of all ages. Members of the community who aren’t part of the church also come to help, and a number of people donate funds each month to pay for the food.
Although it’s clear that those who organise The Community Pantry are Christian, and Mr Souter runs a Bible study before the dinner each week, faith is lived out rather than “pushed”.
“I think at first they were a
bit wary of us,” he says, “but over time they’ve opened up to us, we’ve learned a lot of their stories and we’ve been able to share Christ with them through that, so it’s been wonderful.
“Some of them are coming to church now, which is great... and one of the men became a Christian about three weeks ago,
which is awesome. It really is the highlight of my week. I love it.”
Adds Mrs Neilson: “We wanted to show them Christ’s love by our actions, how we treated them and just accepting people for who they are... God wants us to love everybody. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are –we’re all his creation.” SCServed up with love: Members of St Faith’s, Narrabeen volunteering at The Community Pantry ministry. Judy Adamson Narrabeen’s care for those in need.
From Church Hill with love
Marsden Park is the newest parish in the Diocese of Sydney. So when its senior minister, the Rev Mark Collins, got a series of messages from the oldest parish in Sydney, he wondered what they might mean.
“I got some strange messages from Justin Moffatt [rector of Church Hill Anglican], who I have known for a while, asking me questions about our church,” he recalls. “He asked how long we had been going for and where our building was.”
Mr Collins replied that Marsden Park didn’t yet have its own building and this was hampering the church’s ministry. “Then, dead silence for a bit and he came back and said, ‘Yeah, I think you guys should have a building. Five years is too long to wait. How about we help?’”
That brief exchange was the first indication of a financial gift that will help to transform ministry in Sydney’s northwest. The Bishop of South Sydney, Michael Stead, explains: “The parish of Church Hill and the Synod are both income beneficiaries from the lease of an office tower at Number 1 York Street in the city,” he
says. “An additional distribution was received this year and the parish has requested that the first tranche of money should go, not to the parish, but to greenfields development and to another ministry area yet to be announced.”
So, $1.5 million will go to Marsden Park to kickstart its building development, which has stalled for more than a year.
Says Bishop Stead: “I’m delighted at the generosity of the [Church Hill] parish in looking outwards to the needs of other parts of Sydney”.
Mr Collins says the news was announced to cheers from his congregation. “We see a building as something that shows we’re not just a fly-by-night church, so to speak. We are actually established in the community. It also allows us to expand our outreach.”
“IT’S ON ITS WAY”
The Marsden Park parish currently runs a playtime ministry with 40 children each week and has plans for youth ministry, but local community facilities are few and regular access is tricky. The gift from
Church Hill means work towards their own ministry space will happen a lot faster than it otherwise would have.
“That builds excitement in our church,” Mr Collins says. “People know that it will allow opportunities for further ministry to happen, which we can’t do at the moment because there are really no venues in the Marsden Park area.”
He adds that another key factor is the highly multicultural nature of Marsden Park. “There is a South Asian population and they are a religious population. But for them, religion is done in [your own] building – it’s not done in a community centre.
“For a white, Anglo-Saxon population, we would survive in a school hall for 10 years, but I believe it’s a turn-off for that multicultural population. You’re not fair dinkum until you’re in a building.”
Mr Collins will now be able to answer questions about the building by saying, “It’s on its way”, adding: “This is just a wonderful gift of God and a wonderful generosity from the wardens, the parish councillors, and the whole parish at Church
Hill, and also help from the Diocese as well.
“We’re very thankful to Standing Committee for what they have done, and we are thankful also for the Anglican Growth Corporation that, like us, wants the building in Marsden Park to happen sooner rather than later.”
As for Church Hill, Mr Moffatt says members are thrilled. “We heard the Archbishop at Synod talk about the greenfields, so to be able to find movement forward on that need so quickly is a delight to the parish. There’s been some good, hard work by the wardens and parish council. We are all thankful to God.”
Mr Moffatt says the assistance for Marsden Park is just one part of the parish gift, with a further grant for significant ministry elsewhere expected to be announced soon.
“We get that there’s an ‘accident of history’ here,” he says. “It’s property the parish used to own to do ministry and house its rector, which was lost to us 55 years ago. Now, to be able to use the income from that resource to assist new churches is an answered prayer.” SCNo building of their own – yet: Carers and kids from Marsden Park’s playgroup meet in a local community centre. The oldest parish in the Diocese helps the youngest.
A hub for a remarkable ministry
Few would deny the incredible impact the Campus Bible Study (CBS) ministry at the University of NSW has had in Sydney and around the world. But not many people would know that the ministry has been virtually homeless, with a string of temporary offices on the campus.
When it was established in 1975, Campus Bible Study’s staff consisted of just one chaplain. The university allocated a small office out of which to run the ministry.
As the current chaplain, the Rev Carl Matthei, explains, “The university has grown since then, and in God’s kindness Campus
Bible Study has grown with it. God has blessed us now with a big mission. Thirteen pastors, 27 ministry trainees and over 1000 students who love Jesus and want to share him with their classmates – and the university still gives us just that one small office!”
But help is on the way. A property has become available on Anzac Parade, only 200 metres from the edge of the university.
Says Mr Matthei: “The property would serve as a public front door for the ministry, a convenient, stable location for the office, an administrative hub for pastoral staff, a meeting
point for staff and students and a long-term asset to anchor our finances”.
About half of the $1.2 million cost has been raised and the ministry has started an appeal to provide the balance. The founder and original chaplain of CBS, the Rev Phillip Jensen, is among those backing the appeal.
“For nearly 50 years we have been trying to find suitable accommodation to base the ministries of CBS,” he says. “At last, we have the opportunity of securing a centre that is affordable and sufficiently close to campus to meet our needs.”
A string of past students and Christian leaders, including the
Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, are commending the appeal. Rochelle Hicks, who now works as a doctor in the state’s central west, says, “I came to university to obtain my medical degree and left with so much more, thanks to the ministry of CBS and Unichurch.
“The faithful Bible teaching and discipleship gave me a deeper understanding of the gospel at such a formative time in life. It grew in me a desire to see others be brought from death to real life, something no doctor except the true healer Jesus can do!” SC
The CBS ministry hub appeal is open now. To give, visit campusbiblestudy. org/hubOngoing impact: A Bible study meets on campus at the University of NSW.
Anglican groups go all out to encourage teachers
Secular headlines have been screaming “Teacher shortage!” for some time now, but Christians may not be aware that a lack of teaching candidates is also affecting the growing church and independent school sector.
“We want to encourage all Christians who are at school to look at education as a worthy profession in terms of ministry opportunities,” says Merryn Clarksmith, the director of education and mission at the Anglican Schools Corporation (ASC).
The corporation is offering an internship program as one way of encouraging young people to consider teaching. “There is an overall shortage and when our focus is on providing quality Christian education, we need quality Christian educators to do that,” she says. “So, the purpose of the internship program is to look at raising up and attracting those [future educators].”
There are now 11 university students in the program, with four due to graduate this year. “Students who are studying
education can apply through the corporation for an internship, which sees them through their university years,” Miss Clarksmith says. “They work in a school two days a week and they have a mentor there who walks alongside them and looks for lots of different learning opportunities for the intern.
“Some of them work within learning support teams and some work across different faculties… depending on what their area of specialisation is. Our focus is to give them a rich and diverse learning experience that complements their university study.”
At the same time and in collaboration with the ASC, Anglican Youthworks is working on two strategies to help provide quality educators for the future.
The first pathway is through the Year 13 program. “It is so exciting to see this collaboration between two youth-focused diocesan organisations that advances the gospel mission of each,” says Youthworks CEO the
Rev Canon Craig Roberts.
“Working with ASC CEO Peter Fowler was so encouraging – he had already seen the way Year 13 deepens the faith of school leavers and prepares them for a life of following Jesus. It didn’t take us long to solidify this partnership that makes it so easy for our best and brightest to consider a career in Christian teaching.”
The second initiative is through Youthworks College, which next year will open the Centre for Christian Education (CCE). College principal the Rev Mike Dicker compares the CCE to the existing parish program for childrens’ and youth ministers, applied in a school context.
“You can do your study before, during or after your teaching degree at university through the Centre for Christian Education,” Mr Dicker says. “In 2023, the main pathway we are focusing on is the ‘before’ pathway for students who are heading into a teaching vocation, to give them a good, solid theological foundation.”
The students will study 2.5
days at college each week and spend two days as an intern in a school, helping to integrate what they learn.
When considering the teacher shortage, Mr Dicker believes the gaps go beyond the lack of teacher numbers.
“There is a danger that we’re going to end up with a cloister of people that haven’t thoroughly engaged with the world around them,” he says. “What I think of as the strength of this program is that the student will receive good theological foundations at the centre and then they will go to a secular university and attend lectures where their ethical stances and views of the world will be challenged.
“In that environment, they will be able to bring their theology to bear on what they think and believe. This will make them really sharp as teachers. They then go back into schools equipped and ready to engage with those same ideas.” SC
For more information see www. tasc.nsw.edu.au/employment , year13.net and youthworkscollege. edu.au/christianteachersRussell Powell Working together: (L-R) Youthworks College principal the Rev Mike Dicker; Bishop Chris Edwards; Youthworks council chairman the Rev Chris Braga; Dean and CEO of the Australian College of Theology, Prof James Dalziel; Broughton Anglican College chaplain the Rev Mark Schroder; Youthworks CEO Canon Craig Roberts. A multi-pronged approach to attract people to a career in education.
Flood relief steps up in Pakistan
“These are typically the poorest people in Pakistan and for them to now have up to five feet of water where their homes used to be – sitting on the side of the road without proper shelter –was really difficult to see.”
Zeeshan LaalDin is no stranger to flood relief work. He was in Pakistan during extensive flooding in 2010 and helped establish the 1 to Another aid organisation. Now, as project officer for the Archbishop of Sydney’s Anglican Aid, he travelled back to southern Pakistan and has described the conditions to Southern Cross – conditions that are, he says, worse than 12 years ago.
“This flood seems to have
affected a lot more people,” he says. “A lot more devastation, many more homes that have been completely destroyed.”
One of the areas he visited was the province of Sindh, where Anglican Aid is forming a partnership with the Diocese of Hyderabad. Mr LaalDin describes the remnants of a village with “stagnant water on both sides, mosquitoes, all these things that they’re having to deal with.
“I was there for maybe an hour and a half and just the heat and the humidity, it was difficult [for me] – and for them to have to live there and survive there for who knows how long, it was really difficult to see.”
Much of the work involves
emergency aid but waterborne diseases are emerging such as diarrhoea, malaria and dengue fever.
“In the past couple of weeks, they’ve given over 200 food packs to two different communities,” Mr LaalDin says. “Just yesterday, they were doing a health pre-medical clinic in which they saw up to 600 or 700 patients, which was pretty intense.”
He’s now preparing for another visit. “We’re heading back to not only find more partners for Anglican Aid but also to look at how we can be more involved with flood relief work.”
In a video for Anglican Aid’s supporters one local villager,
Kaveeta, spoke of the intensity of the rain. “We couldn’t go into town and so we made simple shelters and put plastic over us but the rain even came through the plastic. Our blankets got wet and there wasn’t enough sun to dry in but what could we do? We just had to live with it, but God has been providing for us.
“Food has been coming from different places. We are thankful that God has provided this dry road here for us to camp on. We really should raise the level of our village but we don’t have money to do that. That’s the problem.” SC
You can find Anglican Aid’s Pakistan appeal page at anglicanaid.org.au/ pakistan-flood-relief/After the floods: Anglican Aid’s Zeeshan LaalDin (far right) talks to villagers in temporary shelters. First-hand reports help target aid in worst-hit areas.
“Life is for living”
If someone manages to attain the age of 94, the last thing you would expect to be on their minds is marriage.
Of course, the Rev Kevin Engel isn’t your average 94-year-old. A minister and missionary to Africa for 17 years – who passed the 70 th anniversary of his ordination a couple of months ago – he is an honorary assistant minister at St Philip’s, Caringbah, still leads the early Communion service once a month and is also involved in seniors’ ministry.
Not only that, says Caringbah rector the Rev Eric Cheung, “He is probably one of the best preachers you’ll ever hear. Whenever I can I get him to preach, he can blow the roof off. He is just so energetic and passionate for Jesus. Who wouldn’t love that?”
Amid all this, Mr Engel and his long-time friend Carol Firth realised, after many years since the deaths of their respective
spouses, that they loved each other. But what, they wondered, should they do about that?
Mrs Firth – now Mrs Engel –says she came to faith, and St Philip’s, about 20 years ago.
“On my first Sunday there I met Kevin’s late wife, Dorothy,” she recalls. “She was my first Christian friend; she took me under her wing and we became best friends until her death 10 years later. During this time, I came to know their family as well. All were Christians and I revelled in their love and fellowship.”
Over subsequent years Mr Engel and Mrs Firth met often, at church or at home, for coffee and conversation. Both enjoyed reading and history, and even travelled to China together in 2019 as part of a guided tour –when Mr Engel was 91.
Says Mrs Engel: “The Great Wall remained on his bucket list... We both wanted to go, we
knew we enjoyed each other’s company and we could probably stand it for a few weeks!”
Well beyond just putting up with each other, they began to realise about this time that they were more than friends. And, says Mr Engel, “We talked about marriage but I was getting on in years and what would people say? My family had become good friends with Carol and eventually they raised the question, ‘Why not, Dad? You’re not getting any younger and does it matter what other people think?’”
So, with the encouragement and blessing of his children Mr Engel proposed, the couple had a meeting with an enthusiastic Mr Cheung and a wedding date was set: September 24.
Says Mrs Engel: “It was supposed to be a secret until we told our families, but within an hour I was receiving congratulatory texts!... Somehow it all came together in time,
with a full cast of families and friends. Dresses were borrowed, my son flew in from Far North Queensland to give me away, my daughter and her daughter were in the bridal party and all three of Kevin’s children were involved.”
Not only that, she says, “Our friends at St Philip’s took it awfully well. We were overwhelmed with expressions of love and congratulations.”
Mr Cheung observes that Mr and Mrs Engel’s marriage is an example of how all Christians should serve and trust God through each day he gives them. “What Kevin and Carol indicate by this is their firm trust and belief in the Lord and his provision, and the idea of living every moment to praise the Lord. Life is for living.”
Adds Mr Engel: “Trusting the good Lord has been a rich experience for both of us. He is certainly the God of the unexpected!” SCThe Lord’s provision: Kevin and Carol Engel on their wedding day in September.
Accepted by GodKanishka Raffel
Icame to Australia as a child when my family migrated here from Canada. My sisters and I recently celebrated 50 years since our arrival, for which I give heartfelt thanks to God.
Of course, the thing that migrants want to do when they come to a new country is fit in. You want to “learn the country” as soon as you can so that you are accepted and welcomed.
For a 7-year-old Sri Lankan from the snowbound climes of provincial Canada (another story!) that meant swapping ice hockey for cricket, peanut butter and jelly for vegemite, and Thanksgiving Day for Anzac Day. It meant “sidewalk”, “cookie” and “yard” became “footpath”, “biscuit” and “garden”. And it meant learning that a “chook” is a chicken, a “footy” is a ball and a “shout” is a treat. We all want to know what other people think about us – our boss, our employees, our teachers, our colleagues, the parents at our kids’ schools, the other members of our club or church. We all want to know what other people think about us. And we like to know that we are accepted.
Now, why is this? Why is it the case that so much of ordinary life is shaped by our desire to be approved?
From the perspective of the Bible, beneath our quest for acceptance from each other is something deeper – something that goes back to the beginning of humanity. There is a dislocation in human life. We have been separated from our source and that has left us with a deep uncertainty about our place, about our value, about our purpose.
Jesus tells a story about a subject that is close to our hearts – being accepted.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people robbers, evildoers, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’. But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’.
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” (Luke 18:10-14a) It’s a story about who God accepts.
When Jesus says, “this man, rather than the other” he does mean that the Pharisee is rejected. And the Pharisee is a good man. There is nothing here to suggest that he is a hypocrite. But
at the end of his prayer, it is the other man, and not this man, who is at peace with God – who has been accepted by God.
To understand why, let’s think about the man whom God accepted.
Jesus says that God accepted the tax collector. The tax collector was the worst kind of criminal (in the ancient world, that is!). He was a criminal with the backing of the powers that be – an authorised thug, like a corrupt police commissioner or the minister of state who is also the brother of the President for Life.
He’s as rotten as they come. He dares enter the temple of God and merely confesses to his wickedness and, Jesus says, God accepts him.
The good man who is rejected thanks God for the goodness God has put into his life. The wicked man who is accepted acknowledges that he is a sinner and asks for mercy.
The good man looks down on others and judges himself good, so he does not ask God for anything. The wicked man dare not look to heaven, so conscious is he of his sin, and he throws himself on God’s mercy. That is the difference between the two men.
The Pharisee, like those to whom Jesus is speaking, “looked down on everyone else” (v9) and persuaded himself that he was good when in reality he was simply not as bad as some. But the tax collector, conscious of his own failing and weakness, knows he has nothing to stand on unless God has mercy on him. He knows what is true for everyone: acceptance by God always depends on God’s mercy.
The good man sees the difference between himself and the tax collector – and there is a great difference between them – but he does not see how they are the same. They both need God’s mercy.
The Cross of Jesus casts its shadow back over this parable. The wicked man is able to receive mercy because God’s mercy was poured out when Jesus died on the Cross, in our place, for our sins.
The bulls that were sacrificed in the Temple, where the men had come to pray, were just a symbol for the real thing. But when Jesus came he offered his sinless life on the Cross in place of our sinful lives. He took what we deserved so that we could have what we do not deserve – mercy, forgiveness, peace with God.
There is mercy in the death that Jesus dies and there is eternity in the resurrection that Jesus wins. God will welcome all who look away from themselves and look to Jesus.
What the news does to us
Ifacedeatheveryday—yes,justassurelyasIboastaboutyouinChristJesusourLord. IfIfoughtwildbeastsinEphesuswithnomorethanhumanhopes,whathave for tomorrow
brothers and sisters, I toremindyouofthegospel preachedtoyou,whichyoureceived andonwhichyouhavetakenyourstand. thisgospelyouaresaved,ifyouholdfirmlytothe wordIpreachedtoyou.Otherwise,youhavebelievedin ForwhatIreceivedIpassedontoyouasoffirstimportance: that diedforoursinsaccordingtotheScriptures,thathewasburied,thathewas raisedonthethirddayaccordingtotheScriptures,andthatheappearedtoCephas, thentotheTwelve.Afterthat,heappearedtomorethanfivehundredofthebrothersandsisters thesametime,mostofwhomarestillliving,thoughsomehavefallenasleep.ThenheappearedtoJames, thentoalltheapostles,andlastofallheappearedtomealso,astooneabnormallyborn.ForIamtheleast oftheapostlesanddonotevendeservetobecalledanapostle,becauseIpersecutedthechurchofGod.But bythegraceofGodIamwhatIam,andhisgracetomewasnotwithouteffect.No,Iworkedharderthan allofthem—yetnotI,butthegraceofGodthatwaswithme.Whether,then,itisIorthey,thisiswhatwe preach,andthisiswhatyoubelieved.ButifitispreachedthatChristhasbeenraisedfromthedead,how cansomeofyousaythatthereisnoresurrectionofthedead?Ifthereisnoresurrectionofthedead,then notevenChristhasbeenraised.AndifChristhasnotbeenraised,ourpreachingisuselessandsoisyour faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.AndifChristhasnotbeenraised,yourfaithis futile;youarestillinyoursins.ThenthosealsowhohavefallenasleepinChristarelost.Ifonlyforthislife wehavehopeinChrist,weareofallpeoplemosttobepitied.ButChristhasindeedbeenraisedfromthe dead,thefirstfruitsofthosewhohavefallenasleep.Forsincedeathcamethroughaman,theresurrection ofthedeadcomesalsothroughaman.ForasinAdamalldie,soinChristallwillbemadealive.Buteach inturn:Christ,thefirstfruits;then,whenhecomes,thosewhobelongtohim.Then the end will come, when hehandsoverthekingdomtoGodtheFatherafterhehasdestroyedalldominion,authorityandpower.For “hashemustreignuntilhehasputallhisenemiesunderhisfeet.Thelastenemytobedestroyedisdeath.For puteverythingunderhisfeet.”Nowwhenitsaysthat“everything”hasbeenputunderhim,itisclear thatthisdoesnotincludeGodhimself,whoputeverythingunderChrist.Whenhehasdonethis,thenthe Sonhimselfwillbemadesubjecttohimwhoputeverythingunderhim,sothatGodmaybeallinall.Now ifthereisnoresurrection,whatwillthosedowhoarebaptisedforthedead?Ifthedeadarenotraisedat all,whyarepeoplebaptisedforthem?Andasforus,whydoweendangerourselveseveryhour?
I’ve noticed lately how much I can be affected by the news. As I scroll through the headlines, I can almost feel my heart sink. The fragility of life. The fragility of once-powerful institutions. The fragility of hope.
More recently, I’ve felt something else as I scroll through news stories describing fellow Christians. Who would’ve guessed a few years ago that having a leadership position in an Anglican church now renders a person too ethically compromised to lead a football club?
In the past few months, I’ve spoken to doctors, psychologists,
teachers, lawyers and bankers who have told me that they could lose their jobs if their employers or partners knew what they believed. Do you share that concern? What impact does the news have on you? How does it affect how you see and relate to the people around you?
THE IMPACT OF THE GOOD NEWS
Christian people have recognised the impact of news from the beginning. We are who we are because of the news – the good news, that is. This recently struck me as I was reading 1 Corinthians 15.
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Paul provides us with one of the clearest and most concise summaries of the gospel – the good news. The announcement of God’s Messiah King has four points. Jesus Christ:
1 died for our sins;
2 was buried;
3 was raised on the third day;
4 appeared to Cephas, the twelve, the 500, James, the apostles and Paul.
This news is a simple message that makes claims about what happened. They are facts. They are not abstract or philosophical ideas. The history of these things matters. If they did not happen, Christian hope would evaporate like mist.
But Paul wasn’t writing to argue for the history; he was writing to remind people of the difference this news makes.
What difference does it make to you knowing that Jesus was raised back to life on the third day after his death? How does Jesus’ resurrection change your life? Do you think about this news often?
If you’re anything like me, these truths easily drift into the background as the pressure of life ramps up. But dwell on this news for a few moments. The history of these four facts about Jesus are the sure ground of Christian hope.
His resurrection guarantees your resurrection.
His life after the grave opens the way and assures you of eternal life.
HOPE-LESS, OR HOPE-FULL?
When Australians speak at funerals about their loved ones sitting on clouds and watching down with the angels, it’s most often wishful thinking with very little commitment that any of it is real. It’s a nice idea to soothe the grief of losing a loved one.
Jesus’ resurrection loudly and clearly proclaims something very different and so much better.
Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians to explain that:
• if Jesus did not rise from the dead, there is no chance anyone else will rise from the dead either (v12);
• if Jesus did not rise from the dead, preaching the gospel and believing the gospel is useless (v14). If it’s only a nice idea
that makes you feel good now and brings comfort now, that is of no use;
• if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the gospel is a lie, and preachers are telling lies about God when they preach it (vv15-16);
• if Jesus did not rise from the dead, it does not matter what you believe or how hard you believe it. You are still trapped in your sins, with all the consequences that come from that (vv17-18);
• if Jesus did not rise from the dead, we Christians are of all people most to be pitied (v19).
A version of Christianity without the physical resurrection of Jesus is hope-less.
Without the resurrection of Jesus, we may as well eat and drink – for tomorrow we die (v32). So many in Australia pin their hopes and joys on experiences, buying nice things, owning a place of their own, chasing the latest fashions, the great body, the adrenaline rush, your best life now – for tomorrow we die.
Don’t look down on them. Honestly, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, that would be the best we could hope for!
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
You see, the point is that Jesus did rise from the dead. What’s more, he did it as the first of many – indeed, of any – who would follow him. At its heart, the Christian hope is of a life beyond the grave. A life after death that is physical, where we will be raised back to life with bodies.
Not just for an extra innings, a longer life, or even a life that never ends. Our hope is of a new, lasting, transformed life with
life the resurrectioneachwhen Forhe clear Now at hour? haveLord. I tomorrowJesus provides a life that’s hope-full, not hope-less.
God, where sin has been dealt with forever. Where all the ugliness that comes with sin, including death itself, will be done away with.
But that hope makes all the difference here and now, too. If we know “tomorrow we die” is not the end of the story, we can let go of things now that would otherwise be the best we could hope for. Instead of fearing that we might miss out if we don’t chase down every last pleasure, we can live in the sure hope of even better things.
The frantic life of racking up the most of everything I can for myself makes perfect sense if tomorrow we die, and that’s it. But the resurrection of Jesus changes everything.
BE CONSUMED BY THE GOOD NEWS
Have you been consumed by the news of the day? Have you been made to feel that all is at stake and the church is under threat? Have you been led perhaps to be fearful, anxious about what others think of us, and what they might say?
But what if we were consumed by different news? What might be different if we were overwhelmed by the good news of the resurrection of Jesus?
We have a sure hope. It’s so sure that we do not need to fear those who can only insult, belittle, sack, imprison or even kill us. We don’t even need to fear death itself. The resurrection provides indestructible hope.
If we are consumed by the gospel news, how will we see those who shout, hate, and condemn? Does it not break your heart to watch people flailing in life without God and without hope in the world? Where eating and drinking, for tomorrow we die, is the best they can hope for?
How will they know to call on the one they have not believed in? And how will they believe in the one they have not heard of? And how will they hear unless someone tells them the life-giving, hope-full truth of the Lord Jesus? And don’t you want to be sent to speak the gospel to this desperate and hope-less sea of humanity?
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul calls on his readers in the first few verses to respond to the news of the resurrection by believing, taking a stand and holding firmly to the gospel. In verse 34, he says come back to your senses. Stop sinning. In verse 58, he encourages the Corinthians to stand firm and work wholeheartedly for the Lord because their labours won’t be in vain.
Do you see that, because of the resurrection hope, giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord is purposeful and makes a difference? It is not in vain. Even in the face of death, this work lasts. Standing firm in the gospel, proclaiming the gospel, making much of Jesus, and taking hold of the hope of the resurrection – and helping others take hold of it – is never in vain.
No matter how hope-less the nightly news. SC
When society and faith collideRick Lewers
Who could have imagined that football would clarify where Christianity sits in this country?
One day Andrew Thorburn, one-time CEO of the National Australia Bank, was appointed CEO of the Essendon Football Club. The next day he was forced to resign because he attends and is on the board of a church that believes abortion and any sex outside marriage is sin. Just normal orthodox thinking in any of the Abrahamic religions, ie. Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Clearly, religious discrimination is not irrelevant and these events only heighten the importance of a return to Freedom of Religion legislation.
What a clarifier for all Christians. The Bible encourages us to share the gospel with gentleness and meekness but it does not promise that our winsome approach will meet with niceness. As we saw, upon Mr Thorburn’s appointment the social media attacked like seagulls on a chip.
Watch carefully, because a model of the faith may have been revealed. Like Jesus, Thorburn could have been tempted to resign from his church and declare himself worldly innocent of the “crimes” he has been accused of by the media, the Victorian Premier and self-interest groups.
But it seems that Andrew Thorburn, under divine advice, chose the cross that he knew Christians must take up and carry. Amid ridicule, accusation and loss of employment he chose the cross. He chose Christ. He chose Christ’s church. I can only imagine the encouragement that must have been for the pastor of his church and the wider church family. It certainly was a
great encouragement to me and hopefully for you. He stood firm, confident in the help of Another’s advocacy.
In light of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and its clariﬁcation that Jesus is Lord, the apostle Paul says, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand ﬁrm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Psalm 33:11 – “the plans of the Lord stand ﬁrm forever”.
Psalm 93:5 – “Your statutes, Lord, stand ﬁrm; holiness adorns your house for endless days”.
Isaiah 7:9 – “If you do not stand ﬁrm in your faith, you will not stand at all”.
Matthew 10:22, 24:13 and Mark 13:13 – Jesus makes clear that “the one who stands ﬁrm to the end will be saved”.
As we look back over recent weeks, it is worth asking how we would go under the scrutiny and pressure Andrew Thorburn has experienced. It’s a good question to ask, because some who purport to be Christian leaders in our denominations have gone missing in defence of Mr Thorburn. Some, like chameleons, have chosen to blend in with their revisionist permissions rather than reach out with the hope that follows repentance and faith.
When water continually drips on a stone, the stone can be worn away ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly. We are living in an age increasingly hostile to Christianity and, under pressure, the temptation is for us to disappear from conversations, to take our faith underground – or worse, make compromises that Christians
like Andrew Thorburn aren’t willing to make.
The slow drip of the secular culture we live in has seen many churchgoers worn down to a pagan form of acceptance of the sins of our culture. Beware! Surrender to this age and its tribal paganism will see individuals, our families and our nation reap the whirlwind of God’s judgement. It’s one thing to be cancelled by our culture but quite another to meet God unforgiven. The rock of God’s word suffers no wear and the God who speaks is the same yesterday, today and forever.
I am writing this so that you will be encouraged to stand firm and let nothing move you from the one holy catholic and apostolic faith. Remember the love God has lavished on us in Jesus Christ: “that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).
Standing firm might cost you your job but you will keep your eternal life. Standing firm took Jesus to the Cross but it ended in resurrection.
This moment is just the head of the beast and let’s not kid ourselves that things cannot get worse – they can. But as you stand firm, be strong and courageous for the Lord our God is with us wherever we go. And let us heed the words of Jesus to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Perhaps by our good example, God may draw some to himself. Even so, “Come, Lord Jesus”. SC
The Rt Rev Rick Lewers is rector of Shoalhaven Heads and former Bishop of Armidale.
Love the lost
Love compels us to do great things. Love compels us to care for those in need. Love compels us to make sacrifices – giving our time, our resources and our energy.
Love compels us to stand with others in times of trouble. Love compels us to cross the world to be with people we care for. Love compels us to be generous. Love compels us to serve. Love compels us to devote ourselves to our children and our families.
Love compels us to do great things! But does love compel us to speak to others about Jesus? This is the challenge put to us by Matt Smethurst in his new, short book, Before you share your faith – Five ways to be evangelism ready.
Smethurst’s challenge is that so often we use fear or our uncertainty of knowing what to say as an excuse for not talking about Jesus, when in reality, he argues, the deeper issue is our lack of love. We simply do not love people enough to speak to them about Jesus. What do you think?
Consider what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul brings together a number of significant, important truths that motivate and drive him to speak about Jesus.
There is the truth of the eternal reality that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (v10). From this knowledge Paul says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others” (v11).
There is the fact that, in Christ, we are a new creation with a new agenda, setting new values and new priorities, causing us to see all people from a new perspective.
There is the powerful truth that, as Christ’s ambassadors, God “has committed to us the message of reconciliation… as if God were making his appeal through us” (v19, 20). And there is the motivation compelling us to speak of God’s grace, because the fact is, the days are urgent: “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).
Put simply, Paul is convinced of these things. They compel him to speak about the love of Christ. The love for those who are not reconciled to Christ. Paul is gripped by the eternal realities of heaven and hell.
Are you and I convinced of these things? Gripped by these things?
The Apostle Paul is gripped by the significance and wonder of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and the forgiveness, transformation and peace that it brings. He is gripped by the truth, wonder and hope of the resurrection to eternal life – a hope that enables us to persevere in the face of any and all obstacles and difficulties.
He is gripped by the truth of Jesus’ return, the joy that this holds for those who trust in Jesus and are looking forward to his return, but the fear and terror this last-day appointment will hold for those who do not trust in Jesus.
As we see the crowds (Matt 9:36 – and see the Archbishop’s address in October Southern Cross) will you pray that we would see them as Jesus saw them? Then, filled with compassion, we will be powerfully compelled to love the lost, prayerfully looking for any and all opportunities to declare this good news of Jesus! SC
Southern move for Sibravas
After four years as assistant minister in Kiama, the Rev Aiden Sibrava had his wife Jessica had no plans to leave, but after being approached by the nominators at Milton-Ulladulla they soon found that God had other plans for them.
“It was a bolt from the blue,” Mr Sibrava says. “We thought it might not be the right time given that Kiama, like a lot of parishes, has spent a lot of time coming through COVID and out the other side... But Steve [Stanis, the rector] said it was a great opportunity to get an idea of the nomination process, and encouraged us to walk that road and see what panned out.”
Mr Sibrava soon began to see how Milton-Ulladulla ticked a lot of boxes. He grew up in Cooma, and Mrs Sibrava in AlburyWodonga, so ministry in rural and regional areas was familiar
and a top priority for them. The area also had local family connections, some friendship connections and being on the South Coast was “really familiar in terms of the context... so all of that made a lot of sense”.
They placed the decision before the Lord, who provided a number of confirmations –including what Mr Sibrava calls “two God moments”.
“The first was that, about a week after Jess and I got the to the point of ‘I can’t leave Kiama – we’re needed here’, I promptly got acute appendicitis, had to go into hospital and was taken out of the picture for two weeks!” he laughs. “Everything still happened, church happened... and Jess’s comment was, ‘Well, you’re not indispensable!’ It was a good reminder that it’s God’s church and it’ll be okay. It doesn’t need me to hold it together.”
Mid-year God provided the second moment, when Mr Sibrava attended his regional clergy conference and “quite by accident” found himself on a walk with the Rev Ross Maltman. “I didn’t realise that he had been the rector of Ulladulla,” he recalls, “but he started sharing what it had been like as a parish, what he had experienced and the lovely people down there.
“I thought, either he knows that the nominators are talking to me or it’s a total God moment. I’ve since confirmed that with
him, and he had no idea!”
Despite knowing how much they will miss their Kiama family, the Sibravas are enthusiastic about beginning their next season of ministry on November 19. Mrs Sibrava brings skills as a classically trained singer and loves ministering to older people, while Mr Sibrava looks forward to joining the local RFS and “being a faithful witness to Jesus” in the pulpit and out of it.
“I’m excited to see what God will do as we step out and seek to serve him,” he says.
Clergy moves and obituaries.
The Rev Luke Woodhouse became rector of Berowra on October 19, after seven years as an assistant minister in the parish of Turramurra.
The Rev Lisa Boyd moves this month from Northern Beaches Hospital to take up the role of chaplain to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, following the retirement of the Rev Rob Denham. Mr Denham has spent the past five years at Westmead, in addition to a part-time assistant minister’s role in the parish of Carlingford and North Rocks. The chaplaincy position at Northern Beaches has been filled by Elizabeth Janssen.
After more than 22 years as rector of St Nicolas’, Coogee –and another two as assistant minister – the Rev Craig Segaert will retire on December 31. The new rector will be the Rev Peter Greenwood , who leaves South Hurstville early in December and starts in Coogee at the end of January 2023.
The Rev Simon Twist will become rector of Kingswood on January 9, moving from an assistant minister’s role in the parish of Campbelltown.
Following 15 years as an assistant minister at Hurstville Grove – eight of those as senior assistant – the Rev Greg Ball will become the rector of Cronulla on February 1.
Pioneering Archdeacon called home
Archdeacon Emeritus, the Ven Narelle Jarrett, was called home on November 4 at the age of 80. She had been suffering from dementia for several years.
Archdeacon Jarrett was the second Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry, a position she held for 10 years until 2012. She was also a former principal of Mary Andrews College.
Trained as a teacher, she converted to Christ while in her first year of professional teaching at Sydney Girls’ High School. She studied at Moore College in the second half of the 1960s and held various ministry positions, including as a Christian Studies teacher, and a campus ministry worker at the University of NSW.
She was appointed principal of Mary Andrews College in 1985 when it was still known as Deaconess House and, in 1989, was ordained a deacon in the first cohort of female deacons in Sydney.
Archdeacon Jarrett served on many boards including the council of Ministry, Training &
Development, the Mission Task Force, the Standing Committee and Synod of the Sydney Diocese as well as General Synod. She was active in governance of the Archbishop’s Overseas Mission Fund and the Anglican Deaconess Institution.
In 2002 she was asked by the then Archbishop, Peter Jensen, to lead the Sydney Diocesan Women’s Ministry Team to oversee equipping women for ministry. She was collated Archdeacon in 2002 by Archbishop Jensen, who had been in her class at Moore College in 1967.
“We all owe a great debt to Narelle for her Christ-centred and wise leadership,” Dr Jensen
said. “She was a highly gifted teacher. She was innovative, faithful, courageous and caring of others. It was a delight to work with her in the cause of the gospel of Jesus.”
In his tribute, Archbishop Raffel said: “Archdeacon Jarrett radiated godliness and grace. With her firm and winsome stand for biblical truth in all things, she made a significant contribution to the life of our churches and I thank God for her example in life and ministry”.
Her successor as Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry, Archdeacon Kara Hartley, also paid tribute, saying, “Narelle had a great passion and commitment to advancing the ministries of women in the Diocese. A true servant of the gospel, as principal of Mary Andrews College and Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry she exercised significant leadership in our Diocese.
“I am deeply thankful to God for the impact Narelle had on me and many other women throughout our church.”
The Ven Brian Richardson died on June 14, aged 96. Born Brian William Richardson on June 8, 1926, he grew up in a Christian family in Adelaide. After finishing school, he joined the Navy and his ship was among those that spent time in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped.
On his return to Adelaide, he
trained and worked as a teacher. Then a friend invited him to a Christian rally, and that night – as Mr Richardson’s daughter Caroline Chivers told those at his funeral – “Dad, who knew all about God but didn’t know him personally, understood the good news of Jesus: that he himself needed a Saviour and that Jesus loved him and died for him and wanted a relationship with him, Brian, into eternity”.
Mr Richardson studied at Moore College while, for four years, his fiancée Janet remained in Adelaide and worked as a nurse. They married in late 1953, shortly before he was ordained, and he then spent a year as curate to St Matthew’s, Manly.
After this he was rector of
Pittwater (which included Mona Vale, Newport, Avalon and Palm Beach) before returning to South Australia to the parish of Penola in the state’s south. Said Mrs Chivers: “When finding few in church he went out to the farms, helped where he could, built relationships and invited his new friends to church and introduced them to Jesus”.
In 1960 he became rector of Carlingford, followed by Manly (1966-77) and Turramurra (197784). Mrs Chivers recalled, from their time at Manly, how her father, “frustrated by a group of yahoos doing doughnuts and wheelies outside the church during evening service” surprised the local police during a hymn by “hotfooting it around
to the police station in his robes and demanding action. He arrived back in time to climb into the pulpit and preach!”
In 1982, Mr Richardson was made Archdeacon of North Sydney. During that time he also became rector of Lavender Bay – a position he held until his retirement in 1996, after which he took up locums as well as being involved in other ministries with Mrs Richardson such as Bible study leadership.
Archdeacon Richardson served for a number of years under Bishop Donald Cameron, as well as Bishop Paul Barnett, who described him as “a great rector and archdeacon. People in my church at Lavender Bay still speak of Brian’s ministry... His achievements and legacy are great, which were through ministry he and Janet shared”.
Added Mrs Chivers: “Dad loved parish work and God gave him the strength and the gifts. He was relational by nature, incredibly hardworking, organised and he had a message that he knew brought life and hope and was for everyone he met... [He] was our family’s ever-present, ever-loving, everreliable rock.”
at West Ryde with Ermington and Rydalmere before being made rector of Jannali and Como in 1959.
As this was a new parish, Mr Callow was involved in the building of a new church and rectory, as well as hiring student deaconesses to support ministries such as Scripture teaching. He and one of the students employed, Jean Pevely, were married in 1963.
Two years later the family moved to Revesby, where Mr Callow ministered for nearly 20 years. At his funeral at Menai, Mr Callow’s eldest son Jon recalled the many faithful women who were the “backbone” of the church – “from endless cake stalls, Sunday school, to parish council and pastoral care”.
A favourite memory from that time “was chasing our dog Pippy around in a circle, through the lounge, dining and kitchen in our tiny fibro house, then changing direction or closing the door to trick him. Dad was the one who usually initiated this, and the running, laughing and barking continued until Mum called a halt, lest something was broken!”
From 1984-92, Mr Callow was a prison chaplain with Anglicare, caring for inmates at Parramatta and Silverwater jails and Norma Parker Women’s Prison.
After retirement the Callows moved to Illawong and attended church in Menai, travelling to the South Coast each year to visit family and take part in beach mission events.
The Rev Brian Higginbotham died on July 6, aged 88. Born Brian Gordon Higginbotham on April 4, 1934, he grew up in Chatswood and, after coming to faith at 14, joined St Paul’s, Chatswood – where he taught Sunday school and became a youth leader.
After high school he worked in advertising before studying at Moore College, finishing in 1960. He spent two years as a curate at St John’s, Parramatta, marrying his wife Gwen in 1962 before they headed to the Diocese of Victoria Nyanza in Tanzania the following year with CMS.
The family spent the next five years serving in Mwanza and Katoke, then returned to Australia and spent 1969 serving at Oenpelli in the Northern Territory.
placed us, his people, in charge of all he’d created. Dad took that commission seriously. He sought to be God’s agent here on earth...
“Many people have described my dad as the most humble person they knew and I suspect that his understanding of his being the recipient of God’s undeserved grace was at the heart of this humility.
“As with all of us, Dad was multifaceted, a mix of extraordinary and ordinary, strengths and weaknesses. [But] I know that God, the creator of all things, saw him as fearfully and wonderfully made. He ordained each and every one of his days before one of them came to be and he’d be saying to him now, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.”
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The Rev Dennis Callow died on September 17, aged 95. Born on the Isle of Man on December 10, 1926, his family emigrated to Australia in 1938 and settled in the inner west, attending St Oswald’s, Haberfield.
A number of young men in that parish, Mr Callow among them, were led by the Lord into fulltime ministry. Following study at college he was ordained in 1956 and spent three years as curate
Son Andrew recalled that “Dad was an encouragement to many people, and as a team Mum and Dad were a great comfort and joy to people around them –especially people at church [and] especially people who needed a bit of kindness and care.
“Dad would sometimes refer to Jesus as ‘our Lord’. He would say something like, ‘Our Lord often faced trouble from other people’, which carried a lovely sense of personal affection, reverence and love... I look forward to
In 1970, Mr Higginbotham became rector of Dundas, adding the oversight of Telopea in 1979, then moved to St Bede’s, Drummoyne – where he remained until his retirement in 1999. In subsequent years he continued in a range of ministries, particularly locums.
At his funeral at Drummoyne, Mr Higginbotham’s daughter Kathy Stirrup referred to Psalm 8 and its wonder at God’s love for humankind, saying: “I think that this amazing concept of grace was never far from Dad’s thoughts as he went about his life.
“He was very aware that the creator of the universe, through his grace, cared for him and
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being there in the new creation with Mum and Dad and all God’s people as we rejoice in God’s goodness in Christ.”
The Bible’s teaching on the Spirit
The Coming of the Holy Spiritby Phillip Jensen Matthias Media
There would be few people who have had a greater influence on the minds and career choices of (particularly) young men and women than Phillip Jensen. That influence has been felt mainly in Sydney but also throughout the world, and predominantly through his preaching. For more than 50 years Phillip has brought his God-given intellectual gifts to the careful study and exposition of the Scriptures.
I somewhat missed the Jensen phenomenon. When I left for years of overseas service, I don’t think I’d ever heard of St Matthias’, Centennial Park or MTS or Campus Bible Study. When I returned the revolution was well under way.
Then, through my years of teaching at Moore College, I met hundreds who had been profoundly impacted by Phillip’s preaching. It was clear, uncompromisingly biblical, gospel- and Christ-focused, at times gripping and, one would have to say, sometimes controversial. Perhaps never more so than when Phillip took on the Pentecostals and the Charismatics and their teaching on the Holy Spirit.
So, when I was invited to write a commendation for his latest book on the Holy Spirit – a book which at that point I hadn’t yet read – I read it with considerable interest. Phillip has said that he’s written the book to call both Charismatics and non-Charismatics together “to look afresh at what the Bible actually says rather than how our predisposing theology allows us to hear it”.
Importantly, he also said that his aim was to be irenic – to avoid inflaming controversy and, rather, reset the debate “along the lines of Biblical theology, allowing the text to determine the shape as well as the outcome of the argument”.
How successful has he been?
The book is essentially in two halves. The bulk of it (more than 150 pages) is a thorough examination of the New Testament’s teaching on the Spirit. This section is in four parts: Jesus Promises the Spirit; The Spirit Arrives; The Holy Spirit’s World Mission; The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life.
For example, in part one we are given a brief overview of the Spirit in the Old Testament followed by an examination of the Spirit in John 1-13, followed by a more detailed analysis of Jesus’ teaching on the Spirit in chapters 14-16. Each part is itself divided into a number of sections, which through careful and thorough exegesis explore some aspects of the Spirit’s work. Frequently, a subsection ends with some important implications that flow from what has been said.
Part two explores the Spirit in Acts. Part three focuses primarily on what Jensen calls “the missionary letters” and their teaching on
the Spirit as it pertains to the task of world evangelisation. The final section, again drawing upon the missionary letters, looks at the Spirit and the Christian life – how our life begins and continues in the Spirit, his fruit in our lives and the marks of the unspiritual and spiritual church. There is so much here that is rich and edifying.
The second half of the book contains 34 appendices – which run to more than 80 pages! Jensen has decided, wisely I think, to first allow us to hear the Bible’s teaching on the Spirit and not be continually distracted by discussions of more contemporary and contentious issues. They’re left to the appendices.
It’s here he addresses topics like baptism with the Spirit, cessationism, speaking in tongues, signs and wonders, the devil, demons and unclean spirits. I’d have liked more! For example, what was the relationship of the faithful saints before the coming of Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
So often, Philip is concise and insightful. Just one example: Power itself does not corrupt us; it is sin that corrupts our power. Power merely enables our corruption to sin more comprehensively. To see ‘the Spirit’ and ‘power’ as interchangeable terms is to depersonalise the Spirit – just as to see ‘power’ and ‘miraculous’ as interchangeable is to severely limit if not undermine the work of the Spirit (p171).
For me, this is probably not a book to be read in one sitting. Since there is so much here, I think it’s more profitable to read it, section by section, over time. Further, it will be a wonderful resource and reference book for those who want to teach and preach on the Spirit.
For many years Jensen, along with others, has written and preached about the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements’ teachings on the Spirit. He has considered them largely unbiblical and, therefore, counterproductive to growth in Christian maturity. He has felt strongly about these issues.
What, then, is the tone of this book? Along with its clarity and commitment to biblical authority, I’m struck by the grace with which Phillip writes. This is not an anti-charismatic polemic. As promised, the tone is irenic. His sincere desire is for both sides of debates over the person and work of the Spirit, together in a spirit of mutual submission to the authority of the Bible, to come to a better understanding of the One who is our Helper, Teacher and Guide.
Has he succeeded? Wonderfully so. SC
The Rev Mike Raiter is a preacher, author and former missionary to Pakistan who is currently director of the Centre for Biblical Preaching.
Be like our SaviourBen Pfahlert by Ray Galea Matthias Media
Eager to Serve is one of the best 20 books I have read in my life.
Ray Galea takes us for a scuba dive, deep into the divine waters of Philippians. The pages drip with decades of ministry experience and each chapter ends with profound prayers, wonderful reflection questions and inspiring personal testimonies.
There are five chapters, covering different sections of the epistle: Single minded for the cause of Christ (Phil 1:1-2); Consider others first for the sake of the gospel (Phil 1:4-6, 12-29); Guarding the gospel (Phil 3); Handling anxiety as a gospel worker (Phil 4:4-7) and Gospel generosity (Phil 4:8-23).
There are testimonies of people from very different backgrounds, many of which made me cry, and five deep, rich and wonderful prayers printed at the end of each chapter – I love that. Ray wants the fruit of Eager to Serve to be transformation, not just information. By calling upon God in prayer, we are so much more likely to be changed by the power of the Spirit of Christ.
There is also a set of reflection questions at the end of each chapter; questions that are open and easily understood. No jargon, no pretence. You can imagine them inspiring a really open and honest discussion.
The questions, and prayers, inspire me to read the book with others. Eager to Serve will inspire you to serve like Jesus whether you’ve come to faith last Wednesday or you’re getting ordained next Friday.
It is also extremely helpful for wisely broaching the topic of raising up harvest workers. Ray wrestles with the complexity. He debunks the myth that those who don’t go into vocational gospel
work are second-class citizens but at the same time “critiques any view that fails to prioritise gospel work”. He also examines the often-misunderstood distinction between what he terms the “ministry of the word and ministry of works”.
Ever practical, he shares that MBM Rooty Hill, the church he pastored for 30 years, had a motto: “We seek to relieve suffering in this age, and even more so, the age to come”. He cares deeply about the welfare of his fellow citizens but challenges us all with this statement: “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is good news because it is the only lifeline thrown out to humanity”. The reality of hell chastises all causes.
The book tells us to be like our Saviour. It inspired me to reconsider everything. It inspired me to deny myself daily and sacrifice everything for the sake of the lost. How did Ray do that? By exegeting the beautiful portrait painted of Jesus in Philippians. Wonderful stuff.
In Eager to Serve Ray Galea opens his heart and allows us to see how he, and his wife Sandy, have applied Philippians to 30 years of Christian leadership. It gets pretty earthy. The book is worth buying for Chapter 4 alone (Handling anxiety as a gospel worker).
I’d be very surprised if you’re the same person after reading Eager to Serve as you were before. I want to give this book to every prospective ministry apprentice in Australia and abroad. Why? Because it paints a glorious picture of just how “eager to serve” Jesus was.
I read it in two sittings. I commend Eager to Serve to you. SC
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Eager to Serve: Facing our fears, counting the cost and stepping up in gospel ministry
Five resources for those searching for joyHannah Thiem
These days joy feels hard to come by. All around us are news articles about the rising cost of living, struggling hospitals, increasing COVID cases and extreme weather events. As Christians, we are called to find joy in our knowledge of God’s salvation, but how do we actually do that when everything around us seems to be pointing us towards worry and fear?
Here are five practical resources to help Christians experience joy – especially amid the clutter of everyday life. There is a common theme throughout them all: to focus less on our present circumstances and more on our confidence in what God has done for us, which is where we can find (if not always feel) true joy.
Laugh Again - Experience Outrageous Joy (Philippians) by Charles R.Swindoll
Don’t be put off by the title. This isn’t a selfhelp book but a deep dive into Philippians and what it reveals about the Christian spiritual life. Swindoll focuses on finding authentic joy in Jesus, and paints a beautiful picture of genuine laughter “deep within the soul”. Perfect if you’re looking to be encouraged to turn to the Bible.
Rejoice in the Lord!
Episode 64 of the Centre for Christian Living’s podcast (https://ccl.moore.edu. au/podcasts/) focuses on the biblical command to rejoice in the Lord, debunking myths about it and pointing to how it is a call to take God at his word. This will be especially helpful if you or someone you know have questions about trusting God in a practical way and what rejoicing might look like when it’s hard.
Can I have Joy in My Life? by R.C. Sproul
A common misconception about joy is that it is intrinsically linked to happiness. In this short book R. C. Sproul focuses on the important distinction between the two, pointing us to the only reliable path to deep and lasting joy. This book could be helpful for someone new to faith or someone looking to rebuild their relationship with Jesus.
Enjoying God: Experience the Power and Love of God in Everyday Life by Tim Chester
This book speaks into the mundaneness of everyday life – especially when times are hard - and the importance of finding enjoyment in God despite work hassles, traffic jams and screaming kids. Chester focuses on how the Father, Son and Spirit are relating to us through our day-to-day lives and encourages us to respond to them.
Teach Me to Feel
by Courtney Reissig
This book is not specifically focused on joy, but instead provides meditations on a range of psalms and reflections on the feelings within them. It’s designed to equip the everyday Christian with Scriptures to turn to in every season of life, but particularly when experiencing a strong emotion. Key chapters include the ones on helplessness and weariness (potential opposites to joy), but there are also opportunities to focus on gratefulness and contentment.
Reach out with loveRussell Powell Faith Revisited by Dr Gordon Stokes
It is a particular joy, being a member of the Sydney Anglican network, to see how our brothers and sisters are not only faithful in their older years but still active in evangelism and Christian encouragement. This occurred to me as I took up a self-published book by Dr Gordon Stokes, a retired consultant physician and a lay preacher for many years.
Involved in the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia, The Navigators and CMS, as well as being an active church member on the north shore and northern beaches, Dr Stokes is putting his retirement to good use.
The book he has produced, he told me, was written “out of a desire to reach out to two groups of friends and people in the wider community for whom I have love and concern: those with a Christian background whose faith is residual and inactive; and unbelievers who are seeking truth and comfort in a perplexing world”.
This is not only a laudable aim but one that I am convinced will benefit him and his hearers. The conversational style of the book, as well as its breadth of apologetic subjects, is a strength. It will probably suit someone who has a reasonable grasp of Christian words and ideas but I’m sure his attempts to be clear, understandable and relatable will resonate with the thinking people who are likely to encounter the book.
Dr Stokes draws on his medical background and personal experience as a Christian, as well as literature and current events. There are practical tips about prayer and evangelism, as well as shared experiences about suffering.
“I trust that my account may strike a chord in contemporary Australia,” Dr Stokes told Southern Cross. “While it cannot vie with the evangelical brilliance of C.S. Lewis or Lee Strobel, it combines sound theology with a chatty clinical approach. I have tried to move from basic doctrine to daily application in a way that sees saving grace lead on to good works through the power of the Holy Spirit within.”
This is not a commentary or study work, but an attempt by an ordinary Sydney Anglican to make the gospel clear to those around him. That is a great encouragement in itself and I pray God will bless his efforts. SC
knows how to fish and make a fire.
Sadly, this final part of the story is easily the weakest. I found most of it profoundly unfunny, with my thoughts straying to both Lord of the Flies and Survivor. However, rather than spoiling this section for those curious enough to see the film, I will simply say that despite being marooned and in dire straits there is no lasting attitude change in anyone, which was tremendously sad.
In the first half of the film there are certainly laughs to be had from viewing the absurdity of what the world considers important. In trusting your wealth or beauty to get you everything you want, and the dubious morality behind that.
The cast’s performances show that, in terms of the director’s vision, they are all in, but Östlund takes everything too far. At two hours and 20 minutes the film is too long and would have benefited from edits to its often-meandering dialogue, never mind the stomach-churning puking sequence.
Triangle of Sadness has been described as “extreme” comedy, or a comedy that’s right for these times, and perhaps it is. Of course, it’s also polarising, worldly, ungodly and, yes, weird – and probably not in a good way. It’s up to you whether you want to test it for yourselves to see what end of the weird scale you choose afterwards.
OTHER UPCOMING FILMS
The explosive true-story of sexual harassment and assault by Harvey Weinstein, and the system protecting him and other abusers in Hollywood, is brought to light in the film She Said, which opens on November 17. Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan play the two investigative reporters from The New York Times who, with their paper behind them, took the risks needed to get the truth out – and in the process helped ignite the #MeToo movement.
When 2019 brought us the clever and hilarious whodunit Knives Out , I can’t have been the only person to hope that Daniel Craig would get another run as the savvy southern detective Benoit Blanc. Happily, he returns in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which will play in cinemas for a week from November 23 before appearing on the Netflix list a month later.
Think Indiana Jones discovers weird Star Wars creatures and you’ll get an idea of the vibe of Disney’s 61st animated film, Strange World. In it, Searcher Clade – a contented farmer in a family packed with famous explorers –becomes a reluctant member of a “crucial” mission to a place where water can kill you, mountains walk, starfish swing and a blue blob can be your friend. In other words, strange indeed. Voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal, Lucy Liu and Dennis Quaid, it opens on November 24.
Some years ago, I watched a documentary about the finding of Richard III – the last king of England killed in battle – whose body had been lost for centuries. It was fascinating, funny and ultimately triumphant, and I hope for the same from this film based on the story, The Lost King, which releases on Boxing Day. It stars Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan (who co-wrote the script).
Tangle of weirdness
Triangle of Sadness
cinemas on Boxing Day
Coarse language, sexual references, some violence
Before I went to see this film, a friend told me it was weird. He was right.
Of course, “weird” can be good or bad depending on the script, the performances and your point of view – but given that Triangle of Sadness won the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year, it seemed worth giving it the benefit of the doubt.
I initially left the cinema so baffled it was hard to figure out what end of the weird scale the film had landed on. This would no doubt please Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund, who clearly loves to push boundaries – and, as you will see, potentially doesn’t know when to stop.
Triangle of Sadness is billed as a comedy, and there’s no doubt its razor-sharp observations about modern life and the value placed on beauty, wealth and power regularly hit home.
We discover, for example, the meaning of the title within the first five minutes as a group of male models audition for a job by walking, standing and, well, looking the way they are asked to. Carl (Harris Dickinson) is asked by a member of the panel if he can “relax” his triangle of sadness, and we discover this is the area between your brows – which can either express emotion or... not. The panel even discusses Botox as, yes, that’s another way to relax the area.
It’s so unbelievably shallow that you can’t help laughing, and as the film progresses it’s clear that looks, and trading on them, are a central element of the plot. Yet comedy, like beauty, depends very much on the viewer. And this viewer, while regularly engaged,
was more sorrowful than amused by what she saw.
The story falls into three distinct parts. The first is a window into the life and relationship of models Carl and Yaya (Charlbi Dean); the second takes them, and us, onto a luxury yacht with the super-rich and powerful; and the third is played out on an island where they and a handful of survivors from the yacht are marooned after the triple whammy of a storm, a vomit fest and an attack by pirates.
Yaya is an influencer – that most navel-gazing of social media natives – and most of her time on the yacht is spent sunning herself... or getting Carl to take her photo while she suns herself. The first section of the film has made it clear he’s the more committed of the two, so any attempt to call Yaya out for selfishness or bad behaviour always fizzles out.
On the yacht, of course, being a selfish individualist is encouraged. The staff are instructed to agree to whatever the guests want, no matter how unreasonable or unhelpful it might be. And in the meantime, their hard-drinking, Marx-quoting captain (Woody Harrelson) spends most of the time in his room – only emerging to share in the Captain’s Dinner and trade quotes with a Russian capitalist as everyone around them starts bringing up their oysters.
It’s no spoiler to tell you that, once the yacht is attacked and presumably sunk, the hierarchy of power is thrown on its head when the survivors reach an island. Why? Because Filipina toilet manager Abigail (Dolly De Leon) is the only one among them whoJudy