40 years ago today…

… I knelt on a Melbourne platform and was ordained a minister of Churches of Christ in Australia. 40

Today is an occasion of reflection of what it has all meant.

  • Historically my tradition has had an ambiguous stance towards the matter of “setting apart” or ordaining clergy. After all, are not all ordained and set aside for Christ’s work at baptism? An emphasis on mutual ministry  and the priesthood of all believers  has negated the need for a separate clergy class. The local congregation can equip and appoint people to perform any of the tasks a traditional minister can –  counsel, preach, teach, baptise, preside over communion – so why ordain? On the other hand, churches, in order to thrive, have benefitted from those with particular training and honed skills to lead and “equip the saints for ministry.”
  • My ordination culminated four years of intense study, formation, reflection, prayer and “hands on” work amongst local congregations. It involved dropping a career in retailing, self-funding four years of residential college and tuition, learning to become a student at tertiary level having dropped out of secondary school, and adapting to living in close community. It marked the emergence of a different person than had entered training, and a recognition by the wider church that such preparation had been worthwhile and adequate for the task ahead.
  • There is an “on-going-ness” in the act that took place on that Melbourne platform. Formation and learning continue, formally and informally. In a way, seminary continues in the local congregation. Seeds mutually planted in my churches at Fremantle, Canberra, Modbury, Aldgate Valley and Wembley Downs took root and grew and yielded fruit. To sit at the 40 year marker and gaze back down through the decades is an exhilarating and humbling experience.
  • My stance to ministry and faith has changed over the years. It has become deeper and more expansive. Labels and categories don’t bother me anymore – I can move freely through progressive, contemplative, charismatic, sacramental and evangelical fields of thought and being in my conversations and relations with others. Inter-faith possibilities I find inviting and engaging, where once I might have found them frightening and threatening.
  • The last few weeks have seen efforts to trace and reconnect with those who shared the four year journey – the “Class of ’74.” We are far flung and have only had spasmodic contact over the years. Like an expanding universe, our individual trajectories have been vastly different and unique. Not all will be marking an anniversary of ordination, but all will attest to the transformational nature of the journey we shared. Our efforts to organise a reunion are a work in progress, but the negotiations and conversations by email, SMS and phone have that endearing and enduring quality of resuming an interrupted conversation that can easily be picked up again.
  • The 40 years marks the time when my culture and economy says this is when one should draw up a pension plan and retire. 40 years is also the biblical “generation” suggesting that its time to pass the baton. I find myself resisting – not from denial of time’s relentless march – but from a sense of a task not yet complete. There is still fire in the belly and unfinished projects to see through to completion. There is also an openness to respond to whatever “new thing” emerges from current engagement. This momentary reflective pause is simply a “coffee break.”  (Which is now over – so back to work!)

Melons, chickens & goats

WP_001849Thinking today of a young lady I met in the back blocks of Zimbabwe. She’s 17 years old, orphaned and living with her grandmother. Her industry is inspiring – she grows melons and tends her flock of six goats (started with one). The two chickens given her two years ago have grown to a flock of many. Attending to all this takes place in her leisure hours after a school week of walking 20 kilometers twice a day over rough bush tracks. A church backed sponsorship helps ease the strain on this small farming family, but the spirited determination of this young lady spells hope and possibility for the rural communities of this area.

Wilderness Community Garden


Whilst bashing about the parched back-blocks of rural Zimbabwe, we came across a large fenced off area above a slow flowing river – the district community garden supplementing hamlets and farmsteads for many kilometers around. Known locally as a “garden of Eden,” the plots of a variety of vegetables, including spinach and kale, were surprisingly healthy and robust. Water is carted by bucket from the river to irrigate and water each plot. Our guides tended their plots while we were there, gathering what was needed for their next few day’s meals.

Going to Church in Zimbabwe

We got to do it five days in a row – each service lasting around three hours and part of our mutual exchange as we encouraged and taught amongst the very hospitable people.
We were never bored – Shona worship is exciting and exhilarating.
Here, in Muuyu, the musical Mr Bunda motivates the congregation. Who would have thought that the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah followed this?
(Please excuse the 10 seconds of side-flip – I got carried away!)

There were more-or-less sedate but still exuberant songs mostly carried by the women, wearing a denominationally defining red and white ensemble worn on special occasions and the first Sunday of the month. I’ve attempted to learn the Shona words to this one (“Jesus keep me near the cross”).

Each day has particular memories of conversations and events that emerged as part of our mutual ministry together. The sounds of worship in these rural churches for which some of the congregation regularly make two hour journeys on foot will remain in our auditory consciousness for a long time, however.



Drinking from a fire hydrant…

… that’s how someone described a first time encounter with Africa.Bulawayo street

I recall my first day in Bulawayo standing on the pavement outside a courier’s office where my colleagues were spending considerable time. They were hopefully negotiating the reduction of storage fees for a box of solar lights that had been mailed over to assist students in night time studies. I found the sights, sounds, smells and sights of the street rich and varied – a surprise for every time I blinked. Such was my fascination I had a hard time looking bored and nonchalant, trying not to stand out as I leaned against a verandah post. The shop facades across the road were grand and faded and with impossible names. A kaleidoscope crossed time and took me back into the fifties of my childhood when shops were called emporiums and mothers dressed up with hat, gloves and handbag for their buying expeditions. The chirrups of mobile phones brought the contemporary into the vintage street scene which now included donkey carts, high fashion and rustic personalities bearing heavy looking sacks on their heads.

I could have stood there for hours, just absorbing the street scene with its vibrant colours, its mixed aromas of spice, jacaranda and donkey dung – and the wonderful sounds of Shona speech and cowbells while an ox wagon trundled by.

Africa was getting into my blood stream.

Out of Zimbabwe

It’s now a few days since completing a three week stint working with Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe as part of a volunteer team from Australia and New Zealand. The dust has started to settle, the Africa in our veins is distilling to something quieter and more reflective. The next few posts will describe some experiences and tell some stories from the perspective of one who has only roamed from these safe Australian shores once or twice before. I’m not a born traveller and tend to be somewhat cautious and overly vigilant. The up-side is that I then observe and catch nuances, sounds and sights that a more casual sojourner might miss.

The team with host B J Mpofu

The team with host B J Mpofu

There were nine of us altogether, including a family of four. We were to be split into two groups, one team to be based at Khayelihle Children’s Village, a facility for some 120 children orphaned by the severe AIDS epidemic that has swept much of Africa. The second team (mine) would work out of the rural farming and mining centre of Zvishavane – ministering with a selection of 130 churches in the district, visiting extended families that are assisted by the churches in caring for AIDS orphans, and inspecting some of the 120 bores already sunk to ease access to water.

Apart from these broad objectives, agendas were necessarily open. We were there not to impose our will or advice but to respond to what our hosting church communities required of us. Flexibility and the capacity to adjust to the demands of the occasion quickly became hallmarks of our time together. At the same time, hospitality was open and generous. After eight days of solid work by both teams, we came together for some welcome R & R. The combined team visited three wildlife reserves and the famous Victoria Falls before returning to Bulawayo. Some final mopping up at the children’s village completed our work.

With that broad introduction, we have a base for the stories that follow, mostly from the rural ministries perspective because that’s where yours truly was involved.

For a day by day “flow of consciousness” description of team life at Khayelihle Children’s Village, see the Williams family blog.


Cranky Christians against asylum seeker cruelty – The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

I’ve been looking for something fresh to say about upping the ante on off-shore detention but Fr Chris Bedding nails it with hilarity. Here it is …

Cranky Christians against asylum seeker cruelty – The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Easter choices…

Parker Palmer is someone I enjoy immensely – not the least for his reflection on our choices in response to Resurrection Sunday!



A meditation for Easter Saturday


Pertinent to a FB discussion today…

Originally posted on Wondering Preacher:

Each year about 40 members of Prestbury Methodist Church each write a meditation or two for our Lenten Diary on a given theme. This year, each day focused a single word. This was my contribution for Easter Saturday. The word was ‘Tomb’. My Easter Sunday contribution will be published tomorrow.

Reading: John 19:38-42
After this, Joseph, who was from the town of Arimathea, asked Pilate if he could take Jesus’ body. (Joseph was a follower of Jesus, but in secret, because he was afraid of the Jewish authorities.) Pilate told him he could have the body, so Joseph went and took it away.  (39)  Nicodemus, who at first had gone to see Jesus at night, went with Joseph, taking with him about one hundred pounds of spices, a mixture of myrrh and aloes.  (40)  The two men took Jesus’ body and wrapped it in linen cloths with the spices according to the Jewish custom of…

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Reflections On Getting Arrested


Scott Vawser, one of the eleven arrested and charged with trespass at the electoral office of Australia’s Foreign Minister at the beginning of Holy Week, reflects on his experience…

Originally posted on No Guarantees:



For many years I have half joked about the fact that on my bucket list was this; that I would be arrested for doing something righteous, Christ-like, aka – not drunk and disorderly conduct!

I guess in some ways that motivation makes this ‘all about me’. Other than the fact that my desire was for it to be for something Christ-like, aka – ‘all about others’ :-)  Following?

We could stop and have a long discussion about what percentage of my motivation was ‘ego’ (all about me) and what percentage of my motivation was ‘all about others’, but I am thinking that this is hard to measure, and is not my purpose here, I will make some related comments later, but first – some history.

I have been disturbed for some years on Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Even more so with Abbott’s “Stop The Boats” and…

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