Deacon School

Last week I had the privilege of attending the National Deacon School, ably run by the Ven. Anne Russell-Brighty. It was a gathering of deacons from all around NZ, about 26 for the weekend reunion, and 12 of us continued for the next few days. It was an opportunity to learn, but also to let off steam. One of our number has written a paper about all the negative sides of being a deacon, and I thought I would explore this side of it a little. First, there are not many negatives about serving as a deacon. Not, that is, when you consider the vast privilege of washing people’s feet, showing our world how Christ would want them to live. But it’s not the calling itself that is frustrating. It is the misunderstanding of that calling in the wider church. The Vocational Diaconate is fairly recently arrived on the scene, having been revived from the 1960s. That is, unless you count the way the church operated  in its first 4 centuries or so. Nowadays, the church is very priest-focussed, very hierarchical, and people don’t know what to make of deacons. The understanding of the role is also muddied to some extent by experience of the Pentecostal church, where the Pastor has a combined role of priest and deacon.

Often the priests don’t know what a  deacon does, and congregation certainly don’t. Many of us have been asked when we’re going to ordained ‘properly’, or we are commiserated with for ‘missing out’. On being priested, that is. Maybe we should express our sorrow that someone has been ordained priest, and isn’t allowed to stay a deacon… Now I’m being naughty. That raises another point though. Many in the church have the understanding that a priest is still a deacon, but that is not the case. These priests had a year as transitional deacons, where they were being trained for the priesthood, with a nod at what a deacon is. The roles are very different. In the ordination service, candidates are asked if they are called to the work of a deacon, and those who are to be priested later blithely answer ‘yes’, although they have been discerned as priests in training. Our ordination services do not adequately reflect the different roles of Vocational Deacon, and priest-in training. It should not be called Transitional Deacon. This is where the frustration lies.

Being a deacon is not a way to have a glorious career in the church, adding more titles to your name, and more fancy copes each procession. We get to lead the processions in the cathedral, clad in our albs and crossed-over stoles. We stand apart for that reason, but we are also ready for action. Our stoles don’t flop all over the place when we are trying to do something. In a liturgical setting, we may be assisting with  the ablutions, or pouring the wine. We don’t need to be worried about our vestments. That’s a good reason why our stoles are tucked away. In the community, most of us are not robed, although wearing a clerical collar is always useful when you are trying to visit the hospital outside of visiting hours!

Most of us receive no payment for our work as vocational deacons, but that gives us freedom of hours and places where we can minister. Being a deacon is not about working in a particular place at a particular time – eg on a Sunday morning in a building with a cross on top of it. It’s much broader. Whenever we are present with people, we are doing Christ’s work. And we are called to be infectious, encouraging others to join us, loving and serving the Lord in our communities.

There is a different personality-type that seems to attract deacons too. It has been described as the grit that irritates the oyster, so that a pearl is formed. We can be a bit annoying, a bit in-your-face, a bit challenging. That’s part of our job – to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It’s not always an easy fit in the political world of the church, but I seem to recall a certain Carpenter who was a bit challenging too.

The wider church has a treat in store as it discovers more of the potential of the Vocational Diaconate. Several deacons in every parish would make such a difference to the world!

Sermon: Social Services Sunday

Sermon July 27 2014 Social Services Sunday
St Mary’s Whitby
Felicity O’Brien

Micah 6:8-12, James 2:14-17, Matt 25:31-45

Today is social services Sunday. This is a staid and somewhat self-righteous-sounding description of what is truly our duty every Sunday, every day of our lives, as Christians. What is social service? It must surely mean serving people. That can never be a dull thing to do. Serving others can led you to all sorts of places you may not have been – wonderful exotic locations like hospitals, mental health care facilities, hospices, rest homes – and these are some I have been in just this last week! You may even be fortunate enough to visit prisons, and private homes!
But hang on, you may be saying. Surely it’s not about the place, it’s about the people! Yes, exactly. We are called to love and serve people, no matter where they are. Whether they are in the most derelict accommodation, or in the swankiest hotel. We tend to focus on the former rather than the latter, but everyone is in need of Christ. Continue reading

Sermon: The Good Shepherd?

Sermon May 11 2014 St Mary’s Whitby Rev. Felicity O’Brien

Acts 11:1-18, John 10:1-10

Today we celebrate several things – Mothers’ Day, Good Shepherd Sunday, and an important event in this nation’s history – the coming of the gospel. Tradition tells us that this happened on Christmas day 1814, in Oiho bay, and while Samuel Marsden certainly did preach the Gospel first onshore on this date, New Zealanders had already started hearing about Christianity as they encountered sailors visiting their country, and worked on ships going abroad.

We commemorate Samuel Marsden tomorrow, and today’s featured guest is the person who made the whole new Zealand mission in 1814 possible – chief Ruatara, nicknamed Te Ara mo e rongopai, or the gateway of the gospel.He served on various ships between 1805 and 1809, when Marsden met him on board ship, as he was being sent back to Australia, unwell after being abused. Marsden had already met many Maori in Port Jackson, and after being very impressed by them and their potential was planning a mission to New Zealand. Continue reading

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,300 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Sermon: Jesus sends the seventy-two disciples.

St Christopher’s Tawa

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

When I have been at post-ordination training sessions, our teacher Tony Gerritsen has an interesting way of encouraging us to listen to the scripture readings. He says, “Notice when you stop listening.’ In other words, when something strikes you, and you think  -oh. I haven’t noticed that before. Have you had those moments? Well I had a moment like that when I was reading through today’s gospel during the week. Did you notice in the first verse, Jesus sent his people to places where he himself intended to go? Continue reading

Global cooling from UN?

Guest post by Kevin O’Brien

The UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has prepared a final draft of an updated assesment, AR5. That draft has been leaked worldwide as it shows data that strongly suggests real cooling. Previous leaked emails from some principal climate ‘scientists’ showed concerns that the data wasn’t matching up to their models with a lack of warming, despite their wishes.

Whaleoil has reported the leak and refers to James Delingpole at The Telegraph.  Another, Watts Up With That, reports in much greater detail as well as providing sources.  Here is a reproduction of an original page from the AR5 draftt report that is causing much excitement.

Data at variance with models. IPCC AR5 FIG 1-4

Data at variance with models? IPCC AR5 FIG 1-4

My modified view of the figure is below. Click on each for a larger view.

AR5 Draft Fig 1-4 modified.

AR5 Draft Fig 1-4 modified.

The observations have been joined in yellow and clearly they are lying at the bottom of the figure. Watts comments on the grey model being discredited and the observations barely make it into the AR4 model too. If this is warming, it is hardly measurable and visually, ignoring the confidence bands, it looks like it is heading in the cooler direction. Can you base public policy on such data?

The added three-year moving average shows all the observations below the models except the grey. If this was a stock market chart it would be tempting to take a short position on a market decline. Another couple of declining data points would seal that view.

How trustworthy are the models? This is the first time I have seen these and they are disturbing in their simplicity. You can almost put a ruler along the tops and bottoms of each of the 4 models’ ranges shown. That means that the projections are near linear. What is to change that? Are we seeing a lack of commonsense demonstrated: surely the model makers are not saying that they expect the climate to keep on warming continuously at a defined rate? If so, what sort of delusional disorder are they suffering from? The corollary from their models is, if they are believed to be true, we may already be facing an unstoppable disaster. Do the model makers really believe that? Can Christians really believe that?

There is an another explanation, that the models are just that and some enjoy crafting them with their bits and bytes. Others, using them, seek then to maintain the position of Canutes to appear to stop the fearful unknown process of the scenario before them. This is a recipe for political control on a grand scale. Is that what is driving this? Also there is a lot of global corporate money to be made from such control, which brings with it the rents from resources. It will not be the richest who will be paying such rents. The green watermelons who publicly despise such corporates have also  taken this on as a cause for action as fits their communist origins and belief in controlled order.

Has justice fled or been redefined so that children are even denied medicine because neighbouring trees provide shelter for other creatures.

God made all, but made people in the image of God. I do not believe he loves any tree more than any single hair on any human head.

Good news for all the people…

“The angel said, Do not be afraid – I am bring you good news of great joy for all the people.” This text from Luke 2:10 is very familiar – we hear it as part of the Christmas story.

But what good news do we as a church bring to all the people? Do we tell them the Gospel, that God loves them, that Jesus is real and cares, that the Holy Spirit is an ever-present helper, or do Christians jump on the latest band-wagon of political correctness, that is, the Green movement.

This youtube extract, from a BBC documentary about Papua New Guinea, is a brilliant example of how the green concerns for conservation are putting trees first and people second. There is no good news for the people. Here we see a worried young mother, whose little baby has malaria. Fortunately, the medics attached to the documentary team are able to give the child some medicine, without which we are told that it would definitely die. The local tribe explain to the scientists that even though they own vast tracts of land and trees, they need to log them so they can afford education and medicine for their children. The Greenies leave us with the question hanging in the air – should these people be allowed to sell their trees? Or rather, are their little black babies worth less somehow than our cosy white city babies, who have access to medicine?

The church should be about the business of saving people – spiritually, physically, whatever it takes. But whenever a church leader urges us to plant trees for the sake of the planet, my thoughts go back to the worried young mother in Papua New Guinea, and her baby.

The tree-planting ideas are based on bad science too, that has been discredited. We are learning more and more about the sun’s role in climate, and people cannot change that. At least if we’re going to plant trees, let them be food-bearing trees, like our local (secular) city council.